Author’s Recommended Posts
Syria’s Suffering Continues Unabated While Minorities are Targeted – Christians forced to special pay taxes to militant Islamist group: “Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome”
Syria’s Suffering Continues Unabated while Minorities are Targeted
Speech in the House of Lords on Thursday February 27th 2014:
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for tabling this Motion for debate today and for the tone that she set in her opening remarks. I refer the House to my non-financial interests as honorary president of UK Copts, a board member of the Aid to the Church in Need charity and a patron of various human rights groups that work in the region.
Earlier in our debate, my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond made an important and authoritative speech. I entirely agreed with his remarks about Syria and later in my remarks I will concentrate on what is happening there today. As he spoke, I reflected that I first met him in 1980 when he was our distinguished ambassador in Syria. With the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives. Perhaps in the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said to the House, we should remember that.
During that visit, we met with Ḥafez al-Assad, Yasser Arafat, King Hussein and Anwar Sadat.
In our subsequent report, we advocated a two-state approach as the only one likely to achieve sustainable peace between Israel and its neighbours.
Our visit was three months after the Muslim Brotherhood had made an assassination attempt on Ḥafez al-Assad, and his response was then to align Syria with Iran. King Hussein declared Jordan’s support for Iraq. One week after we met Assad, he was in Moscow signing a mutual friendship treaty. Depressingly, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup indicated, the lines in today’s conflict are not newly drawn.
In 1980, I wrote about the repressive nature of the region’s regimes—repressive then and repressive now. Iran’s human rights record remains appalling. Saudi Arabia, referred to in this debate as our strategic ally in the region, also commits egregious violations of human rights and remains one of the deadliest exporters of global terror. Back in 1980, Syria was expelling journalists and massacring dissidents. Surely the failure to see reform, change and sustainable solutions has had these disastrous consequences, nowhere more so than in Syria.
The failure to find solutions now includes 130,000 dead with millions more driven from their homes. Nine million are said to be displaced and 3 million have fled to neighbouring countries. One hundred and fifty thousand families are deprived of their father, 2 million dwellings are destroyed, 2 million families are without shelter and 2 million students without schools. The economy is in ruins, the currency is devalued by 300% and there is growing violence, anguish, division and bitterness every day.
Sarin gas has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus. Barrel bombs have rained down on Aleppo.
Citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, being starved to death.
Just over a week ago the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, pointed to what he called “the unspeakable suffering” of the country’s children, with 10,000 children now dead in Syria.
The United Nations report published last week details arbitrary detention, ill treatment, torture and horrific abuses of children by both sides including beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons, sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement. The report says that the opposition forces too have increasingly “engaged in such acts.”
The “Afghanisation” of Syria, with vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress. We need to hear much more from the Government, and with much more clarity, of assessments of each of these various factions which are largely at war with one another.
Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions.
Take ISIS. It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. There are also unverified reports, as we have heard, of a possible military confrontation between Hezbollah and ISIS. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what assessment she has made of the continuing use of ISIS suicide bombers, the territory it controls in north-eastern Iraq and its use of radicalised recruits, especially from the United Kingdom? I refer to recruits such as Anil Khalil Raoufi, a British Afghan who was studying engineering at the University of Liverpool and was recently killed in fighting between rebel groups. It is not just United Kingdom students—this week I sent the Minister a report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict which talks about the radicalisation of young Indonesian men who have gone to Syria via Turkey. Their director Sidney Jones says:
“Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams now appear to be facilitating the entry of fighters as well”.
It is not just that their presence in Syria fuels fundamentalism—it is that they are being radicalised in the process, posing dangers to the countries to which they return. The problem is exacerbated by the flow of arms into Syria.
In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups, so there is a religious dimension to this conflict. Here perhaps I would disagree on the margin with the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate, the bishop of Wakefield who said: “No, this is not a religious but a political conflict,”
What, also of the 60,000 fighters of the Islamic Front? Do the Government believe that the Front is capable of producing a secular or plural Syria in which minorities such as those to which I have just referred are respected? Do they have the capacity to be part of a transitional body capable of restoring trust, an almost impossible task in the aftermath of such horror? It was the late King Hussein who offered the wise advice to pray for God’s protection against,
“those who believe that they are the sole possessors of truth.”
These sole possessors of truth represent the biggest stumbling block in finding a peaceful way forward out of this confessional morass and they also represent the biggest danger to Alawites, Druze and Christians, and the rights of women.
Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity. That meadow is today a battlefield. Before the war the Christians of Syria accounted for between 4.5% and 10% of the population.
What will it be after the war? Forty-seven churches have been closed; two priests and a nun have been murdered; two bishops, three priests and 12 nuns have been abducted. I have raised these cases with the Minister and gave her notice that I would raise them again today. A new video of the nuns has just appeared with their traditional cross removed from their habit.
Do we have any news of their whereabouts and when they may be released by their jihadist captors? What news also, about the Jesuit, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped in July 2013 after entering rebel-held territory? Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Paolo Dall’Oglio had been executed by extremist groups. Do we have any news about that?
I have been looking at first-hand accounts which Aid to the Church in Need has received from Syrian Christians. Typical is this note from Basman Kassouha, a refugee now in the Bekaa Valley area of Lebanon. He says that the militias,
“stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”.
The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted in a number of places. I shall quote him because I hope, as we collect evidence of these sorts of events, none of this will ever be lost to history. He says:
“There are many events that show that Christians are targeted, such as those of Maaloula, Sadad, Hafar, Deir Atiyeh, Carah, Nabk, Kseir, Rablé, Dmaineh, Michtayeh, Hassaniyeh, Knaïeh, and some villages of the Valley of Christians, Yabroud, Aafrd, the Jazirah region such as Hassaké, Ras El-Ain Kamechleh, and many other areas. Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.
The mostly Christian town of Saidnaya has experienced repeated attacks by extremists. The fourth attack on the city occurred on 19 January.
The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars.
In Homs, a Dutch priest, Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order.
He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”. I remind the noble Baroness of the situation in Sadad, where there was a terrible massacre that some have described as potential genocide. What news of the situation there?
While the quest for peace continues, perhaps the Minister will share with us what we are doing to provide direct help to these beleaguered minorities, what we are doing to stop the flow of arms into Syria, what progress has been made on the removal of the 700 tonnes of priority 1 chemicals, and what happens—as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, asked—if the deadline for removal of chemical weapons is passed. Even an agreement suspending the flow of arms and foreign militant activists would be a success, because the ceasing of fighting is the precondition for all forms of reconciliation.
Let me conclude by pressing for a response to the question I raised on Monday with the Minister’s noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is sitting on the Front Bench. I asked whether we are meticulously collecting information of atrocities, and whether in the Security Council we will be asking for a referral those responsible for prosecution by the International Criminal Court. If the danger of any other country raising a veto against us were to be used as a reason for not doing that, it would question the point of our membership of the Security Council and bring great dishonour on this country.
Some additional points….
While in Damascus in 1980, I also met Yasser Arafat, who warned that disunity among Arab nations undermined progress and prevented any settlement of the Palestinian question. At the time I wrote that if the international community did not accelerate and deepen its efforts to find just solutions then there could be no peace and “the West will have to accept the consequences.”
The consequence of our signal failure to find durable solutions is that over thirty years later we are mired in one of the most brutal wars of this young century, which, for nearly three years, has led to ferocious carnage and savagery in Syria.
Take the atrocities in Sadad, which I have raised with the Government.
A total of 45 Christians were killed and 1,500 families were held hostage in Sadad, a largely Syrian Orthodox town, which was stormed by the Al-Nusra Front and an organisation called the Grandsons of the Prophet on 21st October 2013.
It was taken by government forces a week later.
Among those killed by rebels were two teenage boys, their mother and three of their grandparents. The bodies of university student Ranim, 18, and her 16-year-old brother, Fadi were discovered at the bottom of a well, close to their home.
Also brought to the surface were the remains of the youngsters’ mother, Njala, 45, and their grandparents: Mariam, a 90-year-old widow, as well as Matanios El Sheikh, 85, and his wife, Habsah, 75. Church sources say 30 bodies were also found in two separate mass graves.
At the end of last year Damascus-based Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch remarked: “How can somebody do such inhumane and bestial things to an elderly couple and their family?”
The Patriarch explained that thousands fled Sadad and initially were too afraid to return in case of further atrocities. Reports from the town described how vulnerable people unable to escape—including the elderly, disabled, women and children—were subjected to torture and some were strangled to death. Churches have been damaged and desecrated, while schools, and government and municipal buildings have also been destroyed.
The situation of the ancient Christian minority – which predates the coming of Islam to the region – is graphically illustrated by the story of Mariam, who is 67 years old. She is a widow, from Aleppo. She has three married daughters. She was living in a very dangerous area of the town and her house was destroyed. She lived with relatives in Syria for a while but decided to leave for Lebanon with her two daughters and their families because she was afraid that her family would be in danger. They arrived with nothing, only the clothes on their backs.
One of the girls found a part-time job and supports the family with its meagre income. All of them now live a single room. The oldest daughter also joined them from Syria, bringing her husband and four children.
Mariam is now chronically ill.
Mariam’s story is not unusual. Many refugees in the Bekaa region have faced horrendous conditions this winter, left with little to keep them warm and in some cases ten family members are living in one room with one shared bathroom. Medical supplies and access to hospital are severely limited and children, many of them traumatised, are being left without education.
Patriarch Gregorios III, the head of the Melkite Church, based in Damascus, has continually called for peace in the country, an end to armed conflict and substantial peace talks. Ahead of the recent Geneva II meeting he said:
“We beg [God] to inspire the countries and their representatives who are about to meet with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians.”
Patriarch Gregorios also stressed the need for unity among the international community in calling for peace and a halt to the influx of weapons to armed groups in Syria:
“The [international community's] efforts should be concentrated on obtaining a peace that is really Syrian, for that would be true peace and the best and most suitable for all parties to the conflict and for all Syria.”
Today no group in Syria seems to control common criminal violence which is based on sectarian hatred; and no group seems in a position to deliver peace.
Diplomatic failure is attributable to intransigence and cynicism on the part of the Geneva participants but it also illustrates how ineffective the West has been with its own allies in the region and with the Syrian opposition which is partly a creature of the West’s invention.
In this intricate situation, there is one absolute priority: the civilian population of Syria.
Also see: The Daily Telegraph: Militant Islamist group In Syria Orders Christians To Pay Tax For Their Protection
Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome
Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent
6:48PM GMT 27 Feb 2014
A militant Islamist group has demanded Christians living in the north-east of Syria pay it a tax in return for protection as it seeks to build a traditional “Caliphate” in areas it controls.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) published the terms under which minorities could live under its rule in a statement on the internet.
“Christians are obligated to pay Jizya tax on every adult male to the value of four golden dinars for the wealthy, half of that for middle-income citizens and half of that for the poor,” their decree said. “They must not hide their status, and can pay in two instalments per year.” Four dinars would amount to just over half an ounce of gold, worth £435 at current prices.
In return, Christians will not be harmed and will be allowed to worship privately, maintain their own clergy without interference and keep their own cemeteries, it added. They are implicitly allowed to continue drinking alcohol and eating pork, but may not do so publicly or trade them with Muslims. Nor may they build or renovate churches, or display the cross.
The demand carries weight because ISIS, which grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has become the most feared militia in Syria. It has now been disavowed by Osama bin Laden’s replacement as al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and is effectively at war with the rest of the rebel movement, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the group seen by al-Qaeda as its representative in Syria.
It controls nearly all of Raqqa province in the north-east, where it is attempting to build the institutions of an Islamic state. The decree refers to Christians as “dhimmis” - effectively protected minorities – a term that originated in the seventh century when the Muslim world was ruled by a single religious leader, the Caliph.
Raqqa, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim in make-up, had a small Christian community but much if not all of it has already fled. When The Telegraph visited Raqqa city not long after forces aligned to al-Qaeda took over last year, the two alcohol shops had already been smashed up and scrawled with Islamist graffiti, along with the town’s only restaurant that served alcohol.
There was said to be one Christian family still living in the town, but if so they were in hiding. Later, the crosses were removed from the top of the city’s two churches.
But there is growing resentment among activists towards the stringent controls ISIS has imposed on the general population, including the wearing of the veil by women and separation of the sexes, even in bread queues. A photograph circulated of an Assad-regime flag hanging from a house, an unthinkable act of defiance until recently.
Christians used to make up around one in ten of Syria’s 22 million population, but the civil war has forced an estimated 500,000 to flee their homes and villages, which are scattered across the country. Some 1,200 are thought to have been killed.
As a religious minority they enjoyed protection under President Assad, and as such have become an indirect target of the Sunni Muslim led uprising.
John Pontifex, of Aid to Church in Need, a Catholic charity that has highighted the plight of Christians in Syria, said: “We have already received reports of this nature,and if true, they spell out loud and clear the degree to which Christians are under attack and at risk.
“There seems to be a desire to flush Chrisians out or reduce them to second class status.”
Imposition of the so-called “dhimmi” rules conforms precisely with regime claims that the rebels are seeking to take Syria back to the Middle Ages.
Aymenn al-Tamimi, an Oxford University-based academic expert on Iraq and Syrian jihadists, said the imposition of the jizya was derived from a verse in the Quran, which demanded submission by the “people of the Book” - Jews and Christians – who did not follow Islam.
In a post to the Syria Comment website, he added: “In case ISIS’s ambitions to a global caliphate were still not apparent to anyone, ISIS’s official Twitter account for Raqqa province had this to say on the imposition of the dhimmi pact: ‘Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome.’”
This entry was posted in Author's Recommended Posts, Human Rights, Parliament, Speeches, Suffering Church and tagged Aafrd, Aid To The Church In Need, Al-Nrsa Front, al-qaeda, Aleppo, Anil Khalil Raoufi, Anwar Sadat, Aymenn al-Tamimi, Ḥafez al-Assad, Ban Ki-Moon, Baroness Warsi, Barrel Bombs, Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea, Carah, Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun, Damascus, Deir Atiyeh, dhimmi, Dmaineh, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, Father Van der Lugt, Hafar, Hassaké, Hassaniyeh, Hezbollah, Homs, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, International Criminal Court, Iran-Iraq War, ISIS, Islamic Front, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, Jazirah region, Jihadist Groups, Jizya Tax, John Moschos, King Hussein, Knaïeh, Kseir, Lord Steel, Lord Wright of Richmond, Maaloula, Michtayeh, Muslim Brotherhood, Nabk, Patriarch gregorios III, Rablé, Raqqah, Ras El-Ain Kamechleh, Sadad, Sari, Syria, villages of the Valley of Christians, Yabroud, Yasser Arafat.
North Korea and the Chilling Findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry – and details of two forthcoming meetings at Westminster where you can learn more
Chilling testimony of the evils of North Korea’s regime
A United Nations Commission of Inquiry has called for the leaders of North Korea to be
prosecuted at The Hague for crimes against humanity. Lord Alton of Liverpool has
chaired a parliamentary committee on North Korea for 10 years. The COI report
underlines and corroborates the witness statements about unspeakable cruelty that Lord
Alton’s committee has heard. This report may be the catalyst for global action to force
change in North Korea. His reaction follows details of two forthcoming meetings at Westminster, where you can learn more:
Tuesday 4th March 4-5pm Committee Room 15 (note change from CR 18)
APPG North Korea and Open Doors
A briefing on Christians in North Korea, chaired by Fiona Bruce MP, with speakers including a survivor of a North Korean prison camp and a field expert on North Korea. It is very timely to draw attention to North Korea following the publication of the UN’s first ever report on human rights abuses in North Korea.
Please RSVP to
firstname.lastname@example.org or for further enquires please call 01993 777300
Then on Tuesday 11 March at 5.30pm in Committee Room 4A.
Following the publication this week of the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea will hold a discussion focused on the way forward, chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool.
The speakers will include:∙
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, former chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic;∙
Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch;∙
Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and a co-founder of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK)
There will also be a screening of a new film on North Korea produced by Human Rights Watch.
Please come, and invite others. Both meetings are open to the public
North Korea and the United Nations Commission of Inquiry
Two recent events, inextricably linked, are harbingers of significant change in North Korea, and they pose significant questions to the international community about how best to respond.
First, in December last, came the execution of Chang Song-thaek, the uncle of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
Chang’s death was both a sign of Kim Jong-un’s ruthlessness but also a sign of weakness and fear.
Chang Song-thaek had to be killed because he had questioned an ideology which has paralysed economic development, incarcerated hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and which has conferred pariah status on the country. His execution became the most high profile of a succession of killings, symptomatic of a system which routinely murders and imprisons its own people, and which subjugates them through indoctrination and propaganda.
Now, two months later comes the unprecedented publication of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report calling for the prosecution of North Korea’s leaders for crimes against humanity.
After a year collecting evidence from North Korean escapees, the COI compared the country’s egregious violations of human rights with those of the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s and has called for their referral to the International Criminal Court. Despite their angry protestations, the leadership should be fearfully reflecting that, as at Nuremberg and at the Hague, a day of reckoning may one day come.
Unlike their former allies in Burma – who have also faced allegations of crimes against humanity but have begun to alter course – the North Korean regime has eschewed the path of reform, staking their future on the world’s indifference. It is a huge miscalculation.
Mr. Justice Kirby, the highly respected Australian Judge, who chaired the Commission, and his fellow Commissioners, say in their 400-page report that North Korea’s crimes against humanity are sui generis: “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”
They detail what they describe as “unspeakable atrocities” and spell out their scope in graphic detail:
“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
Judge Kirby has drawn parallels with Auschwitz, with Hitler and with Stalin and says that the country’s leadership and the system which it sustains – “policies established at the highest level of State” – must be held to account and brought to justice.
Chang Song-thaek high profile execution is certainly redolent of the period to which Michael Kirby alludes.
Chang was seen as a potential alternative. He had been the power behind the throne and was close to China and admiring of its reform programme. China’s anger at his killing sits alongside their barely concealed contempt for an “ally” which routinely aborts North Korean babies, fathered by Chinese men, who are regarded as a contamination of Korean blood line.
Chang’s execution – some unsubstantiated reports in China allege that he was thrown to the dogs ; the purges; the reign of terror; the falsifying of history; the show trials; the network of gulags which incarcerate between 200,000 and 300,000 people; the estimated 400,000 people who have died in the prison camps in the last 30 years; and the attempt to obliterate religious belief and all political dissent; all bear all the hallmarks of a regime which has carefully studied, admires and imitates the visceral brutality of Joseph Stalin.
Not for nothing, on a visit to North Korea, was I shown the bullet proof railway carriage which Stalin gave as a gift to Kim Il Sung.
But the regime has more recent heroes and I was also shown the gifts of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. My guide seemed blissfully unaware of the fate of the Ceaușescus, asking me “are they unwell?” when I asked her if she knew what had happened to them.
Unlike the North Korean public – sadly denied access to BBC World Service broadcasts, as they do not broadcast to the Korean Peninsula – the whole world knows what happened to the Ceaușescus. Thanks to the COI, the free world can no longer claim that it had no idea of what happens inside North Korea or the scale of the depredations in North Korea.
One of the relatively new factors which has made possible the COI’s report are the first-hand witness statement s to which the Commission has had access.
Just as North Korea can no longer completely keep out information and contact from beyond its borders, so the presence of around 30,000 North Koreans living in democratic countries has been a game-changer. The first-hand evidence of escapees has opened the eyes of the world and aroused the anger of many who were previously disinterested.
It is now ten years since I urged the British Parliament to highlight human rights violations in North Korea with the same emphasis we place on security issues. Perhaps the COI report will finally make this happen.
As the world discovered during the Helsinki Process, after the West and the Soviet Bloc had reached a military stalemate, human rights engagement (at a number of different levels) tipped the scales and brought fundamental change.
The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 linked foreign policy to basic human rights principles. A firm stand on human rights, linked to a strong non-appeasement military policy, is the catalyst for change. That is why I have argued for Helsinki with a Korean face, and why I strongly welcome the COI’s report.
Ten years ago I told the House of Lords that:
“By championing the cause of those who are suffering in North Korea, the international community will create the conditions for the establishment of democracy ….Learning the lessons of [the] Helsinki [process], we must do nothing to licence the regime in Pyongyang to commit further atrocities against its own people. We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties … By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.”
During the intervening decade I have chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and have often felt frustrated that we have pursued that dangerous option of doing nothing at all. As Judge Kirby discovered once confronted by the personal accounts of those who have suffered at the regime’s hands doing nothing cannot be an option.
Part Two of the COI report relies heavily on personal stories. It cites evidence given by individual victims and witnesses, including the harrowing treatment meted out to political prisoners, some of whom said they would catch snakes and mice to feed malnourished babies. Others told of watching family members being murdered in prison camps, and of defenceless inmates being used for martial arts practice.
This is of a piece with the accounts which my Committee has been given.
It is more than ten years since I met Yoo Sang-joon. Yoo’s story was particularly harrowing and disturbing. He told me how he had seen his wife, and all bar one of his children shot dead. He subsequently escaped across the border to China with his one remaining son. The boy died en route.
Yoo Sang-joon himself became an Asian Raoul Wallenberg – the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Yoo Sang-joon bravely re-entered North Korea and has helped many people flee across the border. This led to his arrest in China in 2007, but, on compassionate grounds, China relented, allowing him to be repatriated to Seoul knowing that in the North he would be executed.
My Committee heard the story of Lee Keumsoon. Her death camp supervisors stripped off Lee’s clothes to establish whether she was pregnant. Like others who have become pregnant in China she was forcibly aborted.
The dignity, integrity and bearing of the women and men who have suffered so much is striking.
None more so that Shin Dong-Hyok, whose story is movingly told by Blaine Harden in “Escape from Camp 14”, extracts of which were serialised in 2012 by BBC Radio Four. I have now met Shin several times. It would be impossible not to be deeply affected by both his story and by his demeanour. Despite everything that has been done to him and his family he still loves his country and wants the best for North Korea and its people.
Shin is nearly thirty and spent the first 23 years of his life in North Korea’s Political prison Camp 14, where he was born. Camp 14 is one of five sprawling prison camps in the mountains of North Korea, about fifty five miles north of Pyongyang. No one born in Camp 14 or any other political prison camp – “the absolute control zone” - had previously escaped from North Korea. These are places where the hard labour, the malnutrition, or freezing conditions, minus 20 Celsius in winter, will often get you before the firing squad.
Shin told my Parliamentary Committee that as a child, he witnessed fellow child prisoners being killed through accidents and beatings. He told me that children and parents were required to watch and report on one another. He was forced to work from the age of 10 or 11.
His parents were sent to the camp in 1965 as political prisoners. Thirty years later, after family members tried to escape from the camp, Shin was interrogated in an underground torture chamber.
Following this failed escape attempt, he was forced, on April 6th 1996, to watch as his mother and brother were publicly executed – common in the camps.
Guards bound the hands and feet of the 13-year-old boy and roasted him over a fire. The burns still scar Shin’s back, the memories have indelibly scarred his mind; and he remains haunted by the double life he was forced to lead and the lies he had to tell to survive.
In 2005, having been tortured, mistreated and discriminated against as the son and brother of a declared traitor – and suffering from constant hunger – Shin and a compatriot tried to escape.
His friend died on the barbed wire – not realising that it carried a high electric current – but, although he was badly burnt, Shin literally climbed over the corpse of his friend and for 25 days he secretly travelled towards the Yalu River and over the border into China.
In Shanghai he found a way over the wall of the South Korean Consulate and, after 6 months there, he was allowed to travel to Seoul. Physically and emotionally Shin was deeply scarred.
Shin Dong Hyok: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/un-witness-describes-horrors-of-north-korea/
and also scroll down to watch “Becoming Human: Shin’s New Life” halfway down.
Shin was joined at our Parliamentary Hearing by Ahn Myeong-Cheol, aged 37, who worked as a prison guard at four political prison camps – also within the “absolute control zone” between 1987 and 1994.
He described how his father killed himself when he realised that he had been heard criticising the regime; his mother and brothers were sent to prison camps; Ahn was re-educated and became a prison guard in the “absolute control zones.“
Vividly and harrowingly he described how he witnessed guard dogs imported from Russia tear three children to pieces and how the camp warden congratulated the guard who had trained the dogs; he said that even when prisoners died they are punished- their corpses and remains simply left to disintegrate and rot away on the open ground.
Particularly harrowing was the evidence given by two diminutive North Korean women who, speaking through an interpreter, recounted their experiences. From time to time their stories were interrupted as the women wept.
Jeon Young-Ok is 40. When she was a little girl her mother took the family across the Tumen River to try and flee to China. They were caught and her father and brother imprisoned. Her mother died of a heart disease and left her three children alone. Years later, now married with three children of her own, Jeon managed to make furtive forays from North Korea into China to secure money and food for her children. Twice she was apprehended and jailed.
Movingly she told the parliamentary hearing: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.” This was an allusion to the starvation of the 1990s when anything from 1 to 2 million North Koreans starved to death.
In China Mrs.Jeon remained at risk “nowhere was safe.” If she was caught the Chinese would send her back. And this is exactly what happened to her. Caught in 1997 and again in 2001 – she was sent to Northern Pyeong-an Detention Camp.
“I was put in a camp where I saw and experienced unimaginable things. We were made to pull the beards from the faces of elderly people. Prison guards treated them like animals. The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame. I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live.”
Jeon Young-Ok added: “They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.”
Despite all this, she harbours no hatred for her country and shows extraordinary fortitude and equanimity: “The past is not important but these terrible things are still happening in North Korea. These camps should be abolished forever.”
In 2011 Mrs Kim Hye Sook gave evidence to my committee and described a normal working day in “Camp 18″. She recounted the manual labour undertaken by prisoners and scarcity of food provisions and the regular public executions and cannibalism which she saw over her 27 years imprisonment during which she saw the death of her son in the camp.
Here are the stories of religious persecution, the lack of freedom of movement, the lack of labour rights, the non-implementation of legal codes, the lack of a fair trial, the lack of judicial oversight of detention facilities and the severe mistreatment of repatriated persons- mainly repatriated from China.
Throughout the hearings which I have chaired I have been struck by the consistent picture which has emerged of appalling violence against women in detention facilities and the chilling accounts of life in prisons and labour camps. The individual stories bring home the enormity of the suffering that lies behind individual statistics. The COI report brings many of these dark stories into the light.
My Committee also took evidence from Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the previous United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea. Like his successor, Indonesia’s former Attorney General Marzuki Darusman and, like the COI, they were refused all access to North Korea. It is often said that the North Korean regime has managed to exist behind a wall of secrecy; that it treats the international community with contempt by refusing to allow outside observers into the country
Professor Muntarbhorn described North Korea’s human rights record as “abysmal” due to “the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous.” The exploitation of ordinary people, he said, “has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite”.
All eight of Muntarbhorn’s reports to the UN detailed an extraordinarily grave situation, in which he says the abuses are “both systematic and pervasive” and “egregious and endemic”, and he has concluded that “it is incumbent upon the national authorities and the international community to address the impunity factor which has enabled such violations to exist and/or persist for a long time.”
Little wonder the COI comments in its conclusions that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity. This raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community” and it trenchantly tells the international community that it “must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”
If we are to accept the responsibility which the COI places upon us, the Korean Diaspora (which includes 3-4 million Korean Americans) must take a more prominent role. Just as the Jewish community galvanised international opinion about life in the Soviet Gulags, the Korean Diaspora needs to catch our collective imagination and create a worldwide movement for change.
In thinking about the harrowing accounts in the COI report it is hard not to be reminded of life in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago – the archipelago of labour camps and prison camps spread across the USSR – which were known only to those who were unfortunate enough to enter them.
Solzhenitsyn remarked that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free” and that is undoubtedly the case with those who have bravely risked so much in telling their stories to the UN Commission of Inquiry.
As it comes to consider the COI report, the question for the United Nations Security Council – and perhaps especially for China – is whether it will continue to be the silent witness to evil deeds. Before deliberating it should re-read the 1948 Universal declaration of Human Rights. It would find that in North Korea is in breach of virtually every one of its articles.
