India denies condoning torture after WikiLeaks expose (Roundup)

Friday, December 17, 2010

NEW DELHI - India Friday denied condoning custodial torture saying any “aberrations” of human rights violations were dealt with firmly and under legal mechanisms. This followed the latest WikiLeaks expose on the alleged abuse of detainees in Jammu and Kashmir.

“If and when an aberration occurs, it is promptly and firmly dealt with under existing legal mechanisms in an effective and transparent manner,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said.

The government reaction came after the Guardian published cables released by WikiLeaks revealing that US diplomats were secretly briefed by International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) in 2005 about the alleged use of torture such as electrocution, beatings, sexual humiliation and other methods of abuse against hundreds in Jammu and Kashmir.

The official spokesperson said India had a “healthy tradition” of debate and freedom of expression on issues that concern the welfare of citizens “anywhere in our country”.

“Neither have we shied away from an open and candid discussion on such issues when raised by our international friends and partners.”

The ICRC, however, kept mum saying it “will refrain from commenting on the contents of the cable” as it is “an internal communication between the US embassy in New Delhi and Washington”.

The ICRC has a long-standing policy of engaging directly with governments and avoiding the media, so the briefing remained secret.

The most damaging WikiLeaks dispatch is likely to be an April 2005 cable from the US embassy in New Delhi that reported the ICRC had become frustrated with the Indian government which, it claimed, had not acted to halt the “continued ill-treatment of detainees”.

The embassy reported the ICRC concluded that India “condones torture” and that the torture victims were civilians as militants were routinely killed.

In Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah Friday said his government doesn’t condone torture but refused to comment on the cable.

“I am not getting into it… We don’t condone torture. We never have and we never will.”

But human rights activists said custodial violations were a betrayal of the hopes and sentiments of the people of Kashmir and the guilty should be punished.

“After the series of violence in Kashmir this year, the youth were blamed again and again. This expose on human rights violations clearly shows why their faith in the authorities and the government doesn’t exist anymore,” social activist Swami Agnivesh told IANS.

“If the ICRC has also been noticing such violations, and the Indian government is aware about it, then the guilty must be punished,” added the spiritual leader.

Pushkar Raj, general secretary of People’s Union for Civic Liberties, told IANS: “Kashmir has always been the centre of such violations. And this revelation strictly calls for a stringent anti-torture bill that prevents such custodial violations from happening.”

The revelations come as the Kashmir Valley is settling down after protests and violence this summer following two decades of armed insurgency in which thousands have been killed.

The ICRC staff is reported to have made 177 visits to detention centres in the state and in India between 2002 and 2004 and met 1,491 detainees. They interviewed 1,296 privately.

In 852 cases, the detainees reported ill-treatment.

A total of 171 described being beaten and 681 said they had been subjected to one or more of six forms of torture by Indian security forces, the ICRC were reported to have told the Americans.

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