Geneva, Switzerland. March 20, 2010. During the 13th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, a seminar entitled, “Overcoming Barriers to Realizing the Self-determination” was organized by “The International Educational Development”, an NGO accredited with the United Nations. The seminar was chaired by Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director, Kashmiri American Council, Kashmir Center. In his opening remarks, Dr. Fai was keen to remind listeners that self-determination was a basic principle of the United Nations and that self determination and peace and international security are interrelated. The denial of self determination, he said, has brought India and Pakistan – both important countries – to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. ‘For last 63 years they have been talking about Kashmir but there was no face of the people of Kashmir. We want to make it clear that when the UN gave the right of self determination, they gave it to the people of Kashmir, whatever their religion, wherever they live.’ Therefore, Dr Fai said, the genuine leadership of Kashmir must be included in the talks. For the talks to be meaningful Dr. Fai suggested that there would have to be an envoy of ‘an international standing’ that was acceptable to both India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris and he proposed that Bishop Desmond Tutu should be appointed special envoy.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman, All Parties Hurriyet Conference, in his presentation emphasized that ‘when we refer to Kashmir, we refer to the state of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed on 14 August 1947.’ This includes the five distinct regions of the valley, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. ‘The APHC has time again tried to talk about Jammu and Kashmir with a view to present the real situation on the ground. It is a political issue; it is not a territorial issue between India and Pakistan it is an issue concerning the fate of more than 15 million people. They believe unless and until the international community and especially the UN come forward, the issue cannot be resolved.’ The government of India, he said, has tried to camouflage the issue by putting irrelevant issues. It is not an issue of bad governance or giving people economic benefits. Nor is it an issue which has been sponsored by Pakistan since 1947. ‘It is high time the government of India
realizes that such a huge movement that has been there since 1947 and especially after 1990, is a peoples struggle. The government of India has to stop people viewing Kashmir from the prism of Pakistan.’ Pointing out that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, tortured, jailed, and are missing; he said that no struggle of such magnitude could be sponsored by an external party.
Who are these people who are dying? They are Kashmiris; they are not Pakistanis, who have stood up for their basic rights, their right of self determination. We urge the international community that we Kashmiris, we seek a bright and better future for all peoples of South Asia, which is not possible without peace in Jammu and Kashmir.’ Affirming that the struggle was not a terrorist or extremist one, the Mirwaiz pointed out that the All Parties Hurriyet Conference had taken the initiative to initiate a dialogue even when to do so presented grave risks. ‘We came forward and said it is time to talk, even when the dialogue process was not working.’ Unfortunately, however, he said that although India talks about peace in Kashmir, ‘their approach is totally military. They speak the language of peace but they talk through the barrel of the gun.’ He also indicated that it was ‘far from reality’ to think that people of Kashmir would forget their struggle and he believed that the recent
uprisings of 2008 and 2009 were indicative of the strength of a peaceful movement of protest. ‘We had more than a million people marching; they were not people with guns, or hand grenades, they were people who were asking for their rights to be restored to them; but the response was brute force.’
Although India might claim to be the biggest and largest democracy, the Mirwaiz said that their views in relation to Kashmir were very negative, particularly in relation to the ‘black laws’ which have enabled the military forces to act with impunity – especially the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act. ‘The APHC,’ he said, ‘has made suggestions regarding the repeal of the black laws, the release of political prisoners and gradual demilitarization ‘to give the people, strangled under oppression for the last twenty years, some respite.’
The Mirwaiz also made clear that Kashmiris wished well to the people of India but it was important to realize ‘that the issues won’t disappear, unless and until you confront those problems. It is high time that we all sit together. The time has come when we need to come forward, if we continue to evade the problem we will have a situation like in 1965 and 1971 when India and Pakistan fought wars, but now these two countries have nuclear weapons. We Kashmiris want to talk, to engage, to let the dialogue process be meaningful, let there be a mechanism. We need a system of engagement.’ In conclusion, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq affirmed the continuing commitment of the people: ‘they are determined, they are resolved, they have shown the commitment, and India needs to move forward beyond rhetoric. ‘.
Lord Nazir Ahmed, Member, British House of Lords expressed the opinion that the UN resolutions were the only legal documents which exist in relation to Kashmir. He pointed out, however, that since 9/11 the world had changed. Whereas support was given for a UN administered plebiscite in East Timor, as well as to self-determination in the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, since 9/11 the UN position has weakened. ‘We now have a situation where those who have been oppressed, are called terrorists or Islamic terrorists, it is very unfortunate, the language has changed. We need to get back to the values which the UN stood up for. The UN authority needs to be re instated.’ One way for its authority to be re instated, Lord Ahmed suggested, was for a special criminal tribunal to be set up under international law to investigate those who are responsible for the unmarked graves.
