In a report released Wednesday, Amnesty International urged the Indian government to revoke a controversial law that perpetuates “a cycle of impunity for human rights violations” in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), passed by the Indian parliament in 1958 and in force in the state since 1990, grants security personnel wide-ranging powers to act against alleged terrorists and separatists and also protects them from civilian prosecution.
“5 July 2015 will mark 25 years since the Afspa in effect came into force in Jammu and Kashmir,” Minar Pimple, senior director of global operations at Amnesty, said, in a statement accompanying the report. “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.”
Indian security forces have been deployed in Jammu and Kashmir for decades as the region continues to witness violence, which the army claims is triggered by separatist rebels and pro-Pakistan groups. India has also consistently accused Pakistan of fomenting unrest in the state, including in the “Pakistan-administered Kashmir” region. A significant portion of the state’s eastern region, known as Aksai Chin, has been under Chinese control since 1962.
In the past, several international human rights organizations, including the United Nations, have also urged the Indian government to repeal the “draconian” Afspa, citing “extensive evidence” of human rights abuses committed by the armed forces.
However, successive Indian governments, including the current one led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have refused to repeal the law, terming it essential to safeguard soldiers deployed in the region.
The latest report, which includes interviews with several activists, and 58 family members of victims of alleged human rights violations by security forces, said that the government had denied permission, or "sanction," to prosecute under section 7 of the Afspa in several cases against army or paramilitary personnel.
“Not a single family interviewed for the report had been informed by the authorities of the status or outcome of a sanction request in relation to their case,” Divya Iyer, research manager at Amnesty International India, said in the statement. “Police and court records pertaining to nearly 100 cases of human rights violations filed by families of victims between 1990 and 2012 showed that the Jammu and Kashmir police often failed to register complaints or take action on registered complaints until they were compelled.”
According to the Amnesty report, the Indian army dismissed over 96 percent of the allegations of human rights violations leveled against it as “false and baseless.” Moreover, information related to these cases was not made public.
In addition to repealing the Afspa, the government should “make information pertaining to the proceedings, verdicts and sentences of courts-martial and security force courts publicly accessible including through the Right to Information Act, 2005 and by other means including an online database,” Amnesty recommended.