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Ensaaf Dispatch

December 2007
Volume 4 Issue 4

Ensaaf Continues Campaign for Justice at the United Nations

 On November 21, 2007, Ensaaf met with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in Geneva, Switzerland, to present general allegations against India for its role in perpetrating enforced disappearances. This visit followed a submission of general allegations as well as 32 individual cases that Ensaaf jointly made with two other prominent human rights groups. Ensaaf also submitted information for consideration by the United Nations Human Rights Council in its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India...Continue »

Khalra Murder Case: Summary of High Court's October 2007 Orders

The High Court's order of October 8, 2007, recently obtained by Ensaaf, characterizes the Punjab police as obstructing justice and intimidating witnesses in their attempt to shield Khalra's murderers from punishment...Continue »

Khalra's Killer Schemes His Way Out of Jail, Gets Caught

Jaspal Singh, Deputy Superintendent of Police, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra in November 2005. However, he continued to leave the jail on a regular basis to visit his home and areas around Jalandhar until July 2007...Continue »

Hearing Scheduled for KPS Gill's role in Khalra murder

The Punjab and Haryana High Court scheduled a hearing on the petition against former Punjab Police chief KPS Gill for his role in the crimes committed against Jaswant Singh Khalra. The hearing is scheduled for February 12, 2008...Continue »

National Human Rights Commission Hears Arguments Regarding the Bhalla Commission

On December 6, 2007, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) held a hearing to consider submissions by all concerned parties regarding the Bhalla Commission's final report to the NHRC in the Punjab Mass Cremations case...Continue »

Thanks to our Board for a great year!

The Board provided critical advice on program development, ensured compliance with financial policies, and reviewed Ensaaf's operations and activities. Under the guidance of our newest board member Dr. Elvis Fraser, Ensaaf has developed an evaluation system...Continue »

Highlights from 2007

This year the co-directors of Ensaaf received the 2007 Youth Leadership Award from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), as examples of inspiring dedication in ensuring that "injustices are never issues of the past." Some of the significant accomplishments from 2007 include...Continue »

You Can Help!

For as little as $10 a month, you can help advance the cases of individuals who have suffered the death or disappearance of a family member in Punjab...Continue »

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Ensaaf Continues Campaign for Justice at the United Nations

On November 21, 2007, Ensaaf met with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in Geneva, Switzerland, to present general allegations against India for its role in perpetrating enforced disappearances. This visit followed a submission of general allegations as well as 32 individual cases that Ensaaf jointly made with two other prominent human rights groups - REDRESS and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law (CHRGJ). The 32 cases represent credible allegations of disappearances perpetrated by the Punjab police, but not under consideration by the National Human Rights Commission in the Punjab Mass Cremations case because they fall outside of Amritsar district.

This visit followed a submission of general allegations as well as 32 individual cases that Ensaaf jointly made with two other prominent human rights groups.

As the submission prepared by Ensaaf, REDRESS, and CHRGJ notes, "The Working Group is uniquely qualified to intervene in this case because of its experience in dealing with situations of mass 'disappearances' and its uncompromising humanitarian mission to assist families affected by enforced disappearances."

More about the UN WGEID

The WGEID was established in 1980 by the UN Commission on Human Rights to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of their relatives who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law. The WGEID endeavors to establish a channel of communication between the families and the governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases which families have brought to the Group's attention are investigated with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of disappeared persons. Clarification occurs when the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person is clearly established, irrespective of whether the person is alive or dead. The WGEID is made up of five independent experts.

Upon formal acceptance by the WGEID, the cases will be transmitted to the Indian government with the request that it carry out investigations and inform the Working Group about the results. The general allegations will also be transmitted by the Working Group to the Indian government. Currently, the case submissions and allegations are under consideration by the WGEID.

Universal Periodic Review

In November 2007, Ensaaf also submitted information for consideration by the United Nations Human Rights Council in its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India. Under the UPR mechanism, the Human Rights Council is required to assess the fulfillment of human rights obligations and commitments by all UN member states. The Human Rights Council is scheduled to assess India during the first session in April 2008. The Human Rights Council welcomed NGO submissions for this first session, and will consider information submitted by NGOs in its review.

Ensaaf submitted its recent joint report with Human Rights Watch, Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India, as well as a letter summarizing gross human rights violations perpetrated in Punjab and the government's failure to provide effective remedies for these violations.

