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India: Right of Self-determination

Volume 790: debated on Monday 16 April 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to encourage the government of India to withdraw its formal reservations against the right of self-determination so that conflicts in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Punjab and other territories in the north east of the Indian sub-continent can move towards a peaceful resolution in a democratic manner, underpinned by international law.

We have no plans to make representation to the Indian Government regarding the declaration India made in 1979 on the right of self-determination when ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to act as a mediator on these territories. On Kashmir, it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Given the British experience in Northern Ireland, how can Her Majesty’s Government help to bring a peaceful end to the conflicts in these regions and bring to justice the perpetrators of human rights abuses in Kashmir, including those who gang raped and murdered eight year-old Asifa Bano—there are many thousands of others like her—and the perpetrators of the genocide of Sikhs in 1984? Would Her Majesty’s Government support a free, fair and impartial plebiscite, in accordance with UN resolutions of 1948 and 1949, and a referendum for Khalistan?

We acknowledge the strength of feeling in Sikh communities regarding the events of 1984. The question of an investigation is a matter for the Government of India and India’s judicial authorities. As I said, we believe it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution and we encourage both sides to maintain positive dialogue and good relations, but the pace of progress must be for them to determine. On the rape that the noble Lord mentioned, these cases are nothing short of horrific. I, and, I am sure, your Lordships’ House, extend our condolences to the families of the victims. Prime Minister Modi has been clear that justice will be done.

My Lords, at India’s independence, there was a transfer of power Act which said that India should be divided in the manner of the United States, with a lot of devolution. Unfortunately, the central Government have ever since tried to seize ever more power. India is a vast country of many religions, cultures and races; it is not working. Would it not be helpful if the British Government urged India again to look at some element of devolution? Another aspect is the abuse of human rights in different parts of the country. The Commonwealth conference is an excellent opportunity to look at human rights throughout the Commonwealth and to have a common standard. Does the Minister agree?

On the first part of the noble Lord’s question, in relation to our country trying to bring about some progress—and at the risk of repeating myself and frustrating noble Lords—we believe that the momentum for this must come from the Indian and Pakistani communities. On human rights, India has a strong democratic framework which guarantees human rights, but we acknowledge that it faces numerous challenges relating to its size and development when it comes to enforcing fundamental rights enshrined in its constitution and wider law.

My Lords, this is the most unhelpful suggestion ever to come from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. How is it likely to help Pakistan? If withdrawal of the formal reservation against the right of self-determination by the regions of Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan is taken to its logical conclusion, it will make the country almost ungovernable. Does the Minister agree that, on the fringe of CHOGM, both India and Pakistan have the opportunity to move towards a peaceful dialogue without interference from other countries and from the terrorist elements that operate to destabilise this process?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. CHOGM presents all countries attending with the opportunity to have dialogue. We hope that will happen.

My Lords, I know that the principles of human rights will be a feature of this week’s CHOGM meeting. One way of guaranteeing human rights is to ensure freedom of expression and, certainly, freedom of religious belief. What are the Government doing to ensure that we raise with the Indian and Pakistani Governments the need to adhere to those fundamental human rights if progress is to be made?

The British high commission in New Delhi discusses human rights issues with institutions such as the Indian National Commission for Minorities and state Governments and will continue to do so. India has a strong democratic framework which guarantees human rights and it faces challenges. I have no doubt that people will do all they can to ensure that the subject is not forgotten and is worked on to achieve the best possible outcome for the people it affects.