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Torture, detentions, pellet guns: 13 counts of rights abuse in Kashmir that UN wants probed

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UN body indicts India over alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir between July 2016 and April 2018.

New Delhi: From the human shield incident, the arrest of a photojournalist to the use of pellet guns on protesters, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has listed a number of such incidents in calling for an international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.

The 49-report, which has evoked a sharp response from India, focuses on what it says is “human rights violations” in Jammu and Kashmir between July 2016 and April 2018. The period focuses on the unrest in the Valley following the death of Burhaan Wani, the 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahidin leader who was killed by Indian armed forces in July 2016.

The report was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council Thursday.

While the OHCHR acknowledges that its report is based on remote monitoring through civil rights groups, since the Indian government denied it permission for free and unconditional access, it has indicted India on more than 13 points, where it alleges the state has violated human rights and abused due processes to clamp down on protests in the Valley.

Here are a few excerpts:

Enforced disappearances

According to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) — one of the NGOs the UN human rights body has relied on to compile its report, due to the lack of unconditional access — there were several cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances in 2017. “Impunity for enforced or involuntary disappearances in Kashmir continues as there has been little movement towards credibly investigating complaints, including into alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region,” the OHCHR report states.

Torture

The human shield incident is among at least three specific instances that the UN rights body cites in its report, to accuse the Indian state of not acknowledging the torture of civilians. Apart from Farooq Ahmad Dar, the Kashmiri weaver who was strapped to an Indian Army jeep by Major Leetul Gogoi, the report has recorded the case of Shabir Ahmad Mangoo, 30, a college lecturer who was among 30 people picked up by the Indian Army in August 2016. Mangoo succumbed to his injuries after allegedly being severely beaten in custody. The report also quotes the case of Nasrullah Khan, who was allegedly detained and tortured at the Indian Army’s 27 Rashtriya Rifles camp on 31 August 2017.

Sexual violence by armed forces

The report says it has not been able to confirm specific allegations of sexual violence due to a lack of access. But it accuses the Centre of failing to independently investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual abuse by security forces personnel. There is no record of sexual violence by security forces ever being prosecuted in a civilian court, the report says.

To illustrate the state’s failure on this front, the UN report refers to the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape, which took place 27 years ago — the report says the case not only highlights the “state’s impunity” towards sexual crimes in Kashmir as over the years, “all attempts to seek justice have been denied and blocked by the authorities at different levels.”

‘Administrative detention’

According to the OHCHR, authorities in Kashmir have been using the Public Safety Act (PSA), including against juveniles, to circumvent judicial protections allowed to those being detained. The reports notes that during the 2016 unrest, juveniles were detained under PSA, despite a 2012 amendment to the PSA Act prohibiting the detention of those under 18 years of age.

The UN report also alleges that the PSA, which it terms as administrative detention order, is used against a broad range of activities, some of which, it says, are vaguely defined — a provision includes “acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the state” or “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.”

The PSA also allows for detention without charge or trial for up to two years in some cases. While it does provide for a judicial review of detention, the report says state authorities have been countering orders by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to release people, by issuing successive detention orders. “This tactic has been used to keep people in detention for several weeks, months and, in some cases, years,” the report says.

It also calls for a “central register of detainees” that should be made accessible to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Excessive use of force by Army

“The casualties of civilians between 2016 and 2018 raise the question of whether security forces resorted to excessive use of force – including the use of pellet-firing shotguns, to respond to protesters, some of whom were throwing rocks,” the report states.

It notes two distinct patterns concerning casualties reported from “encounter sites.”

The first, it says, is what authorities have been calling “accidental killings,” which involve people not taking part in protests but who have been “caught or hit in the crossfire” or hit by a “stray bullet.”

The second, according to the report, is what authorities have classified as those helping members of armed groups, including protesters throwing stones at security forces.

The pellet gun

The pellet gun, the UN report observes, isn’t used against protesters anywhere else in India, barring Kashmir. Describing the guns as 12-guage pellet-firing shotguns, the report indicts it as the most dangerous weapon used against protesters during the unrest in the Valley in 2016. It also notes that the guns were first used in Kashmir during the mass protests in 2010.

The report extensively quotes from J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s address to the state assembly on the issue in January 2018. The CM had said that 6,221 people had been injured by pellet guns in Kashmir between 8 July, 2016, and 27 February, 2017; among the victims, 728 had eye injuries, while 54 had suffered some form of visual impairment due to pellet injuries.

The report has also noted that the demography of the protests has changed over the years. It says that unlike the “waves of protests in the past—in the late 1980s to early 1990s, 2008 and 2010—this current round of protests appears to involve more people than the past, and the profile of protesters has also shifted to include more young, middle-class Kashmiris, including females who do not appear to have been participating in the past.”

Reprisals against activists, journalists

Among the cases that the report highlights is that of Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf, who was arrested on 4 September, 2017, and charged with sedition. In a 13,000-page chargesheet, the NIA had named Kamran, along with 11 others, including Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salauddin, accusing them of alleged terror funding and stone-pelting in the Valley. He is now out on bail.

It also notes that French journalist documentary film-maker Paul Comiti was arrested on 9 December, 2017, in Srinagar for allegedly violating Indian visa conditions by meeting pro-independence leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and filming an event related to those injured by pellet guns.

The reports also states that the Indian government targets human rights activists. It refers to the case of Khurram Parvez, who was arrested and detained under the PSA for more than two months after being prevented from travelling to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2016. His colleague human rights lawyer Kartik Murukutla was also detained at the Delhi airport when he returned from Geneva.

The reports also takes note of the censorship of the newspaper Rising Kashmir, whose editor Shujat Bukhari was shot dead Thursday. “The nearly three month ban on the Kashmir Reader, ostensibly for its critical coverage of the state government’s response to the 2016 protests, is a prime example of violation of one’s fundamental right to freedom of expression,” the report reads.

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