India becomes largest HR violator; OHCHR issues communication over human trafficking

Kashmir Press Club closure in Srinagar latest blow to media freedom in IIOJK

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ISLAMABAD: The Indian state appeared as the largest violator of human rights which are guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

According to human rights experts, from genocide in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) to victimization of religious minorities, India had become an apartheid state where human rights and “equality” were distinct values.

Due to such pathetic record and the prevalent human rights violations in India, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Complaints procedure Branch, issued a communication to India.

It expressed its concern on the trafficking in persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill 2021 and its compliance with the state obligations under international law to prevent trafficking in persons, assist and protect trafficked persons without discrimination, ensuring gender equality and promoting the human rights of trafficked persons. According to complaint procedure, the same would be published in United Nations High Commissioner of Human Right’s report for the next session.

This communication was made public on the UNHRC website and the same would be highlighted during the next session of UNHRC. These issues will also be highlighted during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India which is scheduled in July 2022 and would be discussed in 54th Session of UNHRC.

The OHCHR had reminded the Indian government that Article 39 CRC provided that recovery and reintegration of child should take place in an environment, which fostered the health, self-respect and dignity of the child victim.

The committee on the Rights of the Child, in its general comment No.6 (2005) on treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin, stated that ‘children should not be deprived of their liberty and that detention cannot be justified solely on the basis of the child being unaccompanied or separated, or on their migratory or residence status or lack thereof’.

It laid stress that trafficked persons should not be held in detention facilities or any other forms of custody under any circumstances and led to violation of the right to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention, protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The US State Department in its ‘2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: India’ highlighted that the Indian government did not meet universal standards to curb the human trafficking in different forms.

“The government achieved fewer convictions, and the acquittal rate for traffickers remained high at 73 percent. Official complicity in trafficking remained a concern; the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions. Although law enforcement increased victim identifications, they identified disproportionately few victims compared with the scope of the problem, with some organizations estimating eight million trafficking victims in India,” the report further said.

The State Department report said that efforts to audit government-run or -funded shelters remained inadequate, and significant shortcomings in protections for victims, especially children, remain unaddressed. India becomes largest HR violator; OHCHR issues communication over human trafficking

Many victims waited years to receive central-government mandated compensation, and often state and district legal offices did not proactively request the compensation or assist victims in filing applications. Some foreign trafficking victims remained in state-run shelters for years due to lengthy or non-existent repatriation processes, it added

The experts urged the US and the European Union to step in for the protection of human rights of the Indian minorities and Kashmiris in IIOJ&K.  Humanity must not be subservient to the mere economic gains, they added. Adding to this, In Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), a region mostly off-limits to foreign reporters and rife with communications blackouts and curfews, local journalists remained one of the few reliable sources of information, even as they operated under difficult conditions.

According to an article of the Washington Post, this week, the Indian-run administration shut down the Kashmir Press Club in Srinagar, which had emerged in recent years both as a space for journalists to work and for them to express solidarity with colleagues facing pressure from the government.

The closure signals the dismal state of press freedom in Kashmir, journalists say.

“It amounts to stifling the voice of journalists in the region,” said Ishfaq Tantry, a journalist and the general secretary of the club’s governing body, who called the government action “illegal.” The Editors Guild of India called the shutdown the “worst kind of state heavy-handedness” against independent media.

A spokesman for the local administration did not respond to requests for comment.

The crackdown on local media is the latest restriction in the conflict-torn region, which has been roiled by increasing tensions since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked its autonomy and statehood in August 2019. Elections to the legislative assembly have not been held since, and top political leaders are frequently detained. Groups working on human rights issues have been raided and activists jailed under stringent anti-terrorism laws.

Many news outlets in India considered critical of the government face pressure from authorities, media watchdog bodies say, but journalists in Kashmir work in a far-more restrictive environment and face intimidation and harassment by police and security forces.

In the heart of Srinagar, the largest city in the region, a silver lock hung on the large black gate of the club this week. Journalists in city expressed dismay at the sudden move.

“As a female journalist, [the club] was one of the few secure places where I could work and file stories without fear,” said freelance reporter Quratulain Rehbar, who writes for online news outlets.

Peerzada Ashiq, a correspondent with the Hindu newspaper, said he drew a “sense of security” from the club. “Now, there is no cushion left to fall back on,” he said.

Nazir Masoodi, a journalist with New Delhi Television, wrote in a post that “the last bastion of free space in the Valley is gone.”

India has a tense relationship with majority-Muslim Kashmir, where it has faced an armed insurgency for more than three decades. The region has been a flash point between archrivals India and Pakistan since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 that created the two countries. They have previously gone to war over the region.

The pressure and scrutiny of the media in Kashmir mounted in the aftermath of the 2019 decision to revoke the region’s special status, which had given it certain autonomous powers, such as the right to make its own laws. Thousands of troops were flown in, and mobile and Internet services were cut off.

Foreign correspondents are not allowed to visit Kashmir without permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, and permission is rarely granted. Ashiq and Rehbar are among those who have been questioned by the police over their news reporting, and some others face investigation under anti-terrorism laws.

In a recent article, Rehbar described her interrogation as a “nightmare.”

“They asked me, ‘What is your ideology? Who do you write for? How much do you earn? How many brothers do you have? Has anyone gone to Pakistan? What’s your Facebook ID?’ ” she wrote.

In 2020, the government issued new guidelines for the media, giving itself broad powers to determine whether the news is false or prejudiced against India’s national interest. India’s Internet shutdown in Kashmir is the longest ever in a democracy.

Although critics say successive governments have tried to control the media in Kashmir, this moment is different.

“There is an attempt to wipe out any trace of independent press and turn whatever exists into a PR vehicle,” said Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of the Kashmir Times, one of the oldest dailies in the region. “That is extremely frightening.”

The newspaper was evicted from its government-allotted office space in 2020. Bhasin described the move as retaliation for her petition to the top court challenging the government’s Internet ban in Kashmir. That challenge paved the way for a relaxing of some restrictions.

Locals have accused security forces of staging fake gunfights, using civilians as human shields, to cover up extrajudicial killings.

Reporting on these contentious encounters has landed journalists in jail. Sajad Gul, a 26-year-old journalism student writing for a local website, was arrested in early January, according to his family. That week, Gul had uploaded a video to Twitter showing a militant’s family shouting slogans critical of India. In a statement, the police said the video was “objectionable” and accused Gul of routinely spreading “false narratives” to provoke violence.

Last week, after a court granted him bail, the police detained him under the Public Safety Act, which permits lengthy detentions. Critics call the law draconian. “I don’t understand much [about journalism], but I know he was just trying to tell stories,”Said his brother, Zahoor Ahmed Dar. “I don’t think that is a crime in this country. Or is it?”

 

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