India is seeking to normalise the “brutal and repressive denial of democratic and other rights of Kashmiri Muslims and minorities” by holding G20 meetings in Jammu and Kashmir, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, said on Monday.

India assumed the presidency of G20, or Group of 20 countries, on December 1. The presidency of the intergovernmental forum of 20 major developed and developing economies is assumed by member nations on a rotational basis.

The third meeting of the G20 tourism working group is scheduled to be held in Srinagar between May 22 and 24. This will be the first major international summit to be held in Jammu and Kashmir since the erstwhile state’s special status was taken away by abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, 2019.

The G20 meeting in Srinagar will see the participation of delegates from guest countries and several international organisations, besides representatives from the member nations.

“...The Government of India is seeking to normalise what some have described as a military occupation by instrumentalising a G20 meeting and portray an international ‘seal of approval’,” Varennes said in a statement on Monday.

The UN expert said that “massive human rights violations” have been reported in Jammu and Kashmir since the Union Territory came under the direct rule of the Centre in August 2019. “These included torture, extrajudicial killings, denial of political participation rights of Kashmiri Muslims and minorities,” he said.

Varennes added that in 2021 him and other independent experts of the UN had expressed grave concerns to the Indian government that the loss of political autonomy and the implementation of new domicile rules in Jammu and Kashmir could alter its demographic composition.

“On all counts this seems to be occurring on the ground, in a repressive and sometimes brutal environment of suppression of even basic rights,” Varennes said.

He also said that there have been reports that a “significant number of Hindus” from outside the region moving into the Union Territory has led to “dramatic demographic changes in Jammu and Kashmir to overwhelm native Kashmiris in their own land”.

“The G20 is unwittingly providing a veneer of support to a facade of normalcy at a time when massive human rights violations, illegal and arbitrary arrests, political persecutions, restrictions and even suppression of free media and human rights defenders continue to escalate,” the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues noted.

‘Baseless and unwarranted’

Meanwhile, the Permanent Mission of India in Geneva rejected Varennes’ statement as “baseless and unwarranted”.

“As G20 President, it is India’s prerogative to host its meetings in any part of the country,” the Indian mission said. “We are aghast that Fernand de Varennes has acted irresponsibly to politicise this issue, misused his position as SR [Special Rapporteur] to publicize on social media his presumptive and prejudiced conclusions.”

Last month, Pakistan had also expressed its “strong indignation” after India announced that Jammu and Kashmir will be hosting a G20 meeting, reported Dawn.

“India’s irresponsible move is the latest in a series of self-serving measures to perpetuate its illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir in sheer disregard of the UN Security Council resolutions and in violation of the principles of the UN Charter and international law,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office had said.

However, on May 5, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said that that G20 meetings are held in all the Indian states and union territories which includes Jammu and Kashmir.

“I don’t think there is a G20 issue to debate with anybody,” Jaishankar had said. “Certainly not with a country which has got nothing to do with G20. Jammu and Kashmir was is and will always be a part of India.”