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Lords Debate on Article 18

July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Singh in Press Releases - (0 Comments)

Lords Debate on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Lord Singh asks Government to Look at the Reasons why People Become Perpetrators of Religious Violence

In a debate led by Lord Alton last week, members of the House of Lords debated the importance of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whilst reflecting on religious violence across the world.

Lord Singh the vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom said:

“We have heard moving accounts of Muslims in Burma and Tamils in Sri Lanka persecuted by militant Buddhists, with Christians persecuted and marginalised in much of the Middle East, Sudan and other parts of Africa. Yesterday’s Times carried a moving article by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the plight of Christians in Iraq. We are all disturbed by the loss of life in conflict between the Shias, Sunnis and Alawites in Syria and Iraq and the persecution of Ahmadiyyas and Shias in Pakistan. I could go on. We can continue to condemn such killings, but if we are to make real progress, we need to look hard and dispassionately at why people of religion become either victims or perpetrators of religious hatred.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I speak frankly. Religions do not help themselves by claims of exclusivity or superiority. This simply demeans other members of our one human race and suggests that they, the others, are lesser beings. We all know what happens in the school playground when one boy boasts—it is usually boys—that, “My dad is bigger or stronger or cleverer than your dad”. The end result is fisticuffs. My appeal to our different religions and the leaders of religion is to stop playing children’s games. Guru Nanak witnessed the suffering caused by this children’s game of “my religion is better than yours” in conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the sub-continent in the 15th century. In his very first sermon, he declared that the one God of us all is not in the least bit interested in our different religious labels, but in our contribution to a fairer and more peaceful world.”

He added: “There is another important area that must be tackled if we are to move away from continuing conflict between religions. Most religious scriptures were written many years after the death of the founder of the religion. Scriptural texts often contain a complex amalgam of history, social and cultural norms of the day that can easily become dated. They can easily mask and distort important underlying ethical imperatives about our responsibilities to one another and to future generations. It is sometimes claimed that often-contradictory texts in different religions are the literal word of God. Those who wish to resort to violence in the name of religion can all too easily ignore the context and use quotations in scriptures to justify negative attitudes and violent behaviour towards others.

I believe that what is required is greater open dialogue that puts transient social and cultural norms embedded in scriptures in their true context. It is not easy. My plea to our Government is for them to give an energetic lead in promoting true interfaith dialogue that puts distorting history and culture in their true perspective to reveal common underlying ethical imperatives in our different faiths. Such a dialogue would provide sane and uplifting guidance for responsible and peaceful living in the complex world of today.”

Lord Singh asks Government to Consider Human Rights Whilst Marking ‘Record Level’ Trade:

During a debate on ‘record level’ British trade with China chaired by Lord Popat in the House of Lords this week, Lord Singh spoke about the untenable position Britain finds itself in, whilst trading with a nation notorious for human rights violations.

Lord Singh said: “My Lords, according to a report on 17 June in the Times, the Business Minister, Michael Fallon, said that human rights must not stop trade with China. Does the Minister agree that that statement demeans the very concept of human rights?”

Lord Popat, failed to directly answer the question.

Last year Lord Singh raised the issue of Britain’s ‘selective’ approach to human rights, where the government was swift to condemn the use of sarin in Syria, but silent over the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

He said other world powers like India, China, Russia and the USA behave in the same way, making a coordinated approach on human rights “virtually impossible.”

Lord Singh quoted, Andrei Sakharov, the Russian nuclear physicist, turned human rights activist, who said: “there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has challenged measures proposed in the Assisted Dying Bill in a debate last Friday involving a record 130 Peers.

The Bill is a Private Members Bill (PMB) put forward by Lord Falconer of Thornton, a former Lord Chancellor.

If enacted the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance to end their own lives, applying to those with less than 6 months to live.

During the 10-hour debate Lord Singh said:

“My Lords, the Bill is flawed on many counts. In attempting to show compassion to a few, it neglects due compassion to many thousands of others. It has created immense fear in vulnerable people that they are being seen as a problem by society, with consequent damage to their sense of self-worth. Much has been said about autonomy in this debate—about our right to take decisions about our lives. But all too often it ignores the reality that what we do or omit to do affects others. This narrow view of autonomy is little more than an unhealthy obsession with self, which is considered one of the five deadly sins in Sikh scripture. The reality is that all of us are part of a wider society. What we say or do affects others. Importantly, our attitudes and decisions are influenced by those around us. Relatives, through what they say or omit to say, or simply by not being around, can affect the mood or even the will to live of the vulnerable.”

