On 19th January, I spoke in a debate on recent events in Kashmir:
According to Reuters, at least 80 civilians were killed by Indian forces between July and December last year, many of whom were participants in protests. The protests began on 8 July after the death of Burhan Wani, the popular leader of the largest Kashmiri independence group. The authorities imposed a curfew, and disabled internet access and mobile phone networks, but this did not prevent an escalation. Both tear gas and live ammunition were used to disperse large crowds and groups of stone-throwers.
There have been expansive contributions in the Chamber about the indiscriminate use of pellet guns to disperse protesters. Pellet guns have the predictable effect of blinding those they hit. At close range, the hundreds of projectiles they fire can carry enough kinetic energy to penetrate skin and organs. They can therefore be fatal if fired at much of the body. A very large number of pellet injuries have been to the face, with 570 people seeking treatment for eye injuries at the main hospital in Srinagar on 8 November. According to hospital’s figures, more eye surgeries were performed in the three days between 10 July and 12 July than throughout the whole of the previous three years. That cannot be right.
Many children are among those who have lost their sight as a result of such tactics. In the case of 13-year-old Mir Arafat, the pellets penetrated deeply enough to become embedded in his blood vessels, neck, oral cavity, lungs and heart. In the case of Junaid Akhnoon, also 13, the pellet injuries to his head and chest were severe enough to kill him. At a minimum, this is evidence that insufficient care is being taken to ensure that civilians are not seriously injured by security forces’ tactics. It is also suggestive of something far more serious: that the security forces in the region are intentionally using tactics that blind civilians to discourage protests against Indian rule. According to a spokesperson for the state Government, the use of pellet guns is “a necessary evil”. But it is not. It will never be necessary for security forces to blind children to ensure the restoration of order.
Both India and Pakistan have been responsible for deaths from army shelling and military raids across the line of control in recent months, in a cycle of retribution that regularly claims civilian lives in addition to those of soldiers. There are accusations that Pakistan has used the popular unrest of ordinary Kashmiris as cover for renewed attempts by proxy groups to enter and further destabilise the border regions under Indian control. I am sure that the Minister, like me, is deeply troubled by these recent reports, but equally disturbing is what goes on behind the scenes.
Amnesty International cites the example of Khurram Parvez, a prominent Kashmiri human rights defender who was arrested repeatedly and held without proper process for a total of 75 days last year. Eventually, his detention was ruled to be arbitrary and illegal by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, and his release was finally secured following international pressure on 30 November. I am pleased the Minister is in his place and I beg him to hear that international pressure does have an effect. The case of Khurram Parvez is part of a pattern that human rights organisations have been detailing for years, most comprehensively in Amnesty International’s 2015 publication, “Denied”. Amnesty’s view is that the dire situation the report describes remains largely unchanged. Due process is still frequently denied both to those accused of militant activity or support, and to those victims—along with their families and communities —of state security abuses. They never see any progress towards justice and peace.
As we continue to work on these issues, we must ensure that humanitarian concerns remain at the forefront of our minds. It is clear that this conflict has gone on far too long. The individual stories we have heard today are really nothing new. Much of the conflict goes on away from the eyes of the western world. I hope this debate will begin to change things. I further hope that the Government will renew their efforts: to create opportunities for productive dialogue between India and Pakistan; to discourage escalation and exert pressure against policies that allow or encourage human rights abuses; and to facilitate, wherever they can, a permanent settlement that gives Kashmiris a genuine voice. To quote Mandela:
“It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”