10 Reasons to Support Ensaaf

December 20, 2019 in Documentation, Legal Advocacy, Press, Reports

Ensaaf works to address impunity for crimes against humanity in Punjab, with strategies and methods that also impact other regions suffering from gross human rights violations. We already provide technical assistance to human rights defenders working in India and beyond. We provide litigation support to cases in India that will set precedent for the entire country. And we share our data and resources publicly, so any community can learn from our experiences. Our work is innovative, timely, and makes an impact in Punjab and beyond.

    Reason 10: We do 10x the work of other organizations with similar resources.
    Reason 9: We called out Sumedh Saini for atrocities. Next year, we’ll focus on Izhar Alam.
    Reason 8: Amar Kaur’s testimony and our Oral History Video Archive project.
    Reason 7: We recently documented the case of 18-year old Kulwant Singh. Every case matters.
    Reason 6: We are creating a permanent and thorough human rights archive.
    Reason 5: We impacted key legal cases.
    Reason 4: Our work is essential for survivors to be heard.
    Reason 3: We have a proven track record and great partners.
    Reason 2: We take charge of our own narrative.
    Reason 1: We must protect the human rights of the world.

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No Stone Unturned: 25 Years of Contesting Impunity

June 30, 2013 in Reports

No Stone Unturned:

25 Years of Contesting Impunity

Learn more about Kuljit Singh Dhatt and his family's fight for justice through videos, a photo essay, and an interactive timeline.

Introduction

Kuljit Singh Dhatt, son of Sadhu Singh, lived in Ambala Jattan, Hoshiarpur. He was married to Gurmeet Kaur and had three kids. His brothers’ mother-in-law was Parkash Kaur, the sister of Indian independence hero Bhagat Singh. Kuljit Singh was the director of Bhogpur Sugar Mill and had served as sarpanch of village Ambala Jattan since 1978. He was also a member of the governing council of the Khalsa College and the Khalsa Senior Secondary School, Gardiwala. Gurmeet Kaur reflected on her husband, during her interview with Ensaaf: “I remember once, while studying, my daughter received 99% marks....He took the card from our daughter and rushed after me saying, ‘Look what great marks my daughter earned!’ He was a happy person. I feel that loss very much now. On the day my daughter came home after completing her MBBS [medical degree],…I remember how happy he would have been if he had been there that day.”

Abduction, Torture & Custodial Killing

On July 23, 1989, around 8:30 a.m., Punjab policemen, led by then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ajit Singh Sandhu, abducted Kuljit Singh Dhatt, Gurmel Singh, Surjit Singh, and other individuals from Gurmel Singh’s house in village Garhi. The police party also included Station House Officer (SHO) Jaspal Singh of Dasuya, SHO Sardool Singh of Tanda, and Sub-Inspector Sita Ram, in charge of the police post in Gardiwala. Kuljit Singh had stopped at Gurmel Singh’s house, while on the way to the Bhogpur Sugar Mill, with Piara Singh. Police placed Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh in one car, and other detainees in a second car. At Dasuya police station, the police detained Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh in one room together. As eyewitness Surjit Singh recounted to Ensaaf, “They tortured Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh. We could hear the sounds of their cries and screams…From that day until now, we have not seen Kuljit.” The police later released Gurmel Singh and the others in the evening, but did not release Kuljit Singh.

“They tortured Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh. We could hear the sounds of their cries and screams…From that day until now, we have not seen Kuljit.”
- Surjit Singh, eyewitness.

After witnessing the illegal abduction, Piara Singh informed Harbhajan Singh Dhatt, Kuljit Singh’s older brother, about the abduction. Harbhajan Singh then approached the local police stations with family and friends, seeking his brother’s release. Harbhajan Singh Dhatt told Ensaaf that, on July 23, 1989, at police station Gardiwala, DSP Ajit Sandhu told him, “We have let the rest go. We have done with Kuljit Singh, what we wanted to do.” Sandhu further stated to Harbhajan Singh, “We aren’t going to return the body. Do what you want.” When the family turned to Superintendent of Police (Operations) (SP(O)) SPS Basra, Basra said, “Did you not understand what Ajit Singh said?” The police repeated these admissions to Harbhajan Singh at a subsequent meeting on July 29.

Ajit Singh Sandhu told Harbhajan Singh, “We aren’t going to return the body. Do what you want.”

Fabrication of an Escape

At this point, the police give two versions of events. In one version, recorded in First Information Report (FIR) No. 78, a police constable began digging in the sand for the weapons, but then Kuljit Singh ripped away his handcuffs, which were linked to the belt of a different constable, and, while still handcuffed, jumped into the river and escaped. In the second version, stated in affidavits submitted before the Supreme Court by police officers DSP Ajit Sandhu and SI Sita Ram (dated Nov. 4, 1989), Kuljit Singh himself started digging in the sand while handcuffed, and then ripped his handcuffs from the belt of a policeman and disappeared into the river.

The family and courts pointed out clear holes in the police version. For example, despite having around a week between the statements given by witnesses about Iqbal Singh’s murder and Kuljit Singh’s alleged arrest, the police officers made no attempt to apprehend any of the accused, including Kuljit Singh. Nor did the police obtain any warrants. “Picking him up the way that they did,” Harbhajan Singh told Ensaaf, “made no sense. He was an elected leader of the village, who lived in the area. It’s not like he was on the run. They should have summoned him according to legal procedures.” After his abduction, the police failed to produce him before any court. The policeman in charge, DSP Ajit Sandhu, never held any official responsible for the escape of Kuljit Singh from police custody. Harbhajan Singh expressed incredulity, “Even if we take their version of the story, why didn’t he run when he knew the police was coming [at the time of arrest]. The [police] said he didn’t try to escape then…Then when he was in custody, there were 10 police officers and he’s handcuffed. How can he break his handcuffs and escape? Why would he jump in the river? If he didn’t run from here [home], why would he run while he’s already in custody?”

