The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has said he would ask the UN Human Rights Council starting its session from June 18, 2018 to consider establishing a commission of inquiry – the UN’s highest level probe – to investigate human rights violations in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). This statement came on the heels of the launch of the first ever UN report on the human rights situation in Kashmir that pointed to impunity for rights abuses and lack of access to justice in IHK. Mr Hussein went on to say the Kashmir conflict had robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to inflict untold suffering. The UN report on both parts of Kashmir noted that its focus was on the happenings in IHK from where reports of widespread human rights violations were received between July 2016 and April 2018. This was the period of the latest phase of the uprising in IHK in the wake of the killing of Burhan Wani by the security forces. Since then, the report cites civil society estimates that 130-145 civilians were unlawfully killed by the security forces using excessive force to quell the uprising. This approach also led to a very high number of injuries, especially due to the use of pellet shotguns, in which many protestors were blinded. The report discusses other elements of Indian repressive tactics including arbitrary arrests and detention (even children were not spared), torture, enforced disappearances, violations of the right to health, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, reprisals against human rights defenders, restrictions on journalists, violations of the right to education, and sexual violence. It said the Indian security forces enjoyed virtual immunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1990. It also recommended investigation of alleged sites of mass graves. The report did examine the situation in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan but drew a line of distinction between human rights violations there that it said were of a different calibre and more of a structural nature. In the end, the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights called for a meaningful dialogue on Kashmir.
The UN report emerged out of the refusal of both India and Pakistan to allow the UN unhindered access to both sides of Kashmir in the wake of the killing of Burhanuddin Wani and the heightened clashes and conflict in IHK that followed. Its launch now punctuates heightened clashes and ceasefire violations for many months on the Line of Control. The responses to the UN report follow the expected script, with Pakistan welcoming it as substantiating its efforts for some time to draw the attention of the world and the UN to the situation on the ground but rejected any interpretation of equivalence between the report’s section on Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan with the situation in IHK. India rejected the report as a selective compilation of largely unverified information that sought to build a false narrative that, according to it, violated the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This last is the subterfuge India has been resorting to for many years in denial of the fact that the Kashmir dispute is still on the US Security Council’s agenda (albeit frozen). Interestingly, Indian army chief General Bipin Rawat appears to have mellowed his hardline view not so long ago that the Kashmiri youth cannot counter India’s guns and power. He now states that it is necessary to give peace a chance through dialogue, since the events of the last two years in particular indicate a growing recruitment to the ranks of the armed militants despite (or perhaps because of?) all the repression let loose on them. He said proxy war infiltration can be controlled but killing militant youth only provides more recruits to the insurgency. General Rawat may be using the camouflage of ‘proxy war’ to show his country and armed forces in a batter light, but his admission clearly points in the direction of the widening of the insurgency. Neither India nor Pakistan can wrest the whole of Kashmir by force, especially since both are by now declared nuclear weapons states. There is therefore no option but dialogue, including the Kashmiri people, to find a peaceful solution. Territorial changes are unlikely, therefore all sides must strive for a historic compromise that may leave the dividing lines as they are but soften the separation of families and people on either side, and encourage trade and peaceful interaction. When confidence grows, incremental demilitarisation could ensure peace returns to the conflicted land. But for this, the Modi government in India needs to abandon its hardline approach of repression and no dialogue. As General Rawat has pointed out, this is only perpetuating and making worse the troubles.