Why did the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights make this “special report”, while not citing any resolution of the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council or the Security Council as the mandate for it?
By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Zeid Raad was photographed with Syed Faiz of the Pakistani Hurriyat and other Pak and PoK leaders.
Over a month after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein released a report on alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, his office denies any collusion with Pakistani activists. In its dismissal of India’s criticism of the UN Kashmir report, it says: “It is deeply disappointed at India’s reaction to the first-ever UN report on Kashmir.” Tellingly, Pakistan on Wednesday welcomed and supported Zeid in this dismissal.
The latest press note on Kashmir by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) tries to buttress its contentious report on “human rights abuses” in Jammu & Kashmir. It discredits the allegations against the report being “malicious”, “tendentious” and “motivated”. “We are disturbed by the sustained attempts to distract and divert the focus away from the human rights violations on both sides of the Line of Control”, it says.
It also criticises the Indian media for clubbing a Canada-based Pakistani-origin imam, Zafar Bangash’s claim that Zaid Raad was in contact with him while the report was being prepared. “Nefarious conspiracy”, “Pakistan-authored report”, “fallacious”, “mala fide”—”these are some of the accusations levelled by numerous Indian media outlets against the UN Human Rights Office for our publication last month of the first-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir”, the OHCHR writes .
India sharply rebutted the UN report on Kashmir as recently as 9 July in a debate at the UN Security Council, where Pakistan referred the matter. It lodged a formal complaint with the world body. After Pakistan raked up the issue at a UN session repeatedly, India categorically stated that the report was “clearly biased” and not even fit to be considered by the members of the human rights body. India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN disparaged the report as “reflecting the clear bias of an official who was acting without any mandate whatsoever and relied on unverified sources of information”. While the Defence Minister of India called the report “baseless”, the Ministry of External Affairs deemed it violative of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Earlier, Army chief Bipin Rawat also issued similar remarks: “I don’t think we need to speak on the United Nations report on Kashmir.”
However, India was not alone in its rejection of the OHCHR report. Six more nations rejected the report; two from Asia (Bhutan, Afghanistan), one from Africa (Mauritius), one from Eurasia (Belarus), and two from Latin America (Cuba, Venezuela). The report was discussed and dismissed by all these countries during the “General debate on the overall update of the High Commissioner on the situation of Human Rights worldwide and on the activities of his office” at the Human Rights Council.
ZEID RAAD IS CLOSE TO PAKISTAN
A critical appraisal of the 49-page report prepared by the OHCHR unravels its fallibility based on “unverified information”. Both the motif and timing of the report were rightly questioned.
That this “probe” into alleged human rights violations in Kashmir was headed by the Jordanian diplomat and the outgoing chief of OHCHR Zeid Raad is a major cause for concern. While Zeid acknowledged the “political dimensions” of the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the fact is he is close to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which unreservedly supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. Moreover, he was recently photographed with the Syed Faiz of the Pakistani Hurriyat and some other leaders from Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Such occurrences led to the question as to where his findings were coming from. The OHCHR’s clarification that “individuals often ask to be photographed with the High Commissioner, and he often politely obliges” does not stand to scrutiny. Having acknowledged the “political dimensions” of the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, his one-sided personal ties and informal interactions are untenable. The UN High Commissioner’s mandate clearly states that he should conduct his work respecting “sovereignty, territorial integrity and domestic jurisdiction of member states”. But what surprised the global observers of the Indo-Pak conflict on Kashmir is that Zeid was seen with Syed Faiz Naqshbandi, the convener of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Islamabad.
In fact, Naqshbandi appreciated Zeid Raad’s work in his latest oral statement submitted during the 38th session of the Human Rights Council, where he said, “We are gravely concerned by the increasing pressure against human rights defenders in occupied Kashmir, for cooperating with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
There are legitimate concerns about why Zeid is seen as an “ally” in Islamic countries including Pakistan. He is arguably referred to as the “blue-eyed friend” and an “avid advocate” for the cause of “Azaad Kashmir” at the UN.
