Second OHCHR Report on Jammu & Kashmir perseverates with the same flaws as the first
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 8 July released a report titled “Update of the Situation of Human Rights in Indian-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir from May 2018 to April 2019”. This report, the OHCHR’s second on Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) after its specious and tendentious maiden effort last year, has made no attempt to address or rectify the various and momentous shortcomings that were obtrusive in the first report and had been highlighted in EFSAS Commentary of 22-06-2018. This second report has, rather, used the same faulty methodology and analysis to arrive at similar conclusions that are grossly incorrect, at best, and heavily motivated and biased, at worst. That has meant that the update comes across as even more trite and shorn of merit than the first report, whose credentials were highly dubious and suspect to begin with.
The terminology used in the update is as inappropriate and mischievous as that used in the first report. Legally and historically, the issue that the two OHCHR reports in question seek to deal with pertains to the undivided State of J&K, and not Kashmir, as repeatedly mentioned in the reports. Further, on a note that jars discordantly with the officially used United Nations (UN) vocabulary, the update continues to describe terrorist organizations active in J&K as “armed groups”. This comes across as an inexplicable and unacceptable effort to legitimize violence as an admissible tool to achieve political goals. The update also obstinately insists on continuing to use the politically incorrect term “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” (liberated J&K) to refer to what in regular UN parlance is “Pakistan-Administered Jammu and Kashmir”, and what India believes is “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” (PoK) as Pakistan gained control of that part of J&K through the use of force. For the OHCHR to use the Pakistan-coined term ‘liberated’ for this part of J&K is inappropriate and unbecoming.
Perhaps the most disquieting aspect of the update is its seeming willingness, even eagerness, to not just downplay the widely acknowledged primacy of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the J&K narrative, but to actually condone and even justify the phenomenon. Despite acknowledging in the update that “Similar to 2017, a majority of the killings (of civilians in Indian-Administered J&K) reported in 2018 took place around sites of armed encounters between security forces and armed group members”, the update attributes disproportionately little blame to the terrorist outfits and refuses to recognize that any human right violation by security forces in Indian Administered J&K is a direct consequence of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism that has been unleashed there. There is a discernible reticence to call out the terrorist outfits and demand that they be held accountable. Even in its limited references to “armed groups”, the tone is rather defensive, bordering on protective.
An example of this is visible in the Executive Summary right at the beginning of the update, where it is stated, “Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated after the 14 February 2019 suicide bombing in Pulwama, when a vehicle borne improvised explosive device struck a convoy of Indian security forces, killing 40 soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force, which is a federal paramilitary unit widely deployed in Indian-Administered Kashmir”. The reluctance to state that this “14 February 2019 suicide bombing” was the handiwork of the Pakistan-sponsored terrorist outfit the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) is incomprehensible. It needs mention that a few days after the suicide bombing, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told an international news organization that JeM founder Masood Azhar was based in Pakistan. Despite this, the OHCHR update in its short, perfunctory section on “Abuses by armed groups” averred that the JeM was “believed to be based in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir”, and refused to assertively state that the JeM and its top leadership was firmly based in Pakistan under the patronage of the Pakistani military establishment.
The same section on “Abuses by armed groups” similarly stated that “Two armed groups have been accused of recruiting and deploying child soldiers in Indian-Administered Kashmir”. However, the names of these two terrorist outfits are surprisingly not revealed, resulting in experts questioning whether this reflected a deliberate attempt to shield these two terrorist outfits.
Another notable trend in the update that indicates an unmistakable bias is the leeway given to Pakistan through inconclusive, ambiguous observations on its dismal human rights record in the part of J&K that it holds, as against pointed, assertive findings against the Indian State. The disclosures and evidence of human rights activists belonging to Pakistan Administered J&K, which are most often presented to the OHCHR while braving great risks to their lives and those of their families at the hands of the Pakistani military establishment, are reduced to mere “claims” and “feelings”. On the contrary, the narratives of those from Indian Administered J&K are accepted as the gospel truth. For example, in the section “Human Rights Violations in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir”, the update states that “Members of nationalist and pro-independence political parties claim that they regularly face threats, intimidation and even arrests for their political activities from local authorities or intelligence agencies. They said often threats are also directed at their family members including children”. Similarly, the update avers that “Political leaders and activists feel their natural resources are exploited for the benefit of Pakistan while the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan continue to remain largely impoverished”.
