Human rights defenders need to be protected: UN Third Committee

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
World Forum for Peace & Justice

The Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, chaired by Ambassador Alexander Marschik of Austria, which deals with the social, humanitarian, and cultural issues had an interactive dialogue with various UN Thematic Special Rapporteurs on October 12, 2023. Dr. Alice Jill Edwards (Australia), ‘Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ stressed that “the rise in torture and intimidation to quash political opposition and dissent cannot be ignored.” Ilze Brands Kehris, (Latvia) United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights said, “In terms of concrete steps to respond to reprisals against human rights defenders, she highlighted the importance of awareness raising and zero tolerance for abuse.”

Professor Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) ‘United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders’, also presented her report to the Third Committee. She said that “In Indian-administered Kashmir, women human rights defenders have been working to create civil society space to foster cross-community engagement and peacebuilding efforts, although these efforts have been stymied by the authorities’ crackdown on civil society organizations.”

Professor Lawlor added an addendum to her report, Ref. UA IND 19/2021 where she and other UN Special Rapporteurs (Luciano Hazan; Morris Tidball-Binz; Irene Khan; and Fionnuala Ni Aolain) had jointly expressed concern to the Indian Government regarding, “allegations of intimidation, searches and confiscations committed during raids by national security agents in the residence of Mr. Khurram Parvez, a human rights defender, and in the offices of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) – a human rights and civil society organisation – as well as what may be the subsequent arbitrary arrest and detention of Mr. Parvez on charges related to conspiracy and terrorism.”

Ms. Lawlor added, “Mr. Khurram Parvez is a human rights defender based in Srinagar, Indian­ administered Kashmir, who works on the issue of enforced disappearances in India as well as in the Asian region. He is the programme coordinator of JKCCS, and the Chairperson of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), a regional federation of organisations that voices concerns on behalf of victims of enforced disappearances. He has also worked on the issue of unlawful killings.”

The joint statement also highlighted that, “Mr. Parvez has regularly engaged with United Nations bodies, including the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Human Rights Council, reporting human rights abuses in Kashmir and faced restrictions and harassment from the Indian Government as a result. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the case of Mr. Parvez was included in the reports of the Secretary-General on retaliation against those cooperating with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (AIHRC/36/31 para. 9, Annex I paras. 39-42; AIHRC/39/41, para. 67, Annex II paras. 23-24; and A/HRC/42/30 para.58, Annex II para. 59).

Ms. Lawlor and other UN Special Rapporteurs warned that “We reiterate our serious concern that counter-terrorism legislation appear to be used to justify searches, confiscations and investigations, arbitrary arrest and detention against human rights defenders. We also reiterate our concern that the arrest and detention of Mr. Khurram Parvez may be related to the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, and may be in retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender, and in addition, for his cooperation with the United Nation Human Rights mechanisms.”

The joint statement suggested to the Government of India, “In view of the urgency of the matter, we would appreciate a prompt and detailed response on the steps taken by your Excellency’s Government to safeguard the rights of Mr. Khurram Parvez in compliance with India’s international human rights obligations and commitments.”

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Chairman, World Forum for Peace & Justice appreciated the genuine concern expressed by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs in demanding the unconditional release of Khurram Parvez, one of the internationally known human rights defender. US-based Time magazine put Khurram Parvez in its list of 100 most influential people.

Dr. Fai added that Khurram Parvez’s 549-pages report on ‘Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir’ was a graphic description of torture being used by 900,000 Indian occupation forces in Kashmir.

Professor Juan E. Mendez, (Argentina) former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (2010-16) who wrote the prologue of the report compiled by Khurram Parvez had hoped, “a serious debate among the Indian public about this report will prompt the national authorities to take the matter of torture seriously and establish effective controls, and to act as a more responsible global citizen and cooperate with the human rights machinery of the United Nations.”

Unfortunately, the dream of Professor Juan E. Mendez was shattered when Khurram Parvez was arrested under a draconian law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). And the dream of Mary Lawlor did not come true until today because Khurram Parvez is still languishing in Indian jail, Dr. Fai added.

Meanwhile, Indian Counsellor, Dr. Kajal Bhat during the integrative dialogue at the Third Committee said Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh was an “integral and inalienable territory of India.” Earlier Dr. Kajal Bhat has said during the UN Security Council open debate (November 16, 2021) that India desires normal unneighborly relations with all countries, including Pakistan, and is committed to addressing outstanding issues, if any, bilaterally and peacefully in accordance with the Simla Agreement and the Lahore declaration.”

Dr. Bhat has conveniently forgotten that according to the Simla Agreement Kashmir remains the most outstanding issue to be resolved between India and Pakistan. Item (1) of the Simla Agreement says that “the principles and purposes of the Charter of the UN shall govern the relations between the two countries.” Dr. Kajal Bhat needs to know that Abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A was the violation of the Shimla Agreement. As Simla Agreement in item (ii) says, “Pending the final settlement of any of the problems (Kashmir) between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation.”

And the Lahore Declaration that was signed on February 21, 1999, says, ‘Have agreed that their respective Governments: “shall intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.” Since you (Dr. Kajal Bhat) are a distinguished delegate at the United Nations, let us end the quarrel by listening to the wise counsel of Mr. Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations when he said Kashmir issue has to be resolved under United Nations Charter and applicable United nations Security Council resolutions. END OF THE DISCUSSION.

Dr. Fai can be reached at: WhatsApp: 1-202-607-6435. Or. [email protected]

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