Terrorism too is a violation of human rights

19th August 1997
By: Claire Galez (director of International Relations and Human Rights Research Centre, Geneva)

KASHMIR: Visiting Kashmir after a long break, one notices obvious signs that the society is in the process of recovering after these very trying eight years. In sharp contrast with 1994, the first scenes one enjoys of the Kashmir Valley, right out of the Srinagar airport, are children playing and laughing, men and women attending to their daily occupations or sitting and chatting on their doorstep. All the signs of a dynamic society are on display and to my great surprise, the frightening scene of tens of truckloads of security are no where to be seen these days. Most of the makeshift Army barracks have been removed and it is not unusual to witness the locals shaking hands and having a chat with a soldier.

In the rural areas (I went to Pahalgam and other places in the vicinity), there is still some pressure. However, the presence of Mujahideen armed groups and Hikhwans (groups of surrendered militants) is strongly resented by the population. This generates a very peculiar feeling amongst the people -- a combination of fear, anger and helplessness. With an elected government in the state, they now want their lives to be protected. They are awaiting the restoration of their socio-economic life and development. The answers to all these issues lie in the proper functioning of the civil administration.

It is acknowledged by a wide range of people in Kashmir (from the common man to the political leadership), that the process of elections has opened avenues for a dialogue between the leadership of Kashmir and the Central government. It is after the elections that even the APHC began to open up to such dialogue. Moreover, it is in post-elections times that the scale of militant operations and individual killings and intimidation by the militants, has gone down.

It is also widely acknowledged that the factors which contributed to making the society porous and allowed the past years of disturbances in Kashmir, were basically socio-economic frustrations (similar to those faced by many communities in the South Asian region) for which people blamed the state-Centre political set-up. It would be erroneous to describe it as a straightforward `anti-India feeling'. Nonetheless brainwashing campaigns and deceitful promises had been made to the youth of the Valley, by Zia-ul Haq and Benazir Bhutto's first regime. This resulted in an elaborate spider's web that developed in the society, allowing militancy to pick up in the early '90s. But people soon became the victims of militancy rather than its actors. There was a very clear turning point in the people's minds in 1994, after the killing of Qazi Nisar by Hizbul Mujahideen.

In the early stage of militancy, thousands of young Kashmiris crossed the border to receive training and equipment in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 1997, less than a hundred are believed to have done so. The pattern of militancy today is clearly on the basis of infiltration of foreign mercenaries rather than
exfiltration-infiltration of the locals (as it was in early 90s).

Regarding the issue of human rights, let me convey something I believe is very important. For the last ten years and especially after the end of the Cold War the issue has gained momentum. More and more competent professionals are dedicating themselves to human rights. However, I see a danger that human rights may be used (or misused) when it becomes a popular expression and an instrument of exploitation of the masses' emotions and a weapon to fuel political debates.

Human rights, in their present form, are the fruits of decades of social consciousness and countless efforts. They are defined in several instruments (the Charter, Protocols, Covenants, etc.) that bear high moral values and are relevant in terms of International Law. One cannot use human rights as a dustbin for pernicious political games. That distorts the whole purpose of having such instruments.

In this regard, I am very firm on the fact that monitoring of human rights violations is important but it should not preclude the assessment of the root causes that allow these violations to happen. Terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon (throughout the world) that has emerged in the early '70s and became widespread in the post Cold War times. Though terrorism is now considered a serious issue at international level and acknowledged as a major cause for violations of fundamental human rights, the problem it poses has not been articulated in any Convention --I insist, human rights are not simply principles but instruments of international law. In areas affected by terrorism and political violence, where (as in Kashmir) regular state forces are confronted by numerous armed groups, there are no references applicable in the international law. There is an inherent imbalance in the debate. On the one hand, we have formulated instruments which regulate the ethics and behaviour of states and armies, on the other there are no instruments that condemn human rights violations by terrorist groups.

In that respect, when we talk about the human rights situation in Kashmir, I am afraid a large number of people miss out the true dimension of the problem. If the Kashmiris (mainly in the Valley) are at the receiving end of violence perpetrated by terrorist groups and human rights violations committed by the security forces, the issue itself is not confined to the triangular equation of
Kashmiris-armed-groups-security forces. It involves high level security issues where India perceives a threat to its territorial integrity and Pakistan justifies a US $4 billion (1996) defence expenditure by fostering the psychosis of `an army' mainly focused on India.

One should not lose sight of the fact that using the tools of human rights is an exercise meant for solving the issues and not inflaming them.

When we talk about Kashmir, first and foremost, violence and aggression against the common citizen must stop. The right to life is the unconditional and basic universal fundamental right for the implementation of all other rights.

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