Geneva, July 09, 2019 (PPI-OT): The new report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights while stating that the accountability for violations committed by Indian forces remains virtually non-existent in occupied Kashmir has recommended the formation of a commission of inquiry by the Human Rights Council to conduct a comprehensive, independent, international investigation into human rights violations in the territory.
According to Kashmir Media Service, the 43-page report published on Monday said that despite highest number of civilians killed near gunfight sites there was no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties, adding, “No prosecutions have been reported and it does not appear that Indian forces have been asked to re-evaluate or change their crowd-control techniques or rules of engagement”. According to data gathered by Srinagar-based group, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), the report says, “around 160 civilians were killed in 2018, which is believed to be the highest number in over a decade”.
The report maintained that Indian authorities have made no attempt to address serious concerns about access to justice and impunity for human rights violations committed in occupied Kashmir, adding that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which effectively bestows immunity on security forces from prosecution in civilian courts for their conduct by requiring the Indian Government to sanction all prospective prosecutions against such personnel, remains a key obstacle to accountability.
It further said that in nearly three decades that the law has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir, there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces’ personnel granted by the Indian government, adding that the Indian Army has used section 7 to block prosecution of its personnel even by independent federal investigation agencies. Despite repeated calls from national and international human rights experts to repeal the AFSPA, Indian authorities have given no indication that this law will be repealed or amended in Jammu and Kashmir, the report underlined.
It said that the so-called cordon and search operations, a much-criticized military strategy employed by the Indian forces in the early 1990s, was reintroduced in the Kashmir Valley in 2017, leading to a range of human rights violations. The report citing an example said that on 22 June 2018, a 55-year-old man, Mohammed Yousuf Rathar, was shot when Indian forces entered his home in Nowshehra village of Anantnag (Islamabad) district as part of a local operation and he died before reaching the hospital. Giving another instance, it said that on 26 September 2018, a 24-year-old man, Mohammed Saleem Malik, was killed during a cordon and search operation near his house in Srinagar’s Noorbagh area.
Turning to the devastative effects of pellet shotguns, the report said that despite international concerns at the alarming numbers of deaths and life-altering injuries caused by the forces, regular use of shotguns as a means of crowd control – even though they are not deployed elsewhere in India – they continue to be employed, leading to further deaths and serious injuries. It said that on 16 June 2018, a civilian was killed in Anantnag (Islamabad) district of South Kashmir after being hit by metal pellets fired by the forces at protesters returning from Eid prayers.
The deceased, it added, had pellet wounds in his neck and throat. In another incident, the report said, that a 19-month-old girl was hit by the metal pellets in her right eye on 25 November 2018 and though the metal pellets were successfully removed from her eye but doctors were unsure whether she would regain her eyesight completely. Citing information from Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where most pellet shotgun injured are treated, the report said that 1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets used by the Indian forces from mid-2016 to end of 2018.
It said that the authorities in JandK continue to use various forms of arbitrary detention to target protesters, political dissidents and other civil society actors. It maintained that a number of laws in the territory provide the legal basis for arbitrary detention, but the one that is used most frequently to stifle protests and political dissent is the Public Safety Act (PSA).
The PSA does not provide for a judicial review of detention, and the authorities have defied orders by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to release people detained under this law by issuing successive detention orders, it said and added that this practice has been used to keep people arbitrarily in detention for several weeks, months, and, in some cases, years.
Citing the case of pro-freedom leader Masarrat Aalam, who was first detained under the PSA in 2010, was charged for the 37th time in November 2018, it said that despite being repeatedly detained under the PSA, Masarrat Aalam has never been convicted of any charges. Several pro-freedom political leaders were detained under PSA in 2018 and 2019 and continue to be imprisoned, the report added.
The report said that as described in the June 2018 report of OHCHR, there have been persistent claims of torture by security forces in IOK. Citing the case of Rizwan Pandit, a school principal from Pulwama district aged 29 who died while in police custody between 18 and 19 March 2019, the report said that it appears to have been tortured while in custody. It said that Rizwan was picked up from his home in Awantipora allegedly by the National Investigation Agency on 18 March and was pronounced dead by police on 19 March.
The report said that Rizwan Pandit’s family told journalists that there were torture marks on his body and they have called for his exhumation for further investigations to be carried out. No security forces personnel accused of torture or other forms of degrading and inhuman treatment have been prosecuted in a civilian court since these allegations started emerging in the early 1990s, the report maintained. This includes the two cases of torture highlighted in OHCHR’s June 2018 report – the death of college lecturer Shabbir Ahmad Mango due to alleged torture while he was in the custody of the Indian Army in August 2016, and the case of Farooq Ahmad Dar who was strapped to the front of a moving Indian Army vehicle for several hours in April 2017, the report said.
The report said occupied Kashmir continues to face frequent barriers to internet access as the authorities continue to suspend arbitrarily internet services. The report citing United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), South Asia said the highest number of shutdowns in the world between April 2017 and May 2018 with India accounting for the highest level of shutdowns in the world and that half of all internet shutdowns in India were reported from the Kashmir Valley. Citing a widely followed Indian civil society group that tracks internet shutdowns, the report further said that 65 of the 134 incidents of internet shutdowns recorded in India in 2018 were in occupied Kashmir. In the first 4 months of 2019, the occupied territory experienced 25 instances of internet shutdown, the report added.
It further said that in 2018, several journalists and human rights defenders – mostly based in the Kashmir Valley – reported that social media platforms Twitter and Facebook had taken actions against a number of accounts for various Kashmir-related content, including removing such posts or suspending user accounts. The report said that according to UNESCO, the Kashmir Valley continues to be an extremely dangerous place for journalists as 21 journalists have lost their lives in Kashmir Valley since 1990. UNESCO noted that such assaults had made journalism a hazardous profession during the 1990s.
The report quoting press freedom groups said that several incidents of attacks and restrictions on journalists took place in the Kashmir Valley in 2018. It said that on 2nd June 2018, journalist Muheet ul Aslam was allegedly assaulted by Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Srinagar while on his way to cover the funeral of a civilian who was killed after being run over by a Central Reserve Police Force truck. It also mentioned the detention of Aasif Sultan, Assistant Editor of Kashmir Narrator newspaper in this connection.
Turning on to the restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, the report said that on 28th February 2019, the Indian government declared religious-political organization Jamaat-e-Islami (Jammu and Kashmir) an unlawful association under section 3(1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. It said that days before the ban, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir arrested over 150 leaders and members of the Jamaat-e-Islami. It further said that on 22nd March 2019, the Indian government declared Yasin Malik-led Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front an unlawful association under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Malik, it maintained, was detained on 22nd February 2019 under the PSA and later arrested on 09 April 2019 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a case related to funding of pro-freedom political parties in Jammu and Kashmir.
Political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir criticized the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front as an attack on civil liberties and one that would have a “major social impact” in the territory, the report said. It maintained that the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir employ various means to disrupt the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association of pro-freedom leaders and that they are often placed under house arrest for several days in order to prevent them from participating in or leading protests, public meetings and even religious congregations.
For more information, contact:
Kashmir Media Service
Phone: +92-51-4435548, +92-51-4435549