Ladies and Gentlemen: Let me begin by thanking you for the opportunity to speak to the Working Group again this year. I would like to update you on disappearances in the Sikh homeland, Punjab, Khalistan. When I reported to you last year, the Sikh homeland was in a deplorable situation. It has not improved. If anything, it has been made worse by the presence of Indian missiles deployed in Punjab after its recent nuclear tests.
This deployment puts Sikh lives at risk to preserve those of the ruling class. The BJP has shown an openly hegemonic agenda towards its South Asian neighbors. There is no doubt that if war breaks out between India and Pakistan, Punjab will be the battleground, as it was for the last three wars fought between the two nations and once again, Sikhs will bear the most casualties in this nuclear holocaust.
I would like to thank the many committed people whose efforts have helped us develop this information to present to you. My statement is more a result of their efforts than my own.
The human-rights situation in Punjab, Khalistan remains as bad as it ever was. The renowned journalist and writer Kushwant Singh has said last May that he personally approved of the police method of simply grabbing Sikh youth and shooting them in the head without bothering with the courts, he stated, and I quote, `I supported the police in its extra-judicial killings.'
Former Speaker of the Indian Parliament Balram Jakhar said, `If we have to kill a million Sikhs to preserve India's territorial integrity, so be it.' In an interview broadcast by NPR on August 11, 1997, Narinder Singh, identified as a spokesman for the Golden Temple, said that `The Indian government all the time they boast that they're democratic, they're secular, but they have nothing to do with a democracy, they have nothing to do with a secularism. They try to crush Sikhs just to please the majority.'
On May 12, the chairman of India's National Human Rights Commission reported that the NHRC had received 38,000 cases in the last few months. This tells us the magnitude of human-rights violations in India because only a small fraction of cases are reported due to intimidation by the police, poverty, and illiteracy.
What terrifies the Sikh community about this dangerous scenario is the ease by which past Indian Governments have been able to make Sikhs disappear and kill them with impunity. Since 1984, an estimated quarter million Sikhs have lost their lives, but those responsible, men like K.P.S. Gill, are applauded in India as superheroes. It has been proven in the ballot box that when a political party, be it BJP or Congress, targets a minority community such as Muslims, Christians, or Sikhs, they win elections.
Information on the extent of disappearances and extrajudicial killings is by no means complete, but new cases continue to come to light. According to the July 9-15 issue of Awaze Qaum, the police picked up Kashmira Singh of the village of Khudal Kalan on the pretext of investigating a theft. They tortured him by rolling logs over his legs, submerging him in a tub of
water, cutting his thighs with a blade and stuffing red peppers into the cuts. For 15 days they tortured him.
When his family and villagers came to see him, he could not walk. Then the police claimed that Kashmira Singh had escaped from the police station and they arrested his father and a minor brother. They, too, are being tortured, but they are so poor that they can not even go to court. The people of the village are afraid that Kashmira Singh was killed during the torture and that his body was disposed of as usual, another case of disappearance.
Keep in mind that Kashmira Singh is not a terrorist, the young man picked up on suspicion of theft, and he had never been formally charged.
In the July 10 issue of India West, it was reported that the National Human Rights Commission asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the abduction of a journalist named Avtar Singh Mandar by the Punjab police. Mr. Mandar was a correspondent for the Punjabi daily Ajit who was abducted from his house in Jalandhar in 1992. His whereabouts remain unknown. This is just another typical case.
Recent reports show that a police official named Swaran Singh, known as Ghotna after a brutal type of torture he regularly employs, tortured Gurdev Singh Kaunke, the former Jathedar of the Akal Takht, and finally murdered him by tearing him in half. The next day, the government announced that Jathedar Kaunke had escaped from police custody. This is a typical disappearance.
You are all aware of the case of Jaswant Singh Khalra. Mr. Khalra has done accurate and detailed work regarding the disappearances and genocide. His findings are extremely useful in understanding the extent of State repression of Sikhs. For his work, Mr. Khalra was abducted by police from his residence in Amritsar on September 6, 1995. A few days earlier, Tarn Taran SSP Ajit Sandhu told Mr. Khalra, `We made 25,000 disappear. It would not be hard to make one more disappear.' The police subsequently murdered him, according to a witness, but they have never acknowledged his death.
Amnesty International issued a report on April 27 entitled A Mockery of Justice: The Disappearance of Jaswant Singh Khalra. In this report, Amnesty International noted that `Khalra had been part of a campaign to highlight the plight of hundreds of people (Sikhs) who disappeared after being arrested by the Punjab police during the 1980s and early 1990s. Those who now seek to defend his rights are being threatened and witnesses are being intimidated.'
