International Women’s Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:14 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Liberal Democrat 4:14 pm, 7th March 2019

My Lords, I am pleased to take part in the International Women’s Day debate, which is to recognise and celebrate women’s achievements as well as highlighting the challenges they face across the world.

I wish to speak about the plight of Kashmiri women who are living under some of the most difficult conditions in the world. The daily lives of the women of Kashmir are controlled by occupying military forces. They do not know when the Indian Army or some other paramilitary force will force their way into their homes, harass them, rape them, beat up family members and take away the men, some of whom will come back alive with torture scars; the bodies of some of the others may be found weeks or months later on roadsides, and others may not be seen again.

The term “half-widows” is commonly used in Indian-occupied Kashmir for the wives of men who have gone missing. According to the Guardian of 10 October 2010, while authorities in Kashmir estimate the missing number to be approximately 4,000, the Association of Disappeared Persons estimates that there are between 8,000 to 10,000 missing people in the region. The number of publicly announced and reported half-widows in the Kashmir valley is between 2,000 and 2,500. Along with the plight of 6,000 orphans—the children of half-widows who are affected deeply by the conflict—this issue adds much to the crisis. True data and numbers for both half-orphans and half-widows are thought to be much higher.

According to a detailed report of 2007 by the award-winning Kashmiri-based journalist Haroon Marani, the primary concern of a family is to find their missing person. They move from one police station to another; from one army camp to another, and so on. It takes months and years to find out.

On pellet gun victims, according to a report on French news channel France 24, on 30 November 2018, India introduced official “non-lethal” 12-gauge pellet shotguns in Kashmir in 2010. Reliable aggregate data about the number of injuries and blindings from the pellet guns is hard to come by. Government data from 2017 revealed that the weapon killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000 in eight months alone, including nearly 800 with eye injuries. The Central Reserve Police Force, the Indian paramilitary deployed in Kashmir, told a court in 2016 that it fired about 1.3 million pellets in just 32 days.

Amnesty International has urged the Indian Government to ban the use of pellet guns, and lawyers and other rights groups have appealed to courts, to little avail so far. US-based Physicians for Human Rights has called their use “inherently inaccurate”, “indiscriminate” and potentially,

“lethal to humans at close range”.

There is an estimated figure of between 10,000 to 12,000 women being raped in the last three decades by the security forces. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report of April 2018:

“Authorities have failed to independently investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual violence by security forces personnel. There is no record of allegations of sexual violence by security forces being prosecuted in a civilian court …

One significant case that illustrates the state’s failure to investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual violence and addressing impunity for sexual crimes in Kashmir is the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape, which took place 27 years ago and for which attempts to seek justice have been denied and blocked over the years by the authorities at different levels.

According to survivors and a local administration official, on the night of 23 February 1991, soldiers from the 4 Rajputana Rifles regiment of the Indian Army gang-raped around 23 women of Kunan and Poshpora villages of Kupwara district. The Indian Army and Government of India have denied the allegations”.

The special rapporteur states that:

“Information received through both written and oral testimonies highlighted the use of mass rape, allegedly by members of the State security forces, as well as acts of enforced disappearance, killings and acts of torture and ill-treatment, which were used to intimidate and to counteract political opposition and insurgency … she was ‘not informed of any measures to ensure accountability and redress for victims’”.

Women in Indian-occupied Kashmir are living lives under siege and constant surveillance whether in public or in their own homes. According to the UN Human Rights Council, they have lived for many decades under the mercy of the security forces, which operate with complete impunity. These women fear for themselves and their children, brothers, husbands and fathers day and night. They are suffering from grave physical and mental traumas. They are in dire need of help.

As many noble Lords know, I have stood on these Benches of your Lordships’ House many times and pleaded for justice and protection for Kashmiri women, but I am disappointed to say that I have not seen our Government taking any action at any level in this regard. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the head of the Commonwealth, Britain has huge responsibility for human rights globally—