Press briefing notes on Kashmir
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 29 October 2019
Subject: Indian-Administered Kashmir
We are extremely concerned that the population of Indian-Administered Kashmir continues to be deprived of a wide range of human rights and we urge the Indian authorities to unlock the situation and fully restore the rights that are currently being denied.
Twelve weeks ago, on 5 August, the Government of India revoked constitutional provisions granting partial autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and announced the creation of two separate federally-administered Union Territories, which will come into effect this Thursday (October 31). At the same time, very restrictive measures were imposed. Although some of these measures have been relaxed, their impact on human rights continues to be widely felt.
The undeclared curfew imposed by the authorities in the region was lifted from much of Jammu and Ladakh region within a few days, but is reportedly still in place in large parts of the Kashmir Valley, preventing the free movement of people, as well as hampering their ability to exercise their right to peaceful assembly, and restricting their rights to health, education and freedom of religion and belief.
There have been several allegations of excessive use of force including the use of pellet-firing shotguns, tear gas and rubber bullets by security forces during sporadic protests, with unconfirmed reports of at least six civilian killings and scores of serious injuries in separate incidents since 5 August.
We have also received reports of armed groups operating in Indian-Administered Kashmir threatening residents trying to carry out their normal business or attend school, as well as several allegations of violence against people who have not complied with the armed groups’ demands. At least another six people have been killed and over a dozen injured in alleged attacks by armed group members since 5 August.
Hundreds of political and civil society leaders, including three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, have been detained on a preventative basis. While some political workers have reportedly been released, most senior leaders – especially those from the Kashmir Valley – remain in detention.
We have also received a number of allegations of torture and ill-treatment of people held in detention. These must be independently and impartially investigated. Torture is totally and unequivocally prohibited under international law.
While restrictions on landline telephones were eventually lifted, and a state-run telecom company allowed to resume partial mobile services, all internet services remain blocked in the Kashmir Valley. Media outlets continue to face undue restrictions, with at least four local journalists allegedly arrested in the past three months.
The Supreme Court of India has been slow to deal with petitions concerning habeas corpus, freedom of movement and media restrictions. The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, the State Information Commission (which implements the right-to-information laws) and the State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights are among key institutions being wound up, with the new bodies to replace them yet to be established.
Meanwhile, major political decisions about the future status of Jammu and Kashmir have been taken without the consent, deliberation or active and informed participation of the affected population. Their leaders are detained, their capacity to be informed has been badly restricted, and their right to freedom of expression and to political participation has been undermined.
Note: A number of the most serious underlying issues which remain to be addressed, including impunity for past violations by Indian security forces, were outlined in the second of two reports published by the UN Human Rights Office in July 2019, as well as in the initial remote monitoring report of June 2018.
UN rights experts urge India to end communications shutdown in Kashmir
GENEVA (22 August 2019) – UN human rights experts* today called on the Government of India to end the crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and peaceful protests imposed in Indian-Administered Kashmir this month.
The experts expressed concern that the measures, imposed after the Indian Parliament revoked the Constitutionally-mandated status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, would exacerbate tensions in the region.
Reports have described a near total communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir since the evening of 4 August, with internet access, mobile phone networks, and cable and Kashmiri television channels cut off.
“The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality,” said the experts. “The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.”
The Government has also imposed a curfew across Jammu and Kashmir, bringing in massive numbers of troops to enforce restrictions on the freedom of movement and of peaceful assembly, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. “We remind the Indian authorities that the restrictions imposed by the Indian Government are intrinsically disproportionate, because they preclude considerations of the specific circumstances of each proposed assembly,” said the experts.
At the same time, information received suggests that there has been an increase in the arrest of political figures, journalists, human rights defenders, protesters and others.
The experts said they were deeply concerned by reports that security forces were conducting night raids on private homes leading to the arrests of young people. “Such detentions could constitute serious human rights violations,” the experts said. “The allegations must be thoroughly investigated by the authorities, and, if confirmed, those responsible must be held accountable.
