India on Thursday criticised the United Nations’ statement on recent civilian killings in Jammu and Kashmir and the arrest of Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez. The external affairs ministry said that the allegations made by the United Nations about the country’s law enforcement authorities and security forces were “baseless and unfounded”.
Parvez had been arrested by the National Investigation Agency in November in a case registered under the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act. He has been accused of criminal conspiracy and waging war against the government.
The agency also alleged that Parvez had been in contact with “overground workers” of a Pakistani militant group. Overground workers help arrange logistics for militant groups.
Several human rights organisations have spoken out against Parvez’s arrest, asserting that anti-terror laws were being misused to stifle dissent in India. On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had expressed concern about the activist’s arrest and demanded his release.
“Parvez, who has now been in custody for more than a week, is accused of terrorism-related offences,” the UN body’s spokesperson Rupert Colville had said. “We are unaware of the factual basis of the charges. He is known as a tireless advocate for families of the disappeared and has been targeted before for his human rights work.”
Colville added that Parvez had earlier been detained in 2016 under the Public Safety Act, and stopped from travelling to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. “He was released after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court declared his detention illegal,” the spokesperson noted.
In its statement, the United Nations Human Rights Office called for the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act to be amended and brought in line with international human rights law and standards.
“The UAPA empowers the authorities to designate individuals and organizations as terrorists based on imprecise criteria, contains a vague and overly broad definition of ‘terrorist act’, allows people to be held in lengthy pre-trial detention and makes securing bail very difficult,” the rights body said.
The UN body said that the anti-terror law was being used to suppress the works of human rights defenders and journalists in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India.
“In view of this context of previous reprisal for legitimate conduct, we call on the Indian authorities to fully safeguard his [Parvez’s] right to freedom of expression, association and personal liberty and to take the precautionary step of releasing him,” it said.
The UN Human Rights Office also said it was alarmed by the rise in killings of civilians, including members of religious minorities, by “armed groups” in Jammu and Kashmir.
In October, eleven civilians had been killed by the Resistance Front, believed to be an offshoot of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group. In November, two businessmen, labelled “terror associates” by the police, had been killed in a gunfight in Hyderpora in Srinagar.
“Civilians have been killed by security forces in the course of counter-terrorism operations, and their bodies on occasion disposed in secret,” the UN rights body said. “There should be prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and effective investigations into all killings of civilians, and families should be allowed to mourn their loved ones and seek justice.
The rights organisation said that the security forces and armed groups should exercise restraint, and ensure that “the rise in tensions in Jammu and Kashmir in recent weeks does not lead to further violence against the civilian population”.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the Union External Affairs Ministry said that the UN statement showed “a complete lack of understanding of the security challenges from cross-border terrorism”.
“Referring to proscribed terrorist organisations as ‘armed groups’ demonstrates a clear bias on the part of OHCHR [Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights],” the foreign ministry said. “As a democratic country, with an abiding commitment to promote and protect the human rights of its citizens, India takes all necessary steps to counter cross border terrorism.”
The ministry said that Parvez’s arrest was “entirely as per provisions of law”.
It added: “National security legislations, like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) were enacted by the Parliament to protect the sovereignty of India and ensure security of its citizens. We urge the OHCHR to develop a better understanding of the negative impact of terrorism on human rights.”