The SFORAB Bill 2024 and Human Rights Violations in Indian Punjab

Human rights abuses have historically occurred in the Indian state of Punjab. In particular, following the demonstrations against the farmers in 2022, there has been increased attention paid to these transgressions in recent years. The State Foreign Operations and Related Appropriations Bill 2024 (SFORAB), which the Indian government passed, is supposed to address these infractions, but it has not been able to stop them because of the Indian government’s lack of interest in addressing the issue. The US Department of State, the US Agency for International Development, and other programs that support US foreign policy and national security objectives finance the SFORAB. Total discretionary spending authorized by the measure for fiscal year 2024 is increased by $6.7 billion to $61.608 billion.

A clause in the 2024 law mandates that the Secretary of State provide a report on abuses of human rights in India, particularly those in Punjab. A variety of human rights breaches in Punjab, like extrajudicial murders, torture, forced disappearances, restrictions on the right to free expression and assembly, and the treatment of religious minorities differently, should be covered in the report that the SFORAB has mandated. It also requires the names of those responsible for the abuses and includes suggestions for actions the US government might take to put an end to these aggressions.

Contrary to its actual function, the SFORAB has been charged with violating human rights. For instance, in the Indian state of Manipur in 2000, the SFORAB was charged with the murder of 10 civilians. According to reports, the victims were unarmed and had no affiliation with any militant organization. Similarly, in the Indian state of Kashmir, the SFORAB was charged with violating human rights in 2007. A dozen people died as a result of the SFORAB. It has been claimed that the victims were tortured and killed. The Indian government has refuted every claim made by the SFORAB on violations of human rights. However, the allegations have continued, and there has been no impartial examination of the situation.

A significant issue is the SFORAB’s inability to hold the government accountable for violations of human rights. There is no way for someone to hold the unit’s officers accountable for their acts, making it virtually above the law. The SFORAB is able to operate freely thanks to this impunity, which also adds to India’s culture of violence and lawlessness. The SFORAB’s violations of human rights require action from the Indian government. The initial step is to start an unbiased inquiry into the claims. A reliable international organization should head up the inquiry, and it should have complete access to all pertinent data.

The Indian government’s choice should be to bring up the problem of human rights abuses in Punjab at the highest levels. Supporting human rights groups operating in Punjab with money and other resources and sanctioning those who violate human rights and organizations that do it In order to uphold human rights in the Indian Punjab, the US government has a moral duty to do so. There is a rising effort in the US Congress, in addition to the SFORAB, to hold India responsible for its violations of human rights. A bipartisan coalition of legislators presented the Sikh Human Rights Awareness Act in 2023, which would compel the US government to list India as a “country of particular concern” due to its human rights record.

In 1991, Amnesty International released a study that detailed how security personnel in Punjab used and abused the law to quash resistance and punish political opponents. The study also made allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary detentions, and civilian disappearances. Amid the armed confrontation with Sikh opponents in the 1980s and 1990s, security forces in Punjab routinely flouted the rules of war and international human rights law, according to a 1994 investigation by Human Rights Watch. The study also emphasized the victims’ and their families’ lack of responsibility and justice.

The Indian state has a duty to defend the human rights of all of its inhabitants, including those who are members of the SFORAB. The necessity to establish a human rights ombudsman For the SFORAB has increased. The ombudsman would be in charge of looking into claims that the unit had violated human rights and coming up with reform suggestions. In order to resolve the human rights breaches in the Indian Punjab, the international community also has a role to play. The claims of human rights violations in Punjab have been brought into question by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), who has urged India to look into them. The UNHCR has also asked India to promise that abusers are brought to justice and to grant access to the state to unbiased monitors. All three levels of government—the US government, the world community, and the Indian government—have a duty to intervene to stop the atrocities now occurring.

Qura tul ain Hafeez
Qura tul ain Hafeez
Qura tul ain Hafeez is a research scholar at the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU, Islamabad.