"He was an elected leader of the village, who lived in the area. It’s not like he was on the run. They should have summoned him according to legal procedures.”
- Harbhajan Singh, brother of Kuljit Singh Dhatt

The judicial commission report, discussed below, and forensics analysis later demonstrated that the police had overwritten and cut out sections of police records in order to support their fabricated story. For example, in the sheet attached to FIR No. 143 of July 19, 1989, regarding the murder of Iqbal Singh, the dates of certain records were changed from September 12 and September 17, 1989 to July 26 and July 27, 1989, to correspond with the dates of Kuljit Singh’s alleged arrest and escape. Further, among other differences noted, the Daily Diary Reports had no information on the loss of the handcuffs or chain, the number of the handcuff key, or the failure to deposit the key, as required by police regulations.

Perpetrators

The police officials accused of abducting, torturing, and killing Kuljit Singh Dhatt included then DSP Ajit Singh Sandhu, SHO Jaspal Singh, SHO Sardool Singh, SI Sita Ram, and SP(O) SPS Basra. Two of these police officials were implicated in the abduction, torture, and murder of human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra, six years later in fall 1995. By then SSP, Ajit S. Sandhu allegedly committed suicide before standing trial in either case. Jaspal Singh was convicted in the Khalra case in 2005.

In their filings before the Supreme Court, the Dhatt family attached a judgment against Ajit Sandhu, demonstrating a prior conviction for handcuffing a police officer, and an anticipatory bail application in an assault case. They also included affidavits by family members who attributed their loved one’s disappearance to SHO Sardool Singh and DSP Sandhu.

The judicial commission report and forensics analysis demonstrated that the police had fabricated records.

Supreme Court Petition & Randev Commission

On September 11, 1989, after appeals to government officials fell on deaf ears, Parkash Kaur and Gurmeet Kaur filed a habeas corpus petition with the Supreme Court, calling for an inquiry by a "high judicial authority" and the suspension of the accused police officers till after the inquiry report was submitted. On March 30, 1990, the Supreme Court ordered the Punjab & Haryana High Court to appoint a retired Sessions Judge as a Commissioner of the Supreme Court, charged with conducting an inquiry into Dhatt’s disappearance. The Supreme Court ordered the Commission to complete its inquiry in three months.

It was almost two years before the Commission, led by Justice H.L. Randev, could begin its inquiry. At the first hearing, the Dhatt family recounted instances of police harassment and the Commissioner requested the transfer of the police officials to non-operational posts outside of the district. The petitioners had described how the accused police officials were threatening their lives if they did not withdraw from the inquiry. The police contested this issue repeatedly before the Commission—taking 35 hearings in eight months, according to a January 1991 affidavit filed by Harbhajan Singh—and then before the Supreme Court. In November 1991, the Supreme Court directed the Commission to proceed after the Additional Solicitor General reported that the accused officers had been transferred, although to operational posts. The Commission began collecting evidence in January 1992.

In October 1993, Justice H.L. Randev submitted his report, implicating five police officials in the unlawful killing of Kuljit Singh Dhatt: namely Ajit S. Sandhu (who committed suicide in 1997, after serving as Senior Superintendent of Police), Jaspal Singh (in life imprisonment for murdering human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra), Sardool Singh (who died in 2008), SPS Basra (who retired in late 2013 as Deputy Inspector General), and Sita Ram.

Police Investigation

Based on the Commission’s report, the Supreme Court issued notice to police officials Sardool Singh and Jaspal Singh, received objections from all of the accused, and accepted rejoinder affidavits from the petitioners. In January 1996, the state of Punjab submitted an FIR to the Court, but the Supreme Court found it unsatisfactory because it only contained minimal information about Kuljit Singh being missing. In its order of April 26, the Court stated: “It appears to us that the State Government has not responded to the gravity of the situation, despite the observations made by us in our order dated 3.4.1996. We, accordingly, in the facts and circumstances of the case prima facie accept the findings of the Commission and direct the State Government to register a case against the five police officials named by Randev Commission of Inquiry for various offences…in the report of the Commission. The investigation into the case shall be conducted by an official not below the rank of Deputy Inspector General of Police.”

In May 1996, the state of Punjab informed the Supreme Court that another First Information Report, No. 81, dated May 5, 1996, had been registered and the investigation entrusted to DIG JP Birdi. The three officers still in service, SPS Basra, Ajit S. Sandhu, and Jaspal Singh, had been suspended. Sita Ram was in judicial custody for another case, and Sardool Singh had retired.

On November 29, 1996, Harbhajan Singh Dhatt, the elder brother of Kuljit Singh Dhatt, informed the Supreme Court in an affidavit that the DIG’s chargesheet did not include the charge of Section 364 (kidnapping or abducting with intent to murder) from the Indian Penal Code, whereas the FIR had been registered under that section. Instead, the chargesheet had the lesser charge of Section 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent to secretly and wrongfully confine the person), which carried a maximum sentence of seven years compared to the maximum sentence of life imprisonment under Section 364. Further, the family pointed out that the DIG had failed to identify additional accused. In response, in August 1997, the family filed an application under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code for summoning additional accused. The sessions court allowed the summoning of the accused, but the accused appealed to the High Court and the application has since been stayed there.

The DIG failed to question any of the accused police officers or members of the alleged police team that went for recovery of weapons, and thus conducted an incomplete and partial investigation.

Prolonged Litigation

The Supreme Court ordered the registration of a case in 1996, and the five police officials named in Randev’s report were arrested, but later released on bail. The Punjab government granted prosecution sanction. In April 1998, the Additional Sessions Judge, Hoshiarpur, framed charges against the accused under Section 364 (kidnapping or abducting in order to murder), 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 466 (forgery of record of Court or of public register), 218 (public servant fabricating record to save person from punishment) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence or giving false information to screen offender) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Before witnesses could begin their testimony, on April 15, 1998, the accused appealed the sanction, stating that Punjab had been under the Punjab Disturbed Areas Act, and only the Central government could grant sanction, not the Punjab state government, in order for a trial to proceed against the police officers. Under the law, however, sanction was not needed by either government, since the police officials committed crimes that were not recognized as part of their official duties. Nevertheless, the High Court stayed the trial for 14 years, ultimately ruling that the trial could move forward.

