New Delhi: A subcommittee of the United States Congress on Tuesday held a hearing titled ‘Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region’. While the hearing was on human rights in the larger South Asian region, much of it was focused on the situation in the Kashmir valley following the abrogation of Article 370. A number of US lawmakers expressed concern on the deteriorating condition of human rights in Kashmir since the restrictions have been in place.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal
Born in Madras, India in 1965, Jayapal moved to the United States when she was 16 years old. During the 2017 US Congressional elections, Jayapal became the first ever Indian-American woman to become a woman of the US House of Representatives after she won from the 7th Congressional district of Washington on a Democratic Party ticket.
Before becoming a lawmaker, Jayapal was a prominent activist who had protested against Islamophobia following the September 11 attacks and later, protested against Donald Trump’s harsh stand on immigration. Her voting record in the House shows she has voted against several pro-Israel legislation. She was among the lawmakers that urged Trump to withdraw support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
During the hearing on Kashmir, Jayapal referred to a report about the detention of dozens of children in Kashmir and said detention without charges is unacceptable. She expressed her concerns about religious freedom in India and said that she proposes to bring a bipartisan resolution in Congress.
Rep. Ilhan Omar
The 37-year-old Congresswoman from Minnesota has achieved celebrity status in the US since her election to the House of Representatives back in January 2017. She is, along with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, one of two first Muslim women to serve in the US Congress. She is also a member of a group of four Congresswomen of colour known as ‘The Squad’ (The other members are Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley).
Omar has taken tough positions on issues of human rights, calling out regimes across the world. She has criticised the Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses in Yemen and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, even calling for a boycott of the Saudi regime. She has called out China’s excesses on the Uighur population in its Xinjiang province as well as attacks on Sri Lankan Christians during the 2019 Easter bombings. Her sharpest attacks, though, have been directed at the State of Israel and its military campaign in Palestine. In fact, her opponents have even claimed that she holds “anti-Semitic” views.
Omar has been critical of not just India’s decision to put Kashmir under severe restrictions, but also India’s rollout of the NRC in Assam which could potentially disenfranchise millions. After the hearing, she tweeted, “Kashmiris have been restricted from communicating outside their country for 50+ days. In Assam, almost 2 million people are being asked to prove their citizenship. This is how the Rohingya genocide started. At what point do we question whether PM Modi shares our values?”
Rep. Brad Sherman
A veteran Congressman from California, Sherman has been a three-time Representative since 1997. He is currently the chair of the subcommittee that conducted the human rights hearing. A Jewish-American Democrat, Sherman has consistently projected himself as a friend of Israel. However, he has also a strong record on voting for the preservation of human rights. Sherman has been trying to urge the Trump administration to talk tough with China when it comes to China’s treatment of it Uyghur population in Xinjiang province.
During the hearing on human rights in South Asia, Sherman was concerned with US officials, diplomats and lawmakers who were not being allowed to review the situation in Kashmir for themselves. He also wanted to know when India would allow the resumption of peaceful protests in the Valley.
Responding to a question from Sherman about Senator Chris Van Hollen who was barred from travelling to Kashmir, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells said that so far US government officials have not been able to visit Kashmir to get a first-hand information of the situation on the ground. But it has maintained contact with the government, civil societies and the members of the press, she added.
Representative Ted Yoho is among the other Congresspersons who have expressed concern over the situation in Kashmir. The representative from Florida has been a vocal supporter of human rights regimes and a vocal critic of China’s actions in Xinjiang.
Abigail Spanberger from Florida also expressed concern on Kashmir. The Democratic Congresswoman from Florida has criticised even her own government’s move to roll out a “Muslim ban” in the early days of the Trump administration, which was later rescinded.
Mike Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania said the goal of the US, with regard to Kashmir, should be to “uncover the truth” about what was going on in the valley.