Disappearance is a crime against humanity defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force on 1 July 2002. Disappearances are not permissible even in the war times. According to the statute, the perpetrator would be held responsible for the disappearance and not the agency for which he is working. Families have a right to know what happened to their dear ones after their arrest and this right sustains till the fate of the missing person is not known.
Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, enforced in J&K, after making an arrest, law enforcement agencies have to handover the suspect to the state police within 24 hours. The state police are usually responsible to interrogate the arrestee. The Supreme Court of India, while upholding the constitutional validity of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act during the famous D K Basu judgement observed that the arrestee has rights and privileges and laid down guidelines. However, authorities in J&K have not followed this rigorously. Several thousand disappearances have taken in Kashmir since the conflict began in 1989.
Parvez Imroz is a human rights lawyer and civil rights activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir. He is co-founder and Patron of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which brings together hundreds of Kashmiri families whose members have been the victims of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (EID). A senior advocate at the Srinagar High Court, he is co-founder and President of the J&K Coalition of Civil Society that has been working to build local alliances between Kashmiri civil society groups. He is 54. Joe Athialy, working with Initiative Mumbai caught up with Imroz in mid-April 2005.
Parvez Imroz graduated in Science from Srinagar in the year 1972 and then got his LLB degree at the Law College Aligarh Muslim University in 1975. Imroz joined the J&K High Court as a lawyer in 1978.
Can you tell us about the origin of APDP?
The conflict started in 1989 was followed by the maximum deployment of army. In their campaign against the combat in Kashmir, they resorted to all sorts of human rights violations and one of the issues was the enforced disappearance. When large numbers of people were disappeared, initially the parents used to make individual efforts. But later Parveena Ahangar and some of us got together and persuaded them for a collective political action and in 1994, APDP was formed.
We do not have any political positions, but are campaigning for the rights of the people. The issue is about 10,000 disappearances, which affects some 2 lakh relatives. These people were taken off by the security forces, task force and other government agencies and later their fate is not known. Officially the figure is 3921. The government do not acknowledge them as disappeared but claim that they have crossed over to Pakistan. We have been demanding that the government should appoint a commission of enquiry into the matter.
What kinds of activities does APDP undertake?
Inspired by the Mothers of Argentina, who gather together at a square every Saturday with the names of their missing children (they are also known as Saturday Mothers), we gather together 25th of every month in a park in Srinagar. Similar kind of programme is not possible in other interior parts of Kashmir since the military would not allow it. We also conduct programs where the families of the disappeared address the media, highlighting their plight; we also lobby among international organisations and media, UN Human Rights Commission etc. We take up the issue with the judiciary, filing habeas corpus petitions. But the judiciary is not very positive. It is sometimes frustrating, but we have no option.
How do you evaluate the past ten years of APDP?
With the campaign of APDP, the issue of disappearances is made a national and international issue. And the number of disappearances have come down drastically. While there were over 1000 disappearances per year in the early 90's, till around '97, it has come down to 25, 81 and 41 in the years 2002, '03 and '04 respectively. Till April 2005, there were only 4 reported disappearances.
What are the challenges ahead?
The repression is so much that the people are not coming forward. Even the families who come forward are not fully aware about their rights. They remain ignorant and illiterate. They come forward to get some help from the government for their sustenance. Our challenge is to make them politically strong and make them aware about their rights. Since the people are not very politically conscious, they easily get tired. They are not for long struggles like that of Narmada or Bhopal. Moreover, the civil society in Kashmir has only a limited role in the political struggles. Hence the biggest challenge is to take the struggle ahead, with maximum participation.
Peace is a relative term. For the Indian government, peace means maintaining status quo. For Kashmiris peace has to come with justice. We believe that unless the causes and sources of the conflict are addressed, we won't be able to bring in peace. The tactics of the Indian government is to postpone addressing this issue and she believes that with military she can control and contain the people here. Her only concern is how she can neutralise the militancy here. So as Kashmiris we believe that unless our issue is addressed in the historical context, there won't be any peace.
What are your expectations from the civil society groups and people's movements in India towards the struggle in Kashmir?
They are really the opinion makers and they have to really understand how important the Kashmir issue is. They have to realise how Kashmir has drained the economy through militarisation and led into arms race with the neighbouring courtiers. Unlike the politicians who have their vested interests and political compulsions, the people's movements can come out and speak the truth.
We respect the civil society groups in India for taking bold stands on issues like Gujarat. That, we believe, is because they have been told the truth about Gujarat. But in the case of Kashmir, they have not been told the truth. The same media who were forthright in the Gujarat issue is very different when reporting about Kashmir.
We are trying our best to reach out to the maximum number of civil society groups and movements. We want them to come and visit Kashmir to see the truth. Let them gauge the people's opinion here and take a stand. Otherwise there is a general notion that Kashmir movement is just terrorism. There is a need for alliance building with other like-minded groups in India. It is a long process, but there is no alternative.