The United Nations has accused India again of human rights violations in Kashmir and has called for the formation of a commission of inquiry into the allegations.
A 43-page report released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Monday also called out Pakistan for detaining Kashmiri separatists in its portion of the disputed region.
The Muslim-majority region of Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars so far over the Himalayan territory.
The two countries came close to a third war earlier this year following the killing of over 40 Indian soldiers in a suicide attack claimed by a Pakistan-based rebel group.
The UN report asked India to investigate the killing of civilians following the killing of rebel commander Burhan Wani in 2016.
More than 100 protesters were killed in the five-month-long street protests following Wani’s killing, triggering a new wave of popular anger against the Indian rule.
New Delhi, in response, intensified its security operations in the disputed region, leading to more killings of rebels and civilians.
According to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), 586 people, including 160 civilians, 267 rebels and 159 Indian security personnel were killed last year – the highest since 2008.
Severe effect on human rights
The UN report says the heightened tensions in Kashmir following the February suicide bombing continues to have a severe effect on the human rights of civilians, including the right to life.
It says authorities in India-administered Kashmir “continue to use various forms of arbitrary detention to target protesters, political dissidents and other civil society actors”.
The report criticised the special legal provisions for the Indian troops in Kashmir and called for the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which has made accountability for human rights violations in Kashmir “virtually non-existent”.
The report underlined that there has not been a single prosecution of armed forces personnel granted by the central government in a civilian court.
It added that despite the high numbers of civilians killed near gunfight sites, “there is no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties”.
“No prosecutions have been reported. It does not appear that Indian security forces have been asked to re-evaluate or change their crowd-control techniques or rules of engagement,” the report said.
The UN report recommended the formation of a commission of inquiry to conduct a “comprehensive, independent, international investigation” into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.
A commission of inquiry is one of the UN’s highest-level probes, generally reserved for major global crises.
In June 2018, the UN had released its first detailed report on Kashmir and called for an international investigation into human rights abuses.
‘False, motivated narrative’
India rejected the UN report, calling it “false, with a motivated narrative”. In a statement, Indian government’s spokesperson Raveesh Kumar accused the OHCHR of “legitimising terrorism”.
“The assertions in the report are in violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ignore the core issue of cross-border terrorism,” it said.
Kashmir-based rights activists Khurram Parvez, who works with the JKCCS, termed India’s reaction to the UN report as “anti-human-rights and immature”.
“If India says all such reports are false, then why doesn’t it allow international rights bodies to visit Kashmir and investigate so that they come up with a more accurate report from the ground,” Parvez told Al Jazeera.
“The truth is India does not want anyone to see the situation on the ground,” said Parvez, whose organisation recently released a detailed report on torture by the Indian forces in Kashmir.
In a tweet, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said the second UN report on Kashmir “once again affirms massive human rights violations perpetrated by the Indian occupation forces”.
Detentions in Pakistan
Though the UN report mostly cited allegations of human rights abuses in India-administered Kashmir, it was also critical of Pakistan for detentions of separatists in the region governed by Islamabad.
The report said the UN had received “credible information of enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, including those who were held in secret detention and those whose fate and whereabouts continue to remain unknown”.
“In almost all cases, victim groups allege that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances,” it said.
“There are fears that people subjected to enforced disappearances from Pakistan-administered Kashmir may have been detained in military-run internment centers in Pakistan.”
The report said people living in “Azad Kashmir” (as the Pakistan-administered portion of Kashmir is popularly called) as well as in Gilgit-Baltistan are deprived of fundamental human rights, particularly the freedoms of expression and opinion. “Azad” means free in Urdu.
The UN agency said neither India nor Pakistan took any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised in its June report on Kashmir.