A congressional hearing on Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region took place in Washington D.C on October 22 showed serious concerns over the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir and urged India to uphold its commitment to human rights. In her remarks, Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said that the situation was complex and Pakistan was not without its share of responsibility but India as the world’s largest democracy and a critical ally for the US needs to uphold her commitment to human rights. She also referred to a report about the detention of hundreds of children in Kashmir and said detention without charges was unacceptable. She intends to bring a bipartisan resolution in the Congress on the abuse of religious freedom in India.
Minnesota Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar was highly critical of India and how could there be a partnership between India and the U.S based on share values when India was abusing its religious minorities. She talked about the abrogation of Article 370, the NRC in Assam and the rise of Hindu Nationalists led by the BJP. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells blamed Pakistan for promoting terror groups such as Jaishe Muhammad and operating against Indi and Afghanistan. Congressman Brad Sherman, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in his opening remarks, said that the entire world was focused today on what is happening in Kashmir.
Sherman said that there are severe restrictions on freedom of movement and communications. Lawmakers Ted Yoho, Abigail Spanberger and Mike Fitzpatrick also expressed concern over the human rights situation in Kashmir and urged India to take steps to lift restrictions on the movement of people, communication restrictions and detention of political leaders. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Robert Destro told the subcommittee, that despite the assurance from Prime Minister Modi the situation was mixed. He acknowledged that there was a shortage of medicines, delays in receiving healthcare, and stalled businesses. With communications blocked, local activists and journalists are not able to provide updates on the current environment in the valley.” he said
Responding to a question from Sherman about Senator Chris Van Hollen who was barred from traveling to Kashmir, Wells said that so far US government officials have not been able to visit Kashmir to get first-hand information of the situation on the ground. But it has maintained contact with the government, civil societies and the members of the press, she added.
The star of the hearing was Dr. Nitasha Kaul Associate Professor, Center for the Study of Democracy University of Westminster, London, UK. She said that the people of Kashmir should be given the right to have a voice in determining their future.
She said: “While as a scholar of International Relations, one should be concerned about the significance of Kashmir conflict for two nuclear-powered countries India and Pakistan, it is important for the purpose of a hearing on human rights to focus on the people who matter most in this instance– the Kashmiris. Neither Pakistan nor India have a stellar record when it comes to protecting minority rights and religious freedom; security forces in both the countries have been accused of practicing torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance and abusing human rights. Given that even the status quo of India-Pakistan-Kashmir stalemate has been shattered by the unilateral action of India, huge uncertainties loom and it is important for the international community to intervene both for the sake of peace in the region and to avoid humanitarian disaster involving Kashmiris. While Trump-Khan-Modi type of diplomacy may sound promising unless a range of different stakeholders of Indian and Pakistan administered Kashmir is involved as serious partners, no durable and humane solution is possible.
“To be clear, arbitrary arrests, shrinking of space for the peaceful expression of views, and restrictions on freedom of assembly and other democratic rights have long been a feature of life in Kashmir. What is new is the acute and extreme nature of the restrictions, the contempt for all democratic norms, and putting an end to all possibility for dialogue with Kashmiris who seek justice, dignity, freedom, and self-determination. Given there is no longer any space for the peaceful expression of dissent anywhere in Kashmir, what are the Kashmiris being pushed toward? While selling its actions in Kashmir as aimed for development, the Indian state has flouted every single principle of democracy. To quote a great fellow countryman of yours, Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. What happens, or is condoned, in Kashmir has both regional and global ramifications, and it is thus vital that we take sincere steps forward, right now, to act in good conscience, to act for the defense of the ideals of human rights, substantive democracy, and freedom.”
She suggested the following proposals to the committee to resolve the issue.
Recommendations As a matter of urgency, the Subcommittee should urge the Indian Government to:
• End all elements of siege in Kashmir valley and fully restore mobile telephony and Internet • Release all political and civil society detainees immediately
• Put an end to the use of pellet shotguns for crowd control
• Work with all stakeholders to ensure safety and security and functioning of schools and educational institutions
• Restore democratic rights for all including the freedom of speech and assembly
• Allow Kashmiri as well as foreign media to travel and report freely and without intimidation • Commit to providing a safe environment to human rights defenders and organization to conduct their work without fear In the medium term, the Subcommittee should:
• Urge India to withdraw its draconian emergency laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act that provides impunity to security forces
• Urge India to fast track investigation of all the allegations of human rights abuses including enforced disappearance, sexual violence, torture, and extrajudicial killing and punish the perpetrators
• Urge India to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate killings of Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs, and Muslims
• Call upon both India and Pakistan to end to the use of torture, extra-judicial killing, arbitrary detentions including of political activists and juveniles
• Ask the State Department to take up the cases of human rights abuses in both India and Pakistan Administered Kashmir on a regular basis.
• Send delegation of political leaders and facilitate trips of fact-finding missions to Indian and Pakistan administered Kashmir to meet different sections of society.
• Demand India and Pakistan to fully cooperate with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and implement all recommendations made in its two recent reports on Indian administered Kashmir and Pakistan administered Kashmir In the long term, the Subcommittee should:
• Call for demilitarization of Indian administered Kashmir and Pakistan administered Kashmir • Encourage credible dialogues amongst Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris.
• Ensure the respect for freedom and the right to self-determination of all people of Jammu and Kashmir
• Most importantly, the international community must create the space for a credible and sustained dialogue in which Kashmiris from the different regions in order to arrive at a mutually