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Jammu and Kashmir: Human Rights Abuses

Volume 792: debated on Monday 23 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to assist the implementation of the recommendations of the report published on 14 June by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights concerning human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir to hold an independent international inquiry to investigate abuses.

My Lords, we raise our concerns about the human rights situation in India-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir with the Governments both in New Delhi and in Islamabad. We note the concerns raised in the report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and we encourage all states to uphold human rights in line with their international obligations and to co-operate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. According to this United Nations human rights report on Kashmir, serious human rights violations took place between July 2016 and April 2018. Some 145 civilians have allegedly been killed, and the report denounces the lack of prosecutions of Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir due to the 1990 law known as the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act which gives them virtual impunity. Can the Minister tell us what Her Majesty’s Government can do to persuade the Indian Government to withdraw such draconian laws from Kashmir so that those responsible for these violations can be brought to justice, at least under Indian law?

I assure the noble Lord that we continue to raise the importance of the issues in Kashmir with the Indian Government. In one of my visits towards the end of last year, I raised the issue of Kashmir and the need for Pakistan and India to find a resolution to this long-standing issue. Equally, with reference to the report and the importance of some of its findings, we encourage all states, including India and Pakistan, to respond positively to the request by the UN—in this case, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—to a right to visit.

My Lords, both India and Pakistan are very active members of the United Nations. Will the Government say what purpose it will serve to discuss this point here?

Her Majesty’s Government, as the noble Lord has rightly said, are a friend to both Governments—India and Pakistan. Our position remains that it is primarily for India and Pakistan to come together. They are countries tied together by history, culture and families. Indeed, my parents herald from India and my wife’s parents herald from Pakistan. Communities and families can come together. Perhaps I am living proof of that.

My Lords, we have a very proud record of defending human rights, particularly in countries such as Pakistan and India. What is of concern to me when we object to abuses of human rights, particularly the use of the death penalty, is that we now have a Government who are saying that it is okay to extradite people to a country where they might end up suffering capital punishment. Does the Minister agree with that assessment and the impact it might have when we try to defend other people from capital punishment?

My Lords, first, I am greatly humbled and honoured to be the Minister for Human Rights. Indeed, prior to coming to your Lordships’ House, I launched our human rights report, which again reflects its importance, our priorities and the key role that the United Kingdom plays in standing up for the broad spectrum of human rights across the world. The noble Lord raised the death penalty; I assure him and the House that the Government’s position remains the same.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that it is the exact job of this House to discuss human rights in all places around the world? We are a permanent member of the Security Council. We have responsibilities to defend and to protect human rights around the world. Further to what the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, said, in 2009 the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights reported that nearly 3,000 unmarked graves were found and 8,000 people are missing because of forced disappearances. Surely there is a responsibility for us to discuss that. While we should encourage India and Pakistan to resolve the issue, we should also condemn those violations of human rights.

We are, of course, members of the United Nations and, as the noble Lord said, we are a permanent member of the Security Council. There are various resolutions on the broad issue of human rights. Most recently, as penholders, we have been leading the way on the Rohingya Muslims in Burma. On the specific issue of Kashmir, as we have said before—it has been a long-standing position of Governments on both sides—the Simla accords of 1972 act as the basis for bilateral discussions. I know the region of Kashmir. It was termed a paradise on earth. We hope that both countries can find noble cause to restore that label of paradise on earth.

My Lords, I return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hussain. He drew attention to the draconian laws that protect people against prosecution for human rights abuse. As a member of the UN and the UN Security Council, is it not incumbent on us to condemn that sort of behaviour without fear or favour? Will the noble Lord agree with me and with the human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, who said that there can never be peace in the world unless we are even-handed in our condemnation of human rights abuse?

Let me assure the noble Lord that we encourage all states, including India and Pakistan, to uphold their international human rights obligations. Any allegations of human rights violations or abuses are concerning and must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently. Let me once again reassure all noble Lords that we continue to raise the issue of Kashmir, including human rights issues, with the Governments of India and Pakistan. We stand resolute. We hope that a progressive way forward on this issue can be found for both countries and, as a friend to both, we will be supportive.

My Lords, does the Minister note the accusation in the report that India has used disproportionate force and that no successful cases have been brought against its forces, including over the accusation of mass rape, and that Pakistan must also address human rights abuses on its side? Should not the UK play a more active role in taking forward what the commission suggests, which is a proper investigation of what has happened on both sides?

Let me assure the noble Baroness that we have of course noted the concerns about Kashmir expressed in the report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and its recommendations, as the noble Baroness said, for the Governments of both India and Pakistan to consider. Therefore, we encourage both states to uphold human rights in line with their human rights obligations. In terms of any resolutions that come forward at the Human Rights Council, we will respond accordingly.

My Lords, as a victim of terrorism myself, I am always a supporter of the victims, not the terrorists. Therefore, I hope that the newspaper reports of today that the Home Secretary has given the nod to the American authorities to prosecute some particularly vile terrorists and leave them to face the penalty laid down by the democratic country of the United States of America are correct.

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for every Member of your Lordships’ House in saying that we all stand on the side of victims of terrorism, wherever they are in the world. We stand on the principle of bringing justice to the victims of terror, wherever they may be. Equally, let me reiterate the UK Government’s position: that wherever justice is found, including for the victims of wars that have taken place in Syria and, before that, in Iraq, we stand resolute and committed to the principle of our international obligation to oppose the death penalty across the world.