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Britain’s decision to take military action against Syria is like Alice in Wonderland: ‘sentence first-verdict afterwards’, says Lord Singh

Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has said that the Cabinet’s decision to deploy military strikes against President Assad is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, citing Alice’s bogus trial when the Queen says, ‘sentence first – verdict afterwards’.

In a scathing speech, the crossbencher spoke out powerfully against the rank hypocrisy of Western military interventions in the Middle East. He cited Britain’s morally reprehensible arms supplies to Saudi Arabia, which continue to be deployed in a bloody war in Yemen against Houthis. Moreover he said he was personally ‘appalled’ when a Minister told him we should not raise human rights issues with China when talking about trade – the Minister’s suggestion here being trade trumps human rights.

Speaking from a Sikh perspective and challenging the established orthodoxy of today’s ‘power-bloc politics’ Lord Singh said, ‘Sikh teachings on the prevention of conflict almost parallel the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, formulated after the horror of the ​Second World War, and they stress the dignity and equality of all members of our one human family. They also legitimise the use of military force only as a last recourse when all other means have failed.’

Lord Singh said, that he found propaganda justifying military intervention in reported government statements as ‘morally questionable and hypocritical’. He said, Assad is no angel, but like many other leaders in the region we [Britain] have ‘propped up’ a brutal dictator. He said countries that we don’t like become to be known as ‘regimes’, and Assad himself has been referred to as a ‘monster’, which could be counterproductive if Britain is to be involved in future negotiations on the Syrian issue, something the PM has indicated to be a possible solution to the conflict.

He said, ‘I am saddened by the hypocrisy of our government and the governments of the USA and France. While wringing their hands about the monster Assad’s supposed chemical weapon attack on little children, they have all in the last two or three of weeks signed billion-dollar deals with Saudi Arabia to export arms for use in Yemen, so that Saudi Arabia can strut its military might in the Middle East with the continued bombing of men, women and little children in Yemen.’

He went on, ‘We are then expected to believe that President Assad, having secured control of much of the country, suddenly decides to launch a chemical attack on a children’s hospital. It could be true, although it sounds implausible, but it gave the US President an opportunity to withdraw from the conflict flourishing his military might. France and Britain dutifully backed him in a combined military strike against Assad. President Trump predictably tweeted “Mission accomplished”. It is sad that our PM should feel duty-bound to back military action prior to any investigation. I thought that it was only in Alice in Wonderland that we had the saying, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”.’

In conclusion he said, ‘The whole concept of supposed strategic interest has, over the centuries, been shown to be deeply flawed and a recipe for continuing conflict. A Christian hymn reminds us: “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin”. It is a truth echoed in Sikh teachings and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only strategic interest worth pursuing is respect for human rights and social justice for all and for future generations in our highly interdependent world.’

Lord Singh’s full speech can be read here.

 

[image: book launch – 1984: India’s Guilty Secret, where Lord Singh said, ‘Guru Nanak’s teachings state truth is high, but higher still is truthful living but for the British government, truth is high but higher still is trade.’]

Following the 2014 disclosures from The National Archives under the 30-year rule, there are two things clear about the Thatcher government’s role in events leading up to the storming of the Golden Temple in 1984. Firstly, the then government dispatched an SAS officer to provide military advice to the Indian Army in the run up to the attack in Amritsar (codenamed Operation Blue Star). Secondly, the British dispensed with human rights in order to secure lucrative military contracts with India, in particular the Westland helicopter deal. We believe there is little more to be gained from a full public inquiry into the Thatcher government’s role into 1984. We already know Sikhs were betrayed for financial gain, because trade trumped human rights. The real focus must surely be justice for the victims, by lobbying for a UN-led inquiry into human rights violations by the then Indian government, on similar lines to one supported by Britain for Sri Lanka’s massacre of Tamils. Why are groups like the Sikh Federation (SFUK) aiming for the wrong target?

