The Indian Army’s decision to present an award to a soldier suspected of having a man tied to a moving military jeep in Jammu and Kashmir last month gives the impression that it condones human rights abuses, Amnesty International India said today.
“Rewarding an officer who is under investigation for a human rights violation suggests that the Army seems to be willing to not just overlook, but actually valorise an act of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment amounting to torture,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director at Amnesty International India.
“This decision sends the disturbing message to security force personnel and people in Jammu and Kashmir that the human rights of Kashmiris can be casually ignored without fear of punishment. Authorities should instead be trying to ensure that those responsible, including those with command responsibility, are brought to justice in a civilian court.”
According to media reports, the soldier, an Army Major, has been awarded the chief of army staff’s commendation card for “sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations”. The officer is suspected of having ordered 24-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dhar to be tied to a jeep, had a sign reading “I am a stone pelter” pasted to his chest, and driven around for over five hours on 9 April in Budgam district, Jammu and Kashmir.
Some Army officials have claimed that Farooq Dar was used as a ‘human shield’ to deter people from throwing stones at their convoy. However in a video of the incident uploaded online on 14 April, a voice over a loudspeaker can be heard saying, “This will be the fate of people who throw stones.”
According to media reports, an army spokesperson on 22 May said that the commendation was given to the Major for “sustained efforts”, but refused to confirm whether it was linked to the 9 April incident. The Indian Army has ordered a military investigation into the incident. However it is unclear if the investigation has been completed. The state police is also conducting a criminal investigation into the incident.
Speaking to Amnesty International India, Farooq Ahmad Dhar said: “I want justice. I want the army men who used me as a human shield to be prosecuted. Neither the police nor the army has approached to record my statement. I am not aware of the developments in the case other than what has been reported in the media.”
“The disregard for the rights of Farooq Dar flies in the face of the commitments made by India recently at the UN Human Rights Council. It also contradicts the recent stand of the Indian government at the International Court of Justice in support of states respecting their international legal obligations,” said Aakar Patel.
“Whether Army personnel in this case wanted to deter stone-throwers, or intimidate people by making an example of Farooq Dar, such conduct violates Indian law, international law, and the Army’s own code of conduct. Lauding such behaviour only perpetuates the climate of impunity in Kashmir.”
Military investigations into human rights violations lack independence and have in the past served to shield perpetrators from prosecution. Prosecutions of security force personnel in J&K have seldom progressed due to restrictions imposed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990 (AFSPA).
Section 7 of the AFSPA 1990 provides virtual immunity for human rights violations by security force personnel, as any civilian prosecution can only proceed after obtaining prior sanction from the central government. In the 27 years that the law has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir, not once has sanction been granted by the central government.
Farooq Ahmad Dar has denied he was throwing stones, and has told Amnesty International India that he was detained by Army personnel while he was travelling to Gampora village on his motorcycle on 9 April, the day of polling for a parliamentary by-election. He said Army personnel took his voter identity card and started beating him. He was then tied to the front bumper of one of their jeeps and driven through different villages for over five hours. He was released only later that evening.
The Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi has defended the army’s actions and said, “Peculiar situations require peculiar measures”.
While India signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1997, it is yet to ratify it. The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. No new Bill has been tabled.