Coming down heavily on India for alleged rights violations in terror-riven Jammu and Kashmir, global rights watchdog Amnesty International Monday said the Public Safety Act (PSA) should be revoked in the state.
The 600-page Amnesty report – the first on Jammu and Kashmir since 2000 – has termed the PSA a “lawless law”.
We strongly advocate abrogation of PSA as it provides immunity to troopers and officials involved in rights violations, Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, researcher Asia-Pacific Programme, and Bikramjeet Batra, campaigner India, Asia-Pacific Programme, jointly told reporters.
The report, released at a function at the Grand Mumtaz Hotel in the summer capital Srinagar, documents how authorities are using the act to detain people for years at a time, without trial, “depriving them of basic human rights otherwise provided under Indian law”.
On the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Batra said, Amnesty International’s (AI) stand is clear, the act should be revoked forthwith.”
Batra and Gopalakrishnan said the Amnesty team had visited Kashmir last year and studied at least 600 people booked under the PSA. Their details and other particulars have been incorporated in the report, the researchers said.
Batra also said the team has sought an appointment with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and some other senior officials here to discuss the report.
He told that the Amnesty team had March 17 met union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai who had assured that PSA detentions would be brought down by 10-20 percent this year.
The Amnesty report said, “Estimates of the number detained under the PSA over the past two decades range from 8,000-20,000.”
Between January and September 2010, “322 people were reportedly detained under the controversial act that empowers district magistrates to detain people for up to two years for suspected offences ranging from anti-state activities to timber smuggling”.
The report is based on research conducted in May last year and “subsequent analysis of government and legal documents relating to over 600 individuals detained under the PSA between 2003 and 2010”.
“By using the PSA to incarcerate suspects without adequate evidence, India has not only gravely violated their human rights but also failed in its duty to charge and try such individuals and to punish them if found guilty in a fair trial.”
The report said state authorities “often implement this law in an arbitrary and abusive manner”.
It said that in many cases, the high court has quashed orders of detentions but the research “clearly shows that the authorities consistently thwart the court’s orders for release by re-detaining individuals under criminal charges and/or issuing further detention orders, thereby securing incarceration”.
Jammu and Kashmir has since 1989 witnessed a bloody separatist war – which India alleges is sponsored by Pakistan and militant organisations there – during which tens of thousands of people have been killed.
The watchdog said, “AI acknowledges the right, indeed the duty, of the state to defend and protect its population from violence. However, this must be done while respecting the human rights of all concerned.”
It said: “India has so far chosen to ignore calls” to reform its “administrative detention system.”
The report said a police officer, justifying the detention system, told the Amnesty team: “What rights are you talking about? We are fighting a war, a cross-border war.”
AI has recommended that India:
* Repeal the PSA and end practices of illegal and incommunicado detention and immediately put in place safeguards to ensure that those detained are brought promptly before a magistrate.
* Carry out an independent investigation into all allegations of abuses against those detained.
* Extend invitations and facilitate the visits of the UN officials and panels, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Some media reports here said the state government had decided not to revoke the Disturbed Areas Act in some areas of the state unilaterally. If the Disturbed Areas Act is removed, the AFSPA would automatically be rendered ineffectual in such areas.
The power to withdraw the Disturbed Areas Act is vested in the state government.