NATIONAL

European Parliament demands probe into charges in Kashmir

Praveen Swami

Allegations of human rights abuses false, insist Indian officials



European Parliament for probe into suspected sites of mass graves

“State wilfully concealed local identities of the dead”



NEW DELHI: European Parliament members have called on India to investigate allegations that its troops may have executed thousands of innocent Jammu and Kashmir residents.

Passed unanimously on Thursday, a resolution calls on the government of India to urgently ensure independent and impartial investigations into all suspected sites of mass graves in the State and, as a first step, secure the sites in order to preserve evidence.

Call to European Commission

In language likely to offend Indian sensitivities, the resolution also calls on the European Commission to offer financial and technical assistance to the Indian government for such a thorough inquiry and possible further measures of conflict resolution in Kashmir.

Earlier in March 2008, the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) reported the existence of 940 unidentified graves in 18 villages in Uri district. In addition, the APDP said, it found several similar graveyards elsewhere in the State.

Army’s stand

While the Army said the graves were of terrorists killed in the area which straddles the Line of Control and saw frequent fire contact between infiltrators and Indian forces, the APDP and human rights organisations said the graves could contain the bodies of people killed in fake encounters.

“20,000 ultras killed”

The Jammu and Kashmir police have denied the allegations. Over the last two decades, Director-General of Police Kuldeep Khoda told The Hindu, almost 20,000 terrorists had been killed in combat, both while crossing the LoC and inside the State. “I do not see how we can be expected to have definitive knowledge of all of them.”

In some cases, “we were able to make a positive identification; in others, we could not. Every death was recorded in a First Information Report, which recorded our best knowledge about the facts of the case at the outset, as well as photographs and case records.”

Muddy facts

Mr. Khoda’s position is disputed by the APDP and other rights groups but the facts they have laid on the table are also muddy.

For one, although the APDP has characterised the graves secrets discovered through its investigations, their existence has in fact long been public knowledge.



Frontline report

In March 2003, for example, Frontline carried a detailed account of one such graveyard in Surankote, a town in Poonch district that was then one of the areas worst-hit by jihadist violence.

Describing the fallout of an Army offensive on the mountains around Surankote, Frontline recorded that the bodies of unidentified foreign terrorists killed there were buried in a field that sprawls over an area of an outsize football field and threatens to overrun adjoining farms.

Frontline earlier reported on a similar graveyard in its January 4, 2002 photo-feature on counter-terrorism operations in the remote Wadwan-Inshan belt of Doda district.

As things stand, it is far from clear just what facts the European Parliament wants Indian investigators to establish.

“Fake encounters”

In a recent article, Angana Chatterjee of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir argued that exhumation and identification would establish the dead as locals, ordinary citizens, killed in fake encounters.

While exhumation might well prove that some of the dead were local residents, it is unclear how this will prove that the encounters were fake or, for that matter, genuine.

“Misrepresented”

Ms. Chatterjee asserted that the State wilfully concealed the local identities of the dead, thus propagating a misrepresentation that the demand for self-determination is prevailingly [sic.] external.

On point of fact, while politicians have said most terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir are foreign mercenaries, this is not the Indian government’s official position.

Data released by the Union Home Ministry shows that only a quarter of the terrorists killed in the State have been presumed to be foreigners.

Claims rebutted

Authorities earlier rebutted APDP claims of large-scale disappearances, arguing that many individuals on a list of 743 were either living at home or did not exist.

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