The government’s decision to shut down communication with UN Special Rapporteurs seeking to question India on alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir may appear extreme, but is in line with its reaction to such international reports over the last few years. In a letter dated April 23, India’s permanent mission to the UN in Geneva wrote to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights rejecting any reference to the UN’s original June 2018 report on J&K as well as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and refused to respond to questions about deaths of 69 civilians between 2016 and 2018 in violence in the Valley. In its objections, the government said the report was “false and motivated”, that its conclusions and recommendations were violative of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and accused the Special Rapporteurs preparing the report of “individual prejudices” against India. In addition, India drew notice to the Pulwama attack this year, calling terrorism the “grossest” violation of human rights, not the allegations against the security forces. As a result, the government has decided to treat all allegations made by the UN Special Rapporteurs as a “closed chapter” and will not engage further on it. India’s objections to the OHCHR report, the first of its kind when it was released in 2018, and the follow-up this year are understandable, given the often selective nature of allegations raised by the UN body. It is also clear that demands for action against Indian officials and amendment of laws can cross the line on Indian sovereignty. The call by the previous HCHR that the UN Human Rights Council set up an independent and international tribunal to investigate India’s record in Kashmir was seen to be invasive, and could be dismissed by New Delhi as well.
Right on Kashmir’s rights?
However, the government cannot quell the troubling questions that the UN report and the Special Rapporteurs’ submissions raise simply by rejecting them. To begin with, most of the sources for the OHCHR report are official Indian authorities, State and national human rights commissions, international human rights agencies as well as reputed Indian NGOs. This is therefore a view from within India, not some disengaged UN official, and must be taken very seriously. Two Kashmiri NGOs also released a report on Monday documenting 432 specific cases of alleged brutality by security forces in Kashmir, including electrocution, ‘water-boarding’ and sexual torture of civilians, of which only about 27 were taken up by the State Human Rights Commission. The government must press for due process and justice in each of these. Eventually, India will be judged not only by how close it stands to the world’s most powerful countries, but how much the state extends itself to the most vulnerable within its own boundaries.
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