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INDIA: Doubts Cloud Upcoming Amnesty Int’l Report on Kashmir

Athar Parvaiz

SRINAGAR, May 26 2010 (IPS) - The human rights body Amnesty International (AI) has yet to release its report on the outcome of its unprecedented visit last week to the disputed Indian- administered Kashmir state, but already there are doubts over its ability to come up with fair and accurate findings.

An angry mob of youth protesters throw stones at police forces in the disputed Kashmir region.  Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

An angry mob of youth protesters throw stones at police forces in the disputed Kashmir region. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A two-member AI delegation – composed of Indian nationals – arrived in Kashmir on May 18 for a six-day fact-finding visit. It is expected to release its findings within the next six months.

Hardline separatist groups in Kashmir have described the AI visit as insignificant, saying the AI team, being both Indians, could not be considered neutral observers.

“Both the team members are Indian nationals. Therefore, it is very natural that their observations and judgments would be clouded by their national interests,” said separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads the hardline faction of Hurriyat (‘Freedom’) Conference, a conglomerate of Kashmiri separatist groups.

Still, Geelani met with the visiting team to give his own assessment of the human rights situation in Kashmir, home to nine million people, a majority of them Muslims.

“Kashmiri people are the victims of state terrorism. Every day we see people getting killed, tortured and sentenced to death. Women are raped and murdered while school going boys are not even spared,” Geelani told IPS.

“Human rights groups like Amnesty International should put pressure on India to stop unleashing atrocities on Kashmiris and give them the right to self-determination.”

Bikram J Batra, head of the two-member AI team, said separatist leaders like Geelani should not “prejudge” their visit. “Let them wait for our assessment and see what comes out of it,” he told IPS at the conclusion of their visit. “We are here as the representatives of AI and not as citizens of India.”

Batra added that the state holds significance for the New York-based human rights lobby, “which is why we have been striving to visit Kashmir.”

Until last week, India’s federal government had never allowed any international human rights group, let alone AI, to visit Kashmir and assess the human rights situation in the strife-torn region, where armed rebellion against India has been going on since 1989.

In the past two years, street protests have gradually replaced the armed struggle against Indian rule in Kashmir, prompting the government to finally allow the much-awaited visit from AI. However, gunfire incidents involving militants and Indian troops are still reported from some parts of Kashmir.

Stone pelting has also emerged as a form of revolt against the government.

Separatist as well as local human rights groups in Kashmir had been repeatedly demanding that international human rights groups be allowed to visit Kashmir to look into the issue of human rights violations in the disputed territory involving India and Pakistan.

AI had time and again voiced its concern on the spate of human rights violations in Kashmir, which had been widely blamed on the Indian security forces as well as militants operating in Kashmir.

Notwithstanding Batra’s assurances of fair and objective assessment of the situation in Kashmir, Sheikh Showkat Hussian of Kashmir University said AI should have sent a team belonging neither to India nor Pakistan.

“There is a likelihood that citizens of either of these countries will interpret the facts the way they wish before making them public,” Hussain, who teaches international law and human rights, told IPS.

The AI team met with local human rights groups, pro-India political leaders, including the chief minister Omar Abdullah and opposition leader Mehbooba Mufti.

They also sat down with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference, and the wife of Shabir Ahmad Shah, prominent separatist leader currently under detention.

“I briefed the AI team about Shabir’s repeated detention, which is the worst form of political vendetta,” Shah’s wife Bilqees Shah told IPS after meeting with the AI team. “Despite his various ailments, he has been booked in jail under the Public Safety Act (PSA) for as many as seven times in the last two years.”

Under the PSA, which came into force in Kashmir in 1978, a person can be detained for two years without any trial when the government deems him a threat to public security.

With street protests and stone pelting emerging as the newest forms of revolt against Indian administration, many young boys have been sent to prison under the PSA for throwing stones at security forces.

“We are particularly focusing on preventive and arbitrary detentions not only of political leaders but also of ordinary civilians like those said to be guilty of stone pelting,” AI’s Batra said.

Unlike Geelani, Hurriyat’s Farooq welcomed AI’s visit, saying he expected it to report accurately on what it had observed in Kashmir.

“We hope that the team would report the real situation to the international community and impress on it the need to build pressure on India to bridle the atrocities of its security forces against hapless Kashmiris,” Mirwaiz told IPS.

Kashmiri separatists have demanded the scrapping of the special powers enjoyed – and abused, according to Kashmiri separatists – by Indian troops under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, withdrawal of troops from civilian areas and release of political prisoners before talks can be held among the three stakeholders – India, Pakistan and the Kashmir – to resolve the dispute over the region.

Kashmiri separatist leaders recently rejected a fresh offer of talks by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying the government had not accepted their conditions for a dialogue.

Since the end of British rule over the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and the region’s partition into the two sovereign states, namely, India and Pakistan, Kashmir has been the subject of a bitter territorial dispute between the two south Asian neighbours.

Presently, a third of the region is administered by Pakistan and the rest by India. The armed struggle among Kashmiris on the Indian side has resulted in more than 50,000 deaths, based on official estimates.

The government of India maintains that the rebellion is backed and funded by Pakistan, which the latter denies.

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