United Nations’ second report on Kashmir raises tough questions

The report questions the inaction on the part of Indian and Pakistani governments in addressing and implementing the recommendations of its previous June 2018 report, adding that the accountability for violations committed by members of the Indian forces remains virtually non-existent

July 12, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
The report said that neither the Indian nor Pakistani government had taken clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights June 2018 report.

The United Nations released its second detailed report on the ongoing human rights crisis in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The report came days after the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society published its quarterly report on human rights violations.

Citing figures from independent human rights organizations and the Indian ministry for home affairs, the report stated that 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.” However, the report mentioned that Indian official figures cite only 37 civilians, 238 militants and 86 forces personnel killed in the 11 months up to December 2, 2018.

The 44-page report also described the renewed tensions after the Pulwama attack (a suicide attack on a convoy of Indian paramilitary vehicles that escalated the conflict between India and Pakistan and also increased repression in the valley.)  The report noted that this especially affected the basic rights of civilians, including their right to life. It said that neither the Indian nor Pakistani governments had taken clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights June 2018 report.

The earlier UN report on Kashmir thoroughly discussed issues of mass graves, use of pellets, right to self-determination, misuse of anti-terror laws, civilian torture and violations committed by Indian forces. It recommended the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these issues in detail. However, while the Pakistan government welcomed the report, the Indian government rejected it, claiming it to be false and politically motivated.

Despite a high percentage of youth facing violence in counter-insurgency programs in recent years, especially in southern Kashmir, the latest report said that there was no information about any new investigation into the excessive use of force. “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 report highlighted that none of the security forces personnel accused of torture or other forms of degrading and inhuman treatment have been prosecuted in a civilian court after these allegations started emerging in the early 1990s.

Discussing arbitrary detention and controversial cordon and search operations, the report said that these continuing “special legal regimes” have led to a range of human rights violations in the Indian-administered Kashmir.

“The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA) remains a key obstacle to accountability… 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,” the report said.

The report also highlighted the lethal impact of pellet shotguns, which have caused both physical and mental harm. It stated that as many as “1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets used by security forces from mid-2016 to end of 2018”. It also made a reference to the case of Heba Nisar, a 19-month-old girl who was hit by metal shotgun pellets in her right eye on November 25, 2018, inside her home in Kapran, which is some 75 km from Srinagar city.

The report also stated that the UN Human Rights Office had 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 most cases, the victim groups alleged that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances. “There are fears that people subjected to enforced disappearances from Pakistan-Administered Kashmir may have been detained in military-run internment centers in Pakistan,” the report said.

The report concluded by restating the previous recommendations, along with additional ones, saying that the governments of both the countries should address and implement them. Recommending the establishment of a 47-member-state UN Human Rights Council, the report stated that the commission would look forward to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in the region.

“There remains an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and to deliver justice for all people in Kashmir,” it said.