“We are gravely concerned about allegations that the whereabouts of some of those detained is not known as well as the general heightened risk of enforced disappearances, which may proliferate against the backdrop of mass arrests and restricted access to the internet and other communications networks,” added the experts.
They also expressed serious concern about the use of excessive force against protesters, including the use of live ammunition, which could amount to violations of the right to life. “India has the responsibility to use the minimum force necessary when policing protests,” the experts said. ”This means that the use of deadly force is a measure permissible only as last resort and to protect life.”
(*)The UN experts: Mr. David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Bernard Duhaime, Chair-Rapporteur, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; Ms Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
No steps taken by India or Pakistan to improve human rights situation in Kashmir – UN
GENEVA (8 July 2019) – A UN human rights report on the situation in India-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir from May 2018 to April 2019, says the number of civilian casualties reported over the 12-month period may be the highest in over a decade, and noted that neither India nor Pakistan have taken any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised in an earlier UN report.*
The new report, published on Monday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, describes how tensions over Kashmir – which rose sharply after a deadly suicide bombing in February targeting Indian security forces in Pulwama — continue to have a severe impact on the human rights of civilians, including the right to life.
According to data gathered by local civil society, the report says, “around 160 civilians were killed in 2018, which is believed to be the highest number in over a decade. Last year also registered the highest number of conflict-related casualties since 2008 with 586 people killed, including 267 members of armed groups and 159 security forces personnel.”
The report notes that the Union Ministry for Home Affairs has published lower casualty figures, citing 37 civilians, 238 terrorists and 86 security forces personnel killed in the 11 months up to 2 December 2018.
Of the 160 civilian deaths reported by local organizations, 71 were allegedly killed by Indian security forces, 43 by alleged members of armed groups or by unidentified gunmen, and 29 were reportedly killed due to shelling and firing by Pakistani troops in areas along the Line of Control. According to the Government of Pakistan, a further 35 civilians were killed and 135 injured on the Pakistan side of the Line of Control due to shelling and firing by Indian forces during 2018.
Two armed groups have been accused of recruiting and deploying child soldiers in Indian-Administered Kashmir, and armed groups were reportedly responsible for attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organizations in Jammu and Kashmir, including the killing of at least six political party workers and a separatist leader. In the lead up to local elections scheduled for October 2018, armed groups threatened people participating in the elections and warned of “dire consequences” if those running for election did not immediately withdraw their nominations.
The report notes that in Indian-Administered Kashmir, accountability for violations committed by members of the Indian security forces remains virtually non-existent.
Despite the high numbers of civilians killed in the vicinity of encounters between security forces and members of armed groups, it says, “there is no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties. There is no information on the status of the five investigations launched into extrajudicial executions in 2016. The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir did not establish any investigations into civilian killings in 2017. No prosecutions have been reported. It does not appear that Indian security forces have been asked to re-evaluate or change their crowd-control techniques or rules of engagement.”
Arbitrary detention and so-called “cordon and search operations” leading to a range of human rights violations, continue to be deeply problematic, as do the special legal regimes applying to Indian-Adminstered Kashmir.
“The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA) remains a key obstacle to accountability,” the report says. “Section 7 of the AFSPA prohibits the prosecution of security forces personnel unless the Government of India grants a prior permission or ‘sanction’ to prosecute. 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 central government. The Indian Army has also been resisting efforts to release details of trials conducted by military courts where soldiers were initially found guilty but later acquitted and released by a higher military tribunal.”
In addition, the report notes, “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.”
And despite international concerns at the alarming numbers of deaths and life-altering injuries caused by the security 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.
The report describes how, among various other incidents, a 19-month-old girlwas hit by metal shotgun pellets in her right eye on 25 November 2018. According to information from Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where most people injured by shotgun pellets are treated, “a total of 1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets used by security forces from mid-2016 to end of 2018.”
