Pakistan is likely to move a Kashmir centric resolution with support from other member countries at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at Geneva starting today (September 9). The UNHRC session will continue for three weeks.
The option to convene a Special Session of UNHRC on Kashmir is also under serious consideration which requires consent of one third member (16) out of 47 members of UNHRC. Presently 15 members of UNHRC are full members of OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) as well. The OIC has supported resolution of Kashmir dispute as per UN resolutions and called for an end to human rights abuse in Kashmir. China is another important member of UNHRC at present with a position similar to OIC on Kashmir. Out of 47 UNHRC members, 13 each come from Africa & Asia Pacific, 8 from Latin America and Caribbean states, 7 from Western Europe and six from Eastern Europe. The Foreign Committee on EU parliament on the very first working day after holidays on September 2 severally criticised human rights abuses in Kashmir. EU members are likely to support a Kashmir resolution at UNHRC. Last date for submitting a Kashmir centric resolution during UNHRC session is Sept 19th.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has left for Geneva to attend UNHRC session. Qureshi extensive engagement with over 35 foreign ministers over the last one month over Kashmir is likely to bear fruit at UNHRC. UNHRC resolutions serve as a trigger for further action at UN Security Council. Pakistan UNHRC performance is crucial for further action at UN Security council which has already held a special informal session on Kashmir.
Prime Minister Special Envoy Ms Tahmina Janjua is in Geneva preparing for the all important UNHRC sessions. Panic has gripped Indian External Affairs Ministry on how to defend a unilateral and undemocratic action to annex Kashmir and impose worst possible human right restrictions. Indian media is reporting that India has cancelled its 10th annual ambassadors conference scheduled for September 13-15. India has sent a special team led by expelled India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria to Geneva few weeks back to prepare for onslaught from Pakistan side with local Indian mission. Indian foreign minister has toured European and Asian capitals to block likely UNHRC action. Indian president is flying off to Switzerland and Iceland. Iceland is one of the present UNHRC members. Incidentally Iceland filled in the slot vacated by Trump Administration without completing its tenure. USA and Israel were one of the four countries which had voted against creation of UNHRC in March 2006. Item 7 of UNHRC charter has a special clause against Israeli HR violations against the Palestinians.
Both India and Pakistan are members of UNHRC at moment. Other important members are China, Japan, UK, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Qatar Austria, Denmark, Italy, Philippines, Australia, Egypt, Czech Republic, South Africa, Spain, Nigeria Nepal and others. The country specific UNHRC resolutions like Kashmir are mainly moved under Item 4 when the human rights situation in a given country is very serious and to propose measures aimed at redressing the situation. Such resolutions can lead to the creation of a special rapporteur mandate (like Belarus and Myanmar others), or to the setting up of an inquiry committee/fact-finding mission on the human rights situation in a particular country (e.g. Syria and North Korea others).
India faces an uphill task at UNHRC after locking down a population of 7 million Kashmiris since Aug 5 and repeatedly doing it for last many years. UN Human Rights Commission has issued two annual reports already on violations in Kashmir. The latest report issued on July 8, 2019 noted with concern the killing of 160 civilians in occupied Kashmir during 2018, the highest number in a decade. The report lamented the use of 12-gauge pump-action shotgun firing metal pellets which has resulted in blinding of 1253 persons during mid-2016 to end 2018. The UN report states that 65 of the 134 incidents of internet shutdowns in 2018 were in Jammu and Kashmir. In the first four months of 2019, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 25 instances of internet shutdown. Since Aug 5, internet service is closed and India has dubious distinction of world’s worst user of internet shutdowns with 340 shutdowns since 2014 and half of them in Kashmir.
In July 2016, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning measures by countries to prevent or disrupt online access and information and called for free speech protections under articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR. In their 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, UN experts and rapporteurs declared that even during times of conflict “using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.” Five UN Special Rapporteurs have already issued statement to end internet shutdown and other human rights restrictions in Kashmir since Aug 5.
Major Human Rights groups are likely to endorse Kashmir resolution like Amnesty international, Human Rights Watch, World Organisation against Torture many others. Indian government is under so much pressure that it issued a show cause notice to world renowned Amnesty International for violating foreign exchange law to tune of Rs51 crore. Just a day earlier, Amnesty issued a Global appeal to lift curfew and restrictions in Kashmir on September 5. Amnesty has also called for an end to treason case against activist Shaheela Rashed for raising voice on twitter against Kashmir atrocities.
Another top Human Rights Group Human Rights watch stated that Kashmiris were subjected to economic misery due to internet blockade and restrictions on trade and other restrictions. As per different estimates, Kashmiris lose over $5 billion due to illegal limitations imposed each year by Indian government. Indian government is extremely worried about the criticism it is receiving in international media. Its National Security Adviser Ajit Doval met journalists a couple of days back from New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, AFP and others in a bid to dilute this unabated criticism. Indian government is extremely worried about the rebuke it is receiving from The Washington Post, The New York Times (NYT), The Wall Street Journal, BBC, The Economist, The Independent and The Guardian, France 24, DW, Channel News Asia, TRT world and other global news outlets.
A very tough Congressional season starting September 9 awaits India to defend its Kashmir annexation. For the first time USA main presidential rival to President Trump, Democrat Bernie Sanders categorically called for resolution of Kashmir conflict as per UN resolutions, a position which Trump Administration has not supported till now. Around 15 members of the House of Representatives have made statements or written an op-ed expressing appalling conditions in Kashmir and majority of them are Democrats who will set the agenda for upcoming sessions. Very shortly, US House of Representatives’ hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia” will take up Kashmir issue in a meeting called by House Sub-committee on Asia’s Chairperson Brad Sherman. The meeting will be briefed by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Alice Wells and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom (IRF) Sam Brownback.
Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar met European Union's Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini last week in a bid to keep Kashmir off EU Parliament sessions. However, EU Committee of Foreign Affairs in its meeting on September 2 castigated India on its arbitrary action and continued denial of human rights under an unabated curfew in Kashmir. EU is likely to hold another session on Kashmir as the Indian clampdown on hapless Kashmiris continues.
Pakistan stands firm and confident after its position is vindicated by a strong response from China, 57 country Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), EU and other countries who have explicitly called for resolution of Kashmir conflict under UN resolutions and end to human rights violations. A large number of other countries have criticised India for its unilateral action and extreme violation of human rights. Pakistan maintains if UN can hold plebiscite in East Timor which got independence in 1999 then why the people of Kashmir with a much longer struggle and larger losses are being denied the right of self-determination. UN secretary general has also taken a highly commendable stance at outset of present crisis on Aug 5 by categorically stating that Kashmir dispute should be resolved as per UN resolutions. Kashmir is now the biggest test for the UN system amid questions of its efficacy. It’s a golden opportunity for UN to silence its critics in some power capitals who cast aspersion on its utility after annual expenses of over $50 billion.
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