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In mid-January 2020, the US-based human rights group Human Rights Watch made this assessment of the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir, five months after the Indian government’s August 2019 revocation of the region’s autonomy:

Kashmir has been under a lockdown for five months. Fearing that Kashmiris might protest the revocation of autonomy provided to Jammu and Kashmir state under India’s constitution, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi clamped down.

Since the restrictions in August, the government has taken slow, reluctant steps to ease some of them, but is still falling far short in upholding Kashmiri rights.

Many of the thousands arbitrarily arrested – lawyers, shop owners, traders, students, rights activists – have now been released, but reportedly only after promising not to criticize the government. Some senior Kashmiri political leaders, including former chief ministers, remain in custody.

Police admitted at least 144 children had been detained, and now the chief of defense staff has spoken of putting children in “deradicalization camps.”

The government had also blocked phone lines and access to the internet. The government was so fearful of criticism and dissent that it curtailed Kashmiris’ ability to share news of births or deaths, call their doctors, order supplies, research term papers, file taxes, and trade apples and walnuts.

While authorities started gradually restoring landlines and some mobile phone services, it denied internet services. After the Supreme Court said on January 10 that access to the internet was a fundamental right, the authorities relented – only to set up government-controlled internet kiosks, with firewalls permitting only some websites and forbidding social media. This violates free expression rights and hardly complies with the principle laid down by the court that “the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection.”

The human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir has long been a cause for international concern. In June 2018 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)published a report on the human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir since 2016. The report

focused on allegations of serious human rights violations, notably excessive use of force by Indian security forces that led to numerous civilian casualties, arbitrary detention, impunity for human rights violations and human rights abuses committed by armed groups allegedly supported by Pakistan. The report also examined the human rights situation in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir and found that human rights violations there were more structural in nature; these included restrictions on the freedom of expression and freedom of association, institutional discrimination of minority groups and misuse of anti-terror laws to target political opponents and activists. The report made a wide range of recommendations to the Governments of India and of Pakistan and also urged the Human Rights Council to consider the findings of the report, including the possible establishment of an international commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.

A 2019 follow-up report by the OHCHR found that the 2018 report’s findings and recommendations had “not been followed up with meaningful improvements, or even open and serious discussions on how the grave issues raised could be addressed.” The report made clear the impact of restrictions in the gathering of information, stating “the quantity and quality of information available on Indian-Administered Kashmir contrasts significantly to Pakistan-Administered Kashmir.”

Amongst its conclusions and recommendations, the 2019 report 

highlights serious human rights violations and patterns of impunity in Indian-Administered Kashmir and significant human rights concerns witnessed in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. As stated in OHCHR’s June 2018 report, there remains an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and to deliver justice for all people in Kashmir

The report suggested that the Human Rights Council, in considering the findings of this report, consider “the possible establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.” A commission of inquiry has not yet been established.

In January 2020 the Indian authorities invited some New Delhi-based Ambassadors and High Commissioners to make a visit, under strict supervision, to Jammu and Kashmir. The following 17 did so: US, Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Niger, Nigeria, Morroco, Guyana, Argentina, Philippines, Norway, Maldives, Fiji, Togo, Bangladesh and Peru. The EU envoy declined to accept the offer after being denied permission to visit local leaders, including some of those still detained.

On 10 February 2020 FCO Minister Heather Wheeler said:

Kashmir was discussed in closed sessions of the UN Security Council in August 2019 and January 2020. We are monitoring the situation in Kashmir closely and the Foreign Secretary has discussed the situation there with his Indian and Pakistani counterparts. British High Commission officials visit the region periodically and meet with local authorities and others to discuss a range of issues. 

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