He added: “The Bill stipulates the need for a “settled” state of mind for those contemplating assisted suicide. A feeling of not being wanted or of being a burden on others can, importantly, tip the balance towards a settled state of mind of not wanting to live. The proposed legislation moves us even further from focusing on enhanced care and compassion for the vulnerable in society. Worse, it can encourage uncaring or greedy relatives to persuade vulnerable people that their lives are not worth living. All of us can at times feel that what Shakespeare called the,“slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, are too much for us. However, it is also true that loving care and compassion can change our mood. This is particularly true for the infirm and vulnerable. Daily reports of abuse of those who cannot care for themselves by family members or in care homes remind us how far we have moved as a society from our duty to help the vulnerable. Sikh teachings remind us that our own sense of well-being lies in devoting time to the well-being of others. It is a sentiment echoed by all major faiths. Near where I live is a new housing development with a large hoarding advertising the development with the words ‘Assisted Living’. My Lords, the need of the hour is not to look to ways of helping people kill themselves in the name of compassion, but to make compassion and concern for the vulnerable, central to life in civilised society.”

Many Hon. Peers endorsed Lord Singh’s sentiments.

 

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations gave a Sikh view on abortion last week, during a debate secured by Baroness Knight of Collingtree.

He said, “My Lords, as a Sikh, I am totally opposed to abortion on any grounds except that of real and serious danger to the mother’s health, and it is important that those who facilitate gender-selective abortions should be punished with the full rigour of the law. However, laws cannot create good behaviour; they can only define the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour. We must also look to education in tackling negative and outmoded cultural practices.

The Sikh religion is not a religion in which “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” are strictly imposed; Sikh teachings are couched in terms of gentle guidance about what we should or should not do to lead a responsible life. One of the few exceptions is a total condemnation of female infanticide. Sadly, this was all too common in the India of 500 years ago and was linked to the inferior status of women throughout the world.

From the very start of the religion, Guru Nanak taught the dignity and complete equality of women. Sikh women have always been able to lead prayers and occupy any religious position. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, gave women the name or title Kaur—literally, “princess”—to emphasise their dignity and complete equality. A Sikh woman does not have to take her husband’s name but remains an individual in her own right.

Despite the clarity of such teachings, negative sub-continent culture for some, even in the Sikh community, leads to discrimination against women and girls. Perversely, it is women who are often responsible, with mothers lavishing extra attention on male children. Even in the West today, a new birth is frequently accompanied by a joyous cry, “It’s a boy!”. It is not so long ago that the birth of a girl to royalty was greeted as a national calamity, on a par with the loss of a test match.

We all have to work much harder to fight gender discrimination and gender prejudice through tighter laws and education.”

Other Peers who participated in the debate, included Lord Patten, Baroness Barker, Baroness Hollins, The Lord Bishop of Leicester and Baroness Flather.

 

 

 

Following pressure from the Downing Street boycott, and further discussions with Lord Singh, there is now a slight glimmer of hope that the UK government may offer some gesture of remorse over previous UK assistance to the government of India. This may be in the form of a statement by the Prime Minister at the Downing Street event, but it is by no means certain and we should continue to apply pressure in every possible way.

Sikh members of the Armed Services are also likely to support the NSO stance in not attending the Downing Street function. The boycott has however, posed a major ethical dilemma for some members of the Sikh Council. They have been asked to support it,  however there has been no response. It appears that some, considering a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister more important than standing up for Sikh values, will probably attend.

We wish them well.

UK Sikhs are deeply disappointed by the UK government’s attitude to Sikh human rights. While the present government cannot in any way be held responsible for support given by a predecessor government of 30 years ago, the present government’s statement that the assistance then given was ‘only minimal’, was deeply hurtful to Sikhs, and insensitive to others concerned with human rights.

The same seeming indifference to Sikh human rights was also evident in the House of Lords during questions on the UK government’s advocacy of a UN led investigation into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Director NSO, Lord Singh asked Baroness Warsi, the Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, if the UK government would consider supporting a similar investigation into the highly organised mass killing of thousands of Sikhs in 1984.

