As the last Christian is expelled from Mosul by ISIS – Times Article on why the world must respond to the cry of Iraq’s Christians – and the full text of the House of Lords debate on Article 18 and Freedom of Belief – with news of Meriam Ibrahim’s journey to Rome and ISIS subjecting women to female genital mutilation

http://blog.geopolitical-info.com/?p=957

Article 18 – An article of faith

Lord Alton

August 12, 2014

The United Nations doctrine ‘responsibility to protect’ has been flouted by the failure of international authorities to protect vulnerable minorities from sweeping assaults on religious freedom in Mosul and other places in Iraq by the so-called ‘Islamic State Caliphate’ – the jihadist warlords. Responsibility to protect is enshrined in Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and was born in the embers of the Holocaust; and of religion itself, writes Lord Alton of Liverpool.

Article 18 embodies freedom of belief. It is a universal human right and one which is violated universally.

Almost 75 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of government restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.

Christian minorities, Mandeans, Yazidis, Baha’is, Jews and Ahmadis are among those who face unspeakable persecution. And so do Muslims.

The head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Professor Dr Mehmet Gormez, told the World Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative that 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day – 90 per cent of their killers are also Muslims.

Article 18 insists that everyone has the right to believe, not to believe, or to change their belief. Tell that to the elderly and sick of Mosul, unable to flee and forced to accept the uncompromising ultimatum by the Islamic State (IS) jihadists, formerly ISIS, to convert or die.

The last Christian has been expelled from Mosul, reducing the Christian population from 30,000 to zero. The light of religious freedom, along with the entire Christian presence, has been extinguished in the Bible’s ‘great city of Nineveh’ – Iraq’s centre of Christianity for 2,000 years.

IS stole everything they had – homes, businesses, cars, money and even wedding rings before exiling the Christians on foot. Churches have been destroyed, shuttered or turned into mosques.

The war lords who dress their violent pursuit of power in the clothes of religion are part of an ideological pattern extending across North Africa and Asia.

Militant Islamist movement Boko Haram pledged to eradicate education in Nigeria and abducted 200 schoolgirls and has killed thousands in a wave of bombings and assassinations in northern Nigeria. Al-Shabaab has threatened and attacked Christians in Eritrea and Kenya. Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian wife and mother sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her faith, was freed but her case is not an isolated one.

The treatment of women is an outrage. The United Nations said that unverified reports claimed IS has ordered all girls and women to undergo female genital mutilation in Mosul.

Attacks on human beings, their freedom and dignity, are mirrored in the orgy of destruction of culture and heritage. IS has demolished the tomb of Jonah, replaced the cross with a black Islamic flag on Mosul’s St Ephraim’s Cathedral and beheaded or crucified any Muslim who dared to dissent.

What kind of place will these societies be if they cannot live with differences and minorities?

Copts, Armenians, Jews and other minorities have made a disproportionate contribution to the success of countries where they have been allowed to live peaceably. But we can see where intolerance leads in the horrifying crucibles of Syria and Iraq.

What kind of dreadful world is the IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now to be known as Caliph Ibrahim, and surrounded by his black-clad, gun-toting acolytes, trying to create?

He says he is the successor of the first Abbasid Caliph, Mansour who, in 762, founded the city of Baghdad. It was a place where Persian and Arab Muslims, Jews and Christians co-existed, respected one another and celebrated each other’s talents and contribution. It became a centre of learning and scholarship. As religious tolerance flourished so did science and culture.

Caliph Ibrahim and his followers need to rediscover a capacity to live together not the violent, fascist and brutal netherworld of the Dark Ages.

 

How you can help Christians in Iraq:

http://www.acnuk.org/campaigns

 

and sign this petition:

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/foreign-secretary-philip-hammond-mp-help-stop-the-atrocities-against-the-iraqi-christians?recruiter=35747369&utm_campaign=mailto_link&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition

Also see www.maranathacommunity.org.uk/download.aspx?file=Global-Persecution-Report-2014.pdfA major factual report giving hard evidence of the global persecution of Christians for their faith Researched by the Maranatha Community, a national movement of thousands of men and women drawn from all denominations, it presents hundreds of cases, drawn from 170 sources, of persecution of Christians worldwide over the past 14 years.

Symbol N

This symbol is the letter “N” in Arabic, and ISIS painted it on Christian homes in Mosul to identify the homes as followers of the Nazarene/Christian. Reminiscent of the branding by the Nazis of Jews with the Star of David, Christians were given the ultimatum to leave, pay the jizya tax of an exorbitant rate, or be killed. The last Christian has left Mosul or was forced to convert.

Subject: The Times Thunderer, July 23rd, 2014

The world must respond to the cry of Iraq’s Christians

The faithful in Iraq still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus David Alton

The Times newspaper: July 23 2014

Times Thunderer

The last Christian has now been expelled from Mosul. The light of religious freedom, along with the entire Christian presence, has been extinguished in the Bible’s “great city of Nineveh” — the centre of Christianity in Iraq for two millennia. This follows the uncompromising ultimatum by the jihadists of Isis to convert or die.

On Sunday Pope Francis expressed his profound anguish: “Our brothers are persecuted, they are cast out, they are forced to leave their homes without having the chance to take anything with them.” The UN Security Council has denounced these crimes but we desperately need to do more.

Before pitilessly exiling the Christians on foot, Isis stole everything they had — homes, businesses, cars, money and even wedding rings, sometimes with the ring fingers attached. Churches have all been destroyed, shuttered or turned into mosques.

Isis has taken a sledgehammer to the tomb of Jonah, replaced the cross with the black Islamic flag on top of Mosul’s St Ephrem’s cathedral, and beheaded or crucified any Muslim who dared to dissent.

Even before the arrival of Isis, targeted persecution of Iraq’s Christians, who still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, was ignored. The numbers in Mosul have gone from 30,000 to zero.

Iraq is now a disintegrating failed state. The only people who have successfully withstood Isis are the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. To their credit, the Kurdish leadership has been generously offering safe haven to Mosul’s fleeing Christians and has asked for international aid to help it do so. This crisis justifies huge humanitarian and resettlement aid that could include micro and business loans to help people to help themselves. The West must also press the Gulf to end the funding of Isis.

Overall the world must wake up urgently to the plight of the ancient churches throughout the region who are faced with the threat of mass murder and mass displacement. The UN claims it has “a duty to protect”, while Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, born in the embers of the Holocaust, insists that each of us must be free to follow our own beliefs.

The religious cleansing and unspeakable bigotry at work in Mosul makes hateful mockery of both.

Lord Alton of Liverpool is a Crossbench peer and tomorrow (July 24th) leads a House of Lords debate on Article 18

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

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2014/03/08/paying-a-price-for-belief/

House of Lords

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.40 am July 24th 2014

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

To move that this House takes note of international compliance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning freedom of belief.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who will participate in this balloted debate, which draws attention to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right. Article 18 states:

Article 18

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

Today we will hear from many distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House, including my noble friend Lord Sacks, who says in The Dignity of Difference:

“The great faiths provide meaning and purpose for their adherents. The question is: can they make space for those who are not its adherents, who sing a different song, hear a different music, tell a different story? On that question, the fate of the 21st century may turn”.

 

The urgency of that challenge was reflected in a recent speech by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right honourable Douglas Alexander. Among systematic violations of Article 18, he particularly drew attention to what he described as “anti-Christian persecution”, which he said,

“must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith”.

