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Human Rights: Kashmir

Volume 729: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2011

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the human rights situation in Kashmir.

My Lords, we recognise that there are human rights concerns in both Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir and we followed the widely reported violent unrest in lndian-administered Kashmir last year. Indian Prime Minister Singh has since said that human rights abuses by security forces in Kashmir would not be tolerated. We are following the work of the three interlocutors appointed to help resolve the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.

I thank my noble friend for his response. Is he aware of the Amnesty International report, A Lawless Law, which gives horrific accounts of human rights abuses committed by the Indian forces in Kashmir? Draconian laws such as the Public Safety Act allow the authorities to arrest and detain people for up to two years, and in some cases up to 20 years. According to the report, some 16,000 people have been arrested under the Public Safety Act in Kashmir so far. Will the Minister or the Foreign Secretary raise the human rights abuses in Kashmir with their Indian counterparts at their next meeting?

We are of course aware of the Amnesty International report. As with human rights questions in any part of the world, we are concerned, as would be all responsible citizens and responsible countries. Our high commission officials have visited Kashmir and discussed the issue with human rights groups but I have to emphasise that it is not for the United Kingdom to prescribe solutions to these matters. That is for the Indian-administered authorities to deal with and it is for India and Pakistan together to find a lasting solution to the overarching issue of the Kashmir situation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a US-based international people’s tribunal on human rights and justice in Indian-administered Kashmir uncovered hundreds of mass graves and thousands of unidentified graves? Will Her Majesty’s Government support Amnesty International in its call for an independent and impartial inquiry into these mass graves? Will Her Majesty’s Government encourage both India and Pakistan in a dialogue where Kashmiris can also take part to resolve this outstanding issue?

We take the view that the three investigators appointed to help resolve the situation and look into these details must proceed with their work. We will clearly follow this very carefully and closely but it is a matter for investigation by the three appointees. That is what is now occurring.

My Lords, will the Government with our Commonwealth friends encourage as a background to the Kashmir dispute the maximum possible détente between Pakistan and India, for example, over land crossings and exchanges of all kinds between the two countries?

That is of course something that we want to see but I repeat that it is really not for the UK to prescribe on the situation or to prescribe solutions. It is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting solution. Any support, help and encouragement from outside that the United Kingdom, or any other country, can give, we will certainly be ready to offer, but that lasting solution must come from the two countries concerned.

My Lords, the Minister has expressed his concern for breaches of human rights wherever they occur. Will he once again turn to the problems of the European Court of Human Rights, which has a backlog of more than 100,000 cases, and take the opportunity of the British presidency of the Committee of Ministers to do something about this appalling neglect of the symbol of human rights in Europe?

The noble Lord has boldly and bravely raised this question a number of times. It is one that I am ready to call to the attention of my colleagues and it has been noted. There is clearly a backlog problem; there may be other problems as well. Those are a matter for close concern.

Will my noble friend confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will resist the temptation to put pressure on the three who have been appointed to investigate and give them sufficient time, without external pressure, to come up with their findings?

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the rule of law is completely within the ambit of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, alongside democracy, and while Her Majesty’s Government may not have the leverage they seek through bilateral talks, they are able to address the issue through the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting? Will my noble friend therefore seek to do so as he has great interest in the Commonwealth and leverage within it?

The precise agenda will be governed by CMAG collectively and by our Australian hosts at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, but all aspects of human rights abuse around the world are the concern of the Commonwealth, particularly those occurring in Commonwealth member countries. While I cannot guarantee that these matters will come to the fore, they are certainly something that we would like to see, along with all human rights issues, examined in an understanding way, recognising the sensitivities of particular situations such as this one, which is very sensitive indeed.

My Lords, the noble Lord will, I am sure, remember that many decades ago the people of Kashmir on both sides of the line of control were promised a referendum on self-determination. Can he tell us what has happened to that and whether any progress has been made?

I do not think that there has been progress. This is again a matter for the Indian and Pakistani authorities. My understanding is that, at the moment, there is no progress on that front. If I am wrong about that I will write to my noble friend.