Whether, by referring the findings to the International Criminal Court, sequestrating assets, setting up reparation funds, using economic leverage, and doing all it can to break the information blockade into the country, it deserves to be held in universal contempt if it now fails to show the necessary resolve to act on the findings of its own Commission of Inquiry .
For Immediate Release
***To view video feature and download raw footage:
North Korea: UN Should Act on Atrocities Report
New Video Shows Horrors of North Korea Through Eyewitness Testimony
(Geneva, February 17, 2014) – A new United Nations report has found that crimes against humanity are occurring in North Korea and calls for an international tribunal to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, Human Rights Watch said today.
The report, by a UN Commission of Inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013, recommends that the UN Security Council refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights carry out investigations. The three person commission, which was chaired by Australian jurist Michael Kirby, will formally present its findings to the Human Rights Council on or around March 17, 2014. The council will then consider a resolution to act on the commission’s recommendations.
“This shocking report should open the eyes of the UN Security Council to the atrocities that plague the people of North Korea and threaten stability in the region,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “By focusing only on the nuclear threat in North Korea, the Security Council is overlooking the crimes of North Korean leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public executions, disappearances, and mass starvation.”
The commission’s report finds that crimes against humanity were committed in North Korea over a multi-decade period “pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State,” and included “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, forcible transfer of persons, enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” The report notes in particular “a systematic and widespread attack against all populations that are considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership.”
New video features eyewitness accounts of atrocities
To coincide with the release of the commission’s report, Human Rights Watch today released a video, “North Korea: Tales from Camp Survivors,” with interviews of North Koreans who survived years of abuse while incarcerated in political prison camps (kwanliso), including systematic use of beatings, food deprivation and starvation, and public executions, to control those held there. The film includes interviews with former camp guards detailing camp administration and atrocities. Regarding these types of camps, the commission found: “The unspeakable atrocities that are being committed against inmates of the kwanliso political prison camps resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian states established during the 20th century.”
The commission’s report also finds that crimes against humanity were committed “against starving populations” in the context of mass famines in the 1990s, through “decisions and policies taken for the purposes of sustaining the present political system, in full awareness that such decisions would exacerbate starvation and related deaths amongst much of the population.” In addition, the report finds that a widespread campaign of abductions of South Korean and Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, primarily during the 1970s and early 1980s, constitutes crimes against humanity.
“The devastating findings of this inquiry should not be ignored,” Roth said. “Since the crimes were perpetrated by state actors, only an international tribunal can properly carry out criminal investigations aimed at holding perpetrators accountable.”
Human Rights Watch urged the Human Rights Council to endorse the commission’s recommendations by adopting a strong resolution on North Korea during its March session, and task the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with transmitting the report directly to the UN Security Council and General Assembly for action.
The report concludes that information it collected constitutes “reasonable grounds. . .to merit a criminal investigation by a competent national or international organ of justice,” which could include the ICC, or an ad hoc tribunal created by the UN Security Council or by the consent of UN member states.
Besides referring North Korea to the ICC, the report notes that the UN Security Council has the power to set up a special tribunal for North Korea. This would be an appropriate step since many of the crimes documented by the commission occurred before 2002, when the ICC statute came into force, Human Rights Watch said. Tribunals created with UN Security Council resolutions have been set up for crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Independent of the Security Council, the report notes that the UN General Assembly could pass a resolution aimed at establishing an ad hoc tribunal operated by a set of willing countries. Such a tribunal, set up by UN member states without Security Council authorization, would lack compulsory power under the UN Charter but could carry out many of the same functions as a Security Council-authorized tribunal.
Human Rights Watch urged Security Council members to immediately invite the Commission of Inquiry to brief them on their findings, and called on other countries to support efforts to achieve accountability for crimes committed in North Korea.
“The UN was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War precisely to address this kind of massive abuse,” Roth said. “The atrocities described in this report are a profound challenge to the founding ideals of the UN and should shock the organization into bold action. The suffering and loss endured by victims demand swift and definitive action aimed at bringing those responsible to justice.”
For Selected accounts from the UN report, please see below.
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on North Korea, please visit:
For more information, please contact:
In Geneva, Juliette de Rivero (English, French, Spanish): +41-79-640-1649 (mobile); or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @juliederivero
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-7908-728-333 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradAdamsHRW
In Boston, Phil Robertson (English, Thai): +1-617-698-1230 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Reaproy
In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @johnsifton
In Tokyo, Kanae Doi (English, Japanese): +81-3-5575-3774; or +81-90-2301-4372 (mobile); or email@example.com
In Brussels, Lotte Leicht (French, German, Danish, English): +32-0273-714-82; or +32-475-681-708 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org
Selected accounts from the UN Commission of Inquiry Report
A former guard in a prison for political prisoners told the commission: “Inmates in the [political prison camps] are not treated like human beings. They are never meant to be released [...] their record is permanently erased. They are supposed to die in the camp from hard labour. And we were trained to think that those inmates are enemies. So we didn’t perceive them as human beings.”
One prisoner told the commission that he was forced to dispose of over 300 bodies during his 10 years in a camp at Yodok, and described how camp authorities once bulldozed a hill that had been used to bury dead prisoners, to turn it into a corn field: “As the machines tore up the soil, scraps of human flesh reemerged from the final resting place; arms and legs and feet, some still some still stockinged, rolled in waves before the bulldozer. I was terrified. One of friends vomited. …. The guards then hollowed out a ditch and ordered a few detainees to toss in all the corpses and body parts that were visible on the surface.”
The commission found that political prison camp prisoners, which included children and even babies born to prisoners, were only be able to survive “by hunting and gathering insects, rodents and wild plants or finding ways to divert food meant for the guards and farm animals.” One prisoner, describing the effects of the deprivation of food, said: “[The] babies [had] bloated stomachs. [We] cooked snakes and mice to feed these babies and if there was a day that we were able to have a mouse, this was a special diet for us. We had to eat everything alive, every type of meat that we could find; anything that flew, that crawled on the ground. Any grass that grew in the field, we had to eat. That’s the reality of the prison camp.”
A witness, describing what the commission found to be deliberate famine in the 1990s, stated: “We would eat tree bark, and we would get the roots of the cabbage under the ground, but that was just not enough. As time passed, our grandmother and other weak people were just not able to move at all.”
Another said: “So many people died that we didn’t have enough coffins so we borrowed [traditional burial boards] to give them burials. We didn’t have any wood to even give tombstones. That’s how many people died.”
Human Rights in North Korea
Refugee Testimonies and other online videos
The following selection of online talks, videos and documentaries provide informative first-hand accounts of human rights violations in North Korea. WTthese videos are worth watching for moving and informative background. There are others available on youtube.com as well, but the following is a selection.
Secret State of North Korea – PBS (53.41 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnBUDYQxhaw and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/secret-state-of-north-korea/
An up-to-date, very informative, secretly filmed documentary on life in North Korea.
Breaking the Silence – Journeyman Pictures (12.17 minutes)
Background to the UN Commission of Inquiry into human rights in North Korea
Hyeonseo Lee – Ted talk (12mins)
Growing up she thought her country was the best in the world, although she often wondered about the outside world. She escaped North Korea during the famine in the 1990’s. Her story focuses on her escape and resettlement, and the struggle to later get her family out of North Korea.
Joseph Kim – Ted talk (14 mins)
“Hunger is humiliation. Hunger is hopelessness…” He became an orphan after his father died and his mother disappeared. He went to China to look for his sister and crossed the border during the day because he was scared of the dark. Joseph Kim talks of his escape and resettlement in America, and how a chicken wing changed his life.
Seong Ho Ji - (9mins)
Seong Ho Ji and his brother fled North Korea in 2006 and travelled 6,000 miles across Asia before reaching South Korea. His only remaining possession from North Korea is a pair of crutches – he only has one leg.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms4NIB6xroc (Google tech talk – 1.06 hours)
http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/media/ (shorter version, Ted talk – 12 mins).
http://www.youtube.com/movie?v=9FZMwoY7DyM (Journeyman Pictures – 19.29 minutes)
Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a special prison zone and ‘had no real feelings as a kid’. He saw his mother as the cause of his suffering. These accounts tell of his life growing up in the prison. He later escaped North Korea and described how even the North Korea outside the prison seemed amazing.
Yoon Hee and Anon – CNN Digital Originals (4.5 mins)
Yoon Hee lived on the streets from 8 years old. For her, food is life. She was abandoned by her parents because they couldn’t look after her. Her story as a defector portrays how life outside North Korea isn’t easy to adjust to and not necessarily safe.
Anon described the struggles in adjusting to a new life in South Korea and the disadvantages faced by students who are North Korean refugees, but how, through special programmes, the ‘country is supporting him, like a parent.
Han-sol Kim (nephew of Kim Jong-Un) – interview with Elizabeth Rehn, in two parts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_uSuCkKa3k (Part 1 – 15 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSfVOf4OACs (Part 2 – 14.32 minutes)
A fascinating interview with the nephew of Kim Jong-Un, who has bravely spoken out while studying in Europe.
LINK – Liberty in North Korea:
Danny’s Story (30mins)
He describes living under oppression and in fear, in a country where he is denied freedom of speech, religion and access to information (among other things). He tells of his escape and recalls the moment when his eyes were opened to outside world for first time and to the lies that he had been told. He dreams of being able to go back to North Korea and capture his homeland in pictures.
North Korean Refugee Crisis (3mins)
Successfully fleeing North Korea is just the beginning. This short video outlines the fears and troubles of being a North Korean refugee in China.
The People’s History (4mins)
A brief history behind the current political situation in North Korea.
This entry was posted in Author's Recommended Posts, Human Rights, Parliament, Politics, Uncategorized and tagged Ahn Myeong-Cheol, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Amesnty international, BBC World Service, Brad Adams, Chang Song-thaek, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, COI, DPRK, Escape from Camp14, Fiona Bruce MP, Helsinki Final Act of 1975, Human Rights Watch, Jeon Young-Ok, Kim Hye Sook, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un, Marzuki Darusman, Mr.Justice Michael Kirby, Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu, North Korea, Nuremberg, Raoul Wallenberg, Shin Dong Hyok, Sir Geoffrey Nice, the Hague, The International Criminal Court, the United Nations, United Nations Commission of Inquiry, Vitit Muntarbhorn, Yoo Sang-joon.
The Four Quartets will be read by Jeremy Irons on BBC Radio Four on Saturday January 18th, 2014, at 14:30 – 15.45 pm with an introduction by Michael Symmons Roberts, Lord David Alton and Gail McDonald.https://myshare.box.com/s/jbtssur3j8qebn9oqcfe
Saturday Drama: Four QuartetsJeremy Irons reads Four Quartets by TS Eliot.
Four Quartets is the crowning achievement of TS Eliot’s career as a poet. While containing some of the most musical and unforgettable passages in 20th century poetry, its four parts – ‘Burnt Norton’, ‘East Coker’, ‘The Dry Salvages’ and ‘Little Gidding’ - present a rigorous meditation on the spiritual, philosophical and personal themes which preoccupied the author.
It was the way in which a private voice was heard to speak for the concerns of an entire generation in the midst of war and doubt that confirmed it as an enduring masterpiece.
Producer/ Susan Roberts for the BBC
T.S.Eliot: The Four Quartets
1. Where does it sit in the canon of English Literature?
In thinking about Eliot’s masterpiece I found Dr,.Paul Murray’s “T.S.Eliot and Mysticism: The Secret History of “Four Quartets” indispensable.
It’s over forty years since, as a school boy, I discovered Eliot, and it’s nearly 80 years since he began writing Burnt Norton, the first of his Four Quartets. Perhaps the first thing to say is that the mere passage of time has not dulled the poems, having lost none of their status as strikingly ‘modern’ poetry.
I read the Quartets after I had read The Waste Land - Eliot’s very bleak view of a maimed and disfigured England – and they invite the reader to consider how the waste lands of our lives might be transformed.
They are devotional and meditative poems but just as John Donne and the devotional poets of the seventeenth century, replaced the language of the Elizabethan era, Eliot writes in a new and original way – displaying religious genius, amazing originality, and extraordinary learning and depth. His originality is central to this masterpiece.
Eliot, of course, draws on innumerable sources – theological, philosophical, mystical, mythical, and poetic – so much so that at times he has been accused of a sort of literary kleptomania. He countered this by saying that “true originality is merely development.”
More than any other source, I think we need to see The Quartets in parallel to Dante.
Ezra Pound said of Eliot “His was the true Dantean voice” while Eliot himself once remarked:”I regard his poetry as the most persistent and deepest influence on my own work.”
Dante’s imagery: the idea of the “refining fire” in the Four Quartets comes fromPurgatorio and the celestial rose and fire imagery of Paradiso are all incorporated into the poems. Those we meet in the Quartets, trapped in time, are like those stranded between life and death in Dante’sInferno.
Eliot’s own assessment of where he sits within the canon of English literature is revealing. He said: “My reputation in London is built upon one small volume of verse, and is kept up by printing two or three more poems in a year. The only thing that matters is that these should be perfect in their kind, so that each should be an event.” That’s a pretty good yardstick against which to measure the blissful perfection of the Quartets.
He had an aversion to the emotionalism of the romantics and his poetry sparked a revival of interest in the metaphysical poets – infusing his own work with challenging psychological, sensual, and unique ideas.
Eliot, himself, regarded Four Quartets as his masterpiece, and it was the work which led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The vast number of learned articles and books of literary criticism about Eliot and his poetry underline the claim of genius.
2. The Historical Context?
Written just before and during the Second World War, the first poem, Burnt Norton was published in 1936, East Coker in 1940, The Dry Salvages in 1941, and Little Gidding in 1942.
Burnt Norton is named after a Manor House and he wrote it while working on his play, Murder in the Cathedral. For me, it conjures up the lost opportunities of those inter war years“Down the passage which we did not take, towards the door we never opened, Into the rose garden.”
But this is deeper than simply mourning what might have been. In the preceding years we had lost our innocence; we had lost a blissful world just as mankind had lost humanity’s primeval home through our folly in the Garden.
The second Quartet, East Coker, was published just after the War began. Eliot passionately believed that Germany and Nazism had to be fought and defeated, and England, with its ancient lineage, vigorously defended.
He had visited East Coker, a small village in Somerset, two years earlier. It was where his own ancestors had lived. Some emigrated to America in the 17th century – and the poem has a flavour of the pilgrim father. East Coker is where Eliot asked for his own ashes to be buried. And the poem examines the cycles of life and death: “In my beginning is my end.”
It is the poem which inspires me the most – especially the link which Eliot makes between human suffering and the Good Friday cross; the poet’s own admission of his own helplessness; the procession of statesmen, rulers, merchant bankers and the rest who “all go into the dark” and the appearance of the wounded surgeon and the deep compassion of the healer’s art, needed by Eliot’s and every other generation.
Dry Salvages came a year later and was written during air raids on London. Eliot himself had volunteered as a night watchman to help during the air raids. The London Blitz had begun on September 7th, 1940 and Hitler’s intention was to demoralise the population. 348 German bombers and 617 fighters began a blitzkrieg that continued until the following May. Underground stations sheltered as many as 177,000 people each night – and in one incident alone 450 people were killed.
This was the backdrop to a poem which warns us that if we allow ourselves to simply drift like flotsam and jetsam we will be wrecked on the rocks – the dry salvages – which are a group of rocks of Cape Ann, in Massachusetts. More than anything else Eliot now tells us to pray.
A year earlier, in 1939, King George VI, in his Christmas broadcast quoted Minnie Haskins, “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown, And he replied: Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.”
In May 1940 King George then called the whole nation to prayer and to commit their cause to God, as 335,000 men were waiting to be evacuated from Dunkirk. Mirroring the King’s words, Eliot calls us to “prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action” invoking the “Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory”
“Repeat a prayer also on behalf of women who have seen their sons or husbands setting forth, and not returning” and “ Also pray for those who were in ships, and Endeed their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lip.”
Little Gidding was completed in 1942, as Britain’s fortunes were turning. It was the year of El Alemain and came as America entered the war after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour.
Here Eliot is reminding us that the fire of bombs brings death but the fire of Pentecost brings life. He is saying that the enemy may be defeated and repeatedly uses the refrain of Julian of Norwich that “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” if only we realise that alienation from God is more dangerous than Hitler; that we must come through the fire of purgation to new life and resurrection.
3. How does it relate to Eliot’s Christianity?
Eliot was received into the Church in 1927. An Anglo-Catholic, he was part of a generation of talented Christian writers – CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Dorothy L Sayers, G.K.Chesterton, Walter de La Mare and Evelyn Waugh among them. But Eliot was a Christian writing in an era of scepticism and atheism.
Virginia Woolf needled Eliot about religion and once asked him “did he got to church?” “did he hand round the collection plate?” “Yes, O really!” “did he pray, and what did he experience?”
In answer, Eliot apparently leaned forward, bowing his head prayerfully, and described how he attempted concentrate, to forget himself, seeking union with God.
And that I suppose is the essence of Four Quartets: it is his attempt to make music – what he called “the music of ideas” – it is a spiritual canticle with a number of central themes and subjects but they are all bound together in Eliot’s mysticism.
He draws heavily on the mystics such as St.John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich and writings such as “The Cloud of Unknowing.” In 1930 he wrote that “forest sages, desert sages, men like John of the Cross and Ignatius really mean what they say because they have looked into the abyss.” Simultaneously he rejects occultism, spiritualism and contrasts magic with mysticism.
But he is also influenced by Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish theologian and by his contemporary, Karl Barth – and he sides with them in their battle for a new Protestant orthodoxy against liberal Protestantism. From the Catholic tradition he had a love of Thomas Aquinas and had been influenced by Jacques Maritain, the Thomist theologian. And there are Buddhist and Brahmin influences – although he asserted that “Christian revelation is the only full revelation.”
While Eliot admits his knowledge of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises it is the more precise Augustinian method of establishing self knowledge which attracts him. There’s a groping into the darkness and depths of the soul; a delving into sensory memories; a desire to risk unbearable experiences – a willingness to “disturb the dust”; the pointing “to one end which is always present,” the use of the elements, air, earth, water and fire, to define his own spiritual journey.
Eliot takes us into what time means to him; then into the unsatisfactory nature of the world; then to purgation; into lyrical and intercessory prayer. Through the Annunciation, Incarnation, Redemption and Resurrection, he helps us find the way to God.
Contrast Eliot with Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins believed in the Doctrine of Immanence – and saw God in all things: In “As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame” he wrote that“…Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces.” he said “Glory be to God for dappled things.” –
Eliot, by contrast, believed in the Doctrine of Transcendence – insisting on a separation of the human and divine, of the temporal and eternal – which takes you into the way of interior darkness, self denial, purification, self exploration, self criticism (as in The Spiritual Exercises) and self discovery. George Orwell called this “a melancholy faith” and, although there is sometimes a
Puritan distaste for life, for me Eliot represents man’s yearning to find purpose and meaning in life. At times his voice is that of an Old Testament prophet. In fact, East Coker opens with a text which is largely based on the second chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes: “a time for every purpose under heaven”.
Eliot himself mediated n the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary – the agony of Jesus in the Garden; the scourging of Jesus at the pillar; the crowning with thorns; the carrying of the cross; and the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
Having journeyed through these events, the poet arrives at his destination: “and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
This entry was posted in Author's Recommended Posts, Faith Matters and tagged burnt norton, C.S.Lewis, Dante, Dante's Inferno, Dorothy L Sayers, Dr.Paul Murray, Dunkirk, East Coker, Evelyn Waugh, Ezra Pound, G.K.Chesterton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hitler, Ignatius of Loyola, Jacques maritain, Jeremy Irons, Julian of Norwich, Karl Barth, King George VI, Little Gidding, Paradiso, T.S.Eliot, The Cloud of Unknowing, The dry salvages, The Four Quartets, the London Blitz, the Rosary, The Spiritual exercises, Thomas Aquinas, Tolkien, Virginia Wolf, Walter de La Mare.
On November 22nd 2013 the House of Lords debated the following Motion on Human Rights Violations. The link takes you to the recording of the parliamentary debate and the text of the debate appears below.
Video of the debate can be found here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14207 – the Human Rights debate follows the Questions. Scroll ahead to 11.38.
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards countries responsible for violations of human rights.
My Lords, in just under three weeks’ time, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the adoption of a declaration which asserted that,
“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”.
It is as much a declaration of human dignity as a declaration of human rights. I hope that those words and the declaration’s 30 articles will serve as the architecture for today’s debate. These rights are universal and not available for selective enforcement according to culture, tradition or convenience.
Every year, the Foreign Office publishes a comprehensive report on human rights violations. It clearly should be followed by an annual debate in both Houses, the appetite for which is underlined by the distinguished list of speakers who will contribute today, albeit in speeches far too constrained by time limits. We eagerly await four maiden speeches: those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, whose grandfather, Dr Alfred Wiener, dedicated much of his life to documenting anti-Semitism and racism in Germany, and whose first wife, Margarethe, died shortly after being released from Bergen-Belsen.
It was in the aftermath of those horrific events that the 1948 declaration was promulgated, the United Nations established, and the Nuremberg trials commenced. During today’s debate, I hope that we will reflect on whether the Security Council, the General Assembly, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights in 2006, and the International Criminal Court, established by the Rome Statute in 2002, have been effective guarantors of the high ideals of that declaration.
It is just 10 days since China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam were all elected to the Human Rights Council despite concerns about their own human rights records and their decision to exclude United Nations monitors from their jurisdictions. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations General-Secretary, has said:
“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action”.
But will they be able to do so with any certainty in the future? I shall be interested to hear whether the noble Baroness believes that international bodies charged with upholding human rights should be wholly independent of national governments who violate them.
China, in particular, has huge diplomatic, political, economic and military influence, and its attitude will determine the shape of global attitudes to human rights. Through the Opium Wars to the Rape of Nanking and the horrors of Mao Zedong, China has itself suffered gross human rights violations. The protection and promotion of human rights should not only be seen as a moral cause, but it can never be in a nation’s self-interest to see universal freedoms and values trampled upon.
In today’s debate, we will hear about the situation in many countries and we will hear many themes, from female genital mutilation and the use of rape as a weapon of war to the killing of human rights monitors—in Colombia 37 have been murdered already this year—from human trafficking and repression arising from sexual orientation to the caste system, which inflicts such misery on Dalit people. Sometimes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is seen as an à la carte menu from which we may pick and choose. But these rights stand together. None should be emasculated; they are there for a reason.
Let me give one example. In a report by Members of your Lordships’ House, Article 18 was dubbed an “orphaned right”. Sidelining a right which upholds the right to belief, or indeed the right not to believe, is a serious error and the failure to uphold this orphaned right is leading to appalling consequences. As the noble Baroness the Minister rightly warned at Georgetown University last week, there is a need to “build political will” and to actively uphold the Human Rights Council resolutions on the treatment of minorities and tolerance towards other faiths. She said that in large parts of the world Christians “face extinction” and that senior politicians in countries like Pakistan have a “duty” to denounce persecution and to set a standard for tolerance. The noble Baroness is right and she is to be commended for leading by her own formidable example.
There are growing restrictions on freedom of conscience that range from the suffering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim communities in Pakistan and Indonesia to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt; from the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma to Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims in China, and of course Christians in these countries as well as in countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, India, Eritrea and Cuba. But I stress that it is not only people of religion who suffer from violations of Article 18. In Indonesia a young man, Alexander Aan, has been jailed because he declared himself an atheist. For that, he is serving a two and a half year sentence in a remote prison in west Sumatra. Whatever our beliefs, the defence of Article 18 is therefore something which all of us should champion.
Among the organisations mandated to defend human rights that needs urgently to be strengthened is the International Criminal Court. It is mandated to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it has been wholly inadequate in its mechanisms of enforcement. Let us take the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. Last week I met Dr. Kasereka Jo Lusi, a remarkable surgeon who works in Goma in eastern Congo. He told me that an average of 48 women are raped every single hour in the DRC. Twenty different militias carry out these horrors with impunity. Why is no one brought to justice and what can we do to promote a paradigm shift in attitudes and beliefs towards women and girls? In confronting impunity, why is it that Joseph Kony, who created the LRA killing machine responsible for terrible atrocities and indicted by the ICC, has not been brought to justice? Why does the indicted Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, remain at large? Bashir has been hosted by signatories of the Rome Statute, which stipulates that they have a duty to co-operate with arrest warrants. What have we done to seek compliance?
Within the past month, I have made speeches in this House about Egypt and Sudan. Can the Minister give us her latest assessment of the continued aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Darfur and the Nuba mountains? There is also the plight of Copts. We saw the murder of two little girls at a recent Coptic wedding and the orgy of violence which I have described as Egypt’s Kristallnacht.
In May, I raised human rights abuses in Pakistan. If the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Cabinet Minister, who was well known to the Minister and who was charged with upholding the rights of minorities, remains unsolved, what faith can ordinary citizens have in the justice system? Why should potential attackers fear the law? What progress is being made in bringing his murderers to justice?
Last week, the Minister replied to my Written Question about the discovery of two mass graves in Sadad, in Syria. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a new report on the 45 people killed there by the Islamist militias of al-Nusra Front and Daash. Are we any closer to verifying those accounts or to bringing to justice those who have used chemical weapons and those responsible for the daily violations of human rights using conventional weapons?
On Tuesday, I visited the protesters who, for 10 weeks, have been on hunger strike outside the American embassy in London, protesting about the massacre of Iranian democracy activists shot at close range at Camp Liberty in Iraq in September and who are highlighting the execution of 120,000 political prisoners, including women, in Iran since 1979. I hope the Minister will respond to the account of Tahar Boumedra, the former head of UNAMI, about the massacre in Camp Liberty, which my noble friend Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Waddington, I and others sent to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday. Can she tell us when we last raised these issues with Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq? How did human rights violations figure in this month’s decision to upgrade our diplomatic relations with Iran?
As the Prime Minister discovered last week at CHOGM in Colombo, the judgments we make about when and how to engage on human rights questions can derail delicate relationships and even threaten the cohesion of admirable organisations such as the Commonwealth. What balance do we strike as we consider the complex questions of engagement?
I will conclude with the example of North Korea, which, with 2-300,000 people in its gulags and egregious violation of human rights, is sui generis—in a class of its own. Almost all of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration are denied. Only yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously adopted a resolution citing the “systematic, widespread and grave” human rights violations in North Korea, including torture, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, and the network of political prison camps.
I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which, at evidence-gathering sessions, has regularly heard from escapees. Earlier this year, I published some of those accounts and, last month, I gave evidence to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I have advocated the need for such an investigation for many years and pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments for working to secure its establishment. The inquiry has heard accounts of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, slave labour, rape, summary execution, forced abortion and medical experimentation. It has heard how three generations of a family can be dispatched to North Korea’s vast gulag system for such “crimes” as criticising the political leadership. It heard of a mother forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, of prisoners scavenging through excrement for morsels of food, of inmates forced to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and grass, and of an inmate watching the public execution of his mother and brother. Mr Justice Kirby, the Supreme Court judge from Australia who chairs the commission of inquiry, said he wept on hearing many of these accounts.
I have visited North Korea four times, three times with my noble friend Lady Cox. On each occasion we have confronted the North Korean regime with its appalling human rights record. Precisely because of its isolation, I have long proposed a policy of constructive, but critical, engagement with North Korea, what I have termed, “Helsinki with a Korean face”, following the model of our approach to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in the Helsinki process—a robust stand on security and a critical stand on human rights but a willingness to put those issues on the table and talk face-to-face with the regime.
Only a week ago, the Times reported that the regime carried out 80 public executions in seven cities on one day—3 November—for alleged crimes of watching South Korean television dramas or owning Bibles. The Times said that they were allegedly tied to stakes, hooded and killed by machine gun. In the 1990s, 2 million people died of starvation in a country which puts its resources into a nuclear capability and one of the world’s largest standing armies. In January the Sunday Times reported that in two provinces, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae, as many as 10,000 people had died of starvation and that the starving had resorted to cannibalism. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether we have raised these reports with the regime through our ambassador in Pyongyang, and describe our engagement with the United Nations commission of inquiry.
