Updated at 5:23 p.m. ET on 2018-06-14
In its first-ever report on the state of human rights in Kashmir, the United Nations on Thursday slammed India and Pakistan for alleged abuses in areas they rule in the disputed Himalayan region and called for a major investigation into such violations.
In the 49-page report, U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described “a situation of chronic impunity for violations” committed by security forces from both sides, as he specifically called on Indian troops to exercise maximum restraint when dealing with future protests, “including ones that could well occur this coming weekend.”
“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.
India and its arch rival Pakistan became separate countries after British rule in the subcontinent ended in 1947. Both nuclear-armed nations claim Kashmir in its entirety and have fought wars over it.
“It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering,” Zeid said. “This is why any resolution of the political situation in Kashmir must necessitate a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and ongoing violations and abuses by all parties, and provide redress for victims.”
India said it had lodged a protest with Zeid’s office, rejecting the report as a “selective compilation of largely unverified information,” while Pakistan’s foreign ministry welcomed his proposal to establish the Commission of Inquiry, one of the U.N.’s highest-level panels that often investigate major crises.
“India rejects the report,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement. “It is fallacious, tendentious and motivated … the report is mischievous, misleading and unacceptable.”
India, which has deployed about 500,000 soldiers in the territory it controls, accuses Pakistan of arming and training Kashmiri rebel groups, but Pakistan denies the charges.
A de facto border called Line of Control (LoC) divides Kashmir, where an outbreak of insurgency on the Indian side – known as Jammu and Kashmir state – has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s. A majority of the fatalities have been civilians.
Last month, the two nations said they had reached a rare ceasefire after months of lobbing artillery shells across the heavily fortified LoC.
Zeid said his office did not get unconditional access to either side of the LoC, despite repeated requests to both India and Pakistan over the past two years. Still, U.N. representatives undertook remote monitoring to produce the report, which focused mainly on the human rights situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir from July 2016 to April.
The report criticized what it called excessive force used by Indian security forces to quell violent demonstrations that erupted after the killing of 22-year-rebel commander Burhan Wani. It decried the use of pellet-firing shotguns against protesters and also accused Indian troops in the killings of 145 civilians, far surpassing the 20 people estimated to have been killed by militant groups during that period.
"According to official figures, 17 people were killed by shotgun pellets between July 2016 and August 2017, and 6,221 people were injured by the metal pellets between 2016 and March 2017, " the report said. "Civil society organizations believe that many of them have been partially or completely blinded."
The report expressed concern over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which prohibits prosecution of security forces personnel unless the Indian government grants prior permission to prosecute. The law has been in place in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1990, it said.
“Not a single prosecution of armed forces’ personnel has taken place in Indian Kashmir,” the report said, adding that “there is almost total impunity for enforced or involuntary disappearances.”
Kashmiri separatist rebels hailed the U.N. report released amid fears from security analysts that violent protests could take place during the upcoming Eid holiday.
“Recognition of unprecedented rights violations in Kashmir by the U.N. for over three decades dent tall claims of Indian government that it was the second-largest democracy in the world and upholds human rights,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a senior separatist leader, told BenarNews.
“The international community must take note of this harsh reality and put pressure on India to repeal ‘black laws’ and resolve the Kashmir issue through a tripartite dialogue with representatives of Kashmir and Pakistan,” he said.
The disputed Himalayan region has witnessed a spike in violence during the past four weeks.
An Indian army soldier was abducted and later killed by suspected militants in Pulwama district on Thursday. His killing came two days after two policemen were killed and at least a dozen injured in two attacks by suspected militants in south Kashmir.
On Thursday, unidentified motorcycle-riding gunmen shot dead the editor of Rising Kashmir, a local English daily newspaper, outside his office in Kashmir, police said.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was appalled by the murder of Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari, who was gunned down as he was about to get into his car. Two police bodyguards escorting him were also hit and one died of his injuries, police said.
No armed group has claimed responsibility for the shooting.
“Shujaat Bukhari’s brutal murder is a major blow for the Kashmiri media community and comes just as the United Nations is calling for an investigation into human rights abuses in Kashmir,” RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said. “We urge the local and national authorities to shed all possible light on this horrific crime, which has silenced one of Kashmir’s leading independent and moderate voices.”