UN Chief Michelle Bachelet during her opening speech at the 42nd UNHRC session. Photo: UNHRC

Traditional South Asian rivals India and Pakistan are back to trading charges over Kashmir after India revoked the state’s special constitutional status on August 5.

The scene for the two neighbors to battle it out, at a time when both countries have posted dismal records on basic rights, is the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Both India and Pakistan lay claim to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. They have fought three out of four wars over it. Two months after both countries gained independence, the ruling monarch of the state signed the instrument of accession choosing India. While Kashmir became India’s lone Muslim-majority state, Pakistan declared war that lasted for over a year.

Since India revoked Article 370, which gave the state its “special status,” on Aug 5, Pakistan has tried to raise the issue of Jammu and Kashmir  at various international forums. It also proposed an independent UN investigation to include Pakistan-administered Kashmir, if India should agree to it.

India issued a strong rebuttal to Pakistan over claims of human rights violation and possible genocide in Jammu and Kashmir at the UNHRC. India said, “Pakistan realizes that our decision cuts away ground from under its feet by creating obstacles in its continuing sponsorship of cross-border terrorism.”

The Pakistan delegation led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said, “For the last six weeks, India has transformed Occupied Jammu and Kashmir into the largest prison on this planet.”

“India’s draconian emergency laws cannot be allowed to stand,” Qureshi said, pointing to the restrictions put in place days ahead of the move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into union territories. This exposed the “true face of the largest democracy in the world,” he said.

Concerns over abuse

UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Monday expressed concerns over the restrictions imposed by the Indian government on Jammu and Kashmir. In her opening remarks at the 42nd meeting of the UNHRC in Geneva, she urged both India and Pakistan to show restrain and ensure that the human rights of Kashmiris are protected.

She said her office was receiving reports on the human rights situations on both sides of the Line of Control and was “deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists.”

Reports have emerged claiming Indian security forces of being responsible for four deaths since New Delhi stripped Kashmir of its autonomy and imposed a crippling lockdown. But India’s national security advisor said on Saturday that apart from a “vocal minority” egged on by Pakistan, a “majority” of Kashmiris support its move, reports AFP. On the other hand, Baloch leaders also called out Pakistan for committing “genocide and human rights violation” during the ongoing session in Geneva.

In its first-ever report on the human rights in Kashmir, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raised serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistan-held parts of Kashmir. The report found that Indian security forces often used excessive force to respond to violent protests, including continued use of pellet-firing shotguns, even though they have caused a large number of civilian deaths and injuries. It also included lack of justice, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and alleged sexual violence.

The UN report also pointed out human rights violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which included restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and association, institutional discrimination against minority groups, and misuse of anti-terrorism laws to target political opponents and activists. It also expressed concern over enforced disappearances of people, noting that victim groups alleged that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances.

While the Indian government dismissed the report released on July 8 as a “false and motivated narrative,” Pakistan welcomed it. But Pakistan requested that sections be removed or amended in which the information was “not specific to Pakistan-Administered Kashmir but were general human rights concerns affecting all of Pakistan.”

Pakistan, which presented its case on the alleged human rights violation in India-administered-Kashmir yesterday, saw the UN chief’s opening remarks as a boost to its position. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was quick to respond and said, “I especially welcome the statement by the UNHCHR in Geneva today. I call upon the UN Human Rights Council to immediately set up the in-depth investigation commission to probe human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir as recommended by the UNHCHR’s two reports on Kashmir. The time to act is now.”

Secretary Vijay Thakur Singh of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led the Indian delegation along with former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria, who was expelled by Pakistan following the abrogation of Article 370.

Speaking for India under the “right to reply,” Singh said Pakistan “conducts cross-border terrorism as a form of alternate diplomacy.”

The Indian Parliament, on the other hand, “has been adopting a series of progressive legislations,” Singh said.

“The government “is taking affirmative actions to promote socioeconomic equality and justice for the underprivileged,” she added. The abrogation of Article 370 “will ensure that these progressive measures will also be fully applicable to our citizens in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.”

India continued to stand its ground that it was an internal matter. “These decisions were taken by our Parliament after a full debate that was televised and enjoyed widespread support. We wish to reiterate that this sovereign decision, like other legislations passed by Parliament, is entirely internal to India. No country can accept interference in its internal affairs, certainly not India,” Singh asserted.

Qureshi, however, slammed New Delhi’s reference to “cross-border terrorism” and expressed fear that India might “even attack Pakistan.” “If India has nothing to hide, it should allow unhindered access to the commission of inquiry,” Qureshi insisted.

India fielded Vimarsh Aryan, a Jammu and Kashmir diplomat, to counter Pakistan’s claim. Vimarsh Aryan said that Pakistan’s rhetoric “will not distract international attention from Pakistan’s persecution and elimination of religious and ethnic minorities – be it the Christians, Sikhs, Shias, Ahmadiyas and Hindus. This is the reason that Pakistan no longer publishes official statistics about its minorities as India does.”

International stance

According to experts, New Delhi deliberately did not send any ministerial level officer in order to notch down the importance of the issue on the international platform. It has maintained that Kashmir is an internal matter and has being reaching out to member nations for support. Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar reached out to his counterparts including Nepal, Bangladesh, Czech Republic, Slovakia Hungary and various European countries.

Despite an unprecedented lockdown in Kashmir for over a month now, India scored a big win on Kashmir internationally. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has traditionally sided with Pakistan on Kashmir, has largely supported India’s stance. US, UK, Germany and France expressed concern but were not keen on pushing over the issue. US President Donald Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan but that gesture was hastily withdrawn after India’s protest.

Pakistan hopes with the backing of China to persuade the 47-member UN body to pass a resolution by the end of the session of the global body on September 27. But it seems unlikely that UNHRC will assert concerns over human rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir especially without calling out Pakistan on its track record of the same.

The UN chief in her speech also called out India’s National Register of Citizens verification process being carried out in the easter state of Assam. “I appeal to the government to ensure due process during the appeals process, prevent deportation or detention, and ensure people are protected from statelessness,” she stated.

Indian foreign ministry issued a statement in response, “For those who are not in the final list will not be detained and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they have exhausted all the remedies available under the law. It does not make the excluded person “Stateless’.”

“It also does not make him or her ‘a foreigner,’ within the legal meaning of the term. They will not be deprived of any rights or entitlements which they have enjoyed before,” the foreign ministry statement added.

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