The High Court stayed the trial for 14 years.

After the witnesses completed their testimony in March 2014, the judge who heard their testimony was transferred from the case in April 2014. A new judge then heard the oral arguments and gave her judgment on May 9, 2014.

Harassment of Witnesses

The police harassed family members, their supporters, eyewitnesses, and people who worked for the family.

Throughout the case, the police harassed family members, their supporters, eyewitnesses, and people who worked for the family, according to Gurmeet Kaur and Harbhajan Singh. Gurmeet Kaur told Ensaaf how the police blocked roads leading to the house during Kuljit Singh’s religious last rites. The police also registered false criminal cases against Harbhajan Singh Dhatt. The Commission and the police spent almost two years litigating the issue of police transfers, ordered by the Commissioner because of family affidavits describing police harassment.

On January 12, 1993, the police illegally detained Harbahaj Singh Dhatt. As a massive protest began outside the police station, the police could not move anyone inside or outside of the police station, and later released Dhatt.

The threats continued even during the investigation ordered by the Supreme Court, starting in 1996. Gurmeet Kaur submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court in September 1996, including affidavits by two eyewitnesses, stating that the police had threatened them with “dire consequences” and they had informed the Investigating Officer “to no avail.”

In January 1997, Harbhajan Singh Dhatt filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court to place on record developments after its December 16, 1996 order. In the affidavit, he mentioned anonymous calls made to himself and Gurmeet Kaur threatening them with the same fate meted out to Kuljit Singh if they continued to pursue this case. He recounted how on January 10, when the accused were to appear in the Court of the Sub-Judge in Dasuya, Ajit Singh Sandhu openly threatened Harbhajan Singh Dhatt with dire consequences if he continued to pursue the case. Ajit Singh further blocked the entrance to the Court till the Sub-Judge intervened.

In his trial testimony, eyewitness Gurmel Singh stated that SI Sita Ram came to him while he was at the civil courts handling personal work. Sita Ram intimidated Gurmel Singh into signing blank papers and left. He denied the contents of affidavits produced before him during cross-examination, saying he did not know the attorneys who attested them and repeated that SI Sita Ram had procured his signature on blank papers.

Trial & Conviction

After almost 25 years, the Sessions Judge convicted the three living police officials of abduction with intent to murder Kuljit Singh Dhatt.

During the trial, the petitioners presented 18 witnesses and the defense presentedone witness. On May 9, 2014, after almost 25 years, Additional Sessions Judge of Hoshiarpur Poonam R. Joshi convicted the three living police officers of abduction with intent to murder Kuljit Singh Dhatt. Additional Sessions Judge Joshi convicted SPS Basra, Jaspal Singh, and Sita Ram under sections 364 (kidnapping or abducting in order to murder), 120-B (criminal coanspiracy) and 218 (public servant fabricating record to save person from punishment) of the Indian Penal Code. She acquitted them under Sections 466 and 201 of the IPC, however.

Four hours after announcing her verdict, the judge issued a disappointing ruling on their sentences. Their convictions carry concurrent sentences of five years, three years and two years, plus a fine. The Dhatt family has appealed the sentences. The Dhatt family is also pursuing two related cases to bring other accused to trial and enhance the charge against all of the accused to IPC 302 (murder).

Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism through Illegal Detention and Torture

July 3, 2012 in Reports

Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism through Illegal Detention and Torture

June 2005 to August 2005

October 5, 2005

Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism Through Illegal Detention and Torture

(San Francisco, CA, October 5, 2005) Ensaaf today released its report, Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism through Illegal Detention and Torture (June 2005 to August 2005). This report details human rights violations committed by Indian security forces in recent militancy-related arrests. From June 2005 to August 2005, Indian police claim to have arrested several dozen individuals intent on reviving or supporting militancy in Punjab. These arrests center around the apprehension of Jagtar Singh Hawara, the main accused in the 1995 assassination of Punjab's chief minister.

Indian security forces routinely resorted to illegal and incommunicado detention. Further, the Punjab police frequently tortured the detainees.

In August and September 2005, Ensaaf documented 28 cases of detention of Punjabis accused of militancy-related activities. Its study reveals that, in contravention of international and domestic laws, Indian security forces routinely resorted to illegal and incommunicado detention. Further, the Punjab police frequently tortured the detainees. Torture methods included electric shocks, tearing the legs apart at the waist and causing pelvic and muscle injury, and pulling out the hair and beard of the detainees, among other techniques. The police also threatened and detained immediate family members of the targeted individual.

“The majority of detainees whose experiences are discussed in this report remain in the custody of Indian security forces and continue to be at risk of illegal detention and torture, among other custodial abuses,” said Ensaaf's Executive Director, Jaskaran Kaur. “Government officials have not publicly acknowledged, investigated, or redressed the violations,” she said.

The Indian police have constructed and presented elaborate stories of thwarted militant crimes, recovered weapons, captured human bombs, and the discovery of an international network to revive militancy in Punjab. These stories have concealed the escalation in human rights abuses committed in the name of national security and indicate that police fabricated evidence to support criminal charges. Because of conflicting reports between the government and families of detainees regarding dates and circumstances of arrest and detention, these cases should be investigated immediately by an impartial body.

Read the Report

Report FAQs – Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India

January 27, 2009 in Reports

Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India

A Preliminary Quantitative Analysis

FAQs

What impact do these findings have in the Punjab context? Why did you undertake this study?

