March 21, 2023

Attack on India High Commision House violates the UN Charter

The recent incidents of violent protests by Khalistani groups at Indian High Commission offices in London and San Francisco and desecration of India’s national flag demands a scrutiny of the rights to demonstrate and free speech protected by the international human rights laws. The attack on the India High Commission Office in London that took place on March 19 2023 also prompts the scrutiny of Article 2 in Chapter 1 of the Charter of the United Nations which stipulates that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” 

In the UK, India’s foreign mission offices have been targeted by both Khalistani and Kashmiri separatists on several occasions in the past few years. By the Vienna Convention, a High Commission Office in any nation is a special real estate whose protection is the obligation and the responsibility of the host nation. Often these incidents have turned violent causing damage to property, mission staff and members of public who hold opposite views. This begs the question; how much freedom of speech and protests is good? If the protestors who have history of turning violent causing damage to property and persons, should they be allowed to protest? 

Why the London Metropolitan Police did not prevent the desecration of Indian Flag and India Commission House?

The Council of Europe has warned that hate speech and free speech should not be confused, and freedom of speech should not be taken for granted or used as an excuse for hate speech. Hate speech is an abuse of freedom of expression. When people publicly incite violence, hostility, or discrimination, then such speech should be treated as hate speech not free speech. Abusive language used by Khalistani protestors can be clearly heard from the available evidence in various videos circulating on the social media. 

Whilst it is legal to protest under UK laws, this only applies to peaceful protest and does not extend to any violence inflicted or damage caused during a protest. It must be noted that this right is not absolute and can be limited in certain circumstances. After all, the British government has a duty and obligation to protect India’s foreign offices under the Vienna Convention. 

Under various laws, police have number of powers that includes, restricting gatherings, directing the gathering to disperse, and using reasonable force for removing individuals from a public place, and arresting if they feel that it is necessary to maintain public order and peace. Protesters could be arrested and charged under the Public Order Act, 1986 if their conduct involves threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour intended to cause harassment, alarm, or distress. 

This begs the question, why has the London Metropolitan Police not used these powers to protect Indian commission’s offices and personnel from the potential damage? Why is there such indifference towards Indian diaspora and Indian institutions? In fact, during the Kashmiri separatists protests mainly comprising Pakistani and Pak Occupied Kashmir (POK) nationals on 15th August 2019, there was a scant police presence despite warnings of strong possibility of violent and distressing behaviour given the history of previous such protests. 

Besides the desecration of India’s flag that was removed by one of the protestors, two security guards were injured and several windows at the Indian High Commission were broken during the protest on 19th March. When will British authorities act? What will it take for the British police to stop such blatant abuse of right to protest? INK understands that there is another protest planned for Wednesday, 22nd March 2023 by Khalistani groups that is likely to cause damage to property and public disorder. Will the Police have the courage to ban this protest using their powers? 

UK Government should treat these vandals as serious criminals

The 19th March attacks by Khalistanis have elicited sharp denouncement from the UK Government. Foreign Office minister Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon said he was “appalled”, and the government would take the security of the Indian High Commission “seriously”. London mayor Sadiq Khan condemned “the violent disorder and vandalism”. British High Commissioner to India Alex Ellis described the incident as “disgraceful” and “totally unacceptable”. However, none of them have clarified what measures will be taken to prevent a repeat of similar events in future. Wouldn’t the Govt of UK come down harshly on these vandals if these residents of the UK start demanding that a part of the UK be cut away to create Khalistan?

If the UK has an ecosystem in which such anti-India elements can survive and thrive then such events are bound to occur again. If the UK government is not treating the perpetrators of this attack and their support system as criminals, is it adhering to Article 2 in Chapter 1 of the Charter of the United Nations?