Refugee Watch Issue No. 7, September 1999 Contents Editorial Refugee Updates South Asia

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Refugee Watch Issue No. 7, September 1999



Refugee Updates

South Asia

Other Regions

A Kargil War Refugee Camp by Tapan K. Bose

Shattered Lives, Shattered Homes by Harteleigh Richard

Kargil - Life in the Times of War by Soma Ghosal

History of Article 27: Article 27 and the Optional Protocol Self-Determination in the Covenants: A Note

Letting go the Right to Return by Rita Manchanda

Families, Displacement, Partition by Meghna Guhathakurta

Research Notes

No Place to Turn: Afghan Refugees in Delhi


In this issue we continue with our report on war and escapees of war in South Asia. The frontiers on the faraway heights of Kargil are the killing lines. The bloody mountains of Afghanistan to those of Kargil have pro­duced thousands of displaced people. Borders are elu­sive in mountains and the snowy cliffs. Lines of control are more elusive. They are often notional, their exist­ence depending on control, power and hence force. Subject to the vicissitudes of force, power and control, the lives of people residing on those ever shifting lines are the classic lives of the settled-refugees. As the ac­counts in this issue of REFUGEE WATCH convey, these narratives of the displaced represent the times of war and uncertainties, yet they are the portrayals of a settled feature. Kinship, experience, and the will to live form the resource with which the displaced live. And, needless to say, this is a settled pattern in a re­gion visited by cataclysmic violence, partitions, wars, and marked amidst of all these by the durability of com­munities.

It is important to draw attention to the fact that in the current history of violence, these narratives form a kind of sideshow to the great patriotic war that the me­dia- was engaged in. More than the foot soldier, the scribbler is the ardent patriot. But since he has to present a human face of war, he will humanize the war. Pathos, and therefore stories of pathos, formed a pre­dictable pattern in the newspapers. Glory to war in the first page, human costs in the inside ones - the refu­gee chronicles persistently raised their heads thus throughout the ten-week war. Much of what we present here owes its existence due to such imperative of hu­manization. The refugee as a phenomenon ironically survives due to violence and the social desire to nor­malize, humanize all that kills human life. Not surpris­ingly then, the refugee narrative is a chiaroscuro. In this issue we present an account prepared by a mem­ber of the editorial board of REFUGEE WATCH who made a visit to a camp of the displaced. It is a depic­tion of a twilight zone. Readers going through the ac­count will find the veritable process of canalization of violence by communalism, nationalism, and the high reason of guarding the borders.

In such a scenario, then, who cares whether the displaced will return or not? The refugee is needed most by the state. If the pandits cannot return to the valley, this is all the more a proof of the inexorable nature of the statecraft in South Asia. With arguments of either side based on numbers, all that such displacement can produce is memory - that fodder to communalism in this region, a memory that is powerless to change the course of current events, but infinitely powerful to influ­ence the events in the long run. The memory of the displaced is a gruesome burden, with which the settled lives and tries to wreck vengeance on the present. We carry in this issue two accounts on that theme. One is tellingly relevant to the current conflict in Kashmir. The other points out that the problematic of memory is an integral part of all cataclysmic pasts that leave residue for us.

It is relevant at this point raise a question. If coun­tries can enter into agreements on rules of war, why can they not similarly accept the burden of something that they create in the process of asserting their con­trol, authority and power over lines that seem to be the reason of their very existence? Who took the responsi­bility of millions of refugees that partition created in this sub-continent? Did the British colonial power accept any responsibility? Or the two successor states? It seems that the principle of responsibility and obligation that lie at the very basis of international law does not have any worth when it comes to involve the lives of the citizens of the third world. Similarly nobody, no le­gal luminary whom we daily see on the television screen with legal homilies will utter a word of assigning respon­sibility for the massive eviction and displacement on both sides that has occurred in the wake of the border war in Kargil. This issue is related to the question of a, regional convention on protection of refugees and forced migrants.

Yet one may ask, what are conventions worth? Thirty years ago in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa the OAU convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa was signed. In course of time forty-six states acceded. The generous provisions of the convention attracted praise for recognizing as refugee not only the fleeing persecuted individual, but large groups escaping persecution, colonial wars, oc­cupation, external aggression, and public disorder. But later events were to show that the moral authority and its legal validity were not enough to protect the refugee and the displaced. It is in this connection that peace and human rights constituencies in South Asia must argue for a convention that goes beyond the OAU ideas, and demand assigning responsibilities and obligation for the massive displacements that periodically devas­tate human life in this region of ours.

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