We undertook this analysis in order to use systematic and verifiable quantitative research to clarify the historical record and reduce the deniability of the perpetrators, allowing for institutional responsibility. To date, this study is the most comprehensive, quantitative analysis of lethal violence during the counterinsurgency in Punjab. It brings together over 21,000 records compiled by the National Human Rights Commission, the Tribune newspaper, official state records, and local human rights organizations and initiatives. The available data have been analyzed using reproducible scientific methods and increase our understanding of "who did what to whom?," "where?," and "when?." The findings of this report interrogate the plausibility of the state's explanation and justification for mass cremations and "encounters," with alleged militants, as well as their claim that human rights violations were isolated incidents during the counterinsurgency. By using quantitative methods, this report demonstrates the implausibility of lethal human rights violations being "random" or "minor aberrations" as claimed by Indian officials. The findings further indicate that the intensification of coordinated counterinsurgency operations in the early 1990s was accompanied by a shift in state violence from targeted enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions to large-scale and systematic lethal human rights violations, accompanied by mass "illegal cremations." Further, the report lays the foundation for additional research into specific areas of what happened during the conflict, who was disappeared and extrajudicially executed, and who is responsible for the violations that occurred.

How will this report help clarify the historical record?

To date, state authorities in India have dismissed allegations concerning human rights violations during the counterinsurgency as "minor aberrations" and "random" events. This report brings together all of the currently available empirical evidence and shows that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions by the state were neither "minor aberrations" nor "random" events. Rather, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were committed on a large scale in Amritsar district and there is evidence showing that these acts spread to the other districts of Punjab as the state's counterinsurgency operations intensified. Further, the pattern of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions is systematic and not consistent with the hypothesis that these were purely random events.

This report brings new evidence to light contradicting the state's position that its policies and practices did not result in large-scale human rights violations. This report also complements existing legal and qualitative analyses on human rights violations in Punjab during the counterinsurgency and increases the quality and quantity of evidence available to the National Human Rights Commission and Supreme Court of India. This analysis clarifies the facts surrounding historical events that can help hold perpetrators accountable and develop appropriate institutional reforms of the security sector to ensure that these violations do not recur.

How would this report help bring the perpetrators to justice?

This report, and future analyses which may arise out of this analysis, aim to introduce new evidence that the Supreme Court of India and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) can use in their proceedings on justice and accountability for mass human rights violations in Punjab during the counterinsurgency. For example, in this preliminary analysis we have empirically demonstrated that security forces disappeared, extrajudicially executed, and secretly cremated individuals outside of Amritsar district. Amritsar has been the only district under review by the NHRC in the Punjab Mass Cremations case, but this analysis provides an additional basis for the NHRC and the Supreme Court to expand the review. By combining large-scale, empirical data and reproducible, scientific research methods, this work narrows the uncertainty around what happened during the conflict and reduces the scope for deniability by perpetrators.

Haven't Punjab Police and government bodies already documented the number of people killed and "illegally cremated?" Why doesn't this suffice?

No institution or organization has documented the full-scale of lethal violence or "illegal cremations" that occurred during the Punjab counterinsurgency. Further, several issues undermine the credibility of estimates provided by government and security forces.

First, quantitative analyses support qualitative findings that the Punjab Police extrajudicially executed innocent individuals and reported their deaths as encounter killings. Punjab Police released press reports almost daily to local newspapers, detailing the civilians, security forces, and alleged militants killed. Alleged militants were most often reported killed in encounters involving an exchange of gunfire. However, human rights groups have documented hundreds of cases in Punjab where victims were arrested, abducted, or executed by security forces in the presence of witnesses – but then would be reported a few days later as a "suspected militant," killed in an "encounter" with security forces. These reports suggest that many such reported encounters were falsified. So-called "fake encounters," in fact, were so prevalent that the practice has been remarked upon by the U.S. State Department and widely acknowledged in the media. Empirical findings from our report are also consistent with qualitative findings that reported encounters were often faked.Second, the state of Punjab has admitted to forging the identities of over 300 victims of "illegal cremations" in order to protect police collaborators. In February 2006, then-Director General of Punjab Police S.S. Virk admitted that the Punjab Police faked the deaths of over 300 accused militants-turned-police-informers who were then given new identities. Virk's confession asserted that 300 unidentified bodies of innocent victims were cremated in place of the police collaborators; these victims have yet to be identified by the police. Third, the Punjab Police has made at least one fraudulent identification to claim compensation. During the proceedings of the mass cremations case before the Bhalla Commission of Inquiry, a subcommission of the National Human Rights Commission of India, (NHRC), Ensaaf investigated five randomly-selected "illegal cremations" identified by the police. One of the identifications was fraudulent – a friend of police officials falsely reported an "illegal cremation," hoping to cash in on the compensation offered. The NHRC ordered the state, which had submitted this identification, to investigate this one incident, but rejected the request for independent investigations of all police identifications. Further, the Bhalla Commission continued to rely on police admissions without investigations. Lastly, the security forces, including the Punjab Police, are the accused perpetrators. Instead of investigating cases, survivors have accused them of thwarting investigations by intimidating witnesses and survivors, obstructing justice by harassing lawyers, and failing to comply with court orders, among other abuses.

If there is so much data available, why can't you make claims about the number of people killed by security forces during the Punjab counterinsurgency campaign?

While there are a number of different sources that have collected information about the number of people killed by security forces in Punjab, each one of these sources, or data sets, alone is incomplete. In order to make scientifically defensible estimates of the number of people killed, we need to apply the demographic technique of multiple systems estimation to the available data. This scientific estimation method is used widely in adjusting for undercount in population censuses. In epidemiology, multiple systems estimation (MSE) is used for estimating the incidence of rare diseases from multiple registration lists of diseased people. More recently, multiple systems estimation has been used in large-scale human rights projects to estimate the magnitude of conflict-related mortality.

Multiple systems estimation uses multiple data sets that estimate the size of a population being measured, by modeling the probability that different types of documented individuals in a population are included or excluded from a particular data set. Records in each data set need to be matched against records in all other data sets and assessed as to whether they represent the same or different individuals. From this record matching process, inclusion/exclusion probabilities are estimated and from that scientists can estimate the number of individuals who were never documented by any of the available data sets.

What are the future prospects for this work on the Punjab counterinsurgency?

