Australian Senator distances herself from Kashmir speech

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Ms. Lee Rhiannon gave a strong speech on alleged human rights abuse in Kashmir on November 23. Her speech was even cited in official statements by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

An Australian senator who delivered a strong speech last week on alleged human rights abuse in Kashmir has tried to distance herself from the speech, with her office saying that subject was outside her “portfolio”.

Greens MP Lee Rhiannon’s representative said that Kashmir was not part of her focus area though she delivered the speech on November 23 describing Jammu and Kashmir facing “occupation”.

“Although she gave this speech, she does not hold the relevant portfolio,” said a representative of Ms Rhiannon to The Hindu on Monday explaining that she would not elaborate on the allegations contained in her statement.

The speech was noticed in South Asia as Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) cited it in official press statements. The Ministry of External Affairs has not yet responded to the Senator’s comments.

The Senator’s comments are significant as high-level bilateral visits are expected to take place between India and Australia in near future. “Foreign minister Julie Bishop should be exploring every avenue to resolve the current tensions and assist to promote peace and justice in the region,” she said explaining that nuclear-powered India and Pakistan should be encouraged to find solution to the Kashmir issue.

“Since July, Srinagar, the capital city of Kashmir has had its mobile phone network shut down, many newspaper offices have been raided. In August, staff in a Srinagar hospital covered their eyes with patches as an act of solidarity with the children and adults hit with pellets. Doctors and nurses are bearing the brunt of the war crimes,” said Ms Rhiannon who argued that the government of Australia should take interest in resolving the crisis in Kashmir.

Ms Rhiannon said in her speech that Australia has a deep connection with the Kashmir issue and it goes back to 1950 when Lieutenant General Robert Nimmo became chief military observer following which a series of Australian officials served as part of UNMOGIP till 1985. She also cited the role of sixth chief justice of Australia, Owen Dixon, who was appointed in 1950 as the mediator between India and Pakistan.

Ms Rhiannon represents the Greens party of Australia and is a champion of human rights in the world. She was detained in Colombo in 2013 briefly during a fact-finding mission on alleged rights abuse by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the war against Tamil separatists.

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