US senators call for assessment of rights situation in held Kashmir

Updated 15 Feb 2020

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to the media before voting on a bill allowing a rise in the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill in Washington August 2, 2011. — Reuters/File
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to the media before voting on a bill allowing a rise in the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill in Washington August 2, 2011. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: Four key US senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting an assessment of human rights situation in India-held Kashmir and of the rights of religious minorities in India.

The letter was released to the media days before Donald Trump’s Feb 23-26 visit to India, his first as the US president.

The two countries plan to sign a $1.9 billion defence deal during this visit. The senators do not comment on the visit, but they do want the State Department to determine: “The number of individuals detained by the government for political purposes and the treatment of those individuals. Current restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir. The current accessibility of Jammu and Kashmir. And restrictions on religious freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir.”

The signatories include Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican politician who is considered a key Trump ally in the US Senate.

He has headed several Senate committees in his long career and is also a former Republican presidential candidate.

Another signatory, Dick Durbin, has been the Senate Democratic Whip since 2005, which is the second-highest position in the Democratic leadership in the US Senate.

Senators Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, and Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, also signed the letter. They are members of several important Senate committees, including those on foreign relations and budget.

“We write as longtime friends of India regarding some of the troubling actions taken by the current government. More than six months after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government unilaterally revoked the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, the government continues to block most internet in the region,” the senators wrote.

“India has now imposed the longest-ever internet shut down by a democracy, disrupting access to medical care, business, and education for seven million people. Hundreds of Kashmiris remain in ‘preventive detention’, including key political figures.”

The senators also highlighted recently passed provisions within the Fiscal Year 2020 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations report, urging the Indian government to address these issues.

In their letter the Senators also noted, “In addition, the Indian government has taken other troubling steps that threaten the rights of certain religious minorities and the secular character of the state. This includes the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which is being challenged in India’s Supreme Court.”

They reminded Secretary Pompeo that India’s actions in Kashmir “have severe consequences” and that is why, in the Fiscal Year 2020 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations report, Congress urged the Indian government to: “fully restore telecommunications and internet services, lift its lockdown and curfew and release individuals detained pursuant to the Indian government’s revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.”

Noting that India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act is being challenged in the Indian Supreme Court, the Senators wrote: “We respectfully request an assessment of the following items within 30 days.

“The number of individuals detained by the Indian Government for political purposes due to India’s revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution with respect to Jammu and Kashmir, including an assessment, to the extent practicable, of whether detainees endure torture or other forms of mistreatment.

“The government of India’s restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir, including access to the internet and cellular telephone services.

“The level of access to Jammu and Kashmir the Indian government grants to independent observers, foreign diplomats and consular agents, foreign journalists, international organisations, and representatives of nongovernmental organisations.

“Restrictions on religious freedom in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The number of individuals — including the number of religious, ethnic and other minorities — at risk of statelessness, arbitrary deprivation or denial of nationality, expulsion or arbitrary detention pursuant to the Government of India’s latest National Register of Citizens list, and any excessive use of force by Indian authorities against demonstrators opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act.”

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2020