Two main areas of future research into the questions investigated in this study include extending the analysis of existing data by matching and merging multiple, independent datasets. Additional collection of data on enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, encounter killings, and "illegal cremations" throughout Punjab is also needed. Together with qualitative data, our findings will provide evidence of the true magnitude and patterns of violence throughout Punjab, contributing to the debate about the impact of counterinsurgency strategies on fundamental human rights.

Will this analysis help locate the disappeared or reveal their stories?

This analysis helps to amplify the voices of the families of the disappeared and place their individual testimonies and affidavits in a larger historical context. The violations that have been analyzed took place at a time when the rule of law was suspended to permit security forces to "fight terrorism." As Ram Narayan Kumar states in his preface to the report, "With the methodological reliability of the compilation and analysis of events data, it becomes easier for all involved, irrespective of political dispositions, to see how they become socially responsible when the rule of law is suspended."

This report breaks new ground in clearly showing that as the counterinsurgency operations in Punjab intensified, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were committed on a large-scale and spread from a concentration in Amritsar district to almost all other districts of Punjab. This preliminary, descriptive analysis lays the groundwork for additional analyses that will draw on inferential demographic and statistical methods to clarify the magnitude and pattern of all disappearances and extrajudicial executions during the counterinsurgency period in Punjab, including those that have not – or cannot – be documented. It is possible that this analysis will help locate information that will help determine what happened to people who were disappeared during this conflict, and it will support legal inquires that may pressure authorities into revealing the truth about this violent period in the history of Punjab.

Do the families of the killed and disappeared support this analysis?

Our work is primarily motivated by the expressed need from survivors of the Punjab counterinsurgency to seek justice for the human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces. Dara Singh speaks for the wishes of many survivors for truth and justice:

The police murdered both of my sons, and they won’t even admit that they did something wrong. They call my sons terrorists! The police are the terrorists.... The government should also give us copies of their records relating to the murder of my sons, so we can figure out what really happened.

What has been the impact of quantitative studies of human rights violations in other regions?

Quantitative analysis of conflict-related mortality during periods of political conflict has a long history. Since 1991, Benetech's Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) has analyzed killings and other crimes in more than 17 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.

In Guatemala, HRDAG's use of multiple systems estimation helped establish that between 1960 and 1996 approximately 200,000 people were killed and disappeared. This analysis found that 94% of victims belonged to the Mayan ethnic group and that 98% of killings and disappearances were attributed to the state. This quantitative analysis, along with qualitative, legal, and historical analyses by Guatemala's Commission on Historical Clarification (CEH, by its Spanish acronym), contributed to CEH's official finding that the Guatemalan army committed acts of genocide against the Mayan people. At the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, HRDAG’s analysis of mortality and migration data helped to clarify the plausibility of explanations by Milosevic of why the conflict sparked a mass exodus of refugees. This analysis showed that the data were inconsistent with Milosevic's claim that people in the region were fleeing NATO bombing and also inconsistent with Milosevic's further assertion that people were fleeing atrocities by the Kosovo Liberation Army. HRDAG analysis clarified that there was strong association between acts of ethnic cleansing by the Yugoslav army and the spatial-temporal pattern of conflict-related mortality and conflict-related migration. In Peru, HRDAG’s analysis, which drew on data collected independently by multiple human rights organizations and the Peruvian Truth Commission (CVR, by its Spanish acronym), found that approximately 69,000 people were killed during the 1985–2000 civil war. HRDAG's estimate of the total number of people killed in the twenty-year conflict between government forces and Maoist insurgents more than doubled earlier, incomplete estimates. The analysis also revealed a stark difference in the way that people living outside the capital region were affected by the conflict, challenging the way many Peruvians understood their history. For example, the department of Ayacucho, in the Andean mountains, accounted for a total of 38% of the total estimated deaths throughout the conflict. Prior to the work by HRDAG and CVR, Peruvians had understood that most of the conflict had occurred in the Andean highlands. What most observers did not understand was the scale of disproportionality across space: there are more than fifty times as many people in Lima as Ayacucho, yet HRDAG and CVR found that there were approximately six times more killings in Ayacucho than in Lima. The relative risk of being killed in the civil war was more than 300 times greater for someone in Ayacucho than for someone in Lima.

Report Summary – Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India

January 24, 2009 in Reports

Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India

A Preliminary Quantitative Analysis

Report Summary

January 26, 2009

This report analyzes reported fatal violence across Punjab during a period of conflict from 1984 to 1995. This preliminary, descriptive statistical analysis by Ensaaf and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) at Benetech uses systematic and verifiable quantitative research to interrogate the Indian government's portrayal of the Punjab counterinsurgency as a successful campaign with isolated human rights violations. Our empirical findings indicate that the intensification of coordinated counterinsurgency operations in the early 1990s was accompanied by a shift in state violence from targeted enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions to large-scale lethal human rights violations, accompanied by mass "illegal cremations."

"With the methodological reliability of the compilation and analysis of events data, it becomes easier for all involved... to see how they become socially responsible when the rule of law is suspended ....For being a step in this direction, this study is seminal."

Ram Narayan Kumar, South Asia Forum for Human Rights

As part of government counterinsurgency operations from 1984 to 1995, Indian security forces disappeared and extrajudicially executed Sikh militants as well as individuals who had no known connection to the militancy. Special counterinsurgency laws facilitated human rights violations and shielded perpetrators from accountability. The government of India dismisses claims that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were widespread and systematic, asserting instead that human rights violations were unavoidable "aberrations" in the war on terrorism. A former Director General of Punjab Police has repeatedly claimed that he led the "most humane counterinsurgency operation in the annals of history."

To date, this report is the most comprehensive quantitative analysis of available data on human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency. This analysis brings together six data sets comprising more than 21,000 records. The report draws on documentation from the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) and its subcommissions, the People's Commission on Human Rights Violations in Punjab (PCHR), and the Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP). The authors further examined reports from the Tribune newspaper in Punjab from 1988 to 1995, and recovered logbooks from six municipal cremation grounds. This documentation collectively identifies and documents 2,059 "illegal cremations" acknowledged by the NHRC, approximately 2,196 victims of reported enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions documented by CCDP and PCHR, 17,582 victims of lethal violence reported by the Tribune, and 1,484 records from municipal cremation grounds.

