South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Toronto: On the occasion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia (October 28-30), Peace and Justice Forum (PJF) has urged the Commonwealth leaders’ help to enable the Kashmiri people to exercise their Right to Self-determination (RSD).
Mr Mushtaq A. Jeelani, Executive Director of the PJF in separate letters to 53 Commonwealth leaders and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, expressed his serious concern about worsening human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The Executive Director reminded the leaders that the Kashmir issue remains at the heart of hostility between the nuclear-armed arch rivals India and Pakistan (both members of the Commonwealth) and was the cause of two of three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947. The people of Kashmir are frustrated with the status quo and traumatised by India’s system of state brutality – the entire population is immensely suffering.
He said the Commonwealth has a proud record of promoting human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. The Commonwealth was instrumental in dismantling the structure of apartheid in South Africa. It stood firm against racial discrimination and violation of freedoms and human rights. It actively supported the move to independence of many British colonies. The Executive Director hoped that Kashmir’s freedom would be next on the Commonwealth’s agenda.
Mr Jeelani emphasised that the people of Kashmir have been deprived of their inalienable right of self-determination, which is enshrined in the resolutions of the UN Security Council, and have remained unimplemented for over half a century. He added that the April 1948 Security Council resolution declared: “the only way to settle the Kashmir problem peacefully was to demilitarise the state and hold a plebiscite under the UN supervision.”
The Executive Director underscored that since October 1989, Kashmir has become the most highly militarised zone in the world; more than 700,000 Indian soldiers are deployed there. In almost 22 years, the occupying Indian forces have killed more than 100,000 Kashmiris – many more scarred and wounded, to silence the people’s demand for justice, respect for human rights, freedom and the right of self-determination. They continue to carry out arbitrary detention, summary executions, custodial killings, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, sexual exploitation, torture and fake encounters. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up under the shadow of the gun; not a single family is unaffected; property worth hundreds of millions of dollars has been destroyed and the suffering and devastation continues unabated that has inflicted loss of life and destruction on an unprecedented scale, sadly drawing no significant attention from the Commonwealth.
Mr Jeelani cautioned the leaders that Indian forces operate under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), also known as “black laws,” which give them broad authorisation to arrest, search, and shoot without questions. Impunity has become a licence for the Indian occupation forces to wreak havoc with the lives of Kashmiris. The deliberate and unprovoked attacks and other patterns of abuse have all become too frequent to report. No perpetrator has ever been prosecuted in a real manner, despite the fact that such crimes have been extensively documented by many international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
The Executive Director urged the leaders’ attention to a shocking discovery of 2700 unmarked graves in Kashmir with bodies of defenceless Kashmiri civilians – this gives the true picture of the so-called largest democracy of the world: “‘For years, Kashmiris have been lamenting their lost loved ones, their pleas ignored or dismissed as the [Indian] government and army claimed that they had gone to Pakistan to become militants,’ said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ‘But these graves suggest the possibility of mass murder. The authorities should immediately investigate each and every death.’
He reminded the leaders that India is a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, but enforced disappearances is an explicit state policy for over 20 years – absolute disregard for International law?
He said the Commonwealth leaders must help India to understand that violence is not and cannot be answer to popular demands for justice, freedom and the right of self-determination. A plebiscite under the United Nations supervision to determine the future status of Kashmir is the only answer to resolve the issue.
Mr Jeelani hoped that the leaders meeting in Perth would demand an end to widespread human rights violations in Kashmir, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. He further underlined that the poor human rights records of any member country undermines Commonwealth’s commitment to democracy, freedom, peace and the rule of law. It is time that the Commonwealth hold countries accountable for their abusive human rights records.
The Executive Director underlined that the Harare and Singapore Declarations reaffirmed commitment of the Commonwealth to the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law promotion of international understanding and world peace. The Harare Declaration further reaffirmed “fundamental human rights including equal rights…” – all member nations of the Commonwealth have committed to upholding the principles.
He reminded the leaders that as a signatory to the Commonwealth’s Harare Declaration, the government of India should be committed to the defence of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The fact of the matter is that New Delhi continues with its brutal military campaign to silence Kashmiris demanding the right of self-determination.
Mr Jeelani cautioned the leaders that India’s conduct, therefore, is evidently in violation of the principles set out in the ground-breaking Commonwealth Declarations of 1971 and 1991. The Commonwealth, however, has been turning a blind eye to the systematic human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir, particularly during the past 22 years.
The Executive Director reminded the leaders the perception that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan is totally unfounded. Kashmir is not a territorial or bilateral issue. It is about the future of 15 million people with their own history of independence; their own language and culture. This has been an explicit explanation for the failure to resolve the Kashmir issue through on-again and off-again bilateral dialogue for the past 64 years. The people of Kashmir are tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome; moreover, they have lost complete faith in the bilateral process of India and Pakistan and their ability to resolve the issue.
He underscored that the 15 million people of Kashmir are yearning for peace, justice, freedom and the right of self-determination. They want a just and dignified peace that guarantees total freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination. Their struggle to achieve that right of self-determination will not extinguish until India and Pakistan accept its exercise by the people of Kashmir.
Mr Jeelani underlined that the right to self-determination is the cornerstone of the United Nations system that underpins the contemporary international order. Its unquestioned acceptance has been established by core international instruments including the Charter of the United Nations, the two Covenants on Civil and Political and Economic, Social and Cultural rights and the declaration adopted by General Assembly resolution 1514.
The Executive Director warned the leaders that the failure of the Commonwealth to address the unresolved issue of Kashmir would be making a mockery of the Harare and Singapore Declarations and point to institutional weaknesses in the Commonwealth’s capacity to promote and protect human rights.
“Commonwealth’s help can aid India and Pakistan to transform the Kashmir issue from being a bone of contention to a bridge of understanding for lasting peace and prosperity of South Asia’s billion plus people. A peaceful solution of the dispute will help to bring stability in the South Asian region, including in Afghanistan and eliminate a potential threat of another major war. This would further help lay the foundation for a new era of coexistence between India and Pakistan,” concluded Mr Jeelani.

Source: Kashmir Watch – 31/10/2011