GENEVA The UN rights office on Monday said that India and Pakistan failed to improve the situation in Kashmir and have not taken any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised in an earlier report by the rights body.
Last year, the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released its first-ever report on Kashmir, documenting the wrongdoing by India and Pakistan and urging action to reduce long-standing tensions.
“A UN human rights report on the situation in Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir from May 2018 to April 2019, says the number of civilian casualties reported over the 12-month period may be the highest in over a decade,” the new report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.
The rights office said “neither India nor Pakistan have taken any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised.”
“In Kashmir, accountability for violations committed by members of the Indian security forces remains virtually non-existent,” the report said.
The new report, published on Monday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, describes how tensions over Kashmir which rose sharply after a deadly suicide bombing in February targeting Indian security forces in Pulwama — continue to have a severe impact on the human rights of civilians, including the right to life.
According to data gathered by local civil society, the report says, Around 160 civilians were killed in 2018, which is believed to be the highest number in over 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.
The report notes that the Indian Union Ministry for Home Affairs has published lower casualty figures, citing 37 civilians, 238 militants and 86 security forces personnel killed in the 11 months up to 2 December 2018.
Of the 160 civilian deaths reported by local organizations, it says, 71 were allegedly killed by Indian security forces, 43 by alleged members of armed groups or by unidentified gunmen, and 29 were reportedly killed due to shelling and firing by Pakistani troops in areas along the Line of Control. According to the Government of Pakistan, a further 35 civilians were killed and 135 injured on the Pakistan side of the Line of Control due to shelling and firing by Indian forces during 2018.
Two armed groups have been accused of recruiting and deploying child soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir, and armed groups were reportedly responsible for attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organizations in Jammu and Kashmir, including the killing of at least six political party workers and a separatist leader. In the lead up to local elections scheduled for October 2018, armed groups threatened people participating in the elections and warned of dire consequences if those running for election did not immediately withdraw their nominations.
The report noted that in Indian-administered Kashmir, accountability for violations committed by members of the Indian security forces remains virtually non-existent.
Despite the high numbers of civilians killed in the vicinity of encounters between security forces and members of armed groups, it says, There is no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties. There is no information on the status of the five investigations launched into extrajudicial executions in 2016, it says, adding, 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.
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, it says.
The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA) remains a key obstacle to accountability, the report says. Section 7 of the AFSPA prohibits the prosecution of security forces personnel unless the Government of India grants a prior permission or sanction to prosecute. 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 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, it says.
In addition, the report notes, no security forces personnel accused of torture or other forms of degrading and inhuman treatment have been prosecuted in a civilian court since these allegations started emerging in the early 1990s.
And despite international concerns at the alarming numbers of deaths and life-altering injuries caused by the security forces, regular use of shotguns as a means of crowd control even though they are not deployed elsewhere in India they continue to be employed, leading to further deaths and serious injuries, it says.
The report describes how, among various other incidents, a 19-month-old girl was hit by metal shotgun pellets in her right eye on 25 November 2018. According to information from Srinagars Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where most people injured by shotgun pellets are treated, a total of 1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets used by security forces from mid-2016 to end of 2018.
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, people living in PaK, as well as in Gilgit-Baltistan are also deprived of a number of fundamental human rights, particularly in relation to freedoms of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly and association, it says. The report notes no steps have been taken to resolve the main issues, including a number of highly problematic legal restrictions, outlined in the previous UN Human Rights Office 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. Threats are also often directed at their family members including children, it says.
Citing specific cases, the report also notes how journalists in PaK continue to face threats and harassment in the course of carrying out their professional duties.
The report also says 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.
In almost all cases, it adds, victim groups allege that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances. There are fears that people subjected to enforced disappearances from PaK may have been detained in military-run internment centres in Pakistan.
The report also notes that four major armed groups believed to be currently operating in Indian-administered Kashmir Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin are believed to be based on the Pakistan side of the Line of Control.
The report stresses that neither the Governments of India nor of Pakistan have taken clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in the UN Human Rights Offices previous report, published in June 2018. It therefore restates those recommendations along with additional ones. It also calls on the 47-Member-State UN Human Rights Council to consider the possible establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.
‘False And Motivated Narrative’: India
An irked India on Monday lodged a strong protest with the UN rights office over its report on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, slamming it as a continuation of the earlier “false and motivated” narrative and violative of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In a strong reaction, the External Affairs Ministry said the report ignores the core issue of cross-border terrorism and seems to accord a legitimacy to terrorism that is in complete variance with positions of UN Security Council, which had strongly condemned the dastardly Pulwama attack and subsequently proscribed Masood Azhar.
India’s retort came after the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which last year released its first-ever report on Kashmir, issued an ‘update’ of the 2018 report on Monday, claiming that “neither India nor Pakistan have taken any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised”.
Replying to a query about the report, MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar in New Delhi said the update of the earlier OHCHR report is “merely a continuation of the earlier false and motivated narrative” on the situation in J-K.
Kumar also asserted that the report’s assertions are in violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ignore the core issue of cross-border terrorism.
Pakistan on Monday welcomed the UN rights office’s report on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, but said there was no parallel between the human rights situation in Kashmir and the environment in PaK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which last year released its first-ever report on Kashmir, issued an ‘update’ of the 2018 report on Monday, claiming that “neither India nor Pakistan have taken any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised”.
The report said the civilian casualties reported in Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) from May 2018 to April 2019 may be the highest in over a decade and called on the UN Human Rights Council to consider “the possible establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigations into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir”.
While appreciating the report’s efforts to document the alleged human rights violations in Kashmir, Pakistan reiterated that “there is simply no parallel” between the human rights situation in the Valley and the prevailing environment in PaK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
It claimed that unlike Kashmir which is the “most militarised zone in the world”, PaK and Gilgit-Baltistan remain open to foreign visitors.
The Foreign Office said that solution of Kashmir was essential for the security and stability of South Asia and beyond.