I know that we will hear later from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who will expand on that important speech. https://freedomdeclared.org/media/Douglas-Alexander-July-2014.pdf and here http://www.christiansontheleft.org.uk/douglas_alexander_on_freedom_of_religion

Two recent cases underline the universal applicability of Article 18. A young Indonesian man, Alexander Aan, was jailed for more than two years simply for declaring his atheism on Facebook. Mubarak Bala, a Nigerian, was confined to a mental institution for the same reason. Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide visited Alexander Aan in prison in Indonesia and campaigned for his release. Such welcome advocacy by a group of one religious persuasion working for the freedom of another, whose beliefs are different—hearing different music, telling a different story—is echoed in a letter by world Buddhist leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, calling for an end to violence against Muslims in Burma. The Dalai Lama is emphatic that:

“The violence in Buddhist majority countries targeting religious minorities is completely unacceptable. I urge Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of the Buddha before them before they commit such a crime”.

Not only is Article 18 a universal human right; it is a human right that is violated universally.

article 18 an orphaned right

Last year, under the admirable chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, of which I am an officer, published Article 18: An Orphaned Right. It noted that,

“almost 75% of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of government restrictions on freedom of religion or belief”.http://anorphanedrightmnet/

 

Thanks to major speeches by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, and the crucial work of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, the introduction of the European Union Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the excellent work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, this issue has been given greater prominence. I know that today’s important debate will contribute to that.

Yet, compared with Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom and its ambassador-at-large, the excellent Andrew Bennett, or the US State Department and the US Commission of International Religious Freedom, the Foreign Office has just one official specifically focused on freedom of religion, and only for a third of her time. The FCO has said that it wants to develop a toolkit on freedom of religion or belief for diplomats, stating that,

“every minister at the FCO is an ambassador for religious freedom, raising and promoting these issues in the countries with which they engage”.

But how will they do that? How are our diplomats trained in religious literacy? Compare the £34 billion spent on military operations since the Cold War with the paltry resources deployed in promoting Article 18—in promoting religious coexistence, public discourse and dialogue, foundational to building peaceful societies in a world increasingly afraid of difference.

In an all too brief survey of worldwide violations of Article 18, I inevitably begin in the Middle East, where, in the midst of an orgy of violence and brutality, we are fast approaching a time when Christianity will have no home in its ancient homelands. In Syria, the brutal murder in April of the 75 year-old Dutch Jesuit Father Franz van der Lugt, who had served there for 50 years, working in education and with disabled people, illustrates why an estimated 450,000 Christians have fled. Followers of other religions, notably the Mandeans, Yizidis, Baha’is and Ahmadis suffer similarly.

In Iraq, a Christian population of 1.4 million has been reduced to 150,000. In recent weeks, the depredations, beheadings and crucifixions by ISIS are almost beyond belief. For the first time in almost 2,000 years, Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, no longer has a Christian community. Its churches are now closed, most having been desecrated. In what has been described as “religious cleansing”, ISIS says that anyone who refuses to convert and defies it will be,

“killed, crucified or have their hands and feet cut off”.

ISIS has taken a sledgehammer to the tomb of Jonah, replaced the cross with the black Islamic flag on top of Mosul’s St Ephraim’s Cathedral, and beheaded or crucified any Muslim who dares to dissent. This week in Istanbul, the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Professor Dr Mehmet Görmez, in his address to the participants of the World Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative conference said that 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day, and that 90% of the killers are also Muslims. He said:

“They are being killed by their brothers”.

Yesterday, the archbishops of Iraq united in their condemnation of these events but also called on the outside world to help. The only people who have successfully withstood ISIS are the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. To its credit, the Kurdish leadership has been generously offering safe haven to Mosul’s fleeing Christians and has asked for international aid to help it do so. This crisis justifies huge humanitarian and resettlement aid that could include micro and business loans to help people to help themselves. The West must also press the Gulf to end the funding of ISIS. Where in Mosul is the “responsibility to protect”, let alone Article 18? I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us.

Elsewhere, in Egypt, these are increasingly dangerous and menacing times for freedom of belief. As honorary president of the UK Copts, I saw the way in which Copts were targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood. Last year, in the single largest attack on Christians in Egypt since the 14th century, more than 50 churches were bombed or burnt. It was Egypt’s Kristallnacht. What priority do we give to Egypt’s minorities as we engage with the new President?

In Iran, the so-called moderate, Hassan Rouhani, in the 12 months since he was elected, has executed 800 people and imprisoned and tortured many others. Iran continues to target religious minorities, particularly Baha’is, whose cemeteries have been desecrated; 136 Baha’is are in prison, some since 2008. As “unprotected infidels” they can be attacked with impunity. Repression against Christians in Iran includes: waves of arrests and detentions; raids on church gatherings; raids on social gatherings; harsh interrogations; physical and psychological torture, including demands to recant and to identify other Christians; extended detentions without charge; violations of due process; convictions for ill defined crimes or on falsified political charges; economic targeting through exorbitant bail demands; and threats of execution for apostasy. What priority will our new chargé d’affaires in Tehran be giving these Article 18 issues when he meets the regime’s leadership?

I return now to Sudan and the treatment of Meriam Ibrahim, which was described by the Prime Minister as “barbaric”. In May, this young mother of two was charged, and sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery. Having refused to renounceher faith, she was forced to give birth shackled in a prison cell in Khartoum. Happily, given a debate where we will be hearing so much that is so very sad and tragic, international pressure, often led by young internet campaigners, has led to her release. This morning, she arrived safely in Italy. However, Meriam Ibrahim’s case is not an isolated one. Archaic and cruel laws lead to stonings and lashings, with Al-Jazeera reporting that in one recent year, 43,000 women were publicly flogged.

In Nigeria, another crisis is looming for religion and unfolding on a daily basis. There are reports of collusion between elements of the military and Islamist forces. This week marks 100 days since Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok. Are we any nearer to finding them? My noble friend Lady Cox has just returned from Nigeria and will have much more to say about the situation and her report documenting that jihadist violence.

As the Minister responds to Article 18 abuses in Nigeria, might we hear something, too, about the plight of Christians in Kenya, who face increasing threats and attacks from al-Shabaab, and in Eritrea—another serious violator of freedom of religion? The UN has just established a Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, and I look forward to hearing how we will assist its work.

I have focused extensively on the Middle East and Africa, but across Asia, Article 18 faces serious threats as well. We will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the situation in Pakistan. Think of the bombing last September of the Anglican church in Peshawar, killing 127 and injuring 250, of the attacks on Shias and Ahmadis or of the imprisonment of and death sentences on Christians, such as Asia Bibi, charged with blasphemy. For challenging those laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minority Affairs, was assassinated in 2011, and no one has been brought to justice.

Meanwhile, in Burma, Muslims are facing growing religious intolerance. In March 2013, I visited a village just outside Naypyidaw. In the charred embers of a burnt-out madrassah, I took statements from the few Muslims who had not fled. I met Rohingya Muslims and heard from ethnic Kachin and Chin Christians facing terrible persecution. Proposed new legislation to restrict religious conversions and interreligious marriage will hardly help; practical initiatives countering hate speech and intolerance might. Could we not ask the UN Secretary-General to visit Burma, specifically to address rising religious intolerance, and encourage the establishment of an international and independent inquiry into the violence in Rakhine state, Kachin state and other parts of the country?

