J-K: Physicians for Human Rights accuses security forces of ‘obstructing access to medical care’

In PHR's report, ‘Blind to Justice – Excessive Use of Force and Attacks on Healthcare in Jammu and Kashmir’, the group has said that the excessive use of force against the civilians in valley.

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar | Published:December 7, 2016 4:56 pm

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Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a United States-based international organization of health professionals, has accused the J&K Police and paramilitary forces of “excessive use of force” and “obstructing access to urgent medical care for protestors” during the five month street protests in valley.

In its report, ‘Blind to Justice – Excessive Use of Force and Attacks on Healthcare in Jammu and Kashmir’ released today, the group has said that the excessive use of force against the civilians in valley “violates India’s obligations to protect the rights to life and health”.

“Accounts from doctors and media reports show that Indian security forces deliberately obstructed access to urgent medical care for protesters, and harassed medical workers attempting to treat protesters, including by preventing doctors from reaching the hospitals where they work. Further, every doctor interviewed by (Physicians for Human Rights) PHR stated that police, both uniformed and in plainclothes, were present at hospitals and monitored protesters being admitted for treatment. They said police sometimes asked for the names and registers of patients admitted at the end of the day, and used the information to arrest those injured on the grounds that they had participated in ‘unlawful assemblies,'” the report reveals.

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An international human rights watchdog, Physicians for Human Rights has been working in the field for more than 30 years. A Nobel laureate for peace, PHR has been using Science and Medicine to document and call attention to mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. The major findings of the report include:

On use of pellet guns

The report says that the PHR experts, along with other independent policing experts, conducted a review and analysis of the use of the 12-gauge shotgun and the standard operating procedures regulating their deployment in the field. “The experts found that the 12-gauge shotgun is inherently inaccurate, indiscriminate, and capable of penetrating soft tissue even at a distance. In general, kinetic impact projectiles – a class of weapon that includes the 12-gauge shotgun firing cartridges of pellets – should not be used for crowd management or for crowd dispersal as most of these weapons cannot be used safely or effectively against crowds. At close range, the lethality and patterns of injuries of weapons firing cartridges of pellets or rubber bullets become similar to those of live ammunition,” it says. “The term “pellet gun” is misleading when used to describe the shotguns used by Indian security forces in Kashmir. “Pellet gun” typically denotes the compressed air guns used in other parts of the world for recreational purposes. Unlike these pellet guns, which use compressed air to create force, the 12-gauge shotguns used by Indian security forces use explosive powders, which are more powerful and can be lethal”.

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The report says that the pellet gun manufacturing unit has not tested the ammunition. “The ammunition factory in Khadki, a government-run manufacturer under the Ordnance Factory Board that supplied the No. 9 shot to security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, sent a letter to the Director General of Police in the region in 2013 stating that the manufacturer had not conducted any tests on the weapon to assess safety or its ‘effects on the human body’,” says the report. “The findings of a systematic review of medical literature carried out by PHR on the use of metal pellets and plastic and rubber bullets for crowd control indicate that these types of weapons cause serious injury, disability, and death. The weapons are inherently lethal and indiscriminate. In general, weapons launching multiple projectiles, like 12-gauge shotguns, should be prohibited for crowd control and dispersal, given that they are inherently indiscriminate and carry a high risk of inflicting permanent injury and disability”.

On use of Excessive Force

The report says that the indiscriminate and excessive use of force by Jammu and Kashmir police and the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) against protesters in Kashmir has violated India’s obligations to protect the rights to life and health, and the country’s obligation to uphold and facilitate freedom of expression and assembly. “A lack of adherence to human rights standards on the use of force by Indian authorities has contributed to a persistent cycle of violence, unlawful killings of protesters, and other human rights violations in Kashmir for which there has been no accountability,” the report says. “The weapons and tactics used to disperse assemblies also fail to meet international standards on proportionality in assessing the use of force against protesters. Interviews with residents in Kashmir, as well as medical professionals treating the injured, show that not only did security forces fail to follow international standards on the use of force, they also failed to adhere to domestic recommendations made in Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on ‘dealing with public agitations with non-lethal measures’, issued in 2012 by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD)”.

On Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

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Questioning the validity of the SOPs issued in 2012 by the BPRD, the report says it violate international standards on the use of force by law enforcement. “The recommendations made to declare an assembly ‘unlawful’ and to disperse the assembly are vague and overly broad,” the report says. “In particular, the SOPs allow for the use of force, including lethal force, to disperse an assembly, without specifying whether there is an imminent threat to life, as required by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, and by India’s obligations to protect the right to life under international law. The Basic Principles state that “law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self defense or defense of others against imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life”.

On Access to Emergency Medical Care

The report say that the accounts from doctors and media reports show that, starting on July 8, 2016, security forces deliberately obstructed access to urgent medical care for protesters and harassed medical workers attempting to treat protesters, including by preventing doctors from reaching the hospitals where they work. It says that the impositions of days-long curfews, attacks on ambulances, and police presence in hospitals all impeded access to medical care for those injured. “It is clear that Indian authorities disregarded their obligations under international laws,” the report says.

The report says that during July and August 2016, security forces carried out both targeted and indiscriminate attacks on medical staff, and, in particular, on ambulance drivers as they transported those injured by police action to hospitals in Kashmir. “Medical workers providing assistance to the wounded and sick are afforded special protections under international law. Various civil society organizations and media in Kashmir have independently documented assaults on health care workers and ambulances attempting to provide care to the sick and wounded. These incidents must be investigated in accordance with India’s obligations under international law to protect medical personnel from violence and ensure justice for human rights violations”.

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In its report PHR writes that, several doctors reported the indiscriminate use of tear gas in and around hospital premises. “The Doctors Association of Kashmir reported that police had fired tear gas canisters around hospital premises at SMHS and some district hospitals and took videos of the injured and family members accompanying them inside and outside of the hospital emergency room,” the report reads. “The right to health under international human rights law mandates that the state take measures to protect the functioning of health services and ensure they continue delivering health care to the highest attainable standard. Police presence in hospitals, with the intention of arresting the injured for participation in protests, constitutes state interference with the delivery of health care”.

In its conclusion the report has accused police and paramilitary forces of “excessive and indiscriminate use of force by Indian police and other security forces”. “The high number of injuries and deaths of protesters in Jammu and Kashmir since July 2016 exemplify a pattern of excessive and indiscriminate use of force by Indian police and other security forces,” says the report. “While Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) recognizes the duty of the Indian authorities and security forces to protect protesters, bystanders, and themselves from harm arising in situations of violent demonstrations and protests, force must be deployed in a targeted manner toward a clearly defined and imminent threat”.

The human rights watchdog has urged the government to “demonstrate respect for the rights of citizens by prohibiting weapons for crowd control” that are indiscriminate and cause excessive injury and death. It has also asked the government to provide “adequate equipment and training to police forces to minimize injuries and deaths” caused by police action; and cease unlawful practices that obstruct access to health care.

PHR has also asked the government to make security forces accountable. “Additionally, Indian authorities must hold security force personnel to account for the use of excessive force causing injury and death, and provide effective remedy and reparations to the victims and their families, as required under international law,” the report says.

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