August 19, 2008 | Leave a Comment
After 14 years, a city court in New Dehli finally recorded 86-year old Amar Kaur’s testimony in the case about the disappearances of her son, son-in-law, and their driver. Charges in this case were framed on December 6th, 2006. Amar Kaur alleges that police officer Sumedh Singh Saini, then Senior Superintendent of police, and three other police officers (Sukh Mohinder Singh Sandhu, Paramjit Singh and Balbir Chand Tiwari) were responsible for the disappearances of her son, Vinod Kumar, his brother-in-law, and their driver.
The men were detained for a week between February and March 1994. Their confinement continued until March 3rd, after which they disappeared and were never heard from again. Kaur alleges that the arrests and subsequent disappearances were due to a personal matter rather than anything pertaining to the law. The officers were charged with criminal conspiracy and wrongful confinement.
Fourteen years later, Amar Kaur came by wheelchair to the city court to testify against Saini. She also accused Paramjit Singh of illegally detaining her and her other son-in-law.
This is not the only case in which Saini is accused of human rights abuses such as illegal detention and disappearances. He was accused of disappearing Balwant Singh Multani, Navneet Singh and Manjit Singh in 1991. In early July, the CBI registered a case of abduction, illegal detention, and other offenses against him and three other police officers.
“The FIR was registered in pursuance of a Punjab and Haryana High Court order directing the CBI to probe into the elimination of proclaimed offenders in the blast case….”
“After conducting a preliminary inquiry on the high court’s directions, the premier investigating agency has stated in the FIR that Multani was illegally detained before being tortured. He was later shown to have escaped from police custody. Balwant Singh Bhullar was also tortured, but to the extent that he lost his mental balance, the FIR asserted.”
The Punjab & Haryana High Court gave the CBI four months to complete its investigation. In mid-July, however, the Supreme Court stayed the CBI investigation. According to the Tribune, the CBI’s application contained two main points: (1) criminals would use the high court’s order for a CBI inquiry to help themselves, and (2) the police would not conduct a fair investigation against Saini. Regarding (1), the government has routinely used this rhetoric to protest orders. The Ensaaf/HRW joint report, Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India, states:
In requesting the Supreme Court to rule in their favor [in the Punjab mass cremations case], the Punjab police have attempted to gain sympathy by referencing “the barrage of writ petitions” they are facing:
“It is respectfully submitted that a large number of writ petitions are being filed on bogus charges. Human rights activists are coaxing people and even threatening them to file writ petitions by incorporating concocted facts. Thus the police is unable to rivet its attention against the terrorists in full measure.”
KPS Gill, director general of police in Punjab at the height of the abuses, has led the campaign against police accountability. His writings and speeches have consistently referred to human rights activists as terrorists or agents of Pakistan’s ISI. He has further equated terrorism with the filing of writ petitions.
…In 1997, after SSP Sandhu’s suicide, Gill wrote a letter to Prime Minister IK Gujral, in which he described the legal cases proceeding against SSP Sandhu and other policemen as “an unprecedented and unprincipled inquisition,” “a sustained and vicious campaign of calumny, of institutional hostility and State indifference,” and public interest litigation as “the most convenient strategy for vendetta.
Regarding (2), although Saini’s attorneys argued that the police are biased against Saini, the Punjab police have repeatedly demonstrated their pro-police bias in court cases against police officers.
Despite these accusations, Saini has been promoted many times and has risen from his position in 1994 (Senior Superintendent of Police) to his position now (Director [Vigilance] in Punjab). As for Amar Kaur, justice has to wait yet another day. Further testimony was scheduled to continue on August 14th.
To read more about the origins of this case, go to http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/jaskaran/2006/12/07/charges-framed-against-inspector-general-saini-and-three-officers-i/ .
Ensaaf’s blog is resuming after over a year’s hiatus. Stay tuned for coverage on Punjab human rights issues.
Here are some highlights from the past year:
In October 2007, Ensaaf and Human Rights Watch released a joint report, video testimonials, and photo essay. The report, Protecting the Killers, A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India, examines the challenges faced by victims and their relatives in pursuing legal avenues for accountability for the human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces. The report describes the near total failure of India’s judicial and state institutions to provide justice for victims’ families.
