'Human Rights in India – A Kashmir Perspective'

Geneva: Kashmir Centre.EU, in association with The International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, today hosted an event entitled Human Rights in India – A Kashmir Perspective at the United Nations here.

Speakers at the event included Barrister A. Majid Tramboo – Chairman of Kashmir Centre.EU, Prof. Lawrence S?ez – Director Centre of South Asian Studies SOAS London, Dr. Elvira Dom?nguez Redondo – International Law and Human Rights Expert, Middlesex University, Frank Schwalba-Hoth – former Member of the European Parliament, Prof. Satvinder Juss – Human Rights Expert, King’s College London. The event was moderated by Ronald Barnes – Chairman Indigenous Peoplesand Nations Coalition.

Mr. Schwalba-Hoth discussed the UPR mechanism and the process by which it operates. On the 169 recommendations he said that civil society and the Indian Government should make it a target and that the number “169” should become synonymous with the will and desire to succeed in improving human rights in the state. He went on to say that national parliaments as well as the UN should raise the 169 recommendations at all available fora in order to keep up the pressure to ensure change.

Prof. Lawrence Saez said that the application of human rights can be understood in two distinct forms. Firstly, there are those rights that a state is unable to provide and therefore a right is denied such as the right to adequate drinking water or the right to information. Secondly, there are those instances in which a state purposely denies rights such as restriction of free speech or freedom of assembly.

Prof Saez said that there had been a decline of human rights abuses in Kashmir and India over time but there were still several areas where improvements should be made. Firstly, there as a lack of transparency surrounding the investigation of alleged human rights abuses. Secondly, India should be more forthcoming regarding the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the complaints related to draconian legislation. Thirdly, they should be more open about engaging on the Naxalite issue. Finally, the protection of Muslims and Dalits, particulary in the North-East of the country, has not seen a firm or clear response to abuses perpetrated upon them or by them.

Prof. Satvinder Juss questioned the motivations and actions of governments under the umbrella of fighting terror. He asked if there was a point at which the restriction of human rights became acceptable.

He discussed the legal system that is applicable in Indian Held Kashmir and said that requests for information on human rights abuse were not followed and that FIR reports (a complaint upon the military or police) were frequently not registered and rarely followed up. He said that there was not adequate separation of powers and that the justice system was in cahoots with the executive.

Hr highlighted sections 45 and 197 of the Armed Forces Special Powers act which grant blanket immunity for the armed forces to commit any act of human rights abuse in what India has termed a “disturbed area”.

Dr. Elvira Dominguez-Redondo discussed the difficult nature of exposing human rights abuse in a territory controlled by a state as they had the power and the means to stifle any investigations. She discussed how governments do not allow situations such as Kashmir to be defined as conflicts as they are then bound by the Geneva Conventions.

She praised the UPR mechanism and its ability to name and shame those countries who willfully ignore their human rights obligations. She highlighted the numerous instances of countries bringing high level delegations to their own UPR reviews as evidence that states took the mechanism seriously.

Barrister A. Majid Tramboo outlined the harsh reality that is brought about by the draconian laws and human rights policy instigated by India in Kashmir. He noted that the failure to sign the Convention Against Torture and the Convention for the protection of All Persons From Disappearance were a telling sign that India both wasn’t able to guarantee the rights of people in Indian Held Kashmir and had no desire to improve the situation.

Referring to comments by the Indian Government last week that the mass graves sites would not be investigated he pointed out the numerous requests by the UN special procedures to conduct such an investigation. He said, however, that this state of affairs was no longer a surprise. The culmination of years of torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial execution lay in those graves and India was not ready to uncover the horrors that had been forced upon the Kashmiri people over the years.

He also noted that the UPR report for India was finalised just a few weeks ago at the United Nations in Geneva and will be adopted next week. He said that a pessimistic view point may conclude that the emergence of the “no mass grave investigations” policy after finalisation of the UPR report was timed to ensure that no reference to the mass graves would be included in the final UPR report. He asked why independent and impartial investigations were not allowed if India had nothing to hide.