NEW DELHI – Indian security forces used “excessive force” resulting in unlawful killings and a high number of injuries during widespread demonstrations in the Kashmir region that began in 2016, the United Nations said in a report Thursday.
The report was the first by the United Nations’ to spotlight human rights abuses in the Himalayan territory disputed by India and Pakistan, which U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called “a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering.” He also called for a “comprehensive independent international investigation” into human rights abuses in the troubled region.
Raveesh Kumar, the spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, rejected the report, calling it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated” and a “selective compilation of largely unverified information.”
The report largely centered on the actions of Indian security forces after the killing of a popular militant commander, Burhan Wani, whose death in July 2016 sparked widespread shutdowns and protests. Indian security forces used pellet-firing shotguns during those protests, killing 17 and injuring more than 6,000, according to estimates from civil society groups. Many of the injured were partially or fully blinded.
Up to 145 civilians have been killed by security forces from July 2016 to March 2018, with 20 others killed by militants, the report said.
Hussein further called on security forces to exercise “maximum restraint” going forward at a time when the valley has been rocked by violent incidents including the rare killing of a tourist by rock-throwing youths and a bloody shootout with militants in the region’s principal city of Srinagar last month, that left three members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and four security personnel dead.
In recent weeks Indian security forces also came under criticism when a video emerged of a soldiers in a military vehicle running over three protesters in Srinagar – one of whom later died.
The verdant Kashmir valley, nestled below snow-capped Himalayan peaks, has been disputed by India and Pakistan since the time of independence and Pakistan’s creation, and its border is one of the most heavily militarized in the world. The Indian-administered portion of the region has suffered for 30 years under an armed insurgency backed by Pakistan, although the number of militants operating in the valley now numbers only a few hundred, far fewer than the movement’s height in the 1990s.
Security forces have also enjoyed “almost total impunity” for decades, carrying out enforced or involuntary disappearances and little has been done to investigate allegations of mass graves, the report said. Both military and police personnel as well as militants have gang-raped women with few consequences, it added.