UK police to investigate Indian officials’ role in war crimes in Kashmir

Indian soldiers in Kashmir. Editorial credit: Shakir Wani

The Metropolitan Police are investigating allegations of war crimes in Kashmir after a law firm filed an appeal for the arrest of Indian Chief of Army Staff Mukund Naravane and Home Minister Amit Shah for their role in committing war crimes in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK).

The legal appeal was made by Stoke White under the “Universal Jurisdiction” principal after releasing a damning report that held the officials responsible for torture, kidnapping, extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence against women in IOJK.

The report said: “There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir.”

The report is based on 2,000 testimonies that the firm has been taking over the past year.

The Stoke White Investigations (SWI-unit) report stated: “Nearly three decades have passed and not a single member of the Indian military has been prosecuted for unlawful conduct in J&K, despite growing evidence against the armed forces. This culture of impunity is compounded by the lack of access to justice for victims of war crimes and/or human rights abuses.”

Israeli connection 

The report highlights a nexus between the Indian military and Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.

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It presents evidence that shows that Israeli officials are responsible for brutal torture, which includes beating, sleep deprivation and pouring of petrol on the private parts of Muslims in IOJK.

The law firm says the SWI-unit is further investigating the matter.

It said the increasing defence and security partnership between India and Israel, including the use of Israeli-made armed and surveillance drones, means that this security alliance between India and Israel is finding form in violations of international law on the ground.

Khalil Dewan, head of the SWI-unit, said: “The systematic nature of war crimes conducted by Indian authorities against the Kashmiri Muslims has been documented, but this report brings forward new evidence of complicity between Delhi and Tel Aviv within a broader context of security policies and rhetoric invoked by the Global War on Terrorism. This complicity has not been exposed in such detail before, and our data is growing.”

Widespread torture

The SWI-unit of the firm has gathered evidence of 450 cases of torture, 1,500 cases of pellet gun victims, 100 cases of enforced disappearance and 30 cases of sexual violence.

The report includes 10 testimonies regarding extrajudicial killings, four testimonies of torture, three testimonies of pellet gun violence, one testimony regarding an enforced disappearance and two cases of rape and sexual violence against women. Some of these cases involve detention, torture and violence against minors.

Stoke White filed an application to the Met Police on behalf of the family of Zia Mustapha, a 15-year-boy who was jailed without charges for 18-years and was finally murdered in an extrajudicial killing by Indian occupational forces in 2021, and on behalf of Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, a human rights campaigner who alleged torture by Indian forces before his arrest.

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah. Editorial credit: Saikat Paul

The testimonies and research for the report were conducted between September 2020 and December 2021. Open-source intelligence tools, interviews, and verified sources on the ground in IOJK were used by the firm. The testimonies have been included in part, while some are being held for subsequent legal action.

The report says: “The report proves that a culture of impunity exists in Jammu and Kashmir which has been facilitated by the Global War on Terrorism, so that counter-terrorism facilitates human rights abuse by India, in particular the rights of Muslims in the region to safety from harm, justice, and self-determination.”

It states that the Indian authorities continue to conduct several forms of violence and abuse against Muslims in IOJK, particularly against those dissenting against Indian occupation, even if this means conducting peaceful protests or documenting human rights abuses.

The report says the Indian authorities paved the way for impunity for its military and law enforcement personnel vis-a-vis Section 7 of The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA). It specifically allows its security personnel to sidestep any scrutiny for their conduct unless the Indian authorities grant prior permission for sanction via the courts to prosecute its own forces.

“This also demonstrates the lack of impartiality and the rule of law. As a result, evidence suggests that Indian authorities implicitly encourage members of their armed forces to conduct themselves in violation of international human rights law, knowing that there will be little if any, legal repercussions,” the report read.

It said that the SWI-unit has obtained audio recordings of Indian forces — army and police — discussing interrogation tactics, detention of minors and other events which are kept on file for further investigation.

Human rights defenders

The report states that abuses have worsened during the global pandemic. It details the arrest of Khurram Parvez, 42, IOJK’s most prominent human rights defender. He was programme coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), which have extensively documented and written on the abuses of occupational forces in IOJK.

It also discusses the detention of journalist Sajad Gul, who was arrested after posting a video of a protest on his social media. Sajad was granted bail, but was detained on the same day again and was booked under stringent Public Safety Act, a law that allows the detention of anyone for a period of up to two years without a trial. Sajad is currently lodged in Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu.

Mukund Naravane

The report says: “All of the above matters as well as additional detailed evidence in the full report itself, call for urgent investigation under international law to bring perpetrators to justice, and to build and enforce a firmer and more just international legal landscape.”

Hakan Camuz, the director of Stoke White, said: “The application to the UK Met Police’s war crimes unit is a launch-pad to investigate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ministers for war crimes. It should also be seen as the start of a broader legal action on the enabling environment created by the Global War on Terror internationally, which has seen minors incarcerated and journalists and lawyers silenced under the blanket of ‘countering terrorism’, with no legal challenge.”

“We hope this is the start of genuine justice for survivors of war crimes, and a firming up of the international legal landscape so that perpetrators are apprehended according to their crimes, no matter who they may be. The world can no longer be bystanders, to India’s crimes and impunity…

“We hope that the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the U.K. Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain. We are asking the U.K. government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” he concluded.

To get the reaction from the Indian authorities, 5Pillars made repeated calls to the Home Ministry office in Delhi, however the calls went unanswered.

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