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Kashmir: Human Rights

Volume 822: debated on Tuesday 17 May 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.

My Lords, we recognise that there are human rights concerns in both Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The United Kingdom Government encourage all states to ensure that their domestic laws are in line with international standards. Indeed, any allegation of human rights abuse is deeply concerning and must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently. I assure the noble Lord that we raise concerns with the Governments of both India and Pakistan.

My Lords, many Kashmiris believe that in the past, fake charges have been brought in the courts against prominent leaders such as Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru that resulted in their execution. Now, another very prominent Kashmiri leader, who has a huge following in the UK as well, is on trial this week. Kashmiris suspect that the Indian Government want to get rid of him too; his life is in real danger. Will the Government use their good offices to protect Mr Yasin Malik’s life? His release would be widely welcomed.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are monitoring the trial of Mr Yasin Malik very closely. We note that he has been charged under Indian law; as I am sure the noble Lord appreciates, we cannot directly intervene in the independent judicial process of India. However, in all our engagements we urge all countries to always respect and uphold their own international obligations regarding the treatment of any detainees.

My Lords, India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru, famously declared that the care of minorities was not simply a duty but a “sacred trust”. It is a trust that successive Indian Governments have betrayed, first against Sikhs, and then with the present Minister of Home Affairs referring to Muslims as “termites”. Does the Minister agree that our criticism of human rights abuse in Kashmir and elsewhere should not be muted because India is a member of the Commonwealth?

My Lords, perhaps I can declare an interest as someone who is Muslim by faith, has Indian heritage and is the Minister responsible for both human rights and our relationship with India. All those things considered, I assure the noble Lord that, as he will know, I raise directly a wide range of issues, including human rights, in a constructive way with the Government of India. As I said earlier, where we have concerns, we are able to do so in a very candid way because of the nature and strength of our relationship.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, knows, two Sikh traders in Peshawar were murdered last week because of their religion. In 1947, the British created two countries: one to promote people on the basis of their religion and the other to promote people regardless of their religion. You can see the two different countries now. People in Pakistan—Ahmadis, Sikhs, Christians and Hindus—are prosecuted and forcibly converted, and Shia mosques are attacked. This must stop on the other side as well. Who is supplying arms to the terrorists in Kashmir? Who is training them and who is encouraging them to create disruption in a paradise? In Kashmir, people of different faiths lived in harmony until 1947. We must not allow people to devalue fellow Kashmiris on the basis of their religion.

My Lords, I should also declare that the other half of my family comes from Pakistan, including Lady Ahmad of Wimbledon. Certainly, our relationship demonstrates that there can be no conflict—I say that on the record—and you can lead a life and build a life together in a mutually understanding and loving way. That said, on the importance of the issue in Pakistan, again, we have a very important and constructive relationship with the Government of Pakistan. My noble friend raised issues relating to minorities, including Sikhs. Being of the Ahmadi Muslim community myself, I assure the noble Lord that I am acutely aware of the challenges faced by minority communities in Pakistan, and we raise these in a constructive way. It is important, when it comes to issues—including those of Kashmir—for both countries to move forward, mutually and together, and agree that there is a bright future for both countries, which share so much in terms of culture, language and, one hopes, a common, shared future of prosperity for the wider region.

My Lords, one of the Minister’s many responsibilities is the United Nations. Of course, the conflict in Kashmir is one of the longest unresolved conflicts on the agenda of the United Nations. If we are to find a lasting settlement to end this ongoing conflict, that can be achieved only by India and Pakistan working together. Therefore, as Minister for the United Nations, what is he doing to ensure that the UN focuses on bringing the two sides together to seek a long-lasting settlement?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of India and Pakistan talking to resolve all issues. It is a long-standing position of the Governments of both sides. We seek a resolution for all disputes, including that of Kashmir, and the best way to do so is for both countries to find their solutions together.

My Lords, do the Government share the concern of some that, in Indian-administrated Kashmir, the Modi Administration are redistricting in a way that has been turned into gerrymandering, in order to deliberately diminish the opportunity for representation of the Muslim community there? When our Prime Minister met Prime Minister Modi, did he raise any human rights concerns about Indian Kashmir?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first question, of course the Indians, with their own internal processes and programmes, have initiated a programme of economic development within Indian-administered Kashmir. That is something that we look at very closely. I am looking forward to a visit to India in the near future, where we will be having discussions on a wide range of issues, specifically including the issue of human rights, which we always do. Yes, the Prime Minister did engage on the broad range of issues, including those of human rights, during his recent visit.