Kashmir: Keir Starmer must stand up for human rights in the region, campaigners say

LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer’s declaration that the Kashmir crisis is a “bilateral” matter for India and Pakistan has triggered uproar from solidarity campaigners.

Last year, an emergency motion was passed at the Labour Party conference stating that Kashmiris should have the right to self-determination.

However, following a backlash, this policy was not included in the 2019 election manifesto, which only briefly mentions the Kashmir conflict.

Last month, Sir Keir met with Labour Friends of India (LFIN), and has now asserted that the Kashmir crisis is a bilateral matter for India and Pakistan. 

Kashmir_Rallay
Image: Colonel Sardar Ilyas @Wikimedia Commons

In a statement, Sir Keir said: “Britons of Indian origin contribute so much to the UK and to the Labour Party. I’m committed to working closely with Labour Friends of India to rebuild trust with the community. We must not allow issues of the sub-continent to divide communities here.

“Any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament, and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully. Labour is an internationalist Party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere.

“A Labour Government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India and to co-operate on the global stage on issues such as climate change. I look forward to meeting the Indian High Commissioner in due course to open a renewed dialogue between the Labour Party and the people of India.”

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However, campaigners from the Kashmir Solidarity Movement (KSM) have written a letter to Sir Keir urging him to take a stronger stand on human rights in the region.

The letter states: “In your statements you refer to your commitment and that of the Labour Party to human rights, yet you say nothing about the shocking and widely-reported increase in gross violations in Kashmir over the past year; mass arrests of political leaders; lawyers, trade unionists and ordinary people including minors; widespread torture; sexual violence; a complete communications blackout and clampdown on freedom of movement. The situation was so grave that Genocide Watch issued an alert for Indian-administered Kashmir.”

It adds: “For the Labour Party to truly claim to support principles of internationalism and human rights, it must stand in solidarity with the people of Jammu & Kasmir.”

The movement called on Starmer to retract his statement on Kashmir, reaffirm the party’s support for human rights and self-determination in the region, meet with British Kashmiris from both sides of the area and work with the government to help bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Speaking to Redaction Politics, a spokesperson for the movement said: “KSM would like Starmer to withdraw the statement. In particular, retract that the Kashmir conflict is a bilateral issue.

“His statement not only affects British Kashmiris who are often not allowed to travel to Indian occupied Kashmir but also Kashmiris living under the occupation, as Labour Party’s alignment with anti-Kashmiri groups signals acceptance of human rights violations in IOK.”

The Kashmir region has been disputed territory between India and Pakistan for decades, with each country controlling part of the area.

Last year, the Indian government revoked the special status of its Jammu and Kashmir region – the country’s only Muslim majority region.

Screenshot 2020-05-05 at 14.11.45
Image: Chatham House @Flickr

Campaigners from Socialists of Colour also released a statement calling on the party to stand in solidarity with the people of Kashmir.

They said: “Given Britain’s colonial history in India – which set the grounds for partition and subsequently Kashmir becoming a disputed region – we believe that Kashmir is an international issue. 

“We cannot turn our backs on the human rights abuses of which are so severe that Genocide Watch released an alert over Kashmir.

“Kashmir is one of the most militarized zones in the world. There are thousands of rape cases, enforced disappearances, mass and unmarked graves and disgraceful acts of violence against children, women and men. 

“Labour must not turn its back on Kashmiris and must condemn the rise of fascism in India. To turn our backs as a Party is appalling and goes against our socialist values of internationalism. 

“We call on the Party to reflect and stand in solidarity with the people of Kashmir.”

Last year the Labour Party were forced to shift their policy on Kashmir after conference following a backlash from voters of Indian heritage.

Former chairman Ian Lavery clarified that “the Labour party will not take a pro-Indian or pro-Pakistan stance on Kashmir”.

The Labour Party were contacted for comment.

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