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Khalra's Killer Schemes His Way Out of Jail, Gets Caught

 Jaspal Singh, Deputy Superintendent of Police, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra in November 2005, as well as seven years imprisonment for abduction with intent to murder, two years for destruction of evidence, and five years for criminal conspiracy. However, he continued to leave the jail on a regular basis to visit his home and areas around Jalandhar until July 2007. His conviction in the Khalra case was upheld in October 2007.

In July 2007, after conducting an inquiry, Justice Hemant Gupta, an administrative judge of Hoshiarpur Sessions Division, put a hold on the proceedings of a number of "bogus complaints" against Jaspal Singh, apparently previously instituted by Jaspal Singh himself. Jaspal Singh was released from jail an estimated 36 times in response to production warrants issued in these cases as well as for the recording of evidence in additional First Information Report (FIR) cases. As Justice Gupta wrote, "It appears that production of Jaspal Singh in aforesaid complaint cases as well as FIR cases (State Cases) is to facilitate his movement out of the Jail." Often, Jaspal Singh would depart a day before the date of a hearing and come back to jail the day after the hearing. At least four criminal cases were "instituted with a view to abuse the process of law," according to Justice Gupta, and are therefore "liable to be quashed." In the other cases, Justice Gupta ordered trial courts to submit a report justifying Jaspal Singh's role as a witness, describing why his testimony was not recorded earlier.

Jaspal Singh was released from jail an estimated 36 times, in addition to seven weeks of parole.

In addition to time given for 36 hearings, Jaspal Singh also received six weeks of parole from December 25, 2006 to February 4, 2007, and eight days of emergency parole from March 22, 2007 to March 29, 2007.

This case against Jaspal Singh is currently before the bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court Justice Surya Kant. As of mid-December 2007, it had not yet been decided because the accused had not submitted their replies. Paramjit Kaur Khalra's attorney, Rajvinder S. Bains, will participate in the arguments before Justice Kant.

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Hearing Scheduled for KPS Gill's role in Khalra murder

Six weeks after upholding the convictions of five officers for the murder of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, the Punjab and Haryana High Court scheduled a hearing on the petition against former Punjab Police chief KPS Gill for his role in the murder. The hearing is scheduled for February 12, 2008, according to the Tribune.

During this hearing, a Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, comprising of Justice S.K. Mittal and Justice K.C. Gupta, will hear arguments calling for a CBI investigation into KPS Gill's role in the murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra. Direct evidence for Gill's involvement was put on record during the trial of lower-level officers, and the High Court especially cited the testimony of Special Police Officer (SPO) Kuldip Singh in upholding the conviction of five police officers for Khalra's murder. In his trial testimony, SPO Kuldip Singh described how he had been appointed to guard the room where Khalra was detained, and discussed the role of different officers, including the senior-most officer, Director General of Police (DGP) KPS Gill, in the abuses against Khalra. According to his trial testimony, the police took Khalra to SSP Sandhu's residence, where DGP Gill joined them and interrogated Khalra for half an hour. On the ride back to the police station, Station House Officer (SHO) Satnam Singh told Khalra to accept DGP Gill's advice and save himself. In the judgment upholding the conviction of Satnam Singh and four others, Justice M.S. Gill stated: "Kuldeep Singh [Kuldip Singh] is the star witness...We find his statement to be truthful, convincing and inspiring confidence. He initially was under fear, but at a later stage came out with the truth. He is an eyewitness to the gruesome abduction, murder and disposal of Khalra's body."

Ensaaf drafted the petition's international law arguments on the doctrine of superior responsibility. Ensaaf provides ongoing litigation support to Paramjit Kaur Khalra's attorney, R.S. Bains, to ensure that all of Khalra's killers are brought to justice. For more information about the case, visit Ensaaf's page on advocacy pursued regarding the murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra. This page includes links to judgments and legal papers, as well as information on joint initiatives by international human rights organizations, including Ensaaf, Human Rights Watch, REDRESS, and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.

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National Human Rights Commission Hears Arguments Regarding the Bhalla Commission

On December 6, 2007, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) held a hearing to consider submissions by all concerned parties regarding the Bhalla Commission's final report to the NHRC in the Punjab Mass Cremations case. Upon review of the submissions by the Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab (CIIP) and the Punjab government, the National Human Rights Commission acknowledged the criticisms of the Bhalla Commission offered by the CIIP.

The Bhalla Commission continued the practice of impunity adopted by the NHRC.

In October 2006, the NHRC established a Commission of Inquiry, to be conducted by retired Punjab and Haryana High Court Justice K.S. Bhalla (Bhalla Commission), with the task of identifying the remaining 814 cremations that the NHRC had failed to identify in the ten years since it began considering the Punjab Mass Cremations case. According to the Bhalla Commission's final report, submitted to the NHRC in July 2007, 14 cremations were actually previously identified, leaving 800 unidentified secret cremations for it to identify. Before the Bhalla Commission held its first sitting, the state of Punjab submitted identification details on 54 additional persons.

