Special Report of Amnesty ” INDIA: Break the cycle of impunity and torture in Punjab”

Torture and custodial violence continue to be regularly reported in Punjab, despite the end of the militancy period in the state in the mid-1990s.

One reason for the continuation of serious human rights violations after the militancy period is that a decade of armed insurgency and police counter insurgency operations left its mark on the way the police and the criminal justice system function in the state. Another reason is that virtually none of the police officers responsible for a range of human rights violations – including torture, deaths in custody, extra-judicial executions and “disappearances” during the militancy period – were brought to justice, creating an atmosphere in which state officials appear to believe that they can violate people’s fundamental rights with impunity even today.

In this report, Amnesty International (AI) makes the link between the impunity enjoyed by police officers during and after the militancy period and the continuation of torture today. This link sends a warning to states in India presently ravaged by armed conflicts B such as Jammu and Kashmir and states in the northeast B that perpetrators of human rights violations must be held to account in situations of widespread and prolonged violence, if long-term repercussions for the enjoyment of human rights are to be avoided.

The report focuses on abuses committed in police custody. AI recognizes that during the militancy period torture and other forms of violence were widely used also by armed opposition groups engaged in a conflict with the security forces in Punjab. The organization condemned these human rights abuses in the past and continues to do so in the case of the ongoing conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. It believes that torture must be condemned whatever the identity or position of the perpetrator and that victims of human rights abuses by armed opposition groups or other actors have the same right to justice and reparation as the victims of police abuses. The main reason for focusing exclusively on the continuation of torture in police custody in this report is that the majority of the armed opposition groups are today inactive in Punjab and AI has received no reports of acts of torture perpetrated by their members after the end of the militancy period. Similarly, the issue of impunity for abuses committed by these groups during the militancy period is marginal, as most of their members in the state were arrested or killed by security forces in counter insurgency operations in the early 1990s.

This report is part of a series of documents on torture in India produced in the context of AI=s ongoing international Campaign Against Torture. Recommendations made in it should be read in conjunction with the document “India: Words into action: Recommendations for the prevention of torture”, submitted to the Indian government in December 2000 and published in January 2001. In March 2001 AI received a two-page response from the government to that report: this pointed out that India=s signature of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in October 1997 marked a commitment to the prevention of torture; that effecting further improvements wherever required was an ongoing process; and that the government was drawing up an AAction Plan@ as part of the UN Decade on Human Rights Education. The letter concluded by stating that Awe welcome all useful suggestions made in the report and shall have no hesitation in taking steps to implement them@.

The present report stands therefore as a further reminder of the urgent need for the Indian government, as well as state governments, to take active steps to translate these commitments into action so that the pattern of torture is ended. It follows a report on violence against women in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and another on torture in West Bengal.

AI sent a draft of the present report to the Government of India and to the Government of Punjab one month before publication, inviting their comments on its contents in a spirit of constructive dialogue. A letter (received by fax), from the High Commission of India in London on 14 January 2003 stated however that “The report on Punjab has been examined by the concerned authorities in India,” and “that in view of the sweeping, judgemental and non-substantiated nature of much of the contents, it really does not merit a formal, written response”. AI greatly regrets that specific cases as well as the larger issues of impunity and the continuation of torture in the state raised in the report have not been addressed by the Indian authorities.

Concerns about the use of torture have been raised by AI during the Campaign Against Torture about a wide range of countries, including Brazil, China, Pakistan, the Russian Federation and the USA.