In her remarks to the opening session of the 42nd meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva, Bachelet urged both India and Pakistan to ensure that the human rights of the Kashmiri people are respected and protected.
The comments were seen by Pakistan as a boost to its position. New Delhi did not respond to the remarks.
“In relation to Kashmir, my Office continues to receive reports on the human rights situation on both sides of the line of control. I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists," Bachelet said in her opening remarks.
“While I continue to urge the Governments of India and Pakistan to ensure that human rights are respected and protected, I have appealed particularly to India to ease the current lockdowns or curfews; to ensure people's access to basic services; and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained," she said.
Bachelet’s remarks come amid rising tensions between India and Pakistan after India abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories, evoking strong reactions from Pakistan.
India has maintained that the abrogation of Article 370 is its internal matter. But Pakistan has been alleging human rights abuses by India in Kashmir and is looking to make a case before the UN Human Rights Commission during the 9-27 session of the Council in Geneva. And it was clear that Islamabad was looking at Bachelet’s statements as supportive of its stand on Kashmir.
“I especially welcome the statement by the UNHCHR in Geneva today. I call upon the UN Human Rights Council to immediately set up the indep Investigation commission to probe human rights abuses in IOJK as recommended by the UNHCHR's two reports on Kashmir. The time to act is now," Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan said in a Twitter post on Monday.
Pakistan has deputed its Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and former foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua to Geneva to push its case.
“Today, extremely important concerns have been raised by the High Commissioner for Human Rights at #HRC42 in her opening statement, significantly validating Pakistan’s position on the worsening Kashmir crisis," Qureshi said in a Twitter post.
“36 days of complete military lockdown and blackout; 36 days of complete denial of human rights, including restrictions on communications, mobility, peaceful assembly as well as the detention of local political leaders & activists," Qureshi said.
“Pakistan will speak definitively at the UNHRC Session in Geneva on the continued Indian atrocities in #Kashmir. As High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said: The People of Kashmir must be consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes. #LetKashmirSpeak," he added.
New Delhi on its part is being represented by senior officials in its foreign ministry Vijay Thakur Singh, currently Secretary East in the ministry but has been previously in charge of the Pakistan desk and also served in Afghanistan. Besides Singh, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria, who was expelled by Islamabad in the aftermath of tensions after the abrogation of article 370 is also in Geneva as part of the Indian delegation.
While expressions of concern by Bachelet are not particularly worrisome for New Delhi, what India would like to ensure is that Pakistan does not move a resolution through the 47 member UNHRC that expresses concern or worse condemn the alleged human rights abuses in Kashmir which is then voted upon. According to people familiar with the developments, a condemnation of India is unlikely to be carried through the UNHRC but Pakistan could move a resolution with an expression of concern after it gets non-governmental groups to present their views on the situation in Kashmir in the Council. This resolution could be voted on and if passed – will be embarrassing for India.
In the past few weeks, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar has met with and spoken to his counterparts whose countries are members of the UNHRC. These include Nepal, Bangladesh, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. New Delhi has also been briefing envoys of various European countries based in India.
In her comments, Bachelet said it was important that the people of Kashmir were consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future.
Bachelet also said the recent National Register of Citizens verification process in Assam had “caused great uncertainty and anxiety," with some 1.9 million people excluded from the final list published on August 31. She appealed to the Indian government to ensure due process during the appeals process, prevent deportation or detention, and ensure people are protected from statelessness.
India says updating of the NRC is a statutory, transparent, legal process mandated by the Supreme Court of India. It maintains that the exclusion from the NRC does not mean that individuals become stateless and denied rights.
“For those who are not in the final list will not be detained and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they have exhausted all the remedies available under the law. It does not make the excluded person “Stateless’," the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement last week.
“It also does not make him or her ‘a Foreigner’, within the legal meaning of the term. They will not be deprived of any rights or entitlements which they have enjoyed before," the foreign ministry statement added.