Tazeen Hasan produced this personal narrative on behalf of Sehar Shah based on her one-to-one communication with Shah. Shah's postings on Facebook and Twitter have also been used for details.
My name is Sehar Shabir Shah, and I am the daughter of the renowned "Prisoner of Conscience," Shabir Ahmad Shah, who has endured a staggering 36 years of his life behind bars. Our lives have been marked by constant struggles and challenges, but nothing could have prepared us for the events that unfolded ahead of the G20 summit.
It was a seemingly ordinary day when chaos erupted. Troops, comprising the army, Special Forces, and black cat commandos, descended upon our peaceful abode around 6:00 p.m. Their presence was overwhelming, as armored vehicles blocked off the bypass and effectively isolated our entire neighborhood.
In the midst of it all, our helper sought solace in her room, completely unaware of the impending intrusion. The troops forcefully smashed down the gate of our kitchen garden, hopping over walls, and brazenly entering our home through that very same entrance.
At the time, my mother was engaged in the evening Asr prayer. The sound of the doorbell interrupted her devotions, but she was unable to immediately attend to it. With each passing minute, the clamor outside intensified. By the time she reached the gate, roughly 20 to 25 heavily armed men had already breached our house's defenses. Scaling walls and jumping inside, they instilled fear with their imposing presence.
The troops began shouting at my mother as she cautiously opened the lobby door, demanding to know who else was present in the house. Despite her assurances that she was alone, they persisted, barking their questions and demanding more information. Eventually, they barged inside, their boots resounding against the floors, meticulously scouring every nook and cranny, leaving a trail of disorder in their wake.
My mother accompanied a few soldiers who ascended to the top level of our house, while the rest scoured the ground floor and other rooms. It was heart-wrenching to witness the destruction they wrought upon our once-serene dining room. Furnishings were ruthlessly dismantled, and possessions were callously scattered, rendering the room unrecognizable.
The aftermath of their search left our rooms in utter disarray. Every wardrobe lay open, and belongings were carelessly strewn about. The sight of the chaos and devastation was deeply unsettling. My sense of disgust grew as I surveyed the wreckage that now plagued our home.
Before departing, the troops made their intentions clear. They intimidated my mother with threats of a return visit, leaving her shaken and unsettled. Fortunately, we had installed CCTV cameras throughout our residence, capturing every moment of this harrowing ordeal. Determined to document the full extent of their intrusion, I meticulously photographed the rooms and the mess they left behind.
The attached CCTV footage and images serve as a testament to the violation we endured on that fateful day. They bear witness to the destruction inflicted upon our home, forever etching this traumatic experience into our collective memory.
Through sharing our story, I hope to shed light on the immense challenges faced by families like ours, who bear the burden of political persecution. It is my fervent desire that justice prevails, that those responsible for the raid are held accountable, and that no other family must endure the same anguish that has befallen ours.
For 36 long years, my father has been unjustly held in arbitrary detention imposed by the Indian government, without ever facing conviction in a single case. Every passing day, my heart aches as I wait for the day when I can embrace my aging and gravely ill father once more.
The raid on our home, with its brutal intrusion and wanton destruction, only adds to the weight of my longing. It is a painful reminder of the injustice that has plagued our lives for far too long. As I pick up the shattered remnants of our belongings, I can't help but feel the weight of uncertainty pressing upon me. How much longer must I endure this separation from my beloved father?
#Kashmir #Prisoners_of_Conscience #G20_in_Kashmir
Rotten Apples, the Systematic Destruction of Kashmir's Economy and United Nations Millennium Goals
Tazeen Hasan sheds light on the deliberate destruction of the apple crop, a devastating blow to the economic backbone of Kashmiris. In doing so, she exposes it as one of the numerous genocidal tactics employed by the Indian settler colonial regime in Kashmir.
The Indian settler colonial regime in Kashmir persistently employs genocidal tactics against the Kashmiri population. One such strategy involves purposefully targeting apple farmers and individuals affiliated with the apple business, effectively dismantling their economic backbone. Additionally, this brutal settler colonial action has grave ramifications for the environment.
