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Indian PM’s call for ‘zero tolerance’ of abuses by the armed forces has been undercut by the near “zero progress” in holding the abusers responsible: HRW

January 27, 2012 | By

  • The government should no longer allow the army to hide behind claims about troop morale or operational needs as an excuse for impunity.
  • India 2011: Disappointing Year for Human Rights.
  • Failure to Address Impunity, Police Reform, Torture, Women’s Rights.

Ludhiana, Punjab (January 26, 2012): The Indian government during 2011 failed to hold rights violators accountable or to carry out effective policies to protect vulnerable communities, Human Rights Watch said on 23rd January, 2012 in its World Report 2012:India.

The government took no action to repeal the widely discredited Armed Forces Special Powers Act, disregarding the recommendations of political leaders and advisers, Human Rights Watch said. The government also ignored the urgent need for police reform despite widespread complaints of torture and unlawful killings as well as deplorable working conditions for police personnel.

“The Indian government took few steps to prosecute abusive soldiers, undertake needed police reforms, or bring an end to torture,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Internationally, India missed opportunities to be a leader at the United Nations Security Council and Human Rights Council in protecting the rights of vulnerable people abroad.”

In its World Report 2012, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including popular uprisings in the Arab world that few would have imagined. Given the violent forces resisting the “Arab Spring,” the international community has an important role to play in assisting the birth of rights-respecting democracies in the region, Human Rights Watch said in the report.

In India, violence in Jammu and Kashmir state dropped significantly during 2011. The state human rights commission’s investigation of 38 sites in north Kashmir and the discovery of 2,730 unmarked graves was a good first step for providing justice to the victims, Human Rights Watch said. While the government maintains that most of the bodies are those of unidentified Pakistani militants, many Kashmiris believe that victims of fake “encounter killings” or enforced disappearances may also have been buried in those graves. Although the government has promised a thorough inquiry, a credible investigation is impossible without the cooperation of the army and federal paramilitary forces, which hide behind the immunity provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and other laws.

The government belatedly addressed the epidemic of killings on the Indo-Bangladesh border by the Border Security Force (BSF). Although the government ordered restraint and provided rubber bullets to reduce casualties, there were continued reports of torture leading to deaths and other abuses by BSF soldiers. No BSF soldiers have been prosecuted for the unlawful killings of over 900 Indians and Bangladeshis over the past decade.

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call for ‘zero tolerance’ of abuses by the armed forces has been undercut by the near zero progress in holding the abusers responsible,” Adams said. “The government should no longer allow the army to hide behind claims about troop morale or operational needs as an excuse for impunity.”

Residents of areas facing a Maoist insurgency, which in 2011 was active in nearly 80 districts across 11 Indian states, complained of being squeezed between state security forces and Maoist rebels. Security agencies carried out numerous arbitrary arrests and were accused of many instances of torture. The Maoists frequently demanded shelter and information from villagers, who were then punished by security forces for collaborating with the rebels.

Activists working in these areas are at risk from both the Maoists and government forces. Maoists have tortured and killed activists and others they suspected of being government informers, and police in several instances have charged activists with conspiracy and sedition for supporting the Maoist ideology. The Maoists recruit children into their forces and attack schools, often putting students at risk. The government has not fully carried out court directives to end deployment of security forces in schools in areas threatened by the Maoists.

“While the government agrees that the Maoist movement is rooted in failed government policies and speaks of winning hearts and minds, it allows the security forces to commit abuses with impunity,” Adams said. “At the same time, the Maoists claim to speak for the marginalized yet punish anyone who might disagree with their violent methods.”

The government adopted long overdue measures to compensate rape victims and revised its medico-legal protocols to exclude the humiliating “finger” test to investigate rape cases, Human Rights Watch said. Yet the government did little to address the widespread problems of “honor killings,” dowry deaths, and sexual violence. Afurther decline in India’s sex ratio because of sex selective abortion and other abuses against girls and womenpoints to the economic and social disparities that lead families to prefer sons over daughters, and the government’s need to expand educational and economic opportunities for women. The failure to extend maternal health care programs to all mothers below age 19 or with more than two live births also reflected poorly on the government’s commitment to protect women.

The Medical Council of India took an important step in 2011 by recognizing palliative care as a medical specialty. But more than half of government-supported regional cancer centers still do not offer palliative care or pain management, even though more than 70 percent of their patients need it. The result has been severe, unnecessary suffering for tens of thousands of patients.Internationally, although India served on both the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council, it let opportunities pass to support independent, international investigations into conflict-related abuses in Sri Lanka and Burma. Instead of using these memberships to show leadership to protect human rights abroad, India remained silent on even the gravest abuses. While expressing concern about the increased violence in Syria, for example, New Delhi failed to support policies that would ease the suffering of the Syrian people.

“India is now watched closely for signs of responsible global leadership,” Adams said. “Its silence on human rights violations by abusive regimes because of its reluctance to interfere in the so-called ‘internal affairs’ of other countries sits uncomfortably alongside its international human rights commitments and its self image as a rights-respecting nation.”

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