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Author Archives: Hardeep Singh

[Image: 'share of arms sales by country' by crossswords is licensed under CC by SA 4.0]

[Image: ‘share of arms sales by country’ by crossswords is licensed under CC by SA 4.0]

Last Saturday’s Saudi-led coalition strikes responsible for the killing 140 at a funeral gathering in the Yemeni capital Sanaa have led to widespread criticism, which last week extended to the House of Lords.

Peers questioned the ethics of British and American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with Lord Alton of Liverpool asking Her Majesty’s Government if since the devastating strikes they “are reassessing the licensing of United Kingdom weapons sales to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began.”

Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Department for International Development, Baroness Anelay of St Johns responded thus, “The UK Government are deeply concerned by the conflict in Yemen, including recent events in Sanaa. As part of the careful risk assessment for the licensing of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, we keep the situation under careful and continued review.”

She added, “All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms and export licensing criteria, taking account of all relevant factors at the time of the application.”

Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) said, “My Lords, bomb fragments found at the scene of the funeral carnage were those from an Mk 82 American guided bomb. Saudi Arabia is one of the most barbaric countries in the world, with beheadings, amputations and the enslavement of women, while, at the same time, exporting its medieval version of Islam to neighbouring countries such as Syria, Sudan and Yemen.”

He added, “Can the Minister give me a good reason why the West—principally the United States and ourselves—supplies some £7 billion-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia each year? I might add that boosting our trade by exporting the means of mass killings is not a good reason.”

In response Baroness Anelay reassured peers Britain complies with international humanitarian law and that she herself understood the sense of outrage felt by Lord Singh and others about the suffering of people in Yemen. She said, “I undertake that the UK will continue to press as strongly as we are able in the diplomatic sphere to achieve a peaceful resolution but, in the meantime, continue the aid that we provide there.”

top-10-human-rights-organisations

Earlier this month Lord Alton of Liverpool asked her Majesty’s government what steps they were taking to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Lord Singh’s contribution to this important debate has been reproduced in full below:

My Lords, I also offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this important debate and for the vast amount of work he does in this field. All too often, debates and questions in this House describe the appalling treatment of religious minorities across the world. Unfortunately, the response from government is in my view far from even-handed. The world, it seems, is still seen in terms of friendly countries to be spoken to quietly, if at all, and the characterisation of those who are not dependent on us for trade or strategic influence as nasty regimes to be condemned in the most strident terms.

Let me give an example. In 2014, the Government described the human rights record of the Sri Lankan Government as “appalling” and called for an international inquiry. I asked whether the Government would press for a similar inquiry into the Government-led massacre of thousands of Sikhs in India. The short, sharp response was that it was “a matter for the Indian Government”. Why the lack of even-handedness? I have asked the same question several times both in the Chamber and in Questions for Written Answer, but always to no effect. On the last occasion, some six months ago, I was promised a considered reply from the Minister, but I am still waiting for it.

In France today, Sikhs are being humiliated by being asked to remove their turbans for identity photos in defiance of a UNHCR court ruling that the actions of the French Government are an infringement of the rights of Sikhs under Article 18. There was no mention of this in our Government’s recent report on human rights abuses across the world. France, after all, is a “friendly” country. These examples of religious discrimination are especially hurtful to the followers of a religion in which freedom of belief is considered to be so important that our Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, gave his life defending the right of Hindus, those of a different religion from his own, to freedom of worship.

What is of concern to me and others is that we, like other members of what we euphemistically call the Security Council are still living in a world of 19th-century power politics, a world in which the abuse of human rights was conveniently overlooked in a greed-fuelled era of strategic alliances. If there are any doubts about the failure of our power-bloc politics, we should reflect on the current tragedy of the Middle East, which began a century ago with the carving up of the former Ottoman Empire by British and French diplomats.

As a Christian hymn reminds us:

“New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;

They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth”.

The great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov said that,

“there can be no real peace in the world unless we are even-handed in our attitude to human rights”.

We will fail future generations if we do not heed his far-sighted words.

Action Against Hate

Earlier this week, Lord Singh the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, held the government to account following publication of their four-year hate crime action plan – Action Against Hate. The forty-page document contains not one example of hate crime affecting non-Abrahamic faiths, nor commitment to a single government funded project to deal with the problem. This is in stark contrast to the focus in the report on Abrahamic faiths, along with a firm commitment to implement taxpayer funded projects designed to combat hate crime faced by these communities, particularly Muslims and Jews.

Lord Singh asked Her Majesty’s Government: “Why their report Action Against Hate: The UK Government’s plan for tackling hate crime, published in July 2016, does not report on the incidence of hate crimes against non-Abrahamic faith communities.”

