PUNJAB PEOPLE'S COMMISSION MUST BE PRESERVED -- HON. DAN BURTON (Extension of Remarks - September 15, 1998)

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in the House of Representatives


NEW DELHI: Human rights activists are irked by the Government's disregard bordering on disdain, for the People's Commission that has been hearing complaints of human rights violations in Punjab since the time when the State was in the thick of terrorism.

`How can the Government ignore the necessity to determine the facts,' wondered Mr. Ram Narayan Kumar, convener of the committee for Coordination on Disappearance in Punjab. He was particularly livid that the commission was sought to be branded as `extra-judicial' by official agencies.

The commission is the brainchild of Justice (Retd) Kuldip Singh, who is a member of the Coordination Committee that functions as an umbrella organisation of Punjab-based human rights groups. The People's Commission was constituted, as a follow-up to the committee's first convention in December last year, as a functional-forum to defend human rights guaranteed under the Indian laws.

The complaints the People's Commission has been hearing, Mr. Kumar claimed, were based on facts revealing disappearances, custodial deaths and police torture. `The truth must come out. The incidents cannot be dismissed as forgotten past,' he averred.

Mr. Kumar has to his credit two books providing a historical perspective to the human rights situation in the border State.

According to him, the political leaders, bureaucratic and intellectuals were indifferent to the problem of civil liberties and human rights.

`Nobody is interested in fact finding. But the facts cannot be suppressed. Thousands of those whose kin have disappeared are awaiting justice,' Mr. Kumar said. Speaking on behalf of the committee, he claimed that the cases under scrutiny were based on extensive research work, `We want to propose reforms on the strength of facts and the existing law. Any attempt to vitiate the atmosphere might prove to be dangerous.'

The Akali Dal had promised, before coming to power, that it would have a detailed inquiry conducted into the human rights violations. `But now they want to forget the past,' he said.

During its first three-day session starting Aug. 8, the People's Commission heard complaints about alleged human rights violations at the time when Punjab was in turmoil. The `Bench' comprising three retired judges--Justices D.S. Tewatia, Justice H. Suresh and Justice Jaspal Singh--took up complaints of illegal abductions, custodial deaths, disappearances, summary executions and en masse illegal cremations.

The programmes adopted by the committee are aimed at countering, through an informed public opinion, the ongoing campaign for immunity for policemen charged with human rights violations; initiate a debate on vital issues of State power; organise compensation for the victims, and bring about change in domestic laws in conformity with the United Nations' instruments on torture and enforced disappearances.

Mr. Kumar dismissed the claims that the commission has been acting on the basis of one-sided stories. `We are willing to go into cases presented by widows of policemen killed by militants, we would be equally keen to study the instances they have documented,' he said.

The commission's next sitting is scheduled from Oct. 23-25 in Ludhiana. However, the legal validity of its actions is doubted by experts.