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U.N. report on Kashmir spreads blame

In its first report on the disputed region of Kashmir, the U.N. human rights office pinned blame for violence on both India and Pakistan.

GENEVA (AN) — In its first report on the disputed region of Kashmir, the U.N. human rights office pinned blame for violence on both India and Pakistan and called for independent experts to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, said in its report that both sides have gotten away with chronic impunity while killing or ruining many lives. It said security forces from India and Pakistan violated human rights vying for control of a region at the center of two of three wars they waged since winning independence from British rule in 1947.

India's government rejected the report, calling it "fallacious, tendentious and motivated." Its ministry of external affairs said in an online statement the U.N. report is "a selective compilation of largely unverified information. It is overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative."

Pakistan, however, said it welcomed the idea of establishing an independent commission of inquiry to carry out an international investigation into alleged human rights violations in the region.

"This proposal is consistent with Pakistan's several calls to this effect since 2016, even as India has continued to ignore legitimate demands for [a] probe into gross and systematic violations, including pellet guns, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest and detentions as well as continued sexual violence as part of overall impunity enjoyed by Indian security forces," Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The fighting reaches high up into the Karakoram, the mountain range where, for more than a half-century, the two nations' armies with at least a half-million troops combined have been meeting on the highest battleground in the world, the Siachen Glacier, at an elevation of 5,400 meters or more.

“The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been center stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering,” said the head of OHCHR, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, in a statement.

“It is also why I will be urging the U.N. Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir,” he said.

The report and his statement, carried on U.N. Web TV, were released ahead of the 47-nation Human Rights Council's session starting in June. The report did not include first-hand reporting from Kashmir because India and Pakistan refused to grant U.N. investigators unconditional access.

Nuclear hotspot

The two nations' tensions have long prompted a high degree of uneasiness in the world because they are nuclear-armed neighbors. Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced by violence in the Indian-controlled region known as Jammu and Kashmir and in the Pakistani-held area.Just weeks ago, India and Pakistan declared another cease-fire along their disputed border and agreed to follow through on a 2003 cease-fire that has been repeatedly violated.

Pakistan claims it is providing nothing more than moral support to Kashmiris that are fighting Indian rule, and that Indian forces are responsible for the more than 1,050 cease-fire violations this year, in which 28 civilians have died and 117 others have been injured.

India claims Pakistan is providing rebel groups with training and arms, and that Pakistani forces are responsible for more than 800 cease-fire violations this year, causing the deaths of 25 civilians and 18 soldiers. The rebel groups say they want to become independent or part of Pakistan.OHCHR'S report found India's security forces used "excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries" between July 2016 and April 2018. It cited estimates by other organizations that up to 145 civilians were killed by the security forces and up to 20 other civilians were killed by armed groups.

“It is essential the Indian authorities take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir,” Zeid said.

India's foreign ministry disputed the findings and said the "entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India," with Pakistan illegally and forcibly occupying it through aggression.

"We have repeatedly called upon Pakistan to vacate the occupied territories," it said. "The incorrect description of Indian territory in the report is mischievous, misleading and unacceptable. There are no entities such as 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir' and 'Gilgit-Baltistan.' "

Broad range of concerns

OHCHR reported that "one of the most dangerous weapons used against protesters in 2016 — and which is still being employed by security forces — was the pellet-firing shotgun." It said 17 people were killed by shotgun pellets between July 2016 and August 2017, and 6,221 people were injured by metal pellets between 2016 and March 2017.

"Civil society organizations believe that many of them have been partially or completely blinded," the report said. "Chronic impunity for sexual violence also remains a key concern in Kashmir."

The report cited the "emblematic case" of the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape 27 years ago when, according to survivors, soldiers gang-raped 23 women. “Attempts to seek justice have been denied and blocked over the years at different levels,” OHCHR concluded.

Another of the report's findings is that Pakistan's government and military supports armed groups in Jammu and Kashmir that have committed a wide range of human rights abuses, including kidnappings and killings of civilians and sexual violence, since the late 1980s.

"Despite the government of Pakistan’s denial of any support for these groups, the report notes that a number of experts have concluded that Pakistan’s military continues to support their operations across the Line of Control," OHCHR said, referring to the military control line that came out of the 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan after Bangladesh won independence.

Pakistani counterterrorism operations and their impacts on human rights also are examined in the report, which quotes a national organization's finding that, in the name of counterterrorism, hundreds of people were imprisoned in Gilgit-Baltistan and other rights activists were targeted.

"The report urges Pakistan to end the misuse of anti-terror legislation to persecute those engaging in peaceful political and civil activities and those who express dissent," OHCHR said.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said, however, that the U.N. report "clearly stipulates that its main focus is on the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The contents, scale and the narrative of killings, maiming, abuse and impunity articulated in the report is a reaffirmation of what Pakistan has long highlighted for the international community."