'Collective Punishment': UN Experts Slam Kashmir Communication Clampdown

From night raids to pick up youth to the consistent deployment of troops, the five signatories of the letter severely came down upon all possible human rights violations by the Centre in the region.

New Delhi: Five human rights experts of the United Nations on Thursday called for India to lift the communication clampdown in Kashmir, describing the measures as a “collective punishment” for the entire population of the region.

Since the evening of August 4, residents of Jammu and Kashmir have been cut off from all mobile phones, television channels and internet access. The Centre blocked all communication channels ahead of the introduction of the legislation to remove the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, hitherto guaranteed under Article 370, and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.

“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence,” said the statement released on Thursday.

The five signatories of the statement are Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, Chair-Rapporteur of the working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, Bernard Duhaime, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule and Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard.

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They said that the shutdown of all internet and communication networks “without justification from the government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality”.

The experts also expressed concern about the curfew imposed across the state and the large inflow of troops, which have restricted freedom of movement and of peaceful assembly. The statement asserted that the “restrictions imposed by the Indian government are intrinsically disproportionate, because they preclude considerations of the specific circumstances of each proposed assembly”.

A Kashmiri masked protester stands near a barricade to block the entrance of a neighbourhood in Srinagar. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail

On the alleged reports of night raids during which young people have been picked up, the UN experts stated that these detentions constitute serious human rights violations. “The allegations must be thoroughly investigated by authorities, and, if confirmed, those responsible must be held accountable”.

They expressed apprehension that the whereabouts of detainees have remained unknown and flagged the possibility of rising “enforced disappearances” in Kashmir.

The experts also noted the use of disproportionate force against protesters, including that of live ammunition. “India has the responsibility to use the minimum force necessary when policing protests,” they said. Despite official denials, there have been documented cases of pellet injury victims admitted to Srinagar hospitals.

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Indian government had asserted that these restrictions are required to maintain peace and avoid casualties in Kashmir.

India’s permanent representative to UN, Syed Akbaruddin had accused “international busybodies” of attempting to tell India how to run Kashmir. Although he did not take names, he made the remark while answering a question on August 18 on the report of the United Nations Human Rights Commission on alleged human rights violations in the state.

In June last year, then UN human rights chief had released the first ever report on the human rights situation in both parts of Kashmir, in India and Pakistan. India had immediately dismissed the report.

A year later, an ‘update’ published under new chief Michelle Bachelet reached similar conclusions about continuing human rights violations in Kashmir in July 2019. Again dismissing the report, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had stated that the release of the update “not only called into question the seriousness of OHCHR but also its alignment with the larger approach of the United Nations”.

Earlier this year, the Indian government had refused to engage with three Geneva-based UN independent experts after they asked for details on extrajudicial killings in Kashmir since 1990, as their letter had also referenced the report of the UN human rights high commissioner.