One example of this intimidation is a former police officer named Kuldip Singh. Chandigarh-based journalist Sukhbir Singh Osan reported in The Hitvada that Kuldip Singh heard the police murder Jaswant Singh Khalra at the Chhabal police station on October 27, 1995. Like so many of the innocent Sikhs whose disappearances he reported on, Khalra's body was thrown into the Harike canal.
Here is how Kuldip Singh described the killing: `He was made to stand, thrashed and pushed onto the ground. His legs were stretched apart more than 180 degrees. Seven policemen kicked him in the abdomen and chest. Save me. Please give me some water, he cried. As I was about to fetch some water, I heard two shots. I ran back into the room and he was bleeding profusely. He had stopped breathing.' This is what happens to someone when he tries to expose India's brutal policy of disappearances and mass cremations.
According to Indian Express, Kuldip Singh told the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that the brutal former Director General of Police, K.P.S. Gill, was involved in the Khalra kidnapping and murder. Kuldip Singh states that he was present when Gill met with Mr. Khalra just days before his death. The meeting took place at the home of Ajit Sandhu, who committed suicide when the Supreme Court of India ordered him indicted along with eight other officers for the Khalra kidnapping.
When Khalra and several police officers were riding back to the police station, according to Kuldip Singh, Satnam Singh, the SHO of the Chhabal station, told Mr. Khalra that `if you agree to Gill, you will be spared.' The Coordination Committee for Disappearances in Punjab, a human-rights group from Punjab, has demanded that CBI file charges against Gill for his involvement in the abduction and murder of Mr. Khalra.
After Kuldip Singh's testimony but before it became public, the government filed false charges that Mr. Khalra's widow, Paramjit Kaur Khalra, tried to bride Kuldip Singh. This was an effort to discredit Kuldip Singh's testimony and undermine Mrs. Khalra's case against the government. Even the Punjab DGP said that the matter was investigated by the crime branch, which found the case untenable. Kuldip Singh is now under the protection of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) because he fears liquidation by officials of the Punjab police.
Unfortunately, the Khalra kidnapping is typical practice by Indian security forces. Lawyers, journalists, and rights activists have been made to disappear to instill a fear psychosis among the people. According to The Hitvada, at least one journalist received a phone call warning him that `it is dangerous to report against the government.' The lawyer for Mr. Khalra's widow was subjected to an intimidation attempt in a courtroom in front of a judge and his tires were slashed. Mr. Sodhi, a lawyer from Ropar who was representing accused Sikh militants in courts, was abducted along with his wife and 18-month-old child. They went into the police station and never returned. Police dumped their bodies in the canal and falsely blamed the killings on militants.
Khalra found that at least 25,000 cases of cremating `unidentified' bodies have been recorded in various municipal cremation grounds throughout Punjab. Khalra's team found that in the Patti cremation grounds, a total of 538 bodies were brought to the cremation ground by police between 1991 and October of 1994. 10 different police stations were bringing bodies to be burned. Officials at the cremation ground would describe that on some days 2 bodies would be brought, on other days 10 bodies would be brought. Often, more than one body was burned with a single allotment of wood.
Last year I gave the Working Group a preliminary list of 4,694 Sikhs who have been in Indian police or security force custody, some going as far back as 1981. Despite their deaths being reported by Indian authorities, in virtually every case, the body has not been released to the families, no positive identification has been made of the deceased, post-mortem examinations have not been conducted and no death certificate has been issued. In those case where post-mortem examinations were conducted, the identification of the victim is always listed as `unidentified.'
It is very important to note that because bodies are not returned, and no valid death certificate is ever issued, there is no confirmation that Sikhs who are reportedly killed are actually dead. These Sikhs must be considered disappeared until they can be positively identified as being killed.
Even with more recent disappearances there is an additional alarming trend, police regularly deny picking up an individual in the first place thereby bypassing the judicial system altogether. Sikh families are left with the fear and frustration of having their loved ones very abduction denied.
The patterns of these abductions are virtually the same wherever they occur in Punjab, Khalistan. Sikhs are either arrested openly, or a special squad is dispatched which raids the person's residence in the middle of the night. The person is handcuffed and taken to normal police headquarters or special interrogation centers set up in the 80's for the sole purpose of torture. Police methods include:
Rolling heavy wooden or iron rods along the victim's thighs rupturing the muscles.