In March I had the opportunity to meet Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma. She famously said:
“Please use your liberty to promote ours”.
Perhaps that is the purpose of a debate such as this and of our being Members of your Lordships’ House. She told me that the BBC’s Burmese Service made a major contribution to the process of opening up Burma. There is much that can be learnt from this and applied to North Korea. Burma is an example of a country where the right combination of international pressure, the flow of information and critical engagement has led to progress.
More than 12%—one report says it is as high as 27%—of those who have escaped from North Korea say that they have heard broadcasts from outside the country. The BBC World Service should make broadcasts to the Korean peninsula a priority. This would help to break the information blockade in the north and promote democracy, human rights and the English language. A popular campaign has been launched by young South Koreans calling for this. To facilitate BBC broadcasts from Korean soil, changes to South Korean law would be necessary. Was that discussed with President Park during her recent state visit? The Government have expressed sympathy for the proposal. Are we taking the idea forward?
In confronting each of the challenges that I have described, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides us with a map and with a compass. I think that today’s debate will mirror the FCO’s six human rights priorities: women’s rights; torture prevention; abolition of the death penalty; freedom of religious belief; business and human rights; and freedom of expression on the internet. Many will doubtless concur with the Foreign Secretary’s view that human rights must be “at the heart” of British foreign policy.
We need to do far more to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is less honoured in its breach, and I hope that today’s debate will demonstrate the determination of this free Parliament to insist on the centrality of the declaration to our approach to foreign affairs while also providing a voice for voiceless people. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on a wide-ranging and comprehensive speech, as well as on raising this debate at a very relevant time. Abuse of human rights takes a great many different forms, but it is on the often savage hostility currently being shown towards religious minorities in many countries that I wish to concentrate.
It was alarming to hear from the Minister only last week that, given the available evidence, Christianity is now in danger of extinction in some nations of the Middle East, which were the very birthplace of the Christian faith. She said:
“There are huge advantages to having pluralistic societies”,
and went on,
“we all have an interest in making sure that Christian communities do continue to feel that they belong and are not persecuted in the places where this religion was born”.
Indeed, the loss of religious freedom has a profound effect on not just the political arrangements in a country but the cultural, social and economic situation that exists there. The right to religious freedom is one of the fundamental promises about human rights made to people in some of the great declarations and finest speeches proclaimed down the years.
On 5 March 1946, while visiting Westminster College in the small Missouri town of Fulton, Sir Winston Churchill famously observed that an iron curtain had descended across Europe. It was less than a year since the war had ended and, with President Truman at his side, Sir Winston said:
“We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man”.
Five years previously, in his State of the Union address, the United States President, Franklin Roosevelt, had spoken eloquently of the four great freedoms which must be fought for and upheld. He listed them as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. While composing the speech, the President let three of his advisers into the secret of the imperishable soundbite that he was about to deliver. The famous “four freedoms” paragraphs were not included until they had been dictated by the President one night in his White House study and taken down in longhand by his aides to be added to the fourth draft. He ended his speech by saying:
“Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them”.
These four freedoms were later enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the new world authority in 1948.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Article 18 promises freedom of religious worship, and among those who voted in favour were Iran, Egypt and Syria. It is clear that when this freedom of worship is abused, the other freedoms singled out by President Roosevelt are in jeopardy, too. This is because fear grips communities where extremism and violence rule, and want stalks the lives of refugees fleeing from persecution.
Democratic Governments who believe in human rights upheld by the rule of law must have the presence of mind and the will to raise such matters wherever religious minorities are being hounded and abused, whether by Governments or by other religious groupings. I must ask the Minister to give an assurance that the Government will have the continuing will and boldness to raise such sensitive issues in the countries under criticism. After all, if the Prime Minister could give a lead in relentlessly pursuing such matters in Sri Lanka last week, surely it is not too much to ask that other Ministers continue to speak out whenever they are dealing with those Governments who commit intolerable abuses of human rights.
A deliberate attempt is being made to engage in religious cleansing in certain communities which are seeking to force into extinction Christianity and a number of other minority religions. If rational discussion fails to produce results, we should seriously consider withholding overseas aid or other forms of economic assistance to those countries until such time as they are prepared to conform to civilised norms. I can see great merit in the suggestion made in another place by my right honourable friend Tony Baldry that the Government should consider appointing a special envoy for freedom of religion and belief who, working with other UN and US emissaries, could co-ordinate the United Kingdom’s diplomatic efforts in this field and shine a relentless spotlight on abuses.
I end with the words of the former Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, quoting the eminent historian, Lord Acton. He said:
“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities”.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate and thank him for introducing it with such passion and wisdom. We are right to concentrate on the promotion of human rights rather than on the promotion of democracy, which has been in the air for quite some time. The rights are easy to identify and monitor, and there is greater international agreement on what rights are worth preserving and what rights are human rights. There is also greater international pressure for implementing those rights as opposed to the promotion of democracy, because democracy can mean many different things in many different contexts. Therefore, I particularly welcome our discussion of violation of human rights rather than violation of democratic norms.
It is also right to point out that we cannot deal with violations of human rights in the whole world; we have to be selective. In that context, it is important for us to concentrate on those countries with which we have close ties, and where we can make an impact. In that context I particularly thank the Prime Minister for the stand he took at CHOGM in Sri Lanka. He was right to go. I think that the Prime Minister of India was not right not to go. Our Prime Minister was right to visit Jaffna, commiserate with the Tamils, condemn the army operations which killed thousands of Tamils, demand an investigation into what actually happened during the war and afterwards, and meet the representatives of the Tamil group.
An equally sensible attitude is increasingly being taken with reference to Gujarat, the Indian state from which I come, where genocide took place in February 2002, when a large number of Muslims were killed with the complicity of the state. The American Government denied a visa to the Chief Minister but the British Government took a very sensible view and said nothing. Increasingly, the British Government began to recognise that we had no conclusive evidence that the Chief Minister had been directly and actively involved in what had gone on; after all, he had been in power for only four months. Nor did we ignore the fact that this sort of thing had happened in other parts of India, and therefore we could not single out one state alone. About 18 months ago, or perhaps a little less, the British Government asked the British high commissioner to India, Sir James Bevan, to visit Mr Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. More recently, the Foreign Office Minister, Mr Hugo Swire, visited the place. In Kolkata recently, the Prime Minister said that he would be more than happy to meet any elected leader. This is not to exonerate the leader of his responsibility but simply to indicate that not talking to people is not the answer.
I wish to make three general points. First, as we cannot promote all kinds of human rights we obviously have to prioritise. Of the six priorities listed by the Government there is not much reference to the rights of trade unions, which in my view have played, and continue to play, an extremely important role. Business rights are fine but they are not supposed to include trade union rights. During the Arab spring, trade unions were the vehicle through which important radical change was achieved. Minority rights are also important. Generally, the standard definition of human rights concentrates on individual rights and tends to ignore minority rights.
Secondly, while we are right to condemn violations of human rights, we sometimes tend to ignore our own complicity in these violations. Large corporations based in our country sometimes engage in practices abroad that violate human rights or lead indirectly to violations of human rights. We ought to tighten up the monitoring of our corporations. Many violations take place during civil wars. We are sometimes complicit in instigating or tolerating civil wars in other countries, which can result in gross violations of human rights.
Thirdly, we tend to be selective about where we condemn violations of human rights and where we do not. Violations of human rights in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are by and large ignored, whereas we tend to concentrate on them in countries such as China. This sometimes gives the impression that we are unprincipled and that we are using human rights discourse or issues to promote a particular political agenda. We need to ensure that we are principled when we condemn violations of human rights.
My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that this is a time-limited debate. When the Clock hits five, speakers have had their five minutes. We want to ensure that we have enough time for our maiden speeches, the Minister’s winding-up speech and for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to respond at the end.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing and introducing this important debate. It has been said that wartime rape is as old as war itself. Women’s lives and bodies have been unacknowledged casualties of war for too long, but now greater media awareness and reporting, probably in part because of the exceptional women journalists covering conflict, have brought wider knowledge of the extent to which rape is occurring. The consequences of rape are also better understood. Five years ago, a United Nations resolution described rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security.
Rape is used as a punishment for men as well as women, by forcing men to watch as their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters are raped. Victims of rape are left emotionally traumatised, physically damaged and at risk of potentially fatal sexually transmitted diseases. Rape humiliates, dominates, instils fear and disperses communities. The after-effects of rape are felt for generations, as women bear their rapists’ children, and face shame and revulsion. Surely it is time to draw a line, and time for the international community to take rape as seriously as it does the use of other weapons. As my noble friend mentioned, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the Congo. Reports of rape have also emerged from the current conflict in Syria. When will women’s human rights be recognised and acted upon?
Rape is always an abuse of power. In the case of rape, it is an abuse of physical power. When communities are under threat, it is the weak and vulnerable who suffer the most. People with disabilities are subjected to more violence in any country, but more so in a country in turmoil, where people are concerned for their own lives and livelihoods and may not have the resources to look after the most vulnerable people in their communities. It may be as obvious as someone with physical disabilities being unable to flee rebel attacks, or as insidious as someone with a disability being last in the queue for food and water. Disabled women and girls are also raped.
The Human Rights Watch report of an investigation in Uganda in April and May 2010, which looked at the treatment of people with disabilities during conflict, was called As if We Weren’t Human. It was sobering reading indeed. Over one-third of the 64 women and girls with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch had experienced sexual violence. Charity, a Ugandan woman with a physical disability, described how, in the camp,
“people told me: ‘You are useless. You are a waste of food.’ People told me I should just die so others can eat the food”.
Women reported being abused by aggressors because of their disabilities. A partially blind woman had her eyes removed because she had not seen where her husband kept his gun. A girl with learning disabilities was beaten and raped because she did not understand the questions she was being asked.
It is unusual for victims of rape and sexual violence in times of conflict to seek help, but when they do, those with disabilities are at a further disadvantage. Health centres and police stations are far away and victims rely on others to take them there, leaving them at greater risk of the untreated physical complications of rape. Police stations and courts do not have the resources to facilitate communication with those who have difficulties, such as the deaf and people with learning disabilities. Many girls and women with disabilities are illiterate and rely on their families for communication. Families will often not support a woman or girl in reporting a rape because of the additional stigma that rape brings to a family already stigmatised by disability.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the specific vulnerabilities of those with disabilities and requires its signatories to take appropriate measures to protect such persons from exploitation, violence and abuse. We signed the CRPD in 2008, but what is our policy on those countries that do not comply with it? What is our policy on those that allow such human rights abuses to be carried out on women and girls? The G8 this year declared rape to be a war crime. Will the Minister explain to the House what the British Government are doing about it?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate, and I also associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk.
Many of the pictures painted are dramatic and challenging, and I invite the House to think a little about the context that we are in and how we might approach some of these huge issues. The Government have identified six key priority areas, including women and freedom of religion, and those are the two things that I will look at in particular. We are in a world where we have ideals and fall short of them, and need to negotiate between the two.
In my own language, I start by inviting us all to look at the motes in our own eyes. I am embarrassed that my church has legislation in place to discriminate against women, as much religion still does. We are moving towards tackling these things, and the prime movers have been women themselves. One point that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made is that the victims need to be listened to so that they can help us understand what changes are required. It is not legislation but the stories of the victims that need to come first.
We as a church have been criticised, rightly, for the long and tortuous path of giving women full access to leadership in our institution. It is very easy for society to think that we have already done that: we have sex equality legislation and human rights legislation. Noble Lords will know that next Monday is White Ribbon Day, when in this country we remember the increasing levels of violence against women in our society. That is part of the context.
Just yesterday I was involved in a debate for Parliament Week—where the theme, as we know, is “Women in Democracy: Women in Society”—about lads’ mags and the fact that companies such as Tesco sell these magazines along with cheese and cornflakes. They objectify women and normalise the offensive attitude of making women commodities. We give large companies such as Tesco the freedom to degrade the women in our midst. That is the context in which we come to this debate: the motes in our own eyes.
I will suggest a way in which we might move forward. I think that the Government already have some line on this: the Foreign Secretary talks about engaging with complexity and the Minister talks about being pragmatic. We need to be pragmatic in negotiating between ideals and reality. As a trustee of Christian Aid, I know that women are key to development, with new voices and new perspectives, but I also know through my work with Christian Aid that the human trafficking of women and girls is increasing exponentially. Therefore, the ideals and the practice are in enormous tension.
I turn briefly to my specific point. The 2012 list of countries about which we have particular concern does not include India. My diocese works with churches in north India and is especially involved with Christian Dalit peoples—the lowest caste. In the past week, I have been in touch with a colleague in Delhi who worked with Christian Dalit women. She told me about Lakshmi, who works on a construction site from six in the morning till six at night and has to sign a register saying that she is getting the minimum daily wage, although in fact she is paid less than half of it. She also told me about a girl called Anjum, who was put into a brothel at the age of 15 and, last week, was rescued by the churches. She had found herself in that position because she was a Dalit woman in that culture.
The Prime Minister has just visited India and is talking about a special business relationship with that country. We need that: it will be good. However, what can we put into that relationship that will lead these issues to be taken seriously? In your Lordships’ House earlier this year, we made a decisive intervention during the passage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill about Dalits in our own country. First, how can we take that learning and that experience into our work with business in India to help people aim for a similar result?
Secondly, how can we maintain concern for women and girls caught up in the ever-expanding criminal work of human trafficking? Thirdly, how can we look at the motes in our own eyes and challenge the right of large companies such as Tesco to degrade women in the midst of selling cheese and cornflakes and make it normative? As has already been asked, how can we better play a role in the UN? Finally, I guess that I and my colleagues on these Benches need to go back to our own institution and ask how women can play a more constructive and creative role among us so that we have more integrity in contributing to this debate.
My Lords, at the moment I took the oath in the House I was filled with wonder and gratitude. There was gratitude to be given the privilege to sit among your Lordships and to contribute to your deliberations. There was gratitude to my supporting Peers, the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Coe, the latter having forgiven me for defeating him in an egg and spoon race. What can I say? He can run but he dropped the egg. There also was gratitude to all the officials of the House. They have helped me to overcome every practical issue related to having a peerage, save the one that still vexes me; namely, how, in a suburban house containing three children and six guitars, do my wife and I fit a two-foot, red leather box with a large wax seal? I now understand the strategy of barons since the time of King John, which is to get a castle first and only then acquire a peerage.
Finally, there was gratitude that as the son of refugees I live in peace in this extraordinary country with its respect for human rights. It is therefore fitting that human rights should be the subject of my maiden speech. My mother is a survivor of Belsen concentration camp and my father was an exile in a Siberian prison village. Pinner is nicer. People often bemoan the absence of big ideas in British politics. I always reply that big ideas drove my family from their home and their country, murdered my grandmother, starved my mother, imprisoned my father and stole our property. So I like pragmatic, small British ideas, our quiet suburbs and our stable institutions. My politics were never better summarised than by my paternal grandmother saying, “While the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, I am safe in Hendon Central”.
My necessarily brief contribution to this debate is that we in this country have a special understanding of the value of allowing people to live their life in peace as they see fit, to enjoy their privacy and never having to fear what they are because they fear their neighbours or the state. For that reason, because of the respect for that fundamental human right, we have become a leader in extending to gay people the freedom, equality and respect that should rightfully be theirs.
However, with that leadership comes a responsibility. Last year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights identified 76 countries which criminalise private, consensual same-sex relationships. Even where homosexuality is not illegal, all over the world lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are subject to arbitrary arrest, violence and torture. When they are the victims of crime, they cannot turn to the police or the authorities because it is they who will be arrested. They are left defenceless. In Iran, there are secret executions; in Cameroon, there is torture and imprisonment; and, in Belarus, there is police intimidation and confiscated passports.
The only complaint that these countries can make is: why pick on them? The disrespect that they show to fundamental human rights, and the way in which they defy international law, is not theirs alone. It is common. I recognise—we all do—that there are limits to what we can do and I know that much of what we can do we are doing. It is right to pursue a policy of active diplomacy; right to link aid to the Commonwealth to the question of gay rights; and right to use bilateral diplomacy to, for instance, raise Russia’s discrimination against gay people. Perhaps, as the Foreign Office reviews its priorities in its human rights policies, which I am sure it does from time to time, it might consider whether the rights of LGBT people should be among them. After all, internationally, if it is not us, who is it?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for that extraordinary tour de force that describes the parlous state of human rights in the world today. We are grateful to him because he is dogged in his determination to continue to raise these issues and to make our consciences awake. I am delighted to be speaking here today but I cannot continue without congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, on his extraordinarily witty and elegant speech, which was serious too in subject matter. We wholeheartedly support his views on LGBT rights.
The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and I have two things in common. We are both alumni of the London School of Economics, that hotbed of political radicalism. We both started political life as members of the Social Democratic Party—less of a hotbed of political radicalism. But it is well known that the noble Lord could not really contemplate a future with the Liberals or indeed the Lib Dems when the merger between the SDP and the Liberals happened and he made his way to the Conservative Party. But as with all things in life, what goes around comes around and we are both now happily united under the wonderful umbrella of coalition government. I am sure that I echo the sentiments of the whole House when I say how delighted we are to have such a distinguished journalist among our ranks and we look forward to his witty, elegant and thoughtful contributions.
I also want to mention how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Suttie. She will bring a formidable knowledge of foreign affairs and the European Union to our deliberations, as I am sure we will hear before too long in this debate. For myself, given the limited time that we have today, I want to talk of just one situation—the most egregious human rights violation currently under way, namely; the civil war in Syria and the failure of the international community to do anything to end those atrocities.
In the two and a half years of this war, we have had talk of arming the opposition to change the balance of power in the early stages. Then there was talk of a no-fly zone to enable a humanitarian corridor to be established. Finally, there was the failed resolution of 29 August this year, which was an attempt on the part of some United Nations Security Council members to live up to their promises on responsibility to protect—namely, to act collectively to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.
During all this time, the cost of the tragedy in Syria has risen. We have 150,000 dead, 7 million people displaced—2 million in neighbouring countries. Moreover, we have seen the hopelessness of getting even basic medical assistance to the victims of violence. It is estimated that of the original fleet of 500 ambulances in Syria, only 40 or so are still operating. More than 16,000 doctors have fled and at least 36 paramedics in uniform have been killed.
Let me turn to the record of the United Kingdom Government. Yes, we have been generous—some half a billion pounds in humanitarian assistance and countless visits to refugee camps by luminaries to publicise the state of those camps. But when genocide is under way, with jihadi groups singling out not just Alawite but all Shia as infidels, and ethnic cleansing through killing or displacement is rife, it is legitimate to ask when the international community will act.
So let me turn to the concrete question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, only last Tuesday regarding the creation of a humanitarian corridor. My noble friend Lady Northover, who I am delighted to see is in her place today, explained how difficult it would be to get all sides to the conflict to sign up to a ceasefire at the same time. While I can see the difficulties on the ground, it is also evident that when there is a will on the part of the Russians—the main obstruction in this case—a solution can be found. The chemical weapons inspectors were given safe passage only a few weeks ago.
What discussions has my noble friend been having with Russia and Iran regarding their leverage with the regime to gain the co-operation of the Syrian military and with Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the compliance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—a rather neutral-sounding name for the al-Nusra Front and all its barbarism? What discussions have the United Kingdom had with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army?
While we accept that there are several hundred groups fighting on the ground, we can all agree that most have external powers whose support keeps them going. So let me turn briefly to the United Nations Security Council. The current composition provides an opportunity. If Russia co-operates with permanent members, as it did over chemical weapons, then we also have a further three Commonwealth member states plus an EU state. With the impending replacement of Saudi Arabia by Jordan, the necessary majority for a fresh United Nations resolution should surely be attainable. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell the House what efforts the Government are making to secure the United Nations Security Council resolution to provide some sort of humanitarian corridor in Syria.
Human rights protections derive from the inalienable and pre-political rights of individuals. It is a collective responsibility of all to uphold them.
My Lords, first, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate. When I saw that each of us had about four minutes to make our contribution, I was concerned whether we would be able to have a debate in depth and breadth which would touch on many of the issues about which I feel passionately. I should have had greater confidence in your Lordships’ House, because each speech before mine has ticked off a number of the issues that I wanted to touch on, whether religion or human rights for gay people and women. To the fine maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, I feel able to say “amen”.
I would like to take my few minutes to concentrate on issues relating to women. The recent discourse within the Commonwealth has shown us the importance of human rights and the way in which they impact on all our people, but the rights of women is a matter which the Foreign Office has rightly highlighted as a key issue which we as a global community should communicate. I absolutely agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the impact of rape. According to the World Health Organisation, domestic violence affects one in three women across the world. It is now of pandemic proportions. It is the greatest cause of morbidity in women and girls worldwide. If it was any other form of disease, there would be a global outcry that so many women and girls are dying and being seriously injured by such a vicious and pernicious form of assault on their human rights, their dignity and their right to live.
The report demonstrates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. It goes on to make it clear that, globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. Globally, 7% of women had been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner. The scale and enormity of the abuse of women must be seen to be believed. Ban Ki-Moon was right when he said:
“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable”.
I commend the Minister, in particular, and Her Majesty’s Government for what they have sought in policy in relation to women and girls, but does she think that it is right that Foreign Office policy should restrict its purview to violence against women in areas of conflict, bearing in mind that violence against women in and out of conflict is a fundamental breach of their human rights which needs to be addressed? Will the Foreign Office consider expanding that role?
I commend the Government on signing the Istanbul convention last year, but when are they likely to ratify it, so that we can become one of the first 10 nations to enable that convention to come into operation? If we are to continue to have our position of prominence in raising the issue of human rights for women and girls, it is incumbent on our Government to use their best endeavours to make sure that we are among those 10. I have to tell the Minister that if the previous Government were still in being, I very much hoped that we would be the first to sign and ratify and would not risk coming not even in the first 10.
This is something that we can choose to address. If we wish to make violence against women something of the past, it will take all of us to raise our voice. Will the Minister tell us a little bit about the strategy that the Government intend to operate and deliver in order to make that a reality?
My Lords, I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate. Manipulation of religious sentiment to persecute those of other faiths is a sad feature of human rights abuse in much of the world. I would like to take this opportunity to give a Sikh perspective on possible ways to a fairer and more tolerant society.
When we talk of human rights abuse, we immediately think of countries such as Syria, North Korea and Iran. We rightly condemn their abuses of human rights, but we look more benignly at countries with which we have close political alliances or trade links—as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, perceptively observed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby reminded us, we should look to the mote in our own eye. If we were consistent, the UN report of a government massacre of some 40,000 men, women and children from Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and evidence of continuing human rights abuses would have led to that country’s immediate suspension from the Commonwealth pending an investigation.
I will give another example of this less than even-handed approach to human rights. Next year sees the 30th anniversary of the Indian army attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar and the subsequent massacre of tens of thousands of Sikhs throughout India. An independent inquiry headed by a former Chief Justice of India found overwhelming evidence of top Congress Party involvement. Yet our Government’s response to this attack on a minority faith was total silence. When I raised the matter with a then Cabinet Minister, I received the reply, “Indarjit, we know exactly what’s going on, but we are walking on a tightrope. We have already lost one important contract”. He was referring to the Westland helicopter contract.
We rightly condemn the use of sarin gas in Syria but were silent over America’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam—which, even today, is causing horrendous birth defects half a century after its use. The same country’s use of drones to fly over sovereign territory to kill and maim those it does not like and, in the process, kill many innocent civilians sets a dangerous precedent.
I have spoken about our country’s selective approach to human rights only as an example. Other world powers, including India, China, the USA and Russia, behave in exactly the same way, making any co-ordinated approach on human rights virtually impossible. It was the great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov who said that there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.
My hope is that Her Majesty’s Government will take the lead in working for a world in which principle always transcends the interests of trade and power-bloc politics. I firmly believe that our country is best placed to give a lead in this wider view of human rights.
My Lords, I am very proud and honoured to stand here today as a Member of this House and make my maiden speech. I begin by thanking noble Lords on all sides of the House for the warm welcome that I have received. They will know that I am preceded here by my husband, my noble friend Lord Kennedy, but I also know that noble Lords will be familiar with the quote that begins, “Behind every great man …”.
I also thank all the staff for the help they have given me. One day when I was looking particularly confused, one staff member asked, “Would it help, my Lady, if I pointed out which the way Lord Kennedy went?”. I was impressed by how skilfully he gave me the option of going in the opposite direction. I need to give particular thanks to the doorkeepers. Some noble Lords may have noted that when I and my noble friend Lord Kennedy were introduced, the galleries were rather packed. I would like to thank the doorkeepers and assure them that there are currently no other Kennedys working for the Labour Party on the way to this noble House.
I also thank my supporters, my noble friends Lady McDonagh and Lord Collins, and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Gould, for all their advice and support. My final thank you is to my friend Margaret Bradley, a local Cradley historian whose research helped me with this speech.
I was delighted when it was agreed that I could use Cradley as my territorial title. It is a town rich in history. For hundreds of years, ironwork—nail-making and chain-making—was the staple industry of Cradley and its surrounding towns. Right up until I went to university, I lived in Cradley, in the same house and in the same street—and it is where my father still lives today. Since at least 1830, my ancestors’ livelihoods relied on the nail and chain industries in Cradley and the surrounding towns.
Noble Lords may be wondering why the history of my home town is relevant to today’s debate on human rights. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this crucial debate. It is relevant because it reminds us of the evils of child labour. In Cradley, children were born, reared, worked and died in the chain shops. It was not unusual to see baby baskets swinging from iron poles so that women could hammer iron and rock their baby at the same time. By the age of eight, children were experienced chain makers.
Thankfully, the dominance of child labour in Cradley is a distant memory. However, this is not the case in many other parts of the world, where child labour exists on a colossal scale. Millions of children younger than the basic minimum working age are deprived of their childhood and work in appalling conditions that damage their physical and mental well-being. The ILO estimates that across the world, instead of going to school, 168 million children aged five to 17 are child labourers. Every child has the right to a childhood, and every child has the right to an education. Child labour is a violation of a child’s human rights.
Today, I want to highlight two areas of child labour that particularly affect girls: mining and domestic work. Across the world there are more than 85 million children engaged in hazardous work, the most menacing of which is the plight of child miners. Children as young as six and seven are handling explosives, exposed to toxic air and carrying heavy loads. The physical and psychological effects are traumatic for both boys and girls. However, girls bear a double burden as they also have to carry out domestic chores at home for the family. There is no time for rest, and no time for school.
Another area where girls are particularly vulnerable is when they work behind closed doors as domestic workers. Some 11.5 million children, mainly girls, work dawn to dusk taking care of domestic chores in other people’s homes. They live with their employer. They are under the control of their employer. They are isolated and trapped. Many suffer verbal abuse or, even worse, physical abuse. Girls are suffering in silence. It is slavery by anyone’s definition.
We must work with each other and everyone involved in our civil society to alleviate global poverty, achieve universal primary education and eliminate child labour. We know we can all do more. There are many charities in the UK that work to alleviate poverty. I declare an interest as I am a trustee of one such charity, APT—Action on Poverty. APT fights poverty by giving people the means to feed their families all year round and forever. It works with local partners on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia to build lasting livelihoods for the most vulnerable.
We know that child labour is directly linked to poverty, which is why charities like APT are vital. When a person knows that they can feed their family not just today but every day in the future, they can fully embrace education, not employment, for their child. If children fail to get an education, they fail to get the skills needed for their own growth as well as their country’s economic growth. The poor of today remain the poor of tomorrow. Sadly, child labour is not just an issue for developing countries. Studies have shown that children here in the UK have been found in forced labour. That is why I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward a modern Slavery Bill, which I hope is still due in December. I hope that it will pay particular attention to child labour here and across the world.
