According to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, US diplomats were secretly briefed by staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir.
The dispatches reveal that US diplomats in Delhi were briefed by ICRC in 2005 about the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees, the Guardian reported Friday.
Other cables show that American diplomats, as recently as 2007, were concerned about widespread human rights abuses by Indian security forces, who they said relied on torture for confessions.
The revelations come at a time of heightened sensitivity in Kashmir after renewed protests and violence this year, the daily said.
The most highly charged dispatch is likely to be an April 2005 cable from the US embassy in Delhi which reports that the ICRC had become frustrated with the Indian government which, they said, had not acted to halt the ‘continued ill-treatment of detainees’.
The embassy reported the ICRC concluded that India ‘condones torture’ and that the torture victims were civilians as militants were routinely killed.
The ICRC has a long-standing policy of engaging directly with governments and avoiding the media, so the briefing remained secret, the report said.
An insurgency pitting separatist and Islamist militants – many supported by Pakistan – against security services raged in Kashmir throughout the 1990s and into the early years of this decade.
It claimed tens of thousands of lives, including large numbers of civilians who were targeted by both militants and security forces, according to the report.
The ICRC staff told the US diplomats they had made 177 visits to detention centres in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India between 2002 and 2004, and had met 1,491 detainees. They had been able to interview 1,296 privately.
In 852 cases, the detainees reported ill-treatment, the ICRC said. A total of 171 described being beaten and 681 said they had been subjected to one or more of six forms of torture.
These included 498 on which electricity had been used, 381 who had been suspended from the ceiling, 294 who had muscles crushed in their legs by prison personnel sitting on a bar placed across their thighs, 181 whose legs had been stretched by being ‘split 180 degrees’, 234 tortured with water and 302 ‘sexual’ cases, the ICRC were reported to have told the Americans.
‘Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of (ill-treatment),’ the cable said.
The ICRC said all branches of the Indian security forces used these forms of ill-treatment and torture, adding: ‘The abuse always takes place in the presence of officers and … detainees were rarely militants (they are routinely killed), but persons connected to or believed to have information about the insurgency.’
The cable said the situation in Kashmir was ‘much better’ as security forces no longer roused entire villages in the middle of the night and detained inhabitants indiscriminately, and there was ‘more openness from medical doctors and the police’.
Ten years ago, the ICRC said there were some 300 detention centres, but there are now ‘a lot fewer’. The organisation had never however gained access to the ‘Cargo Building’, the most notorious detention centre, in Srinagar, the report said.
The abuse continued, they said, because ‘security forces need promotions,’ while for militants, ‘the insurgency has become a business’.
In the same cable, American diplomats approvingly quoted media reports that India’s then army chief, Lieutenant-General Joginder Jaswant Singh, had ‘put human rights issues at the centre of a (recent) conference of army commanders’.
The cables reveal a careful US policy of pressure in Kashmir, while maintaining a strictly neutral stance.