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Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India

A Preliminary Quantitative Analysis

January 26, 2009

This report analyzes reported fatal violence across Punjab during a period of conflict from 1984 to 1995. This preliminary, descriptive statistical analysis by Ensaaf and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) at Benetech uses systematic and verifiable quantitative research to interrogate the Indian government's portrayal of the Punjab counterinsurgency as a successful campaign with isolated human rights violations. Our empirical findings indicate that the intensification of coordinated counterinsurgency operations in the early 1990s was accompanied by a shift in state violence from targeted enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions to large-scale lethal human rights violations, accompanied by mass "illegal cremations."

"With the methodological reliability of the compilation and analysis of events data, it becomes easier for all involved... to see how they become socially responsible when the rule of law is suspended ....For being a step in this direction, this study is seminal.
Ram Narayan Kumar, South Asia Forum for Human Rights

As part of government counterinsurgency operations from 1984 to 1995, Indian security forces disappeared and extrajudicially executed Sikh militants as well as individuals who had no known connection to the militancy. Special counterinsurgency laws facilitated human rights violations and shielded perpetrators from accountability. The government of India dismisses claims that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were widespread and systematic, asserting instead that human rights violations were unavoidable "aberrations" in the war on terrorism. A former Director General of Punjab Police has repeatedly claimed that he led the "most humane counterinsurgency operation in the annals of history."

To date, this report is the most comprehensive quantitative analysis of available data on human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency. This analysis brings together six data sets comprising more than 21,000 records. The report draws on documentation from the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) and its subcommissions, the People's Commission on Human Rights Violations in Punjab (PCHR), and the Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP). The authors further examined reports from the Tribune newspaper in Punjab from 1988 to 1995, and recovered logbooks from six municipal cremation grounds. This documentation collectively identifies and documents 2,059 "illegal cremations" acknowledged by the NHRC, approximately 2,196 victims of reported enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions documented by CCDP and PCHR, 17,582 victims of lethal violence reported by the Tribune, and 1,484 records from municipal cremation grounds.

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