Government must do more to work with international businesses to encourage them to address the issue of child labour in their operations and supply chains. Businesses should not just demand that child labour stops but should help influence national Governments and employers in countries around the world, encourage better working conditions, mobilise communities around education, support social protection programmes, and invest more in education and in modernising agricultural production in poor rural communities where child labour is rife.
I will make one final plea. The next World Day Against Child Labour is on Thursday 12 June 2014. Let us all commit now to join together on that day and encourage other organisations to join with us. Children need to be learners, not labourers. Children should no longer be denied a childhood, an education or the most basic of human rights: a future.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this very important debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her very clear and powerful speech. It is particularly important that she mentioned something that has not been mentioned so far in this debate, namely the way that children are still exploited in so many parts of the world. We look forward to hearing her clear and powerful voice on subsequent occasions.
When future historians look back on the immediate post-World War II period, they will judge that one of the greatest achievements of that time was the UN declaration of human rights and the ensuing conventions. Those affirmed in law the unique worth of every single individual. They are, in the words of the late Ronald Dworkin, “trumps”, which cannot be overridden by any raison d’état. Of course the trouble, as we know, is that it is so easy to be deeply depressed at the massive way in which human rights are violated in so many countries in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a long list at the beginning, although he did not mention some of them. It is very easy to get depressed by that, and it is difficult to know what to focus on in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminded us, it is important that we should not be selective. However, when we get depressed, we need to go back to the fact that we still have a benchmark in the UN declaration. It is a question of being as persistent in the pursuit of that as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been in setting us a very good example in his wide-ranging and persistent concern for human rights.
I hope that noble Lords will excuse me if, as chairman of the All-Party Group on Dalits, I focus very briefly on them. I do so first because of the sheer scale of the problem that affects them: there are something like 260 million Dalits in the world, mainly in India and other south-east Asian countries. Secondly, although all human rights violations are appalling—torture, religious persecution and so on—there is something particularly humiliating and degrading about the way in which Dalits are totally rejected by the surrounding culture in which so many of them live and every area of their lives is affected. If anyone doubts the sheer horror of this I would recommend the novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The “fine balance” of the title is the balance between hope and despair. I have huge admiration for the poor of India, for their sheer resilience, hope and even joy, despite everything. However, the problems are huge. In almost every area of exploitation the Dalits will be found at the bottom, more exploited than anybody else.
I am glad to say that we will hear more over the next months about different forms of trafficking. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that because the Dalits are the most vulnerable of all groups, they are found in all forms of trafficking and at a much higher percentage than other groups. Trafficking takes the form of bonded labour. It also takes the form of the Sumangali system for the payment of dowries. Although that system has been officially abolished in India since 1961, it still goes on. However, the sex trade is perhaps the most shocking of all. As Dalit Solidarity Network UK puts it,
“Most girls and women in India’s urban brothels come from Dalit, lower-caste, tribal, or minority communities”.
Much of that has its origin in religiously sanctioned prostitution. It has been reckoned that some 250,000 women in India fall into this category, many of them enslaved unknowingly when they were still young children. Dalit Freedom Network has said that almost all women trapped in ritualised prostitution are Dalits.
When the concept of human rights was first formulated after World War II, the particular concern was the way in which individuals need to be protected against their states. There is a particular complication, of course, with the kind of discrimination the Dalits experience, because it is so deeply embedded in cultures. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government, when they raise their general concerns about human rights in India and other south-east Asian countries, will continue to bring this issue before those Governments.
My Lords, like the words “location, location, location” in a very different context, “consistency, consistency, consistency” should be the key to our Government’s attitude to countries that violate human rights. Our foreign policy must be realistic—of course I recognise that. I am in favour of our trading nation having the commercial foreign policy that we are developing. However, I am also in favour of the motif once used so effectively by the late Robin Cook: the need for an ethical foreign policy. The two are not at odds and indeed both trade and aid can be used as powerful levers to bring about change over the years in delinquent countries. To illustrate this I will compare and contrast our attitude in this context, particularly in relation to religious freedoms, on Iran and on Turkey, where there are dominant Governments.
I turn first to Iran. While all are hopeful that Mr Rouhani, the new President, may make things better for persecuted minorities, we should all recall that instant warm words of welcome in the media for apparent, new liberal change around the world often have to be eaten pretty quickly, as the plight of the poor Copts in Egypt, highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, shows us at the moment. They are clearly the most up-to-date victims of religious clearances in Africa. In Iran, all religious groups other than orthodox Muslims are now in the religious cleansing firing line under Mr Rouhani’s new presidency. There is no or little freedom and much persecution of all those who are not Muslims, from Sufi dervishes to evangelical Christians, from the poor Baha’is, who are so persecuted, to those Armenian and Assyrian churches who happen to conduct their services in Farsi, which is thought not to be acceptable. Some of those churches are still being closed down under the new liberal presidency of Mr Rouhani.
There has been little visible change and a bit of hope, and the Government have been very robust in trying to do what they can to help and to condemn such persecution in Iran. Good. Strangely, however, the Government seem—although perhaps I am misguided—to pull their punches a bit on Turkey, a country which is always described as “mildly Islamist” in polite diplomatic discourse. Bad. Is it mildly Islamist for Turkey to suppress the ancient Greek monastery on Halki island, or to restrict the freedoms of worship of the Alevis in Turkey? Is it “mildly Islamist” to make it impossible for Christians to have public places of worship established in the seaside holiday-making areas of coastal Turkey? One Anglican clergyman has told me that they have to flit from house to house underground to have underground services, as if they were living in some kind of penal times—and actually they are living in some kind of penal times.
I am very glad that some of our leading western Christian leaders have got off their knees at long last to say that this anti-Christian trend must be resisted. I hasten to add that I recognise that being on their knees is part of the day job of right reverend Prelates, and others, as they pray for us in need of their prayers. But I am glad that they have shown this leadership. A few years ago, I took part in a debate in this place with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which highlighted the apparent onset of Christian clearances in Iraq. It is a bit late now, as those clearances are more or less complete. Turkey next? I do not know—I hope not—but I do know that it is not “mildly Islamist” to disperse with such terrifying violence peaceful demonstrations in Gezi Park in central Istanbul, where I have walked, rightly condemned by Amnesty International for its “large-scale human rights violations”. Is it indeed respectful of freedom of expression for so-called “mildly Islamist” Turkey to have in its prisons more journalists than any other country on earth, including China? Only three days ago, on Monday, it was reported that the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Bulent Arinc, is calling for the former Christian basilica of Hagia Sophia, presently a secular museum, to be opened up for prayer—I guess Muslim prayer.
In my noble friend’s wind-up, could she find a moment or two just to explain to your Lordships what exactly is meant by the phrase “mildly Islamist”, or do we turn a blind eye to what is going on in Turkey?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this timely and important debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on his excellent and deeply amusing maiden speech. In the month since my introduction, I am grateful to noble Lords from all sides of this House for having made me feel so welcome. I am hugely grateful, too, for the helpful advice from ever-patient members of staff who have dealt with my numerous questions with good humour and tolerance. In particular, I would like to thank Black Rod and his department for their excellent induction course.
I also thank my two supporters. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and I have been friends since getting to know each other in Brussels, when she was serving on the Committee of the Regions and I was working in the European Parliament. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope is in some ways responsible for getting me involved in politics in the first place. As my excellent constituency MP in Hawick in the Scottish borders, I used to write to him on a regular basis from Hawick High School with a variety of obscure and occasionally precocious inquiries. We subsequently worked together on two separate occasions over several years in the other place. As a very dear friend and colleague, he has also been a constant source of sunny optimism.
Exactly 25 years ago, I was studying in Voronezh State University in southern Russia in the Soviet Union. I was there as part of a three-month Russian language exchange programme from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. It was there that I not only learnt the beautiful Russian language but learnt to appreciate Russian art and culture as well as the very generous and at times overflowing Russian hospitality. It was the era of Glasnost and Perestroika which by then, in 1988, had even reached the provincial city of Voronezh. It was a time when culture flourished, banned novels were published, and, as British students, we were able to discuss issues such as politics and humans rights, which in the darker days under Brezhnev would have been unimaginable.
After graduation, I returned to work in St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it still was then, from December 1990 to spring 1991, as an English teacher. By this stage, the Soviet Union was in a state of evident collapse. I survived thanks to the kindness of my Russian friends, as food was rationed and the shelves were completely bare. The August putsch took place later that year and, by the end of December, the Soviet Union was dissolved.
During my regular visits to Russia in the 1990s, I saw the gradual transfer to a free market Russian style of capitalism but, sadly, this has not been matched by a move towards parliamentary democracy, independent institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Indeed, since the parliamentary elections at the end of 2011, which many observers regarded as fraudulent, and the presidential elections to re-elect Vladimir Putin in the spring of 2012, we have witnessed a considerable backwards step in terms of parliamentary democracy and human rights. Journalists and businesspeople, in particular, have faced threats and serious intimidation, or worse, when they have challenged the Kremlin’s line.
I am relieved, as I am sure are all noble Lords, that the British freelance journalist Kieron Bryan was granted bail yesterday, but the case of the Greenpeace 30 more than ever illustrates the need for thorough judicial reform in Russia. I hope that the Government will continue to press the Kremlin for a speedy, transparent, proportionate and fair conclusion.
In March this year, I did some political training work in Chisinau, in the Republic of Moldova. The politicians I spoke to told me of their fears of having such a heavy dependency on Russian energy supplies. In the run up to the Vilnius summit next week, as they prepare to sign association agreements with the EU, they are understandably worried. Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin’s chilling remarks to Moldova that he hoped that they, “Wouldn’t freeze this winter”, are perhaps sadly typical of the current neo-colonial state of mind in the Kremlin.
In the run up to the Sochi Olympic Games, when Russia is very much in the public eye, we must use every opportunity to continue to push for real institutional reform in Russia, as well as an independent judiciary and for the creation of genuine parliamentary democracy.
My Lords, it is a considerable honour to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. She is a proud daughter of Hawick, a historic town, which I know. She has told us of her experience of international development and human rights, especially in Russia and eastern Europe. I know that she has spent many years in Westminster and has gathered that kind of political experience, not least in managing two senior Liberal Democrat politicians, including the Deputy Prime Minister. That must be a test of endurance. We look forward to hearing her many times in future.
I also have the exhortation of the new noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, ringing in my ears—that we know we can all do more. That will take a lot of living up to, because human rights is an essential issue in foreign affairs. My noble friend Lord Alton has raised it with a skill nurtured over many years in Westminster, and he has given me and others a lot of encouragement. I have joined him often in debates, especially on Sudan, where human rights violations continue daily. He mentioned the Nuba mountains and the bombing there, and I agree with him about strengthening the ICC. But today I shall be in Asia, for a change.
The Commonwealth summit, or CHOGM, has again tested the nerves of diplomats all over the world in the past week, which is largely down to our own Prime Minister and the initiative that he has taken. I have seen the Channel 4 documentary; there can be little doubt of the shelling and abuses of human rights against fleeing Tamils in the last stages of the civil war. President Rajapaksa has a hard shell but, with India and Canada keeping away, he has received a strong message of disapproval. I am sure that the UK was correct to stay with the Commonwealth meeting and influence it from within. At the same time, we must not forget the atrocities of the Tamil Tigers during the war; nor can we ignore the strength of feeling on both sides.
There comes a point where outsiders without such recent experience cannot really fathom the depth of prejudice and discrimination that continues beneath the surface, long after the world has turned away. I am thinking of the EU candidate countries mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, in the Balkans, where the European External Action Service is still pushing through its hardest tests of good government, not always with success, against the relatively recent background of ethnic genocide. Politicians cannot behave like leaders of human rights NGOs, whose stamina we all applaud. Political parties have to be selective; picking from what my noble friend called an à la carte menu, they turn continually to other subjects, and for this reason are always open to charges of hypocrisy.
We can learn a lot from our recent debate on China—another Conservative initiative, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. His understandable concern was with our business and trade with China, and whether our relationship would be affected by too much emphasis on human rights, such as our preoccupation with Tibet and China’s attitude to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province, where the conflict has been no less violent. The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said in that debate that,
“it is perfectly possible … to exert quiet and helpful influence, to encourage moves towards greater openness while avoiding explicit criticism or confrontation … not through lecturing or preaching but through the sharing of best practice with partners representing a very ancient civilisation”.—[Official Report, 7/11/13; col. 349.]
That seems to sum things up very well.
The Dalai Lama told a journalist recently that trust develops gradually, even with an animal,
“if you show genuine affection”,
but that if you are,
“always showing bad face and beating, how can you develop friendship?”.
The same might be said of many other situations in which we have to do business with tyrants or bring humanitarian aid to victims of brutality.
In Nepal there are unresolved human rights cases left over from the 10-year civil war—more than half of them at the hands of the army or the state. According to the agency INSEC, more than 3,500 violations took place in one year alone, 2012, including much violence against women, but there has been no single prosecution in the seven years since the end of the conflict, owing to the political turmoil. This is why I am particularly asking the Minister if she will make every effort to encourage Nepal to re-establish the independent human rights commission, which has never been quite independent and needs more support from outside. This is where I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who seems to think that every country can fend for itself. We must reassert the international solidarity that is so important in these situations.
Human rights in the Commonwealth and elsewhere will elude us as long as governance, the rule of law and other principles of democracy remain unaddressed. We have to keep banging the drum and not get too frustrated when no one listens.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate. It follows on very helpfully from a short debate that I secured two weeks ago on the situation with regard to religious freedom following the events of the Arab spring.
The all-party parliamentary group’s recent report on international religious freedom, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, to which a number of us in this Chamber contributed, accurately shows that over the past decade every region in the world has seen marked declines with regard to religious freedom. Christians in Egypt and Syria, Baha’is in Iran, Shi’ite Muslims in Indonesia, and Sunni Muslims in Thailand and Burma face serious threats to their viability and even survival. We have heard other examples today, including comments by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on the situation in Turkey.
If freedom of religion and belief is a primary barometer of the social health of a nation, the palpable decline in recent years in respect of this most fundamental right suggests a worrying state of affairs regarding the health of the global common good. Despite this trend, Governments the world over—ours included, I fear—still assign it too low a priority than the scale of the crisis at present requires.
Part of this reluctance, I imagine, is that Governments and opinion-makers are hesitant, perhaps even reluctant, to acknowledge the connection between levels of religious freedom and the basic health and well-being of societies. This is not about protecting the rights of one religious community over another but about providing for the human flourishing of all, irrespective of whether they have a religious belief—as was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is about being confident of one’s core values in our society, so that a variety of different communities may prosper.
Like other noble Lords, I applaud the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for the careful attention she has devoted to this issue. I noted in an earlier debate that she is a near neighbour to me in Wakefield; there is solidarity in West Yorkshire. Her speech last week to the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington DC was but the latest example of the forthright engagement that we have come to expect from her.
It is of course true that a great deal of work is being done in relation to freedom of religion and belief. However, this work is not necessarily focused on ensuring that everyone is able to exercise that right in peace and security. So the question, it seems to me, is how we move on from the essentially negative strategies that have been rooted in combating discrimination, intolerance, hate speech and incitement. Of course these things are important, but they work only once there is a clear commitment to the underlying value of the freedom of religion or belief. Core values need to be supported by proactive policies. Other noble Lords have hinted at such policies; indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the independent human rights commission. Is it not now time for the Government to shift their attention to a more positive approach to religious freedom and to recognise the wider societal benefits that it brings?
How might this be achieved? Some suggestions have already been put forward during this debate. Certainly the appointment of an ambassador at large or a special representative for religious freedom would help enhance the voice of the UK as the champion of an inclusive approach to freedom of religion or belief. A number of us have been pressing for this recently.
The head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights and democracy department is indeed an impressive figure. However, the incumbent of that post on her own is unable to give this matter the attention it rightly deserves because of competing priorities and pressures on her department’s time. We need to look again at strengthening the machinery of government in this area. It is to be hoped that when the Foreign Affairs Select Committee looks at its work programme for the next year, it will take upon itself the task of examining this issue with its usual forensic attention. I have been assured in a letter by the committee’s chair that this will be taken into account.
In concluding, I note only that unless we are prepared to give this issue the urgent attention it requires, we cannot be surprised if respect for religious freedom continues to decline markedly. The existing strategy across our world is not working, and it is time to think again.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord for securing today’s debate, particularly as I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief. We specifically added “or Belief” when the British Humanist Association became one of the stakeholders. The issue has for too long been viewed as global identity politics. Christians seemingly speak up only when Christians are persecuted, Sikhs for Sikhs, and Baha’is for Baha’is, and this has contributed to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not being treated as a universal human right. The issue needs careful nuance and although some commentators, especially some on the centre right, want neat analyses, the following cursory around-the-world tour reveals that to be too simplistic.
On 28 August 2013 in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, Mr Ataollah Rezvani, a well known Baha’i, was murdered. He had come under pressure from agents of the ministry of intelligence who were intimidating him. On 17 November at around 9.30 in the morning, Pastor Zhang Xiaojie, who leads the Nanle county Christian church, a Three-Self state sanctioned church in China, was detained. Currently the pastor and 20 other members of the church are still being detained without arrest or charge. As has already been mentioned, Alexander Aan, an atheist, is in prison in Indonesia. Interestingly, Papua New Guinea has recently launched a consultation to prohibit non-Christian worship. If you are a Hindu in Pakistan, the law does not allow you to marry. Also, in November 2012, Ummad Farooq, whose father is president of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in his local community, was shot in head. Ummad is being treated in Birmingham and I am proud to say that he is claiming asylum here in the United Kingdom.
In Colombia, two pastors were killed in 2012 and about 300 indigenous Christians were displaced from their homes. Pagan indigenous populations receive material support from paramilitary organisations to organise the persecution of local Christians. The Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and, of course, all followers of whatever religion or belief in North Korea are being persecuted. However, not all persecution is far from our shores as anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews and Jewish places of worship have re-emerged in Europe, particularly in Hungary and Greece.
All the studies point to a simple fact: the persecution of people of faith or no faith on the basis of their belief is rapidly increasing. I warmly congratulate the Government on the fact that this is a human rights priority for them, but given the trend I have just outlined, does it not merit its own sub-group of the Human Rights Advisory Group? Most if not all of the other priorities do so. Moreover, does it not justify more than a part-time, unpaid special rapporteur as its main resource at the international level? The Prime Minister is to visit China next month, so will Her Majesty’s Government raise the case I have outlined, as well as the plight of Falun Gong followers who are tortured and imprisoned for their belief?
I was heartened to read in the Minister’s recent speech delivered at Georgetown University in America the assertion of the freedom to change one’s religion. This is the reason the APPG’s first report focused on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as it is the international instrument that states this unambiguously. Globalisation and the internet on smartphones means increasing exposure to different beliefs around the world. While traditionally where you were born and the community you were from perhaps dictated what you believed, individuals are increasingly able to make such decisions for themselves. There is a global trend of religious conversion and the emergence of new religious movements. This positive empowerment is, however, often met by harsh responses from many Governments around the world. For instance, as other noble Lords have mentioned, while diplomatic developments with Iran are promising, dozens of Muslims who have become Christians, along with Baha’is who are seen as apostates, remain in prison because of their faith. Can my noble friend please comment on our policy towards religious freedom in Iran?
A truly worrying example in this context are the recent reports that the Arab League is developing a regional blasphemy law that will criminalise any expression of opinion that is deemed a blasphemy, even when such opinions are expressed outside the jurisdiction of a particular country. If such a proposal ultimately is put into law by Arab League states, it will be in full breach of international human rights standards. Have Her Majesty’s Government made representations to the United Nations and the Arab league on this proposed blasphemy law?
I hope that protecting the freedom to convert will be on the agenda of the January summit on Article 18 that my noble friend is planning. The United Kingdom should be at the forefront of preserving the freedoms that have been opened up to this Twitter generation.
My Lords, I congratulate and pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate. The noble Lord is well known for his commitment to these issues and I can recall listening, in the late 1980s, to a passionate defence of the rights of Jews being persecuted in the Soviet Union that was made by the noble Lord. Today, I possess a great sense of gratitude for the warm welcome that I have received from all sides of the House. I have been truly struck by the sincerity and good will of all. I would also like to thank the staff of the House for their unfailing courtesy and useful advice. Their help is hugely appreciated. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Levy and Lord Janner of Braunstone, who supported me at my Introduction. Together with my mentor, my noble friend Lord Mitchell, they embody the best of this Chamber. I am sure that I will learn more from them and, indeed, from the whole House than I will ever be able to contribute. This is also a very special debate as I find myself in the company of good friends and colleagues who have made really outstanding maiden speeches.
I grew up with friends and family scarred by and in the shadow of the Holocaust. I appreciated the universal lessons that were drawn from those terrible events. Also around that time we saw the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the establishment and operation of the murderous and brutal regime known as Democratic Kampuchea. As a young school pupil, I remember participating in the work of a TV appeal to bring relief to the Cambodian people. These events have had a lasting impact on me, and in many ways they have guided my life. The events of the Holocaust and the end of the Second World War gave rise, of course, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
International systems, conventions, treaties and courts may not be perfect, but it is essential that they exist rather than not. I congratulate the Government on their successful election to the Human Rights Council. This reminds us how broad the role is that Government can play, and in this regard I would like to make a few suggestions and offer some thoughts on what the Government can consider. First, we need to remind ourselves that our work defending, protecting and advocating human rights protects not only those who face the denial of those rights, but also our own way of life. This is a dangerous period and the erosion of human rights can be an early sign of a broader attack on liberty. If our role in the world is to stand for anything, it is not just about adhering to the universal declaration, it is surely to protect our liberal values and way of life and extending the same rights and freedoms to others. We should do this by making the world more stable, increasing economic inclusion, making government outcomes more fair, less corrupt and more effective, and giving more people a stake in successful democracies. We should cement all of that in place through stable, equitable free trade and a growing economic interdependence that binds us together.
Secondly, this is a vast task with many actors. Human rights and democracy are frequently challenged. They are still very young in most countries and under pressure, particularly where education and the checks on elected Governments and corruption are weak, as well as where there is little appreciation that violence and discrimination against women is perhaps the greatest bar to a nation’s progress. Human rights must be part of a long-term strategy across a range of government departments, international institutions, parliamentary initiatives and an active, thriving international NGO and civil society sector.
The Government are well placed to achieve a lot and their influence depends on the level of international engagement. I am encouraged by the work of this and many previous Governments to extend our reach, and I add my support to these efforts. But I would encourage the Government to look more closely at whether we are using all the tools we have as effectively as possible. Surely it is worth considering whether development aid can do more to support a strategy of long-term political development as part of a wider strategy across government departments.
My final point is this. We need to address the economic dimensions that influence the attainment of human rights. There is a need to understand that the factors which curb human rights go beyond the traditional notions of corrupt regimes—rather, it is the fact that terribly uneven societies endure and the extractive capabilities of nations continue to be plundered while the prosperity and well-being of their citizens are ignored that causes great forms of repression. Creating the right market conditions, promoting growth, values and responsibility in the private sector is certainly part of it, but there is some merit in the argument that we should be vigilant. We must try to ensure that we do not allow societies to reach the tipping point where a population feels that the diminution of their and their children’s long-term economic prospects and a fundamental lack of hope adds to instability and conflict and a further erosion of their human rights.
I thank all noble Lords once again for the warmest of welcomes.
My Lords, I feel privileged to follow my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn. I read that when he was introduced into the House, he said, “If, over my service, I can make even a fraction of the contribution to public life of my introducers, I will achieve a great deal”. My noble friend has a long history of working towards justice, both in the UK and in the Middle East. He is deeply involved in, and dedicated to, his work in the north London Jewish community. After today’s excellent, enlightened and thought-provoking maiden speech, I am sure that his presence in this House will be greatly appreciated. The presence of my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn on our Benches along with my noble friend Lord Bach will be music to the ears of all sides of the House. I am sure they will bring great harmony.
I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving us the opportunity to speak on this issue, which has been so pertinent to our values and is the foundation on which the principles of our Commonwealth are built. Following the Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka, there cannot be a more appropriate time for this House to deliberate on how these values and principles translate into action beyond our immediate environment, into the Commonwealth and extending into the international domain.
As has been said, during the UK’s successful bid to join the UN Human Rights Council, a point of collaboration was made. We all agree that collaboration and international unity are paramount to how the Government are able to respond to violations of human rights. The point committed our Government to working more effectively with international partners and emphasised constructive association with both Commonwealth and EU partners to share best practice and expertise. With this newly acquired position, we furthered our ability. I need not point out to this House that with ability comes obligation.
The Government have made reference to the steps they have taken to promote human rights in Sri Lanka, through bilateral and supranational funding and through sharing experiences and expertise. My concerns are twofold and I would like to hear the Minister’s response on the following points. What efforts are being extended to other Commonwealth countries, and how do the Government intend to utilise the merits of the Commonwealth charter to promote human rights internationally? Further to that, as the Government are keen to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, what assessment, if any, have they made of their proposed British Bill of Rights and how it would compromise our own ambitions to work internationally?
I will not delay the House any longer, as most of the questions that I want to raise will come up later.
My Lords, we are all immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton not only for introducing this debate but for his long persistence and faithfulness on these issues over, one dares to say, a generation. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for introducing in his excellent maiden speech the responsibilities of business and the corporate sector. I want to focus on that in some of my remarks.
We are all conscious of the UN human rights responsibilities as they were laid out in the 1940s, but they were updated in 2011 by the guiding principles on the responsibilities of business. The new principles and burdens which fall on business, in essence, oblige businesses to sign up to the Human Rights Council guiding principles. They require organisations such as my own, KPMG, to:
“Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur”—
“Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services”.
This is a golden opportunity to bring the corporate sector into line with the responsibilities of public authorities. It is a chance for corporations, which have long held in private their own concerns about whether they have witnessed, for example, trafficking of individuals, unfair discrimination or employment procedures in other companies that were unacceptable, to take a stand alongside public duties.
On 16 October, there was an interesting report in the Guardian on a new assessment survey rating called “Tomorrow’s Value Rating”, set up by an organisation that seeks to assess the way in which companies are living up to the guiding principles on business and human rights. It found some interesting points of note. For example, although a vast majority of companies, such as my own, are signatories to the UN Global Compact, only a third of those that said they were devoted to human rights had a policy in place or a mechanism for measurement. It also found that in the oil and gas sector only three of the 10 companies covered had a stand-alone human rights policy and that management of human rights often appears to be reactive rather than proactive.
One does not want unduly to punish companies that are in the early stages of assessing their human rights responsibilities, but this is a chance not just for a debate in this House but to look at the way in which the Government think about future legislation for the UK alongside our partner countries, to set a tone of expectation in the corporate world as well as in the political sphere. In 2013, a long list of obligations relating to the principles of human rights for companies was set out by the Institute for Business and Human Rights in the UK. Point 6 of its 10 points of emphasis is titled:
“Renewing efforts to protect lives in the work-place”.
I want to draw attention to a specific example with a positive outcome, and I hope that we will see companies acting in this way in future.
None of us will forget the events in April surrounding the collapse of a building in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. We will all recall the loss of life—1,200 individuals—the maiming, in particular, of many women and the loss of livelihoods. However, I am immensely grateful to be able to report to this House and for the benefit of public understanding that many of the companies involved, including ABF—Associated British Foods—the owner of Primark, decided that they would take their responsibilities immensely seriously. They would not only pay out for those who had lost livelihoods but stand together to take a responsible position on building requirements, regulations and standards for the future. Not only was this a dreadful affair that saw the unjust loss of multitudes of lives but it has been a golden opportunity for corporations to take their duties seriously. I am very grateful for the leadership of George Weston, the chief executive of ABF, and for his stand in its annual report, published on 5 November.
In conclusion, we have an opportunity in the corporate sector as new markets increasingly emerge where many of the pressure points that my noble friend Lord Alton and others have mentioned are brought to bear. If we can bring about a process for better common working practices between corporations and public authorities, we could see companies taking a greater lead in preventing human rights abuses.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I much admire, on his commitment and his courage, often in joint harness with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I will make three brief points.
