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Releasing its first-ever report by the UN on the human rights situation in Kashmir on either side of the Line of Control (LoC), the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, “called on Indian security forces to exercise maximum restraint, and strictly abide by international standards governing the use of force when dealing with future protests, including ones that could well occur this coming weekend.” “It is essential the Indian authorities take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir,” Zeid said.
In an angry response which showed India had been caught off-guard, the MEA spokesperson described the report as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”, violating Indian sovereignty and “a selective compilation of largely unverified information … overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative.” The report comes at a time when a ceasefire prevails in J&K during the Ramzan period, and some people here see it as a pressure tactic against the Indian government.
The report is a sort of a last hurrah by Al Hussein, who completes his tenure this year and the UN General Assembly will appoint a new chief. Neither India nor Pakistan allowed the OHCHR office access to Kashmir, so Hussein said the report was a result of “remote monitoring”. India has an active presence at the UN office in Geneva, but its diplomats failed to pre-empt such a damaging report. However, MEA said it has “conveyed unequivocally” its protest to the OHCHR.
Dilip Sinha, former vice-president to UN Human Rights Council said, “This is a mischievous report because it comes from the obsession with Kashmir by the OIC. This is a case of slamming a country which provides rights to its people and allows NGOs and media to operate, whereas, in Pakistan, they describe the “problem” as more “structural in nature” and lets the country off!”
Despite Indian protests, the report is very damaging in image terms for India. While no member state has asked for any such report to be commissioned, the fact is, the OHCHR actually does function in an autonomous manner. It comes at a time when India is not even on the UN Human Rights Council. Sources said the report had been sent to the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.
The report, unfortunately, provides any country with a grouse against India to run with this and call for a resolution or an inquiry. While the chances of this going through are very slim, it does mean that Indian diplomats in different capitals and in the UN headquarters will have to work extra hard to eliminate such possibilities, which actually raises the costs of diplomatic capital.
The OHCHR has been a veritable activist and has used his position to lash out at India earlier. The report makes no mention of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, while India is particularly exercised about it describing Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM), “internationally designated and UN-proscribed terrorist entities as “armed groups” and terrorists as “leaders”. This undermines the UN-led consensus on zero tolerance to terrorism.”
The report is somewhat critical of Pakistan but positively savage on India, including describing areas as “Azad Kashmir” and “Gilgit-Baltistan” which is used by Pakistan but not India. He focuses mainly on the situation in J&K after the Burhan Wani killing in 2016. “It is essential the Indian authorities take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir,” Zeid said. “It is also why I will be urging the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.” The OHCHR asked Pakistan to end its “misuse” of anti-terror legislation to persecute peaceful activists and quash dissent. Pakistan, however, welcomed the OHCHR report and the recommendation for an inquiry.
The report sought repeal of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA) “urgently” and also “immediately remove the requirement for prior central government permission to prosecute security forces personnel accused of human rights violations in civilian courts.” “Impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice are key human rights challenges in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” the report says, noting that AFSPA and 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.”
In what is seen here as a half-hearted effort to “balance”, the report says, “Despite the Government of Pakistan’s assertions of denial of any support to these groups, experts believe that Pakistan’s military continues to support their operations across the Line of Control.”