US Congress Voices Concern Over Kashmir Lockdown Again

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Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of US Congress held a special session on Thursday on the human rights situation in Kashmir. — Twitter photo

Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — In yet another significant global intervention on Kashmir, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of US Congress held a congressional session on Thursday on the human rights situation in Kashmir.

Several academicians and lawyers with expertise on Kashmir testified as witnesses and highlighted the alleged human rights abuses committed against Kashmiris since August 5 when the Indian government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Kashmir is reeling under lockdown and digital siege as the Government of India unilaterally revoked special status and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories in early August. The authorities imposed restrictions, a communication blockade and conducted a widespread crackdown by arresting thousands of Kashmiris including activists, politicians, civil society members, and even children.

Several US lawmakers have expressed their concern over the situation in Kashmir with the Government of India and called out the government for its conduct in Kashmir in the past several months. India has declined to give access to international bodies, foreign journalists and lawmakers to visit Kashmir.

A woman with her nephew in Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir. Indian soldiers have forced most Kashmiris to stay at or near home. — AFP file

Jim McGovern, the co-chair of the commission, called on India to allow foreign journalists to visit Kashmir and to restore internet.

The commission is charged with promoting, defending and advocating just causes vis-à-vis international human rights as are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.

India has argued that the special status prevented the development of Jammu and Kashmir and that it will promote the economic development of the region. However, Yusra Fazili, an attorney and special policy adviser on the Middle East and North Africa to the US government and agencies under the former Obama administration, contradicted the argument, saying that his cousin’s arrest proved that such claims by the Indian government were disingenuous.

This was the second instance when Kashmir came up for discussion in US Congress since the beginning of lockdown. Earlier in late October, Congress convened a session on Kashmir hearing witnesses testified at the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.

John Sifton of the Human Rights Watch said that focusing the blame of past economic issues on Pakistan and militant groups ignored the government’s “abuse and rights violating tactics.”

The panel urged the Congress to leverage its positions to call for an end to the siege in Kashmir and support the cause of an early resolution of the Kashmir dispute. “The actions irreversibly erase the legal recognition and protection of self-governance, legal autonomy and citizenship rights for Kashmiris,” said Haley Duschinski a lawyer and a founding member of the Kashmir scholar’s collective.

The panel castigated India’s “unilateral actions”, saying that they are in serious violations of the UN resolutions on Kashmir. “India’s continuous failure to abide by the provisions of Article 370 has resulted in the de facto annexation of Kashmir,” Sehla Ashai, a Kashmiri-origin Human Rights lawyer in the US said.

Shehla Ashai testifies in US Congress on Kashmir

The description- In yet another significant global intervention on Kashmir, the Tom Lantos Human Rights of US Congress held a congressional session on Thursday (November 14) on the human rights situation in Kashmir.US based Kashmiri lawyer Shehla Ashai was among several academicians and lawyers with expertise on Kashmir testified as witnesses and highlighted the alleged human rights abuses including communications shutdown committed against Kashmiris since August 5 when the Indian government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Posted by Caravandaily on Saturday, November 16, 2019

According to a tweet by  @StandwithKashmir, a social media campaign on Kashmir started by Kashmiri ex-pats, Ashai said, “To be clear, the BJP goal is not development, but demographic change and exploitation of abundant natural resources…. By resettling #Kashmir with non-Kashmiris it can advance its project to enshrine the Hindu identity of the nation.”

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and facts are against you, pound the table and yell Pakistan!,” Ashai said.

The Commission also discussed the issue of “increasing religious persecution in India” during the session. The panel exhibited concern over the alleged attack on religious freedom and restrictions on the ability to practice faith in Kashmir and other parts of India. “The notion of citizenship in the region is becoming a tool for religious persecution and violence and the rhetoric is grounded in hate,” Anurima Bhargava of Indian origin who heads the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said.

 

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