While the world remains oblivious to the sufferings of the people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IO&JK), Indian security forces feel free to kill, terrorise and brutalise. Since August 5, 2019 more than 200 Kashmiris have been killed through extra-judicial killings. But this has not sapped the morale of the people of the state and the freedom fighters who continue to resist Indian oppression, besides carrying out retaliatory operations against the Indian security forces.

In a gun battle between the Indian security forces and freedom fighters on May 2, 2020 five Indian security personnel—including a colonel, a major and a Kashmiri police officer were killed in Handwara. A report in the New York Times, while providing an account of the incident, also dwelled on the state of affairs in the valley since August 5 in these words, “Kashmir was cast into chaos in August when the Indian government revoked the region’s partial autonomy. Since then, tensions have been high in Kashmir Valley, where many businesses were shuttered, streets emptied and, doctors said, residents’ hopelessness morphed into a severe psychological crisis…But despite the lockdown, firefights and skirmishes in Kashmir have not stopped. At least 50 militants and 20 soldiers have been killed this year, according to data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a research project that tracks the conflict”.

The foregoing realities represent a vehement rejection of the Indian narrative of the issue being its internal matter and the rationale preferred for the August 5 action. Reportedly 90 percent of the people of IO&JK disapprove of the Indian action which explains continued resistance by them against Indian oppression and their fight for their right of self-determination.

Kashmiris have paid a very high price in the struggle for their freedom. As the most militarised zone in the world, Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) has witnessed killings, enforced disappearances, torture cases, rapes and other brutalities by the Indian armed forces over the decades. As per reports compiled by human rights organisations like Amnesty International and others which have kept track of the killings and human rights abuses in IO&JK; more than one hundred thousand Kashmiris have been martyred since 1989, thousands of women have been raped besides enforced disappearances running into the thousands.

According to the United Nations, an enforced disappearance occurs when people are arrested, detained or abducted against their will by the state, or groups and individuals acting on behalf or, with support from the state; followed by a refusal to disclose the whereabouts of the person. As per revelations made by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), more than eight thousand families have lost their loved ones to enforced disappearances and are in search of finding a clue about their whereabouts. According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, when an enforced disappearance is committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at any civilian population, it qualifies as a crime against humanity, depriving an individual of their fundamental rights. An enforced disappearance violates an individual’s right to liberty, right to freedom from torture, right to a fair trial, right to equal protection and right to presumption of innocence. In the light of the foregoing, enforced disappearances of the Kashmiri youth in IO&JK constitute a crime against humanity.

It is pertinent to point out that India has so far not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the United Nations in 2006, though it has been a signatory to it since 2007. The convention is a legally binding instrument to prevent enforced disappearances. It amply demonstrates that India does not care about her international legal obligations.

The Indian security forces have been carrying out these heinous crimes under the cover of the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act of 1990, the Disturbed Areas Act of 1976 which was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in 1992, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act of 1978 and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967 which grant impunity to them from prosecution.

In 2005, APDP unearthed the widespread existence of mass graves. In Baramulla alone, the total number of such graves is 940. On July 10, 2008, the European Parliament passed a resolution lending support for the investigations into the discovery of mass graves and enforced disappearances. But the Indian government cited lack of technology, expertise and human resources as the reason for not conducting the investigation, even though the European Parliament had offered financial assistance to take it forward.

Again in 2009, the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir released a second report in which 2,700 mass graves were found and investigated in the Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in 2009 took suo moto cognisance of the report and a special investigation team (SIT) led by a Senior Superintendent of Police was constituted to conduct an enquiry. The SIT, in its report, confirmed the presence of 2,730 unidentified bodies buried across 37 sites in the three districts of north Kashmir. The report recommended that to stop the misuse of powers under AFSPA, the Public Safety Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, it is extremely important that wherever a person is killed, whether he is a militant (or innocent killed during cross firing) his or her identification profile should be maintained properly. The only formal response from the government to the SHRC was in the form of an Action Taken Report [ATR] dated 13 August 2012, denying the existence of the unmarked graves and saying that the unidentified bodies buried in the unmarked graves belong to foreign and local militants. The Ministry of Home Affairs refused to accept the recommendations of the SHRC. Besides, they also said they don’t have enough laboratories to carry out the investigation process.

In November 2017, the SHRC once again asked the Jammu & Kashmir government to investigate at least 2,080 unmarked mass graves, this time in the Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu. But there has neither been a probe nor an ATR from the government.

The litany of the heinous crimes against the people of IO&JK by the Indian security forces since 1989 sends a shudder through the nerves of the people with conscience who espouse the cause of human rights and campaign for stopping crimes against humanity. One wonders where the conscience of those nations is; those who claim to be civilised and the torch bearers of human rights and liberties and peace.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The writer is a freelance columnist.

ashpak10@gmail.com