We spoke with Salil Shetty, Senior Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School and Mittal Institute Research Affiliate, to learn more about his perspective on the status of human rights around the world today, as well as the current events unfolding in Kashmir. Shetty, a human rights expert and the former Secretary General of Amnesty International, will spend the next year at Harvard performing research and lending his expertise to the community, and will speak at the Mittal Institute’s upcoming Kashmir in Crisis seminar on September 19, 2019.
It has been just over 70 years since the UN’s creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Though there have been many accomplishments in the advancement of human rights during this time, in your opinion, have there been any setbacks or challenges in recent years?
Salil Shetty: If you take a long view, there is no question that there have been very big improvements since 1948 to date. But it is equally true that the last decade or so, particularly since the so-called war on terror was launched, we have seen huge backslide on human rights, specifically but more broadly on justice and democracy itself. The rise of elected populist authoritarianism using “othering” techniques against Muslims, refugees, indigenous people, blacks, women, etc., powered by social media and the internet has created a new reality.
Turning to the events currently happening in Kashmir: Do you expect there to be any global repercussions for India due to its actions in Kashmir?
SS: When we say international, that is normally a euphemism for rich and powerful “northern/western” countries. Given the economic importance of India as a huge market and importer, I can’t see any rich nation’s government doing anything even privately, let alone publicly. But that does not mean ordinary people who have a progressive world view will remain silent. That is where the hope lies.
The communications blackout in Kashmir raises concerns about censorship and control in the Information Age. What are the greater implications of this, and its effects on human rights?
SS: Shutting down media and the internet, combined with curfews and bans on meetings, is the standard methodology used by governments the world over to curb freedom of expression and assembly. This is only going to make Kashmiris angrier, particularly since thousands of leaders and activists have also been unlawfully arrested and restrictions on freedom of movement means that they cannot even communicate face-to-face within their neighborhood.
All in all, by throwing a matchstick into a tinder box, it seems like the current regime in India has decided to sacrifice the people of Kashmir in order to achieve its Hindu national hegemonic goals in mainland India. ☆
Come to our Kashmir in Crisis two-part event on September 18 and 19, 2019! Learn more about the screening of the film “Valley of Saints” here and the panel discussion on the current events in Kashmir here.
☆ All opinions expressed by our interview subjects are their own and do not reflect the views of the Mittal Institute and its staff.