Disappointed with the Minister’s initial response, Lord Singh went on:

“My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response but it does not address my concerns over the narrow and biased thinking in a report that details 45 examples of hate crime against Abrahamic faiths but not a single example of the many, well-documented mistaken-identity hate crimes suffered by Sikhs and others—and this in a report emanating from a department with specifically designated officers to consider hate crime against the Jewish and Muslim communities but not anyone else.

He added, “Would the Minister agree that that omission is more due to ignorance than deliberate discrimination? Would she further agree that those who preach the need for religious literacy should first themselves acquire some basic religious literacy, and apologise to those they have offended in such a way?”

Minister of State, Baroness Williams of Trafford made some vague references to “common issues across the strands of hate crime”, and without specific examples said “we also accept that there are issues which affect communities specifically.”

On the question of religious literacy she said, “We have talked about this in the past. People such as the media have a role to play in improving their religious literacy.”

The NSO has been raising the inequalities in the government’s approach to hate crime for some time. Lord Singh has highlighted the wider affects of ‘Islamophobia’ on a number of separate occasions, and earlier this year the NSO released FOI figures obtained from the MET, which revealed that 28% of victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crimes’ recorded by the MET in 2015, were in fact non-Muslim or people of no recorded faith.

The Minister has agreed to meet with Lord Singh to further discuss community concerns.

  (above) Sikhs participating in a vigil following the Wisconsin gurdwara massacre in 2012

(above) Sikhs participating in a vigil following the Wisconsin gurdwara massacre in 2012

Recognise the equality of all human beings’Guru Gobind Singh

The publication of the UK Government’s four-year plan for tackling hate crime, ‘Action Against Hate’ has demonstrated a clear bias against those of non-Abrahamic faiths.

The forty-page document published last month, gives 23 examples of hate crimes against Jews, 19 against Muslims and 3 against Christians. There is not a single reference to hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus or those of other non-Abrahamic faiths.

There are in total 13 references to financial aid in tackling hate crime against Jews, Muslims and Christians. Measures with allocated funding are detailed in the plan to tackle both Jewish and Muslim hate crime. There is no parallel reference to similar funding assistance for Sikhs, Hindus or other non-Abrahamic faiths.

We are especially concerned about the contents of the document, given our prior communication with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Further to a FOI request by the NSO, it was made apparent that 28% of victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ recorded by the MET in 2015 were non-Muslim. This was the subject of mainstream media coverage. Despite pointing this out to DCLG, it’s troubling that this important finding was not highlighted in the plan.

It is well known that Sikhs have suffered immensely post 9/11. The first person to be killed in retribution for the twin towers attack was a turbaned Sikh. This month we mark the 4th anniversary of the Wisconsin gurdwara massacre, where six worshippers were murdered by a white supremacist. In 2015 the FBI started to separately monitor hate crime against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs. Prior to this violence against Sikhs had been incorrectly classified as ‘anti-Islamic.’

In 2015 a Sikh dentist was the victim of a machete attack in Wales, which was wrongly labelled ‘Islamophobic’ on a flagship BBC television programme. It was later confirmed the victim was attacked because of his race, not religion. Last month, three Islamic State inspired teenagers were found guilty of bombing a gurdwara in Germany. It is extraordinary that despite these events, the British government blithely ignores the vulnerability of a vast swathe of the electorate.

Lord Singh, NSO Director said, “The plan does not even recognise that Sikhs and other non-Abrahamic faith communities suffer hate crime.”

He went on, “In the 15th and 16th centuries the Sikh Gurus stressed that all members of our one human family were entitled to equal respect. UK Sikhs expect the UK government in the 21st century to give equal support and consideration to all faiths.”

Whilst we are acutely concerned about the marginalisation of non-Abrahamic faiths, we welcome the pledge that national statistics on the incidence of hate crime will be disaggregated from next year. We hope this will finally convince the government that hate crimes occur beyond the Abrahamic faiths, and must be taken equally seriously. The government should issue an unequivocal apology for its failure to acknowledge the very real concerns of Sikhs, Hindus and others.

Hate begins with fear and fear with ignorance. Hate crime will continue to be a blot on British society unless prompt action is taken to address ignorance and insensitivity towards other faiths and cultures at all levels of society, including government.

 

(Above: Lord Singh)

(Above: Lord Singh)

Lord Falconer’s unsuccessful ‘Assisted Dying Bill’ is old news, but the debate on the controversial issue resurfaced last week when peers discussed the implications of a Supreme Court decision in the case of R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice [2014] UKSC 38.

The issues in the case centered on whether the prohibition on assisted suicide in the Suicide Act 1961 was compatible with the appellant’s right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 ECHR). The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and said although the courts could decide the question of compatibility, it wasn’t right for them to do so.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Lord Faulks said: “The Government recognise that strong views are held on this subject on both sides. It remains the Government’s view that any change in the law is an area for individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide rather than for government policy.”

