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India urged to repeal soldiers’ impunity

An Indian soldier in Srinagar in the state of Jammu and Kashmir
(Alexandre Marchand/Flickr)

A law preventing civilian courts from prosecuting security personnel in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has led to a quarter century of human rights abuses, Amnesty International said in a report urging the government to repeal the legislation.
The region is highly militarized and split between India and Pakistan, which have overlapping claims and have fought three wars there, the last in 1997. The dispute has its roots in partition at the end of the British colonial period in 1947, and the Indian army is fighting about a dozen insurgent groups in the area it controls.
On 5 July 1990, India brought into effect in Jammu and Kashmir state the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which included a section requiring government authorities to approve any prosecution of a member of the security forces. 
That clause grants “virtual immunity”, Amnesty said in its report, which was released Wednesday. 
The rights group analyzed government and legal documents pertaining to 100 cases between 1990 and 2013, and conducted 58 interviews with family members of victims of alleged abuse by members of the army or paramilitary groups. Researchers found that the government denied permission for civilian courts to prosecute almost every case, except for a few in which it “kept the decision pending for years”.
“Till now, not a single member of the security forces deployed in the state has been tried for human rights violations in a civilian court. This lack of accountability has in turn facilitated other serious abuses,” said Amnesty’s Minar Pimple in a statement.
Defence Ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar declined to comment on the Amnesty report when contacted Thursday, and phone calls to the state government of Jammu and Kashmir were not answered.
The courts are not the only institutions unable to pursue justice against members of the military, according to Kamal Aron Mitra Chenoy, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University's School of International Studies who has written about human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. He said both the state and national human rights commissions are barred from investigating the army and paramilitaries. 
"Even in the press, you can write anything against the chief minister, but you can't write anything against a major," he told IRIN.
Amnesty also accused the ministries of defence and home affairs of “a worrying lack of transparency” regarding cases brought against security officers by families of victims, which would need to be “sanctioned” by the ministries in order for a civilian court to act.
“Not a single family interviewed by Amnesty International India for this report had been informed by the authorities of the status or outcome of a sanction request in relation to their case,” the rights group said.
The report included testimonies from families of victims, including Javaid Ahmad Magray who disappeared from his home on 30 April 2003 when he was 17 years old.
His family last saw him studying in his room, but in the morning he was gone. An army officer told the family he was in the local police station, and police told them he had been brought to three different hospitals before being declared dead.
An army officer testified in a police investigation that Magray was wounded during an altercation with members of the security forces, but a district magistrate investigation found that the “deceased boy was not a militant … and has been killed without justification”.
State authorities in 2007 petitioned the Defence Ministry to sanction the prosecution of soldiers, but the boy’s father, Guham Nabi Magray, said the family has yet to receive notification of the ministry’s decision.
“We simply never heard what happened with it,” Magray told Amnesty.

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