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Human Rights: Kashmir

Volume 777: debated on Monday 12 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support the United Nations investigation into human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir.

My Lords, we are aware of reports of human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir. Any allegation of human rights abuse in any country is a matter of concern and should be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently. As a United Nations member, we support all United Nations bodies and their ability to fulfil their mandates.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. In response to my recent Written Question, the Government confirmed that the Prime Minister discussed Kashmir with Prime Minister Modi when recently in India. Could the Minister tell the House whether human rights abuses in Indian-held Kashmir were raised, and will the Government ask the United Nations Security Council to expand the remit of the UN observers in Kashmir to include in their duties the monitoring and investigation of any human rights abuses?

I thank the noble Lord. I have indicated that we are aware of human rights abuses—or reports, at least, of those abuses—in Kashmir, including in relation to the recent unrest. The UK abides by its commitments under international law, and expects all countries to comply with their international legal obligations. Any allegation of human rights abuse is a matter of concern, which, as I said, would have to be thoroughly, promptly and transparently investigated. In the recent visit to India in November, the Prime Minister discussed a variety of issues with Prime Minister Modi, including Kashmir.

Should the United Kingdom Government not be extremely cautious about getting too deeply involved in Kashmir? After all, it has been a challenge since 1948 and we do not now have a really active involvement there. Would it not be more sensible to concentrate on the areas where we can have considerably more influence?

Both India and Pakistan are important international partners of the United Kingdom. Our long-standing position is that it is for those countries to find a lasting resolution to the situation in Kashmir, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the United Kingdom to prescribe a solution or act as a mediator.

Picking up the Minister’s last point, it is extremely worrying that free speech is being severely curtailed in Kashmir at the moment, so it will be extremely difficult to understand the wishes of the people there. What steps have the Government taken to raise with the Indian Government the suppression of free speech and a free press in Kashmir?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his important question. Prime Minister Modi has underlined the importance of fundamental rights and these are enshrined in the Indian constitution. These include freedom of faith and speech and equality of all citizens. We will continue to work collaboratively with Prime Minister Modi’s Government on a range of issues, including the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of religious expression.

In September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that he believed:

“An independent, impartial and international mission is now needed … and that it should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides”.

Does the Minister agree? If so, what action will the UK Government take?

I revert to my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, in which I made clear that the United Kingdom Government believe that any allegation of human rights abuse is a matter of concern and should be investigated very robustly. As a member of the United Nations, we support all its bodies and their ability to fulfil their mandates.

My Lords, do the Government recognise that terrorism—and the support of terrorists—is the worst form of human rights abuse?

We obviously deplore terrorism wherever it occurs. In so far as there has been terrorist activity in Kashmir, the UK has regularly highlighted, at the highest level, the importance of taking effective action against all terrorist groups. We will continue to advance that argument consistently and robustly.

My Lords, the Minister will remember that we had a referendum in this country a few months ago. Could she tell us how much our Government are encouraging the Governments of India and Pakistan to uphold the promise to the people of Kashmir of a referendum to determine their own future? If that is not acceptable, why is it not being raised at the United Nations by our representatives?

I respectfully observe that there is a distinction to be drawn between a referendum we choose to have in the United Kingdom and the affairs of two independent sovereign countries, in the form of Pakistan and India. The United Kingdom Government have made clear that we believe it is for these two countries and their Governments to determine how to resolve the situation in Kashmir. It must be left to them to take whatever decisions they think appropriate and to move at a pace they consider fitting.

My Lords, is there any merit, as part of our trade agreements with India and Pakistan, in putting human rights at the top of the agenda so that this can be part of negotiations?

I reassure the noble Baroness that, in our diplomatic advocacy, we always insist that human rights are at the top of the agenda. We articulate that position regularly to both Pakistan and India.