During a debate on Kashmir in the House of Commons on 19 January 2017, Shabana Mahmood criticised the UK Government for not making stronger representations to the Indian authorities regarding Kashmir and called on the UK Government to lead calls for a UN-led investigation into human rights abuses in the region. The full speech and link to the video are below.
The speech follows Shabana’s signing of an open letter to the Prime Minister Theresa May in November along with other members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir calling for her to raise the issue of Kashmir and in particular the human rights violations during her meeting with Prime Minister Modi.
Theresa May replied that she discussed a variety of issues with Prime Minister Modi, including Kashmir, and was aware of reports of human rights abuses in Kashmir, including in relation to the recent unrest, and was concerned to see reports of violence against protesters.
The Prime Minister did not specifically say that she addressed those concerns or human rights abuses when discussing Kashmir however, and Shabana criticised the Government for this in her speech.
Shabana’s speech in House of Commons:
The House will know of my long-standing interest in Kashmir. Many thousands of British citizens of Kashmiri extraction have made their home in my constituency, and I take an interest on their behalf, but I have a more personal interest as my family originates from Kashmir. All four of my grandparents were born in Kashmir before my family moved to this country, so this debate has very personal resonance for me.
The hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) has already set out the background to this long-standing dispute and I pay tribute to him and to others who led the charge to secure today’s Backbench business debate.
We have heard already that this is a long-standing dispute between two nuclear-armed powers in one of the world’s most heavily militarised regions. It does not receive enough attention anywhere outside the region, and certainly not in our own country given the size of our British Kashmiri population; it certainly has a lot of from that population, but not enough from those outside it. I therefore pay tribute to all the doughty campaigners from all parties who have taken every opportunity available to raise this serious matter in the House of Commons and to press both our current Government and previous Governments to do more to help to build a resolution to this long-standing crisis.
The further push for debate on Kashmir has come as a particular result of the upsurge in violence and fighting in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir since last summer. We see the unacceptable failure of the whole world, the refusal to give effect to UN resolutions and the denial of respect for the self-determination of the Kashmiri people playing out in the worst possible way. People have lost hope and are rising against that loss of hope to try to force to have their rights be respected.
That significant upsurge in violence has elicited a brutal response from the Indian authorities. I am afraid that I wholeheartedly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma). I do not believe that it is possible to minimise the extent to which the Indian authorities have acted in a disproportionate manner that has significantly harmed and, indeed, created great tragedy for the Kashmiri people in the region. This is the biggest uprising in two decades and the brutality of the response of the police and security services cannot be ignored. The fact that that is the case is upheld by human rights organisations across the world, including Human Rights Watch, whose world report for 2017 found clear evidence that the police and security forces have acted with impunity, that there have been extra-judicial killings and that mass rape has occurred. All those things are not acceptable.
I concur with the comments made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). Of course, there will be questions about the veracity of the videos we will see on YouTube, on Facebook and elsewhere on social media, but there should be an open investigation to prove the veracity of the videos. If they are true—I believe that they will be found to be true—there are big questions for the Indian Government to answer.
I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall that the big difference between the Indian Government and other Governments that commit human rights abuses is that India is the largest democracy in the world. Being a democracy is not simply about giving people a vote to decide their Government. It includes much more. It is about fundamental respect for the rule of law and for basic human rights that must be protected and that sit alongside the ability of the people to elect their Government.
I am afraid that I would be doing other Members out of their time if I gave way. I apologise.
The use of pellet guns has been mentioned. This is a significant issue for the Indian Government, and our Government must press them more on it. The Indian defence for the use of pellet guns to see off protestors who they say are throwing stones is that pellet guns are non-lethal. Of course, a pellet gun will probably not kill, but I defy anyone to see the pictures of the victims of pellet gun attacks and say that that is a proportionate response against civilians in a democracy. It is not, and I do not believe that anybody would stand up in this House and say that it is.
When we debate Kashmir, people who speak more in favour of the Indian Government’s stance will often say that the position of those who live in Jammu and Kashmir is better because they are able to vote, they are free to take part in the democratic process and they are basically free, and that self-determination is not necessary because they are a free people, freely electing their own local leaders with a significant devolution of power. Nobody—not one person—in Jammu and Kashmir has voted to be hurt, injured, beaten up, raped, blinded or killed. Pellet wounds are brutal. They are a brutal response by the Indian authorities and send a brutal message to the Kashmiri people. They leave brutal scars, which are not just carried by the individuals who bear the physical scars but are borne by the whole community in Jammu and Kashmir itself and all around the world by those of us of Kashmiri extraction. They are a symbol of the population’s repression, its desire to resist that repression and its cry to be heard.
That cry is falling on deaf ears in the largest democracy in the world, which wants to do more business with the rest of the world and play a greater role in world affairs. That position is simply not acceptable and our Government must not shy away from making that plain, especially in relation to the use of pellet guns. Tremendous, appalling, sustained and deliberate misery has been visited on the people of Kashmir for too long. The stories of disappearances and the discovery of mass graves have brought no official UN-led investigation whatever. The police and the security forces have impunity, especially given the implementation of the Special Powers Act of 1990. If a people are humiliated, abused and allowed to lose hope, and offered only despair in turn, and given no answers and no rights, there will an uprising. It is inevitable.
None of us as responsible legislators, also working in a democracy, can watch these events unfold and sit on our hands. We can do more. The legacy of empire demands that we do more. We have a duty to speak out more regularly. We have a duty to challenge as well as to encourage both the Indian and the Pakistani authorities. I have to say to the Minister that the written answers to the questions tabled, particularly last summer, are so bland it is as though these matters are a daily occurrence that can be ignored. That is not good enough. There are other disputes in this world that elicit much stronger responses from the Government when Members of this House table written questions. That has not been the case in relation to the dispute in Kashmir. In particular, there has been no definitive answer on whether the Prime Minister specifically raised the issue of human rights abuses with the Indian Government. It is not enough to tell us that the issue of Kashmir was raised. We need to know whether the human rights abuses and the use of pellet guns were raised.
I believe that it is now incumbent upon the British Government to make a clear call to raise this issue at the United Nations and to ask for an independent, UN-led investigation into human rights abuses, so that we can at least demonstrate that although some parts of this world see this as a forgotten conflict, or a conflict they want to be forgotten, we will never forget it and will keep fighting.
The text of the Prime Minister's full response is below:
Thank you for your letter of 2 November, on behalf of 19 members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir, regarding my trip to India and the situation in India administered Kashmir.
You will know that my visit to India, at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was my first bilateral visit outside Europe after taking over as the Prime Minister of the UK. I discussed a variety of issues with Prime Minister Modi, including Kashmir.
The long standing position of the UK, held by successive Governments of all hues, is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation in Kashmir, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to act as a mediator. We encourage both sides to maintain positive dialogue, but the pace and scope of this is for them to determine.
We are aware of reports of human rights abuses in Kashmir, including in relation to the recent unrest, and I was concerned to see reports of violence against protesters. Any allegation of human rights abuse in any country is a matter of concern and should be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently. I am aware that the Government of India is reviewing its approach to the use of force against protestors. The results of that review have not yet been shared publicly, but there has been an indication that alternative methods of crowd control may be considered.
The UK has a very close relationship with India and we welcome Prime Minister Modi's commitment to the development of India. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, discussed human rights with Prime Minister.
Modi during his visit in November 2015. At that time Prime Minister Modi assured the former Prime Minister that his Government remains committed to diversity and to the fundamental freedoms of all citizens. He gave similar assurances in public.
I do hope this outlines the Government's position. Thank you, once again, for getting in touch.