Decapitated Justice   

After its repeated calls for an independent investigation in mass graves SHRC is decapitated. Shakir Mir spends a day at the commission to see how things work without a head

Office of the J&K State Human Rights Commission
Office of the J&K State Human Rights Commission

Last week, Abdul Rehman, 25, of Ratsun, Beerwah arrived at the office of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) inside the rundown Old secretariat complex. Rehman’s uncle Ghulam Mohuiddin, a watchman, was reportedly detained by the 35 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) of Indian army in 1995 when insurgency was at its peak. He never returned. Twenty years later, Rehman had come, knocking the doors of SHRC with purpose of filing a case of disappearance. Wary that the prospect of punishment for perpetrators would be unforthcoming, Rehman pitched for a more achievable target: Compensation. Officials at the commission received his complaint very courteously though, but asked him to leave until “we have the chairperson.”

Rehman left a short while later, hoping that his complaint might be acted upon soon, but little did he knew that it was fate-bound to gather dust among 203 others complaints filed since June 2013 when the term of then chairperson Rafiq Fida expired. The commission has been headless ever since.

Sources told Kashmir Life that a Co-ordination Committee had been convened recently where two names; Justice Bilal Nazki, serving State Human Rights Commission in Bihar and Justice Pramod Kohli, were suggested for the appointment of chairperson at SHRC. Pertinently, sources claimed, the government purposely brought two amendments on 20th April this year in the J&K Protection of Human Rights Act 1997, one of which would officially expand both the term of the chairperson by two years and stipulated age requirement by five years to specially accommodate the suggested names.

When Kashmir Life reached Secretary Law and Justice, Muhammad Ashraf Mir for comment, he said: “I am not the authority concerned. Talk to the Law minister.” Despite repeated attempts, Law minister Basharat Bukhari could not be reached.

SHRC came to existence in 1997 when the J&K Protection of Human Rights Act was enacted. Since its formation, the commission that acts as a recommendation body has instituted as many as 6722 cases of human rights violations including cases of custodial deaths, sexual harassment, disappearances and much more while disposing a total 5403 cases. According to official figures, a total 1983 cases are pending with the commission up until 18th August 2015 awaiting disposal.

The cursory read through its recent annual report 2013-2014, reveals that the commission instituted a total 507 cases out of which 305 were disposed for the year 2013-14.

In majority of cases mentioned in the report, the disposal saw sanctioning of ex-gratia relief and compensation.

In only six cases, report reveals, the commission recommended an investigation. It is not known for how many cases was the recommendation for prosecution of security personnel involved in rights violations given. The report mentions two cases: A kidnap/disappearance case titled Ghulam Hassan Najar of Sir Syed Abad, Sopore for which the commission recommended that an erring SHO to be prosecuted under section 19 (1) of the human rights act 1997 and another sexual harassment case titled Mohammad Amin Kandoo from Rangwarnow, Lolab, Kupwara where recommendations suggested punishment for the erring officials under section 447, 354 and 323 of Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).

Officials disclosed that approximately 30 percent of the cases have been dismissed by the commission due to “lack of prosecution” or when the case doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the commission. “SHRC does not have jurisdiction over armed forces,” said an official wishing anonymity. “If prima facie, a case is established against the armed forces, we send a request to the National Human Rights Commission to sanction prosecution.”

Upon inquiring if NHRC approved any sanction for prosecuting the accused personnel, the official clucked in disapproval. “There has been none,” he says solemnly.

Though officials admitted that there were many cases where the commission had recommended punishment for the police personnel accused of rights violation but maintained that they only take a follow up after the complainant submits a query on “an action-taken report” within 30 days as per rules. “If they do not, it is surmised that they are satisfied,” they added.

In many disposed cases, related to the harassment by the security forces, the commission has stopped short of recommending punishment and simply settled for awarding compensation and “favours.”

In one case of MM Shuja, Editor and Chief, Northern News Network and Zahoor Gurizar, News Editor, Moaj Kashir channel where subjects had been thrashed by the security forces, the commission has furnished a modest observation that the curfew passes issued in favor of the media fraternity “must be given due regard during their professional duties.”

About the word on how the accused personnel should have been dealt with, the report appears muted. Officials at the commission however claimed that the judge upon hearing of this report did not “deemed it fit” to order prosecution for “reasons better known to him.” His (subject’s) counsel might not have raised this issue in the court or maybe he might have been the one to pick up fight with the police at first place, another official speculates. “But the case was disposed after all, wasn’t it?”

Similarly, in another case of Mohmmad Yousuf Sheikh from Baranpather, Batamaloo, Srinagar where the subject had died in the indiscriminate firing by the security forces, the commission has recommended the benefit either under SRO-43 or in the alternative Rs 8 lakhs in lieu of SRO-199 of 2008. Surprisingly, in case of one Arif Hussain Shah from Breenty Batapora, Islamabad where the subject had been killed by an Army officer, the commission has recommended benefit “either under SRO-43 of 2004 or under SRO-199 of 2008.”  Why no prosecution? “The commission is just a recommendation body. We have no jurisdiction over armed forces,” is the answer that comes through.

A file picture of mass graves in North Kashmir.
A file picture of mass graves in North Kashmir.

When the issue was raised before the officials, they said: “When a complainant files a complaint, we receive it before sending a report to the concerned department,” an official said, sounding pedantic. “For example if the accused come from police department, a report goes to the Director General after which they communicate their own version of the incident to us. Then the report is tabled before the complainant who gives us a rejoinder whether he agrees with the version or not. If the complainant agrees, a bench sits and a judgment is given based on which we give our recommendation. If the versions are at variance, our own investigation wing headed by an Inspector General of Police is tasked to launch a probe and eventually give the report.”

The official maintained that there are approximately 85 percent of cases wherein the commission gave the verdict based on its own investigation.

But shortcomings apart, the SHRC is also sitting over enviable corpus of good work. Notably, the commission unlike the civil courts can entertain a petition on a simple paper instead of the stamp papers. “Our system is speedy and economical,” an official boasts. “We take cognizance on any paper,” he says. “Besides, this is the only government organization where corruption level is zero.”

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