Violence in Kashmir valley since the killing of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen millitant in July 2016 has seen 82 men and young boys killed. The mounting death toll and incessant talk from Pakistani lobby groups culminated in Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighting the issue at the opening session of 33rd Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
“I believe it is important for me to share with you in this oral update our concern over an emerging pattern: the growing refusal on the part of an increasing number of Member States to grant OHCHR, or the human rights mechanisms, access – either to countries generally, or to specific regions, when that access is requested explicitly, or in other instances to engage with us.”
“Why and for what reason, do those who deny access place their shield before us?… Efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: what, precisely, are you hiding from us?”
The Indian government verbally refused to allow a team from the UNHRC to visit the restive areas as news reports highlighted the daily count of mounting casualties. The Human Rights Commission chief’s statement comes even as the Indian government sent an additional 4000 troops to ‘normalise the situation in J&K’.
Al Hussein used strong words to highlight the denial of access multiple times in his address, “I classify as refusals of access all unreasonable delays, elaborately ritualised and unreasonably prolonged negotiations, and responses to specific requests which seem to seek to fob us off with inadequate alternatives to real, fact-based assessment. Access delayed is access denied: two weeks is surely amply sufficient to secure a decision from all relevant officials. Claims that insecure conditions make it impossible to give my staff access are also less than acceptable.”
The Indian government has reportedly sent a letter to the UNHRC highlighting the measures taken by it such as holding an all-party meet as well as a meeting with Separatist leaders and the existence of a National Human Rights Commission as proof of the lack of the need for an UNHRC ground study.
But, the letter which was reportedly sent around August 15 is yet to reach the Commissioner. Al Hussein was explicit when critcising the stands taken by India and also Pakistan. “I received last Friday a letter from the Government of Pakistan formally inviting an OHCHR team to the Pakistani side of the line of control, but in tandem with a mission to the Indian side. I have yet to receive a formal letter from the Government of India. I therefore request here and publicly, from the two Governments, access that is unconditional to both sides of the line of control.”
However, India’s denial of access and Pakistan’s conditional access to Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir was slammed at a session which saw considerable time given to highlight the situation on both sides of the LoC. “Two months ago, I requested the agreement of the Governments of India and Pakistan to invite teams from my Office to visit both sides of the line of control: in other words the India-Administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. We had previously received reports, and still continue to do so, claiming the Indian authorities had used force excessively against the civilian population under its administration.”
“We furthermore received conflicting narratives from the two sides as to the cause for the confrontations and the reported large numbers of people killed and wounded. I believe an independent, impartial and international mission is now needed crucially and that it should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides,” stated Al Hussein.
In this statement because of the state of unrest in J&K, India was clubbed together with countries which have a record of gross human rights violations – Mozambique, Ethiopia, DPRK, Syria, Iran and Pakistan.
Even though India has constantly maintained that the protests in Kashmir is an internal matter and that the turmoil/ violence is fueled by cross-border terrorism. But with 82 deaths in two months, about 400 eye surgeries caused by rubber pellets, the continued imposition of AFSPA and innumerable injuries coupled with the history that J&K has, it will be increasingly difficult for India to legitimately keep out the UNHRC.
Read the full statement of the UNHRC Chief here.