International Human Rights Abuses: UK Response – [Dame Maria Miller in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Maria. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) on her absolutely superb speech, which was so broad ranging. It really was fantastic.

I want to focus on human rights abuses in Palestine and Kashmir. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group, and vice-chair of the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group. My focus in both groups has been on human rights and our common dignity and humanity. We are all born free and equal in dignity and rights.

I visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories back in 2014, when I was a relatively new MP. Quite frankly, I was absolutely horrified by what I saw and heard: healthcare being withheld from Palestinians, the destruction of Palestinian homes and schools on the west bank, the physical exclusion of Palestinians from their own farmland and the arbitrary application of law. By that, I mean that children who were picked up for throwing stones at cars and soldiers had the full force of an adult criminal justice system thrown at them, and were often detained without trial. It really was quite horrendous and draconian. All those actions are clear contraventions of rights associated with articles of the universal declaration of human rights.

I have campaigned for a two-state solution ever since, including by supporting the work of the Saddleworth Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund, which has funded Palestinian women in Gaza and the west bank through education. We had a presentation from somebody from the fund who visited Gaza in the summer to see how the women we had been supporting were doing. Back in November, she reported that, unfortunately, a number of the students we had supported had been killed in attacks. I cannot describe the sense of loss.

Since the heinous attacks of 7 October and the abduction of the hostages, there have been attacks on Gazan civilians by Israeli forces, with over 25,000 deaths, three quarters of which were women and children, over 60,000 injured, and many thousands missing. That seems to me to be disproportionate and collective punishment of innocent people. Human rights and the rule of law must apply to all, and at all times, not just when it is convenient, whether for the UK or its allies. Those deaths must be investigated by the International Criminal Court. Similarly, I await the judgment from the International Court of Justice on the potential genocide of Palestinian people.

The international community must do better, and we must do better. I have been working with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on both Kashmir and, more recently, Gaza. I am also involved with the Global Compassion Coalition, trying to spread the message of the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace. We all collectively want to see actions to support a ceasefire. Once again, I call for an immediate ceasefire, the safe return of each and every hostage, the delivery of unrestricted humanitarian aid, and the end of the total siege on the Gaza strip. As I mentioned to the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister yesterday, the partner of one of my constituents is still awaiting evacuation from southern Gaza. If the Minister has any news, I would be very grateful. I mentioned yesterday that he was attacked over the weekend, suffered a broken leg and has not received any healthcare.

I turn to Kashmir. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has done some excellent work. Many Members here will be familiar with the reports it produced in 2018 and 2019 on human rights abuses in both Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The UN reports raised concerns about women’s rights in particular, and reported the use of gender-based violence in Jammu and Kashmir in Indian-administered Kashmir. There are also considerable concerns about the detention without trial of Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist—we still have not had any news about his release—and the unsafe conviction of Yasin Malik. Those are just two examples about which a range of human rights agencies—Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and, as I mentioned, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—have raised concerns. They have advocated for the repeal of the public safety act and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which contravene international humanitarian law. As the UN has stated:

“There are deep inter-connections between ending such blatant violations of those rights, providing freedom from fear, and the right to security, dignity, equality and justice.”

I want to talk about the case of Yasin Malik in more detail. The Supreme Court of India is awaiting a decision on whether his life sentence will be changed to a death penalty. That is imminent. It seems absolutely at odds with the fact that India is a signatory to the UN convention. I would very much appreciate a response from the Minister on that point.

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