Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This year, Human Rights Day marks the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being -- regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The UDHR sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. Equality, Justice and freedom prevents violence and sustains peace. The dignity of million has been uplifted and the foundation for more just world has been laid. But the promised are yet to be fully realized and there are millions who are robbed of their rights and they continue to struggle for the realization of the equality, justice and dignity.
When the international community is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal declaration of human rights. People in different part of the world are still striving for the enjoyment of these basic rights. One such situation is in Indian occupied Kashmir. The denial of right to self-determination which is considered as the corner stone of all human rights, has led to regime of human rights in occupied territory. These rights violations despite Indian refusal to allow international human rights watch dogs to monitor and report, figured in different reports of the international human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch medicine san frontiers, Physicians for Human Rights, Frontline and others and also international media gave a wider coverage these heinous crimes in their editorials and opinion columns. Indian earned a huge criticism during three cycles of Universal Periodic Review in United Nations Human Rights council from civil society groups.
Finally the grim human rights situation of Indian occupied Kashmir gained international attention with June 2018 release of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Report on the Human Rights situation in Kashmir. The report is the first time such high-level attention has been focused on the long list of atrocities committed by the Indian Armed Forces against the people of IOK. The report presents a scathing catalogue of atrocities covering a relatively small period from 2016 to 2018. As the UN has not been allowed access to Kashmir, the information provided in the report came primarily from civil society organisations in the region, mostly in India, victims and their families, and research on available official and other records.
The UN report calls for,
“Consideration of the findings of the report and the possible establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir”.
The Indian Government has been embarrassed internationally by having a searchlight shone on the atrocities they have committed in IOK. India has reacted with fury, attacking the report calling it ‘fallacious and tendentious’ and insulting the integrity of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. India is lobbying hard internationally to ensure that no independent inquiry will ever be held. The UN rightly stands by the report.
The UN Report received significant international media coverage, all negative towards India. The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN and other major international media organisations, covered the story, drawing rare international focus on the Kashmir conflict. The report details a litany of serious human rights abuse and addresses 14 critical issues:
1. Lack of access to justice, and impunity from prosecution;
2. Military courts and tribunals impeding access to justice;
3. Administrative detention;
4. Excessive use of force;
5. Killings perpetrated in 2018;
6. Use of pellet-firing shotguns;
7. Arbitrary arrests and detention, including children;
9. Enforced disappearances;
10. Violations of the right to health;
11. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression;
12. Reprisals against human rights defenders and restrictions on journalists;
13. Violations of the right to education; and,
14. Sexual Violence.
This is an astounding catalogue of human rights abuses and a reflection of the reality of India’s disregard for international humanitarian law. Many of the atrocities committed would easily fall under the legal description of war crimes. Although the report laid bare Indian human rights violations in IOK, however, the UN report briefly mentioned the incidents of other atrocities, like the Kunan Poshpora mass rape 1991, the unmarked mass graves which hold the bodies of thousands of ‘the disappeared’, false flag operations which have led to killings of innocent Kashmiris in staged encounters, and other atrocities.
Two draconian pieces of legislation allow the Indian Army and other law enforcement agencies almost unlimited impunity from prosecution. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) grants the military wide powers to arrest, shoot to kill, and occupy or destroy property. Combined with the equally repressive Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) which grants security forces almost unlimited powers of arrest and detention, justice is impeded, and human rights are denied. Between March 2016 and March 2017, over 1,000 people, including some under the age of 18, were detained under the PSA. The whereabouts of many of these is uncertain. They have disappeared, some permanently. Their families continue to plead for information but with no success. Thousands of people, including very small children, have been injured by pellet-firing shotgun blasts. Some have been permanently blinded. People injured in encounters are frequently prevented from reaching the hospital. Thousands of women are left widowed or ‘half widowed’, left to fend for themselves in extremely difficult circumstances. Schools are frequently closed, and the internet shut down.
Although India’s Supreme Court has repeatedly asked the Attorney General for action to be taken on complaints of fake encounters for the past 15-20 years, there has, to date, been no punishment of the perpetrators of such crimes. The Supreme Court has also rejected the pleas of over 700 Army personnel protesting dilution of protection from prosecution. However, the Government and the Indian Army has strenuously blocked all efforts by the court for justice.
Despite the extreme levels of human rights abuse committed against them, the people of Indian Occupied Kashmir remain resilient and continue to protest against the occupying forces and for the right to self-determination. Their struggle should not be forgotten.
On this day besieged people of Indian occupied Kashmir call upon the International community to step forward and demonstrate, Stopping Mass Atrocities, Majority Bullying, and Abusive Counterterrorism legislations, the politics of fear and the crushing of civil society in Indian occupied Kashmir. So that people of this occupied territory can join the world to take a stand and shine a light on human rights.