HL Deb 17 October 1994 vol 558 cc1-4

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

On what occasions they have asked the Indian Government to provide details of the cases in which members of the security forces have been sentenced for crimes committed in Kashmir, and what replies they have received.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we have frequently encouraged the Indian Government to provide details of such cases. They have told us that 75 members of the security forces were given prison sentences between 1990 and September 1994. Non-custodial action, including dismissal, was taken against a further 133 members.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is not the Indian authorities' new approach to be welcomed, in that Mr. Shabbir Shah was released from custody last week following the earlier release of Yassin Malik? But is it not of the utmost importance that members of the security forces are not seen to enjoy immunity for the crimes they have committed against the civilian population of Kashmir over the past few years? Bearing in mind that something like 34,500 have perished, including 4,700 deaths in custody, since 1989, does the Minister think that the 75 prison sentences are wholly disproportionate to the scale of atrocities committed against the civilian population? Will the Minister therefore press the Indian authorities that as a sign of their more open attitude now they should publish details of the charges against members of the security forces and the sentences imposed upon them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is right to say that we welcome the new approach taken by the Indian authorities. We do not believe that anyone who has committed the type of crime to which the noble Lord referred should be immune from prosecution, but that is a matter for the Indian authorities. The noble Lord asked about publication and so on, but that is something that we must leave up to the Indian authorities. They are becoming increasingly open, and when the delegation of six Members of another place visited in September they were given free access. I hope, too, that there will be a continuation of the transparency that has started and that there will be as much action as possible to bring those who have committed crimes before the relevant authorities.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, in the light of the increasing openness on the part of the Indian Government, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government have managed to elicit any further information from the Indian Government about the 200 or more disappearances that have been catalogued by Amnesty International in Jammu, Kashmir and the Punjab?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness the exact answer that she seeks, but Amnesty International's report, after its visit in January, was a comprehensive report, and the Indian Government have told us that it will be allowed to make further visits elsewhere in India on a case-by-case basis. There are continuing discussions between Amnesty International and the Indian Government on that, and I believe that is to be welcomed.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, when I became a Minister in the Commonwealth Office, almost 30 years ago, one of the documents that I was asked to peruse was a paper on the problems of Kashmir. What are the prospects for a settlement of that problem?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I well remember when the noble Lord became a Minister some 30 years ago. I believe that it was the beginning of my great interest in foreign affairs. I, like him, wish to see a real solution to the problems of Kashmir. What we have said is that it is important that a genuine political process should be established in Kashmir. The Indian Government have recently declared their intention to hold elections in Kashmir next year. We welcome that effort. We hope that the elections will not just be seen to be free and fair but that they will actually be free and fair, but it is much too early to judge when we shall see a full resolution of the problem.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, will the Minister comment upon recent encouraging suggestions from the Indian authorities that they are at last considering a solution which will be equitable to all interested parties in this dispute?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that the Indians are giving increased attention and commitment to doing that, but it is not for us to interfere. We can give them guidance if they ask for it. We have consistently encouraged both sides to resolve their differences through bilateral negotiations. We are willing to use our good offices to help if they wish us to do so. I can only say that the signs are much better than they were, and we wish them well in resolving the matter.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I visited Azad Kashmir last year and that I was also in Kashmir for the Indian side this year? In the light of the recent elections in South Africa, and what has happened in Northern Ireland, does the Minister feel that an initiative might be taken by the Commonwealth to seek to resolve this problem, which is a major flashpoint?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who has long experience of such matters, for all that he has done. I am not in a position to say whether there is a specific role for the Commonwealth. However, the Indian Government have taken on board the importance of good government, which is one of the philosophies pursued by the Commonwealth. If any further work can be done to resolve the situation through the Commonwealth I have no doubt that the Secretary General will take that action.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Chief Anyaoku and the Foreign Secretary have from time to time offered their good offices to help to reach a solution but that that has not been welcomed by the Indian authorities? The Minister welcomed free access. Will she press the Indian authorities to go a little further and allow Amnesty International to visit Kashmir and to make a report on its findings? Will she also press the Indian High Commissioner in this country at least to reply to letters addressed to him by the parliamentary human rights group, and in particular the repeated request to be allowed to send a mission there?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, discussions about further visits and access to Kashmir are taking place between Amnesty International and the Indian Government. I believe that we must leave that in their hands. As regards intervention by Ministers or the Commonwealth Secretary General, not only did the Foreign Secretary have discussions with the Indian Foreign Minister in July, but in March the Prime Minister discussed human rights and the situation in Kashmir, in particular with the Indian Prime Minister. We take opportunities to raise in private all such matters. It is for the Indian Government to respond. Undoubtedly, they respond better to those of us who seek to show understanding of the difficult situation. In our discussions with them we shall not let go of the problem but will continue to press it.

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