By Dr Shabir Choudhry
Seminar arranged by International Committee for the Respect and Application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights during 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, 12 March 2012, 16:00h – 18:00h Room XXIV (24), Palais des Nations, Geneva.
Mr Chairman, friends and colleagues aslam o alaykam and good afternoon
Few days ago, in one informal meeting of some concerned citizens of former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir in Geneva, it was suggested that we should call Gilgit Baltistan as ‘Occupied Gilgit Baltistan’ and should call Azad Kashmir as ‘Pakistani Occupied Kashmir’ to explain illegal occupation of these areas by Pakistan and their disputed nature.
However, to true Kashmiri nationalists these areas are part of the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, and in our opinion the entire State is disputed; and human rights abuses take place on both sides of the divide.
Although topic of this seminar only allows us to deal with the situation on the Pakistani side of the divide; however it would be pertinent to point out that despite India’s claim to be the biggest democracy in the world they have also failed to honour their obligations and pledges. They have also failed to protect human life, dignity and honour of the people; and are responsible for human rights abuses.
We know legally and constitutionally no territory of Jammu and Kashmir State is part of Pakistan; and before we look at human rights situation there let us briefly look at human rights situation in territories that are legally part of Pakistan. This will show us what value Pakistani statecraft attaches to human rights and dignity of fellow human beings.
1. Dr Akmal Hussain, in his article ‘East Pakistan all over again?’, wrote: ‘According to the latest HRCP report on Balochistan, “the security forces in Balochistan do not consider themselves answerable or accountable to the political government or judiciary…The military action in Balochistan, involves extra judicial arrest, torture and killings.
2. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan claims that it has ‘a list of 249 suspected extra-judicial killings from July 30, 2009, to March 22, 2010, and said most of the bodies were found in Swat. It said independent journalists and locals widely believed security forces were behind the killings.
3. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Professor of Qaaid e Azam University Islamabad, in his article, ‘Is Rohrabacher wrong on Balochistan, wrote: 'Pakistan has also long criticised India — and justly so — for its human rights abuses. But more people are dying in Balochistan today than in Kashmir. For all their brutality against stone-throwing Kashmiri boys, the Indians have not yet used helicopter gunships and fighter jets against Kashmiris. Pakistan, on the other hand, uses airpower as a matter of course in Balochistan and Fata. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/342053/is-rohrabacher-wrong-on-balochistan/)
4. About four years ago a Pakistani Court ordered release of 11 people from Adiala Prison Rawalpindi who were arrested under suspicion of committing violence or supporting anti government policies. The Court could not find any solid evidence against them, and ordered their release. As they got out of the prison they were picked up again by the secret agencies; and it took four years of hard work of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, civil society and human rights organisations to locate only seven of them. The other four died in torture cells.
All the above relate to the situation of human rights in Pakistan, where there is a vibrant local and international media, Human rights organisations, Federal and Provincial Assemblies, independents judiciary and assertive civil society. Just imagine what will be the true situation of a region which is not legally part of Pakistan; but is run and controlled by Pakistani secret agencies, especially when this unfortunate region has no vibrant local or international media, has no human rights organisations, has no independent judiciary and has no active civil society.
Let us now see what Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has to say about situation in POK. HRCP in its report entitled ‘State of Human Rights in Azad Jammu and Kashmir’, which was published in Pakistani English newspaper ‘Daily Times’ on 14 October 2004, stated, and I quote:
‘The fundamental rights of the residents of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) are being violated at different levels and its autonomy is threatened by the contentious surveillance of intelligence agencies and intervention of the Pakistani government…. Fundamental freedoms such as freedom of movement, expression, assembly and association are often infringed in AJK.’
On16 December 2009 a Kashmiri Kabeer Shah was abducted from Athmaqaam because he was promoting ideas which were not appreciated by secret agencies of Pakistan. Prior to that in November 2009, four Kashmiri youths were abducted by ISI Lt Col Hamza from Muzaffarabad. The detainees were taken to a Pakistani city of Peshawar where they were severely tortured and their families harassed and intimidated. These people were only released after a massive campaign for their release in Muzaffarabad and close coordination and support of Asian Human Rights Commission and other human rights groups.
Neelam Valley and Athmaqaam are the worst areas for human rights abuse by Pakistani agencies and forces of occupation. These areas are not easily accessible and are divided by Line of Control. Also these areas are the focal point for infiltration of militants across the LOC, therefore, very sensitive as far as the Pakistani agencies are concerned.
Pakistani secret agencies, especially the ISI has little regard for the Pakistani law, but as far as Pakistani Administered Kashmir is concerned they are law themselves, as they do not come under jurisdiction of the local law. Local administration even President and Prime Minister of Pakistani Administered Kashmir have no control over them. IG police of Pakistani Administered Kashmir is always a Pakistani and has no control over the activities of the secret agencies.
When Dr Rizwan son of Mohammed Sarwar resident of Muzaffarabad was kidnapped by officials of ISI on 7th May 2011 from his house; and his dead body was discovered on 23 May, Afzaal Suleria, President of Kashmir National Party- Azad Kashmir Chapter said:
‘Another innocent Azad Kashmiri has become a victim of the ISI. We people are constantly harassed and victimised because we oppose the Pakistani occupation of our motherland.’
He further said, ‘Those people who still think Pakistan and their agencies are our friends and brothers need to wake up and understand that Pakistani rule here is imperial in nature and we need to oppose their oppressive and colonial rule. Our struggle for independence is peaceful and yet we are subject to this kind of oppression and killings.’
Afzaal Suleria further said: ‘All those who believe in human rights and rule of law must condemn this act of butchery and protest against it. Despite this cruelty and victimisation, our struggle for united and independent Jammu and Kashmir will continue. People of Jammu and Kashmir living on the Indian side of the divide should understand that we also face serious problems, as we are also occupied and victims of the Pakistani oppression. Our struggle is peaceful, but Pakistani secret agencies are forcing people to take up arms against them that the ISI can crush them by calling them terrorists.’
According to BBC report of Thursday, 28 July 2005, a case was registered against 3 Pakistani soldiers belonging to Mujahid Battalion who allegedly raped a divorced Kashmiri woman in her early 30s from the village of Palri, 62 miles north of the capital of Pakistan Administered Kashmir, Muzaffarabad. She went to collect firewood and was picked up by these soldiers.
The woman's brother-in-law says military authorities were informed of the incident. But instead of helping they put pressure on his family not to pursue the case. The brother-in-law sent an application on behalf of all the villagers to the Deputy Commissioner of the Neelum Valley on 21 July, urging a case be registered. "When our protectors start plundering our honour, who are we supposed to turn to?" he asked in the application.
I have provided some quotations to prove what goes on in Pakistan; and why situation of human rights in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir and Occupied Gilgit Baltistan could be much worse than in Pakistan, because of lack of vibrant media, human rights organisations and near absence of civil society. Above all, total lack of control of local administration over army and secret agencies of Pakistan. These rulers of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir are no more than puppets and they are installed there to provide support to the colonial rule of Islamabad.
I request the NGO community and the UN to pay special attention to the plight of the people in this unfortunate region; and if possible, set up a commission to investigate issues related to human rights that people of this region could feel that the UN Human Rights Charter is also related to their problems.
Dr Shabir Choudhry, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs, London