Military court fails Pathribal victims: HRW

SRINAGAR- The U. S.-based rights watchdog – Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced a military court verdict that exonerated five Indian army officers involved in the killing of five civilians 14 years ago.

The closure of Pathribal “fake gunfight” case by army’s court of inquiry demonstrates the military’s continuing impunity for serious abuses, it said.

“Five villagers were abducted and murdered, yet the army has been allowed to absolve itself,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Armed Forces Special Powers Act should be repealed so that soldiers who commit serious crimes against civilians face trial in civilian courts and can no longer be protected from prosecution.”

Army Friday said it could not found enough evidence to press charges against its men in Pathribal case.

The army troopers including officers were accused of killing five Kashmiri civilians in 2000 in a gunfight in Pathribal village in Anantnag district, about 85 km south of Srinagar city.

The army had claimed the victims were foreign militants responsible for the killing of 35 members of a minority Sikh community.

The killings triggered massive public outcry with victim families. Indian police later on exhumed the bodies, which turned out to be those of missing local residents in DNA testing.

India’s premier investigating agency- CBI probed the matter and in 2006 indicted five Indian army troopers for the killings.

CBI stated it had sufficient evidence to show that the killings were extrajudicial executions and “cold-blooded murder.” It filed charges against the eight army officers in local courts in Kashmir.

“The Indian government should urgently act on the recommendations of several commissions and repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides effective immunity for military personnel implicated in human rights violations,” a statement issued by HRW.

New Delhi has imposed the controversial AFSPA in the region in 1990. The law gives extraordinary powers to its troops such as shooting a person on mere suspicion in the region.

The army had opposed the trial of its accused troopers in Pathribal case in a civilian court.

In 2012, Supreme Court asked army authorities to decide whether its personnel accused in Pathribal killings be tried by court-martial proceedings or by regular criminal courts.

“The Supreme Court gave the army a test as to whether it could hold its personnel accountable,” Ganguly said. “The army has now failed this test, showing yet again its inability to fairly prosecute abuses by its personnel.”

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