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UN experts condemn India for ending Kashmir’s autonomy, weakening minority rights

New York: Two UN human rights experts have expressed concern over India’s decision to end Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and enact new laws that could curtail the previous level of political participation of Muslim and other minorities in the country, as well as potentially discriminate against them in important matters, including employment and land ownership.

“The loss of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule by the Government in New Delhi suggest the people of Jammu and Kashmir as no longer have their own government and have lost power to legislate or amend laws in the region to ensure the protection of their rights as minorities,” said Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

“The number of successful applicants for domicile certificates that appear to be from outside Jammu and Kashmir raises concerns about demographic change on a linguistic, religious and ethnic basis is already underway,” the experts said in a joint statement.

The new legislation overrides previous laws which granted the Kashmiri Muslim, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Sikh, Ladhaki and other established minorities rights to buy property, own land, and access certain state jobs, it was pointed out.

“These legislative changes may have the potential to pave the way for people from outside the former state of Jammu and Kashmir to settle in the region, alter the demographics of the region and undermine the minorities’ ability to exercise effectively their human rights,” the experts said.

They urged the Government of India to ensure that the economic, social and cultural rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir are protected, and that they are able to express their political opinions and participate meaningfully in matters affecting them.

The experts said they were in contact with the Indian government on this matter.

More than 50,000 people have died in an uprising against New Delhi’s rule in Kashmir that began in 1989, by government count. Others put the toll at well over 100,000.

The UN experts said that the new laws could pave the way for outsiders to settle in Kashmir and alter the demographics of the region.

India criticises UN experts over Kashmir concerns, says lack objectivity

India criticised the UN rights experts for their concerns about constitutional changes made in the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir, where militants have been fighting for independence for three decades, and said the officials lacked neutrality.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India and the changes made in its status were enacted by parliament.

One of the changes was that laws that were in force in the rest of India would also apply to the people of Kashmir, allowing them the same legal rights as the rest of India, he said.

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“This press release calls into question the larger principles of objectivity and neutrality that the SRs (Special Rapporteurs) are mandated by the Human Rights Council to adhere to,” he said in a statement late on Thursday night.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has maintained it revoked Kashmir’s special status in an effort to integrate the revolt-torn region in India and open it up for faster economic growth.

Srivastava said the UN experts had issued their statement just when India was hosting a group of ambassadors in Kashmir to show them the ground situation and did not wait for a response from the Indian government to their questionnaire.

“Instead, they chose to release their inaccurate assumptions to the media. The press release has also been deliberately timed to coincide with the visit of a group of ambassadors to Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. APP

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