UN calls for ‘probe’ into Kash­mir abuses

Ru­mors fuel mob at­tacks


GENEVA, June 14, (Agen­cies): The UN hu­man rights chief on Thurs­day called for a ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tion into abuses in Kash­mir, as his of­fice re­leased its first-ever re­port on vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted by both In­dia and Pak­istan in the dis­puted ter­ri­tory.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hus­sein said he would urge the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, which opens a new ses­sion next week, “to con­sider es­tab­lish­ing a Com­mis­sion of In­quiry (COI) to con­duct a com­pre­hen­sive in­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in Kash­mir.”

A COI is one of the UN’s high­est-level probes, gen­er­ally re­served for ma­jor crises like the Syr­ian con­flict. The UN re­port, which is par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal of In­dia, high­lights “chronic im­punity for vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted by se­cu­rity forces”.

In­dia’s for­eign min­istry re­jected the re­port, blast­ing it as “fal­la­cious” and “ten­den­tious”.

How­ever Is­lam­abad wel­comed Zeid’s re­quest for a probe, say­ing in a state­ment that it was “con­sis­tent with Pak­istan’s sev­eral calls to this ef­fect since 2016”.

The find­ings, de­scribed as the first-of-its-kind for Kash­mir, come af­ter months of deadly clashes along the bor­der that di­vides Kash­mir into zones of In­dian and Pak­istani con­trol.

Zeid said he met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of both gov­ern­ments fol­low­ing an up­surge of vi­o­lence in July 2016, trig­gered by In­dia’s killing of 22-year-rebel com­man­der Burhan Wani.

Con­cerned by what the UN termed “large and un­prece­dented” protests af­ter Wani’s death, Zeid asked for “un­con­di­tional ac­cess” to Kash­mir, but nei­ther gov­ern­ment agreed.

His of­fice then be­gan re­mote mon­i­tor­ing of the re­gion, pro­duc­ing a re­port cov­er­ing al­leged abuses be­tween Jan­uary 2016 and April of this year.

Kash­mir has been di­vided since the end of Bri­tish colo­nial rule in 1947 and both New Delhi and Is­lam­abad claim the for­mer Hi­malayan king­dom in full.

In­dia has about 500,000 sol­diers in the part of Kash­mir it con­trols, where armed groups are fight­ing for in­de­pen­dence or a merger with Pak­istan.

The find­ings ac­cused In­dian troops of be­ing re­spon­si­ble for some 145 un­law­ful killings, far sur­pass­ing the 20 peo­ple es­ti­mated to have been killed by mil­i­tant groups dur­ing that pe­riod.

Zeid said In­dia needed “to take im­me­di­ate and ef­fec­tive steps to avoid a rep­e­ti­tion of the nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of ex­ces­sive use of force by se­cu­rity forces in Kash­mir”.

The rights of­fice raised par­tic­u­lar con­cern over the Armed Forces Spe­cial Pow­ers Act, in place in In­di­anad­min­is­tered Kash­mir since 1990, which pre­vents sol­diers from facing pros­e­cu­tion with­out the con­sent of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

The act has amounted to “vir­tual im­mu­nity” for troops in Kash­mir, the UN said, not­ing that the gov­ern­ment has not ap­proved a sin­gle case against an armed forces mem­ber.

Al Hus­sein

Dis­may over Mal­dives jail sen­tences:

In­dia says it is dis­mayed by the 19-month prison sen­tence given to a for­mer leader of the Mal­dives for fail­ing to co­op­er­ate with a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion. A Mal­dives court sen­tenced Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom to one year, seven months and six days in prison on Wed­nes­day for fail­ing to hand over his mo­bile phone to in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Two Supreme Court judges ar­rested with Gay­oom were given the same sen­tences.

In­dia’s for­eign min­istry said in a state­ment Thurs­day that New Delhi learned of the sen­tences “with deep dis­may.”

Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom, who ruled the In­dian Ocean ar­chi­pel­ago state for three decades, is the sec­ond ex-pres­i­dent jailed un­der Pres­i­dent Yameen Ab­dul Gay­oom. He was ar­rested in Fe­bru­ary on charges of at­tempt­ing to over­throw Yameen, his half brother.

Deadly In­dia mob at­tacks:

The ru­mors cir­cu­lated through the hills of north­east­ern In­dia on Face­book and What­sapp. There were pho­tos of dis­mem­bered corpses in some mes­sages, and of an in­jured child ly­ing in the street.

The mes­sages said hun­dreds of peo­ple, some­times dis­guised as beg­gars, were stalk­ing the towns and vil­lages of In­dia’s As­sam state, slip­ping into houses at night. One mes­sage said the out­siders were crim­i­nals. Another said they’d come from the poor, nearby state of Bi­har. All said the gangs had one goal: kid­nap­ping chil­dren. “Be aware, peo­ple of As­sam!” one mes­sage read. There was no truth to the ru­mors, po­lice say, but fear ig­nited by those mes­sages led to the bru­tal deaths last week of two In­dian tourists, the lat­est in a wave of mob at­tacks fu­eled by so­cial me­dia ru­mors that have left well over a dozen peo­ple dead across the coun­try.

Days af­ter the mes­sages be­gan to cir­cu­late in As­sam, two friends re­turn­ing from a trip to a wa­ter­fall were driv­ing through a vil­lage when a mob stopped their car and yanked them out.

In video footage shot by some­one in the crowd, one of the tourists, his face al­ready bloody and swollen, is shown beg­ging for his life, calling out his name and the name of his father to try to prove he was na­tive­born As­samese.

The other man tries to rea­son with the crowd, but even­tu­ally gives up, drop­ping to the ground and curl­ing up to pro­tect him­self as much as pos­si­ble. At least a dozen men ap­pear to be punch­ing, kick­ing and beat­ing the two with sticks.

The at­tack did not stop un­til both men — Nilot­pal Das, a 29-year-old mu­si­cian and sound en­gi­neer, and Ab­hi­jeet Nath, a 30-year-old busi­ness­man — were dead. “False news and ru­mors be­ing spread on so­cial me­dia plat­forms were largely re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pened,” said Mukesh Agar­wal, a po­lice of­fi­cial based in As­sam. Po­lice have ar­rested 15 peo­ple for the at­tack, and 35 more on charges of spread­ing ru­mors, false news and hate crimes.

The at­tack ap­par­ently be­gan when Das and Nath had an ar­gu­ment with a lo­cal man at the wa­ter­fall. When they left, po­lice say the man mes­saged area vil­lagers that Das and Nath were kid­nap­pers. Soon af­ter, the vil­lagers stopped their car.

In­dia has seen a string of sim­i­lar at­tacks in the past few months. The vic­tims are of­ten out­siders in some way, tar­geted be­cause they look dif­fer­ent, or don’t speak the lo­cal lan­guage.

In just one day in As­sam, po­lice res­cued six peo­ple in three sep­a­rate mob at­tacks. All the vic­tims had been ac­cused by crowds of look­ing for chil­dren to kid­nap.

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