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Britain’s Labour Party calls for global human rights monitors in Kashmir

Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, says despite the “profound problems” in Pakistan, it would not be right to term it a “terrorist state”.

india Updated: Oct 21, 2017 22:19 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Labour Party,Kashmir,Emily Thornberry
Britain's opposition Labour Party shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry speaks at the Labour party Conference in Brighton. (Reuters File photo)

Britain’s opposition Labour Party wants India to allow international human rights monitors to visit Jammu and Kashmir to verify reports of violations since the current situation in the state “needs to be sorted out”.

Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, told members of the Indian Journalists Association here on Friday that if India has nothing to fear, it should allow human rights monitors into the state.

Impressing by its performance in the June general election, the party’s views on key issues such as Brexit, its relationship with India and the Indian community has been under more focus.

Thornberry, 57, who under Britain’s shadow government system would be the foreign secretary if Labour won the election, spoke on a range of issues, including party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in relation to the 2002 Gujarat riots.

She highlighted the fact that it was a Labour government in office when India became independent in 1947, and that she was elected from the Islington South and Finsbury seat, once held by Dadabhai Naoroji — the first Indian elected to the House of Commons.

“Our current position on Kashmir comes from a concern for human rights. We hear a kaleidoscope of stories, from the extremes to the less extreme. The human rights of Kashmiris continue to bubble up. I have spoken to the (Indian) high commissioner about this.

“Kashmiris want to live in peace. That should be our starting point. I know there are people in India who say these stories are exaggerated or indeed downright lies. And if that’s right, it does seem to me that India has nothing to fear from allowing human rights monitors into Kashmir in order to be able to support that it isn’t true,” she said.

Refraining from going beyond the official position — that the issue needs to be settled by India and Pakistan, and that Britain had no role — Thornberry said: “It is our place to keep saying that it needs to be resolved in a peaceful way. This is not radical, this is common sense.”

Thornberry said she had “sympathy” for India suffering terrorism, “and so many of those terrorist attacks do seem to come from Pakistan”, but added that despite the “profound problems” in Pakistan, it would not be right to term it a “terrorist state”.

On Corbyn’s criticism of Modi, Thornberry insisted the Labour leader was a “pragmatist”, but one who would not hold back on issues of concern such as human rights. Corbyn had, in the past, opposed Modi’s travelling to Britain, but then met him during the prime minister’s November 2015 visit.

“Modi is a democratically elected leader of the biggest democracy in the world. He is the legitimate leader, so we begin with that. I have been in many meetings with Jeremy with people who would seem to be our friends and with people who would not seem to be our natural allies.

“He (Corbyn) is always the same — he will always criticise where he believes criticism should be levelled. And what you see is what you get. It would not be right to say he is not a pragmatist and would not be right to say that he wishes to turn his back on one of the most important countries. So yes I imagine the meetings (between Corbyn and Modi) would be heated, but I think that’s the way it should be. Proper friendships have to be based on honesty,” she said.

Thornberry, however, was critical of Modi’s record on economic reform: “Despite the reform agenda promised by Prime Minister Modi…I believe he once said that the government has no business to be in business. We have not seen the anticipated wave of privatisation.

“Nowhere is that more evident than in India’s banking sector, which remains dominated by state-owned institutions, accounting for 70% of all the lending in India. I don’t doubt that UK-India trade ties will remain strong after Brexit, but we need to be clear eyed and realistic about how much can be achieved.”

A Labour government would ensure that human rights would be “fully embedded” in trade negotiations with India after Brexit, she said, and went on to temper her comments about how the world “needs India’s leadership” and is “crying out for India’s leadership”, particularly with the “decline of the United States” and India’s leading role in tackling climate change.

The Labour party added two Indian-origin MPs to its group in the House of Commons in the June election — Tanmanjit Singh Dhesi and Preet Kaur Gill — taking the tally to seven in the 12-member group of Indian-origin MPs.

According to some analyses, Labour has been losing sections of its traditional base in the Indian community to the Conservatives in recent years, but besides the two new MPs, its five Indian-origin MPs won with increased margins in the June election.

First Published: Oct 21, 2017 21:02 IST