Electrical shocks in sensitive areas, including genitalia.
Rape if the victim is female.
Hanging the victim upside down or by the hands until consciousness is lost.
Beating at the bottom of the victim's feet with hard blunt wooden staffs, and thick leather cudgels.
Stretching the victim's limbs.
Inserting an iron bar in the rectum and heating it up electrically. This causes tremendous pain and damage, but shows no exterior evidence of torture.
As you know, a battery of Draconian laws were issued throughout the 80's which, in addition to the cash bounty system, give the security forces shoot-to-kill powers with immunity from prosecution. These laws also give security forces broad detention powers.
In a much heralded declaration in May of 1995, the Indian government announced that the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) has not been renewed and that it is no longer the law of the land. This is plain wrong. As reported by Human Rights Watch's 1996 annual report, `6,000 prisoners remain under TADA custody.' But that number may be in the tens of thousands. Amnesty International, in its 1996 report, stated `Legislation allowing detention without charge or trial remained in force in India. . . . many of those detained under its provisions remained in custody.'
Furthermore, TADA revocation only applies to crimes committed after the revocation date. As long as the police allege that the accused committed a crime BEFORE the revocation date, which they can do without any evidence to back their claim, TADA methods can be used to detain the accused indefinitely. For all intents and purposes, TADA remains in effect.
Today, there are thousands of detainees languishing in jails throughout India who are officially declared missing or escaped, but are in fact in detention. Exact estimates are impossible to ascertain, but the number of Sikhs may be 20,000. This does not include the tens of thousands of Muslims, Assamese, Manipuris and other minorities detained under TADA.
Since 1993, India has also defended its human rights record by pointing to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC); a Commission set up under pressure by the international community. Like any effective organization, the NHRC cannot operate without power, resources and credibility. The NHRC has none of these attributes.
As I had mentioned in my testimony last year, the NHRC has no power to directly investigate human rights violations and no jurisdiction over violations committed by the security and military forces. The NHRC has no power to prosecute violators or compensate victims. Also, there is a one-year statute of limitations based on when the crime was committed. Thus, you could only bring forth killings within a year after they allegedly occurred. Therefore, the vast majority of Sikh killings, disappearances, rape and other violations cannot even be brought before the NHRC!
Cases filed with the NHRC are often ignored by the NHRC itself, even when human rights activists file them. In my previous report to you, I reported on how the co-producer of the video documentary `Disappearances in Punjab', Ram Narayan Kumar was illegally detained at Delhi airport by the Indian security and intelligence personnel on January 19 and 20, 1997.
The complaint for the illegal detention that Mr. Kumar sent to NHRC and India's Union Home Minister have not been acknowledged by either party.
He stated in a letter he wrote to me last year that he intended to travel to Punjab, Kashmir and other north eastern regions where, and I quote, `the armed forces have for decades followed a systematic policy of terror to combat secessionist movements.' He also stated, quote, `Frankly I am worried about my safety when I travel in these regions . . . I am aware that a man like Jaswant Singh Khalra, who assisted me with my researches in Punjab, has simply disappeared. Personally too, during my time in Punjab, I experienced intimidation, including manhandling by unidentified people in Amritsar.'
Given Mr. Kumar's misgivings about the ability of the NHRC to protect him, it is unrealistic to expect Sikhs to bring cases of human rights violations to the NHRC. Given the statute of limitations imposed, they are barred from doing so anyway.
In the year since I first reported to the Working Group on the NHRC's ineffectiveness, the NHRC has received an estimated 38,000 complaints throughout India in just the past few months. The NHRC Chairman, Justice Venkatchaliah, has echoed the very same problems regarding the effectiveness of the NHRC. The NHRC Chairman also strongly objected to the fact that India continues to bar international human rights groups like Amnesty International, Asia Watch and others from being allowed to visit troubled regions like Punjab.
I mentioned last year that with the Akali party election victory in the state of Punjab last February, there was hope that finally peace, stability and a measure of democracy would return to the Sikh homeland. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. In fact, police abuses including illegal detentions, forced abductions, use of torture, rape and murder have continued much like they have continued since 1984. What is worse is that there has been active collusion by the Akali Government with police forces to cover up past abuses and to distract from present abuses.
The result is that the Akali Government does not merely condone abductions and disappearances by Punjab security personnel, the Government actively shields such conduct from public scrutiny by reminding the world that the government is run by an indigenous Sikh party (the Akalis) and they therefore must be respectful of the human rights of their own people.
