Human Rights Commission hearing-
of victims of disappearances and custodial killings in Punjab
respect for facts, accountability and end to impunity
There seems to be
some new and potentially problematic development with regard to the Punjab's
before the National Human Rights Commission.
I am sure that some of us are aware that Ram Narayan Kumar has been involved
in the issue for a long time now researching and documenting cases of
disappearances and custodial killings. Ashok Aggarwal and Nitya Ramakrishnan
have been handling the legal issue.
In his recent letter on the case, R. N. Kumar has written the following:
"After nearly six months of inaction, the Commission reopened the
hearing in the matter on the 26th of August. In a rare display of urgency,
Chairman Verma asked the State of Punjab to file documents/ affidavits
in support of the State of Punjab's stand with respect to each of the
582 "identified" cremations within the next couple of weeks.
Verma indicated that he wanted to decide the cases of these before retiring
in January next year.
The lawyer for the
State of Punjab seems to have come prepared. He filed several charts to
show the number of security personnel killed in the encounters that resulted
in deaths of people cremated by the police, the number of people cremated
by the police who had previous criminal history, etc. He also submitted
several volumes of press clippings and a volume about police martyrs.
All these submissions indicate the broad nature of the defence the State
of Punjab is going to take. What I am particularly concerned about is
the sudden flurry of activity by the Commission that comes in the wake
of Punjab Chief Minister's promises, supported by the BJP and other political
leaders at the State and the National level, to help the policemen.
I am of course wondering
if the Commission has reopened the matter now on the basis of an understanding
with the government.
As you should recall, in February 2001, we were able to pressurise the
Commission to modify its earlier August 2000 order by which it had endorsed
the Punjab government's curious position that "without examining
the correctness of the claims" and "without going into the merits
of the matter", 18 victim families may receive one hundred thousand
rupees each by way of disposing them of. All the 18 victim families had
moved the Commission to demand that it should either restore the original
intent of justice, when the Supreme Court referred the matter to it in
December 1996, or put an end to this farce. Embarrassed by this and the
lively press campaign on this matter which developed, the Commission had
passed a new order on 15 February 2001 holding that "as far as practicable
efforts must be made to enquire into all or as many out of 2097 cremations
". The order also said that the 18 August order
was not a determination of compensation in the 18 cases.
Since then, there has been very little positive development in the matter
first because of the elections in Punjab and the change of the government
that resulted, and then the developments in Gujarat which kept the Commission
apparently busy. Now the Commission has resumed hearing in the matter
again and it is very important that we are able to refute the State government's
submissions and arguments on the strength of sound factual and legal research.
Somehow I feel that we are not likely to move towards these goals unless
we combine the legal strategy with a certain amount of public opinion
building on the strength of the simplicity and non-political nature of
our demand for respect for facts, accountability, and end of impunity.
Those who have been involved in the cases feel that they need help in
not only evolving a new strategy towards strengthening support to this
issue but build a larger campaign.
(Deena) -- E. Deenadayalan, General Secretary - The Other Media