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Volume 787: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2017


Asked by

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

My Lords, the Government monitor closely the situation in India-administered Kashmir. We encourage all states to ensure that their domestic laws are in line with international standards. Any allegations of human rights abuses must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. For decades, the Indian army has been reported for illegal detentions, torture, rape and murder in Kashmir. Last year, it started to use pellet guns on civilians in the region, often blinding them. According to the Amnesty International report of September this year called Losing Sight in Kashmir, of the 88 people named in the report 31 suffered injuries in both eyes. What will Her Majesty’s Government do to get those human rights abuses investigated independently and impartially?

We are certainly aware of the accusations that were made. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that there will be remote monitoring of the human rights situation in Kashmir and the findings will be made public in the near future.

My Lords, given that India has formally registered a reservation against Article 1, on the right to self-determination, of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, widely acknowledged as the bedrock of international humanitarian law, on what basis can the UK Government support an Indian claim to a permanent seat at the UN Security Council?

The situation that the noble Lord refers to is highly complex and dynamic, and we are very sensitive to it. It has been the long-standing position of the UK that it can neither prescribe a solution to the situation in Kashmir nor act as a mediator; it is for the Governments of India and Pakistan to find a lasting solution, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should be cautious in lecturing the world’s largest democracy on human rights, which are enshrined in its constitution, protected by a well-established legal system and accountable to an independent judiciary—not to mention a large and vibrant investigative media and an active civil society? In the meantime, we should support our ally, India, to combat cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan and Pakistani infiltrators, who are the real threat to peace, stability and human rights in that region.

Both Pakistan and India are close friends of the United Kingdom and we want to maintain that strong relationship. Of course, we wish for a peaceful outcome to negotiations. We welcome the fact that the Government of India have recently appointed an interlocutor but we feel that, as in all conflicts, the countries themselves—the parties to the conflict—must be the parties to the peace.

Could the Minister outline what practical steps the Government are taking to ensure that all parties are brought together and that we build peace and reconciliation? In the previous question, the noble Lord raised freedom of speech. One of the biggest concerns we have on these Benches is that limitations on freedom of speech will harm and hinder that process of reconciliation.

The practical situation is that the British high commission in New Delhi monitors human rights in the country and in Kashmir as a whole, or certainly in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir. We look at that fairly closely. However, we have to recognise that the situation is extraordinarily sensitive and that our words and actions, even in this House, can contribute to instability in that area. It is in everybody’s interests that an open dialogue is maintained. We do not want to do anything that would detract from that.

As the Minister will be aware, countless thousands of families seek to meet other family members from whom they have been parted for 30 to 40 years. Is my noble friend able to influence the Pakistan Government, who are the block on those families meeting, as I saw myself on the ground as the European Parliament rapporteur for Kashmir for many years?

I recognise my noble friend’s great expertise in this area. However, I repeat that we believe it is for the Governments of Pakistan and India to initiate an open dialogue. As I said, we are encouraged that the Government of India have appointed an interlocutor but it is for them to initiate the process. However, the absolute wish of Her Majesty’s Government is that those talks should happen and be productive, so that there can be a solution and the types of issues that my noble friend raises can be resolved.

My Lords, the Minister said that both India and Pakistan are friends of this country. Does he agree that friendship has no relevance to the abuse of human rights and that we should be even-handed in our condemnation of human rights abuses wherever they occur?

Human rights are important. Whenever meetings take place between Ministers, be it Mark Field recently and my noble friend Lord Ahmad, human rights issues are always on the table and are always addressed. However, in conflict situations we also need to recognise that there needs to be a dialogue towards a peaceful resolution of the problem, so that human rights, and most crucially, human development, can take place.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to encourage the Indian Government to secure justice and closure for the families of those who have disappeared in Kashmir? Might we share with India the lessons from Northern Ireland on how transitional justice can help to facilitate peace?

The noble Baroness raises a very interesting point about lessons from our own experiences of conflict but, again, I come back to the point that it would be for the Governments of India and Pakistan to invite people to take part in that process. It is not something that we feel we should impose, other than to express our overwhelming will that an open, continuing dialogue should commence and take place.