June 14, 2018 / 7:01 AM / 6 months ago

U.N. calls for inquiry into human rights violations in Kashmir

GENEVA, June 14 (Reuters) - Indian security forces have used excessive force in Kashmir and killed and wounded numerous civilians since 2016, the United Nations said on Thursday, calling for an international inquiry into alleged violations in the disputed territory.

In the first U.N. report on human rights in both Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, it urged Pakistan to end its “misuse” of anti-terror legislation to persecute peaceful activists and quash dissent.

There was no immediate comment by either government to the report issued by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva, which called for justice for victims on both sides of the so-called Line of Conflict.

Mountainous Kashmir, which is Muslim majority, is divided between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who both claim it in full and have fought two of their three wars over the region since their separation in 1947.

India has long accused Pakistan of training and arming militants and helping them infiltrate across the heavily militarized Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two sides in the region, a charge Islamabad denies.

The U.N. report focuses mainly on serious violations committed in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir from July 2016 to April 2018. Activists estimate that up to 145 civilians were killed by security forces and up to 20 civilians killed by armed groups in the same period, it said.

“In responding to demonstrations that started in 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries,” the report said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called for maximum restraint and denounced the lack of prosecutions of Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir due to a 1990 law giving them what he called “virtual immunity”.

In a statement, Zeid called for the Human Rights Council - which opens a three-week session in Geneva on Monday - to launch a commission of inquiry into all violations. Alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region should be investigated, he said.

Tensions escalated after an attack on an Indian army camp in February that India blamed on Pakistan. After the two armies agreed on May 30 to stop exchanging artillery fire following the repeated deadly clashes, thousands of people from Jammu and Kashmir headed back to their homes near the de facto border with Pakistan.

Armed groups in Jammu and Kashmir have committed a range of crimes including kidnappings, killings of civilians and sexual violence, the U.N. report said.

Violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir “are of a different calibre or magnitude”, it said, while decrying restrictions on freedoms of expression and association. (Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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