Elsewhere in Asia, religious intolerance is rising, too, for example in Indonesia. I would welcome the Minister’s response to CSW’s new report, Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril, and the Government’s view of Prabowo Subianto’s attempts to undermine religious coexistence and his challenge to this week’s election results. There are also threats to Article 18 in India, with a BJP attack on an evangelical church in Uttar Pradesh last week; in Sri Lanka, where anti-Muslim violence has erupted; in Bangladesh, where, earlier this month, nuns were brutally attacked and beaten; in Malaysia, where a court has ruled that only Muslims can use the term “Allah”, even though Christians have traditionally also used that same term in their texts and in their languages; and in Brunei, where a full Sharia penal code is being introduced.

Turning to the Far East, I hope we will hear whether we have protested about the demolition of Protestant and Catholic churches there; the continued detention of the Catholic bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma, arrested in 2012; and the well-being of the Tibetan Buddhist monk and scholar Tenzin Lhundup, about whom nothing has been heard since his arrest in May, and the self-immolation of 131 Tibetans since 2009. In 2009, I visited Tibet with the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Together, we published our report Breaking the Deadlock and, in highlighting the religious dimension, we argued:

“Any attempts to resolve the political situation … must take due account is of the profound spiritual life of Tibetan people”.

In Laos and Vietnam, the situation is perilous; I have given the noble Lord details. We had a debate only yesterday about what some have described as genocide in North Korea. For 10 years, I have chaired the all-party group and I commend the Hansard report of yesterday’s debate to all Members of the House.

As I have outlined in a speech which rather inadequately has tried to set the scene for the many more detailed interventions which will follow, Article 18 is under threat in almost every corner of the world. As we approach the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, we should recall that, long before Article 18, it asserted the importance of religious freedom.

Societies which deny such freedoms are invariably unhappy societies. Research shows that there is a direct link between economic prosperity and religious freedom. In 1965, Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s proclamation on religious freedom, said correctly that a society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched and one that does not will decay.

Article 18 is a foundational human right—many would say the foundational right—because, while there should be no hierarchy of rights and all rights are interdependent, without the freedom to choose, practise, share without coercion and change your beliefs, what freedom is there? As my noble friend Lord Sacks says, on this question, the fate of the 21st century may turn. I beg to move.

11.55 am

Lord Patten (Con):

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has just pointed to the clear and indisputable fact that religious pluralism is in the deepest peril worldwide. My sense is that this is at its highest point today within the Muslim world, despite the terrible fate of Christians in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed to. We must all deplore the attacks of Sunni on Shia, of Shia on Sunni and of both Shia and Sunni, when they can, on Alawites and Ismailis. It is Muslim on Muslim, exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said.

I predict that this terrible intolerance of one sort of Muslim for another is spreading fast from the near and Middle East with attendant violence, even now, to countries such as Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim-majority nation on earth and has hitherto had quite a good reputation for religious pluralism and interreligious harmony.

Of course, Christians of different sorts have been just as bad in centuries past. We must never forget that. In England a few centuries ago, my co-religionists routinely burned or eviscerated and cut up the co-religionists of the right reverend Prelates on the Bishops’ Bench. When times altered politically, the Protestants took the chance to return the grisly compliment to my co-religionists. This is a terrible stain on both of us, which we must never forget. It can never be eradicated, any more than the joint attacks by both forms of Christianity on the Jewish faith, particularly in Europe, which are another stain on our history. Fingers should be pointed not at individual Muslims but simply at present facts. Centuries and horrors later, we all go to each other’s churches, visit each other’s synagogues and, despite terrible attacks on the latter which still happen in so-called civilised Europe and while our theological debate can be pretty vicious within different faiths, interfaith harmony more or less obtains between us.

Alas, in the Muslim world interfaith disharmony is spreading fast, not diminishing. That may take not just decades but centuries to play out until it reaches what Christians and Christians and Jews have managed to reach, if the lamentable history of interfaith warfare is any guide.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already pointed to Indonesia. We have the danger of that country being next. It is a complex country that I have visited. So much depends on the actions about freedom of belief by the new President. He faces increasing harassment, discrimination and violence, which fly in the face of the Indonesia constitution, against not just Christians but Ahmadis and adherents of traditional indigenous faiths and beliefs. Only zero tolerance by President Yudhoyono towards religious intolerance will stop the rot spreading, to the great disadvantage of minority religions and the stability and peace of the many islands that make up Indonesia. In the short term, Christian churches face persecution, such as happened this Thursday at churches such as HKBP Philadelphia church in Bekasi or the Yasmin church in Bogor, to give just two examples.

These threats spread and we see them spreading now, today, into Brunei in a state-sponsored way. There, the new penal code introduced by the ruler brings full-on Sharia penalties for those of other beliefs or those wishing even to change their beliefs. I have been trying to tot up the number of international agreements this breaks under the new Brunei code, starting with the declaration of human rights, through to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, both ratified by Brunei, to the ASEAN charter on respect for fundamental freedoms, under Article 2. The list lengthens. Unless Brunei draws back from the introduction of severe penalties of the most violent physical sort for even the propagation of faiths other than Islam or for persuading people to change religion, it will unleash a moral, civil and religious tiger within Brunei, and that country will end up turning on itself.

Noon

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his timely initiative. He gave many examples. In Mosul last weekend the Islamic state effectively declared war on the Christians of Iraq. They may soon be given the choice: convert or face the sword. Some 200 schoolgirls, as yet unaccounted for, were taken by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. In May we learnt of the fate of Meriam Ibrahim who, happily, just today has reached Europe. How many other cases of a similar nature have we not heard of? All are examples of a wider pattern of religious intolerance, mainly by Islamic extremists and the ignoring of Article 18 principles.

The good news, among the gloom, is that there is now a new recognition of the problem. I cite the all-party report on Article 18 and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and her colleagues on that. I pay warm tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. Her speech at Georgetown University on 15 November last year was heartfelt and powerful and has been reflected in a new focus in the annual Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights report.

His Royal Highness Prince Charles delivered a remarkable speech to Middle East faith leaders at Clarence House last December, where he said:

“It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants”.

Last month I organised a visit on the subject by a Council of Europe colleague and was happily amazed by the number of NGOs in London that are involved with this problem. The fact is that of the 131 countries of a broadly Christian culture, not one lacks religious toleration. Of the 49 countries of a Muslim culture, 17 tolerate no other religion. Pew Research shows that Christians are the most increasingly persecuted for their faith; Muslims are the second but that is mainly Muslim on Muslim save, for example, in Burma and Sri Lanka. Of course, we should not forget the plight of the peaceful Baha’is. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran states that:

“At least 734 Baha’is have reportedly been arrested since 2004 and 136 are currently detained”.

The same report stated, on Christians:

“In recent years, Christians, many of whom are converts from Muslim backgrounds, have faced a similar pattern of persecution”.

Why does it concern us? It concerns us because world peace depends on building bridges across such divides. States that honour Article 18 will honour other human rights. How do we, in the United Kingdom, respond? We can respond bilaterally, giving a good example by promoting human rights generally at home and not diminishing the work of the Council of Europe convention on human rights, for example. Secondly, we can focus not only on Christians, but highlight the persecution of Shia in Mosul, for example. We can speak up and express indignation in, for example, the annual human rights report. Equally, and more controversially, we should consider some conditionality on aid for those countries that are the major defaulters in this area.

Multilaterally, we are now a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Have we taken any initiatives in this field? There is EU conditionality. Are the EU External Action Service and the high representative adequately staffed in this area? The Council of Europe has a series of relevant partnership agreements with Morocco, Jordan and Palestine.

The overall situation is worsening though there are some signs of increasing recognition of the problem.

