UNHCR on Kashmir: Report highlights UN's tendency to be 'highly selective' in calling out human rights violations

The United Nations Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir released recently, would be comical, if it wasn't dealing with issues that are undoubtedly tragic in the extreme. First and foremost, the ticklish issue of what constitutes "human rights" is puzzling.

In the lexicon of the so-called "international community" – that is, the 'rich kids' who dominate the Security Council – it's absolutely all right to bomb, strafe and shoot a population from the air, on the grounds that the area is home to a random terrorist group. For instance, some 470,000 have been killed in Syria by one side or the other since the start of the war.

Undoubtedly, the good people at the UN rights office have taken note of the issue. Their mandate, however, is interesting. It is to report "alleged" violations by everyone including the Syrian government, the Islamic State and sundry other groups who are busy killing each other.

Kashmir. Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

While the majority of reports warn and criticise the Syrian government – which is no pattern of humanity – not much is said on the aerial bombing of hapless citizens by the United States or Russia. A damning report by The New York Times estimated that the US was killing at least 31 times more civilians than it was estimating. Russia, of course, will never allow such reports.

Here's another instance. Pakistan has used artillery and aircraft against its own citizens in the frontier in the last few years. The Pakistan Army justified this as a counterterrorism operation, which it undoubtedly was. But here's the thing. The Indian Army has been fighting terrorism for the last several decades. Never once has it ever resorted to aerial bombing of its own citizens. Instead, as the UN report points out, the Indian paramilitary forces have used pellet guns. The contrast in reaction by the Indian forces and just about everyone else cannot be starker.

Indeed, it is worth examining whether any other country in the world has been as restrictive on the use of force as the Indian Army. Remember the British operations in Malaya? That is still cited as a classic counterinsurgency operation. It also involved the forced relocation of entire populations. If India does anything of the kind in Kashmir, the entire western (and Indian) media would be on our necks.

Pakistan does it all the time in reverse. Since a 1988 revolt by the Shias of the present day Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistani authorities have made it a policy to bring in Sunnis mainly from Punjab into these areas. As a result, parts of Gilgit Baltistan, including its capital, is almost hundred percent Sunni. The result is a rising sectarian divide, all of which the Human Rights Council seems to be blissfully unaware of.

None of this is an attempt at "Whataboutery". The killing or oppression of people anywhere by a state that is paid, and (in the case of India) elected to protect them, is a crime that needs to be accorded the most stringent punishment. The Indian Army has a relatively clean record of punishing those it sees as abusing their authority. A colonel and five others were sentenced to life in a fake encounter case.

Equally, however, the army has sworn revenge for the killing and abduction of its Kashmiri officer Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, who had come home on leave. The army doesn't differentiate between Kashmiris and "Indians". And reward and punishment are usually awarded without such divisions, but not without some exceptions.

The award given to an officer who tied a Kashmiri to a jeep and drove around for hours was not simply wrong, it was stupid. The army's intelligence 'grid' depends heavily on a degree of goodwill from the people on the ground. When this fails, as it will when such incidents occur, it is the army itself which will suffer.

Insurgencies are highly complicated affairs, especially at a time when social media is either reporting or misreporting incidents even as they happen. A large part of the casualties inflicted by the paramilitary forces has, therefore, occurred when civilians have got in the way of an operation to nab a terrorist.

A video showing a security forces vehicle running over a stone pelter was horrific. But here's the reality that armchair analysts need to understand – if you get in the way of operations, you are very likely to get killed. That's true the world over. The obverse side of the coin however also holds true. Self-declared armchair 'nationalists' have no business celebrating such deaths. That is shaming a country that has – still – a record of not resorting to the kind of force that most others have used.

Finally, the most shameful aspect of the human rights report is the reference to terrorists as 'armed groups'. The fact that violence in Kashmir is openly stoked by a neighbouring state – as apparent from the interviews with Lieutenant General Asad Durrani in the "Spy Chronicles" – seems to have been completely overlooked. Worse still, by the Human Rights Council's own admission, the report is largely about India and not Pakistan.

Why this focus on this side of the Line of Control is inexplicable. Which brings the whole thing back to the beginning of this essay. Callouts on human rights violations are highly selective. Now, it is the job of the Foreign Office to look out for just who is pushing this report and why. There's also a second aspect, however.

UN bodies can be castigated to the hilt for good reason. However, also support and examine abuse of power by security forces everywhere, not just in Kashmir. They, and the judiciary that is supposed to prevent abuse, are the backbone of a functioning state. Both can do with not only scrutiny and criticism but also praise. When someone does a good job, talk about it. All of us could do with some good news.


Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 09:16 AM

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