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US state department blasts India over rights violations

WASHINGTON: US state department in its report on human rights situation in India criticized “instances of police and security force abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and rape” as the “most significant human rights problems in India.”

The Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2016 stated that a “lack of accountability for misconduct at all levels of government” persists in India, “contributing to widespread impunity.”

The report noted that widespread corruption is also to blame for ineffective responses to crimes – including those against women, children and members of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Scheduled Tribes (STs) – and societal violence based on gender, religious, caste or tribal affiliation.

According to the report, over 90 people were killed during violent protests in Jammu and Kashmir following the killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016.

The report said Indian security forces’ indiscriminate use of shotguns loaded with pellets in Jammu and Kashmir resulted in 87 civilian deaths and led to thousands more, including children, being blinded.

It also mentioned reports that “government security forces tortured, raped, and mistreated insurgents and alleged terrorists in custody and injured demonstrators.”

It adds that Indian police killed 104 people alleged to be criminals or insurgents in “encounter deaths” last year.

Noting that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) remains in effect in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and parts of Mizoram, with a version of the same law in effect in Jammu and Kashmir, the report stated there is “considerable public support” for its repeal.

It also adds that in July 2016 the Supreme Court demanded that 1,528 alleged “encounter” cases in Manipur – which occurred over the last 20 years – be investigated. The ruling also added that armed forces personnel would not be immune from prosecution if the investigations revealed criminal conduct by them. The report also noted the Supreme Court’s derision for the Act, evident in its statement that the Act “mocks India’s democratic process.”

The state department report noted that NGOs continue to report torture despite it being banned in India. It said a study released by the National Law University, Delhi in May revealed that prisoners on death row reported living in inhuman conditions. The Death Penalty Research Project covered 373 of 385 death row inmates between July 2013 and January 2015, and 216 of the 270 inmates they interviewed said they had been tortured.

The report said insurgent groups were also using children to attack government entities in roles such as bomb couriers and said the central government stated that Maoist groups “conscripted boys and girls ages six to 12 into specific children’s units in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha” for use in combat and intelligence-gathering roles. Similarly, it said NGOs reported that a large number of minors were recruited by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) in Manipur.

The US report also cited Human Rights Watch on sedition and criminal defamation laws being used to prosecute citizens critical of government officials or in opposition to state policies. It also noted several incidents involving students at various universities across the country.

It cited the February 12, 2016, arrests of Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and seven other students, who were charged with sedition for allegedly shouting “anti-India” slogans at a protest. “The arrests and subsequent administrative disciplinary measures resulted in protests on other university campuses,” the report said recalling how Kumar was “abused and physically assaulted” inside court premises when he was taken there for a bail hearing on February 17, 2016.

The report also mentioned that while Indian law provides the right to peaceful assembly, police were accused of using disproportionate force against protesters on March 22 when students, activists and professors marched following Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide.

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