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ … ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’”.

12.05 pm

Lord Avebury (LD):

My Lords, I, too, join in the congratulations that have been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving us this opportunity to deal with violations of Article 18 around the world, in particular the violations by Muslim on Muslim which have been mentioned by all three noble Lords who have spoken so far.

I want to ask what the Government are doing in particular about the assassinations and massacres of Shia Muslims in Pakistan by the terrorist organisations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and Tehreek-e-Taliban. These organisations share a common ideology based on returning to the principles of governance and legal systems that they believe were followed by the rightly guided caliphs who succeeded the Prophet in the 7th century. They share a hatred of other forms of Islam, including particularly the Shia, who form 20% of the population of Pakistan. However, anybody who does not share the terrorists’ medieval beliefs is seen as a target, including Ahmadi Muslims and Christians, who are also victims of targeted assassinations and legal persecution under the blasphemy laws.

To see the destination to which these people would take Pakistan, look at what is happening in the areas of Syria and Iraq occupied by ISIS, a similar band of off-the-wall genocidal thugs. They have executed thousands of Shia and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, are driving out the 4,000 year-old Christian community of Mosul after stripping them of all their property. The Pakistani fundamentalists say on the internet and at public meetings that the Shia are infidels who must be killed. In 2013, the International Imam Hussain Council recorded nearly 700 Shia murders. The actual number was higher because reports dried up after media workers were killed and threatened.

The Pakistan army has launched a major operation against the terrorist bases in North Waziristan, but military action is also needed to counter the terrorism in Sindh and Punjab. The anti-crime campaign in Karachi, which has been going on for nearly a year, has not been a success. The newspaper Dawn reported that, in the first few months, several TTP killers had been arrested but their political masters raised a hue and cry. Both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif supported Aurangzeb Farooqi, head of the ASWJ, when he stood under the banner of the Wahhabi alliance at the 2013 elections. He was one of 53 alleged terrorists whose candidature raised not a word of protest from the conventional parties. These parties are naive enough to believe in the existence of the “good Taliban” who can be persuaded to play by the rules of democracy and the UDHR. But when negotiations were attempted in February, there was no sign that the terrorists would abandon their objective of transforming Pakistan into a Wahhabi caliphate.

The spread of violent extremism in Sindh, and in Karachi in particular, is fuelled by the growth of religious seminaries peddling a doctrine similar to Wahhabism and funded by sources in the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in particular. According to the New York Times, there are 4,000 of these seminaries across Sindh and the ASWJ has signed up 50,000 members in the province in parallel. In Islamabad, 26 unauthorised Deobandi mosques provide sanctuary to TTP-ASWJ terrorists. There is no system of inspection of mosques to ensure that their curriculum is within the law—a matter which should interest us in view of the revelations about schools in Birmingham.

It is the ideology that says God orders its adherents to kill people with different beliefs that needs to be eliminated. The UN Human Rights Council should identify and block the funding that spreads religious hatred, and we should press far more robustly for the infamous blasphemy laws in Pakistan to be repealed.

In April, the Select Committee on International Development asked the Government to produce clear evidence that our aid programme was effective in reducing the extremist threat in Pakistan. In response, the Government pointed out that,

“Education is vital to transforming Pakistan’s future and is where a significant proportion of our funds are directed. This is firmly in the UK’s own national interest”.

However, the country has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, and the popularity of the madrassas is largely due to the inadequacy of the public education system. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will elaborate on how we assess value for money in our educational spending in Pakistan and how it combats religious hatred and intolerance.

12.10 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend on this important debate. Time only allows me to highlight two often forgotten situations: the plight of Ahmadis, and northern Nigeria, which I recently visited.

Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan continue to suffer violence, murder and attacks on their mosques, businesses and properties. Although they adhere to their principle of “love for all, hatred for none”, they also suffer persecution in Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria and the Middle East. I wish I could say much more, but time only allows me to put this concern on the record.

In Nigeria, the 12 northern states and Plateau state have suffered for many years from conflicts associated with religious tensions and the nomadic Fulani. Thousands of Christians and many Muslims have been killed. Hundreds of churches and some mosques have been burnt. Systematic discrimination and repeated attacks have led the Anglican Bishop of Kano to describe as “religious cleansing” the mass exodus of non-indigene Christians long before Boko Haram arrived.

Boko Haram’s agenda is the expulsion of all Christians from northern Nigeria. Many Muslims who do not support Boko Haram have also been slaughtered, while bombings in public places inflict death and injury indiscriminately. I and a small group from my NGO, HART, returned just two weeks ago from those areas. The suffering wrought by Boko Haram is devastating. There are almost daily reports of killings of civilians. Reliable statistics are hard to ascertain, but an estimated 5,000 people have been killed since January. Widely reported bombings this year include three on Abuja, with over 430 deaths, and two in Jos, killing 125 people. Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi and other north-eastern cities have also suffered regular bombings.

The majority of Boko Haram’s victims are killed during the almost daily attacks on villages across the north-east that receive far less attention. Just three examples while we were in the region include attacks on 30 June in Bau, Taraba state, with 300 homes burnt, many people killed and everything destroyed including the church and all the crops. On the same day there was an attack on a Christian community near Gwallaga in Bauchi state. On 28 June, Fan in Plateau state, which we visited, was attacked in what local people call a jihad assault with heavy guns and trucks.

The scale of abductions is horrific. Even before the widely publicised kidnapping of the schoolgirls at Chibok, at least 1,800 people had already reportedly been abducted in Maiduguri, and 60 girls and 31 boys have subsequently been abducted. Boko Haram’s hatred of western education and education for girls has resulted, since 2012, in the burning of more than 300 schools, with more than 10,000 children deprived of education. Some 173 teachers have been killed this year. Some live in such terror that they will not even carry a pen as it would indicate their profession. Brutal attacks on teachers on school property have been reported with security forces standing by.

Many people are concerned by indications that Boko Haram is supported by senior figures in the military and the Government, by its increasingly sophisticated training and weaponry, by the allegations of evidence of international support from Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran, by links with al-Shabaab, and by the use of foreign mercenaries from Syria, Chad, Niger and Libya. Consequently, there is very widespread anxiety over the possible disintegration of the nation of Nigeria and/or the spread of militant Islam beyond the northern states to other parts of the country; and that the President and the Government do not have the will or the capacity to withstand the process of Islamisation spearheaded by Boko Haram.

More positively, there are creative initiatives to foster reconciliation between communities fractured by violence between Christians and Muslims. We visited one programme in Jos and were deeply encouraged by the friendships between the different faith traditions. It is hoped that such confidence-building measures will reduce the propensity for renewed violence and help Muslims who do not wish to radicalise to withstand pressures from extremists such as Boko Haram. But it remains to be seen whether these positive developments at grass-roots level can make a significant difference for the future of the nation.

I ask the Minister: what representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Government of Nigeria to ensure the security of all civilians, the protection of their right to freedom of religion and belief, and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the victims of Boko Haram’s assaults? What assistance is being given by DfID both to provide humanitarian assistance to those victims and to support those much needed initiatives to promote reconciliation and confidence-building between Christian and Muslim communities, particularly in the epicentres of violence, such as Bauchi and Jos, which are the current front lines in the battle against Islamist extremism, which poses such grave threats for the future of the nation and, ultimately, further afield throughout Africa?

12.15 pm

Lord Cormack (Con):

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a splendid and comprehensive opening speech, for which we are all extremely grateful. It is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I have unstinted admiration for her courage, tenacity, energy and all that she does to stand up for what is good, honest, holy and of good report.

