Two Kashmiri men chat as an Indian soldier guards a street during restrictions in Srinagar on Monday.—AP
Two Kashmiri men chat as an Indian soldier guards a street during restrictions in Srinagar on Monday.—AP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday welcomed the new United Nations report on the situation in India-occupied Kashmir, which for the second consecutive year called for setting up of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) for investigating human rights abuses being perpetrated by Indian occupation troops in the valley.

However, the Foreign Office cautioned the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) against comparing the situation in occupied Kashmir with Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

“We again welcome the OHCHR’s recommendation for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate the gross and systematic human rights violations in Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir,” the FO said in its reaction to the OHCHR report, whose launch coincided with the third martyrdom anniversary of Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani. Wani’s killing by Indian forces sparked off the current phase of uprising in the occupied valley.

This second OHCHR report documents the human rights situation in held Kashmir between May 2018 and April 2019. The report specifically notes the sharp aggravation in the situation after the Feb 14 attack on Indian paramilitary forces in Pulwama that had led to a military stand-off between Pakistan and India. It said that post-Pulwama situation continues to impact the rights of the Kashmiris, including the right to life.

Islamabad cautions world body not to draw parallels between situation in India-held Kashmir and environment in Azad Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan

The first report was released in June 2018, which focused on serious human rights violations, particularly excessive use of force by Indian forces leading to civilian casualties, arbitrary detention, impunity for human rights violations and human rights abuses in occupied Kashmir. Additionally, the 2018 report had also analysed the situation in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The first report had made wide-ranging recommendations for both Delhi and Islamabad, which included the setting up of a CoI, the highest-level investigation in the UN system.

The new report observed that the recommendations of the last report for addressing the rights situation were not implemented. Besides reiterating the recommendations from the previous report, the latest report has made fresh recommendations as well for improving the human rights situation.

Impunity

Accountability of Indian troops engaging rights violations, it maintained, was non-existent.

Indian authorities, it added, despite the enormity of the human rights crisis, has not instituted “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. 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”.

It further said: “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.”

Ignoring the international concerns, the report said, India has continued the use of pellet guns. “The 12-gauge pump-action shotgun firing metal pellets is one of the most dangerous weapons used in Kashmir. According to information from Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where most pellet shotgun injured are treated, 1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets used by security forces from mid-2016 to the end of 2018,” it said.

The report criticised “cordon and search operations” by Indian forces, which were reintroduced in the valley in 2017, and quoted the national and international human rights organisations as expressing fears that such actions enable a range of human rights violations, including physical intimidation and assault, invasion of privacy, arbitrary and unlawful detention, collective punishment and destruction of private property.

The report questioned the special legal regimes in occupied Kashmir.

“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.”

“The Report once again recognizes human rights violations in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IoK). It documents in detail the excessive use of force by the Indian occupation forces,” the FO said in its reaction.

The FO, however, noted that the “there is simply no parallel between the horrendous human rights situation in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the prevailing environment in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Unlike IoK, which is the most militarised zone in the world, the AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan remain open to foreign visitors.”

Much like last year, this year’s report again, besides discussing the situation in occupied valley, also looked at the situation in Azad Kashmir.

It recalled that Pakistan had in response to last year’s observations maintained that the constitutional and legal structures of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan adequately protect the rights of its citizens. However, it said, “OHCHR’s monitoring and analysis found that these concerns remain”.

The FO appreciated OHCHR’s second report for repeating its call for respect of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir as protected under international law.

“The only solution to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is to grant the people of Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IoK) the legitimate Right to self-determination as recognized by the numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions, which is essential for the security and stability of South Asia and beyond,” the FO said.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2019