A tight spot
Amnesty’s latest Kashmir report must spur corrective action
DATELINE SRINAGAR BY ARJIMAND HUSSAIN TALIB
Amnesty International guys have done some plain talking on Kashmir after quite a while. To all those who believe in democratic values and rule of law, its latest report should cause worry. No political set up that aspires to be acknowledged as democratic would afford to get a report like this on its table.
Governments with democratic accountability normally tend to go about their follow ups to such reports in two ways – they either brush these aside or act to spur corrective action. The former approach is a recipe for political suicide.
The latest report is unique for two significant reasons – one, it has come at a time when Kashmir’s expression of political dissent is overwhelmingly peaceful. And, second, it is boldly forthright. The former reason makes it imperative for Omar Abdullah government to act differently on this.
When we look at the past, we don’t have a good track record of taking such reports seriously. A section of the opinion makers in Delhi believes that coercion, torture, unlawful detention, selective killings, etc. were not altogether avoidable when Kashmir’s insurgency was at its peak. May be.
Times have changed. Kashmir’s situation is today more or less akin to pre-1988 era – when political dissent was peaceful, yet very active. The state security response to this peaceful dissent doesn’t warrant harsh actions like we are witnessing now. That is what Amnesty has said.
Today – thanks to a massive security clampdown – Kashmiri youth are feeling insecure again. I talked to quite a few youth in Kashmir’s countryside over the last couple of months. What is clear is that their sense of insecurity is back – like it was prior to 2003. The large scale detention and harassment of the youth at the hands of various security agencies is the single most important factor contributing to their angst and rage today. That rage could translate into anything.
Amnesty’s acknowledgement that Public Safety Act (PSA) has been used to detain as many as 20,000 people without trial is alarming. And when it joins the local civil society voices for scrapping of this stern law, it needs to be heeded.
What is heartening is that the Amnesty’s report has also highlighted the judiciary’s failure in not rising up decisively as a counterweight to the executive’s unconstitutional decisions – clearly saying it has failed to protect human rights of the detainees.
When both the executive and the judicial systems fail to ensure justice, radical questions are bound to be raised. The very reason Public Safety Act needs to go is because it enables the state to secure long-term detention of individuals against whom there is insufficient evidence for a trial. And, as Amnesty has said, hundreds of people are being held each year on spurious grounds, with many exposed to higher risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
A lot has been said why the state cannot just detain political leaders and activists, lawyers, journalists and protesters, including children, in the name of public safety. Yet the same goes on without any judicial or public questioning. The reason public questioning is too soft is because a stringent security clampdown has made voices to go low or disappear altogether.
As highlighted in this column in the past, there continues to be a big void on human rights and humanitarian advocacy in Kashmir. That void, inter alia, pertains to the absence of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in Kashmir.
The state actions in containing peaceful public demonstrations in the state are generally extraordinarily stern. The use of live ammunition on unarmed protesters, army deployment, prolonged curfews, widespread detentions, media and communications curbs, etc. cannot be the hallmarks of a democratic system.
It is a fact that the UN continues to portray Kashmir as a disputed region in all its maps. Its official communications also recognize it as such. But there is a technical difference between depictions of a region as ‘disputed’ and ‘conflict affected’. The ‘disputed’ status, despite its own political significance, does not necessarily underline humanitarian urgency. Designation of Kashmir as a ‘conflict zone’ would do that.
Those advocating for Kashmiri right to self determination and safeguarding of their human rights have missed an important point over the years: the role of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kashmir. And also the absence of the UN Cluster System and a Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) in Kashmir.
The United Nations’ Military Observers’ Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), based in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, has a limited mandate. Their primary work is to report any violations or change in the status quo of the Line of Control (LoC).
OCHA as an arm of the UN Secretariat which has a broader mandate - to “mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action” to alleviate human suffering in emergencies, which includes conflict situations. Importantly, one of its missions is also to “advocate for the rights of people in need.”
Today Kashmir needs situation reports by impartial international actors, including the Amnesty, who could depict the real humanitarian situation here.
There are people who argue that since there is no UN OCHA office in India, its ambit of work cannot be extended to Kashmir. That is not a convincing argument. UN OCHA has directly and indirectly responded to many emergency situations in India. One example is the Gujarat earthquake.
Then there is a full-fledged UN OCHA office in Pakistan, whose area of work includes Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK).
Looking at the humanitarian and human rights situation in Kashmir today, including the highly inadequate infrastructure to treat the casualties and a lack of legal support to those detained without trial, UN OCHA has a strong case in Kashmir.
The policy of widespread detainment of civilians, including children, on frivolous charges remains a matter of serious concern. These state actions raise serious questions related to juvenile justice. Similarly, the culture of impunity for unconstitutional and unlawful actions in the state system needs to go.
Every state has a right to take actions to prevent violence and damage to public good, but preventing the expression of peaceful dissent with an iron fist does not help the idea of peace. Doing that is immoral and unbecoming of a supposedly democratic system.
The columnist can be emailed at email@example.com
Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Mar 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Mar 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 27 Mar 2011 00:00:00 IST
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