A civilised country must have as its hallmark that it allows its citizens to believe in peace and to worship in public without any threat. In the admirable report produced by my noble friend Lady Berridge and others, it is shameful to read that in 139 countries between 2006 and 2010 Christians were harassed. Although I am proud to be a Christian and we live in what is still essentially a Christian country, we should all be concerned, whether the persecution is of Muslims in Burma, Hindus in Pakistan, Falun Gong in China or Baha’i in Iran.

In the brief time I have, I would like to make one or two concrete proposals to my noble friend who will respond to this debate. First, I would like to see a unit in No. 10 devoted to religious freedom around the world. Secondly, I would like to see a high-level ambassador appointed to travel the world and give this message. He may not thank me for the suggestion but who better than my right honourable friend William Hague, who will have time on his hands next year? As the author of a notable biography of William Wilberforce, who better to press these points home?

I would also like us to have another of these summits. Summits seem to be the flavour of the time. We had one recently on female genital mutilation—very important indeed. We have had others. But a summit in London summoned by and addressed by the Prime Minister and the other political leaders could do a great deal to focus world attention on this terrible problem. It is a terrible problem because the future of civilisation—no less—is at stake.

Progress can be made. I speak with some small personal knowledge here. When I entered another place in 1970, I helped to form, with the noble Lord, Lord Janner of Braunstone, the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. I spoke to persecuted Jews in Moscow as the KGB was knocking at their doors to arrest them. In 1990, 20 years later, as chairman of an international human rights organisation, I—who had been forbidden any visa to go into the Soviet Union, who had had the Soviet embassy door slammed in my face—was there in the heart of the Kremlin handing a Bible to the chef de cabinet of Mr Gorbachev, symbolic of a million that they were allowing in. During the course of that conversation, I was told that by the end of the year, no one in the Soviet Union would be in prison for their religious belief. We have all been reminded recently that what is going on in Russia at the moment is not all sweetness and light, and we are deeply exercised by what we have heard. But, nevertheless, the fact that such progress could be made in those 20 years, and that even now Christians in Russia are indeed allowed to worship in freedom, as are others, is the mark of real progress.

Last Sunday I attended a patronal festival in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster. It was the feast of St Margaret of Antioch and the Dean of Westminster preached a moving and splendid sermon. He referred to the desecration of Mosul and spoke, with the degree of concern and embarrassment that we all feel, about some of the dictatorships that did allow Christians and others to worship in freedom. We must address what has happened, unequivocally declare war on extremism wherever it is to be found, and by doing the sort of things I proposed a moment ago, this Government could play a significant part in doing precisely that.

12.21 pm

Lord Parekh (Lab):

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate and introducing it so well. The freedom to profess and practise religion is obviously a fundamental human right, so I will not spend any time emphasising its importance. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a catalogue of all the various countries where this right has been systematically violated, and we have seen horrendous cases of religious hatred, bigotry and violence. I want to shift the focus slightly. Although we have been looking at the rest of the world, it might not be entirely amiss to look at ourselves from time to time.

Let us consider, for example, the controversy in France about wearing the hijab; Muslim girls are not allowed to wear it. There is the referendum in Switzerland which has declared that minarets on mosques should not exceed a certain height. This is not only a matter for day-to-day politics. It has been embodied into the Swiss constitution so it cannot be changed without an enormous amount of effort. Let us consider the trouble that Sikhs encountered here in our own country in trying to wear their turbans when working on building sites and so on. I want to suggest that, while it is absolutely vital that we should fight all forms of religious bigotry where it exists, it might be useful to look at the kind of difficulties that countries which are otherwise well-meaning face in implementing religious freedom. Extremes are easy to spot and to deal with, but what is not so easy is dealing with the practices of countries like our own, or India or most others, that mean well but get into certain difficulties and face dilemmas. I thought I would alert noble Lords to around half a dozen of the difficulties which different countries have faced from time to time.

The right to profess religion includes the right to propagate it, although it is striking to note that Article 18 makes no reference to the right to do so. However, we all recognise that religious freedom must include the right to propagate it. How far does propagating one’s religion go? Does it include proselytising? If it does, how far can proselytising go? Can you use financial inducements in the way so many American evangelicals have done in India? Can you use social or moral tricks such as saying, “If you do not convert to Christianity or Islam, your soul will be condemned to damnation”? When these things happen in certain countries, naturally people get a little worried and begin to ask themselves what legitimate limits might be placed on religious freedom. That is one area of controversy.

Another area is this. Religious freedom is fine, but religion includes all manner of beliefs. What sorts of belief might we tolerate and what might we not? For example, Catholics have taught over the years that Jews killed their Lord and are guilty of deicide. Is that the kind of belief that should be freely allowed? Should Muslims be freely allowed to tell their children that all idolaters—unfortunately, I, as a Hindu, would be an idolater—are condemned to go to hell and should be summarily dispensed with?

Thirdly, there are religious practices: church bells, for example, or muezzins calling people to prayer, or wearing a hijab, which is the kind of problem the French faced. Should all religious practices be allowed? Going a step further, there are religiously based social practices. For example, if my religion says polygamy is permitted, should it be allowed? If my religion says untouchability is sanctioned, should it be allowed?

Fourthly, there is the scope of religious freedom. This is the problem they faced in Switzerland. Minarets became a problem not in themselves, but because it was felt that minarets of a certain height changed the landscape and the identity of the country or of the area in which they were located. That is something that worried them. It was not a question of human rights because the question cannot be articulated in the language of human rights. No one’s human rights were violated. It can be articulated only in the language of collective identity. Does a nation or culture have a right to a certain kind of environment and landscape in which it can recognise itself?

My suggestion is simply that, while we ought to concentrate on these enormous acts of religious violence and hatred and deal with them as effectively as we can, there are two important issues to remember. First, problems to do with religious freedom arise in all societies—civilised and so-called not so civilised. Secondly, religions over the centuries have lived in peace in one form or another. We need to ask ourselves what has happened in modernity and what new forces it has generated, so that we can understand why people who once knew how to live together—had developed traditions, good sense and practices of living together—suddenly are at each other’s throat.

12.26 pm

Lord Hylton (CB):

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the debate. In recent years, we have seen how closely foreign affairs and home affairs interact. For that reason, I strongly welcome the statement by 100 British Muslim imams against young men going to Syria, Iraq and other places for jihad. I trust the imams know of the work in Iraq, ever since the fall of Saddam, of Canon Andrew White. He has brought together the senior religious leaders of all traditions. Many participants in these meetings had never met each other before. The results were unprecedented: joint Shia-Sunni fatwas, first against suicide bombing and later against violence of any kind directed at minority groups. The high-level meetings were followed up by a series of local ones.

The congregation of St George’s church, Baghdad, which is technically Anglican and served by my friend, Canon White, contains people from every Christian tradition that ever existed in Iraq. Next to the church is a fully equipped, free medical clinic, serving all comers.

Despite the almost total exodus of Christians from the city of Mosul, which has been mentioned, I am glad to say that last Sunday there was a joint Christian-Muslim service in St George’s Catholic Chaldean church in or near Mosul. They celebrated their common Iraqi citizenship. Patriarch Sako was quoted as saying:

“I carry every Iraqi in my heart”.

The aforementioned exodus was caused by the so-called Islamic State. My other friend, Mr Yonadam Kanna, a long-serving member of the Iraqi Parliament, sadly reported that five Christian families in Mosul had been forced to convert to Islam because they were too old or too ill to flee.

