For Immediate Release
From July 2016 until earlier this fall, at least 87 people have been killed and more than 9,000 injured in clashes between Indian authorities and protesters across the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. In a study published today, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reported these fatalities and injuries were a result of Indian authorities using indiscriminate and excessive force – and demonstrated that security forces routinely blocked access to needed urgent care.
PHR’s report – “Blind to Justice: Excessive Use of Force and Attacks on Health Care in Jammu and Kashmir, India” – found that police used 12-gauge shotguns loaded with metal pellets that directly caused an estimated 5,200 injuries and at least a dozen fatalities. Hundreds of injuries have resulted in permanent disability for protesters, including blindness. PHR concluded that security forces were indifferent to the harm they caused and consistently failed to adhere to international standards and principles guiding the use of force against both peaceful and sometimes violent protesters.
“State police and Central Reserve Police Forces used what are essentially shotguns that can easily cause permanent injury and even death,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. “As a result, thousands of protesters were hurt and some were blinded by weapons that, when fired at close range, can lead to devastating injuries and, in some cases, death. There is nothing ‘less than lethal’ about how these weapons were used.”
PHR researchers interviewed doctors and bystanders to the protests – sparked in July by the killing of prominent militant leader Burhan Wani by Indian security forces – and reviewed hospital records from across the region. PHR’s study found that police routinely used these dangerous crowd-control weapons, including shotguns that fire cartridges containing more than 600 metal pellets.
When fired, the pellets release from the cartridge and disperse, making the ammunition inherently indiscriminate and inaccurate. While Indian authorities claimed that the use of such weapons was meant to reduce the potential for injuries or fatalities, PHR found that their use actually caused serious injury and death. PHR forensic and medical analysts today said shotguns loaded with metal pellets should never be used to disperse demonstrators.
“Calling these weapons pellet guns is a dangerous misnomer; these weapons use lead balls and are propelled with explosive gunpowder, making them incredibly lethal,” said PHR medical advisor Dr. Rohini Haar, who contributed her medical expertise to the report. “At close range, such weapons have the force of live ammunition. And at a distance, the pellets disperse and can take an unpredictable trajectory, meaning they can indiscriminately inflict severe injury on nonviolent protestors or bystanders, particularly when those pellets strike the head, neck, face, or eyes. Such weapons should never be used to disperse protestors, and India will see the long-term costs of these actions on the public health of the entire community.”
In interviews with medical professionals in the region, PHR also found that Indian authorities routinely blocked access to urgent medical care for injured protesters by firing on ambulances, holding up emergency vehicles at roadblocks, and interfering with medical care inside hospitals. PHR today said such delays in care increased the likelihood of permanent injury and death of protesters.
“Such delays in care are violations of the longstanding protections afforded medical workers and facilities in times of conflict and civil unrest,” said PHR’s Brown. “What’s more, the doctors we interviewed said police were present in their hospitals, intimidating patients and monitoring those being admitted. Such intimidation, when it interferes with emergency care, is a violation of India’s obligations under international law to protect the rights to life and health. Taken together, these actions are illegal and inexcusable, and yet, so far, no one has been held accountable.”
PHR’s report urged Indian authorities to stop using the 12-gauge shotguns firing metal pellets or any other indiscriminate ammunition, to immediately halt interference with emergency care, and to train and better equip its forces to use crowd-control weapons only as a last resort.
Earlier this year, PHR and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations published a report, “Lethal in Disguise,” outlining the potentially devastating effects of crowd-control weapons.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.