According to reports in the Indian media and Kashmiri sources affiliated with Justice For All Canada, the Indian army obstructed the Jammu-Srinagar road during the apple harvesting season in the autumn of 2022, causing the apples to decay in the stranded trucks. Indian channel NDTV confirmed that while other vehicles were allowed to pass, trucks carrying apples were specifically halted. Hence, this was a deliberate and systematic policy rather than an unintentional natural disaster or calamity. With 3.5 million Kashmiris relying on apple farming and business, this ruthless settler colonial policy inflicted significant damage on a population already enduring lockdowns and the COVID-19 pandemic since 2019.
This action was so brutal that Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and a former coalition partner of the BJP, felt compelled to issue a statement alleging that the halting of trucks on the highway was a deliberate attempt to subject the people of Kashmir to suffering.
Since 2019, Kashmiri farmers have been grappling with economic hardships, struggling to provide for their families. The apple harvesting season in 2022, however, held the promise of a bountiful income due to an exceptionally abundant apple crop. Nonetheless, the deliberate disruption of transportation shattered their hopes and plunged them deeper into poverty and hunger. With 3.5 million Kashmiris depending on the apple harvest for their livelihoods, the intentional disruption during the peak season poses a grave threat to their economic stability and well-being.
Moreover, this action led to the fruits deteriorating and emitting methane gas. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, significantly contributes to global warming and climate change. The decomposition of organic matter, such as rotting apples, produces methane, which, when released into the atmosphere, exacerbates environmental concerns. The unchecked emission of methane from the decaying apples during the blockade poses risks to local air quality.
The long-term consequences of this blockade are even more hazardous. According to experts, methane is approximately 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide, making it a significant contributor to climate change. By allowing the apples to rot and emit methane gas, the blockade not only harms the immediate environment but also intensifies the long-term challenges posed by global warming. This underscores the urgency of addressing the repercussions of these settler colonial policies, both in terms of the economy and the environment, to prevent further harm to the well-being of the people of Kashmir and the planet as a whole.
The deliberate release of methane gas, both from natural sources and human activities such as agricultural practices, waste management, and fossil fuel extraction, exacerbates the warming effect on the atmosphere. As global temperatures rise, glaciers continue to shrink, setting off a dangerous feedback loop. The melting of glaciers exposes darker surfaces underneath, such as rock and soil, which then absorb more sunlight and further contribute to global warming.
Furthermore, the thriving apple crop in Kashmir necessitates significant amounts of water for irrigation, making efficient water resource management crucial. However, the blockade resulted in the wastage of precious water resources that were utilized to nurture the apple orchards. As the apples remained trapped in the halted trucks, the water used for their growth and maintenance went to waste. This not only deprives the local population of a vital resource but also emphasizes the need for sustainable water management practices to ensure the long-term viability of agricultural activities in the region.
In summary, the blockade has dire consequences for the local economy and the environment. The deliberate disruption of the Kashmiri local economy raises concerns about a systematic plan aimed at impoverishing and starving the Kashmiri population. It is crucial for global institutions like the United Nations and its relevant agencies to address these issues, protect the livelihoods of millions, and promote sustainable practices that ensure the well-being of both the environment and the people of Kashmir.
Ensuring environmental sustainability and eradicating poverty and hunger are two of the eight Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. The UN and relevant agencies need to take urgent and decisive action against such settler colonial policies of the Indian occupation regime in Indian-administered Kashmir.
USCIRF's Double Standards: Addressing Religious Freedom Violations With Consistency
May 17, 2023
Tazeen Hasan sheds light on USCIRF's double standards and hypocritical attitude towards religious freedom violations in Kashmir, urging for a more consistent approach in addressing such issues.
In a recent newsletter that I received from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on April 19, 2023, the institution unreservedly condemned the tragic attack on a funeral in Nigeria, which resulted in the loss of numerous lives. This was due to ethno-religious divisions. USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie expressed deep concern, emphasizing that every Nigerian should have the freedom to practice their faith and mourn their loved ones without fear.
