Image credit: muslimmatters.org
by Anam Iqbal 1 April 2023
Last year, a group of United Nations experts expressed grave concern over the continued allegations of large numbers of unmarked single and mass burial sites in IIOJK. These sites may contain the remains of thousands of people who have been subjected to enforced disappearance by Indian security forces since the 1980s. India’s human rights record has been a subject of criticism and concern for several years. In 2022, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance and UN Special Rapporteurs expressed concern over continued allegations of large numbers of unmarked single and mass burial sites in Indian-Administered Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).
Enforced or involuntary disappearance is a serious human rights violation that refers to the arrest, detention, or abduction of individuals by state agents or groups acting with their support, followed by a refusal to disclose their fate or whereabouts. According to international human rights law, enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity, and perpetrators can be prosecuted under international criminal law.
In the context of IIOJK, enforced disappearance is a long-standing concern. The region has been under Indian control since 1947, but the issue of its status has been disputed between India and Pakistan. The region’s residents, particularly those of Muslim background, have faced severe human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings.
According to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), a local human rights organization in IIOJK, over 8,000 people have disappeared since the 1980s. The Indian government, however, denies the allegations of enforced disappearances and claims that the missing individuals have joined militant groups or left the country. The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance has expressed its concerns over the government’s response to the disappearances and its failure to investigate the allegations.
The presence of unmarked single and mass burial sites in IIOJK adds to the concern regarding enforced disappearances. The discovery of such burial sites suggests that individuals have been killed and buried secretly, without any investigation or accountability. The Working Group and UN Special Rapporteurs have called for an independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of enforced disappearances and the discovery of burial sites.
Moreover, the Indian government’s response to the human rights situation in IIOJK has been concerning. The government has imposed restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and movement, and has arrested and detained individuals, including human rights defenders and journalists, under repressive laws such as the Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The government has also blocked internet and mobile services and curtailed media freedom in the region, further limiting access to information and accountability.
In April 2022, it was reported that over 500 people were still being detained under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows for detention without trial for up to two years. The report also highlighted the obstacles faced by journalists in the region, including restrictions on communication and movement, which hindered their ability to report freely.
Two journalists from The Kashmir Walla, an online newspaper, were still in detention as of July 21. Abdul Alaa Fazili, a former contributor to the same newspaper, was arrested in June under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for an article he had written in November 2011.
The case of Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in November 2021 on charges of “terror funding” and “conspiracy,” was also highlighted. He remained in detention, and his pretrial detention had been extended at least five times by the NIA Special Court in New Delhi.
These incidents highlight the ongoing human rights violations in IIOJK, including the use of draconian laws such as the PSA and UAPA to stifle dissent and curtail freedom of expression. The detention of journalists and human rights defenders without trial is a gross violation of their rights, and the continued use of such tactics is a cause for concern.
The international community has repeatedly called for an end to such practices in IIOJK, and for the protection of the rights of all individuals living in the region. It is essential that the Indian government takes urgent steps to address these human rights abuses and ensure that those responsible are held accountable.
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance and UN Special Rapporteurs’ concerns regarding the human rights situation in IIOJK are based on strong evidence. The Indian government must take immediate steps to investigate the allegations of enforced disappearances and the discovery of unmarked burial sites, and hold those responsible accountable. The government must also respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and movement, and ensure that individuals, including human rights defenders and journalists, are not subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention. Only through concrete action can the Indian government address the serious human rights concerns in IIOJK and uphold its international obligations.