New Delhi: The UN’s top diplomat on human rights today publicly sought “unconditional access” for a fact-finding team to Kashmir, citing reports of excessive use of force by India, in an unprecedented statement likely to ratchet up competing international lobbying by New Delhi and Islamabad.
But the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi rejected access for the team, even as Pakistan told the UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein it would allow access to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir if the team also visited Indian Kashmir.
Hussein’s comments came in an opening statement to the 33rd session of the 47-member UN Human Rights Council – of which India is currently a member – where the high commissioner sharply criticised countries that denied access to his office.
The comments represent the first occasion when a UN high commissioner for human rights has marked out Kashmir as among his major challenges in his opening statement to a session of the Human Rights Council, set up a decade back after a revamp of UN institutions.
“Two months ago, I requested the agreement of the governments of India andPakistan to invite teams from my office to visit both sides of the Line of Control,” Hussein said. “We had previously received reports, and still continue to do so, claiming the Indian authorities had used force excessively against the civilian population under its administration.”
Hussein added that he had received “conflicting reports” on the cause of the violence – India claims Pakistan is fuelling the protests that have led to the violence, while Pakistan accuses India of targeting innocent youths.
“I believe an independent, impartial and international mission is now needed crucially and that it should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides,” he said.
Pakistan, he said, had formally invited his office to send a team to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, “but in tandem with a mission to the Indian side”. But India, he added, had not responded to his request.
“I therefore request here and publicly, from the two governments, access that is unconditional to both sides of the Line of Control,” Hussein said.
Hussein’s comments came on a day clashes between security forces and protesters in Kashmir left two more youths dead, taking the total toll of casualties to 82 since July, when protests broke out over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani.
The foreign office here was quick to reject Hussein’s request.
“As regards the suggestion for a visit of a mission to both sides of the Line of Control, we would underline that there is no comparison between the situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is part of a pluralistic and secular democracy, where freedoms are guaranteed by an independent judiciary, an active media and a vibrant civil society. In contrast, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is administered by a ‘deep state’ and has become a hub for the global export of terror.”
The foreign office iterated in its statement that the current cycle of violence began with Wani’s July 8 killing – and then hit back at the high commissioner’s office.
“It was further aggravated by sustained cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan,” the statement said. “Terrorism is the grossest violation of human rights and should be so acknowledged by any impartial and objective observer.”
The foreign ministry said the all-party meeting chaired by the Prime Minister on August 12 had considered the request for an externally appointed mission to Kashmir.
“It was unanimously felt that Indian democracy has all that is required to address legitimate grievances,” the foreign ministry statement said, before referring to a visit by an all-party team to Kashmir. “Despite cross-border terrorist infiltration that saw an encounter only yesterday, (the) government remains fully engaged in normalising the situation as soon as possible.”
But Hussein indicated in his comments that his office would continue to pursue states that are denying it access.
“Human rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity,” Hussein said. “On the contrary, efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: what, precisely, are you hiding from us?”
“States may shut my office out – but they will not shut us up; neither will they blind us,” he added. “If access is refused, we will assume the worst, and yet do our utmost to nonetheless report as accurately as we can on serious allegations.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it “welcomes” Hussein’s statement, and supported his request for fact-finding teams to either side of the Line of Control.