“I do not believe internet restrictions are consistent with human rights law obligations of India”

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United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of  opinion and expression David Kaye, recently termed internet ban in Kashmir as collective punishment. In a Skype interview he tells Zafar Aafaq that it is terrible to hear hunter guns are used on human beings in Kashmir

                                                               Picture from UN photo library 

Kashmir Life (KL): UNHRC issued a statement on May 11 asking India to end ban on social media in Kashmir. How did this come about?

David Kaye (DK): My mandate from the Human Rights Council requires me to gather information about violations of the human right to freedom of expression. India is obligated to observe that law because it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the central human rights treaty in this space. I gather information from all over the world and address concerns to all countries.

In this case, we were hearing quite a bit over recent months about the restrictions on the internet in Kashmir. We gathered information and decided it was important to address our concerns to India directly.

KL: In a tweet you asked Kashmiris to tell you about the ban on social media. What kind of responses you received?

DK: I received quite a number, possibly hundreds, of responses. Many of them were in tweets; many were in emails to me. I put some of them together in the Storify. They were mainly people who were very upset with India for the shutdown and other restrictions on internet access. Some were also frustrated with the UN’s absence on this issue.

KL: Internet is banned frequently here, in 2016 cell phone as well as mobile internet services were suspended for many months but there was no response from UN at that time?

DK: That’s true. We do receive a large number of complaints from people around the world about violations of freedom of expression. Until the past six to twelve months, we did not hear directly (or at least I did not hear directly) from many people with actual cases of violation. Under the Human Rights Council code of conduct, we cannot rely on news media reports alone. At this point, however, I think people know how to inform me of what’s happening, and we’re able to be more responsive – at least I hope we can. I also typically do not rely on tweets and so forth.

KL: UNHRC has issued a statement regarding ban on internet in Kashmir. But it seems to have no effect as ban is still there. What should people do now?

DK: You ask about the lack of effect after our press statement. I should be clear that my communication was not on behalf of the Human Rights Council. I am an independent expert, or monitor, appointed by the Council, and my communications are independent. My hope is that I’ll be able to engage in a dialogue with the Government and encourage them to end the ban on internet access immediately. I do not believe that the restrictions are consistent with human rights law obligations of India, but I am willing to hear what the Government’s rationale might be.

KL: Hundreds were jailed in 2016 under a law called Public Safety Act for protesting and organising rallies. Many HR activists have termed the law draconian and indiscriminate but there was not much international reaction?

DK: To be honest, I do not have much information on the Public Safety Act. In order for special Rapporteurs of the UN to respond, we need to gather and receive information about situations. I would be interested to learn more about the Act.

KL: Why there has not been any reaction to frequent gags on different media in Kashmir?

DK: I think I answered this above. We want to be responsive, and hopefully now people have better understanding of how to engage with us.

KL: In July 2016 unrest, more than a thousand boys and girls were shot with hunter guns and the pellets blinded more than a hundred fully or partially. Has UNHRC taken note of it or is it planning any investigation on this?

DK: This is terrible. I was not aware of this until recently. As I said, I am a monitor for the Human Rights Council. It’s possible that other mechanisms in the UN have taken note of this, such as the Human Rights Committee or the Universal Periodic Review of the Council, but I am not aware.

KL: How cooperative is India to UNHRC when it comes to issues in Kashmir. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group of the UN examined India’s human rights record for the third time on May 4. Could you tell us what the proceedings of the review were and how Delhi responded to it?

DK: I did not follow the UPR very closely but I suspect that we will have formal reporting from the Council on the UPR very soon. India participates in the Human Rights Council and in particular the UPR, but I do not have the experience in terms of India and Kashmir in the council.

KL: What are the clear similarities and dissimilarities between Kashmir and the rest of the conflict spots in the world?

DK: I am an expert appointed by the Council. But to answer your question, I will mention two things. First, we are seeing governments use the tools of internet shutdowns, restrictions, surveillance and so forth to deal with public protests. States are restricting access online and punishing people for what they say online. Second, the justifications for restrictions are typically focused on countering terrorism or extremism or maintaining public order, but all too often these restrictions are disproportionate and unnecessary.

KL: Do you think UN can play a significant role in resolving the longstanding intractable Kashmir conflict?

DK: This is a question that is beyond the scope of my mandate.

KL: Do you think UNHRC needs to be empowered?

DK: The Human Rights Council adopts resolutions, conducts UPR, mandates the appointments of the Human Rights Experts, among other things. It is not in a position to “enforce” its resolutions or Human Rights Law generally. It has established country-specific mandates to monitor Human Rights in particular countries, such as the occupied Palestinian Territories, Cambodia, Myanmar, North Korea.

KL: Have you ever been to Kashmir, are you planning a visit?

DK: I have not been to Kashmir but I would very much like to do that. In order for me to conduct a formal visit, I need to have the invitation of the Government.

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