OHCHR, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, UN

The Kashmir conflict refers to the territorial dispute over Kashmir for which India and Pakistan have fought three wars: in 1947, 1965, and 1999. Since the 1947 partition, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes. Be it security personnel or civilians, a fomenting mass humanitarian crisis is present before both the states of India and Pakistan as well as the United Nations (UN). The people of Kashmir still seek a right to self determination, which had been promised to them after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the treaty of accession to India. This right of self determination had to be implemented via a plebiscite, which was to be conducted under the arbitration of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in the year 1948. The refusal of the Indian state for the plebiscite to be conducted in Jammu and Kashmir till date has raised angst over the failure of democracy in the region, leading to sporadic uprisings of militancy, which receives frequent backlashes by the Indian security forces in the region.

Thus, the 49-page report primarily covers the developments in India-administered Kashmir following the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani in 2016. This first ever UN human rights report on the Kashmir issue details upon human rights violations on both sides of the border, in light of the human rights violations that have been committed by the security forces in the regions of Indian held Kashmir as well as Azad Kashmir.

The security situation slightly improved after the ceasefire was concluded in November 2003; however, from 1989 – 2005, 67000 lives were claimed by the insurgency in the Indian held Kashmir. In 2016 the security conditions took a greater nosedive following the death of the popular Hizb ul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani in the year 2016 which resulted in unprecedented protests across the valley and unabated violence by the Indian forces. Since July 2016 after the death of Burhan Wani, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) requested unconditional access to Kashmir to assess the human rights conditions over there, which was repeatedly rejected by India. Pakistan on the other hand offered conditional acceptance based upon the acceptance of this request by India for the region. Thus, the 49-page report primarily covers the developments in India-administered Kashmir following the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani in 2016. This first ever UN human rights report on the Kashmir issue details upon human rights violations on both sides of the border, in light of the human rights violations that have been committed by the security forces in the regions of Indian held Kashmir as well as Azad Kashmir. The report, titled Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit – Baltistan’ was released by the UNHCR in June, without a prior press release.

Over the years, the Indian state has attempted to curb the work of journalists as well as civil society groups like the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), by not allowing them to hold press conferences, or conduct talks, and going so far as to imprison a Programme Coordinator under the Public Safety Act. In May 2015, after receiving remarks on its report from the Indian government, Amnesty International delayed the release of its report, before releasing it in July. Therefore, it is by no means a surprise if the UN chose to not make public their launch of the report, until it was officially released, in a bid to avoid any obstruction from India.

The report is thus, an outcome of remote monitoring detailing on the violations of human rights in both regions; the Indian held Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistan administered Kashmir, including the regions of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit – Baltistan from July 2016 to April 2018. The report covers every atrocity that is being conducted in the area ranging from the lack of access to justice, extrajudicial detention and killings, use of pellet guns, torture, the case of missing persons, restrictions on access to health care and education, crackdowns against journalists and human rights activists, sexual violence as well as general human rights violations. The world witnessed alarmingly high rates of extrajudicial killings, torture and detention at the hands of Indian security forces in response to the protests and skirmishes following the death of Burhan Wani. Metal pellet firing shotguns were used against the protesters, resulting in not only casualties but also severe injuries such as perpetual blindness. The report notes how ‘excessive force’ led to the deaths of an estimated 145 civilians from mid-2016 to April this year. The Government of Jammu and Kashmir in 2017 initially said 78 people including 2 police officers were killed in the 2016 unrest but in 2017 revised the figure down to 51 people killed and 9,042 injured between 8 July 2016 and 27 February 2017.

The report notes how ‘excessive force’ led to the deaths of an estimated 145 civilians from mid-2016 to April this year. The Government of Jammu and Kashmir in 2017 initially said 78 people including 2 police officers were killed in the 2016 unrest but in 2017 revised the figure down to 51 people killed and 9,042 injured between 8 July 2016 and 27 February 2017.

On the contrary the report also takes into account the human rights violations that are being conducted in the regions of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit – Baltistan ranging from constitutional provisions that are enabling oppression for religious minorities, inhibiting freedom of expression as well as association, ceasefire violations resulting in civilian casualties and human rights violations being conducted under the banner of the Pakistan Anti Terrorism Act, 1997. It defines them as being ‘of a different caliber or magnitude’. The report elaborates on how countless political as well as human rights activists have been arrested and issued criminal charges under this act, moreover under this act even people protesting for land rights were arrested. To publish within AJK, media owners have to obtain permission from the Government of Pakistan’s Kashmir Council and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. Moreover, on either side of the line of control; border skirmishes, cross border shelling, cross border firing and all such ceasefire violations have claimed countless civilian lives. Pakistan accuses India of 382 ceasefire violations in the year 2016, while India blames Pakistan for 449 violations. The report concludes its comparative analysis between the Indian held Kashmir region and the Pakistan administered Kashmir region by providing recommendations to not only the states of India and Pakistan but also to the Human Rights Council.

