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160 Kashmir civilians killed in 2018, highest in decade: UN body 'contradicts' Govt of India

By Our Representative
A UN human rights report on the situation in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) State and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) from May 2018 to April 2019 has claimed that the number of civilian casualties reported over the 12-month period may be the “highest in over a decade”, regretting, “Neither India nor Pakistan have taken any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised in an earlier UN report.”
The new report, published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, describes how tensions over Kashmir – which “rose sharply” after a deadly suicide bombing in February targeting Indian security forces in Pulwama” – continue to have a “severe impact on the human rights of civilians, including the right to life.”
Quoting data gathered by local civil society, the report says, “Around 160 civilians were killed in 2018, which is believed to be the highest number in over a decade. Last year also registered the highest number of conflict-related casualties since 2008 with 586 people killed, including 267 members of armed groups and 159 security forces personnel.”
The report alleges, the Union Ministry for Home Affairs has published “lower casualty figures, citing 37 civilians, 238 terrorists and 86 security forces personnel killed in the 11 months up to December 2, 2018.
According to the report, of the 160 civilian deaths reported by local organizations, 71 were “allegedly killed” by Indian security forces, 43 by “alleged members of armed groups or by unidentified gunmen”, and 29 were “reportedly killed due to shelling and firing by Pakistani troops in areas along the Line of Control (LoC).
As for the PoK, the report quotes Government of Pakistan figures to say that 35 civilians were killed and 135 injured on the Pakistan side of the LoC, claiming, this happened “due to shelling and firing by Indian forces during 2018.”
According to the report, two armed groups have been accused of recruiting and deploying child soldiers in J&K, and armed groups were “responsible for attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organizations in the state, including the killing of at least six political party workers and a separatist leader.
The report says, in the lead up to local elections scheduled for October 2018, armed groups threatened people participating in the elections and warned of “dire consequences” if those running for election did not immediately withdraw their nominations.
The report contends, in J&K, “Accountability for violations committed by members of the Indian security forces remains virtually non-existent”, insisting, despite the high numbers of civilians killed in the vicinity of encounters between security forces and members of armed groups, “there is no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties.”
It further says, “There is no information on the status of the five investigations launched into extrajudicial executions in 2016. The Indian state of J&K did not establish any investigations into civilian killings in 2017.”
It adds, “No prosecutions have been reported. It does not appear that Indian security forces have been asked to re-evaluate or change their crowd-control techniques or rules of engagement.”
Pointing towards what the report calls “arbitrary detention” and “so-called cordon and search operations” leading to a range of human rights violations, the report says, these “continue to be deeply problematic, as do the special legal regimes applying to J&K.
“The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA) remains a key obstacle to accountability,” the report believes. “Section 7 of the AFSPA prohibits the prosecution of security forces personnel unless the Government of India grants a prior permission or ‘sanction’ to prosecute.”
Referring to the Indian Army, the report says, “In nearly three decades that the law has been in force in J&K, there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces personnel granted by the central government.”
“The Indian Army has also been resisting efforts to release details of trials conducted by military courts where soldiers were initially found guilty but later acquitted and released by a higher military tribunal”, it adds.
The report also notes, “No security forces personnel accused of torture or other forms of degrading and inhuman treatment have been prosecuted in a civilian court since these allegations started emerging in the early 1990s.”
The report asserts, despite “international concerns at the alarming numbers of deaths and life-altering injuries caused by the security forces’ regular use of shotguns as a means of crowd control – even though they are not deployed elsewhere in India – they continue to be employed, leading to further deaths and serious injuries.”
Providing details, the report states, a 19-month-old girl was hit by metal shotgun pellets in her right eye on November 25, 2018. According to information from Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where most people injured by shotgun pellets are treated, “A total of 1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets used by security forces from mid-2016 to end of 2018.”
Going over to human rights violations in PoK, the report says, a different in nature to “violations” are taking place on the other side of the LoC, including PoK and and Gilgit-Baltistan. In both the regions, people are “deprived of a number of fundamental human rights, particularly in relation to freedoms of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly and association.”
“Anti-terrorism laws continue to be misused to target political opposition as well as civil society activists,” the report says, adding, “nationalist” and “pro-independence” political parties in PoK “claim that they regularly face threats, intimidation and even arrests for their political activities from local authorities or intelligence agencies.” Threats are also often “directed at their family members including children.”
Noting thta journalists in PoK “continue to face threats and harassment in the course of carrying out their professional duties”, the report says, the UN Human Rights Office has received “credible information” of enforced disappearances of people from PoK, “including those who were held in secret detention and those whose fate and whereabouts continue to remain unknown.”
“In almost all cases,” it adds, “victim groups allege that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances. There are fears that people subjected to enforced disappearances from PoK may have been detained in military-run internment centres in Pakistan.”
Noting that four major armed groups “believed to be” currently operating in Indian-Administered Kashmir – Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin – are based on the Pakistan side of the LoC ,the report stresses, “Neither the Governments of India nor of Pakistan have taken clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in the UN Human Rights Office’s previous report, published in June 2018.”
It calls upon the 47-Member-State UN Human Rights Council to “consider… the possible establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigations into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.”

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