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Kashmir amends tough detention law

An anonymous official in India-controlled Kashmir reported Saturday that amendments to the Public Safety Act (PSA) [text] have been approved. Prior to amendment, the law treated youth 16 years and older as adults, allowing them to be arrested [AFP report]. Now, no one under the age of 18 will be detained for purposes of prosecution under the act. The PSA also allows the detention of individuals deemed to be threats to the state for up to two years before they can stand trial—a provision which remains in effect. However, detention periods for other crimes have been reduced as a part of the amendments. Changes to the law may have resulted from pressure on India's government and the local government in Kashmir by human rights groups, among others. In March, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported that the PSA was being used to detain hundreds of people [JURIST report] despite the absence of sufficient evidence for a trial. AI then called on the relevant governments to carry out an independent, impartial and comprehensive investigation into allegations of abuses against detainees and their families, including allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, denial of visits and medical care, making its findings public and holding those responsible to account.

Last month, under pressure from AI, Kashmir promised to take steps to identify [JURIST report] the thousands of bodies that were found in mass and single graves by the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) [official website]. Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah [personal website] announced that officials will carry out DNA tests on the thousands of bodies recently uncovered in unmarked graves in the country's northern region. Abdullah called for families of missing persons to provide DNA samples [BBC report] for testing. The SHRC had also called for an investigation into the identities of the remains, but, according to AI, their calls have been ignored. An additional 574 bodies were found, but those were later identified by local residents. Kashmir has remained rife with unrest since it became part of India [JURIST report] in the middle of the twentieth century. Kashmir and Jammu, which is officially part of India, has been disputed between Pakistan and India since 1947. Claims by both Pakistan and India to the territory have resulted in several conflicts in the region, particularly the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1947-1948 and 1965. In addition, there was a large show of military force by both nations in the region in 2002 that caused international alarm because both nations have nuclear weapons. India has sought to stifle unrest and a burgeoning separatist movement in the region by detaining human rights and political activists.

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