First, I recall in the early 1980s going to a south Asian country and saying to our ambassador, “What are you doing about human rights?”. His answer was, “Oh, that’s a job for my first secretary”. That would no longer be allowed. Indeed, there has been an immeasurable improvement in the overseas department’s links and attitude to human rights. I think, for example, of changes in the structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the human rights and democracy department; the human rights report, which, happily, came from a recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which I chaired at that time, which has certainly been refined and improved; the human rights and democracy programme; and also the much improved links with non-governmental organisations.
My second point is about the interlink between the domestic and the foreign. I recall the former Foreign Minister of Australia, Senator Gareth Evans, saying, “How can we Australians be taken seriously on human rights representations abroad if we maltreat our Aborigines”—being Australian, he actually said “Abos”—“at home”. That shows that there is a linkage between what we do at home and the strength of our representations abroad. That obviously relates to our immigration policy, our counterterrorism policy and our attitudes to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
Looking at our international organisations, I am delighted that we are now on the Human Rights Council, which is an enormous improvement on its predecessor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which could reach agreement only on attacks on Israel. I look forward to reports during our two-year tenure, starting in January. I think also of the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe, included in the second priority in the 2012 human rights report.
On the Commonwealth, of course we think of CHOGM and whether or not the Prime Minister should have attended the Sri Lankan summit. Yes, there is a time for engagement but I am troubled by the question of cui bono—who actually benefited most from the Prime Minister’s attendance? I fear that the answer may well be the President of Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth charter is a magnificent document but in practice, if one looks at the 60% of Commonwealth countries that still have capital punishment and attitudes towards the criminalisation of homosexuality, there is much work for our Government to do in persuading our Commonwealth colleagues of the importance of human rights.
On the Council of Europe, there is a danger of the Government making a major error in defying the European Court of Human Rights in respect of prisoners’ rights. I do not talk about the subject of the question but the danger of defiance. The Prime Minister unwisely said that,
“no one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/12; col. 923.]
I saw the embarrassment of the Attorney-General when he appeared before the Joint Committee earlier this month. It would be a disastrous precedent in respect of Russia, Turkey and other defaulters, if we—pioneers of the system in the Council of Europe—were to defy it. There is a way out. Clearly the court will grant a wide margin of appreciation. It is insisting only that there is no blanket ban.
Finally, there has to be a balance in any matter of human rights. Sometimes it is best to do things in a low voice and behind the scenes. I was a member of the human rights mission to China that was led extremely ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, in which we were effective because we made quiet representations to the Chinese authorities. I concede also that there is a temptation to be strong on the weak and weak on the strong.
Of the six FCO priorities, freedom of religion is key. This has been the leitmotif of so many speeches in this debate. It is very important indeed that the Government consider seriously the recommendation of the excellent report of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and others, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, which includes the right to change one’s religion, which was omitted from the final communiqué of CHOGM—I wonder why. The Government should look carefully at the case for a special envoy or ambassador and I hope that they will come back with a positive response to that.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on his tenacious commitment to justice and the protection of human rights. From a vast array of concerns, I will focus today on Burma and Nigeria.
The widely celebrated reforms in Burma are welcome but while western political leaders, investors and aid agencies flock to Rangoon, many ethnic national peoples suffer military offensives, gross violations of human rights by the Burmese army and exploitation of their natural resources by the Burmese Government.
The Muslim Rohingya people suffer systematic oppression, with 140,000 forced to live in dire conditions in camps in Rakhine state and thousands more forced to flee to Bangladesh or in precarious boats to other countries. Human Rights Watch describes the situation as “ethnic cleansing”. Will Her Majesty’s Government support calls for an independent international inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity?
My small NGO, HART, works with partners in Shan, Kachin, Karen and Karenni states. We have visited them to witness the plight of their people, which has not been reported by the media. In Kachin and Shan states, the Burmese army continues military offensives, driving hundreds of thousands of civilians to camps for the displaced. We have seen their destitution and heard heartbreaking stories of atrocities perpetrated by the army, including the recent rape of girls aged eight and 15.
Land confiscation and environmental degradation from investment projects are increasing, as in northern Shan state, with China’s oil and gas pipelines. Indeed, people in Shan state are asking what sort of peace this is, when they are losing more and more of their lands and livelihoods.
In Karen state, the cessation of fighting is welcome, but the ceasefire allows the Burmese army to build more, larger camps along the Salween river and the Burmese Government to exploit, destroy or confiscate natural resources, with no compensation. Human rights violations by the Burmese army, including sexual violence against women, continue with impunity.
Burma’s ethnic national peoples share many concerns; for example, that the 2008 constitution, which does not recognise the rights of ethnic national peoples or allow for the development of a federal union, will become the accepted political road map for Burma, and that ethnic national people, who retain their armies for protection from Burmese military aggression, will be seen as rebel groups with rebel armies.
Their situation is best expressed in the words of their own local leaders. I quote a leader of the Shan people:
“The Burmese Government has conceded just enough credibility to achieve everything it wants from the international community: investment, aid and hosting international events”.
A senior officer in the Shan state army said:
“When the lights went on in Rangoon, everyone rushed there—and nobody stopped to visit us in the darkness”.
A healthcare worker helping displaced people in the jungles of Karen and Karenni states said:
“They are playing a game like Chess: take one piece at a time. While they sign a ceasefire with the Karen, they launch major offensives in Kachin State. They wear a beautiful mask, but the original face, which is brutal, is hidden”.
Will Her Majesty’s Government make much stronger representations to the Burmese Government to desist immediately from military offensives against civilians in Kachin and Shan states; to increase humanitarian assistance to displaced people in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states and allow unhindered access for international aid and human rights organisations; to call the Burmese army to account for violations of human rights, including murder, torture and rape; to ensure that concessions granted to the Burmese Government in recognition of recent reforms do not promote exploitative investment; and to allow ethnic national people to participate in discussions and agreements concerning the extraction of resources from their own lands—and the future of Burma?
I turn very briefly to the disturbing situation in Nigeria’s northern and central belt regions. The escalation of violence in the past two years by the Islamist Boko Haram movement follows two decades of violence in which thousands of Christians have been killed and hundreds of churches destroyed. Although Christian communities may have resorted to self-defence, the instigation of violence has been consistently asymmetrical, and now Boko Haram has stated its commitment to drive all Christians out of northern Nigeria.
We work with partners in Plateau, Kano and Bauchi states. These states are generally not visited, for security reasons—which is why we have gone there—and we have seen the suffering of local communities, as well as initiatives by local leaders, such as the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, and the Anglican Bishop of Bauchi, to promote reconciliation between the different faith communities. Given Boko Haram’s escalating violence against Christians and its equally brutal killings of Muslims who do not support it, will Her Majesty’s Government do more to support these initiatives, in addition to the already well supported programmes in Kaduna state?
I conclude by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to highlight situations that we encounter working with victims of oppression, who are often trapped behind closed borders or off the radar screen for security reasons. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurance to some of these hidden victims of violations of human rights in our world today.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving us the opportunity to have this timely and important debate. I also thank him for his tireless efforts, in this House and outside, to expose the persecution and ill treatment of people. My comments could apply equally to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. They are an example of why this House exists and why we have to take an interest in other people’s affairs.
This debate is timely because there are currently seven people on a hunger strike here in London. A group of very brave people are calling for the release of seven hostages taken by Iraqi forces at the behest of the mullahs in Tehran. Many Members of this House will be aware of the hostage situation in Iraq. The tragedy of the hostage-taking is quite easily traced back to the evil regime in Tehran. This House is indebted to the persistence and determination our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who cannot be with us today but who keeps members aware of what is happening to those seven hostages. His efforts are in stark contrast to those of our own Government, who appear to be quite laid back about latest outrage and abuse of human rights in Iran.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending a meeting in this House on the human rights situation in North Korea—another meeting arranged by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We heard from Mr Michael Kirby, the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We heard a report on the situation in North Korea. My remarks today will concentrate on the dreadful situation in Iran, but at the meeting on North Korea I heard a quote from a Mr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Many of you will know of Dietrich Bonheoffer; I did not—I put that down to my obvious lack of education. The quote stuck in my mind; I wrote it down straightaway. Mr Bonheoffer said:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.
I must confess that I did not know anything about him, but now I know much more. He was hung by the Nazis just 23 days before the German surrender. I am confident that that brave Lutheran pastor, who opposed the Nazis, would be with us in this debate today, not being silent but speaking out about what is going on.
While we remain silent, the evil regime in Tehran and the hearts of those wicked people grow stronger. It is almost 30 years since I first became involved in protests about human rights abuses in Iran. Over the three decades, I have seen evidence of the torture wrought upon innocent people: gouging of eyes, lashings and stoning of women. Many other things have gone on that are too evil to talk about, but in my locker in this House I have the video evidence of how those wicked people have treated their own people.
I think of those poor people of Ashraf camp, where they put loudspeakers right the way round, bombarding them 24 hours a day and driving them mad with the incessant noise. In recent years, we have seen unprovoked attacks on the residents of Ashraf. On 1 December, 52 people were killed—52 lives extinguished by these wicked people. Those victims had been promised protected person status when the Americans and British left Iraq. Our Government promised that we would look after those people in Ashraf, but they quickly abandoned all attempts to give them some guarantee of freedom. All they get is ever more pressure, ever more torture and ever more violence against them.
I also recall with great sadness the murder of Faezeh Rajabi. Faezeh was a 19 year-old girl who communicated with us by a telephone link, and I had the pleasure of talking to her. She died among her friends in the massacre of 8 April 2011. I also think about the 16 year-old girl who appeared in court having been raped and assaulted by a man. The judge said to her, “You’re responsible for this immorality”. She had the temerity to argue with the judge and he ordered, “Take her out” and she was hung. She was a 16 year-old girl. When people talk about the “moderate” Mr Rouhani, I would suggest that if you are going to parley with him, you should take a very long spoon. There is not time to tell this House about his pedigree, but I recommend that all those who want to know what this so-called moderate is all about should read about him. I deplore him and the people he represents. Maybe we should remember those voices that are silent now, of Lord Corbett, of Lord Slynn, of Lord King of West Bromwich and Lord Archer of Sandwell. They called over the years for our Government to do something stronger about what is going on Iran and I echo their sentiments today.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. I pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has been an indefatigable campaigner. He gave a very fine keynote speech today and it is a privilege to take part in this debate. It is a privilege also to follow four very distinguished, and I might say distinguishable, maiden speakers, each one of whom brought a particular quality to our deliberations.
In a brief debate, I want to highlight one or two things. First, we must always be persistent—the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, did right to quote the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think back to those in our own country who struggled for what we now take for granted but what, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, pointed out, is certainly not taken for granted in many parts of the world. I think of Wilberforce and his campaign against slavery, and Shaftesbury, who rescued children. We have a great deal to be proud of—which does not mean that we have great deal to be complacent about. We must also remember that persistence pays off.
I want to relate two, very brief stories to the House from my own experience. I do it in the light of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, who talked about Russia as it is today—and certainly there is a great deal of imperfection. When I came into Parliament some 43 years ago, I immediately became a great friend of the noble Lord, Lord Janner. We decided to form a campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. He thought that it was right that I should chair it, as a Christian, and he was a very tireless secretary. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, because I pay tribute to him. At that time, it was impossible to get a visa to go to Moscow to argue our case. It was impossible to get religious books accepted in the Soviet Union. I remember we sent one, signed by all the party leaders, to a dissident called Slepak’s son for his bar mitzvah. It was sent back. Twenty years later, as a member of an international commission on human rights, I took part in an epiphany service in the Kremlin in a place where the leaders of the Soviet bloc countries had gone in the past and Christian worship would never have been permitted. At that service, handed to Mr Gorbachev’s special representative and chef de cabinet, Andrei Grachev, was a volume of the Scriptures which was symbolic of a million Bibles being accepted into the Soviet Union. That was true progress.
I relate just one other incident. Two years later, in 1972-73, we were in Vienna receiving some who had come out and been given visas. There was one young lady who spoke the most perfect English. I joked with her and said, “You must have been top of all your classes” and she said, “Well, actually, I was, until the day after my parents were granted the visa, when I was summoned to the vice-chancellor’s office and told that I had been the victim of a mistake and I had failed everything”. Twenty-one years later, I stood in that vice-chancellor’s or chancellor’s office in the University of Tartu in Estonia, a country by then a member of the European Community and of NATO, and rejoiced at the freedoms that had come.
I tell these two very brief stories merely to illustrate that persistence can and does pay off. It is important that we maintain dialogue—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the Helsinki accords. It is important that we keep contact with those countries whose regimes we deplore, and it is important that we deplore them publicly so that there is pressure on the leaders of those countries to make them realise that they are not acting in isolation but are being looked at, and that their words and deeds are being monitored. Let us remember that in almost every country of which we are talking, be it Pakistan, Nigeria or Iran, a vast majority of ordinary, decent people are desperate to have the freedoms which we enjoy and which my noble friend Lord Finkelstein spoke so movingly about earlier in this debate. If we are going to be able to ensure that human rights really are universal, we must keep up both the public and the private pressure.
My Lords, the debate we are having today on human rights violations and the Government’s response to them is of critical importance to our relations with a whole range of countries where those abuses have taken, or are taking, place. These are not simple judgments to make and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has done much to shine a spotlight of publicity on so many such countries, most particularly North Korea, deserves credit for insisting that we examine the dilemmas posed to our foreign policy.
It is easy enough to caricature the two extremes: a foreign policy based solely on realpolitik, aimed at securing the national interest as narrowly defined; and, on the other hand, what has been called an ethical foreign policy where human rights considerations override all others. However, it is also easy to dismiss either of those extremes. The real dilemmas are to be found in the foreign policy choices that lie between those two extremes, and they have to take account of the separate circumstances of individual countries. There is no single template for policy which can be applied worldwide.
This week the spotlight is very much on Sri Lanka, where the Commonwealth Heads of Government have been meeting, where massive abuses of human rights by both sides took place during the final phases of the civil war, and where the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights recently discerned a drift towards authoritarian rule, with pressure on an independent judiciary and free press. I trust that the Minister will give the House some idea of how the President of Sri Lanka responded to the Prime Minister’s representations. Will she also assure us that the Government will not slacken in their advocacy of an independent inquiry into the events at the end of the war? An inquiry is surely going to have to be international if it is to be truly independent. Will we also keep up the pressure on the need for reconciliation and genuinely even-handed treatment of all ethnic and religious groups in that country if the present very welcome peace there is to be consolidated and sustained?
In considering how Britain should respond to human rights abuses, I suggest that one mistake we need to avoid is looking at the issue principally, or even solely, in the context of our bilateral relationship with the country in question. However, Britain’s influence and leverage are unlikely to be decisive nowadays. All too often we have seen how easy it is for the country in question to punish us for our temerity and play us off against other countries which have been less assertive. We saw that over the Chinese reactions to the Prime Minister receiving the Dalai Lama, and the Russians are past masters at that game. A multilateral approach is not just a soft option and makes it more difficult for the country on the receiving end of the pressure or the sanctions to divide and rule. I give a few examples of where it has been very successful: the Commonwealth sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa; the wide-ranging international sanctions on the military regime in Burma; and the pressure the European Union is bringing to bear on Ukraine in the run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit later this month. This surely points to our making maximum use of the multilateral instruments and forums that exist for handling human rights. How effective are those instruments and what sort of shape are they in? As many other speakers have said, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights must surely remain the cornerstone of our activity, whether multilateral or bilateral. However, it contains no enforcement machinery and the UN Human Rights Council, established in 2006, has yet to prove itself fully, although its universal periodic review of every member state’s human rights record is an instrument of real value. We need to do what we can to strengthen the hand of the admirable High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay, who visited London recently. In that context, I hope that the Minister will say what response the Government gave to Ms Pillay’s plea for an increase in our voluntary contribution to her office’s work to help reverse the recent reduction in resources at her disposal.
Then there is the Council of Europe, the convention and the court of human rights, which is so often intemperately denounced for excessive interference in our affairs. Do those critics ever stop to consider the work the council’s machinery does in a whole range of countries whose human rights record is well short of perfection? Any action we might take which weakens that machinery would inevitably reduce its effectiveness.
I conclude with a simple thought. The 20th century saw probably the most widespread, dramatic and repugnant abuses of human rights in recorded history. The challenge to us is to ensure that in the 21st century the world turns away decisively from that appalling inheritance and that Britain plays a prominent part in bringing that about.
My Lords, I echo the congratulations given to the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and to my noble friends Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lord Mendelsohn on their outstanding speeches and look forward to their future contributions. I was intrigued to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, has five guitars at home, as do I. It sounds to me as if we have a basis for at least some sort of discussion.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate, which centres on human tragedy and the stance that we should take to it, and for providing the architecture for it: that is, the 1948 universal declaration, and the need to construct foreign policy with Article 18 in mind. Indeed, that was enlarged on by my noble friend Lord Parekh. Her Majesty’s Government—in my view, rightly—have set out their six priorities and their decision to serve on the human rights global machinery. I support these priorities unreservedly, not least because they flow from the voices of victims. These priorities orientate us. However, I hope that we will also explore the contradictions which result from them, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a few moments ago.
I have a similar objective to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, which includes his point about multilateralism. I will focus on capital punishment as an example of a priority. Our strategy is to oppose the use of the death penalty because we promote human rights and democracy and because there are no circumstances in which we believe that it is appropriate or ethically justified. We want to influence people and dissuade them from using capital punishment, including those with whom we enjoy normal, peaceful diplomatic and trade relations, such as our traditional friends the United States, but also countries such as China or Iran. We are also clear about the imperative of developing relationships with those countries.
Iran, with whom we seek a renewed relationship, not least because we wish to reach an accord on nuclear enrichment and end conflict in Syria, has killed at least 120,000 people judicially and non-judicially since the overthrow of the Shah. It routinely executes minors, and nearly half of those suffering the death penalty are under 30. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Kennedy on her important intervention about children generally; the execution of children is part of that. There have been 59 United Nations General Assembly resolutions and countless reports by the human rights commission but they have had more or less no impact.
I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the murders at Camp Liberty, North Korea, Joseph Kony, and much else. I also support what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said about Burma, the analysis of Syria of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the remarks made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, about the suppression of people because of their caste. The United Kingdom’s priority is clear and right, yet “no relationship with Iran” is a position that it would be difficult to advocate or sustain in the world of real politics. We lobby at a high level, fund human rights and pro-democracy projects and take trenchant positions on all these issues. However, we cease diplomatic relations only exceptionally and unwillingly. That seems sensible and necessary in most circumstances.
The FCO has a priority to prevent torture and, a few moments ago, my noble friend Lord Clarke illustrated what this means in Iran. Again, the ethical priority cannot somehow mean that we cease to deal with states that employ torture, much as it is repugnant to us. That is not out of indifference or cynicism but because we need relationships to address a wide variety of global and regional problems. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of the problem of dealing with tyrants. I can personally say that you may end up talking for days, as I did in Doha, with people who you would rather see hauled before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, if only you could achieve that outcome.
The FCO also has a priority, which was rightly emphasised by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, to end violence against women and girls—a problem which is now frequently a weapon of war, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, so rightly said. We have a detailed policy that repays reading, as will study of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby has said today. Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, talked about gay people’s rights. We should prioritise all these issues, just as we prioritise the renewal of the push towards democracy. In this case, we apply few tests of who we will or will not deal with. There is no adequate litmus test available, and even when we hold our noses, we frequently have to prefer to talk.
Like the late Robin Cook, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Patten, also referred today, I ask myself what might guide us in these difficult times and give us a chance to set out a strategy that is neither naive nor bombastic about human rights. What guides the post-Cold War world, a world of multipolarity? There is a great instinct in general to hold nations directly or indirectly accountable for their actions. It is our current trajectory that I want to look at. Do we balance properly the ethical foreign policy that we should adopt, if we can, with the United Kingdom’s national interest and its commitment to human rights? There must be a new disposition between all these.
I conclude that there will never be an unbending standard to judge every circumstance and, equally, that no foreign policy can be humanity blind because it might happen to suit us on a particular day because of a particular commercial interest. If we were to do so it would give full scope to dictators, war criminals, illegal arms dealers and others. It would demand of us only that we looked after our own security and financial profitability. We would have intervened in Libya because it had armed the IRA and not because it was slaughtering its own people. These are the issues that we have to face. We would have turned our backs, in those circumstances, on the 1948 convention.
Does the Minister agree that the core guidelines, which we may need to behave more appropriately now, are perhaps these? First, our foreign policy in these areas should obviously protect our security and that of our allies, while promoting conditions in which we are least likely to be attacked at home or have our people attacked in other parts of the world—and we should do so with our allies in a multilateral way. Secondly, while our choice of means in such circumstances would almost always lead to peaceful means, we must acknowledge circumstances where, for the right and wholly disclosed reasons and with parliamentary consent, wherever possible, we should intervene as a last resort with proportionate steps and reasonable prospects of success. I labour this point because, aside from our own security—the paramount reason—we also have obligations to protect. They are part of our international obligations and often imply preventing, reacting and rebuilding after conflict. I find it hard to conceive of retaining a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as I wish this country to do, if only the United Kingdom’s interests ever determined the judgments that we made.
My noble friend Lady Howells made the point that human rights must be matched by a responsibility to protect; she is absolutely right. I commend my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on their comments in this regard. In my final few moments I will commend also the work of the Canadian Government, who have captured this thought. Their international commission on intervention judges the evidence of serious harm, including mass murder and starvation, and whether the state involved is unwilling, unable or opposed to averting such harm. If these conditions hold, the principle of non-intervention yields to the responsibility to protect—something that we should take very seriously. It was close to Robin Cook’s thinking, and I believe that it was close to Tony Blair’s in his speech to the Chicago press club.
In all these cases, what we may need is a realistic checklist that gets us through how we are to deal with despotic, murderous and antidemocratic regimes—regimes for whom war crimes are just a tool that they use from their toolkit—and at the same time oppose the behaviour that they espouse. I commend the Canadian approach as being among perhaps the best architecture that has been designed. It was somewhat lost in the aftermath of 9/11 and it is hardly known or studied in many circles, but it should be. It should also be fully debated and I hope that on some occasion, we may have the opportunity to do so in your Lordships’ House. Let us try to make sure that we are debating the fundamentals of how we proceed alongside the examples of egregious harm.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless efforts to shine a light on the darker corners of humanity. He brings to our attention the plight of those suffering human rights abuses throughout the world, not just today but on a regular basis in your Lordships’ House. Secondly, I take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on their maiden speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, mentioned the phrase “Behind every man” but did not complete it. I have a phrase of my own: behind every powerful woman there is usually a man who wakes up in the morning and says, “Darling, where are my socks?”. Given the in-depth knowledge of the area of human rights among the noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today, I very much look forward to hearing more from them on these issues.
This has been a wide-ranging debate and it is almost impossible for me to respond fully in 20 minutes, so I apologise if I do not address all concerns. As always, the interventions were thought-provoking and wide-ranging. It was incredibly interesting to hear from noble Lords such as my noble friend Lord Cormack, who can through his own experience recall changing situations around the world. I am also grateful for the incredibly thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who eloquently detailed the challenges, conflicts, considerations, principles and pragmatisms that all play into our foreign policy—and, of course, human rights as a part of that.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights underpins what we do but, sadly, it is too often disregarded. We take our place in the international human rights community incredibly seriously. That is why we campaigned most recently for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. I am delighted to say that we were elected with 171 votes, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for his kind congratulations. As the noble Lords know, the Human Rights Council was set up in 2006 and has addressed numerous rights-related situations in countries such as Burma, North Korea, Belarus, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Sri Lanka, to name a few. The United Nations Human Rights Council also addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and business and human rights.
A number of Human Rights Council resolutions, such as those on Libya, have led to vital action at the UN Security Council. When our term begins in January, we will bring this commitment and ambition, as well as our resources, to support and strengthening the council, and to uphold the independence and effectiveness of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—something that we believe is of paramount importance. Of course, we will be working alongside countries whose records on human rights give us cause for concern, too. But with membership comes responsibility and we will not shirk from reminding other states on the Human Rights Council of their responsibilities.
The universal periodic review process has played a critical role in facilitating the wider acceptance of international human rights scrutiny. The success of UPR is a priority for the UK; it is often the first time that a state has had the opportunity to carry out an open, self-critical review of its human rights commitments. The majority of states have engaged constructively, and the UPR looks likely to help facilitate wider acceptance of international human rights standards. It is therefore a crucial tool for implementing our human rights priorities. The UK works hard to ensure that other countries approach the UPR process in a transparent and constructive manner, and it is therefore important to us that we are able to demonstrate having taken the process seriously ourselves. The UK’s own UPR was successfully presented in 2012 by the Ministry of Justice, under the direction of my noble friend Lord McNally.
We have pledged to use the membership of the Human Rights Council to work for the protection of the most vulnerable in our societies, responding actively to global challenges and looking ahead to the future of universal human dignity, and to keep human rights at the core of the UN’s work. We will particularly press forward on the six global thematic priorities that the Government have set. Before I go through them, though, I acknowledge the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, of considering LGBT issues as a thematic priority. I will certainly consider that at the time of our review.
We continue to work on our first priority, which is the abolition of the death penalty. We work with the all-party parliamentary group, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, to push forward the debate towards abolition in countries that retain the death penalty. We fund practical initiatives, such as training judges and lawyers and modernising penal codes, to reduce the use of the death penalty. We work for an increase in countries voting in favour of the UN’s biennial resolution against the death penalty, which will be run next in 2014. This demonstrates how, over time, the tide of global opinion is turning against the use of the death penalty.
Another priority is on initiatives to prevent torture. We are running a global campaign to encourage states to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and the optional protocol. The protocol compels states to establish intrusive mechanisms of inspection of places of detection, to shine a light on the treatment of people held by the state. We share the UK’s own experience of implementing the optional protocol through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and run projects to help states to set up their own systems to end the scourge of torture.
We use our membership of the HRC to push for more states to take action to implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights—another thematic priority. This specifically references the principle of the effective abolition of child labour, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. The UK has done this through its own action plan, launched in September by the Foreign Office and the Business Secretary. The plan responds to the call for British business to help the principles flourish in every market, in a way that respects human rights and ensures proper remedy for those whose human rights are harmed by business activity. I hope that this is seen as the start of the Government setting the tone on expectations and standards, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings.
On the specific issue of child labour, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, at the Human Rights Council in March this year the UK co-sponsored the resolution on the rights of children, which further calls upon all states to translate into concrete action their commitment to the progressive and effective elimination of child labour, which interferes with a child’s education and is harmful to a child’s health, both physical and mental, and to their moral and social development. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, was right to reference in his maiden speech that market forces too must work for the benefit of the populations of countries that are rich in resources.
Another priority for the Foreign Office is working to ensure freedom of expression, both online and offline. Freedom of expression underpins democracy and is the gateway to many other rights and freedoms. In a networked world we need to ensure that people everywhere, including those not yet connected to the internet, can enjoy the economic and social benefits of a free, open internet, and can do so safely and securely. This is the vision that the Foreign Secretary set out on the London conference on cyberspace in 2011, which has since been taken forward by conferences in Budapest and Seoul, and which we will further pursue at the conference in 2015 in The Hague.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, detailed harrowing examples of the abuse of women. Women’s rights are another priority—tackling one of the greatest challenges of the century, to ensure that the full social, economic and political participation of women becomes commonplace. We work to end impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war and for wider violence against women and girls. We share our own experiences in tackling problems that the UK faces, along with many other countries, from how to get women on boards to ensuring that no girl has to endure the trauma of FGM or forced marriage.
I take on board what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said about violence in a domestic situation. The Foreign Secretary, however, has focused his efforts on preventing sexual violence in conflict because he feels that accountability and justice is an area where there is the most glaring lack of political will, and where Governments can make the most difference. The PSVI initiative supports existing and extensive cross-government work on conflict prevention and violence against women and girls. The initiative has made excellent progress in securing great international commitment to tackling sexual violence in conflict. G8 Ministers agreed a historic declaration in April, and in June we secured the first Security Council resolution on this issue in years.
