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UN rights chief calls for international probe into Kashmir rights violations

London (Web Desk) The UN Human Rights chief has called for an international investigation into abuses in Kashmir after his office in a report accused both India and Pakistan of rights violations in the disputed Himalayan valley.

The UN report, which is particularly critical of India, focuses mainly on serious violations in Indian-controlled Kashmir from July 2016 to April 2018. The report said Indian security forces have used excessive force in Kashmir and killed and wounded numerous civilians since 2016.

“In responding to demonstrations that started in 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries,” the UN human rights office said.

The 49-page report also highlighted “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

Activists estimate that up to 145 civilians were killed by New Delhi’s forces and up to 20 civilians were killed by armed groups in the same period.

In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called for a commission of inquiry by the Human Rights Council, which opens a three-week session in Geneva Monday on all violations.

The UN rights chief said he would urge the council “to consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir”.

Zeid said India needed “to take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir”.

He raised particular concern over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in place in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1990, which prevents soldiers from facing prosecution without the consent of the central government.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Zeid said alleged sites of mass graves in the disputed region should be investigated. He also called on India to ward off any further escalation in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Tensions have spiked there in recent weeks after police were accused of firing teargas and shotgun pellets inside the city’s main mosque and two protesters died after being crushed by paramilitary vehicles.

Amid fears of further unrest over the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the rights office urged Indian troops “to exercise maximum restraint… when dealing with future protests, including ones that could well occur this coming weekend”.

Turning to the territory under Pakistan’s control, the report identified “a range of human rights abuses,” but noted they “are of a different caliber or magnitude and of a more structural nature”.

The rights office criticized restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly that made it difficult to obtain information about conditions in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Pakistan should “end the misuse of anti-terror legislation to persecute those engaging in peaceful political and civil activities and those who express dissent,” the report said.

It cited claims from a local civil society group that hundreds of people have been detained under the anti-terrorism act and said the act has been used to target those who raise questions about basic rights.

The findings come as tensions are running high in Indian-controlled Kashmir since the killing of a popular pro-independence fighter Burhan Wani who was shot dead by the Indian army on July 8, 2016.

In addition to that, several have been killed in a series of deadly clashes along the Line of Control (LoC), the militarized de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

India rejects report

In New Delhi, India’s Foreign Ministry called the report a “selective compilation of largely unverified information” that sought to build “a false narrative”.

“India rejects the report. It is fallacious, tendentious and motivated. We question the intent in bringing out such a report,” the statement read.

“It is a selective compilation of largely unverified information. It is overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative,” it added.

Kashmir has been divided between the two sides since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both sides claim the Himalayan region in full.

However, many people in New Delhi-controlled Kashmir, who are mainly Muslims, are opposed to Indian control and seek either autonomy or a merger with Pakistan.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of supporting pro-independence militants, an allegation rejected by the Pakistani government.

Islamabad, in turn, is critical of India’s heavy military deployment to Kashmir and its crackdown against the region’s Muslim population.

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