The United Nations’ top human rights body has sternly criticised India over ongoing human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir and renewed calls to establish a commission of inquiry into allegations of such abuses. It has called out India and Pakistan for failing to improve the situation in this regard in the areas of the disputed Kashmir region that each of them control.
In an update of its June 2018 report on the situation in Kashmir, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) criticised Delhi for the continued “patterns of impunity” that have made accountability for violations committed by Indian security personnel “virtually non-existent”. The previous report highlighted misconduct by India and Pakistan, but was especially harsh about Delhi’s misdoings.
The new, 43-page report asserts that the authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir “continue to use various forms of arbitrary detention to target protesters, political dissidents and other civil society actors”. As such, it has urged Delhi to “urgently” repeal the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that provides impunity to armed forces, and remove the requirement for prior central government permission to prosecute security forces personnel accused of rights violations in civilian courts.
While India refuted the report, terming it a continuation of the earlier “false and motivated” narrative, Islamabad welcomed it, saying it “documents in detail the excessive use of force and torture by the Indian forces in Kashmir”. The UN rights agency said India had asked it not to publish the report.
Delhi reacted strongly, accusing the OHCHR of “legitimising terrorism”. Indian government spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the report reflected a “prejudiced mindset” that chose to ignore the “comprehensive socio-economic developmental efforts undertaken by the government in the face of terrorist challenges”.
He added that the report was crafted without taking into account the campaign by the Pakistan-backed terror groups. “We have registered our strong protest regarding the update with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” said Kumar.
India previously also rejected the UN agency’s first-ever report on human rights in Kashmir as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”. The OHCHR, however, emphasised on 8 July that Delhi did not make “any request for, or suggest any factual corrections to the content of the previous report nor did it address any of the allegations contained in it”.
Pakistan received the report warmly but also cautioned against equating the human rights violations in Indian-controlled Kashmir with the prevailing environment in its administered regions of Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
“While we appreciate the report’s efforts to document the human rights violations in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, we would like to reiterate that there is simply no parallel between the horrendous human rights situation in [Indian-occupied Kashmir] and the prevailing environment in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan,” said the Pakistan Foreign Office.
“The second UN report is another poignant reminder of the grave human rights situation in occupied Jammu and Kashmir which needs to be urgently addressed,” Pakistan’s ambassador at the UN in New York, Maleeha Lodhi, tweeted. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson, Mohammad Faisal, also wrote that the report “once again affirms massive human rights violations perpetrated by the Indian occupation forces”.
Kashmir-based rights activist Khurram Parvez – coordinator of Srinagar-based right’s body the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), which recently released a detailed report on torture by the Indian forces in Kashmir – tweeted that the Indian media mostly covered the Indian government’s anguish over the UN report on Kashmir and not the contents of the UN report itself, adding: “They are failing India’s people and the government.”
He was quoted by the Al Jazeera news network stating that Delhi’s reaction to the report was “anti-human rights and immature”, adding that “the truth is India does not want anyone to see the situation on the ground”.
The new OHCHR report describes how tensions over Kashmir – which rose sharply after a deadly suicide bombing in February targeted Indian armed forces in South Kashmir’s Pulwama – continue to have a severe impact on the human rights of civilians, including the right to life. Citing data gathered by the JKCCS, the UN report said about 160 civilians were killed in 2018, which is believed to be the highest number in more than a decade.
“Last year also registered the highest number of conflict-related casualties since 2008 with 586 people killed, including 267 members of armed groups and 159 security forces personnel,” it noted.
The report records that Delhi published lower casualty figures, citing 37 civilians, 238 terrorists and 86 security forces personnel killed in the 11 months to 2 December 2018.
According to the Pakistani government, a further 35 civilians were killed and 135 injured on the Pakistan side of the Line of Control as a result of shelling and firing by Indian forces during 2018.
No investigations or prosecutions
Despite the high numbers of civilians killed in the vicinity of encounters between security forces and members of armed groups, the report states, “there is no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties.”
It adds: “There is no information on the status of the five investigations launched into extrajudicial executions in 2016. The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir did not establish any investigations into civilian killings in 2017. No prosecutions have been reported. It does not appear that Indian security forces have been asked to re-evaluate or change their crowd-control techniques or rules of engagement.”
The UN body said that arbitrary detention and so-called “cordon and search operations” leading to a range of human rights violations continue to be deeply problematic, as do the special legal regimes applying to Indian-administered Kashmir.
“The AFSPA remains a key obstacle to accountability,” the report says. “In nearly three decades that the law has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir, there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces personnel granted by the central government, the body highlights, adding: “The Indian Army has also been resisting efforts to release details of trials conducted by military courts where soldiers were initially found guilty but later acquitted and released by a higher military tribunal.”
Despite international concerns at the alarming numbers of deaths and life-altering injuries caused by the use of shotguns as a means of crowd control, they continue to be used, leading to further deaths and serious injuries. The report says 1 253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets Indian forces used from mid-2016 to the end of 2018. It adds that people in Indian-administered Kashmir continued to face frequent barriers to internet access “as the authorities continue to suspend arbitrarily internet services”.
The report also examines human rights violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. While different in nature to the violations taking place on the other side of the Line of Control, the report says, people living in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, as well as in Gilgit-Baltistan, are also deprived of a number of fundamental human rights, particularly in relation to the freedom of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly and association.
The body said no steps had been taken to resolve the main issues, including a number of highly problematic legal restrictions outlined in its previous report.
“Anti-terrorism laws continue to be misused to target political opposition as well as civil society activists,” the report says, adding that nationalist and pro-independence political parties “claim that they regularly face threats, intimidation and even arrests for their political activities from local authorities or intelligence agencies”.
Citing specific cases, the report notes how journalists in Pakistan-administered Kashmir “continue to face threats and harassment in the course of carrying out their professional duties”.
It further underlines that the UN Human Rights Office has received “credible information of enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-Administered Kashmir including those who were held in secret detention and those whose fate and whereabouts continue to remain unknown”.
The UN agency stressed to Delhi the need to investigate and prosecute all cases of sexual violence allegedly perpetrated by state and non-state actors, and called on both India and Pakistan to fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law.