Birmingham conference discusses HR situation in IOK

Srinagar, March 26, 2018 (PPI-OT): South Asia Centre for Peace and Human Rights (SACFPHR), UK, organised a conference titled “Peace in South Asia and the Role of Commonwealth” in the Lord Mayors Council Hall in Birmingham. The conference spread over four sessions discussed at length the political and human rights situation in occupied Kashmir. It was attended by Parliamentarians, Councillors, community leaders and human rights activists.

At the conclusion of the conference a Councillors Working Group on Kashmir was announced by the SACFPHR Chairman, Professor Nazir Ahmed Shawl. Addressing the conference, he said that the vision and longstanding commitment of Commonwealth to universal values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law motivated the members of largest Kashmiri diaspora outside the Jammu and Kashmir to voice their concern and seek the support of the political galaxy attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGAM) 2018.

“We expect them to use their collective wisdom to bring all the stakeholders of Kashmir together. The conference is being held at a time when the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is deteriorating day by day. Guns continue to roar at the Line of Control bringing death and disaster even to the innocent civilians. Peace and security of the region along with the human rights are getting jeopardised. The issue revolves around Kashmiris’ inherent and inalienable right to self-determination. Kashmiris have a right to decide their own political, social and economic destiny,” he added.

Khalid Mahmood, MP and Shadow Minister, chaired the opening session. In his address, he reiterated the Labour Party’s recently declared policy about the human rights globally. “Trade development and human rights are inseparable parts of the same conversation. While the Labour Party would seek to negotiate trade deals across the world they believe that democracy, human rights and sustainable development should be embedded in trade negotiations,” he said.

Khalid Mahmood observed that human rights of the people in occupied Kashmir are being violated by more than half a million Indian troops. He remarked that his party is concerned about the human rights abuses occurring in the world’s biggest militarized zone – Indian occupied Kashmir. He maintained that Kashmir is not a bilateral dispute between Pakistan and India but an issue concerning the right to self-determination of 16 million Kashmiris. He appreciated the holding of the conference and assured the organisers that he along with his colleagues will always welcome such fruitful deliberations.

Jess Philips, MP, was of the opinion that as the Commonwealth Summit was round the corner it would be appropriate to raise the issue with the British Government. She said that there were a lot of concerns about the human rights violations taking place in occupied Kashmir. She said any campaign on this subject should be around the people’s right to self-determination. She referred to her recent engagements at the UN and remarked that the World Body too should play the desired role in stabilising and resolving the dispute.

Shabana Mahmood, MP, classified Kashmir among seven deadliest conflicts. She implored the member states of Commonwealth to address the human suffering in occupied Kashmir. She pleaded that the voices directly in the line of fire need to be heard. She said, “Kashmir here in the UK is a cross-party issue. Status quo is not a solution. Confidence building measures followed by result-oriented negotiations can be a way forward,” she added.

Phil Bennion, former Member European Parliament (MEP), favoured a process of demilitarisation and unification of all Kashmiri voices on a single agenda. Commonwealth Conference provided a massive opportunity for quiet diplomacy to bring India and Pakistan on the negotiating table, he said.

Barrister Abdul Majeed Tramboo, the Chairman of International Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) and Permanent Representative of International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) at the UN, expressed the opinion that Commonwealth as an alliance of nations is assuming centre-stage for the UK in the post Br-exit political and economic environment.

The CHOGAM 2018 assumes importance for many reasons, he said. He endorsed the precept of quiet diplomacy for positive forward movement in Kashmir. He, however, asserted that three concrete realities are to be kept in mind while making any advocacy on Kashmir. He said, “Kashmir is a live issue with all the important portents. India and Pakistan are not talking. Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi heading a hard-line nationalist government is avoiding engagement. Initiative is desired to stop violence of every form on the ceasefire line (CFL) and an inclusive engagement process should be initiated through good offices of Commonwealth.”

The Chairman of Hurriyat Forum, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, sent a message to the conference. The message read, “Distinguished guests. We on behalf of the people of Jammu and Kashmir struggling for their survival, identity and freedom thank you for deliberating on the theme “Peace in South Asia and the role of Commonwealth”. Peaceful, honourable and durable peace in South Asia is achievable through sagacity, political will of the stake holders and tacit support of the international community. Seven decades of neglect and absence of any international initiative has created an explosive situation and a potential threat for regional and global peace.

The Commonwealth Summit being held in London should initiate an inclusive negotiating process between all the stakeholders. Kashmiris are the primary stakeholders awaiting to exercise their right to self-determination as promised by the UN. We wish the conference a grand success.”

Councillor Robert Alden, leader of the Conservative Group in Birmingham City Council, asserted that he supports the people of Kashmir in their demand for self-determination. He also informed the participants that he has brought this concern in the notice of the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.

Councillor Jon Hunt, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham City Council, said that the nationalist government in India is an impediment in establishing peaceful South Asia. He asserted that Kashmir dispute that threatens the future of South Asia needs a just solution.

Councillor Ansar Ali Khan, Assistant leader Labour Group in Birmingham City Council, said that Kashmir was not a territorial dispute. “It is an international dispute and promises made with the people of Jammu and Kashmir have not been fulfilled. Commonwealth Heads of the States should have no doubt that there will be no peace in South Asia until the Kashmir dispute is resolved,” he added.

Councillor Mahboob Bhatti pleaded that a cross-party councillors delegation should go to occupied Kashmir to have an eyewitness account of the situation and the Indian government should make this visit possible.

Councillor Zafar Choudhry referred to the gross human rights violations by Indian troops in occupied Kashmir. He invoked the participants to promote the principled stand of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. He also chaired the councillors panel and declared that a closely coordinated effort will be made in Birmingham on behalf of the West Midland councillors to provide a strategic input for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Councillor Mariam Khan articulated the need to use social media to highlight the situation of occupied Kashmir and the Kashmir dispute. She also suggested that the youth in the diaspora are an asset who can be educated to join the lobbying efforts on Kashmir. Councillor Asma Rathore said that the Commonwealth conference was an opportunity to highlight the issue of Kashmiris’ suffering.

A Councillors’ Working Group on Kashmir was also constituted in Birmingham. It will be comprised of Waseem Zafar coordinator, Mariam Khan, Jabbar Riaz, Jon Hunt, Robert Alden, Zakir Choudhry, Muhammad Nazir, Shafique Shah, Marriam Jan and Allah Ditta. The other members from High Wycombe and Luton will be Mahboob Bhatti and Asma Rathore.

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