Kashmir: UN observers denied access to investigate ongoing human rights violations

Press release
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(Madurai, Paris) FIDH and People’s Watch are seriously concerned about the ongoing human rights violations taking place in the region of Kashmir, and are appalled that the Indian and Pakistani governments have not granted access to the region to independent observers from the United Nations (UN).

According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, both Pakistani and Indian authorities have denied the UN access to the region of Kashmir to observe and investigate allegations of serious human rights violations and violence by security forces.

Since the killing of Burhan Wani and two other Hizb-ul-Mujahedin militants [1] in an armed exchange with Indian security forces on 8 July 2016, mass protests erupted across the state of Jammu & Kashmir. In response to the sometimes violent protests and looting, the Indian authorities responded with an intense crackdown, shooting at protesters and civilians with pellet guns [2] and arbitrarily arresting hundreds of people. Acting under the authority of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act, police and security forces have disregarded basic rights and liberties and targeted unarmed civilians. These clashes have reportedly resulted in at least 60 deaths, 5000 injured civilians, and 4500 injured security personnel.

The government also imposed a curfew and a complete phone, internet, and media blackout in the state of Jammu & Kashmir on 9 July. Media houses have been raided, newspapers confiscated, and telecommunications have been cut off. Although mobile internet services were restored on 26 July, the curfew remains in place after over a month. This crackdown has left residents isolated and vulnerable, as independent groups are unable to access the region or verify allegations of ongoing violence.

On 10 August the Indian parliament unanimously adopted a resolution calling for an all-party delegation to visit Kashmir to hold talks with relevant stakeholders, including members of civil society, with an aim to resolve the ongoing tensions. Although such multi-stakeholder talks are a welcome development, our organisations emphasise that in order to secure an end to the current violence and human rights violations independent observers must be granted access to the region. In addition, an independent investigation must take place in order to ensure accountability for any violations that may have taken place.

We therefore call on the governments of India and Pakistan to grant access to Kashmir to independent observers from the UN and other journalists and human rights groups. We also remind the authorities of their obligation under international law to ensure the protection of civilians and the respect of their rights to free peaceful expression, movement, and access to information. We condemn the use of pellet guns as a means of crowd control, and urge the relevant authorities to ensure that such measures are no longer used against unarmed civilians, as per the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials [3].

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