UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, in conjunction with other UN experts, has voiced profound apprehension regarding the apprehension, confinement, and charges levelled against Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez, both of whom are Kashmiri human rights defenders. The experts contend that these actions are aimed at undermining their human rights advocacy and obstructing the monitoring of the human rights landscape in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
A collaborative statement, accessible on the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ official website, emphasizes the legitimacy of Mehraj and Parvez’s endeavours, as well as the commendable activities of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCSS). The UN experts express concerns that the detention of Mr Mehraj, along with Mr Parvez’s prolonged incarceration since 2021 and his involvement in the present case, are strategically designed to discredit their human rights endeavours and impede the oversight of the human rights situation in the region.
The statement unequivocally asserts that the application of counter-terrorism legislation to penalize human rights defenders is unacceptable. The experts express dismay at the persistent manipulation of national security measures and rhetoric to obstruct, undermine, and victimize those who nonviolently champion and safeguard human rights within the country. Such actions, they argue, also serve to obstruct accountability for human rights violations.
In disagreement with the Modi government’s interpretation of the term “terrorist,” the collaborative communication contends, we are deeply concerned about the definition of ‘terrorist act’ in the UAPA, which substantially departs from the model definition offered by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism… This, they argue, grants excessive powers to the executive branch, without necessary oversight or judicial control.
Moreover, the experts issue a caution against conflating human rights work with terrorism, emphasizing that such a fusion is contrary to State obligations as affirmed by the Security Council. The experts cite the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and assert that counter-terrorism actions should not contradict other international legal commitments, particularly in the realm of human rights.
The experts also raise concerns about allegations of Indian “terror funding,” highlighting that international practices and guidelines outlined by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) are intended to prevent global money laundering and terrorist financing. The FATF’s recommendations, while not legally binding, offer internationally accepted guidance for countering terrorism financing. They also said India should be investigated fro FTAF violations.
The joint statement deplores the targeting of civil society by the Indian government, contending that the recent arrests seem to deviate from a “risk-based” approach to counter-terrorism financing, demonstrating an undue utilization of counter-terrorism finance laws and practices to unfairly target civil society.
The communication, composed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts, was conveyed to the Government of India on June 5, 2023. Although it was confidential for 60 days to allow the government to respond, no reply was received within this timeframe. In response to queries, the UN experts announced that any response from the Indian government would be included in the UN Special Procedures communications database.
Notably, since the issuance of the communication, the detention of Mr Mehraj and Mr Parvez has been extended twice upon petitions by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), with the most recent extension granted on July 27, 2023. Presently, both human rights defenders remain in detention at Rohini Prison in Delhi.