Mid-June 2018 - the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published its first report on Kashmir. Since then a lot of inquisitive international observers, researchers and academics – curious about the region’s politics and people - attempted to read the findings of the historic report. They failed. Attempts to log on to the UN’s agency’s website leads them to a dismal message. “This website may be impersonating www.ohchr.org to steal your personal or financial information. You should go back to the previous page.” No conspiracy theories referred to.
India does not allow international observers or media to visit Kashmir under its control – occupation many would stress. It also claims the part under Pakistani administration ever since India and Pakistan emerged on the world map in 1947 as independent states. While both South Asian states bicker and brawl over the disputed territory, Indian forces are constantly accused of killing, raping, torturing its “presumed” citizens in Kashmir. For decades it did let the world see or know about it deeds. It is possible no longer.
The Indian reaction to the report was obvious and understandable. The South Block baboos and their runners rejected the findings as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”. They could be angry at the attempt by an otherwise little-known Geneva-based UN agency for criticising an emerging global power at a time when most of world leaders are rolling out red carpets for their pardhanmantri hoping India would be their next partner in possible future vaishvik yuddh – global wars. Anger could have possibly multiplied as many fighters or insurgents that New Delhi blames for all the trouble in Kashmir are referred to as “armed groups” and not as global terrorists backed by Pakistan.
The critical report may not go far in waking up the international conscience but two developments – one regional and the other international, are important for implications. The killing of Syed Shujaat Bukhari, the Editor of Rising Kashmir, within hours of the publication of the report by alleged terrorists is a message for all those in Kashmir who raise their voice against the reign of terror unleashed in the Valley by the Indian security forces for decades. But the fall of a coalition government in the Indian-Held Kashmir within days of the report going public is more ominous. As long as Mehbooba Mufti, now the ousted chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, was towing the Centre’s line and policy, she was a darling. Things, however, went pear-shaped after the gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old Kashmiri Muslim girl by fanatic Hindu supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and consequent reaction on the street and in power corridors. Last Tuesday, Mufti was informed of BJP’s decision of pulling out of the coalition with Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) when she was sitting tight in her office. She resigned within hours and her conscience woke up automatically. “One can’t treat Jammu and Kashmir as enemy territory -- muscular policy can’t succeed here,” was her retort.
The BJP said it was ending the alliance because security in the state was getting worse. “Terrorism, violence and radicalism have risen and the fundamental rights of citizens, including right to life and free speech, are in danger.” Ram Nath, a senior BJP figure commented on the collapse of the coalition by saying, “It had become untenable to continue with the PDP government in Kashmir.” In other words, he possibly meant the killing and raping must continue and the state apparatus must protect the perpetrators.
Incidentally in the same week, the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley (originally Nimrata Randhawa) chipped in by doing more damage to the cause of international human rights by pulling the US out of the UN Human Rights Council. Prima facie, she did it for Israel. Keeping her Indian roots in focus, she could have done it for India too. “For too long the human rights council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias,” she said while announcing her decision.
The Trump administration might have made good on a pledge by leaving the Council, the Democrats at home and international organisations worldwide derided the decision. “Trump’s withdrawal is especially disturbing given his persistent praise for despots and dictators with abysmal human rights records, not to mention his administration’s cruel mistreatment of immigrant families seeking asylum,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.
Since, a lot of international leaders find it easy to turn to Twitter these days for announcement of official policy as well as personal commentary, the UN’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a tweet: “Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch commented on the US decision by saying: “The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else.” But on the Kashmir report, the HRW’s point of view carried an interesting sting. “India has long accused Pakistan of providing material support, arms, and training to the insurgency that has resulted in more than 50,000 deaths since 1989. The Indian government should work with UN Human Rights Council member countries to create an independent international investigation that would comprehensively examine allegations of serious human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian-administered part of the disputed province.”
Tapan Bose, in his piece for Kashmir Times’ online edition summed up the reality and rationale of the Indian response. “In September 2017, India's human rights records were examined under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Among the issues raised during the UPR were continued discrimination, stigmatisation and violence against Dalits; restrictions on free speech and on the work of human rights defenders; attacks on religious minorities; reports of excessive use of force by security officers, including in Jammu and Kashmir; combating impunity and ensuring accountability and delays in judicial proceedings. Out of the 250 recommendations that were made, India accepted 152 and took note of the rest. Also, India undertook to fulfil its twenty-year-old promise that it would ratify the UN Convention Against Torture. India, having been an active member of the UN Human Rights Council, having submitted to the UPR process on three occasions, and as a member of the Troika made recommendations to other countries for improving its human rights situation, it is strange that the government now asserts that the OHCHR report on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is a violation of Indian sovereignty and integrity.”
A unique effort to sum up the UN historic report and what international action can flow out of it was observed at the British Parliament this week. Not that the Kashmiri community in the UK or its real or perceived leaders do not do enough to raise the issue of Kashmir and the plight of Kashmiris on regular basis, the initiative by Chris Leslie, a Labour MP from Nottingham East, went beyond the ordinary. He invited Dr Ejaz Hussain, a noted academic with strategic vision, to address a gathering of British parliamentarians and rights activists regarding the human rights situation in Kashmir, the UN report and future possibilities about the oldest dispute on the UN books.
After elaborating in finer detail the OHCHR report, Dr Hussain stressed that Pakistan stood vindicated after quarter of a century -- as the “UN hierarchy has formally acknowledged that the Indian central government and the entire state machinery of Jammu & Kashmir with optimal military resources, weaponry and over half a million troops deployed against 13 million Kashmiris -- are committing crimes against unarmed civilians striving legitimately for their right to self-determination, for over seven decades.”
Thrust of his talk was that during the last 22 months -- the 22 districts of Jammu & Kashmir have experienced death and destruction, forced disappearances, torture of children, women and the elderly, sexual violence against Kashmiri girls, and Israeli-style settlements of Hindus to scale down the demographic size of Kashmiri Muslims. He hoped that the OHCHR report on Kashmir stimulates the launch of an international debate to draw parallels between Indian brutalities in Kashmir and genocides in Rwanda, Somalia, Congo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Palestine and Myanmar’s Rakhine region.
Dr Hussain proposed that Dr Jose Ayala Lasso, the former Ecuadorian foreign minister who has twice served as the President of the UN Security Council. More importantly, he was the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and remains an active participant of Project 2048 of the University of California at Berkley, working to create a World Court of Human Rights.
Dr Hussain’s coup d’ etet was his suggestion that British MPs must form a team of parliamentarian, journalists, broadcasters, academics and members of the civil society that could visit both sides of the Line of Control and then tell the world what’s happening in both Kashmirs.
For ordinary Kashmiris, however, life it seems is hardly going to change in near future. What started with the killing of Burhanuddin Wani and continued till the gang-rape of Asifa Bibi, was best summed up by Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Twitter:?“After ruining it, BJP pulls out of Kashmir.”
Meanwhile, the Indian-Held Kashmir has reverted back to Governor Raj – fourth since 2008 and eighth since 1977. Murder, rape, torture, abduction seem like life for Kashmiri Muslims in the world’s largest democracy.