On 14 June, senior Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari was killed by unidentified gunmen outside his office. Shujaat Bukhari was the editor of Rising Kashmir, and a leading voice for peace, justice, and rights in Kashmir and Indo-Pakistan peace.
His assassination, on the very day that the United Nation Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had released its first-ever report on Kashmir, was a wake-up call that human rights, civil liberties, and press freedom are in constant peril in Kashmir.
What is needed is a credible and speedy investigation to establish who killed Shujaat Bukhari and at whose behest. Unfortunately there seems no political will to do this. In Srinagar where the ground is thick with security personnel and gun shots usually lead to cordons and encounters, the killers were allowed to make their escape easily.
The best tribute to this writer and journalist is to read and discuss his own ideas.
Just a day before his assassination, Shujaat saab had responded in a dignified way to a right-wing diatribe branding him ‘quasi Islamist’ and ‘biased’, tweeting, “In #Kashmir we have done Journalism with pride and will continue to highlight what happens on ground.” Likewise, in early June, he had tweeted about being trolled for posting a photograph of a Srinagar youth being mowed down by a CRPF vehicle. Ever dignified, he had written, “While they have every right to defend CRPF action as they think #JammuAndKashmir is just a piece of land, they will have to realise why this fear of death is missing in #Kashmiri youth.”
In April 2018, Shujaat saab had written a piece titled ‘For how long can New Delhi justify the killing of civilians in Kashmir?’ In that article, he had questioned the justification for a spate of so-called ‘encounters’ in which militants, civilian protesters and soldiers had been killed. Noting that “The military approach has failed in Kashmir, if only decision makers in Delhi would care to see it”, he had observed that the current crisis is the result of India’s “policy of dismissing the frustration and despondency on the ground as merely Pakistan-sponsored.” He had concluded: “Recognising it (Kashmir) as a political problem and talking to all stakeholders without conditions is the only way. Pakistan also is important to the process of finding a solution. Killing militants has come at a huge cost. The forces may kill militants but will not kill the ideas behind militancy. The past 27 years have shown that repeatedly.”
In the wake of Shujaat Bukhari’s killing, it is apparent that the Indian Government is bent on rejecting the sane advice of voices like Shujaat Bukhari. Influential sections of the Indian media, even as they pay lip service to Shujaat Bukhari’s memory, too are busy doing exactly what he had warned against: dismissing the anger of Kashmiri youth as “Pakistan-sponsored,” celebrating the killing of militants and atrocities against civilians, and treating Kashmir as a piece of real estate.
India’s refusal to address and engage with the UN OHCHR report on Kashmir is another reminder that the Government of India is unwilling even to listen to the most reasonable recommendations that can lead to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The UN report asks authorities in India and Pakistan to take concrete measures to end human rights violations and provide reparations and rehabilitation for victims, and to “fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law.” The report stresses that “Any resolution to the political situation in Kashmir should entail a commitment to ending the cycles of violence and accountability for past and current human rights violations and abuses committed by all parties and redress for victims. Such a resolution can only be brought about by meaningful dialogue that includes the people of Kashmir.” The report urges the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing “a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein during his opening statement of the 38th session of the Human Rights Council which began on 18 June, reiterated his appeal to India and Pakistan to stop denying independent observersaccess to Kashmir. He also expressed deep sadness at the murder of Shujaat Bukhari whom he called “a courageous human rights defender actively working for peace.”
We urge the Governments of India and Pakistan to accept the recommendations of the UN report on Kashmir, and take bold steps towards a political resolution of the Kashmir dispute.