After postponing hearings three times since the submission of the Bhalla report, the NHRC held a hearing on October 18, 2007. At this hearing, the NHRC denied the request by the Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP) for an extension of the Bhalla Commission or enhancement of compensation. Because none of the petitioners had received a copy of the Bhalla report, the NHRC delayed discussion of the report for the next hearing, held on December 6, 2007.

In its report, the Bhalla Commission submitted the identification information of an additional 90 victims. As noted in the submission to the NHRC by the CIIP, the Bhalla Commission continued the practice of impunity adopted by the NHRC: it refused to conduct any independent investigations; it continued to rely almost exclusively on the Punjab police to establish the identities of the secret cremations victims; and it refused to consider claims outside a narrow self-imposed mandate. The CIIP further criticized the Bhalla Commission for failing to call for a list of "forged" cremations admitted to by the state. (In February 2006, state officials admitted that the Punjab police had forged the identities of cremation victims, cremating innocent individuals under the names of police informants, in order to protect these informants who were then given new identities.)

In a written response, the attorney for the Punjab police, Sudhir Walia, defended the fact that the Bhalla Commission had only confirmed one identification of those submitted by the CIIP, arguing that the CIIP did not offer enough evidence in support of their claims to help the Punjab police. This reasoning ignores the fact that the identification evidence is in the exclusive control of the police and the government, which they have refused to share with the CIIP, and that the arbitrary standards of evidence adopted by the Commission were designed to lead to the rejection of valid evidence. Moreover, international and Indian jurisprudence establish that the government bears the burden of proof in cases of disappearances and custodial death, and the state must conduct independent and impartial investigations to establish the ultimate fate of the disappeared and killed. In this case, the Bhalla Commission, like the NHRC, abdicated its responsibility to investigate the murders and secret cremations, and, instead, blindly trusted the police and rejected the efforts of victim families.

Not only did the Bhalla Commission refuse to conduct its own investigations, it also failed to oversee or scrutinize the investigations of the Punjab police. For example, Justice Bhalla accepted the police identifications without requiring thorough reports of their investigations or the methods they used to arrive at the identifications. He ignored the fact that the police were the perpetrators in this case and had a manifest conflict of interest, and therefore had no incentive or motive to conduct impartial identifications. Indeed, in March 2007, Ensaaf and CIIP investigated a case purportedly identified by the police and discovered the alleged victim had actually died from a heart attack, and was a former police officer himself whose family had colluded with the police to submit a fraudulent claim in his name. The total absence of transparency in the Punjab police's investigations, given the documented track record of the Punjab police in perpetrating disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and secret cremations, makes a mockery of the proceedings and the victims' right to truth, justice, and access to justice.

According to counsel for CIIP, upon review of the submissions and oral arguments by the CIIP and the Punjab government, the National Human Rights Commission acknowledged the criticisms of the Bhalla Commission pointed out by the CIIP at the hearing on December 6, 2007. Members of the NHRC particularly noted three cases, including the Charrat Singh case, where there was ample evidence provided by CIIP, and asked the state what further evidence was required for investigation. A member of the NHRC also noted the relevance of the CIIP's submission on investigation methodology, which may have been helpful in identifying more cremations, but which the Bhalla Commission categorically refused to review, instead relying solely on police admissions. The NHRC further questioned the state's strong objections, since the case was not technically an adversarial proceeding.

The NHRC has yet to issue an order on the December 6 hearing.

Ensaaf provides litigation support to the Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab, a petitioner in the Punjab Mass Cremations case currently before the National Human Rights Commission. For a detailed analysis of the Punjab Mass Cremations Case, read the section in the joint Ensaaf/Human Rights Watch report, Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India.

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Thanks to our Board for a great year!

 Ensaaf thanks its dedicated Board of Directors for helping make 2007 a successful year for Ensaaf. The Board provided critical advice on program development, ensured compliance with financial policies, and reviewed Ensaaf's operations and activities. The Board includes:

  • Alison A. Hillman (Chair), Director of Mental Disability Rights International's (MDRI) Americas Advocacy Initiative
  • Dr. Elvis Fraser, Associate Director for Impact Planning and Improvement, Global Development Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Richard J. Wilson, Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the American University, Washington College of Law
  • Jaskaran Kaur, Co-Director, Ensaaf

Under the guidance of our newest board member Dr. Elvis Fraser, Ensaaf has developed an evaluation system that informs management decisions, improves program effectiveness, and impacts project reporting. This evaluation system includes the tracking, measuring, and evaluation of data on performance; the development and regular analysis of project logic models; and the creation of narrative reports on key projects. From reviewing project outcomes to financial statements, our Board ensures that Ensaaf stays on track as an innovative and effective human rights organization.

