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"First-ever" UN human rights report on Kashmir calls for international inquiry into "violations" on both sides of LoC

By Our Representative
There is an urgent need to address "past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses" and deliver justice for all people in Kashmir, who for seven decades have "suffered" a conflict that has "claimed or ruined" numerous lives, a report by the UN Human Rights Office -- the first-ever seeking an international inquiry into "multiple violations" in both parts of Kashmir, controlled by Indian and Pakistan -- has said.
Releasing the report on June 14, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has said, “The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering.”
Insisting that a political situation in Kashmir must entail "a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and current violations and abuses by all parties, and provide redress for victims,” Zeid says, he proposes to urge the UN Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry to conduct a "comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.”
Talking of "excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir,” the report regrets that the UN Human Rights Office, despite repeated requests to both India and Pakistan over the past two years, has not been given "unconditional access" to either side of the Line of Control. This led to a situation where it had to do "remote monitoring" to produce the report, covering both the sides.
Especially referring to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) events starting July 2016 -- when "large and unprecedented demonstrations erupted after Indian security forces killed the leader of an armed group" -- the report blames Indian security forces for using "excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries."
Citing civil society estimates, the report says, "Up to 145 civilians were killed by the security forces between mid-July 2016 and the end of March 2018, with up to 20 other civilians killed by armed groups in the same period", adding, "One of the most dangerous weapons used against protesters in 2016 – and which is still being employed by security forces – was the pellet-firing shotgun."
It adds, "According to official figures, 17 people were killed by shotgun pellets between July 2016 and August 2017, and 6,221 people were injured by the metal pellets between 2016 and March 2017. Civil society organizations believe that many of them have been partially or completely blinded."
The report notes, the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 (PSA) have “created structures that obstruct the normal course of law, impede accountability and jeopardize the right to remedy for victims of human rights violations.”
Pointing out that the AFSPA prohibits prosecution of security forces personnel unless the Government of India grants prior permission to prosecute, the report says, “This gives security forces virtual immunity against prosecution for any human rights violation." It adds, "In the nearly 28 years that the law has been in force in J&K there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces personnel.”
Referring to what it calls "chronic impunity for sexual violence also remains a key concern in Kashmir", the report refers to "emblematic case is the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape 27 years ago when, according to survivors, soldiers gang-raped 23 women", and yet “attempts to seek justice have been denied and blocked over the years at different levels.”
At the same time, the report says, armed groups operating in Jammu & Kashmir since the late 1980s are equally responsible for "committing "a wide range of human rights abuses, including kidnappings and killings of civilians and sexual violence", adding, despite Pakistan denying any support for these groups, experts have confirmed, its military "continues to support their operations across the Line of Control."
Examining human rights violations in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) which are "of a more structural nature", the report says, here, there are restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Pointing out that the situation is not very different in Gilgit-Baltistan, it adds, hundreds of people have been imprisoned in this region under an anti-terrorist law, misused against anyone raising "issues related to people’s human rights."
Asking India to "urgently repeal the AFSPA", the report seeks establishment of "independent, impartial and credible investigations to probe all civilian killings since July 2016", the report seeks "reparations and rehabilitation to all injured individuals and to the families of those killed in the context of security operations."
At the same time, it urges Pakistan to end the misuse of anti-terror legislation to persecute those engaging in peaceful political and civil activities and those who express dissent. Also, it says, PoK's interim constitution should be amended to allow rights to freedoms of expression and opinion, and peaceful assembly and association.

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