UN rights chief condemns ongoing restrictions on freedom of assembly in Jammu & Kashmir

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Monday condemned India’s restrictions placed on public assembly in Jammu and Kashmir, pursuant to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967 (UAPA).

In her statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet pointed out that the Indian government’s actions of frequently causing temporary communication blackouts and detaining people for exercising their right to freedom of expression are a cause for concern. Bachelet added:

Ongoing use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act throughout India is worrying, with Jammu & Kashmir having among the highest number of cases in the country. While I acknowledge the Government’s efforts to counter terrorism and promote development in the region, such restrictive measures can result in human rights violations and foster further tensions and discontent.

This condemnation comes after many in India have continuously criticised the allegedly arbitrary and abusive law that punishes dissenters who are vocal against government actions. As many as 5,128 cases have been registered in India under the UAPA since 2015.

The law was also severely scrutinised in July after the demise of Father Stan Swamy, a tribal rights activist who was arrested under the UAPA for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence in 2018 and his links to Maoists. Many suggest that the law is very casually applied by the government and has extremely serious repercussions on those charged with terrorist activities, including detention and custodial deaths.

Bachelet’s address was largely based on the ongoing environmental crisis, where she also addressed displacement due to environmental disaster, which is a particularly serious phenomenon in Asia. Additionally, she also flagged flagrant human rights violations in certain specific countries.

Among others, she acknowledged the Mali coup d’état in May, after which “violent extremist activity and severe human rights violations and abuses continue unabated”. She also deplored the continued use of unwarranted force against Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and expressed concern about the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the Central African Republic.