Present situation

23 February 2007 Srinagar, Kashmir

It is an undisputed fact that the large number of army and paramilitary camps have turned J&K; into a large prison for Kashmiris. The concrete bunkers of the security forces at every nook and corner across the valley tell the story of the present situation in Kashmir. More than half a million armed and paramilitary forces are controlling nine million people. Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy has rightly pointed out (The Hindu, 31 Aug. 2005) 'The Indian security forces are not only fighting the small number of militants in J&K; (1500) but are actually controlling the social, political and domestic activities of the people and innocent people are killed in the name of peace and security.' She has further gone on to say that the Indian armed forces are an occupying force and are committing all kinds of human rights violations. While thousands of Kashmiris have been killed during seventeen years of conflict, 8,000-10,000 people have disappeared (involuntary or enforced disappearances) mostly arrested by security forces.

APDP is the only non-political independent group comprised of family members of the disappeared. It was founded in 1994; the issue of disappearance affects more than 300,000 family members. Therefore APDP is working under all kinds of pressure. The relatives of the disappeared want to know the whereabouts and the fate of their loved ones and want to force the government and army to respond to their questions. At the same time APDP faces both visible and invisible threats from the security forces. The civil government has no response and no answers for the family members.

APDP members mostly belong to poor families who live in remote and far-flung areas. Due to the lack of resources, it has been impossible to document and record all disappearances since 1989. APDP has been able to document only a few hundred cases, and has to limit its support and advocacy activities to a few hundred families. Financial support is needed to make a comprehensive survey of all disappearances.

On the other hand the state government has not made any sincere effort to trace the disappeared and instead has given out contradictory statements about the number of disappeared, changing it from year to year.

People have also been reluctant to report disappearances since these are carried out by the security forces, who are an ever-present threat. Cases regarding missing persons have been registered at the police stations only after intervention by the courts or by any other agency having influence over the local police station. The local police themselves were not registering cases of disappearances as they would face retribution or reprisal from the security forces and the SOG (Special Operations Groups, pro-India militants armed and supported by the Indian forces, notorious for committing human rights violations).

The security forces are backed by laws which give impunity from prosecution to any of their members accused of human rights abuses. Laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in operation in J&K; since 1990, render the armed forces unaccountable and unanswerable for their actions before the legal authorities. Court orders issued to the armed forces are observed only in the breach and a large number of inquiries regarding disappearances are gathering dust in government offices. To date not a single perpetrator of these heinous crimes has been brought to justice.

The APDP demands an independent, impartial and credible commission to work in a transparent way to investigate the disappearances. The proceedings of the commission should be open to the public and it should provide answers to the satisfaction of the relatives of the disappeared. The APDP also demands the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and an end to custodial killings, fake encounters, involuntary disappearances and all kinds of human rights violations immediately.

The recent disclosures of the killing of five persons in fake encounters in Ganderbal - where the dead bodies were exhumed and investigations launched - have sent shock waves through the families of the disappeared as they believe their wards may have been killed in similar situations. The police officers now accused of killing innocent civilians in fake encounters have received gallantry awards and promotions. Going by past history the public in general and the relatives of the victims do not believe that the investigation will be fair, impartial, transparent, or even that it will be completed.

The APDP has carried out a series of demonstrations across the Valley through the months of February and March 2007 and has also carried the protests to Delhi, seeking the support of Indian civil society groups and to attract the attention of wider media. APDP is seeking support at the international level for investigation of the cases of disappearances and for bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Though the government of India has recently signed the Draft Resolution on Disappearances, after avoiding it for many years. APDP expects the government to act upon the provisions of this treaty by appointing a credible and independent commission to inquire into involuntary disappearances in a time bound period.


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