Listen to the Silent Cries of the Disappeared in Kashmir

soldiers kashmir india

Soldiers in Kashmir

I’ve been following the debate about whether India’s Jammu & Kashmir government (called J&K or Kashmir interchangeably) will lift the draconian impunity legislation (called the AFSPA) for soldiers now in place over large swathes of Kashmir Valley.

The Indian Army, for its part, makes the rather astounding claim that if they are not allowed to continue to operate in the Kashmir Valley without impunity then Kashmir will secede. I often hear this type of stuff as well—oh if we don’t continue to abuse human rights with legal cover, then the terrorists win!

The irony is that opponents of lifting legal immunity are admitting that the security forces have been responsible for widespread human rights violations in the Kashmir Valley and that is the only way to keep Kashmir in India.


Thousands of Unmarked Graves Discovered in Kashmir

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Following a report by a police investigation team, confirming the existence of over 2,700 unmarked graves containing bodies of people subject to enforced disappearances, urgent action needs to be taken including preserving the evidence and widening the investigation across Jammu and Kashmir.

Over 2,700 unmarked graves have been identified by the 11-member police team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in four districts of north Kashmir. Despite claims of the local police that the graves contained dead bodies of “unidentified militants”, the report points out that 574 bodies have been identified as disappeared locals – 17 of these have already been exhumed and shifted to family or village grave sites.

The police report concludes that there is “every probability” that the remaining over 2,100 unidentified graves “may contain the dead bodies of [persons subject to] enforced disappearances.” The report further clarifies that the only way to negate such a claim is to study the DNA profiles of the unidentified dead bodies and warns that in the absence of such tests, “it has to be assumed/ presumed that [the] State wants to remain silent deliberately to hide the Human Rights violations”.


Battling Impunity in Guatemala

Member of staff at the FAFG studying human remains in order to identify them, 12 June 2008. © Private

Member of staff at the FAFG studying human remains in order to identify them, 12 June 2008. © Private

Excavating human remains, using forensic techniques to identify them, hoping the evidence will help bring the killers to justice–it may sound fascinating and even glamorous to some, but this is no “CSI Miami”. These investigators have been threatened, followed, watched, and shot at on many occasions because of their work to combat impunity. The Guatemalan Foundation of Forensic Anthropology (Fundación Guatemalteca de Antropología Forense – FAFG) carries out forensic investigations and exhumations of mass graves dating from the time of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996). The uncovering of mass graves and the identification of human remains is a key contribution to the pursuit of truth, justice and reparation for the relatives of the dead and disappeared and the survivors of the armed conflict, most of whom are indigenous people.

Despite hard work by organizations like the FAFG, and high-profile individuals like Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú, violations against human rights defenders in Guatemala are widespread and show no signs of improvement. Many defenders have received so many threats and acts of intimidation that they have stopped or radically curtailed their important work. You can lend your support and encouragement to the FAFG by taking part in this year’s Holiday Card Action, in which people send cards with messages of solidarity and hope to human rights defenders, prisoners of conscience and others who may fear they’ve been forgotten by the world.