In the last 100 years, the once-thriving Armenian and Jewish communities have been almost entirely driven out of Iraq. There are now only five or six Jews remaining. As my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned, Iraqi Christians once numbered about 1.5 million in 2003; today, they are reduced to perhaps 250,000. Many have been killed, while others fled to neighbouring states or, if possible, reached Britain, North America or Australia. Humanitarian support for all groups is now more needed than ever. That is why I greatly welcome the concern recently expressed by the Pope and the UN Secretary-General.

In the Middle East outside Iraq, violence in Palestine and Israel has led, I am sorry to say, to fall-out in Europe. I condemn as strongly as possible violence in France and Germany against Jews or anywhere against Muslims. Branding people unjustly as terrorists or scapegoating them because of their religious affiliation is wrong. It recalls the dehumanisation of the other that took place in Nazi Germany or in Rwanda and leads all too easily to genocide. There are no sub-humans. We have to discover and to respect each other’s God-given dignity, remembering that the blood in the veins of all is always red.

Do Her Majesty’s Government see Article 18 of the universal declaration as an important criterion for the selection of the next UN Secretary-General? If that person will not uphold freedom of conscience and faith, and freedom to change one’s religion, then who will?

What is the Government’s policy towards the 23 countries with laws on apostasy? Will they take up this matter with the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference? Will they bear in mind that so-called crimes of apostasy and blasphemy are often punishable by death? Many countries that have abolished or suspended capital punishment should be useful allies on this point. Everyone should know that freedom to choose and respect for diversity are both desirable in themselves and good for society.

12.32 pm

The Lord Bishop of Coventry:

My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships’ House, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and pay tribute to his great efforts on this vital issue. I thank him for his reference to the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. I have a personal connection with the charter, as one of my predecessors, William, was among the reverend fathers who advised the King to enshrine its principles of justice and freedom, including freedoms of religion. Magna Carta, despite our own failings—to which reference has been made—to live up to its logic, remains the seed of a tree of which Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is part, and under the cover of which all the peoples of the world should be allowed to stand.

Freedom of belief, including the freedom to change one’s belief, is like a canary in the mine of human rights. Abuses of religious freedom are often an early indication that all is not well. Indonesia, to which we have already heard reference, has shown worrying signs of this dynamic, with properly licensed churches being closed by an alliance of local government and extremist groups tolerated by the national state, followed in its wake by wider restrictions on freedom of expression. We look for more hopeful signs in this new future.

Where religious freedom is abused, peace and security often become more elusive. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan give rise to societal hostility to minority groups, legitimising people of violence. And then, when extremism sets in and takes hold, Governments are tempted to restrict everyone’s liberty in their attempt to overcome extremists but, in fact, strengthen their hand by weakening the democratic voice of others and restricting the democratic space for all, as we saw in Egypt under President Mubarak, and there is a greater risk under President Sisi.

Promoting freedom of religion is an important counterterrorism strategy. Matters of religious freedom are woven throughout many of the greatest foreign policy challenges facing our nation so it is self-evident that we must have an effective, religiously informed, philosophically sound strategy to guide how our Government will protect and promote it abroad. I hope therefore that the Minister will be able to give assurances that the recent Cabinet reshuffle will not lead to a weakening in the Government’s own commitments to freedom of religion and belief, including the role of the former Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Group and the newly formed working group on religious freedom. I hope that, on the contrary, there will be, following the very fine proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a strengthening of our systems and capabilities.

Ensuring Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to upholding and defending Article 18 remains critical since, by any measurement, as we all know, this freedom is under serious and sustained pressure across so much of the globe, with an estimated 76% of the world’s population enduring a high or very high level of restrictions, among them the estimated 250 million Christians bearing persecution in one form or another and nowhere more so, as we have heard, than in the ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq. The desperate, dignified letter of the Armenian Patriarch of Babylon following recent events in Mosul,

“to all who have a living conscience in Iraq and all the world”,

is a tract for our times. We cannot be silent or inactive in the face of such suffering. We must also, according to the same conscience, at the same time, with the same resolve—as the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Avebury, and others have said—speak out for the Shi’ite Muslims and Sufi minorities in that place, who are facing barbaric cruelty. I was very impressed with the Iraqi al-Khoei Foundation’s statement this week, condemning the destruction of the Christian community in Mosul and beyond.

In that spirit, my hope is that churches and faith communities here in the UK will find ways to speak out together in a regular and routine manner whenever Article 18 is threatened, giving people a clear space and affirmation, encouraging them to be able to sing their song in different places and in different ways. Speaking together and acting in this way would draw on the deep patterns of peaceful coexistence that religious communities at their best have lived out through the centuries in cities such as Mosul throughout the world. It would be a common witness against the politicisation of religion and the manipulation of it by people of violence with evil intent, and a witness against the internal degradation of religion. It would model new ways of relating that would challenge the way international religious freedom is understood. It would help to counter accusations of colonialism, often reinforced in media reporting, that sometimes construe Article 18 along narrowly confessional lines. It would help to build a wider international consensus that creates the necessary space for Governments around the world to defend this most basic freedom of humanity.

12.38 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con):

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom. In 2012, Pew Research found that there was violence or the threat of violence to compel people to adhere to religious norms in 39% of countries, up from just 18% in 2007. Muslims and Jews experienced six-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by governments, individuals or groups. Christians and Muslims were harassed in the largest number of countries—110 and 109 respectively. This accelerating deterioration is not confined to any particular religion, belief or ideology and all continents are affected.

In Pakistan, Hindu families are fleeing to refugee camps because Hindu women and girls are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men. These girls include Lucky Bhel, who was kidnapped in the Sindh region and forced to convert and marry the disciple of a local religious leader. In other areas of the world, it is Muslims who face restrictions, such as Chinese Uighur Muslim students who are being denied the freedom to observe the Ramadan fast. Monitored by teaching staff, they are threatened with not receiving their degree if they refuse to eat. Ironically, in Iran this month, five inhabitants of Kermanshah were flogged and in Tehran the lips of a Christian were burnt with cigarettes for not fasting.

In Colombia, 200 churches have been forced to close by armed criminal gangs, and the constitutional court has held that indigenous Colombians do not have the same rights relating to religious freedom as the rest of the population. The report Freedom of Thought 2013 by the International Humanist and Ethical Union states that you can be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries. Kazakhstan recently imposed two five-day prison sentences on a Muslim and a Baptist. Their offences were, respectively, distributing religious literature that has not passed the state censorship that allows Muslim literature to be only Sunni, and meeting their fellow Christians for worship without state permission.

The former situation of Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan pinpoints the nub of Article 18. It is the right of every human being to choose their own religion, to choose not to have a religion or to choose to change their religion. You may choose to follow the faith of your family but it is not like DNA: you do not have to inherit the faith of your parents. Meriam was deemed a Muslim because that was her father’s faith, but she chose the Christian faith of her mother.

The failure to protect the Article 18 rights for 76% of the human population is nothing short of a global crisis. In the time allowed, I have two brief suggestions. First, in our international development policy, freedom of religion and belief must be a priority, as it is in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to Canon Andrew White, who has been in Baghdad of late. In response to a Written Question, I asked whether any of the humanitarian aid had gone to supporting his reconciliation work. Unfortunately, the reply I received was that he had not applied. I ask the Minister: when Canon White returns to the country this weekend, could we perhaps telephone him to see if he needs any assistance?