Chronology of events and background

Following the 2014 disclosures David Cameron instructed Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to conduct an internal government review of documents related to British involvement in the run up to Operation Blue Star. After the Heywood review, Lord Singh was invited to meet the Cabinet Secretary on 21 January 2014. He explained the hurt and sense of betrayal felt by UK Sikhs over the revelations of British government involvement. The Cabinet Secretary’s response was that his task was simply to look at all documentation and report accordingly.

When Lord Singh mentioned he’d seen documents showing the only concern of the then government seemed to be a lack of support for the Indian government might jeopardise arms exports, he received the astonishing response from the Cabinet Secretary that he and his team, ‘were unaware of any arms trade implications in the papers.’ Lord Singh responded that he had seen several references to arms sales to India being under threat, and at the Cabinet Secretary’s request, gave his office details of a Cabinet document dated, 22 November 1984, referring to a five billion pound arms contract.

Sir Jeremy Heywood was additionally informed that Lord Singh had met a former Cabinet member back in November 1984, to express concern over the UK government’s silence over the widespread organised killing of Sikhs throughout India. The staggering response was, ‘Indarjit, we know exactly what is going on, it’s very difficult; we’re walking on a tightrope: we have already lost one important contract’. 

On 4 February 2014, Sikh representatives met Baroness Warsi. Prior to the meeting Gurmel Kandola (Sikh Council UK) contacted Lord Singh suggesting the NSO’s Director should lead on behalf of Sikhs. However, at the meeting, Kandola maneuvered himself into position of chair, ignoring Lord Singh throughout, but giving ample opportunity for others to speak. Lord Singh was forced to interject. He unequivocally criticised the Heywood review as a ‘whitewash’ and ‘a cover up job’. Warsi responded, ‘If that’s an argument I can fight.’ Others presents including the otherwise vocal Sikh Federation were remarkably silent. A Sikh present unhelpfully felt it necessary to tell Warsi he was planning to stand for election on the Lib Dem ticket; another oddly provided a totally unrelated history lesson on Amritsar’s shrines. In an undated letter following the meeting, Warsi writes: ‘on the allegations that the UK military advice was linked to defence sales, there is no information to suggest the UK, at any level, attempted to use the fact that military advice has been given on request to any commercial objective.’

Deeply unsatisfied with Warsi’s response Lord Singh tabled a debate on the 3 March 2014 in the House of Lords. Concluding his speech he said, ‘I urge the Government to add their support for an open, independent inquiry into the massacre or genocide of Sikhs in 1984 in the same way that they are backing a UN-led inquiry into the killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Against this, all offers of government assistance and offers to talk to Sikhs pale into an unnecessary distraction.’ Making no commitment to Lord Singh’s request, Baroness Warsi reiterated views expressed in her undated letter following the 4 February 2014 meeting – in short SAS advice was not given for commercial gain.

Later that month on 26 March 2014, during Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron was asked what more Britain could do to get justice for victims of 1984. He responded by saying the events in Amritsar continue to be a ‘deep source of pain to Sikhs everywhere’ and ‘a stain on the post-independence history of India.’ He went on, ‘The most important thing we can do in this country is celebrate the immense contribution that British Sikhs make to our country, to our armed forces, to our culture and to our business life and celebrate what they do for this country.’ It was this blanket dismissal of Sikh human rights, which led to the NSO’s decision to boycott the Downing Street Vaisakhi function that year. Unsurprisingly other’s shamefully attended for photo opportunities.

We have studied the SFUK’s recent report ‘Sacrificing Sikhs’, which was launched at the APPG for British Sikhs by Preet Gill MP on 1 November 2017. It provides a significant amount of detail from previously undisclosed papers, supporting what we already know about the then British government’s foreign policy agenda – that is trade with India trumped Sikh human rights. The author Phil Miller, who was commissioned by the SFUK, says the British government is yet to declassify documents relating to India after 1985. The SFUK are pushing for further disclosure, and a full inquiry into the then British government’s involvement. We see little point in lobbying for a full inquiry or disclosure of further documents. Here’s why: Lord Saville who chaired the ten-year Bloody Sunday Inquiry and sits with Lord Singh as a crossbencher, dismissed any further inquiry into the UK role as futile. He said thirty years of looking for further information would get us no further forward.

