Human Rights Watch. May 1, 2006
A Decade Later, Still No Justice For Jaswant Singh Khalra.
In a letter sent today to the Indian Central
Bureau of Investigation, Ensaaf, Human Rights Watch, Redress, and the
Center for Human Rights and Global Justice urged the agency to initiate
an independent investigation into the murder of human rights advocate
Jaswant Singh Khalra in October 1995.
The letter urged India’s Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate
K.P.S. Gill, former director-general of police, for his alleged role in
India: Joint Letter To Director of India's Central Investigation Bureau
May 1, 2006
Mr. Vijay Shanker
Central Bureau of Investigation
Block No. 4, 6th Floor,
New Delhi 110003
Re: K.P.S. Gill
Dear Mr. Shanker,
In early December 2005, Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Khalra wrote to you
requesting that you initiate an independent investigation and bring
charges against former Director General of Police (DGP) K.P.S. Gill for
his alleged role in the murder of her husband, Jaswant Singh Khalra in
October 1995. Over ten years ago, members of the Punjab police operating
under Mr. Gill abducted, tortured, and murdered human rights defender
Jaswant Singh Khalra because of his courageous work in exposing the
“disappearances,” custodial deaths, and secret cremations of thousands
of Sikhs in Punjab. On November 18, 2005, Additional Sessions Judge
Bhupinder Singh convicted and sentenced six Punjab police officers for
their roles in the murder. Though long overdue, these convictions were
an important milestone in Mrs. Khalra’s search for justice.
Mrs. Khalra has campaigned tirelessly for justice despite severe police
harassment. Her request for your intervention is based on testimony that
emerged during the trial of the six police officers. On September 11,
1995, five days after Punjab police abducted Mr. Khalra, the Supreme
Court issued formal notice and service to DGP Gill of a habeas corpus
petition filed on behalf of Mr. Khalra. The testimony of Special Police
Officer (SPO) Kuldip Singh established at trial that Mr. Gill ignored
the pending habeas corpus petition and personally interrogated Mr.
Khalra in October 1995, while Mr. Khalra was illegally detained at the
residence of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ajit S. Sandhu.
Evidence from the trial also indicates that Mr. Gill authorized the
abduction and murder of Mr. Khalra. SPO Kuldip Singh testified that,
according to his superior, during the interrogation Mr. Gill gave Mr.
Khalra a choice between life and death. In order to live, Mr. Khalra
simply had to follow Mr. Gill’s advice and stop his human rights work.
The police murdered Mr. Khalra in late October 1995. On November 15,
1995, the Supreme Court issued another order on the habeas corpus
petition, ordering the CBI to inquire into Mr. Khalra’s “disappearance”
because the police investigation had not yielded any results. The
Supreme Court further directed Mr. Gill to “render all assistance and
help to the CBI.”
At a minimum, Mr. Gill failed to take necessary and reasonable measures
to prevent Mr. Khalra’s murder. Mr. Gill also ignored court orders.
Despite receiving formal service in September 1995 about an active
habeas corpus petition before the Supreme Court, Mr. Gill failed to
disclose Mr. Khalra’s whereabouts while he was alive. At the time that
Mr. Gill interrogated Mr. Khalra, Mr. Khalra allegedly could barely move
from the torture he had experienced at the hands of Mr. Gill’s
subordinate officers. At that time, Mr. Gill was legally required to
order Mr. Khalra’s release, thereby ending his illegal detention and
further torture, and preventing his murder.
In its November 1995 order, the Supreme Court explicitly identified Mr.
Gill’s subordinate officers as alleged to be involved in Mr. Khalra’s
“disappearance,” and directed a copy of its order to DGP Gill. The court
ordered Mr. Gill to provide assistance in locating Mr. Khalra. Mr. Gill
thus had well-publicized information in his possession that put him on
notice about his subordinates’ illegal activities. Yet Mr. Gill ignored
the Supreme Court’s order. He further failed to punish any officers
after the murder of Mr. Khalra, despite his personal knowledge of the
officers who illegally detained, tortured and murdered Mr. Khalra.
Given the weight of the evidence available in the public domain about
Mr. Gill’s role in this case, the CBI must undertake an impartial and
thorough inquiry as soon as possible and then refer the case for
appropriate prosecution. Both Indian and international law provide a
clear framework to prosecute the kinds of acts and omissions described
in this case (please see the Appendix for a short discussion of relevant
We are therefore disappointed that the Central Bureau of Investigation
has yet to respond to Mrs. Khalra’s letter of December 2005. We urge you
to address this matter on an urgent basis, not just because justice has
already been inordinately delayed, but also because Mr. Gill is
continuing to act as a governmental advisor on counter-insurgency
operations. His recent appointment as Security Advisor to the
Chattisgarh government provides every reason to fear the advice he will
offer to the state police in their efforts to counter the Naxalites.
Thank you for your consideration.
Executive Director, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
CC: Paramjit Kaur Khalra
Appendix on Relevant International Law
Under international law, there is a clear legal case to be made against
K.P.S. Gill. If Mr. Gill ordered or authorized his subordinates to
commit these crimes against Jaswant Singh Khalra, he is directly liable
for the crimes. Even if Mr. Gill did not give direct orders, as a
superior officer, he may still be held liable under the well-established
principle of superior responsibility. Based on the evidence, the CBI has
ample basis to investigate Mr. Gill for his direct role in these crimes,
as well as Mr. Gill’s superior responsibility for the crimes of his
In Prosecutor v. Mucic et. al (“Celebici”), the Trial Chamber of the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) traced
the development of the concept of superior responsibility from its first
international judicial recognition in the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of
World War II. The Trial Chamber broke down the principal of superior
responsibility into three essential elements:
the existence of a superior-subordinate relationship;
the superior knew or had reason to know that the criminal act was about
to be or had been committed; and
the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to
prevent the criminal act or punish the perpetrator thereof.
The Celebici Chamber held that people in positions of superior
authority, with either de jure or de facto command, and with the power
to discipline those under their control, can be held responsible for
human rights violations committed by their subordinates.
The Celebici judgment determined that a superior possessed the requisite
mens rea, or culpable mental state, for the imposition of criminal
liability when he knew or had reason to know that his subordinates were
committing crimes. A superior’s actual knowledge was “established
through direct or circumstantial evidence.” In the case of Mr. Khalra’s
murder, according to the testimony of SPO Kuldip Singh, DGP Gill himself
interrogated Mr. Khalra during his illegal detention at the private
residence of subordinate police officer SSP Sandhu. Mr. Khalra’s body
bore the marks of torture. Mr. Gill, thus, had direct knowledge of the
illegal detention and torture of Mr. Khalra.
The Celebici Trial Chamber held that the second type of knowledge - “had
reason to know” - required the superior to remain informed about the
activities of his subordinates; he could not willfully blind himself.
The superior could be liable if he possessed any information that should
have put him on notice of crimes committed or about to be committed by
his subordinates. Once again, there is evidence that Mr. Gill can be
held responsible under this precedent.
In its discussion of the third prong regarding the legal duty of
superiors to take preventative measures or punish the perpetrators, the
Trial Chamber cautioned that the superior could not be expected to
“perform the impossible,” but would be held criminally liable for
failing to take actions within his “material possibility.” The lack of
formal legal competence did not preclude responsibility.
The torture and murder of Mr. Khalra by persons under the command of Mr.
Gill cannot be ignored. National and international courts around the
world are holding superior as well as subordinate officials accountable
for their crimes. India must also join the movement against impunity for
grave crimes in violation of international law and send the message that
it does not tolerate torture and murder.