A WEEK ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the first-ever report on human rights in Kashmir. “This is not a conflict frozen in time,” said the UNHCHR head. “It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to inflict untold suffering.” The report has urged the UN Human Rights Council “to consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry to conduct a comprehensive and independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir”.
The report was prepared through “remote monitoring” since India refused to accept an on-site visit by the UN high commissioner’s office to India-held Kashmir and Pakistan made its acceptance of access to Azad Jammu & Kashmir conditional on India’s acceptance. The report, obviously to project objectivity and impartiality, creates a false equivalence between the human rights ‘developments’ in IHK and human rights ‘concerns’ in AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Further, to soften the blow for India, the historical review of the dispute is partial; it refers to “the Indian state” of Jammu and Kashmir and omits reference to India’s refusal to implement the Security Council’s plebiscite resolutions.
Nevertheless, the 49-page report devotes over 20 pages to the violations in IHK and five pages to alleged ‘concerns’ in “Pakistan-administered Kashmir” which, the report admits, are of a “different magnitude”, and mostly “structural”.
The report’s section on ‘Human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir’ covers: lack of access to justice; military courts; administrative detentions; excessive use of force; killings perpetrated in 2018; use of pellet shotguns; arbitrary arrests; torture; enforced disappearances; violations of the rights to health, education and freedom of expression; reprisals against human rights defenders and journalists; and sexual violence.
How can the first UN report on human rights in Kashmir be utilised to alleviate the people’s suffering?
The report notes that this “round” of protests, which started after Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8, 2016, is “on an unprecedented scale” and “involve(s) more people” mostly more “young, middle-class Kashmiris including females”. Since July 2016, 145 Kashmiris have been killed by the Indian security forces. The use of pellet shotguns killed 17 people and injured 6,221 between July 2016 to August 2017. The impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice (provided largely by the Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act) are “key human rights challenges”. There is “total impunity for enforced and involuntary disappearances” and “chronic impunity for sexual violence”. Attempts to seek justice for the gang rape 27 years ago of 23 Kashmiri women by Indian soldiers at Kunan-Poshpura “has been blocked ... at different levels”.
The false equivalence between IHK and AJK, the reference to the “Indian state” of Jammu and Kashmir and the skewed historical review make it impossible for Pakistan to endorse the report in its entirety. Nevertheless, Islamabad must examine how this first UN report on human rights in Kashmir can be utilised to alleviate the cruel suffering of the Kashmiri people and the danger of another war between Pakistan and India.
Pakistan’s capacity to support the freedom struggle of the Kashmiri people has been significantly compromised by India’s success in equating it with ‘Islamist terrorism’ as well as US pressure to refrain from doing so. Yet, despite this, India’s half-a-million-man army in IHK has been unable to suppress the popular and heroic revolt by a third generation of Kashmiris. Unable to admit this, India seeks to deflect world attention from its brutal tactics by blaming Pakistan for the infrequent militant violence in IHK.
In the aftermath of a major militant attack, Modi and his BJP cohorts may be tempted to actually undertake ‘punitive’ strikes across the Line of Control especially to burnish the BJP’s waning popularity in the run-up to the 2019 Indian elections. Significantly, the BJP has ousted chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and now rules Kashmir directly from New Delhi.
A perceptive article by Prem Shankar Jha on The Wire analyses ‘The BJP’s Dangerous End Game in Kashmir’. Jha argues that the BJP’s strategy for victory in 2019 is “to push Hindu-Muslim polarisation”. This strategy is “now yielding diminishing returns on the mainland. It is therefore, time to look outside the country for a source of this (Muslim) threat. The obvious candidate is Pakistan, and the obvious place to make this threat credible is Kashmir”.
Despite the shortcomings of the report, Pakistan should actively support the establishment of the proposed commission of inquiry by the Human Rights Council and offer to allow its visit to AJK. It should lobby for this decision with members of the OIC, Western countries which espouse human rights and the ‘human rights community’. It should be argued that an amelioration of India’s human rights violations will serve to moderate militancy in IHK and thus also serve the cause of peace.
If India rejects the establishment of the commission, Pakistan should utilise the UN report to seek support for other specific means of ending the human rights violations in IHK. These could include:
— identification of individual members of India’s security forces responsible for violations such as shooting and killing and maiming unarmed demonstrators and for sexual violence. Charges can be brought against them under the Geneva, Genocide and other Conventions;
— propose a resolution challenging the legality of India’s emergency laws in IHK;
— propose the adoption of a UN convention outlawing the use of pellet shotguns and similar methods against peaceful demonstrators;
— demand that the ICRC and other organisations seek humanitarian access to Kashmiri prisoners and call for the release of political prisoners;
— propose a resolution calling for India’s observance of the rights to freedom of expression and association in IHK and the right of Kashmiris to travel outside India.
— demand justice for the victims of sexual violence in IHK, especially the mass rape perpetrated in Kunan-Poshpura.
Simultaneously, Pakistan should consider approaching the ICJ and the UN Security Council to declare that India’s human rights violations in IHK constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.
If Pakistan, with the support of the ‘human rights community’, can mobilise credible pressure on India, it will help to alleviate the suffering of the Kashmiri people, reduce militant violence and remove any justification for Indian aggression against Pakistan, thus serving the cause of both human rights and peace.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2018