UN human rights report on Kashmir harsh on India, soft on Pak, has discrepancies

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN) - An updated report of the UN Office  of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterates its accusations about the rising human rights violations and deaths of civilians in Jammu and Kashmir between May 2018 and April 2019.

The latest UN human rights report on Jammu and Kashmir slammed by India as a “merely a continuation of the earlier false and motivated narrative”, has several discrepancies that show up on closer reading and contradicts its own picture of J&K as virtually bereft of human rights.

An updated report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir in 13 months, reiterates its accusations about the rising human rights violations and deaths of civilians between May 2018 and April 2019.

The report, released with former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as the UN Human Rights Commissioner, draws its conclusions on the figures of civilian deaths and situation in the state mainly on the basis of reports by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), and dismisses the Ministry of Home Affair’s lower figures on the number of civilians deaths, the number of injured and so on.

While it is critical of the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and terms the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as a key obstacle to accountability and the prosecution of armed forces personnel, on the other hand, it states clearly that the “quantity and quality of information available” on Jammu and Kashmir “contrasts significantly” to that available in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

On the Indian side, it notes: “Despite significant challenges, NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists are able to operate, generating documentation on the ongoing human rights violations there.”

However, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, “restrictions on the freedoms of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and association” as well as in Gilgit-Baltistan “have limited the ability of observers, including OHCHR, to assess the human rights situation there”.

It quotes the JKCCS to say that “around 160 civilians were killed in 2018, which is believed to be the highest number in over one decade”. It noted that the Union Ministry for Home Affairs claimed lower figures of “only 37 civilian” deaths.

While it is critical of the Indian security personnel and points out that “no security forces personnel accused of torture or other forms of degrading and inhuman treatment have been prosecuted in a civilian court”, on the issue of “Abuses by Armed Groups” or by militants, it makes no comment.

It dismisses, in a single clinical sentence, the brutal killing on March 22 this year of 12-year-old Aatif Mir, who was held hostage by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in Bandipora and subsequently killed.

On the militant groups threatening Kashmiris against participating in panchayat elections, which are the backbone of democracy and mark the grassroots participation of the people in governance, the report did not make any adverse comment against the threats or killings by the militant groups.

Its description of the Pulwama suicide bombing, that killed 40 Indian security personnel and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of armed conflict, was equally clinical and non-committal. It does not mention the number of CRPF personnel killed in the initial part but does so later down in an update.

The report takes care to mention Pakistan’s denial of every Indian allegation of Islamabad’s tacit complicity, and even its denial of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which was behind the attack, of operating from Pakistani territory.

On Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the OHCHR in its report highlights that the Interim Constitution “places several restrictions on anyone criticizing the region’s accession to Pakistan, in contravention of Pakistan’s commitments to uphold the rights to freedoms of expression and opinion, assembly and association”.

The amended Interim Constitution of 2018 has retained the clause, and the electoral law continues to disqualify anyone running for elected office who does not sign a declaration agreeing to the “State’s Accession to Pakistan”.

In its conclusions, the report says it has highlighted “serious human rights violations and patterns of impunity in Jammu and Kashmir”. However, on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, where the report mentions significant human rights abuses, its language is kinder, terming it “significant human rights concerns”.

India had earlier this month lodged a strong protest with the Geneva-based body, saying the update seems to accord legitimacy to terrorism in complete variance with UN Security Council position.

The report’s ”assertions are in violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ignore the core issue of cross-border terrorism,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

The Indian spokesperson objected to the fact that the OHCHR has ‘analysed’ without any reference to its casualty a situation created in Jammu and Kashmir by years of cross-border terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan. ”The update seems to be a contrived effort to create an artificial parity between the world’s largest and the most vibrant democracy (India) and a country that openly practices state-sponsored terrorism (Pakistan),” he added.

The spokesperson recalled that the UN Security Council had, in February, strongly condemned the dastardly Pulwama terror attack and subsequently proscribed JeM chief Masood Azhar. However, in the update, terrorist leaders and organisations sanctioned by the UN were deliberately underplayed as “armed groups”, he regretted.

The spokesperson said the update, by distorting India’s policies, practices and values, has undermined its own credibility.

Kumar said the update belittled constitutional provisions, statutory procedures and established practices in an established functioning democracy. ”The prejudiced mindset of the update has also chosen to willfully ignore the determined and comprehensive socio-economic development efforts undertaken by the government in the face of terrorist challenges,” he added.

The release of such an update has not only called into question the seriousness of OHCHR but also its alignment with the larger approach of the UN, the spokesman added.

He said the Indian Government followed the policy of ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism and would take all measures to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty against cross-border terrorism. Motivated attempts to weaken India’s resolve would never succeed, Raveesh Kumar added.

(With inputs from IANS)

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