New Delhi, Aug 14 (efe-epa).- The authorities should order an independent and impartial probe into three alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces in India-administered Kashmir, the nonprofit Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
According to the Indian Army, three militants were killed in a gunfight on July 18, after they fired on the security forces during an operation in a village in southern Kashmir.
The security forces buried the slain men at an undisclosed location in the north of the Kashmir Valley.
But family members identified them as their relatives from photographs of the deceased circulated on social media.
They said the slain men were three missing cousins in search of work, whom the Indian Army killed in a staged gunfight and passed off as militants. The army responded saying it would investigate the matter.
“Security forces have long operated with impunity in Kashmir, and past army investigations have been more focused on shielding those responsible for abuse than providing justice,” said HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly.
“There can be no end to the cycle of violence in Kashmir if security forces are not held accountable for their past and current abuses.”
The statement by the rights watchdog underlined that that the families of those killed said they last had contact with them on July 17.
When unable to contact them after that, the families assumed they may have been quarantined because of the pandemic.
They have now filed a missing person report at a police station. The police have said they are also investigating the killings.
HRW said any army investigation into the killings would be “meaningless” because of certain special powers the armed forces enjoy in the troubled region.
“The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) gives the security forces effective immunity from prosecution for serious human rights abuses. It grants the military wide powers to arrest, shoot to kill, and occupy or destroy property in counterinsurgency operations,” HRW said.
The group said that since the law came into force in Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.
Several rights groups have long documented how the law has become a tool of state abuse, oppression, and discrimination, and have called for its repeal.
The government claims that troops need such powers because the army is only deployed when national security is at serious risk from armed groups.
However, the Supreme Court has said that all killings by security forces should be investigated and that such force was not permissible “even in an area declared as a disturbed area under (the law) and against militants, insurgents and terrorists.”
There have been numerous allegations of extrajudicial killings in Kashmir.
“Most of those summarily executed are falsely reported to have died during armed clashes between the army and militants in what are euphemistically called ‘encounter killings’,” HRW said.
The latest allegations of extrajudicial killings come amid the Indian government’s ongoing crackdown in Kashmir since it revoked Kashmir state’s constitutional autonomy in August 2019 and split it into two federally governed territories.
The government has also used harsh counter-terrorism and sedition laws to clamp down on peaceful critics, according to HRW.