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Honourable Senator Lee Rhiannon speaks about Jammu and Kashmir

Honourable Lee Rhiannon is an Australian politician who has been a Senator for New South Wales since being elected at the 2010 federal election, representing the Australian Greens. Prior to her election to the Federal Parliament, Rhiannon was a Greens NSW member of the New South Wales Legislative Council between 1999 and 2010.

Greens Senator Hon.Lee Rhiannon recently spoke in the Australian Senate about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Senator Rhiannon’s speech covered Australia’s responsibilities. She said “I believe Australia has a special responsibility—as a candidate for the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2018-20—to advocate for the protection of human rights of the people of Kashmir and Jammu.”

Her speech is below.

Australian Senate
Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:37): The people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir are facing a humanitarian crisis that requires urgent international attention. The people who live in this region have a right to live in peace, with their fundamental human rights to self-determination recognised and honoured. Kashmir has been subjected to centuries of foreign rule. Today, Jammu and Kashmir are occupied and divided between India, Pakistan and China. This situation is a product of British colonialism. Britain partitioned the subcontinent. Nation states were created by drawing arbitrary lines on maps at the close of the Second World War.

Whilst many of us might associate Kashmir with pleasant holidays, the reality for locals is very grim. Kilometres of barbed wire run across the landscape. There is mounting evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed in this region. These crimes should be investigated and steps should be taken to end the human rights abuses. Tragically, the violence in this region is escalating. There are worrying reports of blockades limiting supplies of essential commodities to the people of this region. This is from the website of Amnesty International:

Human rights defenders, journalists and protesters continued to face arbitrary arrests and detentions. Over 3,200 people were being held in January under administrative detention on executive orders without charge or trial. Authorities also continued to use 'anti-terror' laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other state-specific laws which do not meet international human rights standards.

Amnesty International has also released a report called Denied: failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. This report documents the difficulties involved in resolving human rights violations. The report notes, at section 7, the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act grants virtual immunity to members of the security forces from prosecution for alleged human rights violations.

So much of the violence in occupied Jammu and Kashmir violates the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the follow-up additional protocols of 1977. The distinction between civilian and non-civilian targets is not recognised. Indiscriminate attacks are not prohibited and state forces violate international guidelines. A Human Rights Watch report has identified mass graves of thousands of Kashmiris, possibly as high as 8,000. The Human Rights Commission inquiry confirmed there are thousands of bullet-ridden bodies buried in unmarked graves in Jammu and Kashmir. I understand the majority are young men.

Amnesty International recently called on the authorities in Kashmir to investigate alleged mass rapes of over 30 women in North Kashmir, in 1991, in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora. The women raped were aged between 13 and 70. Human Rights Watch has reported that between 50 and 100 women were raped by Indian Army forces on the night of 23 February 1991. At the time, Kashmir police stated that the case was untraceable and stopped the investigation in October 1991.

In 2011 India's human rights commission requested that Kashmir authorities launch a fresh investigation. In June 2013 Kashmir's Judicial Magistrate Court ordered the reinvestigation of the case. In August this year Amnesty International India temporarily closed its offices in India. The decision was taken shortly after Amnesty had hosted a function on recent events in Kashmir. There were concerns for the safety of Amnesty staff. Since July, Srinagar, the capital city of Kashmir, has had its mobile phone networks shut down, many newspaper offices have been raided and papers have been seized.

Tragically, civilians are often the target of attacks. In August, staff at a hospital in Srinagar covered their eyes with patches as an act of solidarity with the children and adults hit with pellets. The doctors and nurses are treating the civilians who are bearing the brunt of the war crimes. 'See our blindness' was one of the slogans on the doctors' placards. The action garnered international attention.

Australia has a strong connection with Kashmir. Successive governments have been engaged in finding a solution to the dispute that has been causing so much hardship since 1948, when the former coloniser of this land, Britain, withdrew from the region. In 1950 an Australian officer, Major General Robert Nimmo, was appointed Chief Military Observer. Australia held this position until 1966. In 1951 Australia sent eight military observers to UNMOGIP, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan. These Australian observers served in Kashmir until 1985. By that time, 150 Australians had served under UNMOGIP. I understand the Australian government withdrew, as they thought the dispute had been resolved.

Also in 1950, the United Nations Security Council appointed Sir Owen Dixon, the sixth Chief Justice of Australia, as the UN representative to organise a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, but the plebiscite was never held. This is not a reflection on Sir Owen Dixon. It was a failure of the international community. Australia should renew its work to ensure that a plebiscite is now held.

I believe Australia has a special responsibility—as a candidate for the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2018-20—to advocate for the protection of human rights of the people of Kashmir and Jammu. The two nations associated with Kashmir and Jammu are Pakistan and India. Both these countries are nuclear powers. If the Turnbull government is responsible, it should be working to de-escalate the current extreme situation. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should be exploring every avenue to resolve the current tensions and assist to promote peace and justice in this region.

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