New Delhi, August 30, 2019 (PPI-OT): David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, has said that the current situation in occupied Kashmir is really deeply disturbing. David Kaye in an interview with New Delhi-based monthly magazine The Carvan said that the Indian authorities had repeatedly over the last several years shut down the internet in occupied Kashmir, particularly around times of protests.
He said, the shutting down of internet and the current situation is really quite draconian. “Shutting down all communication is a disproportionate interference with the freedom of expression of people in Kashmir. “It is also interference in the people’s right to information about what the authorities are doing and what is happening in Kashmir. For a democratic country to do so is quite unusual and unprecedented,” he added.
To a query, David Kaye said that it was important for the UN Security Council to go beyond closed-door meetings. He said that if it took its role as an international body (with a mandate) to maintain international peace and security seriously, it should also recognise the attacks on the media, the people of Kashmir and on the freedom of expression in Kashmir. He said that he would like to see the political bodies, including the Security Council and General Assembly, recognise that assaults on communications amount not only to a violation of human rights, but also potential threats to peace and security.
Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948, David Kaye said, the human rights law is binding on India just like all other member states of the UN. “It requires the government to protect everyone’s right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any media. That is the requirement on states to protect the freedom of expression,” he maintained.
He said, the year since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified by India, the international community – in the form of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council – have repeatedly said that they condemn the shut downs of internet and blackouts of communication. It is very clear that these kinds of blanket shut downs are disproportionate and inconsistent with international human rights law, he added.
David Kaye said, “If we look at the question of communication and Internet shut downs alone, it reflects very poorly on the government’s approach to enabling democratic rights and freedom of expression, particularly in Kashmir. It is not only about Kashmir – it is certainly about denying the people of Kashmir the right to freedom of expression. It is also about the people of India and around the world – their ability to communicate with the people in Kashmir and to get information from Kashmir.”
To a question about his request for an official visit to India to evaluate the nature of freedom of expression, he said, one of the regular responsibilities of any UN special rapporteur is to conduct visits to member countries of the UN. “We then report on our visits back to the UN Human Rights Council. In order to conduct visits, we need to make a request to the government, the government needs to agree and we need to agree on dates for the visit. I make requests like these all the time. I typically conduct visits a couple of times every year.”
He said, “I have not had an official response from the Indian government. I have had a good meeting with the government’s mission in Geneva in June this year. But I had not got a formal response to the request.”
To another question he said that he would also have extensive discussions with the civil society, including non-governmental organisations, activists, academics and journalists who actually experienced and participate in the politics and culture of the country, and who could help him understand the nature of freedom of expression in the country. “It would be no different than what we do in any other country,” he added.
He said, his request to visit India is not dependent on India’s agreement to visit any particular part of the country. “Of course, the situation in Kashmir is critical now, and I would want to visit Kashmir. I would want to have discussions about the situation of freedom of expression in Kashmir with the government. But my request goes beyond the situation in Kashmir. It would be an opportunity to discuss with the authorities and the civil society on the entire range of free expression issues including in Kashmir but not limited to it,” he added.
Over three weeks have passed since Kashmir valley has been under a communications blackout, and an internet shutdown, with mobile phone networks suspended, and cable television services cut off. On 5th August, the Narendra Modi government revoked the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Since then, the valley has been reeling under a clampdown, with heavy deployment of Indian forces, severe restrictions on movement and large-scale detentions.
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