British MPs from across the political spectrum on Thursday expressed concern over allegations of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on “self-determination” by Kashmiris on both sides of the border.
They also urged the British government to intervene and seek a commitment from India that it would do everything possible to protect the rights of the people of Kashmir.
Speaking during a debate called by the Conservative MP Steven Baker, whose constituency has a large number of people of Pakistani origin from Mirpur, members referred to an Amnesty International report alleging widespread abuse of human rights in Kashmir and called for an independent commission to be sent to the region to investigate the allegations.
According to the report, each year “hundreds of people” were held under the controversial Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act without charge or trial with “many exposed to higher risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.”
Mr. Baker said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had recently assured that no violation of human rights would be tolerated.
“We hope that his words would be honoured by the Army,” he said.
Another Tory member, Jason McCartney, demanded a repeal of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and an “independent and impartial” inquiry into alleged rights abuses.
Labour’s Denis MacShane, a former Minister, described Kashmir as a “forgotten tragedy” and urged the global community to break its “silence.”
“We don’t want a curtain of silence to fall after the debate,” he said suggesting that an international commission should visit the region to study the situation.
His party colleague Barry Gardiner highlighted the Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks on India and said that the situation in Kashmir must be seen in the context of terrorism promoted from across the border.
The debate raised eyebrows in Indian diplomatic circles with sources describing it as “not very unhelpful” in advancing India-U.K. relations.
At the time of going to the press, the British government’s reply to the debate was still awaited. It was expected to stick to the official line on Kashmir while sharing members’ concerns over human rights.
Britain regards Kashmir as an “unresolved” dispute but believes that it is for India and Pakistan to resolve it.
British MPs of Indian origin cautioned against reading too much into the debate. “We are not making it an India issue or see it as an attack on India,” said Labour MP Virendra Sharma describing it as a routine debate on human rights in the region.