I have previously summarised human rights abuses in Kashmir in this post. Issues affecting Kashmir appear to have been missed from the international stage. Its people bravely struggle on alone, attempting to achieve some accountability. With one of the highest rates of post traumatic stress disorder in the world, the impact is obvious. Nevertheless, their plight is largely forgotten by India and west.
In April 2013, the UK's Foreign Minister, William Hague, and the Hollywood actress and Special Envoy to the UN Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, announced their fight against sexual violence in war. They announced additional funding of 36 million dollars from G-8 nations, to develop a series of measures to prevent sexual violence and ensure justice for survivors of military conflicts.
Mr Hague said:-
And today we know the facts about sexual violence in conflict and we have the means to address it, so we must not look away or rest until the world faces up to its responsibilities to eradicate this violence.[Independent].
There has been no mention of Kashmir, and just a stony silence from Foreign Office in response to my tweets. It is interesting to note, however, that Human Rights Watch [HRW] were the first to document sexual violence in conflict in 1993 [Rape in Kashmir - A Crime of War ]. They published a report outlining how the Indian security forces in Kashmir used rape to "brutalise women and punish their communities, accused of sympathising with separatist militants" [It's Not Just about Violence]. Since then HRW have investigated and documented rape in conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Somalia, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Haiti.
Sexualised violence in Kashmir is "systemic and institutionalised as part of a larger framework of punishment meted out to civilians". The Indian government decided to crackdown on Kashmiri insurgents in 1990. It was then that reports of rape were disclosed. A United Nations report in 1992 cited that the Indian security forces allegedly gang raped 882 women. Moreover a 2005 study by Médecins Sans Frontières found that
that "11.6 percent of interviewees said they had been victims of sexual violence since 1989" and that "one in seven had witnessed rape. [ A long struggle Against Systemic Rape in Kashmir ] .
The alleged set of crimes, known as the Kunan Poshpora case, happened more than 20 years ago, on February 23, 1991, when armed forces allegedly raped at least 32 teenaged, adult, and elderly women. The Indian government has refused to hold anyone accountable for these alleged crimes. In 1992, the United States Department of State's report on international human rights rejected the Indian government's conclusion and stated that there was "credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit engaged in mass rape in the Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora". It is also interesting that Justice Verma's report on the Delhi Rape issue acknowledged the need for accountability. The team wrote
"We are indeed deeply concerned at the growing distrust of the State and its efforts to designate these regions as 'areas of conflict' even when civil society is available to engage and inform the lot of the poor. We are convinced that such an attitude on the part of the State only encourages the alienation of our fellow citizens." They continued, "It must be recognized that women in conflict areas are entitled to all the security and dignity that is afforded to citizens in any other part of our country" and finally the recommendation was as follows: "Sexual violence against women by members of the armed forces or uniformed personnel must be brought under the purview of ordinary criminal law"
A few weeks ago, "50 Kashmiri women came together to demand that police reinvestigate a well-known case of mass rape. The women--teachers, students, journalists, human rights workers, lawyers, and other professionals--filed a public interest litigation case before India's Jammu and Kashmir high court". The Hindustan Times recently reported on a petition to the High Court to reopen the Kunan Poshpora case. The petitioners pleaded "As usual, the State refused to act. One and a half years have passed and the State has displayed a cruel disregard for a crime whose consequences continue to date." The history is summarised by Women Under Siege . The local media reported on the potential reopening of the case. The international media appears to have remained tight-lipped despite these events occurring during the same time as William Hague's publicity campaign.
The disappearance of the human rights abuses from the international stage is curious. Mr Rameez Makhdoomi, a local journalist in Indian administered Kashmir, stated,
"'Tragically, Kashmir human rights violations are grossly overlooked by Western world which is otherwise considered as the region which gave birth to enlightened concepts like democracy and liberty. History will remember with dark words the silence of West over gross human rights violations committed by India in Kashmir. India may have literally committed every crime in book-rapes, murders, torture deaths to quell democratic freedom struggle of Kashmir based on the right to self-determination which was promised by Indian state. Western world is acting blind and voting economic and strategic interests over humanity and democracy when it comes to India's cruel conduct in Kashmir."
UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura states
"Sexual violence in conflict needs to be treated as the war crime that it is; it can no longer be treated as an unfortunate collateral damage of war"It follows that the alleged crimes committed against the people of Kashmir and their difficult journey to achieve accountability must never be forgotten by the international community.
Follow Rita Pal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dr_rita39