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Top HR bodies FIDH and OMCT lambast India over Kashmir

By Javad M Goraya
February 08, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Two of world largest and prominent Human Rights (HR) Organizations, FIDH and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) in a Joint letter this Feb 5th have urged Indian Prime Minister, Home Minister and Chief Justice of Supreme court to immediately release Miyan Abdul Qayoom, President of Jammu & Kashmir High Court Bar Association and hundreds of others who are arbitrarily detained under draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). PSA gives powers to Indian government to detain anyone for 2 years without trial.

The bipartisan Resolution supported by 58 Members of US Congress also calls on Indian government to end arbitrary detention of thousands under PSA including political leaders, human rights activists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens in violation of article 9(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, Indian government only yesterday booked afresh ex Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti under PSA after their arbitrary detention since Aug 5th, 2019 ended under Indian Penal Code. Omar Abdullah father, another ex-Chief Minister Jammu & Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah is already under detention under PSA since Aug 5th. The Indian government tried to cajole the Abdullahs and Mahbooa Mufti to accept annexation by India and when they did not agree, Governor Rule was imposed in December 2018 and later Kashmir Special status was abrogated on Aug 5th. 2019.

Paris based FIDH is a global NGO of 192 organizations from 117 countries active since 1922 and has strong connections with HR organizations and defenders in Kashmir. Geneva based OMCT has over 200 affiliates in its anti-torture network. FIDH and OMCT calls on Indian government to end harassment and arbitrary detention of scores of Human Rights Defenders from Kashmir and conform to provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly and other international laws.

FIDH has issued a separate report on Feb 5th on Human Rights abuse in Kashmir on completion of six months since Aug 5th, 2019. FIDH report notes that due to severe curbs on communications and movement, the human rights defenders find it extremely difficult to report majority of the incidents. The sketchy data shows that since Aug 5th, six persons were killed by Police in demonstrations and at least 100 victims of pellet guns are reported during the first 10 days of September 2019 alone.

FIDH reports states that Indians government has arrested thousands under Public Safety Act (PSA) since Aug 5th and released a large number and it’s difficult to ascertain exact status. The report adds that the families of those arrested under PSA were unaware of their well being as they were shifted to district jails all over India. In hundreds of cases, the families of those detained are unaware as to which jail in India their loved one are kept and in what conditions. FIDH and OMCT joint letter notes that Miyan Abdul Qayoom, President of Jammu & Kashmir High Court Bar Association, a chronic patient, after arrest on August 8, 2019, was transferred to Agra Central Jail, 1,048 kilometers away from his home, where Mr. Qayoom was detained in solitary cell until he was transferred to Tihar Jail on February 1, 2020.

FIDH reports adds that according to a petition filed by the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court before India’s Supreme Court on 26 September 2019, 144 under-aged boys, including a child as young as nine years old, had been arrested since 5 August, as of the date of the filing of the petition. However, field investigations conducted by local human rights organizations seem to indicate that there were significantly more cases of juveniles being illegally detained, many of whom for over 24 hours.15

FIDH report states that in Jammu and Kashmir , Indian armed force and Police have conducted hundreds of Cordon and Search Operations (CASOS). Residents of Gulmarg, in Baramulla District, reported that nearly 400 such operations were undertaken in the first month of the clampdown alone. The reports of raids that have come to light indicate that the army and police inflicted severe violence upon individuals during these raids, including beatings, electric shocks, and forcing people to eat dirt, as well as threatening people with further violence or repercussions, and killing their livestock.18 There were also reports of women being subjected to gender-based violence during these raids. For example, women in Habak Shanpora in Srinagar accused police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) of having harassed and molested them during late-night raids of their homes in the week following 5 August.

The FIDH reports states that since 5 August, legal system in Kashmir slowed down to a halt. Legal aid to victims has not been provided, individuals have not been able to file complaints before the courts, and court hearings have been delayed. This has been due, in part, to many lawyers being detained under the PSA, but also to the inability of people to travel to the courts during to the lockdown and for lawyers and clients to communicate with each other.

The total number of habeas corpus petitions filed before the Jammu and Kashmir High Court since 5 August until the end of the year was 412 – nearly 50% more than those filed from the beginning of the year to 4 August (250). Most of these cases have not been heard as of the time of publication.

The FIDH report adds that a problematic development that is likely to result in even greater impunity for human rights violators has been the disbandment of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) of Jammu & Kashmir, effective 31 October 2019. The SHRC, an autonomous state body tasked with the investigation of human rights violations, was widely used to investigate a number of issues, including cases of torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances, as it was easily accessible and affordable for victims. More than 500 cases of enforced disappearances were pending before the SHRC when it was disbanded.

The FIDH report add that severe restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly remain. People are not allowed free assembly or movement limiting people’s ability to go to work, attend school, visit doctors and pharmacies, and more. communication. After the longest shutdown of internet since Aug 5th, only very limited internet service is restored which can be used for only 300 odd websites approved by government. Journalist in Kashmir cannot report freely and international travel of Kashmir origin journalists is restricted.