*GENEVA (KMS) – The new report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights while stating that the accountability for violations committed by Indian forces remains virtually non-existent in Occupied Kashmir has recommended the formation of a commission of inquiry by the Human Rights Council to conduct a comprehensive, independent, international investigation into human rights violations in the territory.*
The 43-page report published on Monday said that despite highest number of civilians killed near gunfight sites there was no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties, adding, “No prosecutions have been reported and it does not appear that Indian forces have been asked to re-evaluate or change their crowd-control techniques or rules of engagement”.
According to data gathered by Srinagar-based group, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), the report says, “around 160 civilians were killed in 2018, which is believed to be the highest number in over a decade”.
The report maintained that Indian authorities have made no attempt to address serious concerns about access to justice and impunity for human rights violations committed in occupied Kashmir , adding that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which effectively bestows immunity on security forces from prosecution in civilian courts for their conduct by requiring the Indian Government to sanction all prospective prosecutions against such personnel, remains a key obstacle to accountability.
It further said that in nearly three decades that the law has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir , there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces’ personnel granted by the Indian government, adding that the Indian Army has used section 7 to block prosecution of its personnel even by independent federal investigation agencies. Despite repeated calls from national and international human rights experts to repeal the AFSPA, Indian authorities have given no indication that this law will be repealed or amended in Jammu and Kashmir , the report underlined.
The report said that the so-called cordon and search operations, a much-criticized military strategy employed by the Indian forces in the early 1990s, was reintroduced in the Kashmir Valley in 2017, leading to a range of human rights violations. The report citing an example said that on 22 June 2018, a 55-year-old man, Mohammed Yousuf Rathar, was shot when Indian forces entered his home in Nowshehra village of Anantnag (Islamabad) district as part of a local operation and he died before reaching the hospital. Giving another instance, it said that on 26 September 2018, a 24-year-old man, Mohammed Saleem Malik, was killed during a cordon and search operation near his house in Srinagar’s Noorbagh area.
Turning to the devastative effects of pellet shotguns, the report said that despite international concerns at the alarming numbers of deaths and life-altering injuries caused by the forces, regular use of shotguns as a means of crowd control – even though they are not deployed elsewhere in India – they continue to be employed, leading to further deaths and serious injuries. It said that on June 16 2018, a civilian was killed in Anantnag (Islamabad) district of South Kashmir after being hit by metal pellets fired by the forces at protesters returning from Eid prayers.
The deceased, it added, had pellet wounds in his neck and throat. In another incident, the report said, that a 19-month-old girl was hit by the metal pellets in her right eye on 25 November 2018 and though the metal pellets were successfully removed from her eye but doctors were unsure whether she would regain her eyesight completely. Citing information from Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where most pellet shotgun injured are treated, the report said that 1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets used by the Indian forces from mid-2016 to end of 2018.
It said that the authorities in J&K continue to use various forms of arbitrary detention to target protesters, political dissidents and other civil society actors. It maintained that a number of laws in the territory provide the legal basis for arbitrary detention, but the one that is used most frequently to stifle protests and political dissent is the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).
The PSA does not provide for a judicial review of detention, and the authorities have defied orders by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to release people detained under this law by issuing successive detention orders, it said and added that this practice has been used to keep people arbitrarily in detention for several weeks, months, and, in some cases, years.
Citing the case of pro-freedom leader Masarrat Aalam, who was first detained under the PSA in 2010, was charged for the 37th time in November 2018, it said that despite being repeatedly detained under the PSA, Masarrat Aalam has never been convicted of any charges. Several pro-freedom political leaders were detained under PSA in 2018 and 2019 and continue to be imprisoned, the report added.
The report said that as described in the June 2018 report of OHCHR, there have been persistent claims of torture by security forces in IOK. Citing the case of Rizwan Pandit, a school principal from Pulwama district aged 29 who died while in police custody between 18 and 19 March 2019, the report said that it appears to have been tortured while in custody. It said that Rizwan was picked up from his home in Awantipora allegedly by the National Investigation Agency on March 18 and was pronounced dead by police on March 19.
It further said that in 2018, several journalists and human rights defenders – mostly based in the Kashmir Valley – reported that social media platforms Twitter and Facebook had taken actions against a number of accounts for various Kashmir-related content, including removing such posts or suspending user accounts. The report said that according to UNESCO, the Kashmir Valley continues to be an extremely dangerous place for journalists as 21 journalists have lost their lives in Kashmir Valley since 1990. UNESCO noted that such assaults had made journalism a hazardous profession during the 1990s.