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International probe into Kashmir killings imperative now: UN rights chief

UNITED NATIONS: The deteriorating situation in India-held Kashmir has now made it crucial to establish an independent, impartial and international mission to assess the situation, the UN human rights chief has said, while regretting India’s lack of response to his request for access to its controlled part of the disputed state.

UN rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council that he received a letter from the Government of Pakistan on Sept 9 formally inviting a team from his office to visit Azad Kashmir but only in tandem with a mission to the Indian side.

“I have yet to receive a formal letter from the government of India. I therefore request here and publicly, from the two governments, access that is unconditional to both sides of the Line of Control,” he said.

“Two months ago, I requested the agreement of the governments of India and Pakistan to invite teams from my office to visit both sides of the Line of Control: in other words, the India-administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir,” Zeid said in remarks delivered on Tuesday at the opening session of HRC.

“We furthermore received conflicting narratives from the two sides as to the cause for the confrontations and the reported large numbers of people killed and wounded. I believe an independent, impartial and international mission is now needed crucially and that it should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides,” he said.

The top UN official also said that they continue receiving reports of Indian forces using force excessively against civilian population under its administration.

The Indian government has been coming under growing pressure over the level of casualties in the region during protests against Indian rule, which broke out after the death of a popular rebel leader on July 8 during a gunbattle with soldiers.

More than 70 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in the worst violence to hit the territory since 2010.

In spite of a lockdown, anti-India protesters have called for a march to the UN office in Srinagar. Tensions have been further heightened due to Eidul Azha, with heavy deployment of Indian troops across the valley even though there is a continuing ban on public assembly this year.

The opening statement of the UN high commissioner for human rights at the HRC focused on issues of access of the UN to troubled areas and the growing trend of an increasing number of countries to refuse to grant access to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or other human rights mechanisms to their countries or specific troubled regions.

Governments accuse the OHCHR of “interfering” in the internal affairs of sovereign states when violations of human rights are pointed out to them and his statements referring to these violations are termed “biased”, “irresponsible”, “misleading” or based on “false” premises, Zeid said in a hard-hitting statement.

Quoting the Vienna Declaration which states that “the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community”, he argued that human rights is not exclusively a national issue.

Apart from India and Pakistan, the high commissioner referred to Syria, Venezuela, Turkey, Ethiopia, Gambia, Burundi, China, Nepal, the US (for refusing access to Guantanamo Bay), Israel, Iran, North Korea, among other countries for non-cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms.

“Human rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity. On the contrary, efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: what, precisely, are you hiding from us?” he said.

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