IN a welcome surprise, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recommended to HR Council to establish a “Commission of Inquiry” (COI) for international investigation into human rights violations in Kashmir. A COI is one of the UN’s highest-level probes, generally reserved for major crises. Due to Indian refusal for direct access, report is based on remote monitoring. The main focus of the report is on human rights situation in the Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK), from July 2016 to April 2018. Report has stated that according to HR activists’ estimates, up to 145 civilians were killed by security forces and up to 20 civilians killed by armed groups in IOK during the period.
Report accuses India of ‘unlawful killings’ in Kashmir and urges provision of right to self-determination. The contents, scale and the narrative of killings, maiming, abuse and impunity articulated in the report is a reaffirmation of what Pakistan has long highlighted to the comity of nations. OHCHR’s Report has rightly called for final political solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute through meaningful dialogue that includes the people of Kashmir. On the broader side of Kashmir dispute, the UNSG’s Spokesman Farhan Haq has said that the “UN chief has consistently called for the resolution of the decades-old problem”. The report has called for an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses and deliver justice for all people in Kashmir. The report said that people of Kashmir had been suffering a conflict for seven decades that had claimed or ruined numerous lives. However, ground reality is that India does not give a dime such reports. To supplement its over 6 million IoK stationed security forces, India is raising additional two women battalions for Kashmir police.
India continues to ignore legitimate demands by various reputed domestic and international HR watch dog entities for “probe into gross and systematic violations, including” permanent blinding of over 1000 youth due to pellet gun injuries, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest and detentions as well as continued sexual violence; alongside undoing of comprehensive impunity enjoyed by Indian security forces under the (il)legal cover of nearly a dozen draconian laws. Pakistan has welcomed the proposal to establish a COI for international investigation into human rights violations. India, on its part, has rejected the call by the report. “It is a selective compilation of largely unverified information. It is overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry said in a statement. “The report violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India,” it claimed. “Pakistan is in illegal and forcible occupation of a part of the Indian state through aggression.” Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has urged the UN HR Council to: “to consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry for a more comprehensive investigation of the human rights situation in Kashmir and reiterate my calls for access… Alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region should be investigated. …. I am tremendously saddened by the assassination last week of Shujaat Bukhari, a courageous human rights defender actively working for peace, including through his participation in the Track Two diplomacy seeking to help both India and Pakistan put an end to the violence”.
In his endorsement, UNSG Guterres has also stated that UN Human Rights Council must take next steps to address Indian rights abuses in Kashmir. He has held back his comments until council announces an international probe. Asked whether the secretary-general supports the recommendation by the UN High Commissioner for an independent international investigation into the serious abuses being committed by Indian security forces in Kashmir, a UN spokesman told a news briefing in New York that the proposal had been made to the HR Council and it was up to Council to “determine whether any steps were needed.”
According to the 49-page report, “In responding to demonstrations that started in 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries”. High Commissioner has denounced the lack of prosecutions of Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir due to a 1990 law giving them what he called “virtual immunity”. The report clearly stipulates that its main focus is on the Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. Hence, references to human rights concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan can in no way be construed to create a false sense of equivalence.
India’s unwillingness to engage in a dialogue process with Pakistan and suppression of Kashmiri aspirations for right of self-determination continue to endanger regional and international peace and security. The lasting solution of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute is an essential imperative for peace, security and stability of the region. The report has rightly called for final political solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute through meaningful dialogue that includes the people of Kashmir. The UN has a key role to play in the resolution of dispute. The OCHCR report is yet another reminder for urgency of its settlement, both to protect human lives and promote peace. Being a guardian of over a dozen UNSC resolutions spanning 1948-98, the UN has a duty to discharge with regard to settlement of one of oldest dispute on its agenda, hopefully OCHCR report will stimulate the stake holders to jump start the process towards that end. Permanent members of Security Council must put in their collective effort for resolving this humanitarian issue. And the SG should trigger the process by appointing his special representative for Kashmir.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.