After many years during which the United Nations kept the Kashmir issue firmly on the back burner it is finally to consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to ‘conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir’. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) will be asked to consider a report which highlights the ‘chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces’. The establishment of a COI is the highest level of investigation that the UN can commission, and it will be the first of its kind for Kashmir and reserved for international crises such as that in Syria.
There will be those that question the relevance of the UN and its many agencies in the modern world of chronic conflicts, none of which it has significant impact upon in terms of solution or mitigation. That said there is no other body with the resources to conduct such an inquiry. Neither Pakistan nor India has granted the unlimited access to the region as requested by the UN which dilutes the impact of any future report, and the current document is born of arms-length observation and reporting.
All caveats aside this is a significant move by the UN and does what India has tried to avoid for decades — an international examination of the Kashmir issue, the behaviour of its armed forces and their excessive use of weapons such as pellet shotguns on unarmed civilians. Pakistan and its actions, in particular the misuse of anti-terror legislation to persecute those engaged in lawful protest and dissent, is also going to come under scrutiny which is unlikely to be a comfortable experience for the government.
The last year has seen deterioration in the security and human-rights sectors across Kashmir. Even the casual observer can see that India carries the greatest weight when it comes to abuses and denial of rights. The proposed COI is of itself going to solve nothing and at best it will be way-paver, but it will bring Kashmir into focus and the forefront unlike anything in the recent past, and for that at least is to be welcomed.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2018.