Lord Singh, the Director of the NSO a fierce opponent of ‘assisted dying’, said: “My Lords, social as well as medical factors can influence a decision to live, and greedy or uncaring relatives can easily influence that decision—we hear about that every day in the press and in care homes.”

He went on: “Does the Minister agree that greater efforts should be made to show that we value all people, whatever their degree of sickness or disability, and that society must work towards better palliative care?”

Last year Labour MP Rob Marris tabled a private members bill on ‘assisted dying’, which was defeated on the second reading. The NSO described it as ‘a grotesque challenge to Sikh teachings on compassionate care.’ At the time some peers expressed concerns about the ‘financial incentives’ involved in ending the lives of the terminally ill. The failed Bill was further described as a ‘breeding ground for vultures.’

(Above): Hamid Nehal Ansari

(Above): Hamid Nehal Ansari

British lawyer and NSO Deputy Director Jas Uppal has been a leading campaigner in the case of missing Indian national Hamid Nehal Ansari, who has been unlawfully detained by Pakistani authorities.

Ansari’s mother Mrs Fauzia Ansari (based in Mumbai) first instructed Ms Uppal in her son’s case in November 2012. For years the Pakistani authorities had denied knowledge of his whereabouts. However at the beginning of this year it was confirmed that he was in fact in Pakistani Army custody and had been convicted by a military tribunal for ‘espionage.’

The case began when 28-year-old Mr Ansari, an MBA graduate who taught at the Mumbai Management College, traveled to Pakistan looking for opportunities. According to reports Mr Ansari had befriended a Kohat-based woman through social media and had crossed over into Pakistan. He had been staying in a hotel in Kohat, when on November 12 2012; police along with officials from the Intelligence Bureau arrested him.

This is not the first time Indian or Pakistani authorities have arrested citizens of each other’s countries under the pretext of ‘spying’ allegations.

Ms Uppal has raised Ansari’s case at the highest level, and in 2014 made personal representations before the UN on the matter.

She is optimistic that Ansari will be released and repatriated back to India. Ms Uppal said: “Hamid was naive to cross the border into Pakistan without the valid supporting travel documents; indeed his actions were illegal. However, Hamid was arbitrarily detained without trial in excess of three years during which time, the Pakistani authorities failed to notify the Indian authorities that they are holding their national as they required to do so under international law, Conventions and protocols.

She went on: “I formally complained to the UN on behalf of Mr and Mrs Ansari as well as raising the matter with both the Indian and Pakistani authorities.”

Mrs Ansari said, “It’s not that he is alone in pain and suffering the punishment of loosing his freedom, but the entire family is in trauma.” She told the NSO her family have been living in despair for the last four years, with a hope they will see their son again. So far she has been unable to obtain a visa to travel to Pakistan.

Earlier this year a 24-year-old Pakistani journalist Zeenat Shahzadi who had been working on the Ansari case was abducted. Human Rights groups and her family accuse Pakistan’s security agencies for her disappearance.

For further information contact info@nsouk.co.uk or Justice Upheld help@justiceupheld.org.uk

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 13/07/16

July 13th, 2016 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

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The 17th century poet John Dryden, reflecting on democracy wrote:

‘Nor is the people’s judgement always true, the Most may err as grossly as the Few’.

Many on the ‘remain’ side of the referendum may feel this speaks to them. While both sides agree that the democratic decision must be respected no matter how close the result. The incoming Prime Minister Theresa May has already pledged to respect the decision to leave as she begins the task of steering the country through uncertain times, as for the first time in many years we are now forced to look afresh at basic questions of identity, sovereignty and aspirations, in our relations with Europe and the rest of the world.

It’s a sad aspect of human nature that sometimes the easiest way in getting someone on our side in discussion or debate is to find someone else we can blame for all our problems. In the 50s and 60s it was people from the Commonwealth. In recent debate we have heard unhelpful nasty language about immigrants and refugees which has led to a rise in hate crimes. It all reminds me of what I call Indarjit’s law: that when two or more people can find sufficient in common to call themselves ‘us’, they will immediately look for a ‘them’ to despise; to strengthen their new found unity. We see it in rivalry between football fans but in its extreme form, it can lead to horrors like the holocaust and more recent genocides.

In the India of the 15th century, Guru Nanak witnessed unnecessary divisions in the religions around him and stressed the importance of recognising common beliefs and aspirations. Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, took this emphasis on commonalities further by incorporated some verses of Hindu and Muslim saints into our scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, to emphasise common ethical teachings, while the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadhur gave his life defending the right of all people to freedom of belief of all people.

My hope is that later today when Theresa May assumes office as Prime Minister, she will similarly use her considerable experience to focus on commonalities like the pursuit of social justice and respect for the rights and beliefs of others, as she leads the country to a new future.

