“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead…..”

By Alaphia Zoyab, Online Communities Officer for Amnesty International

Amnesty International has written an open letter to all the members of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) legislative assembly. Our key message is that they raise their voice on human rights.

The current assembly session began on 26 September and there are at least four major areas of human rights concerns that we want the members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) to pay attention to.

I’d like to highlight two areas here – unmarked graves and juvenile law reform in J&K.

Unmarked graves

One of the most significant developments in recent months has been the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) report on unmarked graves in north Kashmir. In July, an SHRC police investigation team found over 2700 unmarked graves in four districts of the state. At least 574 bodies are those of local residents subjected to enforced disappearance and not “unidentified militants” as the police has so often claimed.

How many more bodies in those graves are of people who have been forcefully disappeared?

The government owes their families and the people of the state an answer to this question.

We are calling on the members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) to demand that resources be set aside for an independent body to conduct various tests ranging from forensic pathology to dental examinations to DNA profiling; whatever it takes, to help identify the victims.

However, just identifying them isn’t enough. The state government must ensure that it follows this up by promptly and thoroughly investigating all past and current allegations of enforced disappearances. Those responsible for the crimes must be brought to justice.

The SHRC report quotes statesman William Gladstone who said, “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness, the tender mercy of its people, their respect for the law of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”

The people of Jammu and Kashmir are waiting for the elected representatives of their state to prove their commitment to human rights.

Over 10,600 signatures in support of juvenile law reform

Another issue we’ve highlighted in the open letter to the MLAs relates to the protection of children in the state.

We’re calling for an amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice Act -asking for adult age for boys to be made 18 – making it compatible with international law and India’s national law.

Aravind Ramesh, a 28 year old internet marketing professional, working in Kochi in Kerala joined this campaign because he didn’t know that adult age for boys was 16 in J&K and resulted in their arrest under other draconian laws. He said, “All conscientious human beings should voice their opposition against this injustice. It is high time for the government to change the laws.”

Anjum Husain, another Amnesty International supporter from Anantnag in J&K says he joined our campaign online because “human rights are universal and speaking up for these causes at one place is speaking up for it in the entire world.”

And indeed many people from around the world – from places like Spain, Switzerland, Ghana, Egypt, Bahrain and many other countries – signed up when we launched an online petition on this issue. We collected over 10,600 signatures which have been sent to CM Omar Abdullah urging him to follow through on his promise of juvenile law reform.

Our attention is now on the proceedings in the assembly where the juvenile law can be amended and other human rights abuses addressed.

What happens to juveniles in Jammu and Kashmir is emblematic of the abuses that take place in the name of national security in other parts of the globe. Our work on reform of the juvenile law in Kashmir is part of our international campaign on ‘Security with Human Rights.’

You can read the full text of our open letter here and if you wish to join our campaigns become an Amnesty International member today.