April 2008 marked the four year anniversary of Ensaaf. Some highlights in legal advocacy over the past 4 years include providing litigation support in the Punjab mass cremations case and the cases regarding the murder of human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra (the criminal case against six police officers and the High Court case filed against former police chief KPS Gill). All of this and more was reported in the latest newsletter by Ensaaf.
On November 21, 2007, Ensaaf met with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in Geneva, Switzerland, to present general allegations (pdf) against India for its role in perpetrating enforced disappearances in Punjab. The allegations, as well as 32 individual cases jointly submitted by Ensaaf, REDRESS, and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, are currently under consideration by the Working Group and were transmitted to the government of India in April.
In its December newsletter, Ensaaf reported how a killer of activist Jaswant Singh Khalra has been scheming his way out of jail, despite receiving a life sentence. As of December, Jaspal Singh had been released from jail 36 times, and had also received 7 weeks of parole. Read more about the convictions of the police officers in the Khalra murder case.
In February 2007, Ensaaf and Human Rights watch published an op-ed in The Asian Age reported that in February 2007, discussing the cost of ignoring human rights violations as Punjabi citizens went to the polls to elect a new government.
April 5, 2007 | 2 Comments
In March, the Institute of Correctional Administration (ICA), based in Chandigarh, released a report regarding the prevalence of torture among Punjab Police entitled “Custodial Deaths and Human Rights Commission – an analysis of its role and prevention.”
The report’s author Dr. Upneet Lalli, Deputy Director of the ICA, interviewed 150 police officials for the study. Half of the respondents admit that torture is used in interrogations due to social and political pressures. While torture is cited as the leading cause of death in police custody, only 27 percent of respondents say their colleagues feel bad about its use. The report attributes this attitude to the lack of accountability and “almost total immunity” often enjoyed by police. The report also notes a widespread ignorance of the guidelines issued by the National Human Rights Commission on custody-related issues and the relevant Articles of the Indian Constitution condemning torture. The report further remarks: “There seems to be no clear cut message from the top about intolerance to torture.”
The report has been submitted to the Punjab State Human Rights Commission. More information about the report is available from the Tribune News Service.
The Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC) last month recommended that the Punjab Government pay Rs. 25,000 to a man from Mohali who was allegedly tortured by local police. The Commission determined that the nature of the injuries prima facie suffered by the victim warranted immediate interim relief. According to the Times of India, the victim was brought to the Mohali police station, beaten with a cane, and given electric shocks, after which he was abandoned in Daun village. This case is one of the first instances where the PSHRC has exercised its power to recommend compensation for victims of human rights violations under the recently amended Protection of Human Rights Act (November 23, 2006). However, the Commission cannot compel the government to provide the immediate compensation. Such limitations of the amended PHRA have been criticized by human rights groups. Currently a case of abduction has been registered against three police personnel.
On March 16, 2007, a station house officer (SHO) was suspended for allegedly torturing a woman suspected of theft. According to the Punjabi Tribune the woman was subjected to “third-degree torture” while in police custody, and the officer operated in direct violation of the government’s policy against calling women to police stations for questioning. The SHO refutes the allegations, claiming that the suspect was picked up and brought back to her home by women constables, and she suffered no mistreatment. When the allegations were brought to the attention of Punjab Chief Minister Badal, he directed the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Amritsar to take strict action. In addition to the suspension, an inquiry has been ordered.
April 5, 2007 | Leave a Comment
On March 5th, the Delhi High Court admitted the CBI’s appeal against the acquittal of Congress (I) M.P. Sajjan Kumar and 8 others. Kumar is charged with the murder of Nevin Singh during the 1984 pogroms, as one of the leaders of the death squads in the Sultanpuri neighborhood in Northwest Delhi. As noted in Twenty Years of Impunity, numerous witnesses report Kumar instructing mobs to kill Sikhs during the pogroms.
Senior Advocate S.S. Gandhi appeared on behalf of the CBI to argue the appeal on March 12. His appointment is being contested by leading human rights advocates. According to an open letter signed by these advocates: “Having appeared for the Delhi Police before the Justice Nanavati Commission it is against professional etiquette and ethics for Sr. Advocate S.S.Gandhi to now represent the case of the victims through the State, in the Delhi High Court.” The next hearing of the appeal is scheduled for April 17.
