The United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs have expressed “grave concern” over the “alleged excessive use of force, torture and other forms of ill-treatment reportedly committed” during arrests and detentions in Jammu and Kashmir since August 2019.
This is the third such communication sent by the UN special rapporteurs since August 5 last year, when the Indian government split the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories and stripped it of autonomy under Article 370. It also revoked Article 35A, the law which allowed the government of the former state to define “state subjects” and reserve for them certain rights, such as the right to own land and hold government jobs, as well as a separate Constitution.
As the Centre announced its decision, the state was placed under the most complete lockdown in its history, with restrictions on movement, a communications blackout and mass arrests. Almost all of the Kashmir Valley’s political leadership, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti – were locked up.
“We would like to bring to the attention of Your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning the continued deterioration of human rights conditions in J&K following severe restrictions imposed after 5 August 2019, in particular citing arbitrary detentions, violations to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and rights of persons belonging to minorities,” the letter to the Indian government on May 4 said. It was made public recently, after providing the Indian government 60 days to respond.
Listing several instances of the alleged torture, the special rapporteurs said they were further concerned that these individuals were minorities – Kashmiri Muslims – who appeared to be targeted based on their ethnicity or religion. If confirmed, these would violate several articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by India in 1979 as well as the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or punishment and other protections that are provided for under resolution adopted by the UN.
Noting that there have been at least four reported cases of deaths due to such torture and three cases where minors were severely beaten, the special rapporteurs urged the Indian government to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation.
The special rapporteurs also expressed regret that India did not respond to the previous communications. “We regret that no response has been received to either communication, in particular the former,” they wrote. “We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing human rights violations.”
The first letter dated August 16, 2019, had expressed concerns on the restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly following the August 5 order. The second communication, sent on February 27, related to the “reported mass crackdown targeting those expressing dissent” against the decision on Article 370.
The signatories were Nils Melzer, the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Fernand de Varennes on minority issues; and Ahmed Shaheed on freedom of religion or belief.