As an independent, bipartisan US federal government entity, USCIRF monitors and advocates for religious freedom globally. Its purpose is to make policy recommendations to the US government and raise awareness about religious freedom violations. USCIRF has various means at its disposal to assist persecuted religious minorities worldwide, including diplomatic engagement, human rights promotion, sanctions, international advocacy, refugee and asylum policies, and public diplomacy efforts.
In this article, I do not intend to delve into USCIRF's operational methods, but I cannot refrain from acknowledging the institution's commendable work in promoting religious freedom worldwide. However, it is important to note that USCIRF occasionally overlooks clear cases of religious minority persecution by categorizing them as human rights issues rather than instances of religious persecution. One such case that warrants discussion is the ongoing persecution of Kashmiri Muslims, who face collective punishment solely due to their ethno-religious background.
A couple of months back, before attending a session with Rashad Hussain, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, I engaged in a conversation with a senior human rights advocate from Washington, DC, who has been advocating against the persecution of Kashmiris. During our discussion, she told me that USCIRF had refused to accept Kashmiri prisoner cases, stating that they were human rights violations rather than religious persecution, and directed us to pursue alternative channels for redress. It is perplexing to observe that while USCIRF strongly condemns the killings of Nigerians during a funeral, it seemingly turns a blind eye to the killings of Kashmiri protesters, who have endured numerous attacks by the Indian army, often employing force against peaceful unarmed demonstrators mourning their deceased.
In addition to opening fire on peaceful unarmed protestors who were mourning their deceased during funeral processions, there are numerous instances where Indian authorities disregarded the sentiments of Kashmiri Muslims regarding funerals. This is exemplified by the ignoring Indian government's attitude at Syed Ali Geelani's death in September 2021. USCIRF failed to condemn the Indian army's confiscation of Geelani's body and denial of his family's right to bury him, which not only highlights the brutality of the Indian state towards a religious minority but also exposes USCIRF's apathy and indifference towards the plight of Kashmiris. USCIRF also turns a blind eye to cases where the Indian army refuses to return the bodies of Kashmiri freedom fighters who die in the pursuit of their right to self-determination, burying them in remote locations to prevent loved ones from visiting their graves.
USCIRF's failure to address the Indian government's treatment of Syed Ali Geelani's body and the denial of proper burials for Kashmiri freedom fighters exposes a biased stance towards the Kashmiri people. By categorizing these incidents as mere human rights violations, USCIRF overlooks the underlying religious persecution faced by Kashmiris, showcasing a troubling disregard for their religious freedom and rights. Such bias undermines the credibility of the institution and highlights the urgent need for a more comprehensive and consistent approach to effectively address religious freedom violations on a global scale.
During the meeting with Rashad Hussain, the US State Department's Ambassador-at-large of Religious Freedom at the Bahai Centre, UN Plaza, which included representatives of various minority groups, concerns were raised by members of the Sikh community regarding the Indian government's crackdown on Sikh separatist leaders in the Indian State of Punjab, and the persecution of the Sikh minority in India. Representatives advocating for Uyghurs, Rohingya, and Palestinians were also present. In the course of the conversation, David (whose last name eludes me), a representative advocating for Palestinian rights, made a pertinent point. He emphasized that genocides and apartheid invariably have deep roots in religious nationalism, suggesting that USCIRF should approach persecution issues from a religious perspective.
During my turn, in addition to highlighting the genocide and persecution endured by Kashmiris, I appreciated David's point as it resonated with my argument that the Kashmiri issue should be examined within the context of Hindutva religious nationalism. Kashmiris are suffering simply because they are Muslims; their pursuit of self-determination is thwarted because of their religious identity. The Hindutva-led BJP government disenfranchises them on religious grounds, as evidenced by the revocation of Kashmir's special status, which would not have occurred if the population were predominantly Hindu.
The case of USCIRF's selective condemnation and disregard for the persecution of Kashmiri Muslims underscores a troubling double standard in its approach to religious freedom violations. While the condemnation of the funeral attack in Nigeria is justified and commendable, the reluctance to address the plight of Kashmiris exposes a hypocritical stance.
