UN rights office releases its experts' letter to India voicing concern over illegal actions in Kashmir

GENEVA, Apr 16 (APP):A group of UN human rights experts, in a joint letter dispatched to India in February, have expressed grave concerns that the new domicile laws and other legislation that New Delhi imposed after its illegal August 5 annexation of occupied Jammu and Kashmir would alter demographic composition of the disputed territory, undermine basic rights of the Kashmiri people, and pave way for their political disenfranchisement.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has made public the communication of Feb. 10, 2021, which details India’s illegal steps to change the demographic character of Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir through inflicting human rights abuses, such as “internet shutdowns and reported pattern of detention and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.”

There is a 60-day requirement before such communications are made public.
In the letter, the UN experts have raised serious and multiple questions over the process of awarding domicile certificates, confirming that ‘it is easier for individuals from outside Jammu and Kashmir to obtain a domicile certificate than a long-standing resident ’.

They also have termed the ‘unilateral’ modification of local laws pertaining to land ownership and property purchase as ‘discriminatory’ against Kashmiri people and apprehended that this would ‘further deteriorate the overall human rights situation’ in IIOJ&K.

The Rapporteurs, as the UN experts are also commonly known, have further slammed India for its decision to notify any area as ‘strategic’ for development by Indian army in the occupied territory, raising concerns that this would further militarize the region, putting at heightened risk the basic rights of Kashmiri people.

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The UN experts have asked for response from India on various cases of gross administrative excesses and repressive measures in IIOJK. It also sought clarification about what steps India has taken to ensure that residency rights of Kashmiri people are fully respected during issuance of domicile certificates and that they do not lose land owned by them to foreign settlers.

India’s response to the communication by the UN experts has not been made public, apparently on the demand of Indian Government, which has faced increasing criticism of global human rights advocacy groups on its attempt of demographic engineering of the occupied Jammu & Kashmir.

Diplomats in Geneva told APP that the Indian response to the letter was more likely to be a reiteration of its official position about its illegal measures of August 5, but that rationale fails to address the concerns of the UN experts.

Following the Feb. 10 communication, two UN human rights experts — Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief — also weighed in on the developments in IIOJK.

“The loss of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule by the Government in New Delhi suggests the people of Jammu and Kashmir no longer have their own government and have lost power to legislate or amend laws in the region to ensure the protection of their rights as minorities,” they said in a joint public statement.

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“The number of successful applicants for domicile certificates that appear to be from outside Jammu and Kashmir raises concerns that demographic change on a linguistic, religious and ethnic basis is already underway”.

“The new legislation overrides previous laws which granted the Kashmiri Muslim, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Sikh, Ladhaki and other established minorities rights to buy property, own land, and access certain state jobs”, it was pointed out.

“These legislative changes may have the potential to pave the way for people from outside the former state of Jammu and Kashmir to settle in the region, alter the demographics of the region and undermine the minorities’ ability to exercise effectively their human rights,” the experts said.

These experts urged the Government of India to ensure that the economic, social and cultural rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir are protected, and that the Kashmiri people are able to express their political opinions and participate meaningfully in matters affecting them.

Since 5 August 2019, the UN human rights experts continue to voice grave concerns over the human rights crisis in IIOJ&K. This joint letter is part of a series of post-August 5 communications sent by the UN experts to India over its widely reported human rights transgressions in the disputed state.