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UN calls for probe into human rights violations in Kashmir

By The Assam Tribune

GENEVA, June 14 (IANS): Indian and Pakistani security forces used "excessive" force in both sides of Jammu and Kashmir, killing and wounding civilians since 2016, the UN said on Thursday, in a first-ever report calling for an international investigation into alleged violations in the disputed territory.

The 49-page report issued by the UN on the human rights situation in "Indian-Administered and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir", detailed human rights violations and abuses on both sides of the Line of Control and highlighted a "situation of chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces".

"The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

"This is why any resolution of the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir must entail a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and current violations and abuses by all parties and provide redress for victims," he said.

"It is also why I will be urging the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir," Zeid said.

The UN report focussed mainly on alleged serious violations committed in Jammu and Kashmir from July, 2016 to April, 2018. Activists estimated that up to 145 civilians were killed by security forces and up to 20 civilians killed by armed groups in the same period, it said.

The report also talked about the "most dangerous weapons" used against protesters in 2016 and which is still being employed by security forces--the pellet-firing shot gun.

It also criticised the enforcement of special laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, and Public Safety Act, PSA, saying armed forces were acting with impunity. Calling for repeal of AFSPA, the report said in nearly 28 years of AFSPA in force, there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces personnel granted by the Central government.

The UN rights chief called on Indian security forces "to exercise maximum restraint and strictly abide by international standards governing the use of force when dealing with future protests".

"It is essential the Indian authorities take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir," Zeid said.

As for Pakistan, the report cited experts' belief that its military continued to support the operations of armed groups across the Line of Control. It says violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir are of a more "structural" nature.

It urged Pakistan to end the misuse of anti-terror legislation to persecute those engaging in peaceful political and civil activities and those who express dissent.

Among the issues highlighted in the report is the constitutional relationship of the two distinct territories of "Azad Kashmir" and Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan. The "Azad Kashmir" has effectively been controlled by Pakistan throughout its entire history. Pakistan's federal authorities also have full control over all government operations in Gilgit-Baltistan, and federal intelligence agencies are reportedly deployed across both regions.

The impact of Pakistani counter-terrorism operations on human rights is detailed in the report, which notes the concerns of the UN Human Rights Committee at the "very broad definition" of terrorism laid out in the anti-terrorism act.

The report quotes a Pakistani NGO that found hundreds of people had been imprisoned under that in Gilgit-Baltistan and that it was being used to target locals, who were raising issues related to people's human rights.

Zeid called for the Human Rights Council - which opens a three-week session in Geneva on Monday - to launch a commission of inquiry into all violations. "Alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region should be investigated," he said.

The report was written without visiting the region as both sides refused to grant unconditional access to the investigators.

Among its recommendations, the report called on India and Pakistan "to fully respect their international human rights law obligations in Indian-Administered and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir", respectively.

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