United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday expressed concern over the restrictions imposed in parts of Jammu and Kashmir since Sunday night, and said it could “exacerbate the human rights situation” in the region. This was the first detailed statement from Guterres’ spokesperson about the situation in the state after the Indian government withdrew its special status.
In the daily press briefing on Monday and Tuesday, Guterres’ spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had only said that the secretary general was following the developments with concern and urged restraint. On Wednesday, Dujarric denied that Guterres was reluctant to comment, and said “contacts are being had at various levels”. He also reiterated the appeal for restraint.
In Thursday’s statement, Dujarric invoked the 1972 Simla Agreement to repeat the request for “maximum restraint”. “The Secretary-General also recalls the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Simla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” he said.
“The position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions,” said Dujarric. “The Secretary-General calls on all parties to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir.”
On Wednesday, the United Nations’ human rights agency had said India’s decision would lead to deterioration in the alleged human rights problem in the region. “What we are now witnessing in Indian-administered Kashmir takes what was already a bit of pattern to a whole new level,” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had said.
Guterres has in the past offered to mediate in the Kashmir dispute if both India and Pakistan agreed. A similar offer by United States President Donald Trump was rejected by India last month, as New Delhi maintains that the matter must be resolved without the involvement of a third party.
This week, India decided to revise the Article 370 of its Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, to a single clause revoking the state’s privileges and ordering all laws to be applicable in the region the way they are in the rest of India. The contentious Article had so far ensured that the state had its own laws, flag and a Constitution. The Union government also split the state into two Union territories. However, the Kashmir Valley remains under a security and information clampdown since Sunday night, with very few news reports available to describe the situation there.
Pakistan, which has fought three wars with India over the Kashmir region, has responded to the decision by downgrading diplomatic ties, suspending bilateral trade, and suspended the Samjhauta Express train service between the two countries. India said Pakistan’s reaction was meant to present an “alarming picture” of the bilateral ties to the international community. India also said Jammu and Kashmir is its integral part and hence the matter is internal.
In an address to the nation on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the decision would help in the region’s development and marked the beginning of a new era.
US also urges calm and restraint
Meanwhile, the United States on Friday said there is no change in its policy on Kashmir and urged India and Pakistan to maintain calm and restraint. State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the US supports dialogue between the two countries.
“We have a lot of engagement with India and Pakistan,” she said. “Obviously, we just had Prime Minister [Imran] Khan here, not just because of Kashmir. That’s certainly an incredibly important issue and something that we follow closely. But we have a host of issues that we work with India on quite closely and that we work with Pakistan on quite closely.”
On Khan’s allegations of human rights abuse in Kashmir, Ortagus said, “I really don’t want to go beyond what we’ve said, because it’s such a tenuous issue. It’s something that we’re talking to them about quite closely.”
“There are reports, as you’ve mentioned, of detentions and restrictions of residents in Jammu and in Kashmir,” she said. “And again, that’s why we continue to monitor this very, very closely.”
Malaysia and Saudi Arabia react
On Thursday, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, both members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, called for peace in the region, The Indian Express reported. Saudi Arabia said the “settlement of the conflict is through peaceful settlement in accordance with the relevant international resolutions”. It also “called on the parties concerned to maintain peace and stability in the region and to take into account the interests of the people of the region”.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad expressed hope that India and Pakistan would exercise “utmost restraint” to prevent further escalation.