UNHRC Session Begins With Commissioner's Concerns Over Kashmir and NRC

There was an expectation that the session could provide difficult for India, especially over the situation in Kashmir.

New Delhi: India figured twice in the UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet’s laundry list of areas of concerns, with Kashmir lockdown and the exclusion of lakhs of people from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam eliciting expressions of deep concern from the senior official.

There had been an expectation that the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) could witness criticism of India’s move to restrict communications and movement in Kashmir, especially from certain countries and UN organisations. A high-level diplomatic delegation led by MEA secretary (west) Vijay Thakur Singh and including India’s high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria has been deployed in Geneva to explain the government’s rationale for recent steps taken in Jammu and Kashmir.

As expected, the opening statement of Michelle Bachelet brought up Kashmir on the first day of the regular session of the UNHRC on Monday.

She started by saying that her office continued to receive reports on the human rights situation in both parts of Kashmir. But, the rest of her remarks were only about the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which will soon become two union territories based on an Act of parliament.

Also Read: Amid Communication Blockade, Kashmiris Robbed of the Right to Mourn Their Dead

“I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists,” asserted Bachelet, a former two-time president of Chile.

She urged both Indian and Pakistani governments to respect and protect human rights. However, she made a specific appeal to India to “ease the current lockdowns or curfews; to ensure people’s access to basic services; and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained”.

Bachelet also said that it was important that the “people of Kashmir are consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future”.

There has been no response from India so far, but Pakistan was quick to state that Bachelet’s observations are “consistent with the position taken by the UN system vis-a’-vis the human rights situation in IOJ&K including the continuing restrictions and crackdown on fundamental rights and freedoms of the Kashmiri people”.

Later in the evening, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also welcomed Bachelet’s words on Kashmir.

India is likely to issue its national statement during discussions with the UN human rights commissioner on Tuesday. But, first Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will speak at the UNHRC, where he is expected to bring Kashmir to the fore.

According to sources, it is still not clear whether Pakistan, backed by China, will try to call for a vote on the issue of Kashmir at Geneva. There is likely to be more clarity after Qureshi makes his statement on Tuesday. So far, among western countries, only the US and UK have consistently raised human rights concerns in Kashmir after the clampdown, even though they had shielded India from China’s move to formally rake up recent developments at UN Security Council.

In June 2018, Bachelet’s predecessor Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Jordan released the first-ever report by the office of the UN human rights commissioner on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The report was immediately dismissed by India and New Delhi refused to engage with UN experts who referenced the document.

The update to the report published in July this year under Bachelet was equally critical about alleged human rights violations in Kashmir. Rejecting the report, MEA 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”.

After Article 370 of the Indian constitution was read down, five independent human rights experts of the United Nations had called for India to lift the communication clampdown in Kashmir. They described the measures as a “collective punishment” for the population.

Last month, India’s permanent representative to the UN in New York had described UN experts and the human rights commissioner as “international busybodies” for their criticism about human rights situation in Kashmir.

Besides, Bachelet said on Monday that the release of the final list of the NRC in Assam had led to “great uncertainty and anxiety”. More than 1.9 million people were excluded from the final list, published on August 31. “I appeal to the government to ensure due process during the appeals process, prevent deportation or detention, and ensure people are protected from statelessness,” she stated.

Also Read: People’s Tribunal Comes Down Heavily on SC Over Handling of NRC in Assam

In July, UN human rights experts had already raised red flags over the “far-reaching consequences” of exclusion from citizens list and its possible replication in other parts of India.

The other flashpoints highlighted by Bachelet in her speech range from the Hong Kong protests, continuing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, Russian election arrests and the treatment of refugees in the European Union.