United Nations: UN human rights experts and defenders in a joint communication have expressed serious concerns on the application of counter-terrorism laws in Indian illegally occupied Kashmir, saying that these laws would lead to more human rights abuses in the disputed territory.
According to Kashmir Media Service, the communication was signed by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; on the situation of human rights defenders, on freedom of religion or belief and on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
The diplomats also expressed concern that the measures, imposed after the Indian Parliament revoked the special status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir, would exacerbate tensions in the region. They noted that India never responded to the several joint communications sent by the UN human rights experts over the last four years, nor has taken any action to reverse its illegal measures and halt human rights violations.
In their communication, the human rights experts also said that the tough measures already in force were “ripe for human rights abuse in potential violation of the Indian Government’s obligations under international human rights law, particularly the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights to equality and non-discrimination, the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, and the right of liberty and security of person.” The overlapping measures include relevant provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Public Safety Act (PSA), National Security Act, Code of Criminal Procedure, Penal Code, and Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. The experts said that the undue harms that could arise from the concurrent and/or consecutive application of these laws and regulations against the same individual, group, or entity, thus compounding the potential human rights consequences on them, as well as their families and communities.
While recalling various previous communications issued to the Indian Government, on this subject, the new joint communication underlines various violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is against human rights defenders and civil society members, including those that report on human rights violations in the region or express opinions criticizing the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status or other political decisions, it was pointed out.
The provision for preventive detention without charge or trial under Public Safety Act of 1978 expanding the government standard pretrial detention of 60-90 days to 180 days, poses particular challenges to the right to liberty and security, as well as fundamental due process and fair trial rights under international human rights law, such as these right to presumption of innocence. The joint communication expressed concern that Section 10 of the PSA allows for the transfer of detainees to different jails and centers outside of the Jammu and Kashmir region, “We underscore the importance of guaranteeing access to counsel and communication to family members of detainee whereabouts in line with article 14 of the ICCPR.”
The National Security Act (NSA), which allows for preventive detention for up to 12 months, “can be invoked by law enforcement officials in cases of alleged religious conversion, cow slaughter, among other religious acts, and may therefore be particularly vulnerable to disproportionate enforcement against Muslim and other minorities,” it said. The Penal Code may be used to suppress voices of legitimate dissent including by human rights defenders, journalists, political dissidents, and minorities, according to the communication.
The experts have stressed that labeling such lawful dissent as acts of terrorism, sedition, or other criminal offenses would per se violate the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression and would also pose significant risks of violating the rights to freedom of religion or belief and association, among fundamental rights and freedoms. In addition, they said, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 (FCRA) may be abused to abridge the rights of human rights defenders and civil society actors to access foreign funding as protected by the right to freedom of association. The joint communication strongly recommended that the Indian Government independently assesses the counterterrorism and broader national security framework applicable in Jammu and Kashmir and across jurisdictions in order to ensure consistency with international human rights law norms and standards.
They reiterated that the Indian Government appoint an independent expert or body to review the application and operation of the applicable counter-terrorism law, as recommended by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. The human rights experts have offered to the Indian Government they remain available to provide “technical assistance to your government in order to support full compliance of your counterterrorism and broader national security architecture with your obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international refugee law.”
Thousands of civilians, hundreds of political leaders, human rights defenders, and journalists have been arbitrarily detained, subjected to torture and have been silenced under these counter-terrorism laws after revocation of Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The human rights experts have pointed to the increase of anti-Muslim campaigns, which have stoked a wave of Islamophobic sentiment across the country and exacerbated violence and discrimination against the Muslim individuals and communities belonging to ethnic and religious minorities.