Why cases of rights abuse by army are stuck

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The defence ministry doesn’t trust J&K Police on probes into rights violations by army personnel, reports Riyaz Wani

Fear factor Women walk past soldiers on the outskirts of Srinagar
Fear factor: Women walk past soldiers on the outskirts of Srinagar, Photo: Faisal Khan

THE POLICE has been lauded for its stellar role in the fight against militancy in Jammu & Kashmir, but the defence ministry does not trust its investigation into human rights violations by armymen. In 19 out of the 24 cases forwarded by the J&K government for sanction for prosecution, the ministry found the probes to be shoddy. In some cases, the ministry even suspects foul play by the police and is still mulling some of the evidence gathered in other cases.

In the case against Major Raghavan R Singh, who is accused of killing a civilian in custody on 15 June 2000, the ministry has accused the police of recording “doctored statements of the witnesses” to falsely implicate the officer. “The post-mortem report reflected no injuries except a scratch on the right wrist,” argues the ministry in reply to an RTI as its reason for denying the sanction for prosecution. In a similar case against Major GK Batila of the 30 Rashtriya Rifles, the ministry terms the allegation baseless and “framed with mala fide intent to tarnish the image of the army”.

So far, there has not been a single case in which the defence ministry has found the probe adequate to grant sanction for prosecution.

The denied cases include the Pathribal fake encounter, which saw the Supreme Court censuring the army for its attempt to stonewall the trial. In 2000, five civilians were killed by the army and passed off as the terrorists responsible for the killing of 36 Sikhs in Chittisinghpora. The CBI has already concluded that it was a fake encounter.

Similarly, sanction is also awaited in the case of Major Avatar Singh, who is accused of killing human rights activist Jalil Andrabi in 1996. But the case against Singh sent to the defence ministry for sanction is not about Andrabi but the custodial death of Imtiyaz Ahmad Wani, a civilian. Incidentally, there is an Interpol Red Notice against Major Singh, now settled in the United States.

So far, the main reason for the rejection of sanction has been that the probes don’t make for a credible case against the accused. For example, in a 2003 case of enforced disappearance involving Captain Atul Sharma, the ministry says the allegation is “motivated”. “Neither was any operation carried by any unit in the area nor was any person arrested as alleged,” the ministry says.

However, human rights activists are unconvinced. “If the defence ministry thinks that human rights cases against armymen have no basis and are motivated by malicious intent, then the ministry should file a defamation suit against the police,” says Parvez Imroz, a leading lawyer and president of the Coalition of Civil Society.

At the same time, there are contradictions in the number of human rights cases. In reply to an RTI query, the state home ministry said that since 1989, it has forwarded 31 cases to the defence ministry and 19 to the Union home ministry, which gives the nod in cases against paramilitary personnel. This takes the total to 50, out of which permission has been denied in 26. In 16 cases, it is stated to be under scrutiny. Interestingly, the state’s home department says it has recommended the sanction for trial in eight other cases.

Does it mean that there are only 50 cases of human rights violations in J&K against the army in the past 20 years? According to a recent State Human Rights Commission report, it has registered 5,699 cases from 1997 to August 2011, of which it has disposed of 4,578 cases, while probes are on to determine the truth in other complaints.

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
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