File photo: UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
File photo: UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

UN rights chief criticises restrictions on public gatherings, communications blackouts in J-K

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s comments came during her opening statement at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
UPDATED ON SEP 13, 2021 11:22 PM IST

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Monday criticised the use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act across India as well as restrictions on public assembly and frequent communication blackouts in Jammu and Kashmir.

In her opening statement at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet largely focused on the impact of the “triple planetary crises of climate change, pollution and nature loss” on human rights, but also raised what she described as a “number of specific and fast-moving situations”.

“Indian authorities’ restrictions on public assembly, and frequent temporary communication blackouts, continue in Jammu and Kashmir, while hundreds of people remain in detention for exercising their right to the freedom of expression, and journalists face ever-growing pressure,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

“Ongoing use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act throughout India is worrying, with Jammu and Kashmir having among the highest number of cases in the country,” she said.

While acknowledging the Indian government’s efforts to counter terrorism and promote development in Jammu and Kashmir, Bachelet said “such restrictive measures can result in human rights violations and foster further tensions and discontent”.

There was no immediate response from Indian officials to Bachelet’s remarks. In the past, India has described such criticism as interference in the country’s internal matters based on an inadequate understanding of the ground situation.

In the case of China, Bachelet said she was unable to report progress in her efforts to seek “meaningful access to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”. She said her office is finalising its assessment of the situation in Xinjiang on the basis of “available information on allegations of serious human rights violations in that region” and the findings will be made public by the end of the year.

Bachelet’s speech was largely focused on the impact of climate change, pollution, and nature loss on a broad range of rights, including the “rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development and even life itself”.

She described displacement caused by environmental disaster as a “particularly serious phenomenon” in Asia, where the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that India, China, Bangladesh and the Philippines witnessed “more disaster displacement than all other countries combined” in 2019.

The displacement in these four countries amounted to 70% of the global total and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report of last month presents a “troubling forecast for South Asia”, she said.

“Combating and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic will require billions of dollars to be spent on rebuilding and supporting national economies. Policy choices can direct that spending into new, green directions that tackle inequalities and stimulate innovative environmental solutions that also uphold and promote human rights,” Bachelet said.

Several countries have issued new climate commitments and the European Union adopted a new climate law in June that creates a legal obligation to attain climate neutrality by 2050, and requires a 55% reduction of EU-wide greenhouse gas emissions from their 1990 levels.

Bachelet noted it wouldn’t be easy achieving these targets as it would mean that EU member states must reduce emissions in the next eight years by more than what was achieved in the last three decades.

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