WASHINGTON — The US has urged India to balance its security priorities with respect for human rights in Jammu and Kashmir, a top Trump administration official said on Tuesday as he expressed concern over the detention of political leaders in the state after the abrogation of Article 370.
“Since the August 5 revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, we have urged the Indian government to balance its security priorities with respect for human rights,” Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Robert Destro told a Congressional Sub-Committee here.
“In August, Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi announced a plan to return the region to normal order, which is something we would welcome. Thus far, however, the picture remains mixed,” he said in a prepared statement submitted to the Congressional subcommittee ahead of the hearing on ‘Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region’, before the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In his maiden Congressional appearance after he was confirmed as the assistant secretary of state, Destro said that curfews have been lifted in most areas, landlines restored, and a majority of detainees released.
Still, internet and mobile phone services remain blocked in some districts, he said. Reports indicate this has led to a shortage of medicines, delays in receiving healthcare, and stalled businesses. With communications blocked, local activists and journalists are not able to provide updates on the current environment in the Valley.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik early this month denied there was any shortage of medicines and essential supplies in the region, and said the restrictions on communication services in the Valley after the revocation of special status to the state had helped save lives.
At least 300 people remain jailed under the Public Safety Act, which allows for detention without charge for up to two years in matters of affecting national security, including politicians, lawyers, and activists, Destro said.
“We are concerned by the detention of local political leaders and activists, as well as the internet blackout in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
According to several reports, the government has detained up to thousands of individuals since August, including more than 100 mainstream politicians, although many have since been released.
“The government did not officially confirm these large scale detentions except those of prominent politicians, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti, he told the lawmakers.
In his remarks, Destro also expressed concern about the final draft of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), which puts 1.9 million people at risk of statelessness in Assam.
“The appeals process may disadvantage poor and illiterate populations who lack documentation. It is also unclear how the appeals process will be able to proceed in the allotted time-frame. We are closely following this situation and urge the Government of India to take these issues into consideration,” he added.