HL Deb 28 February 1994 vol 552 cc812-4

3.0 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the United Nations are making any progress in restoring peace and security to the people of Kashmir.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the UN Resolutions of 1948 and 1949, which India and Pakistan agreed and Britain supported, provided the basis of a possible solution of the Kashmir dispute. Nether side fully implemented those resolutions. We welcomed the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir in January in Islamabad. We believe that bilateral dialogue represents the best way forward. We hope that they will continue their efforts to resolve the Kashmir problem.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what she has said. This problem has existed for years. It is deeply to the disadvantage of India and involves perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of India. If we cannot bring peace and happiness to that area, we shall find it difficult to bring peace and happiness to any part of the world where there is any form of religious antagonism. My noble friend has suggested that progress has been made. I believe she said that she is hopeful there will be a successful outcome to this matter. Is that correct?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I remain hopeful. I believe that the best way forward is through simultaneous progress on dialogue between India and Pakistan, as was provided for under the Simla agreement in 1972 between Zulfikar Bhutto and Indira Gandhi. We also need a genuine political process to be established in Kashmir, an improvement in human rights there, and indeed a clear cessation of the external support for violence in Kashmir. We consistently urge both sides to resolve this dispute through peaceful negotiation and I am sure that when the Indian Prime Minister visits here in just a few days' time, we shall discuss this issue yet again to try to solve it in the way that my noble friend would like.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that no progress at all has been made since the Simla agreement of 1971 and that at the recent bilateral talks which were held in Islamabad the Pakistanis tabled some proposals on confidence-building measures which have so far not received any reply from the Indian side? Will the noble Baroness say whether the Twelve have yet had an opportunity to consider their attitude to any resolution which may be tabled on human rights in Kashmir by Pakistan at the Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva"

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, at the invitation of the Indian Government, the European Union Troika delegation visited Kashmir from 7th to 11th February. The delegation made a wide range of contacts and it now has first hand information about the problems facing Kashmir. As I understand it, this is being discussed at the moment in one of the high level committees, and if necessary will go to the Foreign Affairs Council when it meets in a few days' time.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Minister, or other Ministers, will raise the matter with the Indian Prime Minister when he visits this country. Do the noble Baroness and the Government share the concern about breaches of human rights in Kashmir which have recently been referred to by President Clinton? Are the Government prepared to suggest to the Indian Government that they should take up the offer made by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. I3outros-Boutros Ghali, that he would make available the good offices of the United Nations? Would that not be a proper way to proceed following the talks in Pakistan?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are two schools of thought about this. I think it is fair to say that we are encouraged that an Indian human rights commission was established last year and its first report, including its investigation into the incident at Bijbehara in November, is due to be published next month. That, and the growing possibilities of bilateral discussions, may absolve the United Nations of the need to get involved. There are of course some, particularly the Pakistani Government, who would prefer the matter to be solved through the United Nations. However, our feeling is that if it can be solved bilaterally— we will do all we can to encourage such a solution— it should be so done.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I welcome the setting up of an Indian commission on human rights, but does the Minister accept that there have nevertheless been adverse reports from Amnesty International about the human rights situation in Kashmir? When the Indian Prime Minister visits this country in the near future, will the Government raise with him the question of human rights in Kashmir, and in particular what has happened to the 200 or more people who have disappeared in detention in India and Kashmir?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Baroness can rely upon us to raise all the relevant matters concerning this difficult dispute. We have continued to hold regular discussions on Kashmir with the Indian Government over recent years and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor discussed this matter when he was in Delhi in December. All Ministers are raising these issues at each and every opportunity.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, does; my noble friend agree that it would be dangerous even to give the appearance of putting the Indian Government in the dock and making it look as though they were guilty of bringing this appalling situation to pass, as others have played a major part in this?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, in a dispute of this nature I do not think it is wise to put any particular country in the dock when there have undoubtedly been faults on both sides. I certainly agree that we cannot see a solution for Kashmir without the agreement of India and Pakistan. I further believe that atrocities will be condemned by whoever commits them. There have been excesses by the militants in Kashmir. We condemn all human rights abuses. Both sides have had problems and we hope that the discussions which now seem possible can bring this awful situation to an end.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, will the. Minister comment on what progress has been made to allow more international organisations into Kashmir to monitor allegations of human rights abuses?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, Amnesty International staff were allowed to visit India in January and to go to Delhi and Bombay. The Indian Government have already said they will be allowed to make further visits elsewhere in India on a case by case basis. I know that the International Committee of the Red Cross is to be allowed to visit Kashmir and the advance ICRC team will go there in late March. In addition, I know that there has been a four-man delegation from the International Commission of Jurists. I believe it visited in August last year. We await its report at this time. I do not believe that the Indian Government are refusing groups who go to do a proper and sensible job.