Lord Singh cited evidence from the American Embassy in New Delhi that the number of Sikhs killed in just three days in 1984 exceeded the total number of victims of General Pinochet’s cruel and arbitrary seventeen year rule in Chile.

Baroness Warsi declined to answer the question, saying instead, that she had spent ‘an hour and a half’ in a meeting with the Sikh community.

Following discussions in the NSO and with other Sikh organisations, Lord Singh was asked to pursue the point and ask the UK government to show the same degree of commitment in addressing Sikh human rights, as they were showing in addressing human rights abuses against the Tamil population of Sri Lanka.

Lord Singh accordingly put a written question to Baroness Warsi, again raising the apparent lack of even-handedness. Baroness Warsi again gave a response which totally ignored the question. Lord Singh complained to House of Lords officials who agreed that his question had not been answered, and the Minister was formally requested to respond to Lord Singh’s original question.

During Questions on 26th March Adam Holloway MP asked the Prime Minister what more could be done to justice for the appalling events at Amritsar thirty years ago.

In his reply the Prime Minister acknowledged the continuing hurt to the Sikh community and described the events of 1984 as ‘a stain on the post-independence history of India’. He continued: ‘we cannot interfere in the Indian justice system, nor should we’.

As British citizens, we are entitled to a clear answer to the question put by Lord Singh, ‘why is it fine for our government to concern itself with human rights abuse in Sri Lanka but wrong for similar concern to be shown to Sikhs in India?’ Are Sikhs lesser human beings?

The Prime Minister concluded his reply with an all too familiar patronising comment: ‘The most important thing we can do in this country is celebrate the immense contribution that British Sikhs make to our country………’

The contribution detailed by the Prime Minister failed to mention the most important contribution Sikhs to society, whether here or in India. That is, in the spirit of our Gurus’ teachings, a total commitment to human rights, not only of Sikhs, but of all peoples everywhere.  The true message of Baisakhi is that we should always be ready to stand up and be counted in our concern for the human rights of all people whatever the cost. It is a commitment that cost our 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur his life defending the right of Hindus to worship in the manner of their choice against Mughal persecution. It is the same commitment that led to the 1984 genocide against Sikhs for their earlier opposition to the three year dictatorship of Mrs Gandhi.

We believe that it will be a betrayal of still grieving families in India, for UK Sikhs to participate in a UK government celebration that not only ignores their trauma and suffering, but also ignores the underlying commitment to human rights central to the festival of Baisakhi.

We urge all Sikhs to boycott the Downing Street function as a charade that ignores the very meaning of Baisakhi.

NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS UK 
PRESS RELEASE
 
Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living—Guru Nanak
Truth is high, but higher still is trade—1984 UK Government.
 

London: (08 Feb 2014); On Tuesday 4th February representatives of many Sikh organisations met with Rt Hon Hugo Swire, Minister MP at the Foreign Office to express concerns over the Cabinet Secretary’s Report on revelations on UK government support for Indian Army action against Sikhs in the Golden Temple.

SUMMARY

UK Sikhs are particularly concerned that despite a promised full inquiry, the Terms of Reference of the Report appear to have been designed to mitigate embarrassment resulting from incriminating documents inadvertently coming into the public domain. The Report of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood is selective in its examination of documentation and concludes that British involvement was minimal. No mention is made of the background of a decade of increasingly active persecution of Sikhs by the Congress government as detailed in reports by Amnesty International and other human rights organisation.

The then Cabinet’s collective bias against Sikhs in the released papers is seen in a consistent labelling of Sikhs with a pick and mix assortment of pejorative descriptions such as separatist, dissident, extremist, fundamentalist etc. to produce a negative image of the community. The documents also showed the absence of a single word of sympathy for the thousands killed in the attack on the Golden Temple on one of the holiest days in the Sikh calendar and the organised widespread killing of Sikhs later in the year. The Inquiry Report instead seeks to show minimal UK military involvement.

The unanswered question remains why and on what criteria the UK government decided to accede to the then Indian government request for military assistance against India’s 2% Sikh community.

DETAILED CONCERNS

1.    Trade of greater importance than Human Rights of Sikhs Lord Singh, Director NSO was invited to meet the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood on 21st January. 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 that the documents showed that the only concern of the then government seemed to be that 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.