In September at the UN General Assembly, the Foreign Secretary launched the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which has so far been endorsed by 135 countries. The political campaigning has been underpinned by practical action that is already starting to take place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the DRC, Kosovo, Libya and Mali and on the Syrian borders. I commend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for referring to the White Ribbon project, to which I was able to lend support only yesterday; it is an incredibly important initiative for men to speak out against violence directed at women.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, also spoke about the Istanbul convention. The UK is supportive of the principles underpinning that convention but there remain a number of areas that need further consideration before a final decision can be made on whether to sign—particularly the criminalisation of forced marriage and the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction to the wide range of offences in scope of the convention. As part of this further consideration, the UK Government launched a consultation in December 2011 on whether to create, for example, a new offence of forced marriage. The Government are considering how these and other issues might be resolved, and will make a statement in due course. Should the final decision be that the UK signs the convention, primary legislation will need to be introduced to make sure that the UK law is compliant.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, raised the issue of the abuse of human rights of disabled members of our society. In 2012 we used our role as host nation of the Paralympic Games to highlight the power of sport to deliver the vision of the UN convention. The UK is proud to have welcomed the highest ever number of participating Paralympic teams at the Games, and disability rights were a core element of our joint communiqué on human rights.
The sixth thematic priority, and a personal priority of mine, is one that was raised by my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Singh: the freedom of religion and belief. I shall explain what religious freedom means to me. It means the freedom to have a religion, to believe what one chooses to believe, to manifest those beliefs, to show them outwardly, to share them with others, to change your faith or to not have a faith, and to do so without fear of discrimination, attack or persecution. I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Berridge that we place emphasis on both religion and belief. We work in this area in many ways, including in multilateral organisations—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, is sometimes the most effective way.
Within that, we are committed to working with the United Nations Human Rights Council to implement Resolution 1618. This resolution lays the foundations for combating discrimination against people based on their religion throughout the world. Political consensus is crucial to achieving that. Therefore, in January this year I brought together in London Ministers and senior officials, from the Foreign Minister of Canada to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia and the OIC, to try to take forward a political track to the Istanbul process. A further meeting was held in New York during the UN General Assembly week.
We also engage on this issue through bilateral engagement. I have made freedom of religion a priority in the areas that I have responsibility for, but I also believe that every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is and should be an ambassador for religious freedom. We saw that with the Prime Minister in Sri Lanka only days ago. Each and every one of us raises and promotes these issues in the countries for which we have responsibility.
Thirdly, we engage in project work with human rights and faith-based organisations around the world, particularly those that bridge sectarian divides and promote dialogue between religions.
Fourthly, given the key role that faith plays in our global politics today, we are equipping our diplomats with the understanding of the crucial role that religion plays in the world today. We are ensuring that experts on freedom of religion and belief sit on the Foreign Secretary’s Advisory Group on Human Rights. I am planning to hold a conference on freedom of religion and belief next year to bring the many strands of this work together.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and others suggested the appointment of an ambassador for religious freedom. We keep this constantly under review, but we have also been looking at the experiences of other countries that have done this and we have seen that, disturbingly, these ambassadors are sometimes not given access to the countries, or indeed to individuals at the highest level in those countries, to raise these challenges. Therefore, it is important that we make sure that we work in the most effective way in this area.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, that we have greater credibility overseas if our record at home is good—a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked me specifically about meeting Navi Pillay. I do not have an answer to that but I will certainly write to him with an update.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lords, Lord Parekh, Lord Anderson and Lord Hannay, spoke of CHOGM. There has of course been much debate about the Prime Minister’s decision to go to last week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. I believe that the Prime Minister was right to go. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, not talking to people is never the answer. By going, the Prime Minister shone a spotlight on the situation there, and he was the first foreign leader to visit the north of the country since 1948. Because of his decision, journalists were granted access that would otherwise have been impossible to gain, and the local people—the families of the missing—were given an international voice.
The PM was bold and blunt in his views. He had a frank and tough meeting with the President, in which he clearly set out the need for Sri Lanka to make further progress in a number of areas, including a credible and transparent independent investigation into allegations of war crimes. If the Sri Lankan Government fail to do this, the UK will fully back an international investigation. The talks also covered a meaningful political settlement with the north, including demilitarisation, and proper implementation of the range of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. However, I accept that more needs to be done, not just in Sri Lanka but to ensure that the principles of the Commonwealth charter are applied by the countries of the Commonwealth.
My noble friend Lady Falkner asked about Syria. We are deeply concerned about recent media reports of mass graves being discovered in Sadad. We have consistently made it clear that those who have committed these and other crimes during the conflict will be held to account. We have trained more than 60 Syrian activists to document human rights violations and abuses to assist in any future accountability process. We have consistently made it clear that those responsible for the most serious international crimes in Syria should be held to account, and we believe that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court. We will continue, publicly and privately, to make the case for ICC referral. We are pushing for a strong resolution on human rights and accountability to be adopted by the UN.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others raised the issue of Camp Liberty. We remain of the view that the Government of Iraq, as a sovereign Government, are responsible for the situation at the camp. We have called on the Government to take all necessary measures to locate missing residents and ensure the safety of the remaining residents at Camp Liberty.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the issue of Sudan. We continue to make the case to the Government of Sudan and the international community that we expect compliance with arrest warrants for ICC indictees. We regularly lobby Governments and make public statements to this effect—for example, when President al-Bashir recently travelled to Nigeria.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, raised concerns relating to discrimination against the Dalit community. DfID has supported the Indian Government’s Education for All scheme, which has helped to bring the number of Dalit children in school proportionately in line with the general population. We have also supported measures in India’s 120 poorest districts to promote empowerment and access to benefits and services for excluded groups. Dalits have been a large part of that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, gave an incredibly interesting account of her experience in Russia. The promotion and protection of human rights continues to be a key priority in our bilateral relationship with Russia. The UK is unique among EU member states in holding annual bilateral meetings to allow formal discussions about human rights. In addition, we regularly meet human rights defenders and NGOs in Russia, and we fund projects run by Russian NGOs to promote progress in human rights.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, asked about the European Convention on Human Rights. We have agreed, in the context of the coalition agreement, that the obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be enshrined in British law.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about Burma. We are lobbying the Burmese Government for further action to address the humanitarian situation. We are providing £4.4 million in humanitarian aid—the largest amount of bilateral aid—for Rakhine state, and we are continuing to support Kachin state. In July, the Secretary of State for International Development announced a further £13.5 million of UK funding. Unfortunately, I shall not be able to address further questions on Burma and Nigeria.
The noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, spoke about Iran. The UK will continue to hold Iran to account for human rights abuses. To date, we have designated, under EU sanctions, more than 80 Iranians responsible for human rights violations, and have helped to establish a UN special rapporteur. Last autumn, we lobbied for the support of a UN General Assembly resolution on Iran’s human rights, which was supported by an overwhelming majority. As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said, increasing our bilateral engagement with Iran will enable the UK to have more detailed, regular and direct discussions on human rights.
I end by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for allowing us to discuss these important issues. Without respect for human rights, security cannot be guaranteed. Without peace and stability, economies will not grow, poverty will endure, the rule of law will crumble and the cycle of poverty, abuse and instability will perpetuate. Preventing this, breaking this cycle and upholding the fundamental rights to which every human is entitled are at the very core of every aspect of our diplomatic engagement, just as I know it is at the core of the work of this House. Once again, I am grateful for the contribution of all noble Lords to this cause.
My Lords, it was suggested during Question Time today that your Lordships have no business spending time on non-domestic issues. Twenty-six powerful speeches, including the Front-Bench speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, illustrate why this House should spend time on these issues, why it should bring its insightful, intelligent, well informed and wise contributions to these questions, why we have a duty to use the hard-won freedoms gained over 800 years since the promulgation of Magna Carta, and why we should use our liberties and freedoms to speak for the women in the Congo, the dissidents in Iran, the 300,000 in the gulags in North Korea or the 44 young people who were murdered by Boko Haram while sleeping in a dormitory in northern Nigeria.
Anyone who doubts the relevance or purpose of your Lordships’ House should read today’s Hansard. During my time here, I have felt deeply privileged to be able to work with many of your Lordships who have spoken in today’s debate. In four remarkable maiden speeches, we have heard about the oppression of gay people, about Putin’s Russia, about the need for an overarching strategy on human rights and about child labour.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, reminded us that the welcome modern slavery Bill will appear later this year. More than 200 years ago, William Wilberforce and his friends believed that they had abolished slavery. Interestingly, he also said, “Now we must turn our attention to the Dalits and the caste system”. These old evils still need to be combated, even as new giants emerge. Perhaps in our generation we might make caste history. Wilberforce, whose biographer is our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, once remarked that, having seen the evidence, “we cannot turn away”. Today, there has been no shortage of evidence and, like Wilberforce, we cannot turn away.
During our debate, we heard mention of the assault on the right to belief. It was mentioned in many speeches, including those of the two right reverend Prelates. I agree with Timothy Shah, who said:
“When people lose their religious freedom, they lose more than their freedom to be religious. They lose their freedom to be human”.
Lest anyone doubts the evidence, let them read the 160-page report that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes every year on human rights violations. If a Select Committee produced that report, there would be a mechanism to debate it. It should be a given that every year we should have a full-scale debate on that annual report in both Houses. It should not be left to the vagaries of a ballot. Given the vast experience in your Lordships’ House on all our Benches, it is patently absurd that there is not anInternational Affairs Select Committee, a Foreign Affairs Select Committee, where issues such those that we have been debating today can be examined in detail.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly said:
“While human rights are not the only consideration in forming a nation’s foreign policy, if we allow human rights to suffer while we pursue our legitimate national interest, we will in the long term have failed”.
We have seen remarkable change in our lifetime—the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the beginnings of a peace process in Northern Ireland. Since coming to your Lordships’ House, I have been able to go to Burma on four occasions, three of them illegally. Eighteen months ago, I would not have believed that I would be able to address an open air meeting of the National League for Democracy in Yangon. It is a small beginning, a small start and a welcome change.
It was said by Benjamin Franklin that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” We have been vigilant today but, as so many have remarked, we must persist, persist and persist. We must use our freedoms on behalf of those whose freedoms are cruelly denied.
This entry was posted in Author's Recommended Posts, Citizenship, Human Rights, Parliament, Suffering Church, Uncategorized and tagged al-Nursa Front, Alexander Aan, Article 18, Asraf, Ban Ki-Moon, BBC World Service h, Camp Liberty, caste, CHOGM, Colombia, Copts, Dalits, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Dr. Kasereka Jo Lusi, Faln Gong, Georgetown University, ICC, Iran, Joseph Kony, Mao Zedonng, Mr.Justice Michael Kirby, North Korea, Omar al-bashir, Opium Wars, Rape of Nanking, Rohingyas, Sadad, Shahbaz Bhatti, Sudan, tibet, Uighurs, UN Declaration of Human Rights, UNAMI, Wilberforce.
Georgetown Presentation by Lord Nicholas Windsor, Royal Patron of the Christian Heritage Centre and The Case for Religious Freedom – and National Register article to celebrate Thanksgiving
Georgetown Presentation by Lord Nicholas Windsor, Royal Patron of the Christian Heritage Centre and The Case for Religious Freedom
This link http://youtu.be/aH219gdNCTs will take you to the presentation given by Lord Nicholas Windsor, Jan Graffius and David Alton at Georgetown University’s Berkley Centre, Washington DC. The session was hosted and moderated by Professor Tom Farr. The presentation describes the purpose of the Christian Heritage Centre Project, the Collections held at Britain’s Stonyhurst College, and the challenges to contemporary religious freedom. Please share it with others.
Mary Ellen Bork’s Thanksgiving article in the Catholic National Register:
“The Christian Heritage Centre is both informative and inspiring and having visited ones spirit soars and faith strengthened. The Centre will make changes for many and we should pray for its success “ - Charles Guthrie. Field Marshall Lord Guthrie , the former head of the British Armed Forces
“It is simply marvellous that the Stonyhurst Collection, the oldest private museum collection in the English-Speaking world, yet one of our least known national treasures, is going to be housed in a new purpose-built museum and education centre. This will undoubtedly bring a wider audience to learn about, and appreciate more fully, Faith and Heritage which has shaped the Britain in which we live in today” – Rt.Revd.Nicholas Reade, retired Anglican Bishop of Blackburn.
The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst deserves the support of everyone who values Christian truth. - Paul Johnson, author of The History of The American People
“Britain’s Christian heritage is central to our culture, our laws, our history, our values: who we are as people. The creation of a Christian Heritage Centre will inspire, educate, and celebrate the rich contribution of Christianity to our national life. Please give it your support.” – The Rt Hon. Ann Widdecombe DSG
Details of how you can support the project or make a donation may be found at:
Article by Christopher Graffius
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The opening words of the Declaration of Independence form what was a treasonable document. The men who gathered on the 4th July 1776 knew that they were signing what could be their death warrants. As Benjamin Franklin commented: “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Among those who took their lives into their hands that day was one Catholic. Charles Carroll had been banned for his faith from political office, but the revolutionary Congress was different. The story goes that after he signed one of the other congressmen commented that there were many Charles Carrolls in the colonies. Carroll stepped forward and added “of Carrollton”, his home in Maryland, so that there could be no doubt.
Carroll was an American revolutionary hero, but he had been educated by British Jesuits at the English College at St Omers in France. That school, at which it was crime to be educated, became one of the chief repositaries of the treasures of English Catholicism. Treasures that were illegal in England were smuggled out with the pupils for safe keeping. Today they form the world class collection at Stonyhurst College, the descendant of that school in St Omers.
Thomas More’s hats, his crucifix, which he may have had with him in the Tower. The rope that bound Campion to the hurdle, that was worn by Robert Persons, the original political Jesuit, tied round his waist for the rest of his life. The prayer book carried by Mary, Queen of Scots, to the scaffold. The manuscript poems of St Robert Southwell. Relics from the body of St Gordianus, martyred in early Rome and given by a Pope to the persecuted English Catholics, to those of the Japanese martyrs. The “Peddler’s Box”, the trunk with “Massing Gear”, carried around Lancashire by St Edmund Arrowsmith. Jacobite portraits and relics. Many of these would have been seen and reverenced by Charles Carroll the boy, but since the College came home the collection has grown. A first Folio of Shakespeare. Manuscripts from Gerald Manley Hopkins. The sketch book of one of the first British Jesuit missionaries to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, which begins with drawings of oxen and wagons and ends, as the artist neared death, with images of the crucifixion. Relics of Oscar Romero. The list is virtually endless.
Taken together they form the collective historical memory of British Catholicism and its influence to the widest bounds of the world. To today’s young pupils who have the privilege of seeing them and living with them they speak eloquently of faith, values, commitment and ultimately love. Love so great that it lays down its life in imitation of the Lord. They deserve a wider audience, they are the heritage that transmits the values that are the heart of our community.
They silently preach a message for today. In our cold, consumer driven, selfish world they point to another way. A way that we must rediscover if we are really to “live life to the full”. They challenge, the injustice, the intolerance, the repression that are all to common.
It’s the hope of many that these collections may be given a home open to all. The Christian Heritage Centre will bring them all together to a wider audience. Last week a delegation lead by Lord Alton, and Lord Nicholas Windsor, returned from a fund raising mission to America. They had been to Congress, Princeton and Harvard. They drew audiences of politicians, academics and opinion formers. Many of them reverenced the relics that the group had taken with them. You can also be part of this mission. You can find the details at www.christianheritagecentre.com .
Once you’ve seen what’s in the collection it’s easier to understand a Catholic who would be prepared to stake his life in opposition to an oppressive regime prepared to assert its dominance by military force. Charles Carroll was the longest lived of those who signed that Declaration. He died in 1832. One of his last public acts was to lay the cornerstone of one of the first railways in America.
History is very close.
Shutdown Is Not an Option | National Review Online
‘He must be rejoicing from Heaven at what has been achieved.” Lord Alton was reflecting on the life of Edmund Campion during a drive between the U.S. Capitol and Georgetown University. Campion was a Jesuit priest who was “hanged, drawn, and quartered” for his religious faith in 1581. Alton, a longtime member of the British Parliament, was pointing to the fact that while Campion was killed for ministering as a Catholic priest, today 10 percent of the British population is Catholic, with over 850,000 children educated in Catholic schools. Alton’s is a message of hope and duty.
While he doesn’t pretend that all of these schools are making saints like Campion, they do preserve and pass on a tradition that exists to commit everything “to the greater glory of God,” to form women and men to do all that they can do and to live for others.
David Alton has been in the U.S. telling the stories of English martyrs through the history of Stonyhurst College; 18 of them were graduates of the boys’ school and were martyred after Catholicism was banned in England and Wales in 1571. Alton is visiting here, in part, to introduce Americans to Stonyhurst’s Christian Heritage Centre and the history preserved there. His first stop was St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where Cardinal Donald Wuerl kissed a cross that had just travelled from Stonyhurst through Heathrow. It belonged to St. Thomas More and is believed to have been in his possession in the Tower of London as he awaited his execution for putting his service to God before his service to the king. It’s a permanent part of Stonyhurst’s Christian Heritage archives.
With that cross on display at a breakfast with the librarian of Congress in the U.S. Capitol building on the second morning of government shutdown, the political impasse provided the opportunity for a little bit of a retreat for some members of Congress. Both a historic artefact and a religious relic of reverence, the cross was a reminder that religious faith and civic duty mean something. We all have stewardship obligations and choices to make.
Alton is fond of the Churchill pronouncement “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.”
But he also quotes C. S. Lewis to me — “They make men without chests” — acknowledging the reality of our cultural state. And this is why he is here in the U.S., to remind us of our common roots and responsibilities.
Campion would certainly not be rejoicing at the state of our culture, or at our relative silence in the face of religious persecution around the world today. Or at the laziness, indifference, and political manipulation with which many Americans have been treating religious liberty even here at home.
Today, while threats to religious freedom are not at all academic matters to business owners, university presidents, and religious leaders who run schools and hospitals and other bulwarks of civil society here in the U.S., people in Pakistan, Egypt, and Nigeria are opening themselves to martyrdom just by going to Mass. “Remaining faithful to conscience and faith is not a theoretical issue if you live in one of the 16 countries listed by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom,” Alton points out. “In each of these countries people of different faiths — from Baha’is to Sufi Muslims — are being persecuted for their beliefs. Uniquely, the only group to be persecuted in each and every one of the 16 countries is Christians.”
How can we be silent? “Is it because we who have free speech and the privilege of living in a democratic society have forgotten who we are?” Alton asks.
He cites the prophet Isaiah: Never forget “the rock from which you are hewn.”
Knowing who we are can make all the difference. “Knowing who you are gives self-knowledge, security and confidence; the absence of this knowledge sows seeds of insecurity and instability,” Alton contends.
“If people don’t know where their faith comes from, if they don’t know the price people have paid, they are not going to hold that faith in very high esteem, very close to their hearts.”
We talk a little bit about Pope Francis and why so much of what he is saying and doing is so fundamental: “If we don’t re-evangelize . . . we’re not going to win the legislative battles. If we don’t change people’s hearts and minds, we’re not going to change the world around us. The heart of the human problem is the human heart. We have to soften hearts and challenge minds.”
Campion died praying for his executioners: “I recommend your case, and mine, to Almighty God, the Searcher of hearts, to the end that we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.”
All the world is a conversion opportunity — as a spiritual matter, as an intellectual and political matter. When we forget this, we shut down.
In the ups and downs of campaigns and headlines, we so often just don’t think things through. The challenges seem too great, the biases too hardened. But what does that lead to? Cheerleading for a so-called Arab Spring that created a situation where one could steal a bulldozer and demolish a church with it, all in plain sight of the military, as Coptic Bishop Anba Angaelos put it during a visit to Washington, D.C. The West has been sobered. Death and destruction have been known to do this.
His Grace was in Washington for a congressional hearing on minorities in Egypt — which wound up being cancelled on account of the government shutdown. Still, the trip to D.C. gave him an opportunity to become “fast friends” with human-rights champion Representative Chris Smith, among others. He plans to return for that hearing once the government is open for operations again. And the trip gave him an opportunity to say on behalf of what he estimates to be 10 to 15 million Christians in Egypt: “Out of pain and suffering comes identity.” He says that the Copts in Egypt “are not broken.” They are “resilient,” and in their challenges they ask only that a new Egyptian constitution respects everyone’s dignity and religious freedom. Here at home, we had better be good stewards of these gifts.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.
Raymond Arroyo interview on EWTN:
Austin Ruse in Crisis Magazine :
Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal
Joan Desmond in The Catholic National Register
The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst deserves the support of everyone who values Christian truth. - Paul Johnson, author of A History of the American People
Web site and 2013 brochure:
Please share with others who may be interested.
Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan
Question for Short Debate: November 11th 2013
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the situation in Sudan, and the implications for citizens of the Republic of South Sudan.
My Lords, I am very grateful to every noble Lord contributing to the debate as the grave situation in Sudan and South Sudan is largely off the radar screen of the media and a forgotten crisis.
The republic of Sudan is still in the grip of President al-Bashir, who continues to perpetrate crimes for which he was indicted by the International Criminal Court. He has declared his intention to turn Sudan into a “unified, Arabic, Islamic nation” and is putting it into practice with an attempted ethnic and religious cleansing of the predominantly African peoples in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile state.
I have visited these states and seen the horrendous suffering inflicted by ruthless aerial bombardment and attacks by long-range missiles on civilians and targets such as schools, clinics and markets. Half a million civilians are hiding in caves with deadly snakes, in river banks or under trees. A quarter of a million have fled into exile in overcrowded camps in South Sudan or Ethiopia. With constant aerial bombardment, people cannot plant or harvest crops and are scavenging for roots and leaves—anything to quell the pangs of hunger. Many hundreds have died of starvation or malnutrition-related illnesses.
We visited a village in Blue Nile state where 450 people had already died of starvation. The remnant had fled their homes because they had been bombed recently. We saw the fresh bomb craters. We followed the sound of voices and found survivors hiding under the trees.
My small NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, works with courageous partners who risk their lives to take life-saving aid to victims of oppression trapped behind closed borders. We managed to raise funds for food aid in Blue Nile and the money reached these people, enabling them to survive. Poignantly grateful, they said that they now had food and would not have to flee into exile to refugee camps in South Sudan. They said:
“We prefer to stay in our own land, even if we die from bombs. Now we have food, we don’t have to flee from our own homes”.
The people in these states are in desperate need of food and medical aid. SPLM-N has agreed to allow access to international aid organisations, but the regime in Khartoum continues to deny this. What more can Her Majesty’s Government do to put pressure on Khartoum to stop this genocide and allow access for life-saving food and medical supplies? How much longer will the international community allow Khartoum to continue its brutal policies with impunity?
In Khartoum itself, the Government have been ruthlessly suppressing legitimate protest and freedom of speech. Journalists have been arrested and reputable NGOs have been expelled. Therefore, brutality has gone largely unreported. More than 200 protesters were killed by security forces and, in some cases, relatives were forced to sign forged death certificates reporting that their relatives had died from natural causes instead of live munitions.
Turning briefly to the problems of Abyei, earlier this year the Ngok Dinka paramount chief was murdered by Khartoum’s forces while travelling with UN officials—again with impunity. Having given up on the referendum promised by the African Union, the Ngok Dinka conducted their own referendum in spite of intimidation and boycott by the Khartoum Government, which attempted to bomb bridges to prevent people from returning home to vote. Despite these attempts to sabotage the referendum, it took place with an overwhelming mandate for unification with South Sudan.
The republic of South Sudan, just two years after achieving independence, faces many inevitable problems. As president Salva Kiir said at the time of the birth of a new nation, his people were not rebuilding: there had been nothing left to rebuild. Many problems need to be addressed urgently, including provision of essential services such as immunisation—a critical issue reflected in the return of polio, which had been virtually eradicated.
Of course, there have been serious and well reported problems including corruption and inefficiency. The radical changes in government were undertaken to address some of these issues. However, the situation is clearly not helped by the aggressive and subversive policies of the Government in Khartoum, including exacerbation of intertribal conflicts, especially in Jonglei region. There is evidence that Iran-made, Sudan-origin weapons and ammunition have been made available to David Yau Yau’s and other insurgent forces.
Now, there are very disturbing reports of a massive Sudanese military build-up with sophisticated equipment, including strike aircraft, helicopter gunships, tanks and heavy artillery, in the southern parts of Sudan, particularly in the El Obeid complex and along the border with South Sudan, leading to fears that this is preparation for a new, large-scale dry season offensive that might escalate into a major clash with South Sudan over Abyei.
The Government of Sudan’s continuing aerial bombardment of their own people has forced a quarter of a million to flee into refugee camps in South Sudan and many thousands to flee from Abyei, where the local Ngok Dinka have been subjected to killings, torture and loss of homes and property. Thousands of those poured into Bahr el Ghazal, where they faced hunger and homelessness. Many died.
The suffering inflicted on the innocent civilians in these lands has been allowed to continue for far too long. Again and again, I and many others have urged Her Majesty’s Government to initiate action to end the impunity with which al-Bashir and his Government continue to kill their own people. Again and again, we receive the same answer: “We must continue to talk to Khartoum”. But Khartoum continues to kill while it talks, and has been doing so for more than 20 years. Alternatively, we are told that it is for the UN to act, in the knowledge that it will be highly improbable to attain consensus to do anything effective. This is not good enough. The UK has a special responsibility as one of the three nations mandated to support the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement.
Therefore, I ask the Minister—again—if Her Majesty’s Government will consider the imposition of targeted sanctions on the Government of Sudan, such as denial of visas, which would at least end the culture of impunity. People in Sudan and South Sudan frequently say to me: “The British Government intervened in Libya, where the suffering was nowhere on the same scale as here. Why do they not intervene to help us? Is it because we are black and African?”. They fear we are being racist. Can the Minister advise me on how to answer my Sudanese friends?
I hope that the Minister is not going to imply moral equivalence between the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan. We all recognise the widely reported fallibilities of the leaders of South Sudan. But the Government of South Sudan do not attack and kill their own people, whereas the Government of Sudan continue to engage in genocidal warfare against their own people in Darfur and the southern states.
I conclude with two requests, reflecting the passionate wishes of the citizens of Sudan and South Sudan. First, local people are pleading for the African Union or UN to send fact-finding missions to investigate and report on the situation in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and to Khartoum to investigate human rights abuses there.
Secondly, will Her Majesty’s Government engage constructively with democratic opposition parties in Sudan? During the Cold War, western nations helped opposition groups behind the Iron Curtain, both to resist totalitarian oppression and to prepare for the day when freedom and democracy would come. There are respected opposition parties in Sudan that are working to promote human rights and develop the essentials of civil society. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider some support for democratic initiatives; for example, those promoted by the opposition movement led by Yasir Arman and Malik Agar, who have demonstrated genuine democratic political leadership? Malik Agar was the democratically elected Governor of Blue Nile State before he was ruthlessly deposed by al-Bashir. Any analysis of the writings and policies of these opposition leaders demonstrates their genuine commitment to democratic reform.
I hope that the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan who will read this debate will be reassured that, at last, Her Majesty’s Government will take a lead in calling the Government of Sudan to account and in promoting initiatives to bring justice and genuine peace to all the citizens of these two nations, who currently see the United Kingdom apparently condoning oppression instead of fulfilling our historic and contemporary obligation to call a halt to aggression, bring perpetrators to account and promote justice for all the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan.
My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her commitment and dedication to the people of Sudan and South Sudan, for initiating this debate and for her excellent speech, which covered all the ground that I think we need to hear.
Ten years ago, few of us imagined we would still be discussing the suffering of the people of Sudan. Yet the misery of Darfur has once again intensified, Khartoum’s campaign of aerial bombardment and systematic ethnic cleansing has spread to Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and after last week’s referendum it is clear that the permanent residents of Abyei wish to be free of a regime that is hostile to their very existence.
