India’s top court hears challenge to abrogation of Kashmir’s special status

Indian paramilitary troopers patrol along a street in Srinagar. (File/AFP)
Indian paramilitary troopers patrol along a street in Srinagar. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2023
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India’s top court hears challenge to abrogation of Kashmir’s special status

Indian paramilitary troopers patrol along a street in Srinagar. (File/AFP)
  • Indian government scrapped Kashmir’s autonomous status in 2019
  • Petitioners believe it can still be restored by top-most constitutional bench

NEW DELHI: India’s top court began on Wednesday hearing a challenge to the 2019 government decision that stripped the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir of its statehood and special autonomous status.

The semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir was granted by India’s constitution until Aug. 5, 2019, when the Indian government unilaterally revoked the relevant provisions and scrapped its flag, legislature, protections on land ownership, and fundamental rights.

The hearings that the Supreme Court’s constitutional bench started on Wednesday are of petitions filed over the past four years to challenge that move.

“We have approached the Supreme Court with this belief that whatever the Indian government has done is unconstitutional, not taking into consultation stakeholders of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (is) violating the constitutional order itself,” said Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a Kashmiri politician and one of the petitioners.

“We hope that the court will deliver justice and put the constitution in order and whatever constitutional rights have been decimated, abrogated will be restored ... we are expecting that the honorable court would restore the constitution and democracy itself to that part of the world which has been delinked from the democratic spirit of the country.”

Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir is part of the larger Kashmiri territory, which has been the subject of international dispute since the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Both countries claim Kashmir in full, and rule in part.

Indian-controlled Kashmir has for decades witnessed outbreaks of separatist insurgency to resist control from the government in New Delhi.

With the constitutional change, Jammu and Kashmir was split into two federally-governed union territories, in a move that was followed by a total communications blackout, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, and detention of local leaders — some of whom remain in jail.

Administrative measures introduced after the abrogation of the special status and statehood have allowed non-locals to settle and vote in the region, raising fears of attempts to engineer demographic change.

Some of the petitioners who appealed to the Supreme Court, like Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, a retired officer of the Indian Air Force, believe that the changes can still be voided by the country’s top-most constitutional bench.

“I have full faith in the objectivity, impartiality and sense of justice and fair play of the honorable Supreme Court of India and I do believe that petitioners have a very strong constitutional case,” Kak told Arab News.

“If it is looked at (in a) fair and just manner, we will receive our due in ensuring that the unconstitutional act which was promulgated under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act in August 2019 will be undone.”

But not everyone is optimistic.

For Subhash Chandra Gupta, an advocate in Jammu, it was a “futile exercise” by the apex court that was too late in hearing the petitions.

“The judiciary has its own limitations and it cannot restore what has been bulldozed. There was hope had the Supreme Court taken up the petitions within weeks after the changes were made,” he said.

“Now so much intervention has been made in that region by the government. Restoring the status quo ante would create a new problem.”


At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal
Updated 57 min 52 sec ago
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At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal
  • The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud
  • Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people

SAINT LOUIS, Senegal: At least 26 people seeking to reach Europe died after their loaded vessel sank off northern Senegal, the governor of the Saint-Louis region told AFP on Thursday.
Alioune Badara Samb said bodies had been found since Wednesday when the boat got into difficulty in a particularly dangerous part of the northern coast. He added that 21 people had been rescued.
The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud.
Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people.
A number of survivors managed to reach shore and dispersed among locals on the sea banks, making it difficult to say exactly how many people were involved, he said.
Mamady Dianfo, a survivor from Casamance in the south, told AFP more than 300 people were on board when the boat left Senegal a week ago.
Another survivor, Alpha Balde, estimated there were more than 200 passengers.
Dianfo said the vessel reached Morocco further north up the coast but the captain then said he was lost and could no longer continue the journey.
“We asked him to take us back to Senegal,” he said.
President Macky Sall on Thursday expressed his “deep sadness” following the “tragic capsizing” in a message on X, formerly Twitter.
He added that the relevant authorities had been deployed to offer support and assistance.
Senegal’s coast is an increasingly common departure point for Africans fleeing poverty and unemployment and heading to the Canary Islands, their port of entry into Europe.
European Union border agency Frontex says Senegal and Morocco are the most common countries of origin for migrants arriving on the Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic.
Of the more than 6,600 migrants who died or went missing trying to reach Spain last year, the vast majority were lost on the treacherous Atlantic route, according to Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras.


Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan
Updated 29 February 2024
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Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan
  • FM Alexander Schallenberg said the Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty

BEIRUT: Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Hezbollah against escalating the conflict along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border and expressed hope for a pause in the fighting in Gaza in time for the start of the holy month of Ramadan in March.

The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, said Alexander Schallenberg, speaking after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut.

Schallenberg said he came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese villages along the southern border killed two people and wounded 14 others in the village of Kafra on Wednesday night, National News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, an Israeli drone strike hit a truck near the western Syrian town of Qusair close to the Lebanese border on Thursday, killing a Hezbollah member, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, and a Hezbollah official said.

European and American officials have tried to ease the tensions in visits to Beirut, to avoid a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah, which has said it would not discuss any deals before the war in Gaza ends.


Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA
Updated 29 February 2024
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Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

BRUSSELS: Humanitarian aid groups have appealed to the EU to release tens of millions of euros in funding due to the main UN agency that delivers most aid to people in the Gaza Strip as the organization teeters on the brink of financial collapse.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, was due to disburse €82 million ($89 million) to the UNRWA aid agency on Feb. 29. UNRWA said that it still had not received the payment as of Thursday morning.

“This is a moment of reckoning for the EU as a humanitarian leader and a critical donor for this crisis,” said Niamh Nic Carthaigh, from Plan International’s EU Liaison Office.

“Any further cuts to UNRWA funding would be an effective death sentence for civilians trapped in Gaza and the region who rely on the agency for their survival,” she said in a joint statement from 17 aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and Oxfam.

UNRWA is reeling from allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff members participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel. The agency immediately fired the employees, but more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for 2024.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has described the payment due from the EU as “absolutely critical.”

The agency has been the leading supplier of food, water, and shelter during the war in Gaza. Lazzarini has warned that it may be forced to suspend its work soon.

Two UN investigations into Israel’s allegations against the agency are underway, but the European Commission — the third biggest donor to UNRWA after the US and Germany — has demanded a separate audit and wants to appoint experts to carry it out.

Asked on Thursday how the audit is evolving and when funds might be released, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said that “work is ongoing.”

“The plight of the Palestinian people is of utmost concern to us. At the same time, we have set out several points that need to be agreed with UNRWA before we decide on the next payment, which is indeed foreseen for the end of the month,” Mamer said.

The war has driven 80 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes, and UN officials say a quarter of the population is starving.

The European Commission acknowledged this week that no agency other than UNRWA is capable of helping Gaza’s people correctly and that Israel has provided no evidence to support its allegations against the agency’s staff. The agency provides Israel with a yearly staff list and has received no objections.

Despite this, it insists on “a review of all UNRWA staff” to confirm they had no role in the attacks. Of the UN agency’s 13,000 Gaza staff members, more than 3,000 continue working there.

Among the EU’s 27 member countries, several have unilaterally suspended funding. Germany said it “will temporarily not approve any new funds” until investigations are concluded. France, Italy, and the Netherlands have taken similar positions.


US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says

US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says
Updated 29 February 2024
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US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says

US has no expectation of free and fair vote in Iran, State Dept says
  • “I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” Miller said

WASHINGTON: Washington has “no expectation” that a parliamentary election in Iran on Friday will be free and fair, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Thursday.
“I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” Miller said.

“As you probably already know, thousands of candidates were already disqualified in an opaque process and the world has long known that Iran’s political system features undemocratic and non-transparent administrative, judicial and electoral systems.”


UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident

UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident
Updated 29 February 2024
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UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident

UN chief ‘condemns’ deadly Gaza aid delivery incident
  • United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the events “need to be investigated" “
  • We don’t know exactly what happened but whether people were shot and died as a result of Israeli gunfire”

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “condemns” the deadly aid delivery incident in northern Gaza, in which Hamas says over 100 people were killed, his spokesperson said Thursday.
Desperate for food, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza City flocked to an aid distribution point early Thursday, only to be met with lethal chaos including live fire by Israeli troops.
An Israeli source has acknowledged that troops opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat,” but a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office also said that many people had been run over by the aid trucks.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the events “need to be investigated.”
“We don’t know exactly what happened but whether people were shot and died as a result of Israeli gunfire, whether they were crushed by a crowd, whether they were run over by truck, these are all acts of violence, in a sense, due to this conflict,” said Dujarric.
He said there was “no UN presence” at the scene and reiterated the secretary-general’s call for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages.”
“The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the besieged north where the United Nations has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week,” Dujarric said, adding that Guterres was “appalled by the tragic human toll of the conflict.”