International Widows Day - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:38 pm on 19th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Liberal Democrat 6:38 pm, 19th June 2019

My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for securing this debate. I very much appreciate his work supporting widows through his charity, the Loomba Foundation.

A widow from any culture, religion or part of the world will see the loss of her partner as the biggest shock and emotional and mental trauma, leaving her with feelings of loneliness and insecurity. In many parts of the world, the loss of a husband makes a woman more vulnerable socially and economically, particularly in cultures where women are not allowed to gain employment or remarry. Hence, it becomes incumbent on Governments to have systems in place to support the widows. Sadly, there is hardly any support available for widows in developing countries, although some countries may have policies on paper.

As we all know, the biggest flocks of widows emerge during wars and in areas of conflict, where the men are more likely to be killed in large numbers, leaving the women to deal with the aftermath. In recent European history, we saw the Balkans conflict, in which men were killed in large numbers. I visited Bosnia a few years ago, and the cemetery of Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 men are buried. Their bodies had been found in mass graves by the United Nations, many years after their deaths. Some of those held responsible, including General Mladic and Dr Karadzic, were tried in the International Criminal Court, and are serving long sentences. During my visit to Srebrenica I met the mothers of those victims. I cannot describe the level of their grief, sorrow and anger. However, one thing that they were content with was that at least some of them had found the remains of their loved ones, and some of those responsible for the atrocities had been brought to justice.

I can draw a parallel with the Srebrenica massacre, one in which tens of thousands of women are still searching for their husbands and looking for justice: it is happening in Kashmir. Over the last three decades, tens of thousands of people, mostly men, have been killed. Many of them are reported to have been picked up from their own homes, or from the streets, by the Indian security forces. Some of them have been released. The bodies of many were found by the roadsides and tens of thousands are still missing. Wives of those missing men in Kashmir, known as “half widows”, have been searching for their husbands in police stations, detention centres and prisons all over India, without any success.

I am drawing a parallel between Kashmir and Srebrenica because thousands of mass graves have been identified in Kashmir which need to be investigated, to find out the identities of those buried there. According to the Amnesty International report of May 2008:

“Amnesty International urges the Government of India to launch urgent investigations into hundreds of unidentified graves discovered since 2006 in Jammu and Kashmir. The investigation must be independent, impartial and follow international standards. The grave sites are believed to contain the remains of victims of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other abuses”.

In its report of 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights wanted,

“to consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir… Alleged sites of mass graves in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region should be investigated”.

However, the Indian Government have refused these investigations any access.

Human Rights Watch, in its report on 14 June 2018, said:

“The Indian government should immediately act on the recommendations in the first-ever report by the United Nations on human rights in Kashmir”.

Despite these calls from the international bodies, the Indian Government refuse to give access to the United Nations for an independent investigation into these mass graves.

Can I ask the Minister a specific question? If she is unable to answer it now, I am willing to receive a written reply from her later. Will the British Government help the United Nations get access to investigate these human rights abuses, including the mass graves in Kashmir?