·      Cabinet papers reveal several other references to arms sale concerns. A two-hour search by an NSO researcher at the National Records Office at Kew, found additional material and importantly evidence of key documents being removed. It has since been confirmed that the missing file related to ‘military intelligence relating to India for 1984’.

 

·      Lord Singh also informed Sir Jeremy Heywood of a personal experience when he went to see a former Cabinet member in November 1984 to express concern over UK government 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’. 

2.    Cabinet papers show that all members of the then Cabinet wilfully ignored the reality of the persecution of Sikhs in India despite evidence then available.

·      The UK consistently says that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. Yet a policy decision seems to have been taken by the 1984 Cabinet to give unquestioning support to a Congress government with democratically tainted credentials in military action against India’s minority Sikh community. The decision ignored widely available evidence of the systematic persecution of Sikhs. This freely available evidence included:

·      A detailed report by Amnesty International in 1983 (AI Index: ASA 20/01/84 Distr: SC/CO) documenting widespread human rights abuses by the government.

·      A Report by highly respected Hindu civil rights lawyers entitled ‘Who Are the Guilty’, was smuggled out of India in November 84 and personally placed by Lord Singh in the pigeonholes of every MP.

·      A presentation was also given to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights who unanimously decided to send a two man investigating team to India. The Indian Government refused them visas. They appealed saying that their inquiry would help reduce tensions in the UK. They were still refused visas.

3.    Censorship of foreign journalists.

·      Jane Corbyn, a highly respected journalist from Channel 4, in India at the time of the organised killing of Sikhs in the first week of November, had her film confiscated by the Indian authorities. She did however manage to smuggle a duplicate copy to the UK. This censorship of foreign journalists is mentioned in the documents and was only relaxed after the end of the organised killings of Sikhs throughout India.

·      Perusal of the released papers also reveals Cabinet discussions on the need to curb the UK media against allowing any reporting or interviews about or with Sikhs that might offend the Indian government.

·      Unhelpful use of pejorative language in Cabinet papers to tarnish the image of UK Sikhs.

·      Reading through the documents gives the impression that anyone who expressed concern over the plight of Sikhs in India was immediately labelled an extremist by the UK government.

·      The papers show several examples of government pressure on the media to deny Sikhs a voice.

·      This use of pejorative language to smear a religious minority (referred to earlier) is underlined by Lord Singh’s personal experience. In November 84, two Scotland Yard officers visited him early on a Sunday morning. They said they were concerned about tensions in the Sikh community and asked Lord Singh if he was ‘an extremist or a moderate’? To emphasise the absurdity of such terms he replied he was ‘extremely moderate’. They then asked if he supported Sikh fundamentalism, to which he replied that the fundamentals of Sikh teachings were about the equality of all human beings, respect for other ways of life and a commitment to work for the betterment of society, ‘Yes I do try to be a Sikh fundamentalist’.

ACTION DESIRED

The present government cannot be blamed for what happened 30 years ago. But the Cabinet in 1984 must have been aware that the day chosen for the attack on the Golden Temple was the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, (the founder of the Golden Temple) when the huge Temple complex was full to overflowing with innocent pilgrims. The reason given was to remove supposed extremists. The unanswered question is why then were 40 other gurdwaras in Punjab attacked at the same time? Today the UK government should reflect on the continuing hurt of the Sikh community, including the then government giving unthinking support to the cruel and vindictive Mrs Gandhi. To many outside the Sikh community, the events of 1984 are, in the words of the poet, ’dying embers’; to Sikhs they remain ‘red hot coals’ now fanned afresh by the revelation of British government involvement.

The events of 1984 damaged the previous close relationship and mutual respect between the Hindu and Sikh communities. 30 years after the event it is time for an open, independent inquiry that that punishes the guilty and leads to healing and closure.

Two of the three main political parties in India have openly declared their support for such an inquiry, and even Raul Gandhi speaking for the Congress has agreed that there was Congress involvement in the genocide.

Sikhs in the UK call on the government and UK political parties to give their strong backing for a long due open inquiry. In response to a question from Paul Uppal MP, in the Commons, the Foreign Secretary obliquely supported the need for such an inquiry; it should now be given support at the highest government level.