Human rights groups have collected extensive qualitative evidence that provide detailed descriptions and analyses of the type and range of abuses committed by Indian security forces and the corresponding impunity that persists in Punjab. Until now, however, human rights groups have lacked the capacity to conduct quantitative research to record the level of human casualties and enforced disappearances from the Punjab counterinsurgency period.

By using quantitative methods, this report demonstrates the implausibility of lethal human rights violations being "random" or "minor aberrations" as claimed by Indian officials. Specifically, the report notes that:

♦ The available data sources, each collected through substantially different social, political, and legal processes, are generally consistent in noting that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Punjab were overwhelmingly concentrated in the early 1990s when the government intensified its counterinsurgency operations against alleged Sikh militants. The strong correlation between reported lethal human rights violations and overall reported lethal violence across time is inconsistent with official claims that human rights violations were random or minor aberrations.

♦ The data collected by the local Tribune newspaper and the CCDP show that reported enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and encounter killings shifted from being almost exclusively concentrated in Amritsar district to being dispersed throughout almost all districts of the state of Punjab after 1992. This dispersal suggests that human rights violations were not random acts of violence but rather part of a specific plan or set of widespread practices used by security forces during the counterinsurgency.

♦  The information reported by the Tribune shows that few security officials were reported to have been killed during "encounters" and that instead these incidents, on average, involved a lone killing of an alleged "militant" or a "civilian," consistent with qualitative findings that reported encounters were often faked. The observed correlation between reported lethal human rights violations and reported militant encounter deaths is also consistent with the phenomena of "fake encounters."

♦  As state violence increased substantially after the beginning of Operation Rakshak II in November 1991, notably fewer bodies of the disappeared and extrajudicially executed were recovered by the next of kin compared with the period prior to 1991. In the period after 1991, the NHRC data also acknowledges a notable increase in mass "illegal cremations." This correlation suggests that these two phenomena are driven by a shift in state violence towards large-scale lethal human rights violations coupled with mass cremations.

♦  The strong, positive correlation between the reported acts of lethal violence and "illegal cremations" acknowledged by the NHRC is inconsistent with official claims that that these reported disappeared persons are not dead but instead immigrated abroad.

♦  Age-sex data on reported victims of enforced disappearances, collected by the PCHR, CCDP, and NHRC, are consistent with the hypothesis that these violations were overwhelmingly targeted against young Sikh males between the ages of 18 and 45 whom security forces alleged were members of the militant movement.

Future analyses, which draw on multiple data sources and inferential statistical methods, will allow for clarification of the total magnitude and patterns of violence throughout Punjab.

Future analyses, which draw on multiple data sources and inferential statistical methods, will allow for clarification of the total magnitude and patterns of violence throughout Punjab, broadening the discussion about the impact of counterinsurgency strategies on human rights. Scientifically defensible analysis of political violence can help enable honest dialogue to improve public understanding of the counterinsurgency in Punjab. By triangulating independent data sources and employing reproducible scientific methods, questions about the magnitude, pattern, and responsibility associated with lethal violations connected to the Punjab counterinsurgency can be engaged transparently. The answers to these questions will ultimately strengthen truth, justice, and institutional reform processes.

Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India

January 21, 2009 in Reports

Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India

A Preliminary Quantitative Analysis

(Fremont, CA, January 26, 2009) As Indians gather for Republic Day celebrations this week to mark the adoption of the Indian constitution, new analysis reveals the human cost of suspending constitutional rights in India. Ensaaf and the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) released a report today presenting verifiable quantitative findings on mass disappearances and extrajudicial executions in the Indian state of Punjab, contradicting the Indian government’s portrayal of the Punjab counterinsurgency as a successful and “humane” campaign.

This report uses quantitative methods to scientifically demonstrate the implausibility that these lethal human rights violations are random or minor aberrations as suggested by Indian officials.

The report by Ensaaf and HRDAG, “Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India,” presents empirical findings suggesting that the intensification of counterinsurgency operations in Punjab in the early 1990s was accompanied by a shift in state violence from targeted lethal human rights violations to systematic enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, accompanied by mass “illegal cremations.” Indian security officials have dismissed claims of human rights violations as unavoidable “aberrations” during the counterinsurgency against alleged terrorists in Punjab from 1984 to 1995.

“This report challenges explanations by Indian security forces for enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions using more than 20,000 records from independent sources which have been analyzed using statistical methods,” said Romesh Silva, a demographer at HRDAG and co-author of the report. “This scientific analysis reveals that answers given by the government regarding the nature and extent of these violations are implausible given the available evidence. The victims and their families have a right to the truth.”

The report demonstrates that reported enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were most strongly correlated with reported deaths from encounters. The pattern is consistent with previous qualitative evidence that the events reported in the Tribune were staged (as “fake encounters”) to conceal the illegal nature of the violence and the security forces’ responsibility for these acts.

Human rights groups have collected extensive qualitative evidence about the types of abuses committed by Indian security forces and the impunity that persists in Punjab. Until now, human rights groups have lacked the capacity to conduct quantitative research to analyze these violations and definitively challenge explanations put forward by the Indian government.

This report uses quantitative methods to scientifically demonstrate the implausibility that these lethal human rights violations are random or minor aberrations as suggested by Indian officials. The strong correlation found between lethal human rights violations and overall lethal violence across time and space supports the conclusion that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were part of a specific plan or widespread practice used by security forces during the counterinsurgency.

"This scientific analysis reveals that answers given by the government regarding the nature and extent of these violations are implausible given the available evidence," said Romesh Silva, co-author of the report.

The analysis also demonstrates that between 1988 and 1995, militant deaths reported from an “encounter” or exchange of gunfire with the security officers were strongly correlated with lethal human rights abuses reported by the victims’ families. This correlation supports assertions by human rights groups that these encounters were fabricated by security forces to conceal extrajudicial executions.