Lord Ahmed also suggested that the UN ought not to allow any country that disregards UN Security Council resolutions to join the Security Council and have permanent membership. ‘I think that it is time for the Secretary General to say enough is enough, if we can have a special envoy on Afghanistan Iraq, then we need a special envoy on Kashmir.’ He also indicated that Kashmiris should be included in any discussions and a start could be made in releasing political prisoners, and investigating disappearances, Finally, Lord Ahmed stated that he believed the international community had a duty to ask both governments in both Pakistani-administered and Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir for good governance. ‘There should be no excuse for the people still to be suffering. ‘
Ambassador Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to Geneva, pointed out that the two longest and most deserving cases on the UN agenda in terms of self-determination were Palestine and Jammu and Kashmir. ‘We see a lot of attention being given to Palestine, as it should be, but Kashmir gets very little international coverage, which is regrettable. But it does not detract from the fact that the denial of the right of self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir is a violation of the Human Rights charter. Self-determination is a fundamental human right and this right has been granted to the people of Jammu and Kashmir more than 60 years ago.’ Ambassador Akram also emphasized that, for successive Pakistani governments, the commitment to allowing Jammu and Kashmir its self determination lies ‘at the heart of our policy, because self-determination was also the basis on which Pakistan was created.’ Unfortunately, he said, the UN guided plebiscite was not held.
‘Today the situation in Jammu and Kashmir presents a grave danger to international peace and security, not just regional.’ Following the 1998 nuclear tests, Akram reminded his listeners that President Bill Clinton had described Kashmir as the most dangerous place in the world. ‘That danger has not subsided. With every day this danger is accentuated. Pakistan and India have engaged off and on in negotiations in a dialogue, which has so far proved to be sterile. I can say that we, in Pakistan, being the smaller and comparatively weaker country obviously seek a peaceful solution. Unfortunately our Indian interlocutors have lacked the political will to negotiate in good faith. In our view the United Nations resolutions calling for a plebiscite provide the only viable solution to this dispute, because this dispute can only be resolved on the basis of the wishes of the people.’ In relation to the role of the international community, he said that it had not delivered either on its
political commitments or on human rights. However he believed that by ‘by a queer twist of international politics and the strategic environment in South Asia,’ which has involved the United States in the region especially in relation to Afghanistan, ‘it seems that some hope is emerging for a possible solution.. .The United States realizes that in order for it to have a safe and honorable withdrawal from Afghanistan, it needs to deal with the security concerns of India and Pakistan, which means dealing with the heart of the problem and the heart of the problem is Jammu and Kashmir.’
Dr Karen Parker, UN delegate of the International Education Development, suggested that it was necessary ‘to give more meat on the bones’ to understand the principle of self determination. ‘so we have an idea of what we are talking about.’ Self determination, she said, ‘is not just a term, it is a legal term and it has elements.’ ‘There are five basic points to self determination: firstly, a people have the right to self-determination when they have an identifiable territory; when you hear the word Kosovo you can see it, you know where it is, or Western Sahara, or the Moluccas, you know where they are on the map.’ The second element, she suggested, was that the people had to have had a period of governing themselves in their land. Thirdly, there is normally some distinction, be it cultural, linguistic or religious. Despite the paternalism inherent in the fourth and fifth elements – the people have to demonstrate a will for self-determination and they have to show they have the
capacity – these two were also valid elements in defining self-determination. Moreover, as Dr Parker pointed out, ‘You can’t give the right and then take it away – as has happened with the Kashmiris – and then let it vanish. Describing Kashmir as ‘particularly hot,’ she said that the situation was going to need greater impetus for there to be a resolution.
Internationally renowned peace activist. Dr Angana Chatterji, Co-Chair of the International Peoples Tribunal, spoke in relation to issues which she had encountered in her work. The Kashmir conflict, she said, ‘relates to issues of identity and history, territory and resources. India Pakistan and China have fought wars over this territory.’ Whereas India considers the dispute to be an internal matter and that militarization is necessary to secure its borders, in reality the period between 1947 and 1987 witnessed a people’s struggle for non-violent self determination. In 1988 they began an armed struggle before reverting again to non-violence. In order to achieve its objectives, Chatterji said that the Government of India has been responsible for using ‘discipline and death’ as a means of social control, which has resulted in 70,000 deaths, more than 8,000 enforced disappearances between 1989 and 2009; 60,000 people have been tortured, 100,000 have been orphaned, there is also a
high rate of people with suicidal behaviour and the tragic plight of the half widows who do not know whether their husbands are dead or alive. ‘Periods of long detention and interrogation have had a brutalizing effect,’ she said. ‘I speak having made thirteen trips to the valley since July 2006, after hundreds of thousands of testimonials.’
Chatterji also highlighted that there were 600.000 military personnel in the state which continue to act ‘with impunity,’ occupying 10.5 million kanals of land on which there are 671 security camps. Detailing her work with Advocate Pervez Imroz on mass graves discovered in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, she said that they documented 2700 unknown graves, 2943 bodies in 55 villages in 3 districts, which ‘ hold the bodies of people executed arbitrarily.’ In relation to the current wave of protests, she said that these were taking place in response to human rights violations in an attempt ‘to address the lacuna in civil society leadership.’ She further advocated that the Kashmiri leadership should create local mechanisms for consultation. ‘The people who have turned out in vast numbers require local forums with leaders they can trust.’ In closing, Dr Chatterji offered ‘a fragment of a testimonial from a grave digger who said that he had been forced to dig the graves of
about 260 people, who described ‘thick soil pressed with bodies, dead in encounters and barbed wire which strangles our land.’
