Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Human Rights of Kashmiri people in the world,Presentation of Dr Shabir Choudhry

Human Rights of Kashmiri people in the world,Presentation of Dr Shabir Choudhry

Presentation of Dr Shabir Choudhry, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs in a seminar arranged by OCAPROCE Internationale during the UN Human Rights 18th Session on 19 September 2011 in Geneva.

Mr Chairman, friends and colleagues and aslamo alaykam and good afternoon

I thank Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri for making arrangements for this seminar and inviting me to express my views on this important topic.

Topic of this seminar is - Human Rights of Kashmiri people in the world. I hope when we say ‘Kashmir’ we mean State of Jammu and Kashmir that existed on 15 August 1947; and not the Valley of Kashmir. Similarly when we talk of human rights of Kashmiri people, we mean all citizens of Jammu and Kashmir irrespective of their religion and ethnic background and not Muslims of the Valley.

It is unfortunate that some people are selective even with regard to human rights. When their co religionists are victims of human rights abuses they make loud noises, but when people of other faiths and ethnic back grounds are under attack they like to remain quiet; and at times, they try to justify human rights abuses under one pretext or the other.

Whether we like it or not, human rights abuses take place on both sides of the Line of Control. On the Indian side of the divide, there is a vibrant media, strong civil society, State Human Rights Commission, representatives of Indian human rights organisations and international human rights organisations, not to mention representatives of international media who highlight all forms of human rights abuses.

Unfortunately on the Pakistani side of the divide there is hardly any system in place to promote and protect human rights abuses either committed by state actors, private militias or other groups with power and influence. Because there is no effective system to highlight human rights abuses on the Pakistani side of the divide it is sometimes assumed that all is rosy on this side; and Pakistani government and their agencies use their propaganda machinery to promote that view point. This false impression is created that world attention could be focussed on the events taking place on that side of the divide.

Mr Chairman

Apart from the state agencies there are militant groups which have full support of the secret agencies to harass and intimidate local people. These jihadi groups recruit vulnerable and poor people in name of Jihad, and in some cases pressurise them to help and support them. These jihadi groups have camps in various parts of Pakistani controlled Kashmir, especially in areas near Muzaffarbad and Neelam Valley, which is used as a launching pad to infiltrate militants to the Indian side of Kashmir that they can commit acts of violence.

There are still thousands of people there who crossed the Line of control to seek weapons and training from Pakitan. Now many of these people wish to abandon militancy and go back to resume their normal life with their families. However, these jihadi groups and secret agencies are not happy with this trend and are making strenuous efforts to ensure that no one goes back.

In this regard some Kashmiris clearly expressed their desire to go back and criticised Jihadi groups and All Parties Hurriyet Conference. Among these critics were Jahangeer Butt and Khalid Kashmiri. They exposed corruption and policies of Mutahida (United) Jihad Council and APHC.

Result of this rebellious attitude was that on Saturday 17 September 2011, armed men of Muttahida Jihad Council and Hizb Ul Mujahideen kidnapped them. Afzaal Suleria, President of Kashmir National Party spoke to me on Saturday and told me that national parties of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir have strongly condemned this act of jihadi groups and their pay masters – secret agencies of Pakistan.

To me and many pro Kashmir citizens of Jammu and Kashmir it is a shameful act and clearly human rights abuse. However, for Pakistani agencies and these militant groups this action is justified, and is not abuse of human rights, because in their view these people were harming the ‘liberation struggle’. To these people with tunnel vision and misplaced loyalty, if some one speaks truth and provides facts which are disliked by them or which expose their nefarious activities, that person is ‘anti movement’ and must be punished. They have become judge and jury, no evidence is required and innocent people are punished at their will.

Situation of people in Neelam Valley and Gilgit Baltistan needs special attention. In absence of vibrant media, active civil society and human rights organisations, people of these areas are totally at the mercy of the secret agencies; and in case of the Neelam Valley Jihadi groups as well.

In Gilgit Baltistan there are hundreds of people under detention for using right of expression. They are not using any guns, all they say is that they want to be treated with respect, and deserve to be treated like human beings. A famous political activist, Jaan Baba was arrested for speaking against human rights abuses in Gilgit Baltistan; and still he is under detention.

Neelam Valley is a place where even people of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir are not allowed to go without rigorous checks and constant surveillance. Because Pakistan use this region as a launching pad for militants that they can go across the LOC and commit acts of violence in name of jihad, Pakistani secret agencies and army ensure that tourists and other people who do not reside here are kept away from this area.

Those who train militants, arm them and send them across the LOC in name of jihad; think they are serving cause of Islam, and cause of Kashmir. In actual fact, they are giving a bad name to Islam; they are creating divisions in name of religion and bringing enormous problems for the ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir living on both sides of the divide.

Presence of non Kashmiri armed militants in the Neelam Valley creates enormous problems for the local people. These militants are not familiar with local culture and way of life and because of gun and power harass and intimidate local people. Their brand of Islam is also new to the local people; and they are building Masjids and employing their own Imams that they spread their own brand of Islam and recruit people for jihad.

Local people have protested against these people; and even women folks who normally do not take part in political activities came out to protest on 10 September 2011; and this shows strength of feelings against the militancy and militants there. According to Press for Peace news release they marched to the local headquarters of Pakistan army and conveyed their demands to the officials and I quote:

‘A large number of women protested against the recent activities of some banned Kashmiri militant groups in Neelum Valley area…Recent movement of militants of outlawed Jihadi organizations in border areas, especially Neelum Valley, is a great danger for the peace in the local area, women protestors told Pakistani army officials. Women urged upon Pakistani army to stop the movement of militants across the Line of Control. They warned that militants would not be allowed to use the local land for their anti- people designs. “Local people cannot afford another war- like situation and we would resist any possible efforts conceived to ruin the peace along the border region”, they added. They said that people of Neelum Valley and other border areas have paid heavy price during the shelling across the LOC before the ceasefire.’ Unquote

Mr Chairman

The above quote, to some extent explains the prevailing situation in that region. While remembering the situation before the 2003 cease fire, these women protestors further said: ‘In this war like situation we have lost our generation. “Our children were abandoned illiterate, we lost our homes hospitals, and other basic infrastructures due to the war, but we were not rehabilitated by the government”.’

Local media is weak and fears reprisals from the jihadi militants and secret agencies who control and run affairs of this region. According to Press for Peace, in the past their ‘activists have been threatened by state and non-state actors for carrying pro- peace campaigns in these areas.’

Mr Chairman I prepared my speech last night, and this morning I learnt that four more former Kashmiri militants are missing. Rasheed Najer and his friends protested against the kidnapping of Jahangeer Butt and Khalid Kashmiri. He was invited for talks by United Jihad Council where he went with three other colleagues; but they have not been seen since. It is believed that they are also taken in custody.

Mr Chairman, I thank you for your patience.


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