Grave Rejoinders

The SHRC recommended employment of available scientific methods to ascertain identification of dead bodies interred in unmarked and mass graves its investigation team confirmed existed. Now rejoinders submitted in the case ask for widening the investigation to all the twenty districts after reports of more unmarked graveyards were handed over to the autonomous commission. Shams Irfan reports

In a closed-door hearing at SHRC’s office at Srinagar a number of rejoinders were filed by different people including International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir [IPTK] and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons [APDP].

According to the rejoinder submitted by IPTK and APDP before State Human Rights Commission [SHRC], there are 62 documented graveyards where 2700 hitherto unknown, unmarked, and mass graves, containing 2943 bodies were interred, out of which 2373 are still unidentified. Whereas the Police Investigation Wing of SHRC have investigated only 38 graveyards, documenting 2730 graves, out of which 2156 are unidentified graves. The remaining 574 persons are of those who were buried as foreign militants but later identified as local residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

The joinder further identifies at least 42 mass graves from 18 graveyards spread across three districts of Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara, while as SHRC’s Investigation Wing in its inquiry report has identified only 18 mass graves – graves that have more than one body – so far. The rejoinder further mentions that IPTK/APDP has received credible information about existence of 2717 unmarked graves across 90 graveyards in Poonch district. There are reports by locals in Poonch that “In these unmarked graveyards there are also those illegal immigrant workers from different parts of India and Bangladesh who have been using Poonch border route for infiltrating and ex-infiltrating to Pakistan in order to visit Gulf countries via Pakistan ports.”

According to these rejoinders allegations were made by local people that many of these illegal immigrant workers after being caught by the Indian army were imprisoned, many were killed in fake encounters and branded as foreign militants. The rejoinder noted that in many jails of Jammu and Kashmir some of the Bangladeshis and Indian citizens are still imprisoned. The rejoinder demanded DNA profiling of the unmarked graves so that these allegations can be affirmed or negated.

The rejoinder requested SHRC to extend its investigation and include each site investigated by IPTK/APDP in north Kashmir, and beyond to all twenty districts in Jammu and Kashmir. “We ask that investigations take place in Doda, Poonch, Rajouri, Ramban, Reasi, Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag, Kulgam, Budgam and Ganderbal district, as these districts have been declared disturbed and AFSPA is still enforced there”.

The rejoinder also included a list of unmarked graves from these areas for the continuation of SHRC investigation in all districts of the state.

The rejoinder highlighted the need to protect witnesses who have deposed before SHRC during its inquiry regarding mass graves. The rejoinder stated that “In the inquiry report the names of the witness have been mentioned.

Many people according to the Police Investigation Wing of SHRC report have refused to come on record for the fear of reprisals from the security agencies.” The IPTK/APDP urged SHRC to ensure the safety of those whose names have been mentioned in its report. “SHRC should take care to maintain confidentiality for witnesses as the situation is not conducive for them to come out open against the perpetrators. Utmost care and caution should be exercised in securing witness protection, following international protocols and standards.”

The rejoinder alleged that after the media published SHRC inquiry report, many of the witnesses have been harassed by the security agencies. “We feel it is incumbent of the SHRC to prevail upon the government to end the harassment of those who deposed in front of the SHRC investigation team.”

The rejoinder demanded protection of all graveyards as sites of evidence. “In one of the graveyards, Channa Mohalla, Macchil, road is being constructed over the graveyard which will wipe out the evidence of these unmarked graves.”

On the other hand the SHRC in its recommendation has stated that “DNA [Deoxy Nucleic Acid] profile sampling techniques shall be supplemented by present day modern scientific techniques and methods facilitating and ensuring matching of the unidentified dead bodies in unmarked graves on maintenance of the identification profiles, with the identity of a particular dead body or a disappeared or any other person who’s identification with the bodies discovered in unmarked graves is sought/claimed.”

However the ITPK/APDP rejoinder urged the SHRC to recommend in addition to the identification of the dead, the comprehensive examination of these buried in unmarked graves and mass graves to determine the circumstances of death and the date of death. “The circumstances of death established by forensic examination will help in the prosecution process.” The SHRC also recommends that in those cases where Police Stations or any other named Wing or agency of Police has maintained an identification profile of the buried dead bodies in the unmarked graves, be of militant or civilians, the process of identification over-again need not be gone through.

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