Ms. Victoria Schofield, Independent South Asian Analyst and author of Kashmir in the Crossfire and Kashmir in Conflict endorsed the definition of self determination given by Dr Karen Parker, but also emphasized that there were three obvious barriers to realizing self-determination for the inhabitants of the state of Jammu and Kashmir; firstly because there is no obvious consensus among all the inhabitants of the state. ‘Not all of the state is inhabited by Kashmiris, and not all of the inhabitants call themselves Kashmiri,’ she said. Pointing to the numerically inferior Ladakhis, the Muslims of Kargil, the Kashmiri Pandits, the inhabitants of Jammu , those of Pakistani administered Kashmir – the Suddhans and Poonchis, as well as the inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan, she said that what had weakened the movement was a lack of consensus not only amongst these various groupings but also amongst Kashmiris of the valley. ‘And so the first barrier to overcome is obtaining consensus, at
the same time as safeguarding the different aspirations of the minority.’ The second barrier was the attitude of the Indian government which opposed a change in the status quo; the third barrier was gaining friends with influence such as might be forthcoming from the United States or the European Union. In conclusion, Schofield indicated that there were some preliminary objectives which could be achieved such as demilitarization, maintaining the rule of law, promoting freedom of speech and movement as well as improving health and education facilities and eliminating corruption.
Professor Nazir Shawl, Executive Director of the Justice Foundation/Kashmir Centre in London suggested that ‘a look at the global arena reveals many conflicts with undemocratic structures and draconian laws.’ Citing Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, he agreed that ‘the real test of democracy is not what is said in the constitution but how it functions on the ground.’ Referring to his own background as an inhabitant of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, who had been forced to leave the valley, he suggested that if ‘the siege of the army’ were to be lifted, and people were to be provided with political space, ‘they will throng on the streets. An ostrich like approach does not solve problems.’ He also believed that it was time the international community acknowledged the gravity of the international dispute as it continues to promote ‘a South Asian cold war’. The Kashmiris struggle for self-determination, he said, should not be considered as ‘merely a historical
burden. Geopolitical factors should not become an impediment but a source of facilitation in the interests of regional and global peace. The world’s largest military presence has failed to extinguish the flames of freedom.’ Shawl affirmed that there could be no military solution to Kashmir, and it was time for India and Pakistan to accept Kashmiris ‘as partners for resolution.’ Finally, Dr Shawl pointed out that millions of people in India and Pakistan would welcome a result- orientated settlement. ‘But it should not be dilution of our aspirations. It should not be a hollow truce or patchwork, but a comprehensive agreement.’
Barrister Majid Tramboo, Executive Director of the ICHR/ Kashmir Centre in Brussels emphasized that the Kashmir issue is one of self determination. ‘And I believe self-determination is the only solution for the Kashmir issue within the legal framework of the United Nations.’ He therefore regretted that ‘self determination’ was no longer on the agenda of the Human Rights Council. He also pointed out that the issue of mass and nameless graves had been raised in the European Parliament but that it was also necessary to have a hearing at the UN in Geneva in order to ensure an impartial investigation.
Sardar Amjad Yousuf, Executive Director, Kashmir Institute for International Relations (KIIR) began his presentation by informing the audience that he lived on the other side of the line of control which ‘ we Kashmiris call ceasefire line. We Kashmiris are always confused people because when we are asked who we are, we say we are Kashmiris, and it is very disturbing for us to say whether we are from Pakistan or Indian Kashmir.’ Amjad Yousuf also pointed out what a difficult situation Kashmiris had been facing with constant firing across the LOC until the ceasefire in 2003. ‘We have displacement of more than 500 000 people from LOC. There are many disabled people, plus refugees who have come over during the firing . He also pointed out that there were at least eight different maps of the state of Jammu and Kashmir depending on your particular viewpoint: ‘there is an Indian map, a Pakistani map, a Chinese map, even an American CIA map!’
Ms. Shugufta of University of Azad Kashmir, Kotli elaborated in her paper that the idea and implamentation of right to slefdetermination is embedded deep in roots of history of civilized world. It is a building block of international law. The UN Charter provides an environment to different nations of the world to develop a friendly relation among them based upon the principle of right to self determination. She said that in 1947, two new nations, India and Pakistan emerged in South Asia. With these two countries, decolonization was launched on the basis of the right of self determination. What was good for itself was not considered suitable for the people of Indian occupied kashmir.
The session ended with Nazir Quereshi, Vice President, World Kashmir Freedom Movement, thanking those who had attended and pointing out that the continued occupation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir had turned the land into a garrison. ‘In this connection I would say that a step towards the right of self determination would be demilitarization of the area.’ Echoing thoughts expressed by earlier delegates, he concluded that the problem of Jammu and Kashmir would best be resolved ‘through a temperate process under the auspices of the United Nations.’