Unreasonable restrictions on the freedom of association, assembly and freedom of speech and expression
The state has placed numerous impediments to the work of human rights defenders. Firstly, access to public places to hold public demonstrations against unfair state action is severely restricted. For instance, APDP is allowed access only to a small park in Srinagar city, to conduct their monthly public protest meetings. Significantly, in 2004 APDP erected a memorial to commemorate disappeared persons, which was swiftly and brazenly demolished by members of the armed forces.
The state has placed many obstacles to thwart the institutionalization of collective initiatives and associations. For instance, organizations find it difficult to obtain clearances from the home ministry and under laws regulating foreign contributions, to be able to receive support, financial or otherwise, for their activities. In 2008, the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims awarded APDP a grant to support their activities. Prior to receiving funds under this grant, an official from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was required to provide a no-objection certificate pursuant to a field visit. The state authorities took two years to sanction this visit and that too for only 24 hours. APDP faced further harassment with bank clearance to access the UN sponsored grant, which is not a requirement for funds received from the UN and its allied organisations.
The Indian state has always been resistant to visits to Kashmir by UN special rapportuers and other monitoring mechanisms. Even foreign journalists are given restricted access to Kashmir. In 2010, in an unprecedented move, members of the Amnesty International were allowed access to Kashmir for the first time in 18 years. This was due to the fact that Indian citizens who did not require any visa clearance constituted the visiting team. It has, on the other hand, placed considerable obstacles for Kashmiris desirous of articulating their grievances in international fora.
Movements of the Kashmiri people are extremely limited. Obtaining a travel documents is an ordeal for the average Kashmiri but more so for human rights defenders. APDP members, due to their association with disappeared persons have faced and continue to face insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining a passport. In most cases they have been denied outright, even if the passport was sought for purposes of undertaking pilgrimage.
Other than restricting movement of APDP members, this places severe impediments on APDP’s work, particularly with regard to forging coalitions with other human rights defenders and relatives of disappeared persons in different countries. Crucially, it prevents them from submitting their cases to international human rights redressal fora, including the UN Working Group on Enforced Involuntary Disappearances. It also impedes their efforts at international advocacy to raise awareness on issues of enforced disappearances. In light of the ineffectiveness of available national remedies, the lack of political will to enforce human rights safeguards or bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses, international advocacy is a crucial aspect of APDP’s work in enforcing accountability of state authorities.