Religious freedom should be championed without exceptions or biases, and USCIRF has a critical role to play in advocating for the rights of all persecuted religious minorities. By embracing a comprehensive understanding of religious persecution and taking a closer look at the religious dimensions of conflicts, USCIRF can contribute to a more just and inclusive global landscape.
It is imperative that USCIRF expands its scope and actively addresses the plight of Kashmiri Muslims and other marginalized communities, ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of religious freedom and human rights. Let us strive for a world where religious freedom is respected and protected, and where all individuals can practice their faith and mourn their loved ones without fear of persecution or discrimination. Only by confronting the double standards and biases that persist can we truly achieve a society grounded in the principles of equality, justice, and religious freedom for all.
The upcoming G20 meeting for the tourism working group presents a unique opportunity for nations to collaborate and discuss the development of sustainable tourism. While the environment is a major agenda item for the G20 in 2023, it is ironic that unrestricted religious tourism in Kashmir is causing significant damage to the local environment, as highlighted by experts. This essay will shed light on the concerning issue of environmental genocide in Kashmir, particularly focusing on the destructive impact of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage on the Kolahai glacier and the implications for the livelihoods of the Kashmiri population.
The Warning Ignored:
As early as 1996, Indian environmentalists had cautioned the government about the need to restrict the number of tourists participating in the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage. They warned that the increasing influx of pilgrims would have a detrimental effect on the Kolahai glacier, which serves as the primary water source for several rivers in the region. Unfortunately, despite these warnings from environmental and climate change experts, the Indian government did not take adequate measures to limit the number of pilgrims. In fact, Hindutva groups actively campaigned to increase the pilgrimage, leading to an exponential rise in participants. Consequently, the Kolahai glacier has lost 23 percent of its area over the past three decades.
The Intentional Destruction:
The destruction of the Kolahai glacier, a vital lifeline for the Kashmiri people, cannot be seen as a mere coincidence. The majority of Kashmiris rely on the Jehlum river for their agricultural needs, which provides livelihoods for approximately 70 percent of the population. The intentional neglect and disregard for the environmental impact of unrestricted religious tourism is tantamount to an environmental genocide against the people of Kashmir. By allowing the exploitation of this fragile ecosystem, the authorities are endangering the survival of the Kashmiri population, as their agricultural practices heavily depend on the availability of glacial water.
The Role of G20 Tourism Working Group:
The G20 Tourism Working Group holds a significant responsibility to address the issue of environmental genocide in Kashmir. While promoting sustainable tourism is a key objective, it is essential to ensure that tourism activities are not hazardous to the environment and the local communities. The destruction of glaciers and the resultant environmental damage in Kashmir must be a crucial topic of discussion during the G20 meeting. It is imperative to explore strategies and policies that prioritize the protection of the environment, the preservation of natural resources, and the sustainable development of tourism in the region.
The environmental genocide unfolding in Kashmir due to unrestricted religious tourism demands immediate attention from the G20 Tourism Working Group. The destructive impact of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage on the Kolahai glacier, the lifeline of the Kashmiri people, cannot be ignored. It is the responsibility of the G20 member nations to discuss and advocate for sustainable tourism practices that prioritize the preservation of the environment and the well-being of local communities. By addressing the environmental genocide in Kashmir, the G20 can play a pivotal role in promoting responsible tourism and ensuring a sustainable future for all.
Tazeen Hassan, Campaign Manager.
April 25th, 2023
Tazeen Hasan commenting on the Irony of G20's Climate Change Agenda and unchecked Environmental Genocide in Kashmir
The G20 is one of the most influential global platforms where leaders from the world's largest economies come together to discuss and coordinate on various issues. One of the key items on the agenda for G20 2023 is Green Development, Climate Finance & LiFE. However, it is ironic that the meeting is being held in Jammu and Kashmir, a region where an environmental genocide is taking place.
The melting of Himalayan glaciers in Kashmir, caused by unrestricted religious tourism, is causing harm to the environment and is leading to the displacement of millions of people.