Yet the Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, refuses to let his government investigate these disappearances and mass cremations. He proudly boasts that his government has not taken action against any police officer. Instead, former Supreme Court Justice Kuldip Singh, chairman of the World Sikh Council, was forced to appoint a Peoples' Commission to investigate these atrocities. According to Mr. Jaijee, the government has spent Rs. 2 crore (20 million rupees) for lawyers to protect these brutal police officers.
The Peoples' Commission is a response to the ineffectiveness of the NHRC, the refusal of the Akali state government to investigate abuses, and the active suppression of evidence gathering by Indian and Punjab security forces. The members of the Peoples Commission have impeccable credentials. All are former jurists.
The People's Commission is a response to the failure of Indian State terrorism. It must be nurtured and supported by the international community. If the People's Commission is successful in documenting and broadcasting the truth of the last 14 years, it will serve as an example of a peaceful and effective response to state violence. The model of the People's Commission can be applied to other situations throughout the world where bloody conflict is the norm instead of the exception.
Unfortunately, the Akali state government continues to resist the People's Commission. Instead, the state government has given into temptation and used the police and security forces much like previous state governments, to eliminate any and all opposition to their rule; including political opposition.
I have enclosed a partial list of atrocities that lists almost 150 atrocities, including several disappearances, in Punjab since the Akalis took power in March 1997.
I had mentioned and submitted last year to the Working Group a letter written by a group of respected human-rights activists last year states that 50,000 cash bounties were disbursed to Punjab police for killing Sikhs between 1991 and 1993. The figure does not include paramilitary and vigilante force killings. Some of the militants allegedly killed by police have appeared before the Punjab and Haryana High Court requesting protection from the police. The letter rightly asks, and I quote, `If these dead men are alive, who have the police killed?'
The letter cites evidence from human-rights groups and the national press that 50,000 Sikhs disappeared in the state in 1994 alone. The Indian government has murdered more than 250,000 Sikhs since 1984 according to the book, The Politics of Genocide, by the convenor of the Movement Against State Repression, Inderjit Singh Jaijee which draws its figure from the Punjab State Magistracy.
It is my fervent hope, a hope shared by Sikhs throughout the world, that the work of the People's Commission will account for every last person killed in this last decade and a half. It will be the first step in a long road to bring those responsible to account for their crimes.
In light of these facts, I would respectfully submit the following recommendations for the working group to consider:
The Working Group should recommend the long-term presence of international human rights monitors in Punjab, Khalistan. In addition to UN Organs, groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch/Asia and other international groups must be allowed to operate freely throughout Khalistan.
Domestic institutions alone cannot deal with the human rights crisis plaguing the Sikh homeland. Neither the courts, the NHRC or the Punjab state government is willing to begin the arduous task of surveying 13,000 villages throughout Punjab and documenting the quarter million victims of State terror. An added problem is the vexing question of what happens when the human rights workers leave? No one will talk to Amnesty International or the appropriate UN organ if they know that they will be gone next week. Although Amnesty was recently allowed to operate in other parts of India, they have been denied access to Punjab since 1978. Until there is a permanent and pervasive presence of international monitors throughout Punjab, who will be there until all of the facts of the genocide are collected, the fear of Indian government retaliation will be too great to yield an accurate picture of the death toll.
The Working Group should encourage internationally monitored investigation of public crematoriums throughout Punjab, as it will likely bring to resolution many of the disappearances.
As far as we can determine, virtually none of the individuals named in the list I gave the Working Group last year has been released. A year later, this is still the case. Although the police allege that these persons were killed, no bodies have been returned, no identification has been verified and no valid death certificate has been issued. It is highly likely that many of them were cremated as unidentified by the Indian police. A thorough investigation of all public crematoriums throughout Khalistan will provide a final, albeit tragic, resolution as to what actually happened to the tens of thousands of Sikhs who were taken by police and never seen again.
The Working Group should urge India to dismiss all pending cases under TADA. Internationally monitored investigations should be made of detention centers throughout India to ensure that the tens of thousands of TADA detainees are released from custody.
Despite India government claims to the contrary, TADA remains in effect. An immediate census should be conducted involving international monitors to ensure that detention center's
throughout India no longer contain political and religious prisoners. Many Sikhs were taken to jails outside Punjab and are rotting there.
The Working Group should recommend that Indian authorities cease abducting, harassing and murdering human rights activists and other Sikhs. The persons involved in the kidnapping and murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra and that of Jathedar Kaunke should be punished and the government should guarantee the safety of human-rights activists, monitors, all Sikhs, and all the other minority peoples.
