Shujaat Bukhari

It claims to have found 2,700 graves, containing at least 2,900 bodies, in 55 villages

“Bodies of victims were routinely handled by military and paramilitary personnel, including local police”

“Global community, institutions haven’t examined supposition of crimes against humanity in J&K”

JAMMU: The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice for Kashmir on Wednesday demanded an independent probe into the unmarked mass graves in north Kashmir and an immediate halt to such crimes.

A news conference was called in Srinagar to release the report of the human rights group, which claimed that 2,700 ‘unknown, unmarked mass graves,’ containing at least 2,900 bodies, in 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara districts were probed. It claimed that 87.9 per cent of the cadavers were unnamed.

The group sought the intervention of the National and State Human Rights Commissions, and said copies of the report were sent to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as well and would be sent to functionaries in the government of India. “Government should not ignore the report and look into this on priority,” said Angana Chatterji, convener of the group. Dr. Chatterji, who is professor of cultural and social anthropology at the 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 a mass grave might be identified as containing more than one, usually unidentified, human cadaver. The group has given 32 recommendations for the government and international organisations to ponder.

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’, she said.

‘Secret graveyards’

Post-death, the bodies of the victims were routinely handled by military and paramilitary personnel, including the local police. The bodies were then brought to “secret graveyards” primarily by personnel of the State police, Dr. Chatterji said.

“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 the armed forces and the State police routinely claimed that the dead buried in unknown and unmarked graves were “foreign militants.”

‘Encounter killings’

The report, she said, also examined 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 labelled as militants/foreign insurgents by forces,” she added.

The convener said the rights group was able to study only partial areas within three 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 had 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 militarisation in Kashmir,” she added.

The group asked that evidence from the ‘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 militarisation, and the issues pertaining to militarisation itself must be addressed seriously and expeditiously,” she said.

The independent group alleged that the violence and militarisation in Kashmir, between 1989 and 2009, 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,” Dr. Chatterji said.