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NHRC to Hold Public Hearing on J&K Human Rights Violations, a Year After SC Directions

This is for the first time after the reading down of Article 370 that the issue of human rights, a recurrent theme in the five years of Union government’s rule of Jammu and Kashmir, will be taken up at the official level.
Protesters in the UK agitate against human rights violations in Kashmir. Photo: Flickr/Alisdare Hickson (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

New Delhi: Nearly a year after the Supreme Court’s directions, the Union government is set to conduct a first-of-its-kind public hearing on human rights in Jammu and Kashmir next week.

A panel of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will hold “a Camp Sitting and Open Public Hearing on grievances of the general public regarding alleged human rights violations … from February 7 to February 9 in Srinagar,” a NHRC notice said.

The notice asked people to register their complaints by January 29 against any public servant for negligence in the prevention of human rights violations or their involvement in any such incident in Jammu and Kashmir.

This is for the first time after the reading down of Article 370 that the issue of human rights, a recurrent theme in the five years of central government’s rule of Jammu and Kashmir, will be taken up at the official level.

Days after civilians’ custodial killing

The NHRC hearing will take place against the backdrop of the shocking incident in Poonch district in which three civilians were allegedly tortured to death in Army custody in December last year while at least four others were grievously injured.

In March 2020, the Union had empowered the NHRC to handle the human rights concerns in Jammu and Kashmir. But in the absence of its local offices, there is no information whether the commission took cognisance of any case over the last more than three years.

The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), a quasi-judicial body that investigated rights abuses in J&K, ceased to exist on October 31, 2019, when Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act came into effect and the erstwhile state was divided into two union territories.

Dozens of legislations, including J&K Protection of Human Rights Act, 1997 that formed the basis for the setting up of the SHRC, were repealed after the Reorganisation Act became applicable to Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.

Also read: Poonch Civilians Killed Are Among the Men Seen in Video Being Tortured By Soldiers, Sarpanch Confirms

In 2022, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by a Pune-based lawyer Asim Suhas Sarode about the absence of statutory bodies, including human rights commission, in J&K after it was downgraded into a union territory by the Narendra Modi government.

In February last year, the Centre told the court that the issue of the defunct human rights commission in J&K was under its consideration. Later, a bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud directed the government to bring a “mechanism which will allow people of Jammu and Kashmir to file their complaints to the NHRC from J&K itself”.

High official figures, higher unofficial numbers

The SHRC was probing at least 630 complaints of murder, enforced disappearances, rape, and other kinds of abuses allegedly perpetrated by security forces on local residents, according to official data accessed by an RTI activist, when it was shut down in 2019.

“All the records of the commission were locked in a designated room at the office premises of the erstwhile Human Rights Commission, Old Assembly Complex, Srinagar,” the administration said in its reply to the RTI by activist Venkatesh Nayak.

However, unofficial figures are much higher. According to a Huffpost report quoting the annual report of the SHRC for the year 2017-18, more than 8,000 cases of abuses, including torture, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, harassment and others were pending with the commission.

A UN panel had rapped the Centre in September 2020 over the closure of the SHRC while calling for investigation into enforced disappearance and mass graves in Jammu and Kashmir. According to independent estimates, more than 8000 people have become victims of enforced disappearance in J&K since the insurgency erupted in the early 1990s.

Investigations ‘penalised’

In 2021, Khurram Pervez, the convenor of Coalition of Civil Society (CCS), a conglomerate of human rights groups and individuals who were involved in documenting the rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir, was accused of involvement in “terror funding” and arrested by the National Investigations Agency.

Since its inception in 2000, the CCS has published dozens of annual, biyearly and special reports on human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir involving security forces as well as militants. However, after the arrest of its convenor, the group has become defunct.

The CCS’s last report was about the three youth from Rajouri who were killed in a staged gun-battle by the Army in 2020, a year after J&K’s special status was revoked.

Last year, while hearing a batch of petitions challenging the reading down of Article 370, the Supreme Court had recommended setting up of a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Committee’ to investigate the rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The committee will investigate and report on the violations of human rights perpetrated both by the State and non-state actors in Jammu and Kashmir at least since the 1980s and recommend measures for reconciliation,” Justice S.K. Kaul, who was part of the constitutional bench that heard the matter, said.

He added: “There is already an entire generation of youth that has grown up with a feeling of distrust and it is to them that we owe the greatest day of liberation.”

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