Secondly, we must put our own house in order. It is easy to see abuse of Article 18 rights as something that happens in countries where more people hold to more religious views, more passionately. However, are not the issues in Peter Clarke’s report about schools in Birmingham also about respect for Article 18 rights of both Muslim and non-Muslim children? “Dispatches” revealed centres in north London that teach children according to an alleged interpretation of Judaism and curtail contact with the outside world. The same concern exists at the extreme end of allegedly Christian communities.

Can it really be the case that the Ahmaddiya Muslim community has been told that it cannot join SACRE in Birmingham unless its members refuse to call themselves Muslims? Leaders I have spoken to say that this is reminiscent of how the persecution began in Pakistan. We will not be heard on a world stage if we neglect Article 18 duties here at home. Are we dealing with concerns relating to Islamic extremes while ignoring others? We may not be Sudan, saying, “You have to have the faith of your father”, but are some children not exposed to other messages or beliefs in our plural society? Without such exposure, can these young people be said to have made any choice, particularly one that complies with Article 18?

RE is a valuable part of the school curriculum, but should not Article 18—your right to choose your faith—also be a key feature of our curriculum? Combined with the anecdotal evidence of difficulties for some people in the UK to convert, is it not time we had an Article 18 assessment here at home or invited the UN special rapporteur to visit us?

ISIS has used social media for ill, but we have yet to see religious communities use it to promote their messages. Smartphones have the potential to expose young people to messages like never before and create huge shifts in people’s religious affiliations. For that reason, urgent action is needed. Article 18 will be the primary challenge in human rights law for the next generation.

12.43 pm

Lord Desai (Lab):

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, who has done so much for the cause of religious freedom. I have also been impressed by the many noble Lords who have reported on human rights violations of Article 18 around the world.

I will concentrate not on what ought to be, but on what is, and why. The UDHR was more or less a dead letter in the years of the Cold War. We each tried to protect out patch and let the communists do what they liked by way of persecution. Their persecution was secular, not religious—they persecuted the religious and atheists alike. It is only since the breakdown of the Cold War in 1991 that the discourse on human rights has become important in the international sphere. I remember that because I did some work on it for the United Nations Development Programme some years ago. What has happened since the beginning of the 21st century is that the golden period of about 10 years when we could talk about human rights and enforce human rights has now gone, for two major reasons. First, the rise of Islamism, as a threat to Muslim states in the Middle East and Asia, has weakened the state in those countries. Islamism has also posed a terrorist threat to western countries, whereby the whole question of religious identity has become somewhat debatable.

In the past three or four years, we have witnessed the breakdown of the international order. We were used to an international order, with the United States, the UK, France, and so on going out to protect certain kinds of freedom around the world. What we have witnessed in Syria and since is that nobody is going to police this world. If nation states are weak with respect to attacks on minorities—if not complicit sometimes in attacks on minorities, as in ISIS, and Brunei and in various other places—and if the international system is not capable of rushing to the aid of people whose human rights are being violated, it is clear that that sort of international system is now dead. Not all that many years ago, people were against a unipolar system and were dying for a multipolar system of international relations. Well, it is here—and it is dreadful, because a multipolar system is an anarchic system, and in an anarchic system whoever has the power of armaments and money will get away with violating people’s human rights. It is not just about Article 18; the sheer safety of civilians is being violated across the Middle East. As many noble Lords have said, Muslims are killing Muslims in larger numbers than ever in the past. It is not just Sunnis killing Shias and Shias killing Sunnis; Sunnis are killing Sunnis as well, in ISIS.

The international system is helpless, because we have decided that liberal interventionism is no longer possible. That is our decision. Whether it is right or not, we have decided that it is not possible. If you cannot be a liberal interventionist, you cannot enforce human rights. You can have advisories, ambassadors and Ministers going around the world and cajoling states to do this or that, but they are not going to take any notice; why should they? Unless there is some sort of sanction of arms—let us be absolutely frank about this—behind our determination to restore human rights, they will not be honoured.

The only thing on which I would disagree with my noble friend Lord Parekh is that religions have not always lived in peace with each other—in fact, hardly ever. Eras of religious peace are rare; religious tolerance is a rare thing, which is why we always talk about it. I do not have time to go into examples, but most of the time religions are nasty to each other. World history could be written around that.

In this limited sphere, what can we effectively do? As in the example of Meriam Ibrahim, yes, if you can harness public opinion in a very large way, perhaps you can make a partial difference. However, our problem arises from the breakdown of the international order, rather than any particular nastiness on the part of any particular religion.

12.48 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate. We have heard moving accounts of Muslims in Burma and Tamils in Sri Lanka persecuted by militant Buddhists, with Christians persecuted and marginalised in much of the Middle East, Sudan and other parts of Africa. Yesterday’s Times carried a moving article by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the plight of Christians in Iraq. We are all disturbed by the loss of life in conflict between the Shias, Sunnis and Alawites in Syria and Iraq and the persecution of Ahmadiyyas and Shias in Pakistan. I could go on. We can continue to condemn such killings, but if we are to make real progress, we need to look hard and dispassionately at why people of religion become either victims or perpetrators of religious hatred.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I speak frankly. Religions do not help themselves by claims of exclusivity or superiority. This simply demeans other members of our one human race and suggests that they, the others, are lesser beings. We all know what happens in the school playground when one boy boasts—it is usually boys—that, “My dad is bigger or stronger or cleverer than your dad”. The end result is fisticuffs. My appeal to our different religions and the leaders of religion is to stop playing children’s games. Guru Nanak witnessed the suffering caused by this children’s game of “my religion is better than yours” in conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the sub-continent in the 15th century. In his very first sermon, he declared that the one God of us all is not in the least bit interested in our different religious labels, but in our contribution to a fairer and more peaceful world.

There is another important area that must be tackled if we are to move away from continuing conflict between religions. Most religious scriptures were written many years after the death of the founder of the religion. Scriptural texts often contain a complex amalgam of history, social and cultural norms of the day that can easily become dated. They can easily mask and distort important underlying ethical imperatives about our responsibilities to one another and to future generations. It is sometimes claimed that often contradictory texts in different religions are the literal word of God. Those who wish to resort to violence in the name of religion can all too easily ignore the context and use quotations in scriptures to justify negative attitudes and violent behaviour towards others.

I believe that what is required is greater open dialogue that puts transient social and cultural norms embedded in scriptures in their true context. It is not easy. My plea to our Government is for them to give an energetic lead in promoting true interfaith dialogue that puts distorting history and culture in their true perspective to reveal common underlying ethical imperatives in our different faiths. Such a dialogue would provide sane and uplifting guidance for responsible and peaceful living in the complex world of today.

12.53 pm

Lord Haskel (Lab):

My Lords, I have always had a particular interest in Article 18, because it was persecution that brought me to this country as a child. I hope that noble Lords will not mind if I speak about Article 18 closer to home, like the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate.

