Understanding the UN Report on Human Rights Violations in Kashmir

A soldier guards the roadside checkpoint outside Srinagar International Airport in January 2009 (Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia)

A British representative on the UN Security Council, Mr. Noel Baker, once described the Kashmir dispute as “the greatest and gravest single issue in international affairs.” Finally, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has released their “Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir” in June 2018, the first study of its kind. It is not surprising that the official Indian reaction and the official Pakistani reactions to the contents of the report differ greatly. Pakistan has welcomed the recommendation of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Kashmir, while India rejected the report by describing it as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated.” Meanwhile, the news media in India failed to express their opinions constructively. Well-seasoned journalists like Shekhar Gupta (President of the Editors Guild of India) labeled the report as ‘idiotic’ and even went so far as to claim that “this irresponsible UN report has bought in both these provocations.”

In order to resolve a conflict situation, policymakers formulate strategies without explicitly considering the right causal mechanism. In practice, however, the implementation of these strategies have the opposite result, protracting the conflict and resulting in untold catastrophe to humanity by escalating the situation to a level of intensity where reconciliation becomes an uphill battle between or/among the parties that are involved. The OHCHR report on human rights violations across the Kashmir territory, indeed, reflect an important rationale upon policymakers, which, if analyzed carefully, will serve as an important step forward in promoting a durable peace in Kashmir.

‘Anarchy,’ which has been the main “fall back” for many policymakers, in identifying the ‘causes of war,’ fails to explain and understand the ‘variation of war and peace.’ Lately, human rights scholarship, with the support of empirical evidence, has been able to explain the linkage of human rights with peace and conflict. The condition of ‘deprivation’ or ‘abuses’ of human rights can quickly lead to both non-violent and violent conflict. Meanwhile, the agenda of human rights, which had previously been of little concern to the Security Council, especially during the Cold War period, became increasingly important as evidenced by the Council holding its first-ever meeting on human rights on 19 April 2017. This ensuing initiative was put to the test in March 2018, when France called upon the council members to discuss the human rights situation in Syria. Russia blocked the council meeting, claiming “we do not see any justification for this meeting since human rights are not subject on the agenda of the Security Council.”

To identify human rights as an important determining factor for maintaining peace and security certainly highlights a new dimension in the discourse of armed conflict both in the academic circle and the Security Council. Nevertheless, the idea of the reverence of human rights, the pre-condition for the maintenance of peace and security, has already been recognized among the delegations when assembled in San Francisco for the establishment of the United Nations. The inclusion of the promotion and encouragement for respecting human rights and for fundamental freedom formed the cornerstone of the UN Charter. Mr. Ramaswami, the chairman of Indian delegation at the plenary session on 28 April 1945 in San Francisco, articulated: “It is an economic injustice, and even more social injustice, that has bred for all time in the past the great causes of war and has led to these great Armageddon.” To avoid the repetition of dreaded tragedies for humanity brought out by armed aggression, India directed the world audience to lay the foundation of peace based on ‘fundamental human rights’ in which “those fundamental human rights of all beings all over the world should be recognized, and men and women treated as equals in every sphere…”

Despite several international human rights treaties having been adopted subsequent to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that UN member states have subscribed to, many nations continue to have poor human rights records. With reference to Kashmir, which has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947, the OHCHR, through ‘remote monitoring’ documented that both India and Pakistan, both parties to several legally binding international human rights laws, have failed to uphold the same.

In ascertaining the situation of human rights violations for a specific period from July 2016 to April 2018, the report acutely covered the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and declared that the nature of violations in Pakistan-Administrated Kashmir is “of a different caliber or magnitude and of more structural nature.” But there is no reason to revel nor feel demur from this very first UN report on human rights; rather both governments should read and understand the text of the report which stresses that by failing to uphold human rights peace has been impaired. This was rightly pointed out by OHCHR’s Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein when in response to the Indian government’s questioning the motive in bringing out such report, he stated that “It is indeed motivated – motivated by the desire to contribute to the search for peace and justice in Kashmir…”

Beyond Kashmir, armed conflict has been recurrent in both India and Pakistan. In the name of combating Maoists and Baloch insurgency, gross human rights violation committed by both Indian and Pakistani states forces have been reported by several stakeholders; wherein, the OHCHR is yet to ascertain the authenticity of the ground situation in these two areas. The UN report though is limited in focus to the Kashmir territory. Still, both India and Pakistan should consider this report as a wake-up call and review their current policies and future policies before implementation. Not only reviewing policies in Kashmir but also applying this introspective analysis towards other armed conflict zones.

To maintain peace and stability, the essential key is to identify the right causal mechanism and then implement policy accordingly. Referring to the causal linkage of human rights and peace and conflict, the preamble of UDHR declared: “Whereas it is essential if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that the rule of law should protect human rights.”

Dr. Opangmeren Jamir is research assistant at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi, India. His research interest is Water Governance, Natural Resources and Armed Conflict/ Civil War, Indigenous Rights.

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