Volume 22 Issue 8, August 2018
 
 

 

On June 14, 2018, the UN released a report pertaining to unabated human rights violations in Kashmir. The 49-page report, the first ever document compiled by the UN on human rights abuses in Kashmir depicts a grim situation. The report highlights a consistent pattern of violation of human rights in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) and the blunt and protracted abuses committed by military personnel against unarmed residents of Kashmir with impunity. The primary focus is on gross human rights cruelties perpetrated from July 2016, when unprecedented demonstrations erupted across the valley after Indian security forces killed Burhan Wani, a young leader of an armed group who, like many other educated youth, was forced by persistent military insults and reprisals to take up arms.

“In responding to demonstrations that started in 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries,” the UN report states. Citing credible civil society figures available on record, the report says that up to 145 civilians have been killed by the security forces since mid-July 2016 till April 2018.

During this period of enormous turmoil, one of the most lethal munitions employed at will by Indian security forces against protesters is the pellet-firing shotgun. Despite repeated calls from human rights and civil society organisations to prohibit its deployment, the weapon is still being used by security forces and, as per publically verified estimates, 17 people were killed by shotgun pellets between July 2016 and August 2017, and 6,221 people injured by the metal pellets during this period. Civil society organizations lament that many of the victims have partially or completely lost their eyesight and will never be able to see their family members and friends and their beautiful surroundings.

“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 military personnel unless the Indian government grants prior permission to this effect. “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 affirms.

Rather than censuring or punishing military personnel involved in flagrant human rights abuses, the new norm is to encourage such tendencies to further intimidate and terrorize the local population. For example, in May last year, the military command gave a commendation to an army officer who used a local Kashmiri civilian unlawfully as a “human shield” to evacuate security personnel and election staff from a mob in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district. Similarly, in a setback for accountability of security force abuses, the Armed Forces Tribunal in July last year suspended the life sentences of five army personnel who were convicted in 2014 for a 2010 extrajudicial killing of three villagers in the Machil sector in Jammu and Kashmir. Owing to this, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and numerous other international as well as national civil society organisations have repeatedly asked for the revision of the notorious AFSA laws that have provided blanket impunity to law-enforcement personnel against any human rights abuses committed against noncombatant Kashmiris.

In view of this precarious situation, the report has urged that the UN Human Rights Council needs to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir. It has asked that it is the right time to address past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses and deliver justice for all people in Kashmir, who for seven decades have suffered a conflict that has claimed or ruined countless precious lives.

There is 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. The Human Rights Watch has noted that the rape of 150 women by Indian military personnel in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Kupwara District on the night of February 23, 1991, is a symbolic case in which no military official was ever punished. Referring to that horrendous case, the UN report has observed that “attempts to seek justice have been denied and blocked over the years at different levels”.

“The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been center-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,” asserted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“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,” he said.
The report also examines a range of human rights violations in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir which, according to the report, are of a different calibre or magnitude and of a more structural nature. In addition, the report says, restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and in Gilgit-Baltistan have limited the ability to obtain information about the situation.

Among its recommendations, the report asks that India should urgently repeal the AFSPA; establish independent, impartial and credible investigations to probe all civilian killings since July 2016 and all abuses committed by armed groups; and provide reparations and rehabilitation to all injured individuals and to the families of those killed in the context of security operations. Similarly, the Public Safety Act (PSA) should be amended to ensure its compliance with the international human rights law and all those held under administrative detention should either be charged after a transparent trial or should be immediately released.

While the report is a welcome development and has aptly highlighted the plight of the wretched Kashmiris living a miserable life in the shadow of more than 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the valley, it has documented human rights abuses over a very small period. It must serve to awaken the conscience of other UN bodies, international civil society organisations and the international community as a whole so that they do not turn a blind eye to Indian atrocities in Kashmir. While India has greatly expanded its international clout in many capitals and aspires for UN Security Council membership, the UN report on human rights in Kashmir has exposed to what extent the Indian government’s claim of respecting international law translates into respect for the internationally protected human rights of Kashmiris.

The writer holds a PhD from Massey University (New Zealand) and is currently based at the German Development Institute in Bonn, Germany as a postdoctoral research fellow.

 
 

 
 
 
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