‘Arbitrary’, ‘excessive’ force used in Kashmir, says Amnesty International

Srinagar: Amnesty International India on Monday said the government forces are using arbitrary and excessive force in response to protests in Jammu and Kashmir, violating international standards and worsening the human rights crisis in the state.

In a statement, the rights body executive director Aakar Patel said, “pellet-firing shotguns have injured and blinded even peaceful protestors and bystanders. Children have been hit by pellets from these shotguns while sitting inside their homes.”

“These weapons are inherently indiscriminate and always carry the risk of causing serious injury to people who are not engaging in violence. There is simply no proper way to use these weapons, and they should be prohibited,” he added.

The UN Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms states that firearms should not be used “except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury” and “only when less extreme means are insufficient”. The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that law enforcement officials may use force “only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty”.

The MHA approved the use of PAVA shells on the recommendation of a committee formed to suggest alternatives to pellet-firing shotguns. PAVA shells are a form of chemical irritant weapon, which are designed to temporarily deter or disable individuals by producing temporary sensory irritation of the eyes and upper respiratory tract. They are commonly delivered through hand-held sprays, hand-thrown grenades or from weapon launched projectiles. Neither pellet-firing shotguns nor PAVA shells have been used to police protests anywhere else in India, the AI statement said.

“Chemical irritants have the potential to be used in an arbitrary or indiscriminate manner. Before being deployed, these weapons should go through a rigorous safety, testing and approvals process. Security forces must be trained to use them correctly to reduce the risk of unnecessary injury, and they must be accompanied by clear instructions and warnings on their use, effects, risks, and the necessary precautions to be taken,” Patel said.

According to him, the concentration of chemical irritants should be as low as possible to ensure that they do not cause unnecessary harm, and to restrict the impact to the persons targeted. He said their use must be carefully measured, targeted and controlled, and take into account factors such as the proximity of schools or hospitals.

The Resident Doctors Association of the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital – the largest government hospital in Srinagar – and associated hospitals have expressed concern at the proposed use of PAVA shells, which they say can cause a range of eye, lung and skin injuries.

The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms state: “The development and deployment of non-lethal incapacitating weapons should be carefully evaluated in order to minimize the risk of endangering uninvolved persons, and the use of such weapons should be carefully controlled.”

“The continued abusive use of pellet-firing shotguns, along with the deployment of the PAVA shells, is extremely worrying,” said Patel, “law enforcement officials in Jammu and Kashmir must only use force as a last resort after non-violent means have been ineffective, and ensure that any force used is both necessary and proportional. Anyone suspected of using arbitrary or abusive force should be prosecuted. The central and state governments need to abandon their heavy-handed tactics in Kashmir.”

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