The meeting taking place in May in Kashmir is about the Tourism working group. While climate change is a top agenda item in the G20, Indian environmentalists have recommended that India should restrict religious tourism in Jammu and Kashmir. This is because unrestricted tourism is causing Kolahai and other glaciers to melt at an alarmingly faster rate. Reports show that Himalayan glaciers in Kashmir are melting twice as fast as other Himalayan glaciers, which is leading to environmental genocide for the Kashmiri people who rely on glacier water for 70% of their needs.
The Indian government's criminal ignorance of the damage caused to the environment in Kashmir is concerning. Despite several reports and recommendations by environmentalists, the government is allowing tourism to continue unchecked. Moreover, the government is holding meetings related to climate change in a region where environmental genocide is taking place.
The irony is that the G20 is focusing on climate change, while it is holding meetings in a region where environmental destruction is occurring. It is essential for the G20 leaders to acknowledge the severity of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and take steps to address the issue. It is not enough to discuss climate change while ignoring the environmental destruction taking place in the region.
The Indian government must take responsibility for the damage caused to the environment in Jammu and Kashmir. They must acknowledge the recommendations made by environmentalists and take steps to reduce unrestricted tourism in the region. If the Indian government fails to take action, the G20 leaders must take the initiative and boycott meetings held in Jammu and Kashmir. It is time for the world to recognize the environmental genocide taking place in Kashmir and take necessary action to prevent it.
April 20th, 2023
Written by Editorial Team
As grassroots activists, we cannot ignore the lack of Kashmiri representation as India-hosted G20 meetings began in Kashmir this week.
The G20 kicked off its Y20 youth meetings in Jammu, located in Indian-Occupied Kashmir. One glaring absence was any representation or input from local Kashmiri populations. This lack of representation is concerning—especially as Kashmir’s civil society remains impacted by ongoing human rights violations and numerous challenges in advocating for their rights on the international stage.
For instance, ongoing instability and internet shutdowns have hit the education system hard. Teachers struggle to maintain lessons or communicate with their students. India’s Hindu nationalist government has cracked down on dissent and independent voices in Kashmir, resulting in fear and uncertainty in the education system. Teachers are now afraid to discuss sensitive topics in the classroom.
The G20 is also a missed opportunity to raise the alarm on the mass detention of human rights defenders in Kashmir. Activists encounter threats, harassment, and intimidation simply for conducting peaceful advocacy. You don’t need to look further than Shabir Shah and Khurram Parvez—both prisoners of conscience and victims of free speech under India’s BJP government.
Government authorities also employ various measures to suppress their voices, like restricted movement. Kashmiri protesters risk frequent arrest and detention under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (1978), which allows administrative detention without charge or trial for up to two years.
The G20 presented an ideal opportunity for such concerns to be addressed.
As we conduct our advocacy work, we cannot imagine how helpless Kashmiris must feel without the ability to engage with international human rights organizations and have their voices heard on the G20’s global stage.
As we reflect on missed opportunities for Kashmiri representation, we shift our focus to the world's largest economies participating in the G20 summit this year.
It’s not enough for G20 members to focus on economic matters while ignoring the blatant inequalities and abuses in Kashmir. These countries have a legal and moral responsibility to demand Kashmiris be allowed to participate in global forums—especially meetings held directly on their lands.
As the G20 moves forward in 2023, we’ll learn which leaders prioritize human rights versus economic interests and which states don’t. Leaders who subscribe to international human rights norms are responsible for demanding Kashmiris have a seat at the G20 table.
Failure to do this sends a message that the realities and lived experiences of Kashmiris are not valued, and that they are not welcome in shared spaces meant for discourse and diplomacy.
Don’t Stop Now
Written by Tazeen Hasan
Every year on April 17th, Palestinians commemorate Prisoners Day to raise awareness about the plight of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails. Among those prisoners are children, who are often subjected to brutal treatment and denied their fundamental rights.