Justice for surviving victims and their families

We urge Sikhs to rather focus their attention on getting justice for the surviving victims and their families via a UN-led inquiry into human rights abuses of the then Indian government. This is achievable, as its already been done for Sri Lanka, and Britain had an important role in lobbying for a UNHRC probe into the massacre of Tamils. Those with vested interests in UK party politics will no doubt continue to lobby Theresa May’s government for a full inquiry into the Thatcher government’s role – but they are willfully misguided.

[Ends]

References:

1.http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/OISL.aspx
2. Operation Bluestar was the codename for the Indian Army’s assault on the Golden Temple complex in 1984
3. http://nsouk.co.uk/uk-government-involvement-in-the-attack-on-the-golden-temple-and-its-failure-to-respect-the-human-rights-of-sikhs-in-the-genocide-of-1984/
4. Letter on file addressed to Gurmel Kandola of Sikh Council UK from Baroness Warsi (intended to be distributed to all attendees of the 4th February 2014 meeting), was not disclosed to us for some time, and received by the NSO from a source other than the Sikh Council or Gurmel Kandola
5. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2014-03-03/debates/14030340000202/SikhCommunity#contribution-14030340000102
6. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/07/sikh-uk-vaisakhi-downing-_n_5102896.html
         

Declaring his interest as member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty’s Government what representations they had made to the Saudi government concerning the imminent execution of fourteen individuals including to juveniles.

In response Baroness Goldie said, “we condemn its use in all circumstances and in all countries. It is particularly ​abhorrent when applied to minor crimes and to juveniles in disregard of the minimum standards set out in the EU guidelines on the death penalty of 2008, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights.” She went on, “Saudi Arabia remains a Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights priority country, in part due to its use of the death penalty, and it is aware of our position.”

NSO director Lord Singh who has previously spoken out against human rights violations by the Kingdom said, “My Lords, why are the Government so quiet about trade with Saudi Arabia? Why do we export billions of pounds-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia when it is probably the greatest abuser of human rights in the world, against not only neighbouring countries but also its own people, including juveniles?”

In response to Lord Singh Baroness Goldie said Saudi Arabia was an ‘important ally’, and that intelligence shared by them had potentially saved British lives. However despite the close relationship she said, “That does not gag or inhibit us from expressing our strongly held views about abuses of human rights or deployment of the death penalty.”

 

CoxLast week saw the second reading of Baroness Cox’s arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, which aims to protect the rights of women under Sharia courts operating in Britain.

Baroness Cox who has long fought for human rights said, “we must not condone situations where rulings are applied which are fundamentally incompatible with the laws, values, principles and policies of our country.”

She went on, “Muslim women are today suffering in ways in which would make suffragettes turn in their graves.” The proposals in her Bill have been described as a “lifeline” for vulnerable women, some of whom had provided evidence of their plight to an All Party Parliamentary Group on “Honour” Based violence.

Baroness Cox described Sharia councils as “a rapidly developing alternative quasi-legal system, which undermines the fundamental principle of one law for all.”

Lord Singh the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) thanked Baroness Cox for her tireless work in supporting vulnerable members of society across the globe.

He said, “negative attitudes to women, all too evident in Islam, have become embedded in religious texts, which, as we have heard, give less weightage to the word of a woman, and lesser inheritance rights. There are also particular problems with attitudes to divorce. These negative attitudes prevent Islam from playing its full part in social improvement. I have many Muslim friends and most are happily married and a credit to society. But sharia law and divorce are heavily weighted in favour of men and are at variance with the law of this country.”

He went on, “we cannot have a parallel judicial system, particularly one that discriminates against women. We have today heard many examples of the weightage against women in the proceedings of sharia courts and the resulting suffering. We have heard the concerns of our Prime Minister, Theresa May, when as Home Secretary she referred to wives being left in penury and a supposed right of husbands to chastise their wives.”

Lord Singh said the proposals in the Bill would not only “safeguard the position of women in the Islamic community”, but also “leave Islam stronger and better able to play its full part in the world of today.”

The full debate can be viewed here.

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