India has rejected every request over two decades to prosecute Indian soldiers in civilian court in Kashmir for alleged rights abuses including murder and rape, according to documents given Tuesday to the Associated Press.
The revelation is likely to spark an outcry by Kashmiri activists who for years have accused Indian troops of abusing wide-ranging powers to search, seize and even shoot suspects. Those powers were given in 1990 when India faced a violent insurgency in the Himalayan territory that has since waned significantly.
Under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Kashmir needs federal approval for prosecuting paramilitary or army soldiers in civilian courts.
Kashmir has sough permission in 50 such cases in the last two decades, but India has refused every one, the territory's Home Ministry said in a response this week to a Right to Information request filed by The Coalition of Civil Society, a local rights group.
The Kashmiri government would not say what other options it could or would follow in seeking justice. "We're taking legal recourse," Home Department Secretary B.R. Sharma said Tuesday, without specifying what that might be.
The rights group said the information vindicated what Kashmiri activists have been arguing for years.
"It implies there is 100 percent legal impunity for Indian troops operating in Jammu and Kashmir," said Khurram Parvez of the Coalition.
Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah proposed eliminating the special powers last year, but was rebuffed by the federal government after the army objected.
India has long relied on military might to retain control over Kashmir and has fought two territorial wars with Pakistan, which also claims the mountain region as its own.
Indian troops faced a bloody, separatist insurgency in the early 1990s. The uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown killed 68,000 people, but the conflict has largely subsided with public opposition to Indian rule now expressed in street protests.
Nevertheless, the region remains heavily militarized, with hundreds of thousands of Indian troops stationed and maintaining checkpoints throughout Indian-controlled territory. Pakistan and China also control portions of the region.
Human rights workers have accused Indian troops of illegally detaining, torturing and killing rebel suspects, sometimes even staging gunbattles as pretexts to kill.
The Indian army says it has punished 59 soldiers in 25 proven abuse cases, out of 995 complaints it has received, according to its website. It gives no dates for or details about the complaints, and does not say what the punishments entailed.