India: Break the cycle of impunity and torture in Punjab

'Torture in Punjab continues as a result of a culture of impunity developed within the criminal justice system in the state during the militancy period and is still not dead, ' continued Amnesty International

'Unless this trend is reversed and the procedures and attitudes which facilitated abuses during that period are dismantled, custodial violence will continue to take place in the state,' the human rights organisation said.

In the new 62-page report, 'Break the cycle of impunity and torture in Punjab,' Amnesty International shows that impunity for past abuses and the continuation of torture today are causally linked.

'There is an urgent need to break this cycle and the recommendations contained at the end of the report are made as a contribution towards this objective,' the human rights organisation said.

Armed opposition ended in Punjab a decade ago, resulting in a marked decrease of human rights violations in the state. However, thousands of families are still waiting to know the fate of their relatives who 'disappeared' during that period.

'Until justice and truth is delivered to these families, the wounds left by the militancy period will remain open,' Amnesty International added.

Only a small minority of the police officers responsible for a range of human rights violations - including torture, deaths in custody, extra-judicial executions and 'disappearances' - have been brought to justice. This has led some state officials to believe that they can violate people's fundamental rights with impunity even today.

Some police in Punjab often use torture as a substitute for proper investigations, to extort money or for personal motives. Workload, lack of resources, intimidation or disinterest facilitate the recourse to custodial violence.

'Victims of torture today are most often those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, including Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, dalits and the poorer sections of the community. Human rights activists are often victims of harassment and ill treatment,' the organisation explained.

'Action is rarely taken against the perpetrators due to the tolerance of other elements of the criminal justice system, such as public prosecutors, the courts, the legal aid system and the doctors,' Amnesty International continued.

The Punjab Human Rights Commission has so far not been given the powers, resources or institutional autonomy to function effectively as a check on torture and ill-treatment in the state.

Amnesty International believes that Punjab today should serve as a warning to states in India presently affected by armed conflicts, such as Jammu and Kashmir and states in the northeast. Perpetrators of human rights violations must be held to account in situations of widespread and prolonged violence.

The report is part of Amnesty International's global Campaign Against Torture. During this campaign the organisation has expressed concerns about the use of torture in other Indian states, such as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, as well as in a wide range of countries, including Brazil, China, Pakistan, the Russian Federation and the USA.

Background

The decade of violent political opposition in Punjab - which lasted from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s - started when a movement within the Sikh community in Punjab turned to violence to achieve an independent state for the Sikhs. During that period armed opposition groups targeted and killed police officers, elected representatives and civil servants. The security forces resorted to unlawful and indiscriminate arrests, torture and extrajudicial executions. Thousands of civilians were the victims of the violence on both sides.

Related information:

'Break the cycle of impunity and torture in Punjab,' (January 2003)

Amnesty International Report 2002: 'India country summary for 2001' (28 May 2002)

'India: State continues to obstruct justice in Punjab' press release (27 April 2001)

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