Additionally, on March 29, 2007 an Indian court sentenced three men to life in prison for killing Niranjan Singh during the 1984 pogroms. According to the International Herald Tribune, it is unclear if the three men were linked to the Congress party.
The March 2007 issue of our quarterly newsletter, the Ensaaf DISPATCH (pdf), is now available.
This DISPATCH includes the following articles:
- Ensaaf, Human Rights Watch Publish Op Ed in the Asian Age
- Ensaaf Releases 2nd Edition of Twenty Years of Impunity: The second
edition includes a new chapter providing analyses of the Nanavati
Commission’s report and the Prime Minister’s statements, among other
- Ensaaf welcomes Dr. Elvis Fraser to Board of Directors
- Bhalla Commission of Inquiry- Update on Proceedings: Ensaaf’s
investigations demonstrate that the Punjab Police has made fraudulent
- US State Department Releases Country Report on Human Rights
Practices in India, cites Ensaaf
- News Briefs
- Ensaaf Welcomes Romesh Silva to Board of Advisors
The second edition of Ensaaf’s groundbreaking report, Twenty Years of Impunity, is now available online for purchase or download. The report serves as a critical wake-up call to the Indian government to implement the rule of law and redress mass state crimes in India. The victims of the November 1984 massacres of Sikhs continue to suffer, silenced by recent inquiries that allowed major perpetrators to remain in power.
More than two years have passed since the publication of the first edition. During that time, the Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to the Indian government, the Congress administration submitted an Action Taken Report to Parliament, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologized, but refused to accept state responsibility for the massacres. The passage of two years has not brought survivors closer to the realization of their rights to truth, justice, and reparations.
Twenty Years of Impunity clearly demonstrates that senior political party officials and police sponsored, organized, and executed the November 1984 massacres of thousands of Sikhs following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The second edition further establishes that the recent government ignored evidence implicating specific perpetrators:
“Each day the survivors are denied their rights to knowledge, justice and reparation, their anguish is compounded, their nightmare prolonged, and their alienation deepened. Until India ends impunity for these genocidal killings,” states the report, “it will continue to be a nation ruled by men, and not the law.”
The supplement reflects on the recent developments and includes analyses of the Nanavati Commission’s report and Prime Minister’s speech, which failed to actively acknowledge or confront the horror of the massacres. The report succinctly articulates the failings of the Nanavati Commission and the Action Taken Report after a thorough consideration of the evidence at the government’s disposal.
Injustice cost votes in Punjab polls
By Jasmine Marwaha and Meenakshi Ganguly
Published in The Asian Age (Feb. 27, 2007)
Mumbai: As Punjab went to the polls to elect a new state government this month, political pundits attributed the lack of a clear Congress victory in exit polls to frustration with the rising consumer prices under the UPA Central administration.
The newly-elected Punjab government, however, may not realise that the cost of ignoring human rights violations in Punjab is also increasing exponentially. The problem of widespread impunity for “disappearances” is being put to the test with the handling of the Punjab mass cremations case. This case will determine the Indian state’s willingness to uphold the rule of law in the face of internal security challenges. The consequences of this case will be felt throughout the country for years to come.
The legal battle is the bitter fruit of the violent Sikh secessionist movement and the brutal counter-insurgency efforts that followed, most infamously symbolised by the Army’s attack on the Sikh “Golden Temple” in Amritsar in 1984, which militants were using as a base. Hundreds of civilian pilgrims died when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent in tanks. After Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards exacted revenge by assassinating her, the government unleashed a pogrom against Sikhs in Delhi and other cities, with thousands massacred. None of the organisers or senior officials involved has been held criminally responsible.
For the next ten years, Indian security forces engaged in a murderous counter-insurgency operation perpetrating torture, enforced “disappearances” and extrajudicial executions of tens of thousands of Sikhs in false encounters. A small percentage of victims have received compensation. Only a handful of victims have received justice.
