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Kashmir: Human Rights

Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner’s first report on human rights in Kashmir.

My Lords, the Government have noted the concerns across Kashmir raised in the OHCHR report. We encourage all states to uphold their international human rights obligations. The UK’s long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution to the situation in Kashmir, taking account of the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to act as a mediator.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The UN human rights commissioner and the Secretary-General have both called for an international, independent inquiry into human rights in Kashmir. Will Her Majesty’s Government, as permanent members of the Security Council, support the Secretary-General and the UN on this? Secondly, as the Kashmir issue is unresolved, will Her Majesty’s Government—as the former colonial power which gave independence to India and Pakistan—consider hosting a peace conference in London similar to that held for Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, to bring a final settlement to it?

In my first Answer I indicated to the noble Lord what the long-standing position of the United Kingdom Government has been. We welcome the United Nations Secretary-General’s comments of 12 July, in which he underlined the need for a political solution and encouraged dialogue between India and Pakistan. This is very much in line with what the UK Government have been seeking. We raise the issue of Kashmir, including human rights, with the Governments of India and Pakistan. On the noble Lord’s second point, I have made clear the UK Government’s position. We believe that it is for India and Pakistan, which are sovereign powers, to find a lasting political solution. We encourage both sides to maintain a positive dialogue and nurture good relations, but the pace of progress must be for them to determine.

My Lords, the United Nations Human Rights Council has requested free access to both India and Pakistan to investigate these allegations of human rights abuses. We all know that India has refused to co-operate. Are Her Majesty’s Government willing to take this matter to the United Nations Security Council, to ask for support to get the United Nations Human Rights Council access to both India and Pakistan to investigate these allegations?

I reiterate that that is a matter for the two countries concerned. It is for India and Pakistan to determine to what extent they wish to have involvement by the United Nations. The United Kingdom Government recognise that there are human rights concerns in India-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and we encourage all states to uphold their international human rights obligations. Any allegation of human rights abuse is concerning. It must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.

Will the Government now ratify the amendment to International Criminal Court jurisdiction to allow the prosecution of a member state which violates the UN charter in an act against another member state—thus, incidentally, enabling action against Russia for its use of Novichok?

My understanding is that the noble Baroness’s question is in relation to the International Criminal Court, and neither India nor Pakistan is a state party to the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. Therefore, how such a matter would proceed is outwith the control of the UK.

What assessment have the Government made of the root causes of the discontent fuelling protests in Indian-administered Kashmir, in particular the fact, as highlighted in a UNHCR report, of the shift in the demographic profile of protesters to include younger, more middle-class Kashmiris and more women than in previous protests?

I am not sure that I have any specific information to respond in detail to the noble Baroness’s question. I shall make inquiries, and if I can provide anything further, I undertake to write to her.

My Lords, obviously it is a matter for Pakistan and India to resolve their disputes; but obviously, the question of human rights is vital, and with human rights there is a need for the right to freedom of speech and to express yourself freely. Can the Minister tell us exactly what we are doing in making representations to ensure that freedom of speech and the ability to express yourself is readily available in these disputed territories?

The noble Lord puts his finger on something extremely important. In all our diplomatic communications we endeavour to relay what our concerns are and what we would urge the two countries to do to try to mitigate problems and resolve differences, which includes continuing to encourage positive dialogue between India and Pakistan. Frankly, dialogue remains the most fundamental confidence-builder, and we hope that both India and Pakistan would recognise that. The noble Lord may be aware that under-the-radar dialogue exchanges are going on. I think that those are very healthy and positive and we want to see them continue. I reiterate, however, that it is ultimately not for the United Kingdom Government to go barging in, telling two sovereign countries what to do.