Ziauddin University Faculty of Law Politics and Governance held a special webinar this Kashmir Day on the latest human rights abuse report published by Stoke White a London-based law firm. Syed Muaz Shah, the Director for the Centre for Human Rights, moderated the session quote how this report was the “single most comprehensive documentation of human rights abuses since August 5th, 2019, when the revocation of Article 370 ended any sense of autonomy of the Kashmiri people.”
The chief panelist Khalil Dewan, the author of the report and lead investigator at Stoke White Investigations, spoke at length at the difficulty in obtaining the legal evidence documenting 100s of actual cases dealing with torture, sexual violence including rape, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings. He described how the journey started with the case of Zia Mustafa, a 15 year old AJK citizen who was killed in a fake encounter, but he stated that when “we conducted a 1 year investigation on Kashmir and we uncovered more than 2000 testimonies”. Mr. Dewan described that SWI utilized multiple tools including “open source intelligence techniques, satellite imagery, and all forms of communications” across both sides of the border.Ayesha Malik, the head of Conflict Law Centre at Research Society of International Law, mentioned that this report really highlighted something not often discussed:the link between Israel and India and the tactics that they have used. And there are so many parallels and analogies between their two occupiers; the tactics they have used to subjugate people, the inhumanities they shown to the inhabitants of the occupied territories, and aggrevated use of terrorism.” Collaboration including Mossad agents assisting on the ground in the Kashmir Valley, the similarities of the Zionist and Hindutva ideologies adds to this.

She then suggested that the report.did cover war crimes and human rights violations and even though the term “crimes against humanity” was not utilized in the report, it does satisfy the Rome Statute definitional standards in international law. She said the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and published a report in 2018 and updated it in 2019 but since then it has not been updated in respect to Kashmir. As a strategy against Israeli aparthied, known internationally as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS Movement), has gained ground to economically sanction Israel for crimes against Palestinians, such a strategy should also be looked into against Indian oppression in the Kashmir Valley.

Alexander Lawson, the Director at the Centre of International & Constitutional Law at Ziauddin University, spoke at length about Stoke White’s case in utilizing “universal jurisdiction” and filing with the United Kingdom Metropolitan Police. “Any state can bring an action against another state anywhere for any activity under universal jurisdiction”, he further suggested, “any government anywhere can look at this data and choose to bring it for prosecution.” He said this principle is generally as old as post-WWII and charges of war crimes, genocide, torture, and other crimes against humanity can be brought up. He suggested the chances of the UK pursuing this may be “unlikely” due to economic reasons with Indian trade.

Mr. Dewan mentioned how he and his team were surprised that the UK Met office assigned an investigator one day after the submission of their report indicates there may be a serious consideration of pursuing this in the UK. He mentioned how India “doesn’t recognize the UN’s work on Kashmir, which is important to highlight.” This is problematic and concerning when they want to be recognized internationally but want to subvert the international law and suggested this is part of a strategy known as “lawfare”.

Mr. Lawson doubted if we can term India’s actions with lawfare and used certain examples to illustrate the definitional ambiguity of the matter but it’s about using international law as a mechanism to achieve propaganda victories. Ms. Malik agreed and it really was just about India just doing what they wants to do without utilizing law. Mr. Shah countered and said that “Journalist voices are being stifled, there is a certain narrative that the Indian government wants to promote in Kashmir and they are forcefully doing it to the extent they are disappearing people, killing people, and limiting access to Kashmir that even a US Senator couldn’t visit” referencing U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen was refused the right to visit Kashmir in 2019. He also added that law is used just like the revocation of Article 370 was done “legally” in India limiting self-determination of the people and the various legal mechanisms to stifle Kashmiri rights.

Mr. Dewan further clarified his position stating emphatically “On the ground in Kashmir – there is lawfare, it’s documented.” He quoted “Of Law and War” by David Kennedy from Harvard University stating “lawfare is not only about law, lawfare is about the institutions, the logistics, the physical landscape, aswell as the policies, aswell as the attitude, as well as the structures of violence that are created within an environment to control “the other”” he went at length to explain this position. He suggested this is what is happening on the ground in Kashmir by New Delhi against the Kashmiri people. Mr. Lawson and Ms. Malik were convinced if we look at lawfare like this – we can say India is utilizing lawfare in Kashmir.

Ms. Malik said in a final note “This is at it’s essence is about the right to self-determination for the Kashmiris” and mentioned the recent elections in Kashmir and how Indian policy to break up the geographic nature of the region and doing demographic changes by allowing non-Kashmiris to buy up land as settlers. Mr. Lawson left a final thought that “Pakistan in particular has to do more to highlight the Kashmir matter internationally.”

Mr. Dewan acknowledged very little was going on in the UK in respect to raising awareness of what is happening in Kashmir. His last comment was that the UN has always termed the situation in Kashmir as a “lawless state in all their reports, including the latest one” which is significant because it suggests “when we see disputed territory it’s very important because the UN’s position is quite clear about this. It generally doesn’t take a side, it’s quite impartial, but it’s clear that they are pointing towards a preference towards Kashmiris in regards to Kashmir.” Mr. Shah ended with a note that today especially on Kashmir Day – that all Pakistanis must show solidarity with Kashmiris and put in an effort to do something and quoted a saying of the Prophet: “If you see something bad do something, and if you cannot speak out against it, and if you cannot, then atleast feel bad about it in your hearts and that is the weakest of faith.”

Author

Arshad Yousafzai is a Karachi-based journalist covering Education and Human Rights. He can be reached on Twitter @Arshadyousafzay

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