News / Asia

Human Rights Watch Urges India to Prevent Abuses

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Anjana Pasricha

The New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, has urged India to prevent human rights abuses which it says occur during counterterrorism efforts. The report warns that such abuses could be counterproductive in the fight against terror.

Wednesday's report by Human Rights Watch focuses on the aftermath of a spate of bombings in 2008 which killed more than 150 people in the cities of New Delhi, Jaipur and Ahmedabad.

HRW South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly says the pressure on police to identify the perpetrators of these terror strikes led to arbitrary arrest and human rights abuses at every stage of custody.

"We found, in this case, people were rounded up in large numbers,” Ganguly said. “They were brought to police stations. Often they were tortured or held without being brought before a magistrate and some of them have said they were coerced to confess, and eventually many have retracted their confession.”

The report says the majority of the victims were scores of Muslim men.  A militant Islamic group called the Indian Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the 2008 attacks. But the report says suspected Hindu extremists, blamed for another bomb attack, have also suffered abuse.

Ganguly warns that such abuses could undermine efforts the fight against terror by punishing innocent people, while the guilty remain free, and by undermining public faith in police investigation.

"Quite often, when the police use torture, the information they gather is false information,” she added. “So the wrong people are identified as being perpetrators of these attacks…..people in India are no longer being able to trust the investigations because quite often torture is the only method used to coerce confessions."

The report has called on Indian authorities to investigate the case of nine Muslims being held for a bomb blast in 2006 in Malegoan in Maharashtra state. Further investigations have pointed the finger at Hindu extremists.

Indian authorities, in keeping with past practice, did not comment on the report.

Ganguly says there is support among Indian authorities for preventing rights abuses, but institutional changes are not happening.

"At the highest levels when we meet with the Indian government, there is commitment to zero tolerance for human rights violations,” said Ganguly. “However, on the ground that is not translated into anything that is significant."

Security analysts say India still relies on old methods of policing designed by colonial rulers in which abuse was an institutional practice. Demands for police reforms have been made repeatedly, but successive governments have done little to initiate those reforms.

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