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Self determination as vital as right to life: Speakers

Geneva, 5 October (KMS): Speakers at a virtual conference held on the sidelines of the 45th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva emphasizing that implementation of self-determination is as vital as the right to life have called for the settlement of the Kashmir dispute as per UN Security Council resolutions.

The event was organized by the Organisation of Kashmir Coalition (OKC) under the umbrella of its partner International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) and was moderated by Barrister Abdul Majeed Tramboo under the theme – Self-Determination, Conflicts, and Geneva Conventions. The panelists included former Independent Expert on the Promotion of Democratic and Equitable International Order Professor Alfred de Zayas, Professor Nazir Ahmad Shawl, Madam Daniela Donges, Ambassador Ronald Barnes, Professor Joseph Wronka, former Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Frank Schwalba-Hoth and former MEP Julie Ward.

Referring to the conflict of Jammu & Kashmir, Professor Alfred de Zayas recalled that there are specific Security Council resolutions on the issue including the very recent reports on the gross violations of human rights by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights together with reports from various special rapporteurs; all these reports relate to Kashmiris’ right to self-determination. He emphasised that there are various UN instruments on recognising the peoples’ rights to self-determination and this directly linked with the concert of dignity, cultural and social identity.

Opening the conference Professor Alfred de Zayas provided a legal analysis of the theme in that he submitted a comprehensive report on the issue of self-determination. He referred to people’s aspirations for self-determination which are frustrated including that of the Kingdom of Hawaii and Alaska and asked to annul the GA resolution 1469. Professor Alfred de Zayas expressed that there are solid legal basis on this issue and that self determination is not to go away and its in the world peace that the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Human Rights Council, the General Assembly and the Secretary General of the United Nation give central place to self determination as a conflict prevent strategy and it has be recognised that implementation of self determination is as vital as right to life.

Chairman, South Asia Centre for Peace and Human Rights Professor Shawl succinctly set the scene for the Kashmiris right to self-determination. He referred to the global arena which reveals the painful reality of self-determination related conflicts with echoes of pain and agony, denial and deprivation, social injustices, draconian laws, military lock downs and overriding undemocratic structures. Referring to Indian illegally occupied of Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJ&K), Professor Shawl considered that the military ratio exceeded the presence of civilians in IIOJK. He further identified that such ratio is a consequence of the Kashmiri’s plight to self-determination as under the United Nations resolutions. He added: “The people of Kashmir reject the Indian military occupation and that the present state of affairs is not brought about by any third party but for the oppressive rule administered by India. The state oriented terror in IIOJK has intensified since Modi lead government is installed at New Delhi with utterly militarised and muscular policies and no adherence to the Geneva Convention. On 5 August 2019 the Modi government fractured Jammu & Kashmir breaking into so called two union territories to absorb IIOJK into India and bring about the demographic change; this is in contravention of international law and the specific UN resolutions on Kashmir.”

Former MEP Schwalba-Hoth recalled that 17 years ago serious work on the Kashmir issue commenced within the European Union (EU) in particular the European Parliament (EP) through Kashmir Centre. The for Kashmiris self-determination and for the promotion and protection of their human rights and that work is continuing. He emphasised that EU is guided by its core values i.e. self-determination and human rights for all and this why the Kashmir conflict receives specific attention in the EP. Mr Schwalba-Hoth clarified that in recent times the EP work might have been slowed down because of the Covid-19 pandemic including Kashmir but this will certainly accelerate once the pandemic controlled. He further elaborated that although there has been Brexit (previously British former MEPs would take the lead on Kashmir) nonetheless, All Parties Group on Kashmir (APGK) has been put in place under the leadership of Madam MEP Manuela Rippa and EP.

Madam Donges highlighted the Palestinian situation providing the graphics as to how the Geneva Conventions are brazenly violated in the occupied Palestine. She referred to massive illegal settlements on Palestinian lands by Israel in stark contravention of article 53, 670,000 settlers already in occupation; in violation of article 53, the Palestinians houses and properties are demolished on the pretext of terrorism and/or unlawful built and this causes enormous pain and suffering to the affected families; article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention is crushed on routine basis in the occupied territories; killings, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment as a matter practice demonstrates that Palestinian lives are cheap; article 76 is abused in the sense that prisoners invariably are imprisoned in mainland Israel thereby preventing their families to visit them as the family members rarely get permits to travel to the Israeli territory.

Ambassador Barnes analysed the self-determination issue of Alaska and Hawaii stating that Alaska and Hawaii are recognized in 1946 under Article 73 of the United Nations Charter. The United Nations granted the gift of apartheid of Alaska to the United States of America (USA) without properly examining or applying the procedures of decolonization in 1959. Under the premise the Tee-Hit-Ton v Untied States of America (1955) and the Johnson v McIntosh (1823) the United States Supreme Court held that the land is for the settlement for the white race considering that the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendency over the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska in violation of General Assembly resolutions 644 and 1328 calling for the abrogation of racial discrimination in law and policy.

The Alfred de Zayas Memo declared this as apartheid and a crime against humanity. Ambassador Barnes further stated that the Geneva Conventions are the premise of decolonization principles and certainly do apply in Alaska and other cases as tribal governing authority is recognized. He remarked that the United States of America Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review examination of its human rights record will convene on 9th November of 2020 in Geneva and insisted that Alaska and Hawaii want General Assembly resolution 1469 to be annulled. Professor Joseph Wronka in his presentation recalled the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment of men of zeal, well meaning, but without understanding,” western social policies can be antithetical to Indigenous values, such as a subsistence life style and the right to self-determination, which in Mohawk means “living nicely together”.

He further commented that according to Indigenous scholar Natalie Cisneros, self-determination “can be best realized through Native centered practices…. free from paternalistic intervention of settler governments.” Professor Wronka, referring to Gandhi, stated when asked what he thought about western civilization, Gandhi replied: “a good idea.” He contended that the Spirit of Crazy Horse, named after that great Indigenous spiritual leader, can serve as a basis for such a “new” civilization: “Peace, humility, and everlasting love.”

In conclusion Professor Wronka remarked whereas the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a major step forward nonetheless, we need to have robust debates on the possibility of a “stronger” International Convention on the Right to Self-Determination.