India is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to perpetrate human rights violations in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan said on Friday.

Addressing a virtual conference hosted by Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Khalil Hashmi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said: “The COVID-19 is being used as a smokescreen [by India] to perpetrate human rights abuses [in Kashmir] at a scale the world has not seen in recent times.”

He said Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir has been under a “10-month digital and physical lockdown” since last Aug. 5 when India imposed a military lockdown to scrap the region’s limited autonomy.

Hashmi stressed that OHCHR needs to pay “special attention to the situation of human rights in the territories under illegal foreign occupation, especially in IOJ&K,” Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

“Physical and digital access to OHCHR continues to be denied [by India], curtailing remote monitoring of the human rights situation in IOJ&K,” Khalil said, according to a statement posted by Pakistan’s Mission in Geneva on Twitter.

“The Kashmir reporting process has to a degree deterred [by] the occupier. Yet, since last OHCHR [2019] report, scale of and impunity for HR [human rights] abuses has reached new levels in IOJK,” he added. “This needs continued exposure. For these reasons, the Kashmir reporting process, based on HR merits, must continue.”

Disputed region

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965, and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.

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