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Highlights from 2007

 This year the co-directors of Ensaaf received the 2007 Youth Leadership Award from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), as examples of inspiring dedication in ensuring that "injustices are never issues of the past." Some of the significant accomplishments from 2007 include:

In early 2007, Ensaaf released its 2nd edition of Twenty Years of Impunity: The November 1984 Pogroms of Sikhs in India, now available at Eliott Bay Book. The report serves as a critical wake-up call to the Indian government to implement the rule of law and redress mass state crimes in India. The supplement provided in the second edition reflects on recent developments, including the report issued by another government inquiry commission, the government's Action Taken Report, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's alleged apology.

On February 27, 2007, Ensaaf and Human Rights Watch published an Op-Ed in the Indian national newspaper Asian Age entitled "Injustice cost votes in Punjab polls."

On March 6, 2007, the U.S. State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, citing Ensaaf in its report on India. According to the State Department, India "generally respected the rights of its citizens; however, numerous serious problems remained." Among those serious problems, the State Department cited the lack of progress in holding police and security officials accountable for abuses committed in Punjab during the counterinsurgency campaign.

Ensaaf made over a dozen presentations across North America highlighting efforts at truth, justice, and reparations for victims of gross human rights violations in Punjab. These presentations created crucial awareness of the ongoing human rights situation.

On October 18, 2007, Ensaaf and Human Rights Watch released a joint report, together with a photo essay and video testimonials.

On October 8, 2007, a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court upheld the convictions of Punjab police officers Jaspal Singh, Satnam Singh, Surinderpal Singh, Pritpal Singh, and Jasbir Singh, and acquitted Amarjit Singh of all charges for the murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra. Four of those convicted received enhanced sentences of life in prison, so that all five convicts are serving life sentences. Ensaaf provided litigation support to R.S. Bains, the attorney for Mrs. Khalra.

On October 18, 2007, Ensaaf and Human Rights Watch released a joint report. The 123-page report, Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India, together with a photo essay and video testimonials, examines the challenges faced by victims and their relatives in pursuing legal avenues for accountability for the human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces. The report describes the near total failure of India's judicial and state institutions to provide justice for victims' families. 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 report has been covered in over 54 newspapers worldwide, generating wide press attention to the struggle for justice for disappearances and extrajudicial executions committed from 1984 to 1995.

On November 21, 2007, Ensaaf met with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in Geneva, Switzerland, to present general allegations (pdf) against India for its role in perpetrating enforced disappearances in Punjab. The allegations, as well as 32 individual cases submitted by Ensaaf, are currently under consideration by the Working Group.

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You Can Help!

You can make a difference in the fight for truth, justice, and reparations. For as little as $10 a month, you can help advance the cases of individuals who have suffered the death or disappearance of a family member in Punjab.

For over two decades, thousands of families in Punjab, India, have endured extreme suffering and injustice because asking for their fundamental rights was equated with supporting terrorism. In the 1980s and 1990s, Punjab state security forces countered a violent Sikh separatist movement with methodical brutality - torturing, killing, and disappearing thousands of Sikhs. Human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra estimated that 25,000 Sikhs disappeared during this period. Khalra himself was abducted, tortured, and killed by the Punjab Police in 1995 for bringing these crimes to light. Ensaaf recently helped secure life sentences for five police officers convicted of Khalra's murder, but the chief organizers of disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Punjab are still regarded as national heroes.

The generosity of individuals, like you, allows Ensaaf to give the families of victims a powerful voice that stands up to these "heroes." A donation to Ensaaf helps fight for their rights, challenging a history based on lies and the destruction of life.

Currently, Ensaaf is providing expert legal assistance to pending cases that have the potential to make the greatest impact for survivors. Ensaaf is also generating crucial international and domestic political pressure on the Indian government by working with the world's prominent human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, REDRESS, International Center for Transitional Justice, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. Ensaaf and Human Rights Watch's recent report, Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India, has been covered in over 54 newspapers worldwide, putting government officials such as former Punjab police chief KPS Gill on the defensive.

Be part of this new generation of human rights activists - take a stand by making a donation, and by recruiting other friends and family members to donate.

Thank you for your commitment to truth, justice, and reparations!

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