About two weeks ago, Jaspal Singh Dhillon, a human-rights activist, and four others were falsely charged with conspiracy to blow up a jail to free a Sikh militant. The police had filed an FIR (First Investigative Report) charging that Mr. Dhillon and the others were involved in a conspiracy to break into jail and alleged Sikh militants. No court magistrate has validated these charges by the police and when human-rights groups protested the charges, the police relented in their pursuit to arrest Mr. Dhillon and the others. However, the police shifted the very same charges to ten other Sikh youths, very young Sikh boys who would less capable for resisting police tactics. They are now in detention and it is extremely likely that they are being tortured. This is typical of the way the police concoct false cases against human-rights activists and any other Sikhs they want to harass.
The Working Group should publicly support the work of the People's Commission and provide them with technical assistance in achieving the most comprehensive and objective investigation possible.
The Working Group should acknowledge in its annual report the work of the People's Commission. This will not only provide much need international recognition of the Commission, but will make much harder for Indian security and government officials to harass or even kill those individuals involved in the very risky business required by the Commission's work. The Working Group should also provide technical assistance to the Commission so that the data they collect and the method of collection conforms to international standards of human rights documentation.
The Working Group should recommend measured and appropriate sanctions against the Government of India until they comply with all of the international treaties and covenants regarding human rights to which they are signatories.
The above recommendations do not resolve the core issues between Sikhs and the Indian Government which gave rise to these abuses, issues that boil down to the right of the Sikh nation to national self-determination. But they do help open Punjab, Khalistan to the international community. This must occur before any credible investigation regarding disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and rape can begin.
Only international pressure will stop the campaign, and only sanctions will yield the necessary pressure to make India act in accordance with international law. Only sanctions will force India to respect the human rights of the people it purports to govern. Without effective international pressure, the whereabouts of the abductees will never be determined and every day, other innocent people will join the ranks of the disappeared.
Washington, July 18: Dr. Gurmit Singh Aulakh, President of the Council of Khalistan, testified yesterday before the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Also testifying were Dr. Paramjit Singh Ajrawat, Professor Gurcharan Singh of Marymount University in New York, Judge Mewa Singh of New Jersey, and Malkiat Singh Heir, also of New Jersey.
The Working Group said that if they can get a list of the disappeared, they will investigate. They have asked India for permission to visit and were denied, as other independent human-rights monitors have been. They said that they will try again.
While the Khalistani delegation was testifying to the United Nations, word came out that the police abducted Rajiv Singh Randhawa, who was an eyewitness to the police kidnapping of human-rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, yesterday. This abduction is typical of police conduct in Punjab. The police have murdered more than 250,000 Sikhs since 1984. Disappearances continue to be routine.
`With the Akali party election victory in the state of Punjab last February, there was hope that finally peace, stability and a measure of democracy would return to the Sikh homeland,' Dr. Aulakh told the Working Group. `Unfortunately, this has not been the case. In fact, police abuses including illegal detentions, forced abductions, use of torture, rape and murder have continued much like they have continued since 1984. What is worse is that there has been active collusion by the Akali Government with police forces to cover up past abuses and to distract from present abuses,' he said. He presented a partial list of almost 150 atrocities that have been reported since the Akali government took power in March 1997.
According to the July 9-15 issue of Awaze Qaum, the police picked up Kashmira Singh of the village of Khudal Kalan in Mansa district on the pretext of investigating a theft. They tortured him for 15 days by rolling logs over his legs, submerging him in a tub of water, cutting his thighs with a blade and stuffing red peppers into the wounds. Then the police claimed that Kashmira Singh had escaped from the police station and they arrested his elderly father and a minor brother. They, too, are being tortured. The villagers are afraid that Kashmira Singh was killed during the torture and that his body was disposed of as usual.
In another recent development, Jaspal Singh Dhillon and four other human-rights activists were falsely charged with conspiring to blow up a jail to free an alleged `militant.' When the human-right community objected, the charges were dropped under pressure. The Punjab government under Chief Minister Badal has spent more than 2 crore (20 million) rupees for legal fees to protect the police officers who participated in the genocide against the Sikh Nation.
`Only international pressure will stop the campaign, and only sanctions will yield the necessary pressure to make India act in accordance with international law,' Dr. Aulakh said. `Without effective international pressure, the whereabouts of the abductees will never be determined and every day, other innocent people will join the ranks of the disappeared,' he said.