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Impunity in Indian Kashmir, the killing of Rizwan Pandith

As Penny Mordaunt moves to grant UK soldiers immunity from prosecution over actions on the battlefield abroad after 10 years, citing endless vexatious complaints, India reminds us of the risks of such immunity.

Last year the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report expressing concerns about access to justice in Indian controlled Kashmir, calling for a comprehensive independent international investigation. India dismissed the report, calling it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated.” Allegations of torture were emerging too – although India signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1997, it has never ratified the treaty. A Prevention of Torture Bill introduced in parliament in 2010 was not passed, lapsing in 2014.

In July the UN Human Rights Committee reviews India’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It’s hoped they will review the case of Rizwan Pandith, a 29-year-old school principal tortured to death on 19 March in the Cargo camp of the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police. The police claim that he died trying to escape. There has been no investigation.

Tensions have increased in Kashmir since a suicide bombing in February killed over 40 security personnel, but insurgency has rumbled on for decades. India now has over half a million security forces there, under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (which allows the military to operate in areas ‘disturbed’ by insurgency). The Indian Prime Minister says the army has a ‘free hand’ there in ‘Operation All Out.’ Perhaps they should call it ‘Operation Impunity.’

Human rights organisations in Kashmir have just released a report detailing 432 cases of torture by police and security services since 1991. Victims include women, children, students, rights activists and journalists. It’s grim reading. Victims describe beatings, burnings with hot iron bars and cigarettes, water-boarding, electrocution, suspension, near-drownings and being forced to eat human waste. Over half experienced violent penetrative sexual assault.  On October 27, 2009, 11 boys age of 13 to 19 arrested in Srinagar for throwing stones were forced to sodomise each other.

The report claims that India uses torture as an instrument of control in the region, often with no purpose but intimidation, with some victims randomly abducted and tortured without even an accusation. 40 of the 432 died from their torture, including Muzaffer Ahmed Mirza from Tral, subjected to anal rape with a hard metal implement so violent that it resulted in his death from a ruptured lung. The Director General of Police for.Jammu and Kashmir, Dilbagh Singh, rejects the report entirely, insisting any such allegations would have come to the police, who would have responded.  It is not clear how they could have responded. Public officials in Kashmir have immunity from prosecution for such alleged violations under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives military forces similar immunity. Either India does not consider its security services capable of torture or thinks torture perfectly reasonable. Either away, it avoids vexatious complaints. It avoids all complaints.

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