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PUCL Bulletin, June 2003

Amnesty International on human rights and India
(Excerpts) -- 3 February 2003

Dear friends,
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We are happy to give you the news that, after 10 years of difficult negotiations, in November 2002 the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted the text of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, which we sent you in our last mailing. As you know, the Optional Protocol will help prevent acts of torture before they can occur. This represents a new approach for UN human rights protection. It will establish a system of regular visits to places of detention by an international body of experts, complemented by sustained regular visits conducted by national visiting bodies. The Optional Protocol was also formally adopted during the plenary session of the UN General Assembly in December 2002. During that session India abstained at the final vote, together with other 41 states.

The new treaty, however, was overwhelmingly supported by other governments, with 127 states voting in favour. The protocol is open for signature and ratification since February 2003. It will enter into force upon the 20th ratification. At the moment, unfortunately, there are no indications that the Government of India will ratify it. This means that system of regular visits to places of detention by an international body of experts and by national visiting bodies will not be extended to India for the time being.
India continues to have a number of overdue reports to be submitted to the UN treaty bodies, including the one to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to the Human Rights Committee, and to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. India's report to the Convention on the Rights of the Child has recently been submitted.

As you will remember, the UN treaty bodies - consisting of independent members who are elected by those governments that are parties to the treaty - have the role of overseeing the implementation of a human rights treaty and therefore request regular reports from all states parties to seek information about measures put in place by them to implement the provisions of the treaty, You can find more information on the aims and functions of the UN treaty bodies and on the calendar of India's reports to them at the website http://www.amnesty.org/treatybodies.

The United Nations has begun drafting an international treaty for the protection of all persons against enforced disappearance. Under the auspices of the UN Commission on Human Rights, an intergovernmental working group charged with drafting the treaty held its first annual session in Geneva on 6-17 January 2003. The working group is working on the basis of several texts including the 1992 UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and a 1998 draft convention prepared by the then UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The 1998 draft establishes strong preventive safeguards, provides for universal jurisdiction for perpetrators of enforced disappearance, and provides for an international monitoring body which could hear individual cases and intervene to try to trace "disappeared" persons. The proposed treaty is strongly supported by France and the Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Most other states have not yet taken a position. India did not express a formal position during the first session, but its position is likely to be negative, as India voted against the establishment of the working group at the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2001.

You may be informed that between 2 and 7 January 2003 the Asia Social Forum (ASF) was held in Hyderabad. The ASF is a new and open platform for debate and interaction to people's movements opposing globalisation and coming together around the question "is another world possible?" It draws inspiration from a similar event, the World Social Forum, held annually at Porto Alegre in Brazil. During the ASF over 15,000 people from over 40 countries participated, a very large majority being from India, There were on an average 40 seminars and workshops every day. It was a rich discussion on themes ranging from environmental concerns to definition and negation of identities by the post-colonial State, impact of globalisation on marginalised communities and Dalits, women's issues, population politics, food security, militarization, debt, communalism and conflicts in West and Central Asia.

The Forum was concluded with a 40,000-strong anti-globalization rally in Hyderabad itself. Participants to the ASF included NGOs, social activists, rights' groups, academics and private individuals. AI India organised three seminars at the ASF in collaboration with other national and international NGOs on the themes of "Globalisation and Legal Frameworks to Protect Economic Social and Cultural Rights", "Refugee Rights" and "Criminal Justice." AI members from India, Nepal and Thailand attended the ASF.

As you know, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) entered into force on 1 July 2002. The ICC will have jurisdiction over crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and can investigate these crimes, if national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. As of 10th December 2002, 139 states have signed and 87 states have ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC. The USA has been the only state actively to oppose the establishment of the International Criminal Court. Since the adoption of the Rome Statute, the USA has sought an exemption for US nationals from the jurisdiction of the Court. In recent months, the USA has been asking states around the world to sign impunity agreements, providing that they will not surrender US nationals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to the new International Criminal Court.

On 26 December 2002 representatives of both the Indian and the USA governments met to sign an impunity agreement, which provides that neither country will surrender persons of the other country to any international tribunal without the other country's express consent. AI issued a press release - which you will find enclosed here - soon after the agreement was signed, as it believes that these agreements threaten the worldwide effort to end impunity.

