By Arul Louis,
United Nations : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has backed Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s call for an international investigation into human rights situation in Kashmir saying that it represents the “voice of the UN”.
He also defended at a news conference on Thursday his own report on children in armed conflict that referred to situations in Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
He denied India’s assertions that his report overstepped his mandate and that Zeid’s had no mandate and said that they were both covered by the “the general mandate of human rights instruments”.
On Monday, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative Tanmaya Lal told the Security Council that Zeid’s “so-called report” was “reflecting the clear bias of an official who was acting without any mandate whatsoever and relied on unverified sources of information”.
As for Guterres’s report, Lal said: “We are disappointed that the report of the Secretary General includes situations, which do not meet the definition of armed conflict or of threat to maintenance of international peace and security.”
Asked at his news conference if he supported Zeid’s call for the independent international investigation, Guterres said: “As you can imagine all the action of the Human Rights High Commissioner is an action that represents the voice of the UN in relation to that issue.”
Answering a question about the reports running counter to India’s long-standing assertion that Kashmir is a part of India and any problem between the neighbours was a bilateral issue among India and Pakistan, Guterres said there was a distinction between political matters and human rights.
He said: “One thing is the definition of mechanisms for a political solution of a situation in a country and the other thing is the general mandate of human rights instruments in relation to human rights everywhere.”
“What the Human Rights Commissioner did was the use of its own competencies and capacities as it does in all other parts of the world to report on what he considers to be relevant human rights violations,” Guterres explained.
“It does not mean that there is in that a preference for any kind of methodology for a political solution,” he added.
As for India’s saying that the situation in the three Indian states mentioned in Guterres’s report did not meet “a definition of armed conflict or of threat to maintenance of international peace and security,” he said that the same principles applied to it also.
His “report is a report about situations in which the rights of children have been put into question,” Guterres said.
In his report in June on children in armed conflict, Guterres accused Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir and Naxalites in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand of using children.
The report simultaneously assigned blame to the Indian government saying, “Children continued to be killed and injured in the context of operations of national security forces against armed groups.”
His report added that “unverified reports” indicate national security forces use children as “informants and spies”.
Zeid, whose term gets over at the end of 2018, asked the Human Rights Council to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the human rights situation in Kashmir.
The Council did not take up his suggestion at its session that ended last week.
His report said that “Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries” in dealing with protests in the state.
The report raised the issue of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that he asserted gave security personnel “virtual impunity”.
Zeid also called for the investigation to look into reports of mass graves in the state.
Rejecting Zeid’s report, India’s External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said it was “overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative”.
“We are deeply concerned that individual prejudices are being allowed to undermine the credibility of a UN institution,” he said in a direct personal criticism of Zeid.
He said it was a compilation of “largely unverified information” and “the authors have conveniently ignored the pattern of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan and territories under its illegal control.”
He added, “The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan is in illegal and forcible occupation of a part of the Indian state through aggression.”
(Arul Louis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)