Wednesday, 10 July 2019

UN likely to continue its focus on India’s Kashmir policy

Using almost the same languageas last time, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar in yet another opportunity refuted the allegations of excessive use of force by Indian security forces in Kashmir. This time he was responding to an update report covering the period since May 2018 put out on July 8 by the Geneva-based UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The earlier report released in June 2018 was of the period since about the time of the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016. While last time India had personally arraigned the then high commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for being biased, his replacement Michelle Bachelet has been equally scathing in her report.
This was not unexpected. Last September India objected to Bechelet’s raising the issue of the situation in Kashmir in her opening statement to the UN’s Human Rights Council, when she had observed no improvement in the situation after the UN’s calling out of India’s record in its report.
In March, the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, torture, and right to health — Agnes Callamard, Dainius Puras and Nils Melzer respectively —requested for an action-taken update. Replying on April 23, India said, “India... does not intend to engage further with these mandate-holders or any other mandate-holders on the issue.”
In its refutation of the allegations in the latest report, India makes two points.
The first is that the report is unmindful of the terrorism India is facing in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to the report willy-nilly legitimising externally-sponsored terrorism, while neglecting to record India’s multi-faceted counter-terrorism actions that include ‘comprehensive socio-economic developmental efforts’ etc. India has undertaken there.
Second, India questions the OHCHR’s ‘alignment with the larger approach of the United Nations’, set by the Security Council (UNSC) that took an adverse view of the terrorism besetting Kashmir in its condemnation of the Pulwama terror attack and subsequent proscribing of Masood Azhar, the terror mastermind.
On both scores, India is batting on a weak wicket. This owes to India’s questionable choice of operationalising the hardline in Kashmir over the past four years. From the recent visit of home minister Amit Shah to Kashmir, it appears that the policy line is likely to persist with till the assembly elections are held.
As regards the first, that India is facing terrorism, the body count from Kashmir has it that some two-thirds of militants killed are Kashmiri. This indicates localisation, rather than external sponsorship.
Also, though terror incidents occur — such as killings of civilians considered ‘informers’ by terrorists — these are subsumed within and are a smaller proportion of incidents that can, not unreasonably, be attributed to an ongoing insurgency.
Irrespective of the label put on the situation, there are international humanitarian law and human rights strictures that continue to be applicable, not least those reflected in national law. For instance, even though India has not ratified the international anti-torture convention, there is a blanket stipulation against torture — jus cogens rule — in international law. To the extent torture is incident in Kashmir and figures in the report undermines India’s case.
India turned a blind-eye to the report released in May on torture compiled by two non-governmental organisations. Their earlier salvo prior to the Burhan Wani’s killing was similarly ignored. That torture continues is evident from an indiscreet boast of a retired general speaking at a Panoon Kashmir event that stone-pelting youth are given a hiding that makes them scream for their mothers.
The second is India’s sense of UN’s priorities, implying human rights is superseded by the priority to the fight against terror. India cites the UNSC‘s engagement with the Pulwama terror attack. It bears recall that the UNSC’s observation on the Pulwama suicide bombing was in a press statement, not a resolution. Also, its listing of Masood Azhar in the gallery of sanctioned rogues carried no mention of the Pulwama incident.
More significantly, the ongoing UN reform initiative —Action for Peace (A4P) —has human rights as one of the three central pillars of the UN system; the others being peace and security, and development. Therefore, India can expect to see continuing UN engagement with the consequences of its hardline policy in Kashmir.
Since this policy is to continue, the OHCHR can be expected to accumulate another set of similar data to ambush India down the line.  In the spat last year, not only had Zeid defended his methodology but Secretary General Antonio Guterres had backed him.
Unable to duck the UN’s calls for accountability and apart for the ammunition such calls provide Pakistan with, New Delhi needs factoring the implications of the hardline for India’s image and aspirations, particularly now that the ambition of becoming a world leader has been added to its quest to be a UNSC permanent member.