Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – United Nations experts have expressed concern over “repressive measures and broader pattern of systematic infringements of fundamental rights” in Indian-administered Kashmir and asked the Indian government to respond to allegations of rights violations in the disputed region.
In a letter sent to the Indian government at the end of March and made public on Monday, five UN experts sought New Delhi’s response to three main allegations: the “enforced disappearance” of Naseer Ahmad Wani from southern Kashmir’s Shopian district, the “extrajudicial killing” of Irfan Ahmad Dar in north Kashmir’s Sopore, and the “arbitrary detention” of pro-India leader Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para from Pulwama.
In November last year, the letter said, Para, who was arrested by India’s National Investigating Agency (NIA) over “terrorism charges” was allegedly subjected to “ill-treatment” and “abusive interrogations” which lasted 10 to 12 hours a day.
“He was held in a dark underground cell at sub-zero temperature, was deprived of sleep, kicked, slapped, beaten with rods, stripped naked and hung upside down,” said the letter.
“Para was examined by a government doctor three times … and three times by a psychiatrist. He requested medication for insomnia and anxiety,” it added.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, who rule over portions of it but claim the Himalayan territory in full. The two nuclear-armed nations have fought two of their three wars over the region.
In the early 1990s, an armed rebellion against Indian rule took shape on the Indian side, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians. The rebels demand either an independent state or a merger with neighbouring Pakistan.
The region also has a small group of pro-India politicians and political parties who participate in national and regional elections.
The UN experts’ letter said Para, a youth leader from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), one of the pro-India political parties, was arrested following his virtual meeting in July last year with UN Security Council members in which he denounced “human rights violations” in Indian-administered Kashmir.
From the Spl Rapporteurs letter alleging Waheed Para was tortured by NIA officials as "reprisal" for comments to UNSC ambassadors. pic.twitter.com/0vf2xqRhen
— Suhasini Haidar (@suhasinih) June 1, 2021
In his meeting with UNSC members, Para “raised the alarm about India’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir, its treatment of Muslim minorities, and the recent border tensions with China,” the UN experts said in the letter.
“Following this engagement, Para received threats from officials with the NIA indicating he was inviting trouble by engaging in such events. They gave him an ultimatum that if he did not cease speaking out about the Government, action would be taken against him,” the letter said.
Para was arrested days after he filed his nomination papers for the local election from his home constituency of Pulwama. While he was granted bail in the “terrorism” case, he was re-arrested in another case by the region’s counterinsurgency force.
‘Para made an example’
PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, also the last elected chief minister of the region, told Al Jazeera that Para believed in “democracy and peace”.
“It is very unfortunate that a person who believes in democracy and who was a torch-bearer in bringing youth to the mainstream has been held like this. When we say in Kashmir that we want to engage and attract the youth to the mainstream, Waheed (Para) has been made an example in a very negative manner,” she said.
“What impression does it give? If this can happen to a person who was part of the mainstream and who advocated democracy and peaceful means, what will happen to others and what will be their future?”
One of Para’s family members, who did not wish to be identified, told Al Jazeera he is being punished for “engaging with people in Kashmir”.
“He is innocent and has become weak in jail. When BJP leaders used to come to Kashmir, they wanted him to reconcile and engage with the people, mainly the youth. He did it and now it has suddenly become his crime,” the relative said.
During a visit to the Muslim-majority region in 2018, then-federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh praised Para for organising an event “full of young people”.
“He even engaged with stone pelters and tried to bring them to mainstream. That time he was praised for doing it. We don’t know how long he can be held, but he still has trust in judiciary that he will come out,” Para’s relative told Al Jazeera.
Irfan Dar and Naseer Wani
Another case the UN experts raised is that of 23-year-old shopkeeper Irfan Ahmad Dar from north Kashmir’s Sopore district who was arrested on September 15 by officers who arrived at his shop in civilian clothes.
“Dar was detained at the Sopore police station without a warrant,” the letter said.
The next morning, according to the letter, Dar’s family was told he was dead.
“The police claimed that Dar was killed while he was trying to escape from their custody. However, while performing their last rites on his body, it was found that his facial bones had been fractured, his front teeth were broken and his head appeared to have bruises of blunt force trauma. His family was allowed to see his body for about 10 minutes before burial,” the experts wrote.
They added that “in response to the protests against the killing, the district administration ordered a probe. During the probe, two policemen were suspended from their duties for ‘negligence of duty’ for allowing him to escape, however nobody was held accountable for his killing”.
The UN experts have also sought the Indian government’s response on the case of Naseer Ahmad Wani, a 19-year-old from Doompora village in the southern district of Shopian over his “enforced disappearance” from his residence following a raid by the paramilitary forces.
“On November 29, 2019, a 44 Rashtriya Rifles (44 RR) team raided his home, where he lives with his family, allegedly claiming that his phone was used by militants,” their letter said, adding that they “searched every corner and vandalized the property”.
“While searching the house, the army personnel kept two children alongside them using them as human shields. Both of them were also beaten. The army personnel assembled all the women in a single room and asked their names, took their photographs and requested everyone to handover their mobile phones. They were threatened that if they did not comply, they would be stripped naked,” the letter said.
It went on to say that “five soldiers entered Wani’s room, and locked the door from inside”.
“For more than half-an-hour, the family members, locked in the adjacent room, heard his cries while he was being beaten. The soldiers then took him out with them.”
‘Pattern of serious rights violations’
The UN experts wrote that on November 30, 2019, the family went to the police, who directed them to an army camp from where they were turned away.
“Late that evening, the same army officers visited Wani’s house. The Army Major told his family that there was no need to return to the police station or to initiate any legal proceedings as they had released Wani,” said the letter.
But Wani did not come home. “On the following evening, on 1 December, the Major along with some personnel returned to Wani’s home. He assembled all the family members in a single room and pointed his gun at a family member’s neck and threatened them not to make any further enquiries or take legal action,” the letter said.
The letter mentions that the police filed a missing person report on December 2, 2019, following an earlier request by the family.
“However, Wani’s fate and whereabouts are still not known,” it said.
“While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, we are expressing our grave concern that, should they be confirmed, they would constitute arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearance.”
The UN experts said the allegations are “part of what appears to be an ongoing pattern of serious violations of human rights by police, army, security agencies and the judiciary in the Jammu and Kashmir region”.
They said the allegations come as part of what they see as a “pattern of serious violations of human rights” that “warrants in our view the most serious attention on the part of the highest authorities” and that “they may publicly express their concerns in the near future”.
“[We] believe the wider public should be informed about the implications of these allegations on the exercise and enjoyment of their human rights,” they said.
In July 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a 43-page report recommending the formation of a commission of inquiry to conduct a “comprehensive, independent, international investigation” into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.
A commission of inquiry is one of the UN’s highest-level probes, generally reserved for important global crises. The Indian government has often refuted allegations of rights violations in the region as “false”.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera the UN experts had raised some “extremely serious concerns”, which she said were also raised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“That Waheed Para may have been arrested in reprisal for testifying to the UN Security Council is particularly concerning and a violation of India’s international obligations,” she said.
“The Indian authorities should order independent investigations into these allegations and hold those found responsible to account.”