One such child is five-year-old Muhammad Elayyan, who was summoned for interrogation by Israeli authorities. His father accompanied him, holding a toy and snacks for the child, who could potentially face detention for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
Sadly, Muhammad's story is not unique. Since 2000, ten and twelve thousand Palestinian children have been arbitrarily detained in Israeli military detention centers, mostly on charges of throwing stones. This charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Palestinian children are denied fair trials and fundamental rights, and are often kept in pretrial or administrative detention for years, sometimes released only after years of arbitrary incarceration. According to UNICEF, the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system is widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.
In June 2020, the Annual Report of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict revealed that the UN received affidavits from 166 children who reported ill-treatment and breaches of due process by Israeli forces, including physical violence and one threat of sexual violence. Similarly, a study by Save the Children UK consulted 430 minor detainees over ten years and found that 8 in 10 minor Palestinian detainees reported physical beating while 9 in 10 reported verbal abuse.
The Amnesty International report published in February 2022 declared Israel an apartheid regime. According to the report, Palestinian children are subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including to obtain “confessions,” and are denied access to counsel or family visits.
These acts are a violation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights laws. Report concludes that Israel is in breach of eight of its international legal obligations, including;
Palestinian Prisoners Day is a reminder that Israel's systematic mistreatment of Palestinian political prisoners and children must end.
It is time for the international community to take action and hold Israel accountable for its blatant human rights violations against children.
Don’t Stop Now
Justice For All Canada attended the 7th Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development (EMRTD) session in New York on April 3rd, 2023. Campaign Manager Tazeen Hassan contributed to the panel by discussing ongoing military occupation and human rights violations committed by the Indian government in Kashmir, including the impact on the region’s environment and sustainable development. Watch the address here.
My name is Tazeen Hassan and I'm from Justice For All Canada.
While this session focused on the right to development including the environment, I would like to draw the attention of this esteemed panel to an important human rights issue related to the environment. The environmentally damaging aspect of the conflict and occupation is a serious human rights issue that policymakers have yet to address.
An environmental catastrophe almost equivalent to genocide is affecting 10 to 40 million people in Indian-administered Kashmir and the surrounding region. The glaciers in Indian-administered Kashmir are melting at a twofold faster rate than the glaciers in other parts of the world.
This poses a serious threat to the region's water security, and is an existential crisis for the Kashmiri population, 70% of whom rely on agriculture. Regrettably, this environmental disaster is not primarily a result of the natural or anthropogenic activity of the indigenous Kashmiri population, but an inevitable consequence of the deployment of over half a million occupational troops.
Since the late 1980s, the deployment of these troops has taken a significant toll on Kashmir's ecology, while the Indian government has allowed unrestricted religious tourism, exacerbating the problem.
As a result of these policies, the Kolahoi Glacier, the largest in the region and the primary source for the Jhelum River, has lost 23% of its area in the last three decades. While the Siachen Glacier has lost half of its area since 1984, the destruction of glaciers is no less damaging than a nuclear war, despite the Kashmir region being a bone of contention among three nuclear neighbours.
This esteemed panel is well aware of the environmentally disastrous effects of conflict and occupation. Deploying half a million troops requires massive deforestation to make room for their barracks and shooting ranges. Military training involves the extensive use of firearms and their debris, all sources of environmental damage. These activities have been ongoing for over 30 years.
According to United Nations and reputable media organizations, the Indian Army has been involved in environmentally damaging policies such as burning shops, homes and even entire villages as punishment for the Kashmiri people's self struggle for self-determination.
The Indian Army has also been involved in smuggling timber out of Kashmir. That is also environmentally damaging. Recently, after the revocation of autonomy in 2019, the Indian government has been altering the demography of the Kashmir Valley, which will directly increase anthropogenic activity.
Almost 100% of commercial mining projects in the Jhelum River have been awarded to non-Kashmiri businesses from Maharashtra, Gujarat and other areas of India. Besides the destruction of flora and fauna, the massive mining is damaging the walls of the Jhelum River, which has caused flooding in the past. Floods have already caused the disaster of astronomical scale in Kashmir and Pakistan.
I urge authorities here at UNHCR and the focus thematic panel to examine the environmental side of human rights development, conduct investigations and collect evidence to document the extent and impact of the environmental genocide in Kashmir.