Top U.N. Rights Official Seeks Inquiry on Kashmir Abuses

Top U.N. Rights Official Seeks Inquiry on Kashmir Abuses


GENEVA — The United Nations human rights office on Thursday called for an international investigation into abuses by India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Kashmir, criticizing the Indian security forces in particular for inflicting mass civilian casualties in response to escalating protests there.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the world body’s high commissioner for human rights, said he would urge the Human Rights Council to open an investigation when it convenes next week. His office released a report that detailed abuses by the authorities on both sides of Kashmir’s Line of Control and accused India of letting its security forces operate in a state of “chronic impunity.”

The 49-page report was the first by the United Nations on human rights concerns in the Himalayan territory, according to the rights office. Kashmir has been at the center of three wars between India and Pakistan and the scene of escalating violence since mid-2016.

India announced in May that it was halting military operations against Muslim militants for the holy month of Ramadan in a bid to calm tensions in the Kashmir Valley. Protests had been mounting amid an offensive by Indian security forces that killed dozens of militants, as well as cross-border shelling that inflicted civilian casualties.

The conflict “has robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering,” Mr. al-Hussein said in a statement explaining his call for an investigation.

Because both India and Pakistan denied United Nations investigators access to the parts of the territory they control, the report relied on publicly available information, including official documents and research carried out by local and international human rights groups.

The report focused mainly on allegations of excessive use of force by the Indian security forces, which it said had caused the deaths of 130 to 145 civilians during the period from July 2016 through April of this year. Militant groups killed 20 civilians during that time, including activists from mainstream political parties, according to the report, which accused the militants of a wide range of abuses.

Despite Pakistan’s denials, the report noted, experts believe it continues to support operations carried out by militants in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

The report drew particular attention to the devastating impact of pellet-firing shotguns that Indian troops have used against demonstrators. Security forces using those weapons killed at least 17 people and wounded more than 6,221 between July 2016 and this past February, with more than 700 of those hurt sustaining eye injuries, the report said.

“Many people have been partially or completely blinded,” Mr. al-Hussein said, urging security forces to stop using the shotguns during crowd-control operations.

The report detailed allegations of torture, disappearances and sexual violence against both Indian troops and militant groups. It said special powers granted to the Indian security forces allowed them almost total impunity. No armed forces personnel have faced prosecution since the powers went into effect 28 years ago, and the authorities have made little effort to investigate various allegations, including reports of mass graves, the report said.

Human rights violations in the part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan, though serious, were “of a different caliber or magnitude,” the report said.

It urged Pakistan to remove curbs on political rights and end what it called its misuse of antiterrorism legislation to persecute political dissidents, citing reports that the authorities had imprisoned hundreds of people and targeted local activists.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs released a sharply worded statement on Thursday, saying the report ignored human rights abuses by Pakistan and was “overtly prejudiced.”

“India rejects the report,” the ministry said. “It is fallacious, tendentious and motivated. We question the intent in bringing out such a report.”

Human rights groups in Kashmir welcomed an international probe and said the report was historic. But Khurram Parvez, a prominent Kashmiri activist, worried about the Indian government’s swift dismissal of the report, saying that there was already “no space” for realizing the United Nations’ recommendations.

“India is not willing to even have a dialogue on human rights issues, forget about an inquiry,” he said. “It is a sad state of affairs.”

Hari Kumar and Kai Schultz contributed reporting from New Delhi.



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