International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice, a human rights group, on Wednesday demanded an independent probe into the unmarked mass graves in Kashmir and immediate halt to committing such crimes.
The probe was demanded at a news conference in Srinagar called to release the report which claimed that 2,700 ‘unknown, unmarked, and mass graves,’ containing at least 2,900 bodies, in 55 villages in three districts — Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara — of North Kashmir have been probed. It claimed 87.9 percent of the cadavers in the graves were unnamed.
The group sought intervention of National Human Rights Commission as well as State Human Rights Commission and maintained that the copies of the report have been sent to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as well and will be sent to functionaries in the government of India. “Government should not ignore the report and look into this on priority,” said Angana Chatterji, Convenor of IPTK. Dr. Chatterji, who is also professor of cultural and social anthropology at California Centre for Integral Studies, said “Of the 2700 graves, 2,373 (87.9 percent) were unnamed. 154 graves contained two bodies each and 23 contained more than two cadavers. Within these 23 graves, the number of bodies ranged from 3 to 17,”
She said that a mass grave may be identified as containing more than one, and usually unidentified, human cadaver. The group has given 32 recommendations for the government and International organisations to ponder over.
Scholars, she said, refer to mass graves as resulting from Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, or Genocide. “If the intent of a mass grave is to execute death with impunity, with intent to kill more than one, and to forge an unremitting representation of death, then, to that extent, the graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara are part of a collective burial by India’s military and paramilitary, creating a landscape of ‘mass burial.’
Dr. Chatterji said post-death, the bodies of the victims were routinely handled by military and paramilitary personnel, including the local police. She said that the bodies were then brought to “secret graveyards” primarily by personnel of the State Police.
“The graves were constructed by local gravediggers and caretakers, buried individually when possible, and specifically, not en mass, in keeping with Islamic religious sensibilities,” she added.
She said armed forces and the State Police routinely claim the dead buried in unknown and unmarked graves to be “foreign militants.” The report, she said, also examines 50 alleged “encounter” killings by Indian security forces in numerous districts in Kashmir.
“Of these persons, 39 were of Muslim descent; 4 were of Hindu descent; 7 were not determined. Of these cases, 49 were labeled militants/foreign insurgents by forces and one body was drowned,’ she added.
The IPTK convener said that they have been able to study only partial areas within 3 out of the 10 districts in Kashmir, and our findings and very preliminary evidence point to the severity of existing conditions.
“If independent investigations were to be undertaken in all 10 districts, it is reasonable to assume that over 8,000 enforced disappearances since 1989 would correlate with the number of bodies in unknown, unmarked, and mass graves,” said Dr. Chatterji, flanked by other members of the group.
The group alleged that the international community and institutions have not examined the supposition of crimes against humanity in the State. “We note that the United Nations and its member states have remained ineffective in containing and halting the adverse consequences of the Indian state’s militarization in Kashmir,” she added, clarifying that the group wants world to know what was happening in Kashmir.
The group asked that evidence from ‘unknown, unmarked, and mass graves’ be used to seek justice, through the sentencing of criminals and other judicial and social processes.
“As well, the existence of these graves, and how they came to be, may be understood as indicative of the effects and issue of militarization, and the issues pertaining to militarization itself must be addressed seriously and expeditiously,” she added.
The independent group alleged that the violence and militarization in Kashmir, between 1989-2009, have resulted in over 70,000 deaths, including through extrajudicial or “fake encounter” executions, custodial brutality, and other means.
“In the enduring conflict, 6, 67,000 military and paramilitary personnel continue to act with impunity to regulate movement, law, and order across Kashmir,” she added.