Sikhs are duty bound to stand up for the human rights of all people (Sarbat Da Bhalla), and in this spirit we call on the UK government to show that the subordination of human rights to arms sales to any part of the world is no longer present policy. If the UK government does not do this it forfeits any moral right to lecture other countries on the abuse of human rights.

All Sikh Organisations that attended the Foreign Office briefing showed heartening unanimity in their statements. If we can maintain this unity, we have a real chance in meeting our common objective of an open independent inquiry into the holocaust of Sikhs in 1984.

 
                             ———————————————————
 [Ends]
 
Notes to Editors.
1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 130 Gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
 
Hardeep Singh
Press Secretary
The Network of Sikh Organisations
http://nsouk.co.uk

London: (02 Feb 2014)

In a recent rally in India Rahul Gandhi was reported to say some congress politicians ‘were probably involved’ in the Delhi anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984.

Asked to comment by the Times of India Lord Singh said:

“I welcome Rahul Gandhi’s statement accepting that that ‘some Congressmen were probably involved’ in the November 84 genocide of Sikhs. He also agrees that the attacks on Sikhs were unwarranted and evil. In view of this will Rahul Gandhi institute an open inquiry as to why no action was taken against a spokesman on All India Radio repeatedly called for the killing of Sikhs with the words ‘khoon ka badla khoon’? Similar incitement in Rwanda led to a lengthy imprisonment by the International Criminal Court.”

He added: “In view of the need to improve relations between the Hindu and Sikh communities, will Mr. Gandhi agree to an open and independent Truth and Reconciliation Inquiry into the events of 1984 that moves to punish those responsible for violence on either side so that we can move to closure on this unfortunate period in Indian History?”

 [Ends]

Notes to Editors.

1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 100 Gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK. 

Hardeep Singh
Press Secretary
The Network of Sikh Organisations 
www.nsouk.co.uk

London: (13th of Jan 2014) The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) can confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has been in contact with Lord Singh, further to a leak of documents, indicating Thatcher’s approval of SAS collusion with the Indian government’s attack on the Golden Temple in 1984.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron has ordered an inquiry into the then governments involvement.

The FCO have readily accepted the offer of support from Lord Singh to support any investigation.

[Ends}

 

Notes to Editors.

1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 100 Gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.

Hardeep Singh

Press Secretary

The Network of Sikh Organisations

http://www.nsouk.co.uk/

London: (17th of Jan 2014) Leading academics and local residents join Lord Singh Director NSO, to urge Mr. Nawaz Sharif the Pakistani Prime Minister, to help preserve a historic gurdwara in Wazirabad, Gujranwala District. The gurdwara known as Guru Kotha, was named after Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth Guru of the Sikhs. Nadir Cheema, from The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) approached Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the NSO’s Director for support.

In an open letter to Pakistan’s Prime Minister the signatories write:

“It should be a matter of pride for you, as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, that the Muslim residents of Wazirabad, listed in this letter, were the first to show their concern about the state of the gurdwara and brought this to our attention. In the last ten years around 200 mosques have been restored in Indian Punjab with the help of Sikh and Hindu communities. Showing such a measure of mutual respect for each other’s religious sentiments could play a huge part in producing sustainable peace and coexistence between two nations.”

Nadir Cheema from SOAS said, ”I approached Lord Indarjit Singh on behalf of Muslim residents of Wazirabad, Gujranwala District (Pakistani Punjab). The residents had been trying to preserve the gurdwara in the city of Wazirabad, which is illegally occupied and incessantly encroached. The gurdwara was named after Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth of Sikh Gurus. Lord Singh encouraged me to take the matter up with higher authorities; he supported and guided me at every step. He directly wrote a letter to the High Commissioner of Pakistan and is the main signatory of the letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, which is also supported by senior Sikh academics at British universities.”

He added “The High Commissioner of Pakistan in London has assured me that he will forward the letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan with his strongest recommendation for the preservation of the historic gurdwara in Wazirabad. We, the residents of Wazirabad, are highly indebted to Lord Singh for his support. Such endeavours will help us to revive the plural culture of Punjab which transcended religious boundaries for centuries.”

[Ends]

Notes to Editors.

1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 100 Gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK. 

Hardeep Singh

Press Secretary

The Network of Sikh Organisations

http://nsouk.co.uk

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