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Viscount Waverley: I wish to speak on the complexities of Kashmir. I accept that there is international concern. I visited the region, including refugee camps, on the Pakistan side of the ceasefire line. It might be of some assistance to offer to the Committee a quick overview which illustrates those complexities.
This is arguably a three-sided dispute. India's perspective focuses on the bilateral nature of a dispute between India and Pakistan. India does not countenance foreign intervention, including from the United Nations. Its position is premised on legal, historical, political, strategic and secular arguments. India criticises Pakistan for assisting and encouraging terrorism and militancy, as well as for "internationalising" the issue. Its response to criticism of the military's record on human rights is to point to the improved openness and transparency.
To Pakistan, Kashmir is unfinished business, an international dispute to be settled according to the relevant UN resolution, through a UN-supervised plebiscite to decide accession to either India or Pakistan.
To the Kashmiris, this is not simple a dispute between two sovereign nations, but a conflict among three parties. They insist on their right to self-determination, as described in a number of Security Council resolutions. Independence must be seen as a viable option to be weighed alongside accession to either India or Pakistan.
The positions of the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union are broadly similar. The United Kingdom maintains excellent relations with both India and Pakistan and both are members of the Commonwealth. Finally, I have spoken to both High Commissioners on the merits of the issue before us today. They wholeheartedly support the Government's position, as do I, and would so urge Members of your Lordships' Committee.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before we conclude the discussion on Amendment No. 8, I wish to make one or two brief points. First, I wish to pay tribute to the noble Baroness. Though there may be disagreement on many issues concerning this Bill and the matters around it, she shows a remarkable degree of patience and endurance. For that she deserves full praise.
Secondly, the arguments adduced by my noble friend Lord Avebury indicate the difficulties of a white list. I fear that the Government will find that it attracts to the discussion of what should and should not be on the list of so-called designated countries, the knowledge--it is a detailed knowledge--of people like my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Waverley. It will therefore be an almost impossible line to hold. I hope therefore that the Minister will take back some thoughts to the department--of which she is a jewel--that indicate that the whole attempt to try to produce a designated list will be marked by all kinds of pitfalls and difficulties. She may well come to wish that the proposal had never been advanced because the knowledge from all sides of this Chamber is so very deep that she will find that the attempt to put almost any country on the list will be fraught with difficulty.
Baroness Blatch: First, there is to be another substantial debate regarding all of these matters if the amendments are not accepted by the Committee tonight. It is interesting that different people speak from different perspectives; some see it through the eyes of specific individual cases; others take the overview and understand the complexities of interrelationships between different parties both within that country and how that country relates to its neighbours and, indeed, how it relates to its more international friends in the United States and Britain.
I want to continue to remind the Committee that we are talking about a country that has an increasing number of applicants to Britain, the majority of which do not qualify under the 1951 convention for asylum status. It is only that qualification, plus the criteria I read
The Indian economy is the sixth largest in the world according to IMF studies and based on purchasing power parity. However, it has a number of serious structural problems and India is one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. There are areas of great poverty and in agricultural areas such as the Punjab, the poor farmers have an economic motive in claiming asylum overseas. Our assessment is based on independent monitoring. In addition to reports from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we take account of the views of other western governments, independent press reporting and reports from organisations such as Amnesty International. I shall return to that in a moment.
Militant unrest in the Punjab, which was under direct rule from Delhi from 1987-1992, has now largely subsided. The Sikh campaign for greater autonomy continues to be an issue, but the restoration of relative calm has meant it has recently been possible again to hold elections in the state. Participation in elections has risen steadily since 1992 while violence has reduced significantly. There were over 4,000 deaths during 1992, but 394 in 1993. In 1994 under 50 people were reported killed. The economy of the Punjab, traditionally India's most prosperous state, is again flourishing.
Amnesty International--specifically mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury--reports and the US Government State Department Human Rights reports allege that there continue to be significant human rights abuses, despite extensive constitutional and statutory safeguards. Those include extrajudicial executions, torture and reprisal killings by security forces fighting separatist insurgents in Kashmir; extrajudicial executions by the police in the Punjab; torture, rape and deaths of suspects in police custody throughout India; and detention for prolonged periods without charges under special security legislation.
However, the same US State Department report details action that has been taken by the Indian Government to counter this situation. A National Human Rights Commission was established in 1993 and that has been described in the report as an,
The State Department report also describes how the courts have been more active in prosecuting cases of custodial abuse, while the Supreme Court ordered the prosecution of a number of police officers accused of murder and fake encounter killings, and investigation of other cases of police abuse and negligence.
The Indian Government announced their intention to hold elections in Kashmir in order to get a political process going in the state. Those are currently scheduled for May 1996, the same time as the Indian general election.
There has been international concern about the need to respect human rights; the importance of greater openness in bringing wrongdoers to justice; and of allowing investigations by international human rights organisations. The Indian Government have taken a number of steps to meet those concerns. The National Human Rights Commission set up in 1993 has shown an encouraging readiness to criticise the actions of the Indian authorities and the security forces. The Government also allowed greater access to Kashmir. A delegation of EU Ambassadors visited Kashmir in April 1995 and were given free access, including to detention centres. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited in May 1995. The Government recently agreed to give the International Red Cross a long-term monitoring role in Kashmir. It is also the case that the victims of abuse tend to move to other parts of India which are safer for them and rarely seek entry to the United Kingdom.
Various areas of India, particularly the state of Gujerat, have seen incidents of communal violence between Hindus (who form the majority of the Indian population) and Moslems (who form some 12 per cent. of the population). That came to a head following the demolition of the mosque at Ayodhya in December 1992 by fanatical Hindus. The police took strong measures to contain the riots which ensued. At least 550 people died and 2,500 were injured in those disturbances. The Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu party, was accused of fomenting the attack at Ayodhya and of seeking to exploit the disturbances which followed. The Indian Government responded by imposing President's Rule on states governed by the BJP, banning both Hindu and Moslem militant groups and arresting those who were actively involved in inciting communal violence.
India is a secular state--as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury--and freedom of religion is provided for in the constitution. Moslems, in common with other religious groups, live, work and worship without interference from the Government. Moslems hold prominent positions in both the public and private sectors. The Indian Union Moslem League holds two seats in the lower house of the Indian Parliament.
The Indian government have taken a number of steps to meet those concerns. The National Human Rights Committee, set up in 1993, has shown an encouraging readiness to criticise the actions of the Indian authorities and security forces. For all of those reasons, and given that the people about whom we are now talking are not people who usually seek asylum--often they seek haven within the Indian continent without coming here--the truth is that those who have been seeking asylum have not qualified in the main under the United Nations Convention. Their cases have been fully considered, with all the rights of appeal, and the individual cases will continue to be fully considered on their merits.
For all those reasons, I invite the Committee to consider designation, which creates just a presumption, but which does not deny individuals the right to be considered properly and substantively, and also does not deny the right of appeal.
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