On 9 March 2018, a Pakistani news channel, Neo Tv Network published photos of Zeid Raad meeting with Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari, a Pakistani politician and special envoy of the Pakistan Prime Minister on Kashmir in his bid to highlight the Pakistani narrative of the Kashmir issue. Zeid thanked the special envoy for “briefing” him on the human rights situation. Interestingly, the Pakistani TV channel concludes that the recent report, which was the first of its kind released by the UN, was an indirect outcome of the meeting between Zeid and Awais. It reports: “On the occasion of Burhan Wani’s killing, Awais Leghari visited Geneva to meet with Zeid al-Raad in order to brief him about Burhan Wani and the Kashmir issue. Only two months after this meet, the UN has broken its 50-year-long silence on the Kashmir dispute, and the credit goes to Zeid al-Raad al-Hussain.”
This background of the OHRC report on Kashmir raises a pertinent question: Did Zeid Raad look at Kashmir through the same prism as the OIC (Organisation for Islamic Cooperation) where Pakistan flogs off its story every year?
UNFIT FOR THE JOB
It is not just being the “blue-eyed friend” of the OIC and Pakistan, as well as a royal family member of Jordan that raises doubts about Zeid Raad’s suitability as OHCHR chief. Many other factors render him unfit for this lofty position.
Jacob Mchangama, the director of a Copenhagen-based think tank focused on human rights and rule of law, details the reasons why Zeid is the wrong man for the job. In his piece for Foreign Policy on 26 June 2014, he questioned Zeid’s credentials to defend free speech in the sphere of religion, where this right is constantly under attack at both the national and international levels. “There are grounds for concern about how Ambassador Zeid will treat what is arguably the most consequential human right: the right to freedom of expression”, he wrote.
More to the point, Zeid is a former member of the Royal Jordanian Desert Force (also known as the Royal Jordan Bedouin Force), which is reportedly responsible for border patrol and enforcement of Jordan’s frontiers with its desert neighbours. According to Amnesty International’s 2017-2018 report on Jordan, over 50,000 Syrian refugees were forcibly held in the desert at the Jordanian border by Jordan’s border forces.
MAN WITHOUT MANDATE
A particular question had to be asked in this regard: why did the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights make this “special report”, while not citing any resolution of the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council or the Security Council as the mandate for it? Worse, Zeid’s report refers to LeT, JeM and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen as “armed groups”, while they are all listed as terrorist organisations by the Security Council.
Rampant violations of human rights are being perpetrated in Kashmir valley by terrorist groups and separatist leaders who believe in Pakistan’s two-nation theory. But the Un High Commissioner brazenly overlooked all this in his 49-page report. Those who do not believe in radical Islamic concepts like “jihad-e-Kashmir”, a global Islamic caliphate and Ghazwat-ul-Hind (Islamic battle against India) face fatal discrimination in Kashmir. Any traditional Kashmiri Muslim who rejects Wahhabism is targeted by terrorist groups. But the first-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir maintains a deafening silence on this grave violation of human rights.
One of the major reasons why human rights in Kashmir are in doldrums is religious militancy, say observers. Faith-based insurgents have perpetrated grave human rights violations in a large section of the clergy-controlled Kashmiri populace, where secular educational institutions are not welcome. But nowhere in the report has the High Commissioner for Human Rights touched upon such grave issues. He wholly ignored the violence being perpetrated by terrorist outfits. Ansar Ghazwatul Hindi, an avatar of Al-Qaeda in the valley, promotes medieval concepts and exclusivist online narratives to radicalise the Kashmiri youth. Dukhtaran-e-Millat, an all-women group, advocates “full-veiled jihad” to establish “Islamic” rule in Kashmir, supports Kashmir’s two-decade long insurgency and declares secular education akin to haram (forbidden), much like the Boko Haram which translates into “western education is haram”.
Earlier this year, a school bus carrying children was attacked in Shopian district of South Kashmir. Schools in different areas of the state have experienced attacks from terrorists. Journalist Shujaat Bukhari fell victim to a terrorist attack. He was speaking of peace and reconciliation in Kashmir on international forums. At this juncture, human rights bodies like the OHCHR undermined it own credibility by wholly ignoring the terrorism in the valley.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org