HRW is contributing to a ‘human rights apocalypse’ in Kashmir by CJ WERLEMAN

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By parroting the Indian state’s narrative on the disputed territory, the rights organisation puts itself at odds with international law and misses the pattern of deliberate demographic change – or ethnic cleansing – against Kashmiri Muslims.

“We are moving towards a human rights apocalypse in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” Mr. Masood Khan, President of Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, told me when we spoke twelve months ago about the Indian government’s move to introduce new domicile rules that allow Hindus from all over India to buy property and seek employment opportunities in the disputed territory.

“This is a move to disenfranchise and dispossess the people of Jammu and Kashmir and displace them, ultimately. India is moving at a breakneck speed and has fast-tracked the issuing of these domicile certificates to non-natives,” said Mr. Khan in June 2020.

It is now June 2021, and the Indian government has indeed moved at breakneck speed in its effort to change the demography in Kashmir, or what is by definition ethnic cleansing, and it’s catching the world’s leading human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, off guard and totally unawares.

The undeniable reality is this: On August 5, 2019, the Indian Government unilaterally stripped Kashmir of its special or autonomous status, and then nine months later passed so-called Domicile Rules, which remove protections that had been put in place to protect the ethnic, linguistic and religious identities of the Kashmiri people.

 Now those protections are gone, and New Delhi has made no secret of its desire and intent to transform the indigenous Muslim majority territory into something that looks more like an Indian state, with a Hindu majority population.

This in violation of international law, which not only states clearly that Kashmir is disputed territory, but also that the Kashmiri people have a right to self determination under an already mandated free and fair plebiscite.

“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,” said UN human rights experts.

This change in demography is not only underway but also happening at lightning speed, just like Mr. Khan warned last year, with the UN finding that India had granted domicile certificates to 144,846 Indian Hindus in the period spanning June to September 2020 alone, while at the same time denying the same right to 377,883 indigenous Kashmiri Muslims.

Assuming New Delhi has only maintained this current rate of domiciliation to non-locals, and not increased it, which is more likely, then we are confronted with a reality in which more than 600,000 Indian Hindus have been granted the right to buy property and attain employment in the Muslim majority territory, while, at the same time, denying same to more than one million indigenous Kashmiri Muslims.

Even more alarming still is the fact the Indian Government has set up a task force to scrutinise the political and ideological preferences of government workers in Jammu and Kashmir, and then firing those deemed openly hostile to Indian colonial rule, before replacing them with Indian Hindu migrants.

 Taken together, these unlawful and anti-democratic measures constitute textbook ethnic cleansing and represent an undeniable threat to the security and wellbeing of eight million Muslims in Kashmir, but you wouldn’t know this if your main source for information on the disputed territory is the globally recognised and respected Human Rights Watch.

To be clear, Human Rights Watch provides an invaluable service to persecuted minorities and occupied peoples around the world, as evident in its recent report into evidence of Israeli apartheid in the Palestinian Territories, but when it comes to Kashmir, it’s trapped itself in reporting human rights violations there through an Indian statist lens, and thus unable to see the proverbial forest for the trees.

For instance, the organisation has produced a trove of reports that document human rights abuses carried out by Indian security forces in Kashmir, including unlawful killings, use of torture, arbitrary arrests, communication blackouts and use of pellet guns against protesters, but they do so by framing Kashmir to be a part of India, putting itself in direct conflict with international law, which recognises Jammu and Kashmir as disputed territory.

The problem therein is this: if Human Rights Watch views Jammu and Kashmir to be an integral part of India, then it’s made itself blind to the ethnic cleansing (demographic change) taking place there, because it views all Indian citizens as having equal rights to employment and property.

So instead of seeing demographic flooding, Human Rights Watch sees only the lawful migration of Indian citizens from one Indian state to another, instead of what’s really happening – the rapid transfer of Hindu settlers to a disputed territory to dilute and annihilate an indigenous Muslim majority population – that’s no different to what Israel is doing in the Palestinian Territories with its criminal Jewish settlers.

When I asked Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch South Asia Director, why the organisation doesn’t recognize Kashmir as disputed territory but as part of Indian sovereignty, she said, “We don’t take a position on the right to self-determination,” while pointing to “capacity limitations” for the organization’s inability to give more attention to Kashmir.

When I asked why the organisation won’t afford Kashmir the same or similar type of status it affords to the Palestinian Territories, which it views as separate from the state of Israel, she said, “We are not making our own determinations about who qualifies a state, just following the UN on human rights and International Criminal Law treaties.”

But there’s nothing to stop Human Rights Watch from stating and affirming Kashmir’s right to self-determination or from identifying it as disputed territory, as these realities are enshrined within numerous UN Security Council resolutions, even those decreed as recently as 2019.

Its refusal to recognise and state these truths has made it and the world blind to what is quickly becoming a human rights apocalypse.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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