The United Nations slammed both Indian and Pakistani authorities Thursday for alleged human rights violations in the disputed Kashmir region, with the body's top rights official calling for an international inquiry into the claims.
In its first-ever report on the human rights situation in Kashmir, which for decades has been divided between India and Pakistan, the UN details what it described as "human rights violations and abuses on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC)," the de facto border between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
While also critical of Pakistan, the main focus of the 49-page report is the human rights situation between July 2016 and April 2018 in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
New Delhi forcefully rejected the claims, calling the report "fallacious, tendentious and motivated," according to a statement from India's foreign ministry. The Pakistani government, citing the main focus of the report, welcomed the call for an international inquiry.
Denied unconditional access to the region by both the Indian and the Pakistan governments, the UN says it relied on mostly public information, drawing on research and monitoring by humanitarian organizations, journalists and human rights activists.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is one of the world's enduring geopolitical flashpoints, the epicenter of a rivalry between India and Pakistan that has its roots in the partition of the subcontinent after the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Since then, predominantly Hindu India and Muslim-majority Pakistan have fought three wars against each other -- two of them over Kashmir.
It remains a tense hotspot, with each side frequently accusing the other of ceasefire violations along the de facto border.
"The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights, and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Among the issues highlighted by the report is the special legal regime in effect on the Indian side of the LoC, which the UN said had "created structures that obstruct the normal course of law, impede accountability and jeopardize the right to remedy for victims of human rights violations."
The most recent flare-up of wide-scale violence in the Indian section occurred in 2016, when a young militant leader was killed by Indian security forces, sparking protests across the Himalayan region. At least 90 people were killed, and thousands were injured.
In its rebuttal to the UN report, India said the document had ignored terrorism in the region "emanating from Pakistan and territories under its illegal control." India has long accused Islamabad of aiding and abetting terror groups active in the region.
"Cross-border terror and incitement is aimed at suppressing the will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, disrupting its political and social fabric and undermining India's integrity," India's foreign ministry said.
Even as both countries remain at loggerheads over the region, the UN report details the impact the continuing conflict has had on schools and colleges in India-controlled Kashmir. "An estimated 130 school days were lost in 2016 for approximately 1.4 million children," according to the UN.
In its recommendations to improve human rights, the UN has called for wider access to activists and journalists to increase transparency in the region. "There remains an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations and to deliver justice for all the people in Kashmir who have been suffering seven decades of conflict," the UN said.
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