Several other press releases, Urgent Actions and articles on India published by AI are enclosed in this mailing as well as the entry on India contained in Amnesty International's "Report 2002." This report presents an overview of the human rights situation in over 140 countries in the world. In keeping with tradition, AI's "Report 2003" will be released on 28 May this year and it will include, as usual, an entry on India. India office address is as follows: Amnesty International India, C-161, 4th Floor, Gautam Nagar, (Behind Indian Oil Building/ Gulmohar Commercial Complex), Delhi-110049. E-mail: admin-in@amnesty.org

AI India has also recently set up a website, which you can visit at http://www.amnesty.org.in/. You will find in it a complete introduction to AI as a global movement as well as to AI India's specific Activities.
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In mid 2002 AI India have also been organising a series of Human Rights Education and Action Workshops for its members aimed at developing a common understanding of the Human Rights Movement within the country, Human Rights Standards-national and international and an understanding of AI as an organisation. The workshops were also an attempt at bringing AI India members together to plan and initiate more action.
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Yours sincerely. -- Giulia De Ponte, 19 March 2003

II
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Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of sisters Shazada and Shameema, their father Abdul Rehman Dar, and other members of their family. They have been threatened by paramilitaries in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In October 2002, Shazada and Shameema were returning from a family marriage party to their home in Dangarpora village, Budgam district, when they were abducted by a group of men. The men were reportedly recognized as "renegades" (ex-members armed opposition groups who now work with the security forces). Shameema was returned to her family after three days but "renegades" visited the family home and threatened Abdul Rehman Dar that he would be shot if he sought assistance from the police to secure Shazada's release.

Shazada was held captive by the "renegades" for three months. During that time she was forced to live as the wife of one of them, a 40-year-old man who was already married. Shazada was held in his house and continually watched. In mid-February 2003, she escaped and returned to her family home.

On the night of 23 February the "renegade" who had held Shazada captive came to the family home with two other men. All three were armed. They threatened that unless Shazada willingly returned to them they would burn down the family's house, abduct Shazada and Shameema again and harm Abdul Rehman Dar. Abdul Rehman Dar persuaded the men to let him have time to consider their demand and they left.

Since this threat, Abdul Rehman Dar, Shazada and Shameema have left the family home and have been hiding in the homes of friends. His wife and three younger children remain in the family home, looking after the family land and cattle. The family's lawyer filed a petition in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on 28 February seeking protection for the family but no hearing date has yet been set.

Background Information
Amnesty International has consistently received allegations of human rights violations being perpetrated by "renegades", often in collaboration with members of the security forces. These violations have included extra judicial executions, torture, including rape, and the use of excessive force.
Of the thousands of allegations of human rights violations made against the security forces and paramilitaries, including "renegades", only a handful have ever been investigated and hardly any perpetrators have been charged with appropriate offences and tried. In November 2002 the newly elected coalition government of Jammu and Kashmir published a Common Minimum Program in which they committed themselves, amongst other things, to restore the rule of law, uphold the human rights of the civilian population, investigate human rights violations and punish those responsible.
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Abdul Rehman Dar and the family's lawyer visited the Superintendent of Police [SP] of Budgam on 22 March to ask whether it was now safe for the family to return to their home. The SP reportedly informed them that it was safe and that every effort was being made to arrest the "renegades" (ex-members of armed opposition groups who now work with the security forces) who had abducted Shazada and Shameema and threatened their family. While Abdul Rehman Dar, Shazada and Shameema were in hiding, "renegades" reportedly visited their home and made further threats to family members who lived nearby. -- 6 March 2003.
III
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AI membership expresses solidarity to the families of the disappeared in Punjab
Amnesty International is concerned that thousands of families are still waiting to know the fate of their relatives who were "disappeared" in police custody in the period of militancy in Punjab and may have been extra judicially executed and illegally cremated by the Punjab police.
The culture of impunity which developed within the criminal justice system in the state during the militancy period continues. Amnesty International believes that until it is reversed and the procedures and attitudes which facilitated abuses during that period are changed, human rights abuses will continue in the state.

An essential part of this process of change would be to bring to justice those responsible for these past abuses. It is with this in mind that Amnesty International members during February and March 2003 will be sending cards to the families of people who were illegally cremated, to show international solidarity for their pursuit of justice.

Background:

Despite a Supreme Court judgement in December 1996 that ordered the National Human Rights Commission to examine the findings of the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) that there had been 2,097 illegal cremations by police officials in Amritsar district, there have been severe delays in the process and procedural limitations imposed on investigations. The State of Punjab has only just begun to file its affidavits on those cases under examination by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Furthermore, the recommendations, that the NHRC may make, including for prosecution of police officers, are not binding on the criminal justice system and there is no guarantee that the CBI will follow up on the NHRC's investigation with regard to Prosecutions.
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