Jammu and Kashmir: Human Rights - Question

– in the House of Lords at 1:08 pm on 2nd November 2020.

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Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Liberal Democrat 1:08 pm, 2nd November 2020

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

Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Liberal Democrat

In begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest as someone who was born in Kashmir and who has family and friends living on both sides of the line of control.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the Government recognise that there are human rights concerns in Indian-administered Kashmir. We encourage all states to ensure that domestic laws are in line with international standards. Any allegation must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently. We also welcome reports that some restrictions are being relaxed and detainees released. We call on the Government of India to lift all other restrictions as soon as possible. We continue to raise our concerns with the Indian Government directly.

Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Have the British Government taken note of the four letters written recently to the Indian Government by UN rapporteurs on torture, arbitrary detentions, extradition and custodial killings in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir? Furthermore, do we know what the Indian Government’s response was? If there was no response, what course of action do our Government, as a P5 member of the UN Security Council and a defender of human rights, suggest that the Security Council takes?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we are aware of these letters and reports that the Government of India have not yet responded. As I said, we recognise human rights concerns and encourage all states to ensure that their domestic laws are in line with international standards. Any allegation of human rights violations or abuse is deeply concerning and must be investigated thoroughly. Where we have such concerns, as I said, we raise them directly with the Government of India.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

My Lords, Amnesty International raised particular concerns over the crackdown on civil society and journalists in Kashmir and Jammu. Can the Minister detail what steps the Government have taken to protect press freedom? Have they engaged with the International Federation of Journalists, which has consistently fought for reporting rights in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as globally?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I will write to the noble Lord on his final point about formal engagement. As he knows, media freedom and the protection of journalists is a priority for Her Majesty’s Government; we are leading on a coalition with Canada. On the specific issue of Amnesty International and its situation in India, I assure the noble Lord that I have raised that directly with the Government of India.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, the former Chief Minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, Mrs Mufti, was detained in August last year when the Indian Government stripped the region of its partial autonomy. She was put under house arrest under a law that allows detention without charge for up to two years. She has only just been freed. Have the Government raised this and other arbitrary detentions in the region with the Government of India?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we have; we raised that specific case.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, in Indian-administered Kashmir, Kashmiris enter their 16th month of lockdown, with curfews, a ban on communication access, closing of media outlets and widespread arrest of politicians and human rights activists. Will the Government press for a free and independent plebiscite for Kashmiris, as mandated by the United Nations? Does the Minister recognise the urgency of Kashmiris having their voice heard at a time when the BJP Indian Government are deliberately changing the population reality on the ground, in contravention of UN resolutions?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as I have said, we welcome the lifting in recent weeks and months of some restrictions in Indian-administered Kashmir, including the restrictions on the internet; 2G and, in certain parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, 4G have been restored. However, we remain concerned, as my noble friend has said, at the ongoing detentions. While we welcome the recent release of the former Chief Minister, other detentions continue, and we continue to raise them. It is the long-standing position of Her Majesty’s Government on any dispute between India and Pakistan that it is for both countries to sit down and resolve their disputes and differences.

Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Crossbench

My Lords, the population of the Kashmir Valley is 95% Muslim. To allege that Muslims suffer human rights abuses cannot be true. It appears to be propaganda against India by troublemakers and terrorists. Even after the revocation of Article 370, cases of terrorism are sadly still being reported in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir today. The terrorists are the worst violators of human rights. Does the Minister agree that we cannot accept continued religious hatred against a particular community in Jammu and Kashmir, or acts of terrorism, regardless of their motivation and where they take place?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as I have already said, we raise concerns about human rights in Indian-administered Kashmir regularly and constructively with the Indian Government. I agree with the noble Lord—I am sure I speak for all noble Lords on this—that we condemn, without any hesitation, all forms of terrorism. Any targeting of a community because of its religious rights or beliefs is totally against the norms of any functioning democracy.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General

Is the Minister aware that hundreds of applications for habeas corpus have been lodged in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir over a 15-month period, arising out of the arbitrary detention without trial of thousands of people —including, as we have heard, political and community leaders—under the public safety Act? The court rules specify a 14-day time limit from lodging an application to the hearing. They have not even been listed, let alone dealt with. This is especially urgent since the shocking wave of arrests on 28 October. Will Her Majesty’s Government join the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association in its strenuous protests to the Indian authorities against these breaches of the United Nations human rights convention?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government are clear. We have a constructive and strong relationship with India which allows us to raise candidly and privately issues of human rights abuses, wherever they may occur, or human rights concerns we may have. As I have said, any allegation of human rights abuses must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently. We make that point to the Indian authorities.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister explain why we immediately supported sanctions against Russia when it annexed the Crimea, even though 97% of the people of Crimea regarded themselves as Russian and had supported Russia in its annexation, yet no action has been taken since India’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status? It has imposed total lockdown on the majority Muslim population and thousands, as we have heard, have been taken prisoner and many tortured. Can the Minister please explain why we behaved differently?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The issue was raised by the noble Baroness herself; one is a revocation of a constitutional item and the other is an annexation of a territory. They are two very different legal positions. We continue to raise the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir with the Indian authorities.

Photo of Lord Ranger Lord Ranger Conservative

The Minister will agree that India is the largest working democracy in the world. The rights of her 1.3 billion citizens are protected in the constitution regardless of race, religion or gender—I repeat, gender. India also has the world’s most diverse population, living side by side in perfect harmony for centuries. The rights of all are protected through the constitution, including those of over 200 million Muslims. The same is reflected in Jammu and Kashmir; the province benefits from all rights under the Indian constitution.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we of course support Indian democracy. My noble friend is right to raise the constitution of India, which protects the rights and freedoms of all communities.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, Britain’s partitioning of India on the fallacy of irreconcilable religious differences promoted active hostility between Pakistan and India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. Independent reports confirm a significant increase in human rights abuse since the Indian army takeover of the disputed region. Does the Minister agree that Britain has a moral responsibility to work for a greater measure of secular autonomy for the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh populations of one of the most beautiful places in the world?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I agree that Kashmir is one of the most beautiful places in the world. We continue to raise issues of concern with the Indian authorities, and indeed the Pakistani authorities, on ensuring rights and freedom for all.

Photo of Baroness Thornhill Baroness Thornhill Liberal Democrat

It is quite clear from the Minister’s words that both sides are not sitting down and resolving their issues, and nor is our Government’s raising of issues with the Indian Government working. There has been a demonstrable escalation in atrocities since the lockdown and split last year. It is clear that UN resolutions are being ignored with impunity. What do the Government believe has to happen before the international community responds, or is the UN to be ignored and regarded as a crocodile with rubber teeth?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the Government are seeing progress. As I have already indicated, we are seeing some positive movements on easing the lockdown and the release of detainees in Indian-administered Kashmir, and continue to do so. We have a continuing, strong, progressive and constructive dialogue with the Indian Government which allows us to have very candid and frank exchanges on issues of concern. We raise these regularly and will continue to do so.