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.
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.