New Kashmir laws matter of grave concern: UN experts

Islamabad, April 18 : The United Nations human rights experts have voiced their concern over India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status and enact laws that could curtail the political participation of Muslims and other minorities.

This concern was raised by five UN special rapporteurs in a letter to the Indian government on Feb. 10 that was made public by the UN on Saturday.

The special rapporteurs are for minority issues, promotion, and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

They said native groups such as Kashmiri, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Sikh, Ladakhi and other minorities faced reduced levels of political representation and participation due to the “abolishment of the regional government and its power to legislate.”

Before August 5, 2019, the Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir had its own constitution and a bicameral assembly that could make laws.

Another provision scrapped by New Delhi – Article 35A – barred outsiders from buying properties or applying for government jobs in the region.

Not only were these provisions abrogated, but also the state was divided into two territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

The rapporteurs said, the new citizenship law “may cause demographic changes” and “risks undermining the linguistic and cultural rights and the freedom of religion or belief of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in the autonomous region which had been established in 1947 to guarantee their ethnic, linguistic and religious identities.”
New domicile laws have made it easier for an individual outside Jammu and Kashmir to obtain residency certificates of the territory than the native residents, the UN experts said.

They said, these laws also risk diminishing native residents’ access to public employment, they warned, adding that it was a “matter of grave concern” that New Delhi could modify residency laws without the consultation of the local population.

Fast-tracking the process of residency certification and revising the residency rights of native residents “may be discriminatory and further deteriorate the overall human rights situation of the minorities there,” the UN rapporteurs said.

“It is also feared that the military presence in the area is likely to increase, which might lead to a possible higher risk of human rights violations,” read the letter.

The Indian government’s attention was also drawn towards “concerns expressed in previous communications regarding the ongoing internet shutdowns, restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly and the right to freedom of expression, as well as the reported pattern of detentions and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.”

These actions, the UN experts added, may not have given the people of Jammu and Kashmir the possibility to meaningfully participate in the political process around the new residency laws and other matters.

The experts reminded the Indian government that concerns about the “deteriorating human rights situation in Kashmir, including ongoing violations of India’s minorities, particularly Kashmiri Muslims” have been raised in five earlier communications by several special rapporteurs since August 2019. 

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