Culture of impunity reinforced: Amnesty Int’l

NEW DELHI: The Indian Army’s decision to close a case of alleged extrajudicial executions by five of its soldiers, despite an independent investigation finding evidence against them, reinforces the culture of impunity in Jammu and Kashmir, Amnesty International India said Friday.

The army said on Friday that it had closed the case, which involved the killings of five Kashmiri civilians in Pathribal, Jammu and Kashmir, in 2000, after its own investigation did not find adequate evidence against the five accused soldiers.

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, which initially investigated the killings, said they were ‘cold-blooded murder’ and charged the five soldiers with offences including criminal conspiracy, murder and kidnapping in 2006. In 2012, the Supreme Court gave the army the option to prosecute the accused soldiers in a court-martial, and the army accepted.

“Given the evidence that existed against these soldiers, the army’s decision to conduct a new probe into the case is baffling,” said Christine Mehta, Researcher for Amnesty International India. 

“But perhaps it isn’t  surprising that the army, after deciding to investigate its own alleged abuses, has given itself a clean chit.”

“The Indian Army’s recent statements declaring “zero tolerance for human rights violations” in Jammu & Kashmir ring hollow after this decision. The closure of this case brazenly disregards the findings of the CBI and the rights of the families of the victims to justice.”

Abdul Rasheed Khan, the son of one of the victims, told Amnesty International India that the families of the five victims had not been informed of the decision to close the case. He said their last communication with the army had been in March 2013, when they were called to testify before army investigators. It is unclear whether a formal mechanism exists for the families of the victims to appeal the decision.

India is obligated under international law to investigate human rights violations in a swift, independent and impartial manner, and bring those responsible to justice in a competent, independent and impartial court.

“The government need to take note of the lengths the army seems to be prepared to go to in order to shield its soldiers from prosecution, even when they stand accused of serious abuses. The army on its part needs to come clean on why it has disregarded the findings of the CBI,” said Christine Mehta. 

“The ability of military courts to try cases of alleged human rights violations by armed forces personnel is itself highly doubtful, considering the culture of impunity in Jammu and Kashmir.

Authorities must ensure that those soldiers suspected of criminal responsibility, as established in the CBI’s independent investigation, are promptly brought to trial in a civilian court.”

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