New Delhi: Raising concerns about violations of international treaty obligations, independent United Nations human rights experts have asked the Indian government to provide details about the continuing detention of a politician, the alleged custodial killing of a shopkeeper and the two-year-old disappearance of a teenager in Kashmir.
The communication from five experts, dated March 31, was recently publicly uploaded on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“These allegations are part of what appears to be an ongoing pattern of serious violations of human rights by police, army, security agencies and the judiciary in the Jammu and Kashmir region, warrants in our view the most serious attention on the part of the highest authorities,” said the letter to the Indian government.
It was undersigned by special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Nils Melzer, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) Elina Steinerte, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Tae-Ung Baik, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard, and special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.
The UN experts, who received their mandate from UN Human Rights Council, said they had received information related to “allegations of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance and torture and ill-treatment committed against” related to Waheed Para, Irfan Ahmad Dar and Naseer Ahmad Wani.
According to the information received by the UN experts, Para, the People’s Democratic Party youth wing president, was arrested on November 25, 2020, three days after he filed his nomination to run for district development council elections.
Para also had participated in a closed virtual meeting with “current and future members of the UN Security Council” in July 2020, where he had raised concerns about the Indian government’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir, treatment of minorities and border tensions with China.
Following that meeting, Para allegedly received threats from officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that if he didn’t stop speaking against the Indian government, action would be taken against him.
In the allegations made public regarding Para’s case, the UN experts noted that there were complaints that the PDP leader was kept “in a dark underground cell at subzero temperature, was deprived of sleep, kicked, slapped, beaten with rods, stripped naked and hung upside down”. All this has apparently been recorded, and Para was examined multiple types by a government doctor and psychiatrist.
Para, a former journalist, got bail from an NIA court in January this year. But within a few hours of his release, Para was arrested by Counter-Intelligence in Kashmir (CIK) under a different charge related to providing financial support to terrorist groups. He remains in custody.
“Our concern in the case of Mr Waheed Para is heightened by the fact that his arrest and detention appear to be linked to his interaction with UN Security Council members, which would amount to acts of reprisals for such cooperation,” said the UN experts.
Last September, members of the northern Kashmir by Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group (SOG) raided the house of a 23-year-old shopkeeper, Irfan Ahmad Dar, in Sopore and detained him. The next day, his family learned that Dar had died.
The police claimed that he died while trying to escape from custody. Dar’s family contested that he died in police custody. The family also filed a petition in the high court seeking a copy of the magisterial inquiry report and FIR into the alleged custodial death.
Two years ago, 19-year-old Naseer Ahmad Wani’s house was raided by a team of 44 Rashtriya Rifles (44 RR). The complaint was that Wani’s phone was allegedly being used by militant organisations.
He was beaten and taken to the police station. Since then, has family has had no news of him. The army told his family that Dar had been released, but he never returned home.
Among the eight points on which India’s clarifications were sought, the UN experts sought urgent information “on the fate and current whereabouts of Mr Naseer Ahmad Wani”.
They also asked for details of investigations into allegations made about the treatment of the three Kashmiri men. “If no investigation has been initiated, please explain why and how this is compatible with the international human rights obligations of India,” the letter said.
The UN experts also asked for information on the factual basis “justifying the recourse to terrorism related charges levied against Mr Waheed Para, and how this is compatible with the obligation to pursue counter-terrorism obligations consistent with international law as set out inter alia the United Nations Security Resolution 1373”.
They asked for clarification on whether the move was compatible with the “reasonable understanding of the definition of terrorism in international law norms including the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1566 (2004) and the model definition of terrorism provided by the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism”.
In the letter, the UN experts observed that these allegations are part of an “ongoing pattern of serious violations of human rights by police, army, security agencies and the judiciary in the Jammu and Kashmir region, warrants in our view the most serious attention on the part of the highest authorities”.
The UN experts cautioned that they might publicly express their concerns soon, as the public “should be informed about the implications of these allegations on the exercise and enjoyment of their human rights”.