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2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices

March 3, 2005 | Comments Off on 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices

The U.S. Department of State released its 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices on February 28, 2005.

The report highlights the continuing impunity for disappearances in Punjab and police violations of human rights. The report also discusses the failure of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to pursue the mass cremations case in Punjab.

In Punjab, the pattern of disappearances prevalent in the early 1990s ended; however, during the year, the Government failed to hold accountable hundreds of police and security officials for serious human rights abuses committed during the counterinsurgency of 1984-94, despite the presence of a special investigatory commission.

The report references Reduced to Ashes, the 2003 report filed by the Committee for Coordination of Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP) that documents 672 cases of disappearances.

In the past year, the NHRC has made little progress in the Punjab mass cremations case.

In 1998, the Supreme Court had directed the NHRC to investigate 2,097 cases of illegal cremation in Punjab’s Amritsar district (see Section 1.b.). However, of the 2,097 cases, the NHRC has identified and named 693 of the missing youth.

During the year, no action was taken by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which claimed to be actively pursuing charges against dozens of police officials implicated in the 1980s, for mass cremations in which it is alleged that police in Amritsar, Majitha, and Tarn Taran district secretly disposed of approximately 2,000 bodies of suspected militants. The militants were allegedly abducted, extrajudicially executed, and cremated without the knowledge or consent of their families during the height of Sikh militancy in Punjab.

Although the NHRC continued to investigate the 2,097 cases of illegal cremation and asked families of the disappeared to come forward with evidence, it did not release its findings or make any significant progress towards identifying the cremated bodies or bringing those responsible to justice.

In November 2004, the NHRC announced Rs 240,000 in compensation to 109 families of victims, without any admission of liability. This move may thwart the attempt to procure justice for those killed, not only in Amritsar, but throughout Punjab, by turning attention away from: an inquiry into the range of abuses and the system that allowed such abuses to occur, a complete determination of wrongdoing and liability, and compensation based on a full understanding of the different abuses suffered by survivors, among other issues.

The police admitted that the victims had been in custody, but maintained that a number of the detainees were killed in crossfire after militants attacked a police convoy searching for hidden weapons….

By the end of 2004, the Commission had not heard testimony involving CCDP’s documentation of 672 dissappearance cases pending before the NHRC.

Throughout the year, however, the NHRC was active in awarding compensation for other human rights abuses throughout the country.

For example, in May, the NHRC ordered the State of Kerala to pay $222 (Rs. 10,000) to two Adivasi (tribal) youths who were allegedly detained illegally by police. Also in May, the Home Ministry authorized the NHRC to recommend relief payments to victims of human rights abuses by security forces.

The human rights abuses by police in Punjab continue with impunity — in July, a man incarcerated in Amritsar’s Central Jail was branded on his back by the Deputy Superintendent and other prison officials after demanding water and better treatment.

Doctors found fresh scars on his back that had been inflicted with hot iron rods. No action was taken at year’s end.

In July, the Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC) required police officials to submit a report concerning the case of a prisoner in police custody who was allegedly made to sign four blank confession forms after repeated torture by electric shock. …

There were also two recent deaths under police custody in Punjab; in both cases, the police tortured the accused to death, and in neither case have the officers responsible for the killings been arrested.

Although the Malimath Committee on Judicial Reform issued a report in 2003 that proposed some police-recommended reform, measures had not been implemented at year’s end.

Punjab Director General of the Police A.A. Siddiqui reported that police had received 17,000 complaints during the year, including 6,261 from the Punjab State Human Rights Commission, 376 from the NHRC, and 46 from the NHRC for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The media reported that 59 police officers were found guilty of violating human rights in Punjab during the year.

Further, in violation of Constitutional provisions, thousands of criminal suspects remain imprisoned without charge.

The Constitution provides detainees the right to be informed of the grounds for their arrest, representation by legal counsel, and, unless held under a preventive detention law, to be arraigned within 24 hours of arrest, at which time the accused must either be remanded for further investigation or released.

The State Department report also noted the February 2004 application of the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), a law that the government had allowed to lapse in 1995.  TADA established in camera courts, authorized the detention of persons in a “disturbed area” on mere suspicion, and made detainees presumed guilty until proven innocent. Government agents detained Simranjit Singh Mann in February 2004 under TADA for making “an inflammatory speech” in 1991 regarding Khalistan. He was released and then arrested again on March 23, when he voiced opposition to the then-Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advanti at a rally. Mann was released two days later.

Although the Government allowed the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) to lapse in 1995, the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center reported that more than 1,000 persons remained in detention awaiting prosecution under the law, and that cases opened under TADA continued through the judicial system.

TADA courts curtailed many legal protections provided by other courts. For example, defense counsel was not permitted to see prosecution witnesses, who were kept behind screens while testifying in court, and confessions extracted under duress were admissible as evidence.

At the end of 2004, the Nanavati Commission had not completed the report on its re-inquiry into the 1984 pogroms against Sikhs, and was issued another extension.


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