The UN human rights chief has called for an international investigation into abuses in Kashmir, as his office released its first-ever report towards the end of June on alleged rights 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”.
“Alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region should be investigated,” he said in a statement.
A COI is one of the UN’s highest-level probes, generally reserved for major crises like the conflict in Syria.
According to the 49-page report, Indian security forces have used excessive force in Kashmir and killed and wounded numerous civilians since 2016.
India, on its part, rejected the claims made in the report.
“The report violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan is in illegal and forcible occupation of a part of the Indian state through aggression.”
Turning to territory under Pakistan’s control, the report identifies “a range of human rights abuses,” but notes that they “are of a different calibre or magnitude and of a more structural nature”.
Pakistan should “end the misuse of anti-terror legislation to persecute those engaging in peaceful political and civil activities and those who express dissent,” the UN said.
The findings come amid a precarious security situation in Kashmir, where Indian forces have been running a military offensive against rebels in recent years.
The report said that Al Hussein met representatives of both governments following an upsurge of violence in July 2016, triggered by India’s killing of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-rebel commander.
Concerned by what the UN termed “large and unprecedented” protests after Wani’s death, Al Hussein asked for “unconditional access” to Kashmir, but neither government agreed.
His office then began remote monitoring of the region, ultimately producing a report covering alleged abuses between January 2016 and April of this year.
Activists estimate that up to 145 civilians were killed by security forces and up to 20 civilians were killed by armed groups in the same period, the report said.
The report also criticised the use of pellet shotguns by security forces to quell the protests, which caused eye injuries in more than 6,000 people.
It called for the repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1990 (AFSPA), a law that gives security forces immunity from prosecution.
“Impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice are key human rights challenges in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” the report said.
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.
(Adapted from Aljazeera)