Despite all that, the international community has chosen to focus on the low-level conflict that rumbles on between Sudan and South Sudan. That has always been the intention of the Sudanese Government. They know that the world lacks the knowledge and the vigilance needed to see what Bashir is up to in Sudan. There is now no UN special representative after the departure of Robin Gwynn, and the capacity of the FCO’s Sudan unit has been diminished by the exit of staff who have not been replaced. Also, as the excellent Rosalind Marsden departs from her EU role, her replacement, Alexander Rondos, is expected to take on responsibility for the whole of the Horn of Africa. The message that all that conveys to those in power in Khartoum is that the world community is unable or unwilling to focus on Sudan while Syria and Somalia preoccupy security interest. The need for concerted international action to deal with the crisis continues, but international engagement shrinks.
For years, there have been calls for Khartoum to give unhindered humanitarian access to the starving and displaced people sheltering from the Sudanese bombing raids in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Khartoum knows that it can carry on killing its own citizens with impunity because there is absolutely no response other than media statements and ministerial condemnation. For years, we have expressed concern about Khartoum’s brutal repression of free speech, the disappearance and torture of intellectuals and the sexual abuse of thousands of young women guilty of no greater sin than wanting to go to school or to college.
Symptomatic of the failure to grasp the reality on the ground has been the dogged attempt to impose the Doha peace agreement on Darfur. Officials continue to negotiate debt relief with the very governing regime whose leaders have been indicted on counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC. Meanwhile, assistance is given to British trade missions and British links when we should be warning British companies that Sudan is rated among the worst in the world for corruption, high inflation, opaque banking and dubious overseas payment systems. In addition, DfID still channels aid through a Government run by those indicted war criminals, surely knowing that it reaches only projects and people acceptable to them.
We should be turning the tap off and challenging Khartoum on every occasion when an aid agency travel permit is withheld, an aid shipment delayed due to some fatuous new regulation, a new restriction is invented to stop humanitarian aid reaching needy people or a patrol of peacekeepers is attacked or intimidated by the regime or its proxies.
Can the Minister comment on an analysis that has suggested that our security services and Washington’s apparently count as their partners in the war on terror this regime that has such a terrible, criminal reputation? Does he agree that in view of the evidence against the current regime in Sudan, current debt relief negotiations should immediately be cancelled until such time as the regime, first, abides by its multiple promises under the CPA, and secondly, stops the aerial bombardment of its civilians and allows unfettered access for international humanitarian aid groups in areas of Sudanese aggression? Anything less will, tragically, guarantee that we will be debating the misery of Sudanese suffering in another 10 years.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox and Lady Kinnock, pointed out, Sudan is governed by an alleged war criminal charged at the International Criminal Court on five counts of crimes against humanity, two of war crimes and three of genocide. He and the Sudanese armed forces, of which he is supreme commander, continue to commit war crimes in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Satellite Sentinel project reported last week on the repositioning of SAF military units threatening new attacks on the civilian populations of Abeyi and South Kordofan, which has been subjected to more than two years of relentless bombardment.
Might the UN ask member states with satellites that pass over the conflict areas in Sudan to make their own images and analyses available to the Security Council to reinforce the excellent work being done by the Satellite Sentinel Project?
Has my noble friend seen the Rapid Food Security and Nutrition assessment published by the Enough project on South Kordofan? It concludes that the bombardment of civilians, together with the bar on international humanitarian aid has resulted in severe malnutrition and dire food security outlooks. The authors say that the condition of refugees from Blue Nile state indicates that the conditions there may be comparable with those in South Kordofan. These are further war crimes and the Minister may want to say something about the possibility of further indictments at the ICC.
Another group of victims in a desperate state are the 40,000 South Sudanese who were left behind in Khartoum at the time of independence three years ago. Their camp was flooded and latrines are overflowing, spreading disease to these homeless and stateless people, weakened by malnutrition. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $5.5 million for emergency shelter, healthcare, education and public health initiatives for the victims of flooding, including the South Sudanese, but for the latter it is a short-term solution only. The International Organisation for Migration has a plan to airlift 20,000 of the most vulnerable to South Sudan at a cost of $20 million. Can this plan be expanded so that the IOM repatriated all the people to their homeland with the help of donors such as the UN Central Emergency Response Fund?
Meanwhile, UNHCR is already having to cope with 220,000 refugees in South Sudan and another 40,000 in Ethiopia. Can my noble friend say what the budget for these operations in 2013 is and whether it is being met? These people were mostly bombed out of their homes in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and their plight is the direct result of Bashir’s military campaigns against civilians. Now the ground attack is being reinforced by the acquisition of Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft and Mi-24 ground attack helicopters. My noble friend says that these breaches of the UN sanctions will be dealt with by the panel of experts’ report in January 2014, but surely where there is credible evidence, such as we have from Radio Dubanga—a reliable witness in the past—and from the Satellite Sentinel project already mentioned, the Security Council should take prompt action to call Khartoum to account over its breaches of its international obligations.
At the same time, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights should investigate the wave of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions as proposed by 11 international and African organisations last week. At least 170 people have been killed and more than 800 detained following widespread protests against the ending of fuel subsidies. Newspapers and broadcasters have been shut down, editors have been told what they are to say about the protests and the head of the Sudanese Doctors’ Union was detained when he spoke on BBC Arabic about the number of casualties admitted to his hospital. The UN rapporteur on extrajudicial executions and the working party on arbitrary detention should collect evidence and report on those events, preferably after visiting Sudan, but in the absence of an invitation, based on witness statements collected in response to a public appeal. I know that that is not the normal method of working by UN special procedures, but their hesitant approach accounts for their lack of effectiveness in stopping these human rights abuses.
How can the international community secure an improvement in Khartoum’s behaviour? The IMF persuaded the regime to cancel fuel subsidies in an attempt to control its rocketing external debt, scheduled to reach $46 billion this year. But the US special envoy to South Sudan and Sudan, Donald Booth, said last month that Khartoum is spending the same on military operations in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile as it did on the fuel subsidies. If the IMF made the ending of these conflicts and of purchases of sophisticated foreign military equipment a condition of debt relief, there would be a double benefit to the Sudanese economy and to the hundreds of thousands of victims of Khartoum’s aggression.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Cox for once again focusing our attention on the suffering peoples of Sudan. I begin by expressing sadness and some shock that, despite all the debates and all the attempts to create a climate for peaceful development, the suffering in that war-torn country continues unabated. My first visit to South Sudan was during the civil war, which claimed 2 million lives, and, in 2004, I went to Darfur and saw first hand a conflict which had claimed between 200,000 and 300,000 lives. While the world looked on, 90% of Darfur’s villages were razed to the ground. At the time, I published a report entitled, If This Isn’t Genocide, What Is? Throughout 2011 and 2012, I tabled questions and spoke in your Lordships’ House about the new genocide unravelling, as we have heard, in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and which was described by Dr Mukesh Kapila, a former high-ranking British and United Nations official, as,
“the second genocide of the 21st century”— Darfur being the first.
Those who unleashed this torrent of unconscionable violence on their own people are undoubtedly mass murderers and fugitives from justice, having been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, more than 1 million are now displaced, and the perpetrators are attempting to repeat what happened in Darfur, but this time by closing borders and refusing access, a genocide without witnesses.
Two years ago, Ministers told me that they were urgently seeking access to the affected areas:
“Reports of such atrocities will be investigated and, if they prove true, those responsible will need to be brought to account”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. WA 294.]
Three months later, Ministers said that,
“we continue … to seek urgent access to those most affected by the conflict”.—[Official Report, 9/11/11; col. WA 66.]
However, we have lamentably failed to do either, failing both systematically to collect evidence from fleeing refugees and to gain access to the areas on which bombs have been raining down. I hope that the Minister will update us on both of those questions.
Yesterday I attended a briefing of the Associate Parliamentary Group for the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, of which I am an officer, as are the noble Baronesses, Lady Kinnock and Lady Cox. What I heard did not just leave me saddened and shocked, it also left me angry.
We heard that in Darfur, where 2.3 million people are already displaced, is that “another 350,000 people have been displaced since January” and “1.3 million people are now in temporary camps”; that “aerial bombardment is a regular occurrence”; that “there is a climate of fear and terrorisation” and “a rapid downward trend in security”; and that “the situation is getting worse.” We heard that there may be another 50,000 people displaced in Adela but no one, including a UNAMID force of more than 20,000 personnel, has access, so no one really knows. For INGOs, the situation is fraught with danger following the killing of two of World Vision’s staff in July. There is now virtually no humanitarian access to areas that are not held by the Government.
Yesterday we were told that it is five years since DfID officials have been able to get beyond the state capitals in Darfur to visit projects run by NGOs. I hope that we will hear from the Minister that our commitment to Darfur and the rest of Sudan remains a priority for the UK, that DfID staff are fully informed of the situation, and that we are finally getting to grips with the fact that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, the Doha document for peace in Darfur is on its last legs. I hope that the Minister will tell us when we last raised the Darfur and the situation in South Kordofan in the Security Council. The Security Council resolutions banning military flights over Darfur are, we heard yesterday, regularly being broken and those who issue their genocidal orders do so with total impunity.
As I prepared for today’s debate, it was with a genuine sense of sadness. It is more than 10 years ago that, on the eve of a breakthrough in negotiations between the Government of Sudan and SPLA rebels, I welcomed the new atmosphere of hope, but also warned that a ceasefire would be no guarantee of democracy or justice for all. More than 10 years later, it is clear that the CPA that followed has failed to bring change, democracy, or justice to the Sudanese peoples of Sudan or South Sudan. That remains today a distant dream in many of those places. I also feel shock because, despite the ongoing and mounting tragedy of a further decade of war, the attention of the world appears to have turned away from the region.
It is not only Darfur and South Kordofan; consider for a moment the peoples of central and northern Sudan, who flocked to the streets in September of this year and were brutally massacred by the Government of Sudan’s security services. More than 200 protesters were shot dead. The awfulness speaks for itself. Consider also the situation in Jonglei, where it is thought that militias loyal to the Government in Khartoum have also been trying to destabilise the situation in the South.
More than 10 years ago, I said to the House that Sudan’s modern history is littered with temporary peace agreements which were eventually broken. The CPA has been broken for the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and it has been broken for the people of Abyei. The various Darfur peace processes were flawed and have not been honoured. The eastern Sudan peace agreement does not work for the eastern Sudanese.
It is past time to think strategically. Are we prepared simply to sit back and watch protestors be killed on the streets of Khartoum, or will we get behind calls for fundamental change in Sudan? What is Her Majesty’s Government doing to help the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan? The panel is tasked with mediating Sudan’s internal conflicts and its conflict with South Sudan, but can it really have the necessary capacity required for all the immense tasks which it has been given?
Finally, I wonder if the Minister has seen the report, “Persecuted and Forgotten”, launched by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, just two weeks ago on behalf of Aid to the Church in Need http://www.acnuk.org/persecuted-and-forgotten-our-religious-freedom-report The report details the specific persecution of Christians in many parts of the Republic of the Sudan. This is a really troubling phenomenon which is now occurring on a systematic basis. I look forward to the Minister’s reply on all of these deeply troubling questions..
The Lord Bishop of Guildford:
My Lords, I completely endorse what has been said so far in this discussion. I want to raise a rather different point, but equally I want to express my distress—and, indeed, my shared anger—about the humanitarian, agrarian and political disaster about which we have been speaking.
My rather different point is a question about the implications of further destabilisation of Sudan for the country’s international neighbours. I think that that is an important point. I visit Nigeria regularly, and I am due to fly out to Abuja on Sunday. Four years ago, I was able to go to the province of Maiduguri up in the north-east. I cannot go there now, at the moment anyway, because of the political situation. Maiduguri is a long, long way from Sudan—many miles away. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a connection.
When I was there four years ago I visited some of the townships on Lake Chad itself, and was asked by a small Christian community to go on the lake in a little fishing boat with an outboard motor. I heard of the troubles and the difficulties there—not least the difficult political jurisdictions around Lake Chad, on which I will not elaborate—and of the problem of a receding lake and what that will do to those communities. When I got back I was told that the relationship between the small minority Christian communities in one of those townships and the majority Muslim population was very good until people came from Sudan through Chad, over Lake Chad. Then the trouble started.
There is a real question about the escalation of ethnic and religious violence, and its spread from east Africa to west Africa. That is anecdotal, but my intuition is that it is probably right, although at the moment in relatively small scale. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, could say more about that, as she is very aware of the situation in Nigeria. I therefore ask the Minister perhaps to touch on the risk of a more general destabilisation of east and west Africa spreading from Sudan, as the situation there continues seriously to deteriorate.
Lord Hussain (LD):
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate. Her hard work in that region is always appreciated by the House, and by me as well. I have had the opportunity to visit both South Sudan and Sudan in the past year or two, but what I am going to say today is largely not part of my findings or experience.
Many of us around the world thought that the conflict in Sudan would be resolved once the partition of Sudan took place and South Sudan became an independent country. Unfortunately, even after two years of South Sudan’s independence, the conflict does not seem to be coming to an end. There are many reasons for that. I am glad that the African Union is taking more interest in helping to resolve the outstanding issues between Khartoum and Juba, and the presidents of both countries have met and are talking to each other, which is a good sign. Sitting around and resolving issues by negotiation rather than by taking up arms is good.
However, today I want to concentrate on something that is not helping the population and that is the role of the new country’s armed forces, which have not yet adapted to their new role and are still acting very much like a militant organisation. According to the latest report of Human Rights Watch, dated September 2013, since December 2012 the Sudan People’s Liberation Army—the SPLA, South Sudan’s army—locked in conflict with the ethnic Murle rebels from the South Sudan Democratic Movement, has committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. SPLA soldiers have unlawfully killed at least 96 people, mostly civilians, from the Murle ethnic group during the conflict, and they have engaged in the widespread looting of homes, clinics, schools and churches. The abuses by SPLA soldiers have had a devastating and potentially long-lasting impact on this marginalised minority ethnic group from Pibor county and have caused widespread fear and displacement, contributing to a strongly held perception of persecution among the Murle civilian population.
The abuses have taken place against a background of ethnic conflict. Dinka Bor, Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups, all in Jonglei State, have been locked in a cycle of cattle-raiding attacks and increasingly brutal revenge attacks for several years. The rebellion and the SPLA counter-offensive have further aggravated pre-existing ethnic tensions in the area, which, in the case of anti-Murle sentiments, may have played into the extent of the abuses and slow government response. The potential for further grave violations and violence is very high, in part because the SPLA, an army still in transition, faces significant command, control and discipline challenges and also because ethnic tensions are so high in Jonglei, especially anti-Murle sentiment.
Inter-ethnic violence between the Lou Nuer, Dinka and Murle communities has killed thousands of people in recent years. The Government of South Sudan have failed to prevent this violence, despite frequent warnings of impending attacks, to protect civilians or to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks. In early July 2013, according to the report, thousands of Lou Nuer fighters massed and attacked Murle areas. The full extent of the attack is still not known. Murle who were displaced by the conflict and by SPLA abuses may have been especially vulnerable to the attack. Allegations of government support, including the provision of ammunition to the Lou Nuer, reported by credible sources heard by Human Rights Watch, have further deepened Murle perceptions of government persecution.
The Government’s failure meaningfully to redress the abuses by the SPLA during the disarmament paved the way for further abuses by soldiers in late 2012 and 2013. This report documents the extent of the SPLA’s violations against Murle civilians between December 2012 and July 2013, causing the majority of the Murle population to flee to remote areas of the bush, many of them believed to be cut off from access to emergency food and medical aid. Tens of thousands of Murle are now displaced and too frightened to return, including most of the civilians from all six main population areas in Pibor county, which is now little more than barracks.
SPLA soldiers approached a group of civilians in a village where men were playing a traditional board game. They demanded that the men hand over their guns. The men gave the SPLA two rifles. The SPLA then tied up the men into two groups of seven. The soldiers executed the men in one group at the site and took the men in the other group some distance away and shot them. One man who was shot in the shoulder and left for dead survived the shooting and was later found by other community members.
In conclusion, has the Foreign Secretary raised the issue with his South Sudanese counterpart and will he consider reporting South Sudan to the International Court of Justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the South Sudanese army against its own people?
My Lords, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, not least on her tenacity, and other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, I hope that they will forgive me if I wince and say, “Yet another debate on Sudan”. Those of us who have been there often will feel it the most acutely. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, used the word “anger”, to which I subscribe. There have been more years of conflict and more than 1 million additional people have been affected in the past two years. There are 190,000 more Sudanese refugees in South Sudan. There is further conflict and differences between different groups on political objectives, including between the herders and other farmers. There is, I suppose, conflict between settled communities and those who see very little relevance in being settled because they move with their herds and because borders are not particularly relevant to them.
Two months ago, mass demonstrations about the cost of living and the economy of the country were met by a brutal regime with live ammunition and tear gas, and with mass imprisonment. Negotiations on the safe demilitarised border zone have gone into reverse. Nothing is safe. Nothing is demilitarised. No border zone has been agreed. An African Union peace initiative, through the African Union Peace and Security Council, was twice rescheduled amid sharp African Union criticism once again of the Government of Sudan, and was not responded to by that Government. There was a rather better report on the Government of South Sudan, but none of it yet is making a difference.
It has to be said that South Sudan is both a source of and a destination country for men, women and children who have been subjected in some cases to forced labour and sex trafficking, including women and girls from Uganda, Kenya and the DRC. Inter-ethnic abductions continue but at least the South Sudanese Government have recognised the issues and are trying to intervene. The economies of South Sudan and Sudan, with their high level of interdependency, are continuously disrupted by border disputes and oil transmission fees. I understand that oil reserves are set to halve within 10 years if no new fields come on stream. Exploration of new fields is of course almost impossible amid the military clashes.
War crimes are committed with virtual impunity. There has been no action to enforce international criminal arrest warrants. A large United Nations operation, with at least 4,000 troops in Abyei and 7,500 in South Sudan, has had far too little impact. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said, instability is spreading right through the region—through the DRC, and to a lesser extent in Uganda, and the Central African Republic. Uganda’s help for South Sudan historically has been the basis for the Sudanese Government’s sponsorship of murderous groups, including the monstrous Lord’s Resistance Army and now other groups which have taken its place.
I suppose that, with a feeling of some desperation, we are tempted to ask what is new. There is little point in demanding a great deal more intervention from the UK Government, much as I would wish to. I think that the Government lack the means or the local alliances to do much, and I fear that they lack the will. Of course there will be protests and those protests are important. There will be realism about humanitarian aid. I urge the Government to find alternative routes for aid rather than those through Khartoum. That will not do any longer. Is there more that could be done? Are we destined to return to this debate again and again, to these issues with no real answers? I am one of life’s optimists but this would be a dismal prospect for all of us and I ask if there is new ground we could break. Let me make a modest attempt.
First, of course African issues will be resolved ultimately in Africa for the most part, and by Africans. That must make us focus on the African Union and its machinery and on the sub-continental regional bodies. The issue of capacity in those bodies is critical. It has been for years. The problem is not just money or a lack of outstanding individuals, because there are some outstanding individuals, and it is not just the presence of a mass murderer at the head of the Government of Sudan. Would the Government consider, as a European initiative, a joint EU-AU review of the financial and skills needs of the African Union, carried out routinely at intervals of not more than three years, with a report on the outcome of those discussions and an annual report on the milestones? Then we at least could see some machinery and assess whether it works.
Secondly, would the Government, through the Security Council, advance the case for a standing arrangement—I am not saying a standing force—that can call into existence a peacekeeping force much more rapidly, rather than with the delays during which many more people die? Will the Government through our multinational treaties, alliances and membership organisations, seek the full commitment of everyone in those bodies to act on the arrest warrants in all the jurisdictions that they cover? Al-Bashir is a wanted mass murderer. Will Her Majesty’s Government introduce targeted sanctions? The response in the Chamber to a question just a few days ago was that we had talked to the Nigerians about this without any indication of what happened next—that truly will not do now. It will not do.
Thirdly, will the Government, through its aid programme in the multi-national infrastructure initiatives, look for economic developments which would make a much greater difference? There has been a wider discovery of oil far from ports and from infrastructure. Most of it would be transformational but the countries involved need to co-operate in order to make any difference. Will we assist them to make a difference and give some economic hope?
Finally, on occasions I have heard the aspiration to join the Commonwealth expressed in Juba. I do not know whether that is a workable concept—it may not be yet—but it would certainly provide skilled resources in training, including in health and in the treatment of polio. It would provide links to trade and expertise in all Commonwealth countries. It would provide local trade links, for example in Uganda, Kenya and the region, which might be fundamentally helpful in the development of South Sudan. It would provide a secretariat able to assess the capacity needs and the choreography for the provision of greater capacity; and it would tell the enemies of democracy that they face a worldwide community of democratic nations who will not let this pass.
My Lords, it has been an impassioned debate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for pursuing this issue as she has done so vigorously over many years, and I know that the work of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan also continues to do that.
The right reverend Prelate pointed out that what we see happening across the border between Sudan and South Sudan is also happening across Sudan and South Sudan’s borders with their neighbouring states. This is part of a set of regional conflicts which now sadly flow across the Sahel and central and east Africa. The Lord’s Resistance Army has just made another cross-border attack. As we know, it operates from Uganda, through South Sudan into eastern Congo. Recent events in the Central African Republic, where the Government have been overthrown, have reportedly been supported by groups from Darfur; groups in Darfur have very often obtained their weapons from Libya, Chad or the Central African Republic. Some of these groups move very easily across frontiers. We recognise that part of this is tribal, part of this is ethnic, part of this is racial, and part of this now, sadly, is also the militant Islamic ideology which attracts youths from across those countries. It brings in foreign fighters and foreign ideas of the sort that the right reverend Prelate commented on, breaking up what had been relatively peaceful relations between different communities and different faiths and raising severe problems for all of us, across Africa. I am happy that we will be debating the dreadful situation in eastern Congo in the not too distant future.
Within Sudan, neither the Government in Khartoum nor the Government in Juba control their entire territory. The Government in Khartoum have the advantage of armed forces and external arms supplies and, as we all know, are misusing them in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. There are linked conflicts across the border, with each Government claiming that the other continues to support the rebels within what they regard as their territories; and the border, as established under the comprehensive peace agreement, is not yet accepted by either side. We must recognise that the SPLM in the north refuses to recognise the borders as established.
We have heard a lot about events surrounding the demonstrations in Sudan, which Ministers have condemned both publicly and privately. We certainly want a more democratic space to open up in Sudan. We deeply regret that the Government of Sudan continue to get arms supplies from outside. We are not entirely sure which countries they are coming from, but they are clearly from the forces in what we used to call the Eastern Bloc. We have a fairly good idea where some of them come from. We meet regularly with opposition groups both within and outside the country. That includes meeting the leadership of the SPLM-North, although we do not support its stated aim of overthrowing the regime by force. We also recognise that the Sudan Revolutionary Front is itself a loose coalition of different bodies and not entirely cohesive in its operation.
I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that we do not channel aid through the Government. We are co-operating with technical preparations for debt relief, but we have made it abundantly clear that debt relief will not be possible until the conflicts are resolved and that the benefits must flow to promoting development in Sudan.
On Darfur, we continue to look with horror at what is happening, while increasingly understanding that some of the militias are not entirely under the control of the central Government in Khartoum. We regret that the Doha document has not in any sense been adopted and that the situation in many ways continues to deteriorate. The question of what we can do about it on our own is difficult.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the comparison with Libya. It is much easier to enforce a no-fly zone, or even to intervene, in a country where almost the entire population lives within 50 miles of the coast than it is to enforce a no-fly zone a very long way from the coast—across the borders between South Sudan and northern Sudan—let alone over Darfur. We continue to work with others on the situation in Darfur. We continue to ask within the UN for an effective review of the not very effective UN force in Darfur.
We are doing what we can, but we recognise that it is not enough. Restrictions on access to Darfur are part of the problem. We all understand how appalling what is going on in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is. Local organisations, with support from international partners, are gathering evidence of abuses. We do not have access to those areas to gather evidence first-hand. Noble Lords will know that the two Presidents have met on a number of occasions. We hope that the recent improvement in relations between Sudan and South Sudan will help to resolve the conflict, but we all recognise that the conflict has a dynamic of its own.
Within South Sudan, there are also problems of internal conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, talked about the conflict in Jonglei, which the South Sudanese Government claim is being supported by the Khartoum Government. We have to recognise that these have aspects of ethnic conflict between tribes. I am tempted to say that some of these are cattle raiding with AK-47s. Unfortunately, with AK-47s you can kill an awful lot more people than you could with spears. There are elements there where government as such—the idea of a settled state—has not developed. In Abyei, as we all understand, the conflict between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka has elements of Cain and Abel about it. We are talking about settled tribes versus nomadic tribes. There again, once the weapons are freely available, the challenge is very clear.
On Abyei, we do not recognise the outcome of the unilateral referendum held by the Ngok Dinka community held last week. However, we understand the frustrations that led to it taking place and the extent to which external forces and pressures imposed an extra layer on what were traditional local rivalries and conflicts. Almost three years have elapsed since the referendum should have taken place simultaneously with the wider referendum for South Sudan, but we have seen, as we all know, repeated failure to move forward by honouring existing agreements.
What are the UK Government doing about that? We are no longer an imperial power within the region. We have to work with others. We are working as closely as we can with the African Union and the high-level panel. We are certainly providing the support that we feel will help in the circumstances. We are also, of course, working through and with the United Nations. We are doing our best to make the EU a more active player than it has been. The United Kingdom and France are pushing our EU partners to be more engaged across the whole of northern, eastern and central Africa. It is not a message that all our EU partners are yet willing to hear. The British and the French continue to be by far the most actively engaged. We have to recognise that, as people like me go round other capitals, we have to try to explain to them why our interests are engaged in some of these areas because the problem of refugee migration across the Mediterranean is not entirely disengaged from what is happening across the Sahel and elsewhere.
We wish that the Arab League was more active—the Arab League of which Sudan is a member. The Doha agreement was after all moderated by the Qataris, but we would like to see stronger Arab League involvement. We would like to see more active Chinese involvement. The Chinese have real interests at stake in the supply of oil from South Sudan through Sudan. I am told that the Chinese have now become something of a moderating influence, but I think we all understand that the Chinese Government are reluctant to get too heavily involved in outside intervention.
DfID has a major commitment to South Sudan. I have not been to Juba or Khartoum but I have talked to a number of people working in the aid field in Abyei, Darfur and Juba itself. We are working to try to build the capacities of that very new and undeveloped Government. We saw the change in the Cabinet as being a positive development, and we continue to support them in every way that we can.
The two Permanent Secretaries of DfID and the Foreign Office visited the two capitals in October, and my honourable friend Mark Simmonds is going to Juba at the end of this month, so we are and remain actively engaged. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, asked for a joint EU-AU review. That is a highly desirable development and I will take that back. As I said, we have to work hard to make sure that all our 27 partners in the EU are committed to this and we have to recognise that the AU has some severe limitations on its own capacities. Going towards a standing arrangement of a peacekeeping force may stretch the AU further than it is yet able to go.
We should recognise that there are AU forces in place—Ethiopian forces in Abyei and Ugandan forces in Somalia—and a brigade under UN auspices in eastern Congo. So a number of African countries are now quite heavily committed. They lack transport, intelligence and logistics. The Government in Juba are pretty dependent on UN helicopters for transport around the country.
I understand only too well the point that is being made about the AU. My suggestion was that the discussion should happen under the auspices of the Security Council because it is possible for other kinds of forces—for example, as we found with Scandinavian police forces in Darfur—to have a very significant role in peacekeeping.
I take that point and of course the UN also has to have a large role. With regard to the Nordic countries, I also recall that the three guarantors of the comprehensive peace agreement were the United Kingdom, the United States and Norway. We continue to raise these issues regularly within the UN Security Council. It is a matter of continuing discussion and we will continue to push very hard. I sincerely hope and trust, and am confident, that noble Lords here, including the noble Baroness herself, will continue to push us to maintain that pressure. Having answered, I hope, most of the points raised in this debate, I will conclude my speech.
