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Kashmir Rights Groups Launches People's Tribunal

  • Shahnawaz Khan

The Public Commission on Human Rights, a constituent of the Srinagar based civil rights group Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society has announced the launch of International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The Tribunal is the first of its kind in Indian administered Kashmir. It was formed by the Public Commission on Human Rights with the support of other rights groups and individuals from India and other countries. The tribunal will investigate charges of institutionalized violence and human rights abuses in the region.

Human rights activists say the tribunal will also examine the impact of militarization on the social, economic and political development of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Doctor Angana Chatterjee, an Indian professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, is one of the contributors to the formation of the tribunal.

"Today in announcing this tribunal, we call upon the international community to join us in investigating India's record in Kashmir, as India, an emergent superpower, argues for a seat on the United Nations Security Council," said Angana Chatterjee. "We seek accountability under provisions of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, Constitution of India, and International Law and Conventions, to insist upon reparations, justice, and self-determination."

The tribunal will hold its investigations in 2008 through 2009. The focus of its inquiries will be the period after November 2003, when the India-Pakistan cease-fire began, with supporting investigations related to the period between 1989-2003.

Mihir Desai, an advocate at the Supreme Court of India and a co-founder of the Indian People's Tribunal, is the legal counsel of the new tribunal. He says that special powers given to troops, as in Indian-administered Kashmir, are a means to suppress a population.

"To deal with any situation of violence the normal criminal law is always enough. You invoke the special laws, such as are done in Kashmir, not to deal with violence but to subjugate an entire population," Desai said. "The purpose is to subjugate an entire population into acceding, into giving up their legitimate political demands."

An anti-India armed insurgency broke out in Indian administered Kashmir in 1989, with a popular demand for the right to self-determination.

Special provisions like the Armed Forces Special Provisions Act and Public Safety Act give overriding powers to Indian troops and police fighting insurgency in the region.

Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, an army officer can shoot a person on mere suspicion. Under the Public Safety Act, a person can be detained without any charges for up to two years.

The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society has been an active rights group in Indian-administered Kashmir. It has accused India of gross rights violations and repressive techniques. India does allow groups like Amnesty International access to Kashmir, while Human Rights Watch has had limited access in recent years.

Founders of the new tribunal say they hope its findings will stir international public opinion and help put pressure on India.

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