by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 6, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1439)
The June 14, 2018 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) over gross human rights violations in Indian colonized Kashmir has sent the Indian government and media into a frenzy. Delhi and its right-wing media have denounced the report calling it “fallacious, tendentious, and motivated.” They have also implied that Pakistan or Pakistani-origin individuals living abroad have somehow influenced production of the report.
It is obvious that India has not bothered to read the 49-page report. If Indian officials and their equally hysterical media outlets had done so, they would have discovered that all information contained in the report is based on official Indian sources. These include both houses of India’s parliament, India’s Supreme Court, its foreign ministry, home ministry, the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, even its army chief and former president as well as civil society groups and human rights organizations. There are 388 footnotes at the end of the report. Are Indian officials claiming that their own sources are “fallacious and tendentious”?
The real reason for Delhi’s angst is that for the first time, an international body like the UNHCHR has highlighted India’s egregious crimes against the defenceless Kashmiri people. Adding to India’s ire, the UNHCHR has called upon the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Kashmir.
The UNHCHR confirms in its report that India has been involved in the systematic killing of unarmed Kashmiris, gang-rape of women, disappearance of thousands of Kashmiri youth and use of pellet guns to willfully blind Kashmiris including school children. The UNHCHR report also cites the culture of impunity that exists in Kashmir. Not one soldier or civilian has been charged with such crimes much less punished.
The report regretted that representatives of UNHCHR were not given unconditional access to both sides of Kashmir (Azad Kashmir and Indian colonized Kashmir). The Pakistan Foreign Office, however, has said that UNHCHR was welcome to visit Azad Kashmir. Its only condition was for Delhi to allow access to Indian colonized Kashmir as well.
On a visit to Canada last month (July 4–8), President Masood Khan of Azad Jammu and Kashmir an-nounced publicly that he would welcome a visit by any independent observers to Azad Jammu and Kashmir. President Khan addressed two conferences (July 7 & 8) and held meetings with think tanks in Toronto highlighting what was underway in Indian colonized Kashmir.
India’s reaction to the UNHCHR report has been extremely hostile. It rejected the report calling it “fallacious, tendentious, and motivated” and a “compilation of unverified information.” In an op-ed piece in the Indian Express (“Listen to the Voiceless,” June 27, 2018) the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein methodically demolished Indian arguments. He pointed out that the information in his report far from being “unverified” is based on Indian sources, including its official sources.
He also pointed to the culture of impunity. “What is deeply concerning is the culture of impunity for human rights violations that laws such as the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act of 1990 (AFSPA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act of 1978 have fostered. How is it that a country that prides itself on its democratic institutions has not allowed a single trial in nearly 28 years of armed forces personnel accused of serious violations, including killings, rape, torture, and enforced disappearances?”
Not to be left behind, Indian media outlets matched the hostility of their right-wing regime. Deeply influenced by fascist outfits such as the RSS — an extremist Hindu organization that acts as storm troopers for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the Indian media tried to create the impression that the UNHCHR report was produced under Pakistani influence.
In particular, they jumped on a statement made by ICIT Director Zafar Bangash at a Toronto conference on July 7 that Friends of Kashmir Committee Canada had supported a petition to the UNHCHR to launch an investigation into human rights abuses in Indian colonized Kashmir. This was the straw that the Indian media clutched on to in their desperate attempt to try and discredit the report. They made wild allegations saying that Zafar Bangash was in “constant touch” with the UN High Commissioner in the compilation of his report.
Numerous media outlets peddled this lie including IndiaToday, the Times of India, NDTV, and a host of others. What precisely did the ICIT director say? “We supported an online petition urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to launch an investigation into human rights abuses in Indian occupied Kashmir. We mobilized our colleagues and friends worldwide to support the petition and we are proud of our achievement.” He also said he had sent an email message to the UNHCHR that was acknowledged, as any responsible head of a reputable organization would do.
This was the statement that the right-wing Indian media pounced on in their desperate attempt to discredit the report. For Hindu fascists, launching and signing a petition that calls for investigation of human rights abuses is perhaps an undesirable act, far worse than their hideous crimes against innocent Kashmiri civilians.
On July 17, the spokesperson for the UNHCHR, Rupert Colville, responded to these ludicrous Indian allegations. In a press briefing in Geneva, Mr. Colville said “‘Nefarious conspiracy,’ ‘Pakistan-authored report,’ ‘fallacious,’ ‘mala fide’ — these are some of the accusations leveled by numerous Indian media outlets against the UN Human Rights Office for our publication last month [June] of the first-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir.” The UNHCHR spokesperson further said “since the report was published, we have been deeply disappointed by the reaction of the Indian authorities, who dismissed the report as “fallacious, tendentious, and motivated” without examining it and responding to the very serious concerns about the human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir as laid out in the report.”
He also referred to the Indian media’s attempt to infer that the ICIT director’s email message to the UN High Commissioner’s office to investigate Indian crimes has somehow “influenced” his report. “This is totally untrue,” said Mr. Colville. The ICIT director has never claimed to have spoken to the UN High Commissioner or sent any information to him. Mr. Colville admitted, “It is possible he [Zafar Bangash may have] sent an email or letter and received a polite acknowledgment, as is the case with thousands of letters and emails sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
Instead of resorting to such devious tactics, India would do well to address the very serious concerns highlighted in the UNHCHR report. More than 700,000 heavily armed Indian occupation troops have indulged in egregious crimes against the hapless Kashmiris. More than 11,000 women and young girls have been gang-raped. Indian occupation forces act with impunity without fear of prosecution.
Human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as civil society groups in Kashmir and India have documented these abuses.
The International Committee of the Red Cross also reported that torture of imprisoned civilian Kashmiri youth was widespread. “Militants” were killed instantly (WikiLeaks documents from the US Embassy in Delhi to the State Department, April 2005). Tens of thousands of civilians including women and children have been killed in cold blood, while thousands of Kashmiri youth have simply disappeared. More than 6,000 unmarked mass graves have also been discovered. These constitute crimes against humanity.
Instead of trying to divert attention from its crimes, India should allow independent international investigators, such as representatives of the UNHCHR, to visit Indian colonized Kashmir to ascertain the truth. Failing that, one can draw only one conclusion: India is guilty as charged!