Where Unity Is Strength
Header

 

cause célèbre – Asia Bibi

Earlier this week Lord Alton of Liverpool tabled a question in relation to aid programmes and human rights pertaining in particular to the treatment of minorities in Pakistan.

Our Director, Lord Singh contributed to the debate. His full speech can be read below:

‘My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton on securing this important debate, and pay tribute to the wonderful work that he does in the field of human rights. When India was partitioned in 1947, as we have heard, the founding father of the new state of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, then terminally ill, said that it would be a country that respected all its minorities. He did not live to see his hope tragically ignored. A rigid and intolerant form of Islam, Wahhabism, funded by Saudi dollars, now pervades the country.

Strict blasphemy laws are used to prevent open discussion of religion, and the death penalty can apply to Muslims who try to convert to a different faith. As we have heard, a convert to Christianity, Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy, spent nine years on death row before eventually being allowed to flee to Canada. Others have not been so fortunate. In one case, children were made to watch as their parents were burnt alive in a brick kiln. Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery.

I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to, “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.​

By any measure, there is a clear case for expelling Pakistan from the Commonwealth, but this will not help its suffering minorities and could make their plight worse. The way forward is to look beyond charters and lofty declarations to clear targets and measures of performance for all erring members—Pakistan is by no means the only one—to nudge them to respect human rights. We must also target aid to specific projects geared to fight religious bigotry and prejudice. Pakistan is a country revered by every Sikh as the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. He taught reconciliation and respect between different faiths. In this, the 550th year of the Guru’s birth, the Prime Minister Imran Khan, in welcoming Sikhs to visit the birthplace of their founder, stated his desire to move in this direction, and we owe it to Pakistan’s minorities to redouble our efforts to help him and nudge him to do so.’

The full debate can be read here: https://bit.ly/2S08ec8

Asia Bibi

We are disappointed in the government’s decision not to grant Asia Bibi asylum. In the spirit of justice, religious freedom and defending those persecuted by extremists, Britain has a moral obligation to show the world we respect and uphold human rights and will give sanctuary to those oppressed overseas. In this regard, we cannot think of a more deserving case than that of Asia Bibi, and request the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office rethink their position.

Network of Sikh Organisations

 

Capt. Kamal Bakshi with his parents before the 1971 Indo-Pak war,

Missing POWs: Capt. Kamal Bakshi with his parents before the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has pledged its support for two British women in their quest for answers in relation to the case of their missing relatives who were detained during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Over four decades on, Mrs Niki Kumar and Mrs Rajwant Kaur Singh have been provided with no information as to the whereabouts of their missing brothers – Captain Kamal Bakshi, and Flt. Lt. Gurdev Singh Rai. Despite their tireless campaigning, they have been met with silence from both Indian and Pakistani authorities.

However Jas Uppal from Justice Upheld, a human rights group (affiliated to the NSO) who have been campaigning on the issue is hopeful. In 2012 the group were instrumental in securing the release of a 76 year old detained unlawfully for 36 years in a Pakistani prison. Ms Uppal says there are at least 54 other missing prisoners of war (POWs); some of whom she believes may still be alive. She has issued a petition in the Indian Supreme Court seeking an Order for answers.

Meanwhile, Ms Uppal has made representations to a number of British politicians. In January, Hilary Benn (Shadow Foreign Secretary) asked the Foreign Secretary if any representations had been made on the matter to Pakistani authorities. Although Mr Hammond acknowledged Britain’s role in reminding states of their obligations to abide by International Humanitarian Law, he said: “We regard establishing the fate and whereabouts of combatants, and arranging for the release of any surviving combatants as a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve.”

A few days later Minister of State Hugo Swire wrote to Cabinet member Priti Patel, in which he said the issue was a “bilateral matter” for India and Pakistan. Although Mr Corbyn’s office has been informed of the matter, they have not (at the timing of writing) taken any steps to raise the issue further. Although they expressed interest, Mr Corbyn’s office said, “It may not be his first priority.”

Lord Singh, the NSO’s Director has taken up the case. He has written to Baroness Scotland of Asthal – the Secretary General of the Commonwealth nations, and the High Commissioners for both India and Pakistan.

In his letter to Baroness Scotland, Lord Singh writes:

“The families of the POWs have been pleading for information for the last 45 years and there is reason to believe some prisoners may still be alive.” He went on, “in any event their families should not have to live with their continuing heartache and uncertainty.” Lord Singh has requested Baroness Scotland’s help in the matter in order to “bring closure” to the families.

Jas Uppal said: “This is a humanitarian issue of significance importance; these Officers were captured and detained as prisoners of war. The latter status affords them protection under international Conventions including the prescribed requirement of detailed records of their respective detention.”

She went on, “two of the kin of the Indian POWs are British nationals who urgently need the support of their Government to ascertain the fate of their kin. The British authorities helped and intervened in Shaker Aamer’s case; they have a good diplomatic ties to both India and Pakistan, therefore Britain is the best placed to mediate in this situation.”

Captain Kamal Bakhsi’s sister Mrs Niki Kumar said: “My parents were given hope that the politicians would resolve various issues and the prisoners of war would be released. They grew older and frailer, but never gave up hope. They were deeply religious, which helped them bear the tragedy. We had young families so we were distracted, my mother cried everyday of her life, father put up a brave front, he did not show his emotions.”

Mrs Kumar’s parents have since passed away, however she is determined to continue pursuing her brother’s case until there is some form of resolution. Virendra Sharma MP who initially raised the case with Mr Corbyn’s office said: “Any suggestion that loved ones are being kept from their families is extremely troubling. I have raised this issue with the FCO and inside the Labour Party. I hope that Mrs Niki Kumar and Mrs Rajwant Singh can both find the truth out, whatever it is, about their brother’s fates and seek some solace in that.”

 
[Ends]

Links for editors:

http://www.justiceupheld.org.uk/
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20061217/spectrum/main1.htm
http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-01-18/22899

For media inquiries please contact info@nsouk.co.uk or alternatively help@justiceupheld.org.uk

Skip to toolbar