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 06/07/16

July 6th, 2016 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

In the recent media coverage of the bravery of those killed on the battlefields of WW1, I was particularly moved by a piece in the Times by Daniel Finkelstein about the courage of both his paternal and maternal grandfathers. Both regarded themselves as intensely patriotic and both were decorated for their heroism. However, they were on the German side of the conflict. Courage can be found in both friend and foe, and patriotism is entirely subjective.

While it is right and proper to honour the memory of those who gave their lives for their country, we will never learn from history if we fail to reflect on its lessons. This thought was in the mind of the Queen’s grandfather, King George V as he looked on rows and rows of endless graves in Flanders and commented that ‘we will have failed to honour the memories of those who gave their all, if we allow such slaughter to ever occur again’ Later generations, with the advantage of hindsight, need to ask, questions like did the war advance the cause of peace and social justice in Europe or elsewhere? And did the punitive reparations demanded of Germany in any way contribute to the rise of Adolf Hitler?

Today, with the publication of the long delayed Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 war in Iraq there will also be similar questions and inevitable recriminations. What is beyond dispute, is that the long suffering people of Iraq are – as we saw in the weekend terrorist outrage in a shopping Mall in Bagdad and the death of many innocent people – still far from hoped for peace and true democracy.

I was recently invited to the formal unveiling of a beautifully illustrated short prayer included in prayers said before the start of formal proceedings in the Lords. It reminds Parliamentarians, of a responsibility to put ‘all selfish interests and partial affections’ to one side in all our deliberations. It is remarkably similar to the Sikh daily prayer the Ardas, that concludes Sikh services in gurdwaras, and closes with the words ‘sarbat ka bhala’ – a pledge to work for the greater good of all. Such sentiments should be central to all debate and political decision making, in helping us to reflect objectively on the past, and work together towards a better future.

Research: What does faith mean to your charity?

July 1st, 2016 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

NPC logo low res

Did you know that there are over 49,000 faith-based charities in Great Britain—27% of the whole charity sector.

As such a large part of the sector, and with a combined income of over £16 billion, research into faith-based charities has never been more relevant.

We need to better understand faith-based charities if we want a vibrant and thriving voluntary sector. NPC’s research programme—A Question of Faith—explores how faith affects how charities operate, as well as the benefits and challenges of being a faith-based charity.

NPC’s work has found over 360 Sikh charities in Great Britain and they want to hear about the role faith plays in your charity. Your thoughts will be crucial in developing a better understanding about the contribution Sikh charities make to our society.

The NPC have informed us that they have undertaken research on 362 Sikh charities in Great Britain and discovered that they receive a combined income of £61million.

If you would like to help with this research please get in touch with Rachel at Rachel.Wharton@thinkNPC.org.

Lord Tebbit conveys his admiration for Sikhs

July 1st, 2016 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)
Lord Tebbit

Lord Tebbit

Lord Tebbit has expressed his admiration for Sikhs in a debate in which he said the community had demonstrated “great loyalty” to Britain.

The former Chairman of the Conservative Party said:

“My Lords, nobody in this House is better equipped than the noble Lord (reference to Lord Singh) to get people to understand that the present version of the Muslim religion arises largely from a dispute within that religion and that it is a gross perversion of the Muslim religion practised in the 13th and 14th centuries, for example.”

He went on: “We should all remember that there are very few places where one can feel safer in the face of extremism in this country than in the company of a large number of Sikhs, who have always shown by their great loyalty and understanding of this society that they have their place here”.

Lord Tebbit’s comments follow a question tabled by Lord Singh, asking the government for more clarity on the meaning of words in the battle against extremism.

The NSO’s Director asked Her Majesty’s government: “What assessment they have made of whether action to combat the threat of terrorism could be helped by a clearer use of language, for example by explaining the actual meaning of words such as “extremism”, “radicalisation” and “fundamentalism”.”

Minister Lord Ahmad responded describing the Prevent programme, and efforts to train front line staff in spotting “signs of radicalisation”. He said the government had published its counter extremism strategy and was working with communities to tackle the threat of extremism.

Lord Singh responded: “I thank the Minister for the reply explaining the Government’s position. However, for years we have had a Prevent programme, as he mentioned, without clearly defining what we are trying to prevent. Words such as “radical”, “deradicalise”, “fundamentalist” and “extremist” are totally devoid of meaning, while the terms “political Islam” and “Islamist” are considered by many Muslims to be derogatory to Islam.

He added: “Does the Minister agree that what we are really trying to prevent is the out-of-context use of religious texts that advocate the killing or ill-treatment of people of other faiths? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that to suggest that such behaviour is sanctioned by the one God of us all is the ultimate blasphemy? Finally, will the Government help Muslim leaders to present Islam in the context of today’s society?”


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