Some further thoughts…
· Democracy and justice remains a distant dream for the peoples of South Sudan for whom the threat of war with Sudan persists. Those living at the border, for whom a Safe Demilitarised Border Zone agreed in September 2012 remains a myth and which the UN is completely failing to monitor. For those in Jonglei state, where over 100,000 have been cut off from life-saving assistance – and where southern rebels allegedly receive support from the Government of Sudan, trying to destabilize the country. Spare a thought for…
· For the peoples of South Sudan who have not yet seen their peace dividend or opportunity, basic services, education and there is embezzlement and corruption and more must be done to build a civil society which respects diversity and dissent. ..
· For those in the so called Safe Demilitarised Border Zone is supposed to prevent cross border escalations of conflict. But it is impossible to build security cooperation – at the core of the ongoing peace process – between the two countries when the UN monitoring mission has no capacity – and seemingly little will – to monitor it?…
· For the women of both countries, who suffer from being second-class citizens in their own homes. DfID is right to focus on girl’s access to education. But there is such a long way to go.
Think also about Interdependence and Implications for Citizens of South Sudan…
· Despite South Sudan’s independence, the futures of both Sudan’s people remains interlinked.
· South Sudanese citizens depend upon revenues from their oil that flows through Sudan’s pipeline to Port Sudan.
· These are essential for South Sudan to build its state from scratch, if its peoples are to access education, basic services and if its army is to continue its transition from loose coalition to become a coherent and accountable force.
· Insecurity in Sudan will also spread into South Sudan’s divided tribal politics. And there is a long history of Sudan supporting rebel movements in South Sudan.
· The future of South Sudan’s citizens lies in the situation in Sudan. Too soon and too quickly, the two countries are being analysed in isolation from each other.
· Over 10 years ago I said to this house that “Sudan’s modern history is littered with temporary peace agreements which were eventually broken”.
If there is to be an overarching transformation we need to help the African Union High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, tasked with mediating Sudan’s internal conflicts and the conflict with South Sudan. As things stand it can’t possibly have the necessary capacity required for all the immense tasks to which it is given.
· In terms of diplomatic relations and ending the piece-meal approach, I am disturbed to learn that the position of the EU Special Representative to Sudan and South Sudan has been cut. If focus is to be retained we will need to ensure that the EU Special Representative on the Horn of Africa takes up these issues as seriously as the burnt bodies and hungry mouths of Sudan’s diverse population deserve.
This entry was posted in Africa, Author's Recommended Posts, Faith Matters, Human Rights, Parliament and tagged Abyei, Aid To The Church In Need, Associate Parliamentary Group for the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, “Persecuted and Forgotten, Crimes Against Humanity, Darfur, DfID, Dr Mukesh Kapila, Genocide, South Kordofan, SPLA, UNAMID, World Vision.
Roscoe Lecture – Save The Congo and the Story of E.D.Morel – Vava Tampa – and details of the next two Roscoe Lectures in Liverpool with (Baroness)Tanni Grey-Thomspon DBE and Diane Lees, Director General of the Imperial War Museum
This week Liverpool John Moores Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship staged the 114th Roscoe Lecture. Vava Tampa, founder of Save The Congo, spoke on the history of conflict and human rights abuses in the DRC and about the role of the early twentieth century human rights campaigned, E.D.Morel and Morel’s Liverpool connections:http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/NewsUpdate/viewarticle/1097/Audio Link to Vava Tampa’s Lecture
Visit Vava Tampa’s Save The Congo web site:
Link to an article on Morel from Nerve Magazine issue 7, Winter 2005:
Link to E D Morel’s Maiden speech of 1922 (featured in Hansard’s Centenary anthology of historic and memorable speeches) warning of the punitive reparations imposed on Germany:
http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1922/nov/24/foreign-affairsAll Parliamentary contributions from E D Morel can be found here:
The next Roscoe Lecture will be given by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, Paralympic athlete, on Monday November 11th at 6.00pm in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. She will speak on Overcoming Disability and Adversity.
On Thursday November 28th, Ms.Diane Lees, Director General of the Imperial War Museum will speak on 1914: Why Remembering the Great War Matters. The lecture will be held at the Philharmonic Hall at 6.oopm.
Tickets are free and available from Mrs.Barbara Mace at email@example.com
24 Oct 2013 : Column 1234
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, although I am one of the sceptics, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on giving the House the opportunity to have this important debate and for the way in which he introduced it.
Since first arriving in Parliament, in another place, in 1979, I have been a regular user of the west coast main line from both Liverpool and Preston. Virgin provides a superb service and most journeys to London take just over two hours. It is specious to suggest that we need a faster rail link, which is no doubt why Patrick McLoughlin shrewdly sought over the summer to alter the terms of the debate away from the question of journey times to that of capacity.
If the raison d’être for HS2 is a moving target, so are the estimated costs. In 2008, it was estimated that the project would cost £17 billion. By 2010 the figure was £30 billion. By this year it had reached a staggering £42 billion, according to some estimates, and nearer £50 billion once the cost of the rolling stock has been added in. The Financial Times—hardly part of a disreputable conspiracy—reported a private Treasury calculation of £73 billion, and all of this before a single sleeper has been laid. Having said that he has been changing his mind about HS2, the former Chancellor Alistair Darling is right to warn that this is a project that could easily run out of control. He says the business case has been exaggerated and that there are better ways of encouraging growth outside London. That is the main reason why I share his view.
For the avoidance of doubt, I believe in public transport and have always supported the enhancement of our railway network, like the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson. I have supported capital projects that improve infrastructure, provide demonstrable economic benefits and create jobs. It is claimed that the region I live in will be a principal beneficiary of HS2. However, for reasons I will explain, and not simply because of the runaway costs, I have been opposed to this project in its present form from the outset.
For a fraction of the cost of HS2 we could enhance the capacity of our railway system, by upgrading stations and platforms, lengthening carriages, improving railway stock, using new technologies and through timetabling and the reintroduction of services such as overnight sleepers to northern cities and towns. We could make significant improvements to our railways.
Think of the opportunity costs at stake.
A far higher priority for railway improvements should be commuter services and town-to-town links. Travel times between northern cities and towns are diabolical. To travel from Preston to London takes just over two hours; from Liverpool to Preston takes one hour, and from Leeds to Liverpool takes one hour and 47 minutes. Liverpool to Sheffield takes one hour and 41 minutes, and Liverpool to Hull takes three hours and 13 minutes. Those cross-Pennine, east-west services, not north-south services, are impeding economic development in the north.
If we were really serious about the north of England, we would reopen passenger railway links in north Lancashire and link Manchester and Liverpool airports with express trains. I welcome the news, which the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, whom I welcome to the
24 Oct 2013 : Column 1235
Front Bench, gave me in a parliamentary written reply on 21 October, that there will be some improvements to those services. Perhaps she will tell us today how much money will be put into those projects compared with the investment on HS2.
Liverpool will be placed at a serious disadvantage by HS2, which is why some of the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in that city, recently tabled a motion to the city council pointing that out. They are not alone. The CPRE suggests that,
“it could risk Liverpool’s longer term regeneration”.
Why? Because, unlike Manchester, which will have a direct line to the city centre, Liverpool will not, and there will be a requirement to change trains to reach some important destinations. At the very minimum, reconsideration should be given to the decision to build a second HS2 station outside Manchester in the green belt.
I am also certain that, if these proposals go ahead, the magnetic appeal of London, with its fabled streets paved with gold, will suck people and businesses away from the north. KPMG’s report may point to overall benefits but, strikingly, it says that Greater London will be a £2.8 billion winner while 50 places in the UK, such as Aberdeen, Bristol and Cardiff, will be worse off. They estimate that Dundee and Angus could lose as much as 2% of GDP.
Many of us will have heard from some of those already affected by HS2. Tim Ellis, a Staffordshire farmer whose family have farmed there for three generations, wrote to me to describe how the project, which will be just 145 metres away from his land, has already blighted their property and business. He wryly commented:
“What we really need is super-fast broadband—any broadband would be nice—not super-fast trains”.
I do not live in one of the 70 constituencies through which HS2 will pass. If I did, I would deeply resent being accused of nimbyism for questioning the effects of this project on some of our most beautiful countryside. Alison Munro, chief executive of HS2, is wrong to characterise opponents as “a noisy minority” and imply that anyone who questions this project is an antediluvian luddite. Taken with the Government’s road-building plans, which will impact on five national parks, I am glad that many are in open revolt and demanding protection for our landscapes and the tranquillity of the countryside. We are too obsessed with bigger, faster, better and more. There needs to be further reflection before HS2 is allowed to proceed.
The CPRE is right when it says:
“Deliverability is trumping all other considerations”.
Attempts to push through enabling legislation by May 2015, without due process and adequate consultation, would be an abuse of Parliament, and should be fiercely resisted. I hope that today’s debate will serve notice on the Government of your Lordships’ determination to do precisely that.
In November 1938, in an orgy of violence which would become known as Kristallnacht, Jewish synagogues, homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked and pillaged. The sledgehammers and petrol left more than 1,000 synagogues burnt and over 7,000 Jewish shops and businesses in ruins. The streets were covered in shards of smashed glass from broken windows.
Compare the charred husk of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, in 1938, with pictures of the blackened walls of Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, taken recently in Egypt, and you will readily understand why August 2013 represented Egypt’s Kristallnacht.
Compare the terror of 1938 with the fear of Copts as members of their community have been left dead, others assaulted, and their 118th Pope, Tawadros II, who is now under protection having had death threats made against him.
In 1938 The Times commented that: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”
In August 2013, in an almost identical vein, The Times reported how “Dozens of churches, homes and businesses have been set alight and looted in Egypt, forcing millions of Christians into hiding amid the worst bout of sectarian violence in the country’s modern history. Some Coptic Christian communities are being made to pay bribes as local Islamists exploit the turmoil by seeking to revive a seventh-century tax, called jizya, levied on non-Muslims.”
The Sunday Times described how in one village “First they daubed the Christians’ shops and homes with a red cross. Then the mob stormed the police station before turning its wrath on the church.”
More than 90 churches, monasteries and church buildings have been attacked across the country. The Times said there had been incitement, that Imams in the town of Fayoum reportedly urged supporters to go out and attack churches and Christians.
In Cairo, Franciscan nuns saw the cross over their school gate torn down and replaced by an al-Qaeda flag while the school was burnt down and three nuns were frog marched through the streets while mobs showered them with abuse. One nun said “They paraded us like prisoners of war.”
Joe Stork, acting Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch reported that “Dozens of churches are smouldering ruins, and Christians throughout the country are hiding in their homes, afraid for their very lives”
One of those who died was a young Christian deacon, Wahid Jacob, whose funeral was held last week. He had served the St.John the Baptist Church in Asyut until August 21st, when he was kidnapped. His captors demanded 1.2 million Egyptian pounds ($171,000) – an impossible ransom for his impoverished family. Their inability to pay up led to his execution. The priest who conducted Wahid’s funeral said that the young man’s body, found dumped in a field, was badly tortured. These unconscionable sectarian crimes follow years of indifference to the regular reports of the abduction and forced conversion and marriage of Christian girls; of accompanying violence and rape; discrimination, beatings and abuse.
Attacks on the Copts, who number around 10% of the 85 million Egyptian population have occurred throughout the country, and are well documented in Upper Egypt’s Minya, Assiut and Sohag; in Beni Suef in the Nile Delta; and in the governorates of Giza and Cairo. Although the Tamarod coalition which, on July 3rd, brought the removal of Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood Government had the support of millions of Egyptians – including secularists, intellectuals, students, women, moderate Muslims, and the army – it is the Coptic community who have borne the brunt of these revenge attacks.
The puritan-tendency in the Muslim Brotherhood have blamed Christians for the military coup and their media outlets have whipped up hate. The hatred is then recycled by key Muslim Brotherhood leaders in their speeches to their supporters. Happy for the Christian minority to be used as a scapegoat, the security forces have been largely indifferent to this suffering.
When it comes to the Copts the perpetrators enjoy impunity and can terrorise at leisure. The Economist reported that “nowhere had the police thought to reinforce security, and nowhere did they intervene promptly or with sufficient force.”
This combination of impunity, terror and blackmail prompts the question, where is the solidarity from Christians and non-Christians alike which such events demand? African slaves, abandoned to a life of exploitation, poignantly ask the same question in the words of the African-American Spiritual – “were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
In the aftermath of last week’s events – and well aware of the indifference which has been shown to the fate of Christians throughout the region – it’s the same question which Coptic Christians have been asking of those who have voices but who do not raise them; of those who have resources but who do not use them; and those who have freedom and power but fail to exercise it.
All of us ask should ask ourselves what we said and what we did when they burnt the churches, terrorised the people and killed the Copts. It took the outgoing British Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks – always mindful of the events to which Kristallnacht led, to point to our indifference to the assault on the Copts which he described as “a tragedy going almost unremarked” and is the “religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing”.
Yet, not all consciences have been still and not all voices have been silent. At a protest outside the White House, in chants which echoed those used against Lyndon B. Johnson, in the context of Vietnam, critics of the Obama administration’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood demanded “Obama Obama don’t you care? Copts are dying over there”.
Recall that when Mubarak was removed from office President Obama said that “Egypt will never be the same.” Was the Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood what he really had in mind? What is his red line for the Copts or, is it true that he has run out of red ink?
Too many in the U.S. who call themselves Progressive, or who can be counted amongst their cheer leaders in Britain, have characterised the Morsi Government and the Muslim Brotherhood as lawful and worthy of support and would have them return to power. The New Statesman says “Either Britain supports democracy abroad or it doesn’t”. The Egyptian military are painted as usurpers and illicit. Where here is any intelligent or truthful assessment – let alone moral indignation – of the tyranny and violence which has been part and parcel of the ideology promoted by the Muslim Brotherhhod and their fellow travellers?
This isn’t just about what passes for democracy. The holding of an election – like the one which ushered in the Third Reich after Kristallnacht – is not the only test of what makes for a democratic society. The rule of law is the first test and the protection of a country’s minorities and women, is the second.
The reality is that the Brotherhood was disastrously incompetent in Government and attempted to bring in a wholly undemocratic Constitution which would have denied vast swathes of the Egyptian population – especially its women and its minorities – their lawful rights. Does that make a country democratic? As Egypt descended into total anarchy was the army supposed to simply stand by and watch it happen?
Despite welcome signals from the new Government of redrawn Constitutional protections it is also reported that it will continue to provide Sharia as the “principal source of law” – and so a raft of civil rights, freedoms, including protection for minorities and equal opportunities for women, will have no guaranteed basis in law.
Egypt’s future can only be based on a secular Constitution where human rights, including the rights of minorities and the right to freedom of religion or belief (including the right not to believe), are respected.
Above all, Egypt’s future will depend on the rule of law. As Human Rights Watch has pointed out, there can be no peace or stability in Egypt if the authorities fail to intervene to prevent the attacks or to bring the perpetrators to justice, or if they ignore the violent rhetoric which whips up hatred. Over the past few years we have regularly pointed to the significant numbers of Copts who have been fleeing Egypt.
In a climate of fear and intimidation, coupled with historic and long-standing discrimination, this exodus is entirely understandable. But if this represents the only future for Copts it will be a tragedy for Egypt and for the Copts’ Muslim neighbours alike. An Egypt which is unable to accept difference and unwilling to promote tolerance will be an increasingly unbearable place for all of its other citizens.
That’s why Egypt’s Kristallnacht matters so much.
David Alton is a member of the British House of Lords and honorary President of UK Copts Association.
Some earlier remarks in February 2103: Egypt’s Second Revolution?
Having seen their ideals and dreams left lying amongst their abandoned banners thousands of demonstrators have returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, attempting to rekindle their dream of a modern Egypt and a tolerant democracy.
But many other factors are also in the dangerous mix and eruption of widespread violence and discontent – with sixty left dead over five days. A State of Emergency has been declared in several Egyptian cities with the chaos triggering disastrous economic consequences – a collapsing currency and confidence. Sweeping and draconian powers have been given to the police to detain citizens for up to 30 days without any judicial review and to hold trials before special courts.
Economic collapse is the last thing which Egypt needs. 87% of the Gross Domestic product is debt; 65% of the population cannot read or write; around half the population live on the poverty line; and 30% of young people are unemployed. If ever you wanted proof that the devil makes mischief for idle hands it can be seen on Egypt’s streets – and if ever there was a time for a government which understood economics and social justice this is surely that time.
Instead, with this melt down of Egyptian society we may well be on course for a military coup.
Offering a taste of the pretext which the army would give for seizing power, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Chief Commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces and Defence Minister issued a dire warning that “Egypt is at risk of collapse”.
As the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, the security forces and the Opposition all reposition themselves, what has brought Egypt to the brink of civil war?
The key is the sense of betrayal felt by many Egyptians as they watch radical Islamic Salafists increasing their grip on President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government. Demonstrators have begun to refer to Morsi as “Morsilini” – a play on the name of Italy’s fascist dictator.
Their anger is particularly directed at Egypt’s new constitution which institutionalises discrimination against women, minorities and secularists. One of those who drafted it, Sheikh Yasser Borhamy proudly announced that the new constitution would usher in wholly unprecedented controls and “place restrictions on freedom of thought, expression and creativity.”
It is a paradox that the Mulsim Brotherhood is a strong and well organised movement but is a weak a wholly ineffectual government. Adding paradox upon paradox, it is Morsi who, having precipitated the cataclysmic fissures which have brought Egypt to this sorry pass, is now calling for dialogue.
And does he not have the eyes to see that all over the world vibrant, thriving, societies function and succeed precisely because of their diversity and tolerance not because of the suppression of freedom of thought, expression or creativity?
Bishop Kyrillos William, Administrator of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandria, says that the new constitution threatens human rights: “We were waiting for a constitution that represents the whole of Egypt, but instead we have one that only represents one group of people.”
Bishop William joined Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor and Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza in warning against the constitution and voiced concern about its impact on women. It will force non-Muslim women to wear Islamic headscarves and allow women who are “sexually mature” to marry – a clause to legitimise the arranged marriages of young teenage girls. A young Coptic woman said :“I can no longer stand the insults and the spitting in my face because I don’t wear hijab. I have become a stranger in my own country.”
The new constitution implicitly allows child labour and Shiite Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists and others are not even recognised as existing.
This further entrenches the unrecognised state of war which exists between Shia and Sunni Muslims and which is being played out across North Africa and the Middle East. If unchecked, that inter-Muslim war will manifest itself in Europe too.
Egypt and Iran represent those two opposing positions and Egypt is in real danger of becoming a mirror image of Iran.
The tightening of Sharia Law, the imposition of restrictions on the media and the judiciary and the curtailing of many civil liberties would put Egypt on course for Iranian style theocratic dictatorship. As in Iran, the radicals have begun an all out assault on secular values and on the Christian minority. Last week alone, Egypt’s ancient Coptic Christian community, who comprise around 10% of the population, saw three of its churches attacked and burnt and homes and shops destroyed.
Around 1,000 Islamists were reported to have attacked the predominantly Christian village of el-Marashda in Upper Egypt. The Christian families were ordered not to leave their homes – although, in a hopeful sign, the village Imam expressed his solidarity with the Christian community and called on Muslims to protect their Christian neighbours.
The West has been hopelessly indifferent to the plight of the minorities in the region and wide-eyed and naive in characterising the Arab Spring as a relentless march towards democracy and pluralism. Notwithstanding David Cameron’s remarks in Libya Last week, from Iraq to Syria, the Lebanon to the Gulf, the reality has been a horror story for the besieged Christian communities.
For years the west has turned a blind eye. It has sold arms and courted the dictators and regimes who govern countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia while showing complete indifference to their violations of human rights. In Syria, the UK is aiding and abetting groups who have targeted Christians – in one grotesque incident beheading a Christian man and feeding him to the dogs. Will this be an improvement on Assad?
And what is life like in those countries which are now ruled by Islamists?
Last week in Iran, the prosecutor for the mullahs’ regime in Sari announced the amputation of the fingers of a person charged with robbery. Two days earlier, in Shiraz, they publicly amputated the fingers of a 29 year old man. Ali Alghasi, Shiraz public prosecutor, called the amputations a “serious warning” to all who “cause insecurity”. He emphasized the importance of: “decisiveness and intolerance”. But amputations are only a part of the story in a country which specialises in crushing dissent and fomenting an atmosphere of fear.
Earlier in the week, State media reported that a 27 year old prisoner was publicly hanged in Kerman along with two prisoners in Ilam and Shahroud, one prisoner in Khorramdarreh and three prisoners in Qazvin – all of whom were executed.
As Egypt’s Morsilini tries to emulate Iran, and a second revolution unfolds, the West should be very wary of the company it keeps and not rush to legitimise regimes whose values are inimical to our own.
Speech In The House of Lords – Tuesday October 29th
Question October 29th 2013
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield for initiating this debate. I have a non-pecuniary interest as president of UK Copts. Indeed, my remarks will focus predominantly on the situation in Egypt, following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, has just said.
Before starting, I must say in parenthesis how much I agree with what the noble Lords, Lord Selkirk of Douglas and Lord Anderson, said about the importance of upholding Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I commend to the Minister the excellent report of the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief, of which I am an officer, entitled Article 18: An Orphaned Right, which sets out many of the arguments eloquently expressed today by the noble Lords.
Hostility and even violence against Christians is not new in Egypt, but the turmoil that followed the overthrow of President Mubarak and the subsequent removal of President Morsi has led to unprecedented violence. Just a few days ago, as the members of a community prepared to celebrate a wedding, they sorrowfully returned to their church to bury four of
29 Oct 2013 : Column GC584
the guests, including two little girls: Mariam Ashraf Seha, aged eight, and Mariam Nabeel, aged 12. They were shot dead as two men with automatic weapons opened fire on guests outside the Virgin Mary Church on the west bank of the Nile. Another 17 people were wounded. The most senior cleric at Al-Azhar University, the world’s primary seat of Sunni Islamic learning, described the killings as,
“a criminal act that runs contrary to religion and morals”.
These killings come in the wake of a summer of violence. Writing about the plight of the Copts and the other ancient churches of the Middle East, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford, recently wrote:
“It is easy for them to feel abandoned and betrayed by the Christian-based cultures of the West. When will this Western silence end?”.
In November 1938, in an orgy of violence that would become known as Kristallnacht, Jewish synagogues, homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked and pillaged. The sledgehammers and petrol left more than 1,000 synagogues burnt and more than 7,000 Jewish shops and businesses in ruins. The streets were covered in shards of smashed glass from broken windows. If noble Lords compare pictures of the charred husk of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, in 1938, with those of the blackened walls of Degla’s ruined Virgin Mary church, taken two months ago in Egypt, they will readily understand why August 2013 represents Egypt’s Kristallnacht. One can also compare the terror of 1938 with the fear among Copts as members of their community have been left dead and others assaulted. Their 118th Pope, Tawadros II, is now under protection, having had death threats made against him.
In 1938, the Times commented:
Reports in the Times and Sunday Times in August 2013 are in an almost identical vein, with the latter paper referring to an event in Cairo where Franciscan nuns saw the cross over their school gate torn down and replaced by an al-Qaeda flag. The school was burnt down and three nuns were frog-marched through the streets while mobs showered them with abuse. One nun was reported as saying that,
“they paraded us like prisoners of war”.
Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch, reported that,
“dozens of churches are smouldering ruins, and Christians throughout the country are hiding in their homes, afraid for their very lives”.
It took the outgoing British Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks—always mindful of the events to which Kristallnacht led—to point to our indifference to the assault on the Copts, which he described as a tragedy “going almost unremarked” and as,
“the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing”.
That is why Egypt now needs a constitution, an issue being considered as we meet, that protects minorities, women—as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, a few moments ago—and secular groups. It is easy to get into denunciatory mode about the role of armies, but as Egypt saw attempts to impose a theocratic
29 Oct 2013 : Column GC585
state, and the country descended into total anarchy, were those who love their country supposed to simply stand by and watch it happen? Egypt’s future can only be based on a secular constitution where human rights include the rights of women and of minorities and the rights of religion and belief—including the right not to believe—and where all those things are respected.
The 50-member committee tasked with amending the suspended 2012 constitution has, according to the Ahram news website this week, initially adopted an article 47 which stipulates “absolute freedom” of belief for Egyptian citizens and endows the state with the responsibility to ensure free practice of religion. It also adopted a transitional article that will cancel existing restrictions regulating the building of new churches. All this is very welcome, although there is pressure to restrict this to the three monotheistic beliefs, which would exclude Baha’is, for instance. I hope that that will be resisted and will be interested to hear from the Minister whether we have raised that issue directly with the Egyptian authorities.
In a climate of fear and intimidation, coupled with historic and long-standing discrimination, the significant exodus of Copts from Egypt that is now under way is entirely understandable. However, if this represents the only future for Copts it will be a tragedy for Egypt and for the Copts’ Muslim neighbours alike. An Egypt which is unable to accept difference and unwilling to promote tolerance will be an increasingly unbearable place for all of its citizens. That is why Egypt’s Kristallnacht matters so much.
This entry was posted in Author's Recommended Posts, Faith Matters, Human Rights, Suffering Church, Uncategorized and tagged aged eight, Ali Alghasi, Baha'is, Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza, Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Buddhists, Copts, Degla, Egypt, Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Human Rights Watch, Jonathan Sacks, Kristallnacht, Mariam Ashraf Seha, Mariam Nabeel, Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Pope Tawdros, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, religious liberties, Sharia Law, Tahrir SquareShiite Muslims, Tawadros II.
Mind The Gap – Keynote Speech to CSAN Conference on Poverty – June 2013 – and Narrowgate Emergency Night Shelter Salford Closed Following changes to the Housing Benefit rules
Interview on the Increasing Poverty Gap In Britain:
See also Archbishop Vincent Nichols:
CSAN Conference, London Keynote Speech, 12 June 2013
David Alton: Britain Should Mind The Gap
Extract: “We may live in the world’s fifth richest country but because we fail to mind the gap most people have little or no experience of the wealth which that implies. Instead, too many people’s experience of the fifth richest country in the world is of Food Bank Britain, Sharp Elbowed Britain, Rip-Off Britain and Devil Take The Hindmost Britain. We have seen the emergence of a new class of people who are outside society: workless, broken, lost to ambition and social improvement and with no stake in society. When you ask the question “who owns Britain?” it’s not the people who have fallen through the gap.”"
The Catholic Response to the Poverty Crisis (CSAN – Caritas Social Action Network – Conference)
Keynote speech, 12 June 2013
As they step from the platform to the train at London’s Embankment, tube station passengers are frequently told to “mind the gap.” In a country where the gaps have been getting bigger, it’s advice which policy makers, campaigners, Government, charities, churches and civil society need to take to heart. The widening gap between the destitute and the very wealthy risks social cohesion as well as offending basic principles of justice, fairness and decency.
This entry was posted in Author's Recommended Posts, Faith Matters, Parliament, Politics, Speeches and tagged Anglesey Judgement, Barclays Bank, BT, Canon James Nugent, Cardinal Hume Centre, Caritas in Veritate, Catholic Social Teaching, CSAN, David Cameron, Depaul, Deus Caritas Est, Devil Take the Hindmost Britain, Dietrich Bonheoffer, E.F.Schumacher, fatherless families, Food Bank Britain, George Osborne v, Housing Benefit, Institute for Fiscal Studies, Jihn Maynatrd Keynes, Lazarus and Dives, Liverpool, Living Wage, London, Ludwig von Mises, Manchester, moral capitalism, Mother Teresa, Narrowgate, NEETs, Nugent Care, Philpot trial, pope benedict, Pope Francis, Premier Radio, RBS, Rip Off Brittain, scroungers versus strivers, Sharp Elbowed Britain, social market, St.Augustine, st.Francis of Assisi, Tennyson, Times Educational Supplement, We're all in this together, who owns Britain?, William Beveridge, William Temple.