India Exercises ‘Right of Reply’ at the United Nations

India counters Pakistan over Kashmir issue

India counters Pakistan over Kashmir issueWhat is Right of Reply?

When public criticism or unfavourable judgement is levied against a person or an organisation, this person or institution retains the right to present a spirited defence in the very same forum or venue in an attempt to absolve oneself. This right, referred to as Right of Reply, is an unwritten one in several countries. In some countries such as Brazil, the Right to Reply is a constitutional right. Several leading publications and global media houses have Right of Reply as a part of an editorial policy.

In many international fora, including the United Nations, the Right of Reply has often been exercised to influence global opinions and to defend national interests against criticism. The United Nations Association of the United Kingdom defines Right of Reply (in the UN context) thus – “A right to speak in reply to a previous speaker’s comment, invoked when a delegate feels that their personal or national integrity has been insulted or slandered by another’s speech”.

India’s First Use of Right of Reply

The United Nation Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva witnessed India exercise its Right of Reply for the first time. For quite some time now, the UN forum has been used by Pakistan to heap criticism against India’s stand on the Kashmir issue. India has been routinely abused and often unfairly critiqued. Never before has India interrupted the delegate from Pakistan in any of the UN meetings or sessions. In fact, the Indian government has often faced criticism back home for its failure to speak up and present a defence at international forums, especially at the United Nations.

Things were up for a change in early July 2015 when Pakistan’s delegate started to levy criticism on India. Pakistan said, “The people of Jammu & Kashmir have been denied their right to self-determination, subjected to consistent and forceful foreign occupation, and their democratic rights have been usurped and suppressed by conduction of sham elections at gun-point… The denial of the right to self-determination was not only the negation of the UN Charter and key human rights covenants but also of human dignity”.

Unlike any previous occasion, the Indian delegate at the meeting interrupted Pakistan’s tirade in a quintessential use of the Right of Reply. India said, “A part of the territories of our state remains under the forcible and illegal occupation of Pakistan. It is unfortunate that in recent times the people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have become victims of sectarian conflict, terrorism and extreme economic hardship because of Pakistan’s occupation and discriminatory policies”. India went on to assert that the elections conducted in the state of Jammu & Kashmir were free and fair polls attesting to India’s legitimate claim over the state. The Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly Elections (November – December 2014) was carried out in five phases amidst intimidatory threats by pro-Pakistan groups in the state. Despite fear of violence, the voter turnout was the highest in well over two decades. 65 per cent voters exercised their mandate – this figure is higher than usual in other states and stands testimony to the state’s implicit faith in the Indian democracy.

Furthermore, India also issued a statement criticising Pakistan for selectively tackling terrorist groups even as sectarian violence is promoted by others under its wing. “Look deep within”, said India to Pakistan with reference to the killing of school children at Peshawar in December 2014.

India’s Changing Stance

Ever since the formation of the two republics, India and Pakistan have been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the legitimacy of Kashmir’s accession to the Indian Republic. Three wars later, the nations are yet to find a solution to the ongoing violence and tensions in the valley. In 1949, the UN military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was stationed along the Line of Control (LoC) to observe the ceasefire between the two nations. Pakistan has been keen on inviting international mediation in the issue. India, however, has refrained from raising Kashmir issue in the UN and such fora. Since the state is an integral part of the country, such invitation would be an affront to the nation’s sovereignty.

Since the NDA government’s coming to power in May 2014, India has taken a hardened stance with regard to the Kashmir issue. The focus on national security has mounted and India’s use of the Right of Reply at the UN is a reflection of this changing stance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have adopted a ‘name and shame’ policy breaking India’s silence over the matter. In fact, within a month of taking oath as the PM, Modi asked the UN Military Observer Group to vacate its Delhi office. The message delivered by the government was loud and clear – “The UNMOGIP has outlived its relevance”. In September 2014, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif once again raised the Kashmir issue with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, another move strongly criticised by India.

Negotiations and Peace Talks

India is keen to find a solution to the Kashmir issue and come to amicable terms with its western neighbour, but only through mutual negotiations and agreements and not through UN or US interventions. PM Narendra Modi is now set to meet Pakistani PM in the city of Ufa in Russia on 10 July 2015, where both leaders will also attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. While there are no indications yet about resumption of dialogues, it is likely that the Kashmir issue or at least Pakistan’s stance at the UN will be touched upon.