by Khursheed Wani
The report on the state of human rights in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region, currently divided between the administrative control of India and Pakistan reflects the ground situation in one of the highest militarized zone in the world. For Kashmiris, the report is an international cognizance of the methods used by the powers that be to suppress the urge of the people to live a dignified and free life. The 49-page report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called to “fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law”.
It is for the first time, since the UN passed several resolutions on Kashmir in 1948, that the international body took a stance and documented the plight of the subjects of the disputed region. India summarily rejected it. Over the years, the UN role in Kashmir was symbolic especially after the Simla accord in 1972 that declared to resolve the outstanding issues mutually. The United National Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), however, continues to operate biennially between Srinagar and Rawalpindi, monitors the Line of Control (LoC) without any cooperation from Delhi.
The report has ruffled feathers and led to changes on the ground. The advocates of the right to self-determination feel emboldened and the status quoists have gone into denial mode. It may not be just coincidental that the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government was unceremoniously dismissed five days after the report was published. Delhi took over the control of Jammu and Kashmir directly and left the state assembly in suspended animation. Incidentally, the report is based on events taking place in the region between July 2016 and April 2018, a period ruled by BJPDP alliance led by Ms Mufti. It is a sad commentary on a regional party that sought to hold the sway on Kashmir’s politics, at one point in time, on the protection of basic human rights. The report would haunt the party for all times to come.
Keen observers say that after the imposition of Governor’s rule, the flow of diplomats to Srinagar increased. Many diplomats were even hosted inside the XV Corps headquarters of that manages the internal security and borders in Kashmir region. These included Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan.
Delhi has rejected the report as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated… overtly prejudiced, and seeks to build a false narrative.” Gen Bipin Rawat denounced the report saying the army’s track record in Kashmir was well known. “I don’t need to speak about the human rights record of the Indian Army. It is well known to all of you; it is well known to people of Kashmir, and to the international community. The human rights record of the Indian army is absolutely above board,” Rawat told a Delhi seminar. In a bid to ‘set the record right’, the army said from 1994 till May 31, 2018, as many as 1,037 allegations of human rights violations were levelled against the Army, of which 1,022 were investigated and 991 were found to be baseless while 31 were true. The army has meted punishment to 70 personnel after “due procedure”.
The report, which is now with the United Nations Human Rights Council, has appeared at a time when geo-strategic dynamics are changing in the region quite rapidly. The Chinese and Russian influence is increasing to offset the US impact in the region. In this backdrop, the report has far-reaching consequences.
The report has been prepared through ‘remote monitoring’ because Delhi has consistently refused entry to international observers in Kashmir. Even during the disastrous floods in 2014, the international aid was denied when it was most required for the beleaguered people. Consequently, the UN office had to rely on publicly available information, including parliamentary questions, court orders and responses to RTI applications among other sources. In an ideal situation, the UN team should have arrived in Kashmir for spot verification but the reasons for not allowing them are not too complicated to understand.
There are several takeaways. The region of Jammu and Kashmir that existed in August 1947 is still recognized as disputed territory by the world body and people of the territory are regarded as the stakeholders. The report has also addressed the issue of the activities of non-state actors, mostly militants backed by Pakistan. It has put on notice the genuineness of electoral process and highlighted the impunity enjoyed by the Indian security grid in Kashmir, especially the Army.
The report has linked the emerging situation in Jammu and Kashmir to the long-standing and unresolved political dispute and sought resolution through dialogue. “OHCHR recognizes the complexity of the historical background and political issues that have led to the current situation in Kashmir, which has been divided between India and Pakistan. People on both sides of the LoC have been detrimentally impacted and suffer from limitations or denial of a range of human rights,” it reads. “There remains an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and to deliver justice for all people in Kashmir who have been suffering seven decades of conflict…Such a resolution can only be brought about by meaningful dialogue that includes the people of Kashmir.”
This is what the people in Kashmir cutting across political affiliations demand. And here lies the punch line that Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, head of the OHCHR gave on the Indian rejection of the report. “It is indeed motivated — motivated by the desire to contribute to the search for peace and justice in Kashmir, and I urge you to read it in that spirit,” he said.