United Nations urges inquiry into human rights violations in Kashmir

GENEVA/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India on Thursday rejected a United Nations report that accused it of having used excessive force in disputed Kashmir to kill and wound civilians since 2016 and which called for an international inquiry into the accusations of rights violations.

FILE PHOTO: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein of Jordan address a news conference during his visit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, who both claim the mountainous region in full and have fought two of their three wars over it since their separation in 1947.

The first U.N. report on human rights in both Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir urged Pakistan to end its “misuse” of anti-terror legislation to persecute peaceful activists and quash dissent.

The U.N. report focuses mainly on serious violations in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir from July 2016 to April 2018. Activists estimate that up to 145 civilians were killed by security forces and up to 20 civilians killed by armed groups in the same period, it said.

“In responding to demonstrations that started in 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries,” the report said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for maximum restraint and denounced the lack of prosecutions of Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir due to a 1990 law giving them what he called “virtual immunity”.

In a statement, Zeid called for a commission of inquiry by the Human Rights Council, which opens a three-week session in Geneva on Monday, into all violations. Alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu should be investigated, he said.

In New Delhi, India called the report a “selective compilation of largely unverified information” that sought to build “a false narrative”, adding that it violated the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“India rejects the report. It is fallacious, tendentious and motivated. We question the intent in bringing out such a report,” its foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.

India has long accused Pakistan of training and arming militants and helping them infiltrate across the heavily militarized Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two sides in the region, a charge Islamabad denies.

There was no immediate comment from Pakistan to the report issued by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva, which called for justice for victims on both sides of the so-called Line of Conflict.

However, Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez welcomed the report and the recommendation for a commission of inquiry by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“This U.N. report has authenticated our allegation that impunity for armed forces is chronic in Jammu and Kashmir,” Parvez told Reuters.

Welcoming the report, Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq wrote on Twitter, “People of Kashmir thank the U.N., especially the bold efforts of its HR commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, for its support to the right of self-determination.”

Tension rose after a February attack on an Indian army camp that India blamed on Pakistan. After the two armies agreed on May 30 to stop exchanging artillery fire, thousands returned to their homes near the de facto border with Pakistan.

Crimes committed by armed groups in Jammu and Kashmir range from kidnappings and killings of civilians to sexual violence, the U.N. report said.

India said it was disturbing that the U.N. report described internationally-designated and U.N.-proscribed militant bodies as “armed groups” and militants as “leaders”, as it undermined the U.N.-led consensus on zero tolerance of terrorism.

Violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir “are of a different caliber or magnitude”, the U.N. report said, while decrying restrictions on freedoms of expression and association.

For the full statement, click here:

Additional reporting by Suhail Hassan Bhat; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Clarence Fernandez