UN report calls for probe into human rights in Kashmir

Indian security forces fire ar protesters in Srinagar, Kashmir, in 2016.

A United Nations report has called for an investigation of human rights violations in the divided South Asian territory of Kashmir, writes John Riddell.

President Sardar Masood Khan of Azad Kashmir, the Pakistan-administered portion of Kashmir told a conference in Mississaugain Canada, that a broad, unarmed protest movement in Indian-administered Kashmir seeks self-determination for the territory. He greeted the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) report as a step toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The more than 200 people at the gathering adopted a resolution calling on the government of India to withdraw troops from Kashmir to permit an “enabling environment” to implement UN resolutions that call for a plebiscite on the territory’s future.

Human rights violations

The report, released in June, alleges “widespread and serious human rights violations” in Kashmir from July 2016 to April this year, “notably excessive use of force by Indian security forces that led to numerous civilian casualties”.

The UNHCHR report describes credible reports of massacres, gang-rapes, abductions, and “wilful blinding using pellet guns” by Indian security forces. It has not been met with any official response.

Moreover, special Indian laws “obstruct the normal course of law, impede accountability and jeopardise the right to remedy” for victims of these misdeeds, the report alleges.

At the start of the UNHCHR inquiry, India refused to grant access to Indian-administered territory. The report is therefore based on “civil society estimates”.

These indicate that “130 to 145 civilians were killed by [Indian] security forces” while “16 to 20 civilians were killed by armed groups” contesting Indian rule during the 2016-18 period. Another estimate, by the Kashmir Media Service, reports 609 persons killed and 22,000 wounded by Indian forces during that time, including 335 persons fully or partially blinded by use of pellet guns.

India’s security forces in the region now include no less than 700,000 heavily armed soldiers, equivalent to nearly 10% of the population of Indian-administered Kashmir.

The region has experienced waves of protests in the past, the UNHCHR notes, but “this current round appears to involve more people than in the past … more young, middle-class Kashmiris, including females who do not appear to have been participating in the past.”

India rejects report

The Indian government has sharply rejected the UNHCHR report as “fallacious, tendentious … [and] “overtly prejudiced”, saying it “seeks to build a false narrative.”

Ravish Kumar from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs claimed “the report violated India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” reiterating that the “entire state of Jammu and Kashmir” — presumably including the Pakistan-occupied territories — “is an integral part of India”.

According to Kumar, the report’s authors “conveniently ignored the pattern of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan and territories under its illegal control,” which “is aimed at suppressing the will of the people” in Kashmir.

In reality, the report does indeed include a detailed discussion of actions by such armed groups in Kashmir. It notes that, despite denials by the Pakistani government, “experts believe that Pakistan’s military continues to support their operations”.

The report also records some alleged human rights violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. However, it states they “are of a different calibre or magnitude and of a more structural nature” than those in the Indian-ruled zone.

Roots of conflict

The present crisis in Kashmir originated during the British withdrawal from South Asia in 1947 and the division of British India into two states: India and Pakistan. Bangladesh later separated from Pakistan in 1972.

At the time, Kashmir was an autonomous kingdom with a Hindu monarch ruling a population that was three-quarters Muslim. The king fused Kashmir into India without popular consultation. This action sparked widespread resistance among the Kashmiri people, leading to the incursion of Indian and Pakistani armies and to war.

The United Nations succeeded in negotiating an armistice in 1949 on the basis of a resolution accepted by both sides. India and Pakistan agreed that their troops would withdraw from the region, whose future would then be determined by a UN-supervised plebiscite.

Although fighting stopped, disagreements arose over how this agreement would be implemented. No plebiscite took place, and in 1954 India withdrew its offer to permit one.

Kashmir was left divided into two zones: the north and west occupied by Pakistan (now with roughly 6 million residents) and the south and east by India (with 7.25 million people). Muslims are a majority in both sectors. India’s government now insists that all of historic Kashmir is Indian territory and rejects UN involvement.

Tensions continued during the following decades. Those resentful of Indian rule took up the cause of self-determination and called for implementation of the UN resolutions as the way to achieve it. There has been repeated fighting between Indian and Pakistani forces along the line of demarcation.

Since the late 1980s, small insurrectionary bands have operated in the Indian-ruled sector. In recent years, unarmed popular protests have posed the main challenge to Indian rule. They have been the victims of most attacks by Indian soldiers and police.

Both the contending armies are nuclear-armed. Of all the world’s conflicts, it is the one in Kashmir that is most likely to spiral into an infinitely calamitous nuclear war.

The issues posed in Kashmir — including human rights, self-determination, opposition to capitalist war, poverty, and the growing impact of environmental and climate collapse — cry out for solidarity.

[Abridged from JohnRiddell.wordpress.com.]