Another grave anomaly in the OHCHR update is that it views the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the narrow confines of “Business and human rights”. It completely glosses over the political and strategic dimensions and the illegality of the CPEC, which is being constructed by a third country, China, through J&K, a territory disputed between India and Pakistan. The CPEC directly impacts the human rights and future prospects of the people of Gilgit Baltistan, which is an integral part of J&K.
Most importantly, there is no mention in the recommendations for Pakistan in the update of the need for it to stop sponsoring cross-border terrorism, which is the root cause of all human rights issues in J&K. Quite obviously, the OHCHR either does not consider sponsorship of terrorism and the consequent bloodshed to be related to human rights, or views it as being inconsequential.
In this backdrop, the reaction of the Indian government to the OHCHR update was scathing. The official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Raveesh Kumar said that “The update of the Report of the OHCHR is merely a continuation of the earlier false and motivated narrative on the situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its assertions are in violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ignore the core issue of cross-border terrorism. A situation created by years of cross-border terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan has been ‘analysed’ without any reference to its causality. The Update seems to be a contrived effort to create an artificial parity between the world’s largest and the most vibrant democracy and a country that openly practices State-sponsored terrorism. It is a matter of deep concern that this Update seems to accord a legitimacy to terrorism that is in complete variance with UN Security Council positions. The UNSC had, in February 2019, strongly condemned the dastardly Pulwama terror attack and subsequently proscribed Masood Azhar, the self-styled leader of terrorist entity Jaish-e-Mohammed. However, in the update, terrorist leaders and organisations sanctioned by the UN are deliberately underplayed as ‘armed groups’. The legitimisation of terrorism has been further compounded by an unacceptable advocacy of the dismemberment of a UN member State. The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan is in illegal and forcible occupation of a part of the Indian state, including the so called ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ and ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’, through aggression. We have repeatedly called on Pakistan to vacate these occupied territories. The Update, by distorting India’s policies, practices and values, has undermined its own credibility. Its failure to recognize an independent judiciary, human rights institutions and other mechanisms in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir that safeguard, protect and promote constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights to all citizens of India is unpardonable. Even more so, as it belittles constitutional provisions, statutory procedures and established practices in an established functioning democracy. The prejudiced mindset of the Update has also chosen to willfully ignore the determined and comprehensive socio-economic developmental efforts undertaken by the Government in the face of terrorist challenges. We have registered our strong protest regarding the Update with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The release of such an Update has not only called into question the seriousness of OHCHR but also its alignment with the larger approach of the United Nations. The Government of India follows the policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism and will take all measures to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty against cross-border terrorism. Motivated attempts to weaken our national resolve will never succeed”.
Pakistan’s response, on the other hand, was rather sly and opportunistic. It welcomed the portions of the report that were critical of India, but rejected even the limited and severely myopic condemnation of its own human rights record in the update.
The lacunae in the OHCHR update highlighted above is not meant to detract in any way from the imperative of ensuring the human rights of the entire population of J&K across both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). However, any move by the OHCHR in this direction must necessarily be unbiased, serious and well thought out, which the two reports released so far have certainly not been. The lack of seriousness and thought is evident from the fact that while the first report came across as being aimed at glorifying a slain terrorist, Burhan Wani, with his death constituting the starting point of that report, the update was issued to coincide, whether by design or by oversight, with the third death anniversary of Burhan Wani on 8 July.
It is not without reason that the anti-terror intent and conviction of the OHCHR has been questioned in the preceding paragraphs. An august institution such as the OHCHR ought to be able to anticipate the impact that its actions would have going forward. In the case of its two reports on J&K, coming generations of gullible youth would be lured into terrorism by seasoned, blood-thirsty radicals by quoting the example of Burhan Wani. The youth would be told that the path of terror chosen by Wani had made him so powerful, so important, that the highest body on Earth, the UN, had been compelled to come out with two reports acknowledging his contribution.
Will the OHCHR be happy to live with terrorists being recruited on account of its carelessness and lack of foresight?