By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal

To divert attention from the recent discovery of killing fields in Indian held Kashmir (IOK), Indian intelligence agencies are working overtime to spin the stories linking Somali pirates with Pakistan by stating that Somali pirates are being trained in Pakistan to carry out a proxy war against India! To support the fantasy, evidence was ‘obtained’ from nine foreign nationals caught from a hijacked vessel “MV Nafis-1”. Gujarat customs officials claim to have seized a large quantity of food items from the vessel which bore names of Pakistani companies with addresses written in Urdu. "On several (earlier) occasions we seized weapons that bore the stamp of Pakistani ordnance factories.” said a senior customs official.

Such gimmicks cannot overshadow the fact that thousands of bullet-riddled bodies are buried in dozens of unmarked graves across IOK; most of them are likely to be of those civilians who went missing during a peaceful political resistance movement that erupted in 1989; which was brutally suppressed by Indian security forces. These security forces enjoy impunity under several protective laws. There are reports that mass graves contain a large number of bodies of innocent local residents, who had been shot and killed by the Indian security forces in fake encounters to win cash awards, gallantry citations and promotions.

Atrocities such as mass disappearances, torture and killings not only add to the public anger, these are also violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law set out in a number of multilateral treaties to which India is a party. To clear its name of the charges of genocide in Kashmir, it has to ensure that independent and impartial investigations are initiated on all such reports.

Recent discovery of 38 unmarked graveyards by the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) all across Northern Kashmir, containing unidentified bodies of over 2, 000 persons is appalling. SHRC report is based on the verified findings by its professional investigators; this leaves nothing to question its authenticity. SHRC has called attention towards unrestrained resort to draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act (PSA) and Disturbed Area Act (DAA). These laws have indeed evolved a culture of impunity leading to extra-judicial killings on an alarming scale. Custodial killings continue unabated, innocent citizens continue to be imprisoned under discriminatory laws and the culture of impunity and unaccountability continues to flourish with active political patronage.

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The United States’ Department of State, in its 2010 Country Report on Human Rights Practices says, “The Public Safety Act which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits state authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for as long as two years. During this time family members do not have access to detainees, and detainees do not have access to legal counsel.”

SHRC has refuted the Indian official stance that the discovered bodies were those of militants. Commission maintains that a sizeable number of bodies, handed over by police to locals for burial, were identified by people as their relatives.

SHRC findings point to the probability of more such unmarked graveyards in other parts of Kashmir. The commission is yet to conduct similar search in remaining areas of IOK.

No civilised country can afford to condone such shocking revelations brought into limelight by its own institutions. Thousands of families of persons who disappeared during the last three decades have been running from pillar to post to locate their missing ones, after they were whisked away by the security agencies of the state. Now, one after the other, aggrieved families are coming forward with more details.

SHRC has done immense good to its own credibility by preparing a comprehensive report that goes to prove what was, otherwise also, known to the people in Kashmir and even beyond. Whether the Indian government will ever have the political will and moral courage to implement the findings of the Commission remains an open question.

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This episode reminds us of Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, who killed thousands of innocent civilians and buried them in shallow graves in the countryside. SHRC report asserts that the Indian security forces have been killing innocent local civilians, labelling them as “cross-border terrorists”, and dumping their bodies in the mass graves all along the Line of Control (LoC).

Setting up of SHRC was the outcome of a concerted campaign launched by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) that released a chilling report in 2008, revealing the presence of mass graves in areas along the LoC. Report identified 1,000 unmarked graves in 55 villages across the northern regions of Baramulla, Bandipore Handwara etc. Commission has confirmed the presence of 2,156 unidentified dead bodies that had been buried at 38 sites. There were 21 unmarked mass graves at Baramulla, three each in Bandipore and Handwara, and 11 in Kupwara. According to the report, all bodies carried bullet wounds, corpses were disfigured, had mutilated faces, and some were even partially burnt.

In December 2009, ‘International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights’ had released a report, confirming the presence of mass graves containing the bodies of those killed in “fake encounters, and extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.”

SHRC report stops short of identifying the bitter and brutal truth that innocent locals had been killed to enhance the Indian government’s hypothesis of cross border terrorism; “there is every possibility that…….various unmarked graves at 38 places of north Kashmir may contain dead bodies of locals,” it says.

The Board of Directors, Kashmiri American Council (KAC), has commented that ‘it is appalled at the recent gruesome report’. This blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life is just another reminder of the tremendous sacrifices which the people of Kashmir are enduring.  KAC has called upon the international community to condemn these atrocities and constitute a UN tribunal to ascertain the gravity of the tyranny and allow the will of the people of Jammu & Kashmir to be ascertained in a free and fair plebiscite to decide their future.

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KAC has requested the Chairperson-Rapporteur of ‘United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances’ to conduct an independent investigation. To make the process credible, all discovered sites need to be secured through neutral observers to ensure that the physical state of evidence is not tempered with by the strong and powerful segments of the Indian military apparatus. Mass graves revealed so far, account only for about 20 percent of the number of missing persons compiled by the APDP. Many more graves are yet to be pinpointed. Related investigations need to be conducted by forensic experts in line with the UN model protocol on disinterment and analysis of the skeletal remains.

During the ongoing session of the UNGA, Pakistan needs to highlight the matter and launch a diplomatic campaign to harness international support for the constitution of an ‘Independent Inquiry Commission’ under the auspices of the United Nations to unearth all such mass graves in IOK; this commission should oversee the handing over of the mortal remains to their near and dear ones through DNA matching.

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