The report further demonstrates that when human rights violations increased dramatically after 1991 and fewer families were able to recover the bodies of their loved ones, “illegal cremations” acknowledged by the Indian National Human Rights Commission also increased. The strong correlation between these events suggests a shift in state violence during the height of the counterinsurgency towards large-scale enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, coupled with mass cremations to dispose of the bodies.

“This report should serve as a wake-up call to the Indian government that its security policies and practices violate the fundamental rights of its citizens,” said Jasmine Marwaha, co-author and Program Associate at Ensaaf. “Given the empirical findings suggesting systematic abuses in Punjab, the government can no longer deny the facts while using the rhetoric of national security. The public is now equipped to challenge the government’s false narrative, and demand the vindication of survivors’ rights to truth, justice, and reparations.”

The strong correlation found between lethal human rights violations and overall lethal violence across time and space supports the conclusion that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were part of a specific plan or widespread practice used by security forces during the counterinsurgency.

The Ensaaf/HRDAG report is the most comprehensive, quantitative analysis to date of available data on human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency. The analysis reviewed data from the local English-language newspaper, the Tribune, cremation ground records from the late human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, acknowledged cremations by the Indian National Human Rights Commission, and reported lethal human rights violations provided by the Committee for the Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab and the People’s Commission on Human Rights Violations in Punjab. The observed correlations between reported human rights violations, reported deaths of alleged militants, and reported secret “illegal cremations” shed further doubt on the government’s official accounts of lethal violence in Punjab and its justification for such a disproportionate use of force.

Additional data and analysis will allow for clarification of the total magnitude and patterns of violence throughout Punjab, broadening the discussion about the impact of counterinsurgency strategies on human rights. Scientifically defensible analysis of political violence can help enable honest public dialogue and support an historically accurate narrative of the counterinsurgency in Punjab, and initiatives for justice. This effort is part of joint work by Ensaaf and HRDAG to introduce new evidence available to truth, justice, and accountability processes that are focused on political violence during the Punjab counterinsurgency.

Protecting the Killers

October 3, 2007 in Reports

Protecting the Killers

A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India

October 18, 2007

India: Time to Deliver Justice for Atrocities in Punjab
Investigate and Prosecute Perpetrators of 'Disappearances' and Killings

(Delhi, October 18, 2007) - The Indian government must take concrete steps to hold accountable members of its security forces who killed, "disappeared," and tortured thousands of Sikhs during its counterinsurgency campaign in Punjab, Human Rights Watch and Ensaaf said in a new report released today.

In order to end the institutional defects that foster impunity in Punjab and elsewhere in the country, the government should take new legal and practical steps, including the establishment of a commission of inquiry, a special prosecutor's office, and an extensive reparations program.

The 123-page report, "Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India," examines the challenges faced by victims and their relatives in pursuing legal avenues for accountability for the human rights abuses perpetrated during the government's counterinsurgency campaign. The report describes the impunity enjoyed by officials responsible for violations and the near total failure of India's judicial and state institutions, from the National Human Rights Commission to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to provide justice for victims' families.

Beginning in the 1980s, Sikh separatists in Punjab committed serious human rights abuses, including the massacre of civilians, attacks upon Hindu minorities in the state, and indiscriminate bomb attacks in crowded places. In its counterinsurgency operations in Punjab from 1984 to 1995, Indian security forces committed serious human rights abuses against tens of thousands of Sikhs. None of the key architects of this counterinsurgency strategy who bear substantial responsibility for these atrocities have been brought to justice.

"Indians and the rest of the world are watching to see if the current Indian government can muster the political will to do the right thing. It if fails, then the only conclusion that can be reached is that the state's institutions cannot or will not take on the security establishment. This has grave implications for Indian democracy."
Jaskaran Kaur, co-director, Ensaaf

"Impunity in India has been rampant in Punjab, where security forces committed large-scale human rights violations without any accountability," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "No one disputes that the militants were guilty of numerous human rights abuses, but the government should have acted within the law instead of sanctioning the killing, 'disappearance,' and torture of individuals accused of supporting the militants."

A key case discussed in detail in the report is the Punjab "mass cremations case," in which the security services are implicated in thousands of killings and secret cremations throughout Punjab to hide the evidence of wrongdoing. The case is currently before the National Human Rights Commission, a body specially empowered by the Supreme Court to address this case. However, the commission has narrowed its efforts to merely establishing the identity of the individuals who were secretly cremated in three crematoria in just one district of Punjab. It has rejected cases from other districts and has ignored the intentional violations of human rights perpetrated by India's security forces. For more a decade, the commission has failed to independently investigate a single case and explicitly refuses to identify any responsible officials.

"The National Human Rights Commission has inexplicably failed in its duties to investigate and establish exactly what happened in Punjab," said Adams. "We still hold out hope that it will change course and bring justice to victims and their families."The report discusses the case of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a leading human rights defender in Punjab who was abducted and then murdered in October 1995 by government officials after being held in illegal detention for almost two months. Despite credible eyewitness testimony that police chief KPS Gill was directly involved in interrogating Khalra in illegal detention just days prior to Khalra's murder, the Central Bureau of Investigation has thus far refused to investigate or prosecute Gill. In September 2006, Khalra's widow, Paramjit Kaur, filed a petition in the Punjab & Haryana High Court calling on the CBI to take action against Gill. More than a year later, she is still waiting for a hearing on the merits.

"Delivering justice in Punjab could set precedents throughout India for the redress of mass state crimes and superior responsibility," said Jaskaran Kaur, co-director of Ensaaf. "Indians and the rest of the world are watching to see if the current Indian government can muster the political will to do the right thing. It if fails, then the only conclusion that can be reached is that the state's institutions cannot or will not take on the security establishment. This has grave implications for Indian democracy."

Victims and their families seeking justice face severe challenges, including prolonged trials, biased prosecutors, an unresponsive judiciary, police intimidation and harassment of witnesses, and the failure to charge senior government officials despite evidence of their role in the abuses.

