On Thursday, Indian soldiers from across the UN-monitored ceasefire line attacked (a) funeral congregation in Azad Kashmir as a result of which two Kashmiri mourners were killed and an elderly woman was wounded, authorities say.
They say that malicious Indian soldiers resorted to shelling when a group of people was busy in burial rites of a local resident in Polus Kakuta village in Abbas sector of Poonch district. The village is ‘a couple of hundred yards away’ or ‘less than a couple of hundred yards from the ceasefire line.
They say that the mourners they ran for cover and tried to hide behind the trees, but two people lost their lives.
They were Pakistan Army’s JCO Shaukat Kiani and 17-year old boy Muhammad Iqbal. (‘Included’ indicates that the number of those dead was more than three.
Kiani had come home on a vacation.
Authorities said that a 65-year-old widow Hasira Begum was also wounded by shelling when she was performing some household chores outside her house in Chaffar village.
Officials say that Indian forces used mortar and machine guns in the firing.
According to local residents, Indian soldier deliberately and willfully targeted mourners aiming to kill or wound them.
Since January this year, 46 people have been killed and 257 injured by the Indian firing in Azad Kashmir, local officials said.
Thousands of civilians were killed, wounded or maimed due to artillery shelling along the ceasefire line in Azad Kashmir during 14 years from 1990 to 2003 before a ceasefire came into effect in Nov 2003.
Hundreds of houses and government buildings, including schools and hospitals, have also been flattened in Azad Kashmir. Following resumption of hostilities nearly three years ago, frequent Indian shelling has caused severe physical and psychological damage to people living in the border areas.
Mortars, artillery shells and rockets – the main arsenal being used by Indian soldiers – are so imprecise that those firing them have no reasonable expectation of striking any military target or avoiding civilian areas.
And they are being used In the absence of an imminent threat from the opposite side. The only reason India gives is that the other side started the firing first.
Experts say even if there is threat of a military incursion, there is hardly any justification for indiscriminate and often disproportionate use of heavy weapons in populated areas.
Artillery is a “statistics weapon,” not a “precision weapon” and is inherently indiscriminate.
Since India continues to use artillery fire in areas which it knows are inhabited by hundreds of thousands of civilians, it can be deduced that they are targeting the civilians intentionally.
The Geneva Conventions severely restrict such types of attacks, although they don’t explicitly ban all use of mortars and rockets in densely populated areas.
Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits attacks that are “indiscriminate’ or in other words, that cannot distinguish between soldiers and civilians.
It also prohibits “disproportionate” attacks, i.e., attacks in which the expected civilian harm outweighs the anticipated military advantage of the attack.
Human Rights Watch says In most cases, the use of mortars and artillery in densely areas would be unlawful under those rules.
‘Such weapons are too inaccurate to strike only soldiers, and therefore their use in urban areas would usually be indiscriminate and/or disproportionate’, it says.
Human Rights Watch believes that as a matter of policy the use in populated areas of all explosive weapons with wide area effects (including mortars and artillery) should be considered unlawful.
Under Geneva Protocol Indian attack is a war crime if the person launching the attack intentionally targets civilians.
It is also war crime if the attacker launches an attack that he knows will be disproportionate.
The tragedy is that this crime has gone unnoticed and unacknowledged for the last 67 years despite the fact that UNMOGIP monitor the ceasefire line.
The UNMOGIP has been in Kashmir since January 1949, to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan.
Following the Indo-Pak war at the end of 1971 and the subsequent ceasefire agreement signed in December 17 of that year, the function of the UNMOGIP has been to monitor the observance of the ceasefire.
Its tasks are to observe and report, investigate complaints of ceasefire violations and submit its findings to the secretary general.
In July 1972, India and Pakistan signed the Simla Agreement, defining (redefining) the ceasefire line as the Line of Control. Both countries still disagree over the UNMOGIP’s mandate following the agreement, but India not recognising its jurisdiction after the 1972.
Pakistani military officials continue to lodge complaints with UNMOGIP about (against) ceasefire violations. But, the Indian military has lodged no complaints since January 1972 and have restricted the activities of the UN observers on the Indian side of the Line of Control.
They have, however, continued to provide accommodation, transport and other facilities to the group.
Kashmiris believe that (the) UN failed to protect them and and that they have been left to the mercy of Indian forces.
In October 2016, a questionnaire was emailed to UNMOGIP chief Maj Gen,Delali Honson Sakyi about the situation along the ceasefire line.
In this questionnaire, UNMOGIP was asked about Pakistan’s 2015 complaint against cease fire violations by the Indian Army along the Line of Control (LOC) and Working Boundary and its requests for investigating cross-border shelling.
He was asked whether the investigation was carried out and what its finding was.
He was asked about military and civilian casualties and whether fire was precise, hitting military targets only, or imprecise weapons are used and civilian populations getting targeted?
UN was further queried if civilian causalities large enough to constitute a case of war crimes?’. But UNMOGIP did not respond.
It is time the United Nations institute an investigation into the use of mortar and artillery against civilians in the LoC region.
Additionally, the international community should bring pressure on India to comply with the international laws in this regard, and to hold it accountable for violations.
It is also important for the rights groups to help the affected populations in claiming indemnity from India for the harm done to human lives and property.