UN expert offers help in probing occupied Kashmir’s mass graves issue

Updated 30 Oct 2020

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Women walk before a curfew in Srinagar on August 4, 2020. — AFP/File
Women walk before a curfew in Srinagar on August 4, 2020. — AFP/File

UNITED NATIONS: A United Nations human rights expert has offered to help probe the issue of alleged unmarked mass graves in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

On Tuesday, Pakistan asked UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions to hold a transparent judicial inquiry into the extra-judicial killings of scores of innocent Kashmiris including the three individuals killed recently.

During a UN General Assembly debate on this issue, Pakistan also suggested that this probe be held under international scrutiny as over the years, Indian occupation forces had killed thousands of Kashmiris in staged encounters and buried them in unmarked mass graves.

Responding to a query, Special Rapporteur Anges Callamard said that she stood ready to assist the Indian government in conducting the probe into the unmarked graves whenever New Delhi extended her an invitation.

Pakistan says thousands of innocent Kashmiris have been extra judicially killed by Indian forces

“There is an extraordinary impor­tant step that must be taken towards acknowledging the extent of the prob­lem” and for “implementing interna­tional standards related to the inves­tigation of arbitrary killings”, and a range of other violations, she said.

Ms Callamard noted the Pakistan delegate had asked for practical steps for investigating a “situation that has also been identified by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights” and other senior UN officials “on a repeated basis”.

Those UN officials and their reports had also identified “other violations that are currently being committed”, she added.

“We stand ready to assist India ... when it is determined to investigate those allegations of killings and to pursue their search for justice for the victims and their family,” Ms Callamard said.

The UN official was speaking during an Interactive Dialogue in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with social, cultural and humanitarian issues.

The committee also had a copy of the Rapporteur’s annual report which called for more action to protect mass graves, which provide proof of “heinous events” that must never be forgotten.

While requesting a probe, Pakistan reminded the world body that the phenomenon of mass graves was predominantly associated with extra-judicial killings in situations of armed conflict, foreign occupation, massive human rights violations, and other atrocity crimes.

“We remain concerned about sites of mass graves in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” Pakistani delegate Qasim Aziz Butt told the committee.

He noted that the High Commis­sio­ner in her two reports on Jammu and Kashmir, and the Special Rapporteur in her joint communication to India, had both raised concerns about the presence of such mass graves in Northern Kashmir and had called for independent inquiry.

“Since 1989,” the Pakistan delegate said, “thousands of innocent Kashmiris have been extrajudicially killed by the Indian occupying forces in so-called cordon and search operations and fake encounters.

“In the wake of India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August last year, these atrocities have redoubled,” he said, adding that so far not a “single Indian soldier has been prosecuted for these crimes.”

In her annual report, Ms Callamard also called for greater support to countries and communities where mass graves sites were located to ensure they were treated with respect, and in accordance with human rights standards.

“Mass graves are places of evidence crucial to effective pursuit of formal justice,” she said.

“They hold the remains of those denied identity in death. They are spaces of intimate sorrow for loved ones. And, they are places of public record — proof that heinous events took place which must never be forgotten.”

Mass graves can be found in every region of the world, said Ms. Callamard, whose mandate covers all countries. They can be the result of repression, conflict, or linked to criminal activity, or due to natural disasters or pandemics.

Whatever the situation, “they always embody human rights violations”, she stated.

“Ours is a human history marred by massacres, in which so often those responsible have not only walked free but are later even celebrated, with statues erected in their memory gracing our court houses, town halls and local parks,” said Ms Callamard.

“But just contrast that with the way so many killing sites and mass graves are treated: left unacknowledged, unprotected, unpreserved and, when not covered up, desecrated or destroyed. It may even become a crime to mention them in public.”

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020