The front page headline of The Hindu dated July 2, 2015, reads “With AFSPA, India has failed statute: Amnesty”. While an article “Army can kill anyone on mere suspicion, says Amnesty”, by Mehboob Jeelani appears on page 10 the same day. The editorial provides an exclusive first person account of Christine Mehta, a researcher with Amnesty International India, recalling how she was deported from India allegedly for her scathing report on the “draconian” AFSPA in Jammu & Kashmir. The Amnesty International report, which alleged that India, on the pretext of providing national security in Jammu & Kashmir, has neglected international obligations and its own Constitution by ignoring human rights violations makes us curious to learn more about it, its centers and its area of operation.
Founded in London in 1961 by lawyer Peter Benenson, Amnesty International is a non-governmental organisation focused on human rights. Amnesty not only draws attention to human rights abuses and campaigns for compliance with international laws and standards but also works to mobilise public opinion to put pressure on Governments indulged in human rights violation. Monitoring the state of human rights in more than 150 countries, Amnesty claims that their research teams, based in London, conduct investigative missions throughout the world and publishes an Annual Report briefing its work. The organisation has been awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for its “campaign against torture” and the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 1978.
Amnesty, apart from having its branches in all the developed democracies such as Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Germany, France, the USA, the UK, Japan, and Hong Kong, works in developing countries as in India, Mexico, Nepal, Brazil, Greece, and South Africa. However Amnesty International doesn’t seem to have its branches either in non-democratic countries or in Islamic countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Syria. Why? Is it because they are concerned about their own safety? Is their concern for human rights merely superficial?
Countries which are going through volatile political, social and economic turmoil are more prone to corruption in all forms. The voices of the subalterns remain unheard. Their endeavor to voice their trauma, their agony, and their sufferings are mercilessly crushed. Doesn’t Amnesty feel that it’s there they are needed most? Once the volatile situation is brought under control and normalcy restored by the security forces the NGOs appear, inspect and enquire about the human rights violation by the arm forces. What about those innumerous soldiers who die while protecting the citizens of the nation? What about their rights?
True arm forces are sometimes alleged to violate human rights and sometimes they are found guilty. Due to lack of evidence, manipulation of facts and erroneous judicial procedure, the accused go unpunished. Nevertheless the fact that they too become victims of human rights violation cannot be ignored.
If Amnesty International really wants to work on human rights violations, it must first begin with the source of the problem. The UK in the past and the USA in the present are responsible for making a lot of countries their colonies and killing millions of innocent people. How can we forget the appalling attack on Iraq? Though Iraq was alleged to have weapons which could cause mass destruction, nothing was found after invasion. Yet Iraq was completely destructed. The inhuman torture that was inflicted on the suspected and the arrested went unnoticed, unreported.
It is obvious from the statement of Christine Mehta that though she was asked to leave India immediately, the reason explained to her was not at all irrational. Nor she was harassed or tortured. Had she been in other countries which don’t believe in democracy, she wouldn’t have been alive to tell her story. Had she been alive her story would not have been published in a coveted English daily. Malala Yusuf is a living instance how voices which question the ideologies of the nation are crushed. Doesn’t the way non- whites are treated and frisked in US and other developed countries on the pretext of security call for human rights violation report?
The crime report of 2011 says, in the 132 cases of police firing in J&K only 12 civilians are injured in the process while 11 Army and police personnel are killed and 128 are injured. Whereas in Uttar Pradesh, though less instances of police firing are reported, 25 civilians lost their lives while police personnel went unharmed. Even in 2012, there were 103 cases of police firing in J&K where 7 civilians and 5 Army personnel lost their lives. Among the injured, there were 33 civilians and 20 Army personnel. While in UP, though the cases of police firing was just half compared to J&K, but the number of civilians killed were 9 times the number of police personnel killed. Similarly in Chhattisgarh, the cases of police firing was almost double compared to J&K, and the number of civilians and policemen killed were also far higher in Chhattisgarh .
The reports clearly show that Indian armed forces do use restraints and doesn’t kill anyone on mere suspicion as alleged in the Amnesty International reports. But interestingly while Amnesty International has presented its report on human rights violation in J&K, they have completely ignored other states where there is more violation of human rights. Is it deliberately done?
The Amnesty report titled “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir,” is said to have examined nearly 100 cases of alleged human rights abuses by security forces between 1990 and 2012 and interviewed with 58 family members of the victims in 2013. The report claims that the absence of accountability is the prime reason why security force personnel continue to work in a manner that facilitates human rights violations. The local civilians interviewed and activists have alleged that the security forces are involved in crimes, including murder, kidnap and rape. The report has thus criticised both India’s State security forces and non-State armed groups for human rights abuses.
However nothing has been mentioned about the other side of the story. The questions thus arise: Did Amnesty International interview the relatives and the companions of armed forces personnel killed? Did Amnesty International try to know how they were killed and how brutally they are treated by the civilians in Kashmir? Is it justified to comment and pass verdict without taking into account the narratives of the other side? It is worth mentioning the observation of the Supreme Court on the documentary filmmaker Pankaj Butalia.
The Supreme Court bench of justices Vikarmjit Sen and C Nagappan on January 12, 2015, while hearing the petition of filmmaker Pankaj Butalia against the censor board for not releasing his documentary film “Textures of Loss” which features interviews of people who lost their kin because of the conflict and violence in Kashmir, asked, “Why is it one-sided? Where is the alternate picture? We don’t know why it has become fashionable and a question of human rights to talk about one side of a story. Rights are always conferred on two parties and not only on one of them… this is what is happening with activists.”
They further commented, “If you have not taken the view of the other side, then it becomes the views of the producer or director. It is not the people’s view as you want to project it. Which people are you talking about when you haven’t spoken to others? When a filmmaker goes on to show only his point of view, it remains his view…Criticising one view and exalting others… or if not exalting, understanding one view and not even trying to understand others may not be right. You cannot have a one-sided view of a story.”
J&K remains in turmoil given the politically vested interest of the politicians and the extremists. Within this structure of power struggle conflict ensues between the civilians and the armed force personnel; both get injured and killed. If we accuse Indian armed force of human rights violations, can we deny the fact that they too are equally meted out inhuman treatments? Don’t the stones pelted at police/army personnel hurt them? We are not of the view that the only answer to the violence is counter violence. Nor are we trying to defend the Indian armed forces. No one is above human follies. The guilty whoever it is must be punished. But given the present scenario we all must act sensibly to avoid any unpleasant consequence. Presenting reports without analysing the complete truth would malign the image of the nation and hence should be avoided.
(Anish Gupta and Aaleya Giri teach Economics and English respectively at Delhi University. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed here are personal.)