Disappeared Persons in Kashmir
The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, since its formation in 1994, has been campaigning against Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (EID) in Jammu and Kashmir State. The association from time to time has highlighted the plight of EID, but the government remains indifferent to their problems. In the month of January, the association gave two months notice to the state government to consider their demands, to which the government has not responded. The association has now decided to go on a hunger strike from 17-24 April in order to press for their demands.
Since 1989, when armed conflict started in Kashmir, more than 8,000 people have disappeared after their arrest by the law enforcing agencies. Majority of them are non-combatant Kashmiris. Even the government has admitted the phenomenon. The new Chief Minister of J&K state, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed on February 25, 2003 unveiled what the security agencies had been doing during 2000, 2001 and 2002. Mufti informed the State Assembly in Jammu that “Three thousand seven hundred and forty four persons are missing in between 2000 to 2002. 1,553 persons got disappeared in 2000. 1586 went missing in 2001 and 605 in 2002”. Earlier, on July 18, 2002, the then Home Minister Khalid Najeeb Soharwardy of the erstwhile National Conference government had also admitted on the floor of the Legislative Assembly that 3,184 person were missing in the Valley since the inception of militancy. These figures are preliminary and one can understand the numbers of total disappearances keeping in view the figures furnished by the government.
Since 1989, different regimes have taken over the reigns. And, since 1986 two civilian governments have been at the helm of the affairs but nothing on ground has changed. The present government which made human rights an election plank and promised people that human rights violations would be stopped at any cost and the perpetrators would be punished according to their Common Minimum Programme (CMP). Notwithstanding, the election rhetoric, the disappearances continue. Since 2nd November 2002, when the new government took over, there have been 26 cases of disappearances from different parts of the state, which have been brought to the notice of state government. It is customary that every new government blames previous governments for the disappearances in the state and practically all the governments have shown indifference, callousness and helplessness under the prevailing circumstances to address the issue confronting more than two hundred thousands relatives of desaparecidos, although the politicians and bureaucrats informally have expressed serious concern over the alarming number of missing persons but have also express their helplessness in this behalf.
Way back in 1999, the home department issued a circular in continuation of Govt. Order No. GON 723-GR-GAD of 1990 dated 10-07-1990 read with govt. Order NO. 1073-GR of 1990 dated 19-11-1990 for constitution of the District-Screening-Cum-Coordination Committee in each district, which will recommend the cases of missing persons for payment of ex-gratia relief. The Committee along with other persons was to be comprised of the representatives of the very perpetrators (security forces). Since the issuance of the circular, this so-called District-Screening-Cum- Coordination Committee have seldom met. The association has no faith in this committee comprising the perpetrators.
In 2000, the Divisional Commissioner issued a public notice in local papers directing the relatives of the missing persons to approach the respective deputy commissioners along with the details of the missing persons. The relatives in thousands with lot of hope and expectations filed the details in the office of the respective Deputy Commissioners but till date, no body knows the fate of these petitions.
On the 30th of August 2000, the relatives commemorated the International Day of Disappeared, which was carried by the regional as well as national press. The National Human Rights Commission on press reporting took the suo moto cognizance of the matter and issued a notice to the state government and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, for furnishing the details. The APDP complying the directions sent those details. Since then, nobody is aware of the progress, and it is presumed that the matter has been shelved.
The state judiciary meant to protect the life and liberty of the citizen and to enforce the guidelines laid on by Supreme Court of India has failed, seldom has any perpetrator been punished or booked under contempt for violating the guidelines. The exhaustive litigation has only given impression to the relatives that the institution is dysfunctional to redress their grievance or provide justice. Notwithstanding, the institutional failure, the relatives are relentlessly continuing their struggle by resorting to other measures like lobbying with the civil society groups, press etc.
In 2002, the association conducted a signature campaign in which thousands of relatives (though illiterate) signed the petition, which was later sent to International Human Rights institutions and organisations. This signature campaign was joined by human rights groups from different countries (European and Asian countries) also. A copy was even forwarded to the authorities, highlighting their demands.
The relatives are struggling on the individual as well as collective level to know the fate of their beloved ones, but the government is shy in acknowledging the plight of the relatives and to accept the demands of the Association made from time to time at different occasions. It seems that all the governments are helpless under the prevailing circumstances to address the problem, which they believe will demoralize the army. Disappearance is a crime against humanity, according to the Rome Statute adopted on 17th of July 1998, and according to the International Criminal Court (ICC) the persons responsible for disappearances shall be personally responsible for violation of International Humanitarian Law.
The relatives are observing this hunger strike as a means to highlight their plight and in order to pressurize the government for;
(1) stopping the enforced disappearances in J&K so that other people do not undergo the similar plight and trauma they are facing.
(2) punishing the perpetrators responsible for enforced disappearances as under no law the disappearances could be an official act under any circumstances not even permissible in war times. It would only end if perpetrators are held personally responsible and seek no protection under the cover of impunity laws.
(3) appointment of the commission to probe into all enforced disappearances (as has been done in other countries) in J&K state, since 1989 and identify the state and non-state actors responsible for EID.
(4) providing justice to the relatives of the disappeared persons according to the international standards.
The Struggle for justice shall continue.
AHRC Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission