75th anniversary of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and tragedy of Kashmir

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Altaf Hussain Wani

On Human Rights Day, 10 December, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will launch a year-long campaign to promote and recognise the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 75). The campaign, which will culminate on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2023, will showcase the legacy, relevance, and activism of UDHR under the theme, “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All”. Sadly, this coincides with another 75th anniversary – the birth of the continuing human rights tragedy of Kashmir that started less than two months before the UN General Assembly adopted the historic declaration in Paris on 10 December 1948.

It is quite heartening to see that since the inception of the UDHR, considerable institutional progress has been made in the western world. However, implementation of the core human rights remains a distant dream in third-world countries like India that still suffer from a colonial hangover. Despite signing this landmark document, India has failed miserably in upholding the solemn commitments it had made for the protection of human rights and granting of essential fundamental freedoms to people, especially in Jammu and Kashmir which it has occupied illegally since 27 October 1947.

Since 1947, the people of Indian illegally occupied Kashmir have struggled for dignity, freedom, and justice. The Indian occupation regime has trampled all fundamental rights of Kashmiris and denied their very basic right of self-determination as recognised by the United Nations Security Council. The Indian Government continues to use excessive force to trample basic freedoms. This has led to extreme and constant human rights violations including ruthless suppression of dissent, criminalizing of independent journalism, and persecution of political and human rights activists.

The continued bloodshed and violence have led to the killing of thousands of Kashmiris and destruction of properties worth billions of dollars. According to estimates, 96,157 people have been killed by the Indian Forces in Kashmir since 1989, and of those over seven thousand people were killed in custody. Approximately 10,000 Kashmiris, mostly young boys, have been subjected to forced disappearance. 110,495 structures including residential houses, shops, and others, have been burned to the ground or destroyed by the Indian Forces. Torture is being used as a state tool to suppress people’s resistance. Out of every seven Kashmiris, one has suffered brutal torture. Over 200 people have lost complete or partial vision, and nearly 1,800 have been injured due to the use of indiscriminate pellet shotguns. Women are the most affected victims of the barbarities of the Indian Forces barbarities in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Rape is being used as a state-sponsored weapon of war to suppress the Kashmiri people’s struggle for freedom. Indian Forces personnel sexually assaulted over 11,255 women during the last three decades in the occupied territory.

The identity of people of Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir is under threat of extermination by the constant inhuman state repression and extreme violence against the majority Muslim community. This remains largely unnoticed. People are denied their right to freedom of expression and assembly and free press. They are dehumanized by occupation authorities at every level and justice remains elusive for victims of state repression. Thousands are detained and remain under detention without trial, No reparations are paid. UAPA, AFSPA, PSA, and other draconian legislation are used against the population to suppress resistance against India’s illegal occupation. These laws provide impunity from prosecution for the perpetrators of this violent suppression.

Reports pouring in from the restive region speak volumes as to how systematically the Indian Government and its Forces have been violating the human rights enshrined in the UDHR and other international treaties. The reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other global human rights watchdogs, all of which highlight the abysmal state of human rights in the region, have stressed the need for independent and impartial investigations into the human rights violations. These reports have taken the lid off the cauldron of crimes in the Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir and serve as an indictment against the Indian state. Despite being a signatory to the UDHR, India has brazenly violated every Article. Unfortunately, these serious human rights violations go largely unchecked and are vastly unnoticed at the wider international level.

While the world is celebrating Human Rights Day and its theme of “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All” this year, the world community should also realize their moral obligations vis-à-vis the situation in Kashmir and stand up for the rights of the people of who remain caught up in a dangerous conflict situation. Atrocities, bloodshed, killings, encounters, cordon and search operations (CASO), nocturnal raids, and violence are all that define today’s Kashmir. Arresting political and human rights activists in malicious cases, and detaining them under seditious charges, are a signature of India’s apartheid regime to foster its colonialist agenda and breach all limits of savagery. Since 5 August 2019 when India illegally annexed Jammu and Kashmir, the region has sunk deeper into a quagmire of reckless violence and lawlessness, haunting and imperiling the existence of people in the Kashmir Valley.

Since these actions are in serious contravention of UDHR and other international human rights treaties, there is an urgent need that the United Nations Security Council, the UN human rights machinery, and the international community at large, to take immediate action to fulfill their moral and legal responsibility towards Kashmir and hold India accountable for the crimes its Forces have been committing against humanity in Kashmir.

Even more importantly, the Government of India should be pressurised to rescind its actions and pave the way for holding a referendum in the region to allow Kashmiris to exercise their inalienable right – the right to self-determination – a cardinal principle of the UN Charter and other international human rights covenants.

[The writer is Chairman Kashmir Institute of International Relations and Vice-chairman JKNF can be reached at: [email protected]]