Date: 8/16/2005


SIKH FEDERATION (UK) /// PRESS RELEASE /// Monday 15 August 2005/// ON INDIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY UK GOVERNMENT SIGNALS CHANGE IN ATTITUDE TOWARDS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN INDIA /// In the last few months the Sikh Federation (UK) has been challenging the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through MPs about its position on human rights abuses in India. In a letter received at the weekend and on the back of the Nanavati Commission report the UK Government has confirmed it has been revisiting its position on whether to "support a UN inquiry into the events of 1984". The Foreign Office has said "it is for the government of India to investigate and bring culprits to justice." However, the UK Government has also indicated it is closely watching the outcomes from the Nanavati Commission report to see what actions are taken by the Indian government. /// Bhai Amrik Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: "The signal by the UK Government of its willingness to take matters to the UN on behalf of Sikhs is significant. Given India's track record over the last 21 years prosecutions against the perpetrators of the anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984 is unlikely. We urge Sikhs, Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations up and down the country to keep up pressure on MPs to ensure the UK Government push for a UN investigation into the events of 1984. The investigation must look at the failure of successive Indian Governments and ensure those responsible for the indiscriminate killings of Sikhs are prosecuted." /// Another key issue where the Sikh Federation (UK) has been lobbying is that of release of Sikh political prisoners. The letter from the Foreign Office states: "We are not indifferent to the problem of long term imprisonment without trial, and the wider issues of judicial reform and the need for a fairer, more efficient system for managing undertrials (prisoners awaiting trial) in Indian prisons. The context is one of hundreds of thousands of undertrials in Indian prisons." /// The Foreign Office letter has also released some startling facts about the seriousness of the situation in India. It has indicated there are "approximately 225,000 in Indian prisons awaiting trial, which is equivalent to 74% of the total prison population. Recent media reports have highlighted the cases of five people held without charge or trial for over thirty years (54 years in one case). There are vast numbers of cases pending in the Indian judicial system (the most pessimistic estimates are of around 30 million)." /// Bhai Narinderjit Singh, General Secretary of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: "India should be ashamed by the details revealed by the UK Foreign Office. On the one hand the Indian Government is totally failing to bring to justice the named murders of over 20,000 innocent Sikh men, women and children in the November 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and on the other many Sikh political prisoners are being held for many years under false or fabricated charges and some without trial. If the Indian Government is genuinely apologetic about the events of 1984 this must be followed by actions that demonstrate its remorse. All Sikh political prisoners should be released without further delay or it will be clear to the international world that Sikhs will never be treated with any respect or dignity in India." /// The Foreign Office concludes its letter by stating: "We do raise these broader issues during official-level discussions with the Indian authorities, and we are concerned about the wider human rights dimension (i.e. lengthy undertrials)." The letter also acknowledges the disappointment expressed by UK MPs that the Foreign Office is not doing enough to raise the issue of Sikhs and long term imprisonment without trial. However, the Foreign Office has now explicitly indicated in writing that it "will specifically raise these concerns- as matters of legitimate UK public and parliamentary interest- with both the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the National Human Rights Commission." Rob Marris MP, the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for UK Sikhs has written to say he will be following this up with the Foreign Office. /// Gurjeet Singh National Press Secretary /// Sikh Federation (UK) /// .........................000000000