Unmarked Mass Graves: SHRC Orders Unravelling Grave Truth In Poonch, Rajouri

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Srinagar—Notwithstanding government’s denial of DNA profiling of bodies in 2156 unmarked graves in north Kashmir, the SHRC commission has recommended similar tests on those lying in 2080 unidentified graves in Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu within six months.

Chairperson of the Commission Justice (retd) Bilal Nazki passed an order after going through a report filed by state’s Home department.

“I do not think this Commission needs to hold any further enquiry into the matter as the Home Department has accepted that there are 1486 graves in Poonch which are unidentified and unmarked. In Rajouri it is admitted there are 594 graves which are unmarked and unidentified, so in all in these two districts there are 2080 graves which are unmarked,” the Chairperson said in the order passed on a petition titled Advocate Parvaiz Imroz and patron APDP regarding enforced disappearance and unmarked graves in two districts.

In 2012, the state government virtually ruled out the DNA profiling as recommended by the SHRC for at-least 2156 bodies in unmarked graves at 38 sites across north Kashmir, maintaining it will take years and that it involves huge requirement of resources including forensic facilities and economic cost.

The government had also claimed exercise can also act as a trigger point or event for causing “serious law and order” disturbances in the Kashmir Valley.

The government had revealed it in an ‘Action Taken Report’ submitted before the SHRC regarding its judgment on 16th of September 2011 on unmarked graves in three districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Baramulla.

In its judgment, the SHRC had said that the persons buried in the unmarked graves in various villages of the three districts shall be identified by all available means and techniques like DNA profile, physical description, dental examination, distinctive medical characteristics, finger prints, carbon dating, forensic pathology and other available means.

“The State Government constituted an Empowered Committee under the Chairmanship of Principal Secretary to the Government, Home Department, for taking follow up action on the report and recommendations given by the SHRC and it was examined on 20-10-2011,” the government had said. 

Referring to action taken on the recommendations, the government said the Empowered Committee observed that steps required to be taken for the implementation of the recommendations will call for huge requirement of resources in terms of forensic facilities, availability of professional expertise and the economic and social cost.

“While DNA profiling facilities within the State are nonexistent, only limited facilities exist in rest of the country,” the government had said, adding, “As most of the graves are almost two decades old, the time taken for the DNA profiling in each case would vary depending on the kind of sample extracted from the dead body (blood, hair, teeth, bone marrow, etc) but would require a minimum period of 7 to 10 days.”

In view of the limited Forensic facilities, the government had said that if the DNA profiling was to be done regarding each of the unidentified bodies in the three districts, the entire exercise would take many years to complete.

“The permission of the District Magistrate and completion of certain other legal formalities will have to be ensured in advance in each case before the dead body can be exhumed for taking the sample.”

The Empowered Committee had also observed that the use of DNA profile sampling techniques or any other similarly available technology to identify a dead body and then match it with a living person(s) would pre-suppose the existence of the many conditions like: A complaint should be made by a person who should be a blood relation of the victim whose dead body is now required to be exhumed.

Besides, the complainant should be willing to give his or her own DNA sample; should be in a position to indicate the date and circumstances which surrounded the alleged death or disappearance of the victim; should be in a position to indicate with fair amount of certainty the exact location of the graveyard and the grave which is now sought to be reopened.

It has also said the Empowered Committee felt that in case any these conditions was not met, the entire exercise would be a non-starter and would in fact prove to be counterproductive and ultimately futile. 

Notwithstanding the difficulties, the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on 27 September 2012 had announced on the floor of Legislative Assembly that the people who desire to find out the whereabouts of their blood relations should come forward, lodge a complaint with the Nodal officer, provide a DNA sample of their own which will then act as a reference sample and also indicate the location of the graveyard and the grave that they believe contains the body of their beloved.

It was also stated by the Chief Minister that the procedures of DNA sampling and testing are time consuming ‘but a beginning in this direction would be made.”

Keeping in view the directions by SHRC, the Empowered Committee decided that the “Human Rights Cell” headed by an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police  and operating from the Headquarters of the State CID Department should act as a Nodal Officer.  However not a single person has come forward before the Nodal Officer, it had added.

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