The report also examines human rights violations in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. While different in nature to the violations taking place on the other side of the Line of Control, people living in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, as well as in Gilgit-Baltistan are also deprived of a number of fundamental human rights, particularly in relation to freedoms of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly and association. The report notes no steps have been taken to resolve the main issues, including a number of highly problematic legal restrictions, outlined in the previous UN Human Rights Office report.v
“Anti-terrorism laws continue to be misused to target political opposition as well as civil society activists,” the report says, adding thatnationalist and pro-independence political parties “claim that they regularly face threats, intimidation and even arrests for their political activities from local authorities or intelligence agencies.” Threats are also often “directed at their family members including children.”
Citing specific cases, the report also notes how journalists in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir “continue to face threats and harassment in the course of carrying out their professional duties.”
The report also says the UN Human Rights Office has received “credible information of enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-Administered Kashmir including those who were held in secret detention and those whose fate and whereabouts continue to remain unknown.”
“In almost all cases,” it adds, “victim groups allege that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances. There are fears that people subjected to enforced disappearances from Pakistan-Administered Kashmir may have been detained in military-run internment centres in Pakistan.”
The report also notes that four major armed groups believed to be currently operating in Indian-Administered Kashmir – Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin – are believed to be based on the Pakistan side of the Line of Control.
The report stresses that “neither the Governments of India nor of Pakistan have taken clear steps to address and implement the recommendations” made in the UN Human Rights Office’s previous report, published in June 2018. It therefore restates those recommendations along with additional ones. It also calls on the 47-Member-State UN Human Rights Council to “consider… the possible establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigations into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.”
The full 2019 report is available here
*The first ever UN human rights report on the human rights situation in Kashmir was released on 14 June 2018.
India: UN experts call for urgent progress in investigation of hundreds of “fake encounter” killings
GENEVA (4 July 2018) – Two UN rights experts* are urging the authorities in India to complete thorough investigations into alleged killings by security forces in the State of Manipur, after officials failed to meet a deadline set by the Supreme Court for inquiries into the cases.
“We are extremely concerned that the delay appears to be deliberate, undue and unreasonable, and we condemn this lack of progress,” the experts said.
In 2012, civil society groups submitted more than 1,500 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in Manipur to the Supreme Court of India. In many of the cases, the deaths had been registered by the police as due to exchange of fire between security forces and armed groups or individuals. However, the families alleged the cases were ‘fake encounters’ and the individuals had been intentionally killed.
In 2013, a Commission appointed by the Supreme Court examined six cases selected at random and found in all cases that the conclusions of the security forces were not genuine, and that none of the individuals killed had established criminal records. The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) was ordered to conduct investigations into a number of other cases.
“The Supreme Court has since set three deadlines for investigations into a number of cases to be completed, and three times these deadlines have not been met,” the experts said.
In 2016, the Supreme Court set a deadline of 31 December 2017 for investigations to be completed in 89 cases. But, by the deadline, only 12 cases had been registered. The court set another deadline of 28 February 2018 for these cases, but by 12 March only 42 cases had been registered. Finally, the Supreme Court ordered investigations be completed and a report be filed by 30 June 2018 for 50 cases. But in a hearing last Monday (2 July 2018), the CBI not only failed to submit the required report but also indicated it had completed investigations into only four cases.
“Some of these families have been waiting decades for these cases to be fully investigated. It is unacceptable that the CBI is failing to meet these deadlines and appears to lack good faith,” said the experts.
They also expressed concern that the court orders applied only to a small number of cases, and it was unclear when investigations would be conducted into the remaining cases which run into the hundreds.
“The government of India has an obligation to ensure prompt, effective and thorough investigations into all allegations of potentially unlawful killings, and a failure to do so is a violation of its international obligations. Justice delayed is justice denied,” the UN experts added.
They also expressed serious concerns about information that human rights defenders associated with the cases had faced harassment by the authorities and had even been attacked by unknown individuals. Mr. Sagolsem Menjor Singh, Ms Ranjeeta Sadokpam and Ms Salima Memcha, members of one of the civil society organisations involved in the case, have reportedly been harassed by the police. Shots were fired at the home of another supporter, Mr. Okram Nutankumar by unknown individuals.
The experts have written to the Government of India to express their concerns and request further information, but have yet to receive a response.