Tarlochan Singh described the hurdles he has faced in his now 18-year struggle before Indian courts for justice for the killing of his son, Kulwinder Singh:

"I used to receive threatening phone calls. The caller would say that they had killed thousands of boys and thrown them into canals, and they would also do that to Kulwinder Singh's wife, kid, or me and my wife...

"The trial has been proceeding ... with very little evidence being recorded at each hearing, and with two to three months between hearings. During this time, key witnesses have died."

After Mohinder Singh's son Jugraj Singh was killed in an alleged faked armed encounter between security forces and separatists in January 1995, he pursued numerous avenues of justice. He brought his case before the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the CBI Special Court, but no police officer was charged. A CBI investigation found that Jugraj Singh had been killed and cremated by the police. However, 11 years and a few inquiry reports later, the CBI court ended Mohinder Singh's pursuit for accountability by dismissing his case in 2006. Mohinder Singh described his interactions with the CBI:

"On one occasion when [the officer] from the CBI came to my house, he told me that I wasn't going to get anything out of this. Not justice and not even compensation. He further said that: 'I see you running around pursuing your case. But you shouldn't get into a confrontation with the police. You have to live here and they can pick you up at any time.' He was indirectly threatening me."

 

Human Rights Watch and Ensaaf expressed concern that the Indian government continues to cite the counterinsurgency operations in Punjab as a model for preserving national integrity.

"The government's illegal and inhuman policies in the name of security have allowed a culture of impunity to prevail that has brutalized its police and security forces," said Kaur. The report suggests a comprehensive framework to address the institutionalized impunity that has prevented accountability in Punjab. The detailed recommendations include establishing a commission of inquiry, a special prosecutor's office, and an extensive reparations program. "The Indian government needs to send a clear message to its security services, courts, prosecutors, and civil servants that it neither tolerates nor condones gross human rights violations under any circumstances," said Adams. "This requires a comprehensive and credible process of accountability that delivers truth, justice, and reparations to its victims, who demand nothing more than their rights guaranteed by India's constitution and international law."

Watch/Listen

Twenty Years of Impunity

March 3, 2007 in Reports

Twenty Years of Impunity

The November 1984 Pogroms of Sikhs in India

In March 2007, Ensaaf released the second edition of Twenty Years of Impunity. More than two years had passed since the publication of the first edition. During that time, the Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to the Indian government, the Congress administration submitted an Action Taken Report to Parliament, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologized, but refused to accept state responsibility for the massacres. The report inclues a new chapter that succinctly articulates the failings of the Nanavati Commission and the Action Taken Report, after a thorough consideration of the evidence at the government's disposal.

Reviews of First Edition

“With many connected to the violence now enjoying prominent positions in public life, Kaur makes it clear that India continues to ignore this dark chapter of its modern history at its own risk.”
Brad Adams, HRW

Brad Adams, Executive Director, Asia Division of Human Rights Watch
Jaskaran Kaur’s meticulous account of the failure of justice for Sikhs brings to life a period that many in India wish they could forget. With many connected to the violence now enjoying prominent positions in public life, Kaur makes it clear that India continues to ignore this dark chapter of its modern history at its own risk.

Ram Narayan Kumar, author and human rights activist
Kaur's work for truth, justice, reparation, accountability and an end to impunity in India is premised on a view of power that foresees eventual debacles for all sides when relations between the powerful and the powerless become bereft of human rights norms. India's history of impunity must give way to a new era of accountability, truth and justice. This report belongs to a program of advocacy that is essential for the restoration of the rights of Sikhs. More significantly, it is also central to the possibility of resuscitating the idea of India.

Randeep Ramesh, South Asia Correspondent, The Guardian, UK
The events of 1984 were the greatest jolt to the integrity of post independence India but their aftershocks have never been properly addressed. This book should be seen as another step in righting the wrongs of that tumultuous time.

Press Release to First Edition

June 29, 2004

(San Francisco, CA, June 29, 2004) Ensaaf—a new U.S.-based organization launched to enforce human rights and fight impunity in India—releases its first report Twenty Years of Impunity: The November 1984 Pogroms of Sikhs in India. This in-depth 150-page report analyzes thousands of pages of previously unavailable affidavits, government records and arguments submitted to the 1985 Misra Commission, established to examine the Sikh Massacres in Delhi, Kanpur, and Bokaro.

The report reveals the systematic and organized manner in which state institutions, such as the Delhi Police, and Congress (I) officials perpetrated mass murder in November 1984 and later justified the violence in inquiry proceedings. After a thorough discussion of administrative and judicial impunity, the report applies the international law of genocide and crimes against humanity to the pogroms, relating the massacres with international understandings of gross violations of human rights.

Unless the voices of survivors are heard and recorded, history will eclipse their narratives and the silence of impunity will prevail.

“This is an age when countries as diverse as Mexico, Peru, Cambodia and Ethiopia, among others, are digging into violent eras of their histories to set records straight and name those in power who allowed human rights abuses to occur or, worse, ordered them. In two decades, there has been no similar movement for a day of reckoning in India,” writes retired New York Times reporter, and eyewitness to the massacres, Barbara Crossette in her foreword to the report. Given the recent appointment of key perpetrators to ministerial positions in the Indian government, the report encourages survivors and witnesses to take private initiatives to help end impunity.

Unless the voices of survivors are heard and recorded, history will eclipse their narratives and the silence of impunity will prevail. “We hope survivors, including those in the diaspora, will lead us and other concerned individuals in organizing and initiating documentation projects and spearheading the campaign for justice,” said Jaskaran Kaur, executive director of Ensaaf. The report describes and summarizes key failings in the Indian states enforcement of the survivors’ rights to knowledge, justice and reparation.

Ensaaf works with survivors to engage in advocacy and outreach, documents violations, and educates the public about human rights violations in India. ’s programs include Community Advocacy, Legal Advocacy, United Nations, Education and Human Rights, and Media and Human Rights. Ensaaf, which means justice in many South Asian languages, acts to implement the international rights to knowledge, justice and reparation.