Amnesty International asks lawmakers to debate Kashmir graves

September 27, 2011
altSRINAGAR (AP) — Lawmakers in the India-controlled portion of Kashmir should discuss the recent discovery of unmarked graves containing more than 2,000 bullet-riddled bodies and demand authorities take steps toward identifying them, an international rights group said.

The single and mass graves in the north of the disputed Himalayan territory contain 2,156 unidentified bodies and 574 known to be those of local residents, according to an August report by a state-run commission that reversed India's longtime insistence the dead were foreign militants killed in Kashmir's two-decade separatist struggle against Indian forces.

Amnesty International said Kashmir's legislators should demand an independent panel be set up to identify the bodies, noting the same recommendation made last month by the Jammu-Kashmir State Human Rights Commission had yet to be acted upon.

“The state government must also ensure that all past and current allegations of enforced disappearances are promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigated,” the group said late Monday, adding that anyone found responsible should be prosecuted.

Omar Abdullah, the top elected official in Indian Kashmir, told state assembly members Tuesday that authorities would carry out DNA tests on the bodies buried in unmarked graves in the region.

“The relatives of missing people should come forward to give samples for DNA profiling,” Abdullah said.

The DNA tests would take time, he said.

“It'll not happen overnight but a beginning can be made. It is not our intention to hide the truth,” Abdullah said.

However, opposition People's Democratic Party members walked out of the House after the speaker rejected their plea of suspending the day's business to discuss the graves issue.

“It is a matter of shame that this issue has not been discussed in our Parliament but has been debated by the British Parliament,” said Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the opposition.

Meanwhile, the commission has broadened its investigation to look into yet more unmarked graves allegedly containing another 3,844 unidentified bodies in the region's remote southwest — near the heavily militarized line of control dividing Kashmir between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.

Local rights groups have long alleged the graves might contain the bodies of thousands of civilians who vanished and were possibly killed by government forces over suspicions of collaborating with rebels.

Rebel groups began fighting in 1989 against Indian rule, and more than 68,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdowns. The separatists want either independence for Kashmir or a merger with Pakistan.