The family of Udham Singh is among those still waiting. Singh, 62, was abducted by the Punjab police in front of his family on July 1, 1992, taken to an interrogation centre with his son, and a few days later killed and cremated by the police. After a 10-year legal battle for justice, his family has been granted a paltry Rs 250,000 (US $5,663) without any admission of wrongdoing by the government.
A public interest lawsuit on “disappearances” and secret cremations in Punjab, filed in 1995, has yet to be resolved. The Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), cited often by the government as the symbol of its commitment to the protection of human rights, granted compensation in 1,245 cases—but only on the grounds that the Punjab police did not follow the rules for cremating a body. Sadly, it has refused to investigate how those individuals were killed in the first place, hear the testimony of any survivor, or hold a single official liable. And it has only agreed to look at cases of people who were cremated in Amritsar district—one of the then 13 districts in Punjab.
After its decade-long inquiry, the NHRC has established yet another one-man commission in Amritsar to identify and compensate a last group of 814 secret cremation victims. The commission, due to hold its fourth hearing on March 3, is not empowered to investigate the killings or hold those responsible to account.
Mohinder Singh, a member of the Association of Families of the Disappeared in Punjab, says that cash compensation is not enough. Over the past decade, he has collected evidence of his son’s abduction and secret cremation by Punjab Police in 1995. He has repeatedly appealed to politicians, police and the courts to prosecute his son’s killers. Even as he appears before this latest Punjab commission, he has little hope for justice. “Why doesn’t the judiciary take any action against the police?” he asks.
The answer to his question exposes the duplicity of a system that equates compensation with justice and accountability. It is a strategy that covers up gross human rights violations and makes a mockery of the rule of law. The NHRC’s final decree of compensation aims to silence the victims and put the matter to rest with as little disruption as possible to the status quo.
The problem for the Indian government, as with governments all over the world that fail to address past crimes, is that there are many people like Mohinder Singh who will not accept a cash payoff in return for silence. They want justice.
Mohinder Singh and others are ready to take their cases to the Indian Supreme Court. While it will be under great pressure from the state not to recognise these claims, it is crucial that the Supreme Court—one of the most respected in the world—acts to establish the principle of accountability, which is as fundamental to protecting human rights as it is to protecting the economy.
Together, the newly elected government in Punjab and the Supreme Court can change a government’s system focused on silencing victims and avoiding embarrassment into one that is accountable to all its citizens.
Jasmine Marwaha is Programme Associate at Ensaaf. Meenakshi Ganguly is South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
March 29, 2007 | Leave a Comment
On March 6, 2007, the U.S. State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. According to the State Department, India “generally respected the rights of its citizens; however, numerous serious problems remained.”
Among those serious problems, the State Department cited the lack of progress in holding police and security officials accountable for abuses committed in Punjab during the counterinsurgency campaign from 1984 to 1994. The report noted the limited compensation amounts given to a relatively few individuals, in contrast to the thousands of disappearance cases reported to the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and estimated by Ensaaf. The report referenced the NHRC case: “The government has made little progress holding hundreds of police and security officials accountable for serious human rights abuses committed during the Punjab counterinsurgency of 1984-94, despite the presence of a special investigation commission.”
The report also highlights the legal petition calling for the investigation and prosecution of former Punjab police chief KPS Gill for the abduction, illegal detention, torture, and murder of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, citing Ensaaf in describing the petition. Ensaaf drafted the petition’s international law arguments on the doctrine of superior responsibility, and continues to provide litigation support.
The full country report can be found here.
On October 9th, 2006, the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) effectively ended its consideration of the Punjab mass cremations case, arbitrarily compensating 1,245 victim families and establishing another commission of inquiry. Among its many failings in the case, the NHRC refused to investigate a single cremation, thus making any compensation arbitrary and inadequate. Moreover, the NHRC failed to hold any officials accountable for the victims’ deaths.
Ensaaf’s summary report, India Burning the Rule of Law (pdf), describes the history and legal proceedings in the Punjab mass cremations case. The ultimate resolution of the case will serve as precedent for victims of mass state crimes throughout India and will give content to the rights to life and redress. Ensaaf is working in partnership with the Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab, an original petitioner in the case, to challenge the NHRC’s ten-year denial of justice and create precedent based on international human rights and Indian law.