UNITED NATIONS, Oct 29 (APP): A United Nations human rights expert has offered help to India in investigating the mass graves found in Indian occupied Kashmir, after a Pakistani delegate asked her in a UN panel if she would undertake the task as, over the years, thousands of Kashmiris have been killed by Indian occupation forces in staged encounters.
Responding to the query from Qasim Aziz Butt, a second secretary in the Pakistan Mission to the UN, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Anges Callamard, said that she stands ready to assist the Indian government in conducting the probe into the unmarked graves whenever New Delhi extended her an invitation.
She welcomed the question from the Pakistani delegate, saying such an investigation could help the families of the victims get justice.
Ms. Callamard was speaking during an Interactive Dialogue in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with social, cultural and humanitarian issues.
Before the committee is the Rapporteur’s annual report in which she, in general terms, called for more action to protect mass graves, which provide proof of “heinous events” that must never be forgotten.
In her response to the Pakistani delegate, she also noted that besides her mandated area of work — extrajudicial killings — multiple other Special Rapporteurs and Mandate Holders, as well as the High Commissioner on Human Rights, have expressed concerns about the broader human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir that she called “extraordinary”.
In this regard, she noted that the first step would be to “acknowledge” the problem and then address it appropriately.
Earlier, Qasim Aziz Butt, the Pakistani delegate, also said that the phenomenon of mass graves was predominantly associated with extra-judicial killings in situations of armed conflict, foreign occupation, massive human rights violations, and other atrocity crimes.
“We remains concerned about sites of mass graves in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. “The High Commissioner (for human rights) in her two reports on Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the Special Rapporteur in her joint communication to India dated 01 July 2020, have raised concerns about the presence of such mass and unidentified graves in Northern Kashmir and called for independent inquiry.”
“Since 1989,” the Pakistan delegate said, “thousands of innocent Kashmiris have been extrajudicially killed by Indian Occupying forces in so-called cordon and search operations and fake encounters.
“In the wake of India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August last year, these atrocities have redoubled.”
Even on 18 July, he said the brutality of Indian occupation was on full display when in a fake encounter it killed 3 young people, one of whom was only 16 years old.
Initially, the Indian army had termed the three individuals as “terrorists” but later reluctantly, and under international pressure, accepted that the powers vested under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) were exceeded.
“Unfortunately,” the Pakistani delegate, said, “not a single Indian soldier has been prosecuted for these crimes.”
Pakistan, he said, demands a transparent judicial inquiry, under international scrutiny, into the extra-judicial killings of scores of innocent Kashmiris, including the three individuals killed recently.
In her annual report, Ms. Callamard, also called for greater support to countries and communities where mass graves sites are located to ensure they are treated with respect, and in accordance with human rights standards.
“Mass graves are places of evidence crucial to effective pursuit of formal justice”, she said.
“They hold the remains of those denied identity in death.
They are spaces of intimate sorrow for loved ones. And, they are places of public record – proof that heinous events took place which must never be forgotten.”
Mass graves can be found in every region of the world, said Ms. Callamard, whose mandate covers all countries.
They can be the result of repression, conflict, or linked to criminal activity, or due to natural disasters or pandemics.
Whatever the situation, “they always embody human rights violations”, she stated.
“Ours is a human history marred by massacres, in which so often those responsible have not only walked free but are later even celebrated, with statues erected in their memory gracing our court houses, town halls and local parks”, said Ms. Callamard.
“But just contrast that with the way so many killing sites and mass graves are treated: left unacknowledged, unprotected, unpreserved and, when not covered up, desecrated or destroyed. It may even become a crime to mention them in public.”
In her report, Ms. Callamard outlines the historical and global neglect of mass graves, and the need for greater support to countries and communities.
She also highlighted the lack of a coherent human rights framework for their treatment.
“My report offers a human rights framework by which to strengthen the respectful and lawful handling of mass graves; an approach in which the diversity of the claims, rights and obligations are recognised and in which a fair balance can be struck across those many interests,” she said.
The rights expert emphasized that victims’ families, as well as survivors and affected communities, must be empowered to actively and meaningfully participate in decisions surrounding the management of mass graves.
To help guarantee fair participatory processes, she recommended that a legal guardian be appointed for the mass grave.
Where relevant, crime scene managers also should be appointed. These officials would be responsible for ensuring that decision-making processes give attention to diverse stakeholders’ claims and that State obligations are implemented.
The move will ensure that they are included in transitional justice and peace-making efforts and that their management is well resourced.