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House of Commons Hansard
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03 September 2019
Volume 664
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1. What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Kashmir. [912239]

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17. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the political situation in Kashmir. [912256]

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20. What recent representations he has made to the Indian Government on that Government’s policies in relation to Kashmir. [912259]

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23. What diplomatic steps he is taking to secure peace in Kashmir; and if he will make a statement. [912262]

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May I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) for the exceptional job he did as Foreign Secretary, and for the professionalism and integrity with which he conducted himself?

We are concerned about the situation in Kashmir. I spoke to Foreign Minister Jaishankar on 7 August. We want to see a reduction in tensions in Kashmir, respect for internationally recognised human rights and steps taken on all sides to rebuild confidence.

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Doctors have warned that the political situation in Kashmir is leading to a shortage of medicines and that hospitals are being left unable to provide treatment for patients. This is because Kashmir receives over 90% of its medical supplies from India. If this situation is not resolved, Kashmir faces the real risk of a major public health crisis. What steps will the Government take to sort it out?

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The hon. Gentleman is right to talk not just about the theoretical nature of the dispute, but about what it means for communities in Kashmir. It is important that internationally recognised human rights are fully respected, and the way through the tensions is with a constructive political dialogue. The dispute between India and Pakistan in relation to Kashmir is fundamentally for them to resolve, as recognised in UN Security Council resolutions and the Simla agreement.

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The Kashmiri community in Stockton South are understandably concerned about the safety and human rights of the people of Kashmir. Does the Secretary of State believe that there is a role for the United Nations or other independent parties to monitor and report on the alleged human rights abuses to ensure that the Kashmiri people are protected?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that there have been UN Security Council resolutions on the situation in Kashmir in the past, and that this is something that the General Assembly has looked at. Fundamentally, though, the UN also recognises that the dispute over Kashmir between Pakistan and India is for them to resolve. The hon. Gentleman makes the point—as others will and have—that there are internationally recognised human rights at stake. They are duties owed to the international community at large, and we will certainly be scrutinising the situation carefully to see that those rights are respected.

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In Sheffield on Saturday, there was a big protest of people who felt that the Foreign Secretary’s response to the crisis has not been good enough. Will he therefore commit to working through the United Nations and the Commonwealth to strengthen international pressure on India to restore Kashmir’s special status, and to working with both India and Pakistan to secure a long-term solution based on the 1948 UN resolution, so that there can be a plebiscite for the people of Kashmir to determine their own future?

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The hon. Gentleman expresses his concerns powerfully and I understand how keenly they are felt. I have already referred to the UN Security Council resolutions and to the Simla agreement. It is not correct to say that we have not been seized of this issue. The Prime Minister spoke to the Indian Prime Minister, Prime Minister Modi, on 20 August and the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, on 7 August. I raised concerns about the situation with Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar on 7 August. We will obviously be monitoring the situation carefully and talking to international partners in relation to it.

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The large Kashmiri community in Glasgow Central are deeply concerned about their friends and relatives in Kashmir, particularly given the media blackout and the curfew that has been imposed. What has the Secretary of State done to raise both those issues, and what does he intend to do to ensure that the Kashmiri people have the right to self-determination?

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On the issues of detentions, potential mistreatment and communications blackouts that the hon. Lady has raised, I have raised those issues with the Indian Foreign Minister. The Indian Government have made it clear that the measures are only temporary, as strictly required, and we of course want to hold them to that undertaking.

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Events in Kashmir are of the most profound and immediate importance to thousands of my constituents, because British Kashmiris often have family and friends on not one but both sides of the line of control, and they are in frequent FaceTime, email and Skype contact, just like anybody else, even to the second and third generations of migrant. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in such circumstances they must have active representation not just from their MPs but from the Government? Will he therefore join me in saying that the time has come to reassure them on the human rights of their families and friends and to ask for independent observers in Kashmir?

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I know the scale of the community that my hon. Friend has in Wycombe—I believe it is over 10,000. I understand how keenly this is felt among Kashmiris in Wycombe but also right across the country. The issue of human rights is not just a bilateral, or domestic issue for India or Pakistan—it is an international issue. He is absolutely right to say that we should, with all our partners, expect internationally recognised standards of human rights to be complied with and respected.

