A report released by the United Nations points towards the rising graph of human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir over the past one year and calls for an independent and international inquiry.
A report recently released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), says that civilian casualties in Kashmir between May 2018 and April 2019 were the highest in the past decade. The report, which chronicles the period from May 2018 to April 2019, raises serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both J&K and the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) strongly condemned the report, alleging that the UN was attempting to violate Indian sovereignty.
The 43-page “update” report follows the one released in 2018 that detailed atrocities in Kashmir from June 2016 to June 2018. Both reports are critical of India and Pakistan for a high-handed policy in Kashmir that allows sexual violence, political and religious persecution, and murder to flourish.
The report also refers to the Pulwama suicide bomb attack which killed about 40 Indian security personnel and how it led to further tensions in Kashmir amidst additional strain on relations between India and Pakistan. Significantly, it also calls on the UN Human Rights Council, of which India is a member, 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.”
The report says that civil society organisations in J&K compiled a list of deaths of 160 civilians in 2018, “which is believed to be the highest number in over one decade”. Of the 160 civilians, 71 were allegedly killed by Indian security forces, 43 by members of “armed groups or by unidentified gunmen” and 29 died in shelling by Pakistan troops along the Line of Control.
However, the figures provided by the Indian ministry of home affairs are lower, listing the deaths of 238 militants, 86 security forces personnel, and 37 civilians till December 2, 2018. The UN report says that Kashmiri civil society groups put the deaths at 267 terrorists and 159 Indian security personnel.
The UN body also notes that there was no information of any new investigation into “excessive use of forces leading to casualties” or the status of the five investigations into extra judicial executions in 2016.
Another half yearly report for 2019 by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a federation of human rights organisations and individuals, speaks of the alleged atrocities in Kashmir. It says that in the first half of 2019, 271 killings have been recorded, adding that the current year would be similar to 2008, considered to be the deadliest year of the decade in terms of killings and violence in Jammu and Kashmir, when 586 people lost their lives.
According to an IndiaSpend analysis of government data, over 800 terror incidents have been reported in J&K over the three years ending 2017–up from 208 in 2015 to 342 in 2017. As many as 744 people died in these three years: 471 terrorists, 201 security forces and 72 civilians, the data show, pointing to a rampant increase in violence in Kashmir.
The OHCHR notes that India’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) ‘remains a key obstacle to accountability’, because it provides effective immunity for serious human rights violations. Since the law came into force in Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.
The UN human rights office says that armed groups were responsible for human rights abuses including kidnappings, killings of civilians, sexual violence, recruitment of children for armed combat, and attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organisations in Jammu & Kashmir. It cited the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organisation that monitors money laundering and terrorist financing, which has called on Pakistan to address its ‘strategic deficiencies’. India has long accused Pakistan of providing material support, arms, and training to the militant groups. Attacks in Kashmir have resulted in more than 50,000 deaths since 1989.
Also, there have been reports of an increase in the number of youngsters joining militancy. Even though over 100 militants have reportedly been killed in Kashmir in the first five months of 2019, the overall number of youngsters joining militancy has gone up comparing figures from 2014 with the period from 2010 to 2013. Since March 2019 alone, nearly 50 youngsters have joined the militancy. Another half a dozen youth have gone missing from their homes following eight big encounters that have taken place in Kashmir since June 11.
India needs to take the first step
“India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Authorities in both countries should use the opportunity created by the UN report to change course and hold accountable those who’ve committed serious abuses,” she adds.
The UN human rights office recommends that India should amend its Public Safety Act, an administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years. The law has often been used to detain protesters, political dissidents, and other activists on vague grounds for long periods, ignoring regular criminal justice safeguards.
In July 2018, the Indian state government of Jammu and Kashmir amended section 10 of the Public Safety Act, removing the prohibition on detaining permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir outside the state. At least 40 people, mainly separatist political leaders, were transferred to prisons outside the state in 2018, the OHCHR said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is running the Indian government as well as ruling J&K through President’s rule, has claimed to have taken necessary steps to ensure peace in Jammu & Kashmir. However, according to the United Nations and Amnesty International, 2018 was the state’s deadliest year in 10 years.
UN has accused Indian security forces of using excessive force in the region. The UN has specifically raised concerns about the use of pellet-firing shotguns by Indian security forces between 2016 and 2018, describing it as ‘one of the most dangerous weapons used against protesters’.
Activists point out that the OHCHR report includes certain new references to human rights violations by militant groups that should be welcomed by Indian government.
However, Indian home minister Amit Shah while proposing the extension of President’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir, told the parliament, “Those (in Kashmir) who have anti-India thoughts in their minds should fear us … They should be scared, and this fear is only going to increase.”
The statement could be perceived as a signal that the government would further harden its stance in the state, instead of following any of the recommendations of the UN. But an iron hand has been deployed in J&K by the government for the past five years and it has not made the state any safer for its own population, the security forces or the tourists. It may now be the time for the BJP to try a softer touch, as indeed had been applied by its first Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, nearly two decades ago.