Allegations of arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances are part of what appears to be an ongoing pattern of serious violations of human rights by Indian government forces in the Jammu and Kashmir region, according to UN experts.
This concern was raised by five UN special rapporteurs in a letter to the Indian government on March 31, 2021 that was made public by the UN on Monday.
The rapporteurs examine questions relevant to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; arbitrary detention; enforced or involuntary disappearances; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering “terrorism.”
The experts communicated their concerns to the Indian government by highlighting the cases of three Kashmiri men -- Waheed Para, Irfan Ahmad Dar and Naseer Ahmad Wani.
Para, a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, which administered Jammu and Kashmir in an alliance with the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) until 2018, has been under detention since Nov. 25, 2020.
The UN rapporteurs said Para was allegedly subjected to ill-treatment at the National Investigation Agency (NIA) headquarters in New Delhi. He was allegedly targeted for speaking out about the government and subjected to abusive interrogations after his arrest which lasted from 10 to 12 hours at a time.
“He was held in a dark underground cell at subzero temperatures, was deprived of sleep, kicked, slapped, beaten with rods, stripped naked and hung upside down. His ill-treatment was recorded. Para was examined by a government doctor three times since his arrest last November and three times by a psychiatrist. He requested medication for insomnia and anxiety,” the rapporteurs’ letter said.
Also highlighted in the letter was the case of Irfan Ahmad Dar, a 23-year-old shopkeeper who was arrested on Sept. 15, 2020 near his residence in the Sopore area of northern Kashmir by the Jammu and Kashmir police’s Special Operations Group (SOG).
The next morning, Dar’s family received news of his death. They had found his facial bones had been fractured, his front teeth were broken and his head appeared to have bruises from blunt force trauma. His family was allowed to see his body for about 10 minutes before burial, the letter said.
In response to protests against the killing, the district administration ordered a probe. During the probe, two police officers were suspended for “negligence of duty” for allowing him to escape, but nobody was held accountable for his killing, the letter added.
To highlight enforced disappearances, the experts mentioned the case of Naseer Ahmad Wani, a resident of the southern Shopian district. On Nov. 29, 2019, Indian soldiers raided his home and locked all his family members inside a room while beating him up for more than half an hour in another room. The soldiers took him along. When his family visited the army camp in Shadimarg, they were turned away. The same evening, some army officers visited the Wanis and told them they had released him, the letter said. He remains untraced to date.
“While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, we are expressing our grave concern that, should they be confirmed, they would constitute arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearance and, in the case of Dar, extrajudicial killing, and would amount to violations of Article 6 [of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights],” the letter said, referring to the right to life and not to be arbitrarily deprived of life.
The Indian government has not replied to the letter or five other communications by several other rapporteurs since Aug.5, 2019, when it scrapped the autonomy of the region and introduced laws to undermine the Muslim-majority population, raising fears of a demographic invasion.
The experts reminded the Indian government that concerns about the “deteriorating human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir, including alleged ongoing violations of India’s minorities, particularly Kashmiri Muslims,” have been raised in five earlier communications by several special rapporteurs since August 2019.
The Indian government has responded to none of these communications so far, according to the UN.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.
Also, in the Siachen glacier region of northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.