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Following the action by the Indian Government in Kashmir, on 15 August, Indian independence day, a group of British Indians gathered outside the Indian high commission in London, but they were attacked by members of another community. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the violence and abuse targeted towards the British Indian community on that occasion are completely unacceptable, as they would be against any community on the streets of the UK?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Any violence is deplorable. It should not be conducted in this country, or anywhere else for that matter, against any individual communities. We now need to try to reduce these tensions but also, on a positive side, to build confidence-building measures to allow proper dialogue between the communities in Kashmir but also between India and Pakistan.

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I have met my Pakistani and Indian communities, who are very concerned about the Kashmir situation. The revocation of article 370 of the Indian constitution without involving the Kashmiri people was particularly heinous. If Amnesty International is to be believed, and I think it is, we should have learned from the Rohingya crisis to know that this is another crisis emerging now. We must take the firmest steps to condemn it and do what we can.

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We are aware of the implications of the revocation of article 370, which has caused interest and concern not just within India and Pakistan but among communities throughout the UK and internationally. It is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan but also an international issue, given the human rights at stake.

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It has been a long-standing policy of the Government that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is a bilateral issue. It has also been this House that stands up for human rights and the protection of minorities. Therefore, does my right hon. Friend agree that the abolition of article 370, which discriminates against women and minority religions, is to be welcomed?

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My hon. Friend makes the point that there are different sides to this. But the reality is that there have been widespread reports and concerns about detentions, mistreatments and the communications blackout. There was a UN Security Council discussion on Kashmir on 16 August. As well as wanting to respect the constitutional arrangements within India and in relation to Kashmir, there are implications internationally, particularly as they touch on internationally respected and recognised human rights.

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I refer Members to my registered interest.

For over four years, I have stood in this place and warned Members of the ongoing persecution, oppression and injustice that the sons and daughters of Kashmir face daily. That situation has now escalated as a result of the revocation of articles 370 and 35A, and the humanitarian situation as a result of the blockade. The reality is that we see up to 10,000 people arrested without due process, and food and medicine shortages. This is a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Security Council meeting and not even agreeing a condemnation is not something that this House should welcome. What is the Minister doing to end the draconian blockade, at the very least?

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I think it would be obvious to the hon. Gentleman that, as much as I sympathise with his concerns and understand the heartfelt way in which he makes his points, we cannot alone end that blockade. There has been a discussion about it within the UN Security Council. All and any allegations of human rights violations are deeply concerning, and they must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.

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Textbook brevity from Dame Cheryl Gillan.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), I have many constituents who are highly concerned about this. The revocation of article 35A affects property ownership and rights in Jammu and Kashmir, and many of my constituents are very frightened that this could lead to a dramatic transformation from majority Muslim to majority Hindu. The new Prime Minister is famed for being robust. Can he now be robust in defending the rights of these people and their families?

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My right hon. Friend raises the issue that others have raised, but in a particularly poignant way. The reality is that we have raised the issues around human rights. We have been clear both in our direct dealings with the Indian Government and at the international level that any reports or allegations concerning human rights must be dealt with transparently, thoroughly and rigorously, and human rights standards must be respected.

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Alongside the revocation of article 370, the Indian authorities have detained more than 4,000 Kashmiris without charge in the last month—not just political activists, but ordinary civilians. There are widespread allegations of torture, and many families do not know where their loved ones are being held. This is no way for the largest democracy in the world to behave, let alone a member of the Commonwealth. Can the Secretary of State tell us what protests he has made to India about those detentions?

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As I explained to the House—I am happy to repeat it—the concerns and issues that the hon. Lady has raised are very serious, and I raised them directly with Foreign Minister Jaishankar on 7 August.

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And detentions?

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To answer the shadow Foreign Secretary’s question, yes, specifically the issue of detentions, as well as the blackouts. We have made clear our concern and the fact that we need to see—particularly in a great democracy, as the hon. Lady says—internationally recognised human rights respected.