By Shaouqat -
THE year 2018 is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on December 10, 1948. The Universal Declaration is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. On June 14, 2018, United Nation’s Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued its first-ever report on the situation in Kashmir. The 49-page report details human rights violations and abuses on both sides of the Line of Control, and highlights a situation of chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein declared: “The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering. This is why any resolution of the political situation in Kashmir must entail a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and current violations and abuses by all parties, and provide redress for victims.” The UN HR Commissioner has resolved to urge the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir. The Kashmir issue stems from India’s illegal occupation of 2/3 of Kashmir, where Indian security forces have martyred over 100,000 innocent Kashmiris, raped their women and incarcerated the youth for decades. The situation took a sharp turn on 8 July 2016, when popular Kashmiri youth leader Burhan Wani was treacherously assassinated by Indian forces. The gruesome murder brought unarmed Kashmiri youth to the streets in protest. The OHCHR report takes cognizance of Indian Forces’ malevolence from July 2016 – April 2018, when large and unprecedented demonstrations erupted. Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries, the report says, citing civil society estimates that up to 145 civilians were killed by the security forces between mid-July 2016 and the end of March 2018, with up to 20 other civilians killed by Indian armed forces in the same period.
One of the most dangerous weapons used against protesters in 2016 – and which is still being employed by security forces – was the pellet-firing shotgun. According to official figures, 17 people were killed by shotgun pellets between July 2016 and August 2017, and 6,221 people were injured by the metal pellets between 2016 and March 2017. Civil society organizations believe that many of them have been partially or completely blinded. “Impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice are key human rights challenges in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” the report says, noting that the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 (PSA) have “created structures that obstruct the normal course of law, impede accountability and jeopardize the right to remedy for victims of human rights violations.”
The AFSPA prohibits prosecution of security forces personnel unless the Indian Government grants prior permission to prosecute. “This gives security forces virtual immunity against prosecution for any human rights violation. In the nearly 28 years 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 report says. There is also almost total impunity for enforced or involuntary disappearances, with little movement towards credibly investigating complaints, including into alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region. Chronic impunity for sexual violence also remains a key concern in Kashmir. An emblematic case is the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape 27 years ago when, according to survivors, soldiers gang-raped 23 women. According to the report, “Attempts to seek justice have been denied and blocked over the years at different levels.”
The report also castigates Pakistan for imposing restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and in Gilgit-Baltistan. Motivated by the OHCHR report, Qatar based Al Jazeera TV Channel produced and aired a Documentary on the subject. India, which has been trying to hide its atrocities and the havoc its forces wreak on the Kashmiris, took serious offence and has withdrawn the security clearance granted to the network. The country’s home ministry revoked the clearance and the matter is in consideration pending a final decision by authorities. Resultantly, Al Jazeera’s broadcasts in India are likely to stop according to Indian daily “Times of India.”
India pretends to be the world’s biggest democracy and a secular state but by gagging an international media giant like Al Jazeera over a report which exposes its cruelty towards Kashmiris, speaks volumes of its duplicity. It is noteworthy that despite repeated requests, the UN Human Rights Office has not been provided access to Indian Occupied Kashmir. The OHCHR, which prepared its report via remote monitoring, has declared that it is essential the Indian authorities urgently repeal the AFSPA & PSA; establish independent, impartial and credible investigations to probe all civilian killings since July 2016 and all abuses committed by its armed forces. The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly opens on 18 September 2018. The world must castigate India for its unbridled brutality towards Kashmiris.