Talking human rights

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By: Shafqat Shafi

The 43-page report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), released on July 8, 2019, has raised serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistan parts of Kashmir.

The UNHCHR in its report has said that both India and Pakistan had failed to take any clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in its June 2018 report, the office’s first-ever on human rights in Kashmir.

The report noted that India’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) “remains a key obstacle to accountability,” because it provides effective immunity for serious human rights violations. Since the law came into force in Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts. The UN human rights office also said that India should amend its Public Safety Act.

The UN human rights office also said that armed groups were responsible for human rights abuses including kidnappings, killings of civilians, sexual violence, recruitment of children for armed combat, and attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organizations in Jammu and Kashmir.

UN report has found that human rights violations in PaK included restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and association, institutional discrimination against minority groups, and misuse of anti-terrorism laws to target political opponents and activists. It noted threats against journalists for doing their work. The UN human rights office also expressed concern over enforced disappearances of people from PaK.

The report has generated much debate all over. India has rejected it and Pakistan while selectively welcoming certain portions, wants reference to its part of Kashmir to be removed or amended.

While people in Jammu and Kashmir know that all is not well in other part vis-à-vis human rights, they are baffled by the silence of leaders over such violations in PaK. From day-one, people of Jammu and Kashmir have been repeatedly assured by these leaders that the “Pakistan is a friendly and sympathizer state.” If that is true, why basic rights of people in PaK and Gilgit Baltistan are being violated, argue the people.

When we talk about ‘Kashmir issue’, it is not confined to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh alone. Besides these provinces, PaK and Gilgit Baltistan areas too are part of broader ‘Kashmir issue’. Everybody has a right to talk about the rights and freedoms of the people living in Jammu and Kashmir, but how can the discourse be so selective so as to miss the situation in these vital parts of broader Kashmir?

Isn’t it true that whenever some kind of human rights abuse takes place in J&K, people in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur come out to protest and express solidarity with the victims? Then, why is it so that there has been no such reaction from separatist leadership here regarding the rights abuses by Pakistani government in its administered parts of Kashmir?

People of PaK, whose basic rights are being trampled upon, have every right to question this silence. And if they conclude that leaders drumming that “Pakistan is a friend and well-wisher” are actually proxies of Pakistan who don’t have scant respect for the life and dignity of their fellow Kashmiris, they are within their rights to think so.

Regarding the rights of people living in the Pakistan administered part of Kashmir, the separatists are behaving the way Pakistan behaves vis-à-vis human rights abuses of Muslims in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) by China. On one hand Pakistan is trying to portray itself as the leader of Muslim Ummah, but when it comes to the Muslims of China, it looks the other way as if they are not Muslims.

Same is the attitude of separatist leaders here. They claim to be representing the ‘sentiments of the people of entire undivided Kashmir’ but when it comes to the human rights of people living in Pakistani part of it, they look the other way as if people living in those parts are not Kashmiris.

This similarity between the two – Pakistan government and separatist leaders – indicates that none of the two is really serious about the issue, but both are simply in a race of point scoring. Nobody will ever challenge the right of separatists to voice their concerns about rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, but nobody can also endorse their silence over such abuses in PaK and Gilgit Baltistan. This duplicity and hypocrisy has to go. Genuine concern for peoples’ rights doesn’t afford anyone the privilege of being selective about condemning human rights violations of one set of people by one state while keeping quiet about similar and at times even worse violations of their religious and ethnic kin by the other state.

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