India can – and should – do better in confronting its own human rights failures.
While the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) acknowledged the “political dimensions” of the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, its report sought to highlight the decades of suffering by millions of Kashmiris.
These human rights concerns have been well documented. Cross-border shelling by Indian and Pakistani troops have killed and injured hundreds. Tens of thousands of indigenous Kashmiri Hindus remain displaced after being forced to flee the valley. Thousands have been forcibly disappeared, their wives described as “half widows.” More than 50,000 people have died since the insurgency broke out in 1989. Kashmiris have been tortured or summarily executed by state security forces and threatened or killed by militants. There are serious allegations of sexual violence by all forces. Now, hardly a day goes by without violent protests, even as scores of young Kashmiris are signing up for militancy.
India’s kneejerk, bombastic statement is hardly the response of a government intent on a seat at the UN Security Council and other global decision-making bodies. Indian authorities, in official statements, have acknowledged the increasing violence in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, the government called a ceasefire during Ramadan in the hope of calming the fury stemming from ongoing abuses and failure of accountability, and is now considering an extension.
India should welcome the UN report, and commit to act on its findings, including providing access to the UN human rights office. As a first step it should seek a repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, as has been recommended by several international and Indian experts. It should order an investigation into alleged violations by the security forces and prosecute those found responsible, instead of rewarding abusive soldiers.
Addressing grievances is what responsible governments are supposed to do. They don’t deny and blame the messenger. And they certainly don’t accuse the UN high commissioner for human rights of prejudice.