An information tribunal on whether the British government must release files to the National Archives relating to official British advice for a military operation against Sikhs in 1984 will conclude tomorrow (Thursday 8th March).
A decision based on the tribunals findings will be announced later this year, with no date yet set for it.
In 2014, National Archives files disclosed that the British government gave military advice for the Indian attack on Darbar Sahib (commonly referred to as the Golden Temple) in 1984. This shocking revelation led the then-Prime Minister David Cameron to set up a short inquiry under the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, which confirmed that Britain did dispatch a Special Air Service officer to India, who provided advice for a military operation against Sikhs.
The Indian Army attacked Darbar Sahib in June 1984 (referred to as Operation Blue Star) on the orders of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. There was an indiscriminate, full scale military bombardment of the complex which resulted in thousands of civilian deaths.
However, some files remain undisclosed, despite efforts via the Freedom of Information Act. It is thought that these files contain embarrassing information for the British government that likely link the military advice it gave for such a deadly operation to trade or commercial considerations, including arms sales, with India.
‘It is quite unusual that we are not allowed to be part of our own appeal’
The current First Tier Tribunal is hearing evidence from Foreign Office officials in secret. Human rights law firm KRW Law are appealing for the release of the information on behalf of Phil Miller, an investigative journalist who initially discovered the provision of military advice. A spokesman for KRW Law said that ‘it is quite unusual that we are not allowed to be part of our own appeal’.
The current Conservative government has been averse to the release any files, not least because it relates to a time when its party was in office. Post-Brexit there will also be a wariness to maintain warm relations with India in the run up to a potential trade deal between the countries. Miller is sceptical of this, remarking: ‘Disclosing documents from three decades ago will not harm diplomatic relations’. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto said that the party ‘remains committed to an independent inquiry into Britain’s military role in the 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar.’