For India there are 17 recommendations the most emphasized one being the repealing of Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 and an immediate call for proper investigation of all the deaths that have occurred in the name of security operations. For Pakistan there are a total of 7 recommendations, the highlight of which is avoiding misuse of the Anti Terrorism Act, as well as amendment of those constitutional acts that may limit freedom of expression and association.

This report is groundbreaking in its very essence as it not only probes into the human rights violations being conducted on both sides of the line of control but also draws a comparative analysis, thus drawing global attention to the fact that the atrocities still being conducted by the armed forces in the Indian held Kashmir region need to be curbed and need to be addressed to by the international community. Since it is termed the ‘first’ report, it is expected that it shall be followed by a second report or consecutive reports. There is widespread hue and cry by the Indian state against this report. Even though the report has analyzed both the Indian held Kashmir and the Pakistan administered region of Kashmir as well, more violations have been reported in the on the Indian side and India has went as far as terming it ‘fallacious, tendentious and motivated’ and continues to question the intentions behind it, terming the information unverified and in violation of state sovereignty.

Furthermore, India alleges that Pakistan is providing support to militant groups in Kashmir via its military. It asserts that there is no comparison between Jammu and Kashmir region and the Azad Kashmir region, as the Jammu and Kashmir region has democratically elected leaders while the Azad Kashmir region has a Pakistani diplomat appointed as its head.

The OHCHR implied that 17 people were killed by pellet injuries between July 2016 and August 2017 and that 6,221 people were injured due to the use of pellet shotguns between July 2016 and February 2017, with many of the injured partially or fully blinded by their injuries. This excessive use of force has been greatly highlighted in this report and has urged enabling of an independent mechanism to investigate these alleged violations. The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 has specifically been criticized by the OHCHR. The virtual immunity from prosecution for any human rights violations in particular has been highlighted as it was noted that since prosecution requires prior permission from the Indian government, no prosecution has been recorded since almost three decades against the security forces, not even a single investigation, however has been recorded.

At Pakistan’s end, the abuses have been labeled as of a ‘different caliber or magnitude and of a more structural nature’. The Pakistan Anti Terrorism Act has been criticized the most, along with the several imprisonments that were done under this act. Thus, this report serves as a wakeup call for the international community regarding the atrocities being conducted in the disputed territory.

Since this was conducted by the OHCHR via remote monitoring, the allegations of it being ‘motivated’ are baseless, as Pakistan’s acceptance to monitoring in the Jammu and Kashmir region was conditional upon the acceptance of Indian acceptance for monitoring in the Indian held Kashmir region, which was denied by the Indian government. The presence of armed forces in the Indian held Kashmir region is not only in direct violation of human rights but also the immunity that has been granted to them under the Special Powers Act is devastating. The use of pellet shotguns was not only condemned, but the OHCHR urged India to immediately end their usage and lift restrictions on telecommunication networks in the region.

Since this was conducted by the OHCHR via remote monitoring, the allegations of it being ‘motivated’ are baseless, as Pakistan’s acceptance to monitoring in the Jammu and Kashmir region was conditional upon the acceptance of Indian acceptance for monitoring in the Indian held Kashmir region, which was denied by the Indian government.

Globally this report is historic at a magnanimous scale and spells out the failures of the pseudo democratic government that has been elected in the Indian held Kashmir. For the government of Pakistan, this report is a sight for sore eyes as India had been continuously criticizing the failure of democracy in Pakistan, especially after the elections of 2018; in which not only the Indian media but also the state, took special interest, whilst propagating rigging claims and proposing how certain candidates can be cataclysmic to Pak-India relations. Thus, for Pakistan this report spells out as a victory, lauding the efforts in the Pakistan administered region of Kashmir. However, the Anti Terrorism Act currently in force in the region has raised many eyebrows, regarding arrests and as a barricade to freedom of expression. Pakistan needs to address these issues whilst following the recommendations present in the report to completely shift the undivided attention of the international community on the atrocities being carried out in the Indian held Kashmir by the armed forces. Only then, we shall be able to make any progress in not only the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue via the ‘promised’ plebiscite but also be able to eliminate the grave humanitarian crisis in the Kashmir region held by India.

Sania Sabir Qureshi

has done her M.Phil in Government and Public Policy from the National Defence University, Islamabad, & graduated with a majors in Economics from Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering & Management Sciences (BUITEMS) Quetta. Her areas of interest include policy formulation, analysis, including various other facets of public policy making.

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