The Jewish community has a strong connection with the Convention on Human Rights. The first draft was prepared by Eleanor Roosevelt. Its second draft and the underlying structure were prepared by René Cassin, a French jurist and the son of a Jewish family. What I did not know—and I am indebted to a briefing from Rabbi Lea Muehlstein—was that in 1945 he founded the Consultative Council of Jewish Organizations, which was dedicated to providing encouragement from a Jewish perspective to a nascent UN human rights system. There is an organisation named in his honour, which continues his work today, promoting and protecting universal rights, drawing on Jewish experience and values. So, from the start, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was embraced by Jewish people.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have recounted, some religious groups preach fundamentalism. Some religious teachers think that Article 18 permits religious law to take precedence over civil law. Jews faced this dilemma as far back as the 14th century. Then rabbis decided that the law of the land is the law. They dictated that religious practices must not be in contravention of the law of the state. Article 18 brings this up to date, allowing spiritual and religious self-fulfilment for all faiths. However, there are fundamentalists today in all religions who do not accept this. That is why, to counter this, here and elsewhere in Europe government and local authorities have to make sure that no group is excluded. No one should be left out of housing policy, employment policy, education policy, welfare, skills training and all the other parts of a civilised society.

There is another way that this Government can help Article 18 to flourish in Europe: they can stop confusing the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union in order to placate Eurosceptics. All members of the European Union are bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but that itself is based on the European Convention on Human Rights, which belongs to the Council of Europe. Withdrawing from the European Union has nothing to do with deporting radical preachers or giving prisoners the vote. Will the Minister tell us whether, to satisfy Eurosceptics, the Prime Minister is considering withdrawing from the European convention, or passing a law limiting its powers in the United Kingdom? Or are we going to have our own Bill of Rights, which I believe is being concocted by a group of Conservative lawyers? For all of us in Europe who value the freedoms we have under Article 18, any of these alternatives would be a disaster. Not only would they undermine our position under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but picking and choosing which bits of human rights law we like and which we do not would inevitably lead to the suggestion that the way to deal with fundamentalism and radical fundamental preachers is to withdraw from Article 18.

Last week, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a secular think tank of which I have the honour to be the honorary president, published its research on the perceptions and experiences of anti-Semitism among Jews in this country. The report stressed that in general most Jews in Britain feel comfortable in the UK with their Jewishness and with their Britishness in spite of a perceived rise in anti-Semitism. Although they may not know it, this feeling of comfort is due in large part to the benefits granted by the state, as laid out in Article 18. Let us keep it that way for the benefit of all faiths.

12.58 pm

Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (CB):

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate so inspiringly.

I have no strongly held religious beliefs but I feel lucky that I can stand up in our Parliament’s second Chamber and proclaim what I do or do not believe. But, more than that, I can link on my blog to my short speech today without any fear of reprisal. I can tweet, I can put it on Facebook and, if I am feeling particularly sociable, on Tumblr as well, all of which I can do without fear of any consequence.

As with so many areas that your Lordships’ House tackles, technology is changing the landscape. Human rights and freedom of expression are no exception. When Article 18 of the UN declaration was created, there was no way that we could have conceived of the future connectivity of the world. I make a plea that we do not forget the vital importance of these new technology platforms and that we continue to champion their availability. An open internet ensures that people are able to share views, get support and reveal abuses of freedom. I also caution, as we come to understand this brave new world, that there are many risks to navigate.

I asked my wise Twitter followers for examples of where technology had enabled religious freedoms. One story hit home. A young man, who asked to remain anonymous, found me to tell me that he was a gay Christian in Zimbabwe and felt worthless—that was until he got connected. He then found many digital communities all over the world where he could talk about the complex issues that he faced. I was touched that he wanted to tell his story to me in particular because he had seen on the BBC news website that this Chamber had passed the gay marriage legislation.

People find solace and relief in the networks of the online world. Take the example of the girls snatched by Boko Haram or the tragedy of Meriam Ibrahim. Such incidents spread around the world with a pace and scale that was unimaginable before. Just this morning I was reading that journalists are being informed from the depths of Gaza by Twitter. It seems that you can hardly be a self-respecting religious leader without active social media management. The Pope has 4.2 million Twitter followers and the Dalai Lama has 9.4 million. I hope that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is not dispirited with his 60,000.

Religion takes many forms online. There is a page on Facebook for the Bible, with more than 4.5 million followers. God Wants You to Know is an app that has 2 million active monthly users. Perhaps my favourite are ads that are now being bought around the web saying “pray for an atheist”, encouraging people to do just that. I found examples as diverse as a nun who tweets from her silent order, a global group of Jesuits and a portal for Mormons.

I believe that we cannot debate Article 18 without also making sure that we are demanding a free and open internet. No Government should be allowed to shut down the platforms that enable people to express themselves. There are currently 44 countries worldwide that are censoring the internet, and this is immensely serious. It is perhaps no surprise that the five worst-performing countries against the criterion of an “open and free” internet, as mapped by the Web Foundation, are Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China, Yemen and Qatar. In China, during peaceful protests by law-abiding Muslims in the north-west provinces in 2009, the Government shut down Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. In 2009, Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali attempted to ban Facebook but, as we know, 18 months later, activist youths employed that tool in the beginnings of their revolution in the so-called Arab spring.

The global connectivity that we now enjoy can deliver enormous gains in freedom of speech and belief. However, it would be naive of me to suggest that it is not also leading to a far more complex and interlinked world of extremist behaviour. I emphasise that I believe that the vast majority of activity online is benign, but we have only to look at the very effective way that ISIS in Iraq has used technology to push out its twisted messages, as well as raise money, to see the other side of the freedoms of the web.

However, I urge policymakers to be cautious. Surely it is always better to err on the side of freedom of speech and to tread lightly and carefully. Of course, we must prosecute people who fall foul of international law, but I would hate to see a world where expressing religious views in the digital sphere, which some people find unacceptable, might lead to a knock on your physical door. We in this country are mercifully far away from that scenario but many people are not.

1.03 pm

Viscount Bridgeman (Con):

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his masterly—if deeply worrying—overview of this problem. Article 18 speaks to the very core of who we are and, indeed, is an essential component of our identities as human beings. We are having this debate against the dreadful news that for the first time in the Christian era there are now no Christians at all in Mosul. This is perhaps mitigated in some small part by the welcome news of the safe arrival in Rome this morning of Meriam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death in Sudan.

An illustration of how the religious freedom problem in India criss-crosses all faiths is the persecution in India of the Dalit community, formerly known as “the untouchables”. They are persecuted not only if they convert to Islam but also if they convert to Christianity. As many noble Lords have said, freedom of religion or belief ensures that we are not compelled to believe anything that we do not want to, taking agnostic or atheistic positions if we choose. It is important that Article 18 does not stand alone. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear on this. Freedom of opinion or expression, freedom of association or assembly, and freedom of religion or belief are three strands that together make up that greater freedom, vested in human dignity, to which all people of good will aspire.

Around the world, sadly we see conflict situations where respect for freedom or belief has to be the crucial element in any sustainable peace. Reference has already been made to the current crisis in Iraq, the conflict in Rakhine State in Burma, and post-conflict situations such as Sri Lanka, to name only a few. There are currently two glaring cases of abuse of or contempt for Article 18 in North Korea and Eritrea, to which the noble Lord referred. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government are doing their utmost to secure implementation of the recommendations of the UN commission on North Korea and will support the UN commission of inquiry on Eritrea announced earlier this year. It is only by ensuring that Article 18 remains firmly on the agenda, and by seeking to tackle violations of it in a systematic fashion, that we can hope to have some impact on the many desperate situations faced by so many in the world today.

What steps can we take? Religious tolerance for those of us living in the United Kingdom very much begins at home. I was interested in the references by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and my noble friend Lord Patten to Magna Carta, which plays such a great part in American culture as well as our own. This country has a proud record of tolerance. It sets an example possibly more appreciated by our neighbours than we sometimes realise. I note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, lest we get too smug; the noble Lord, Lord Singh, made reference to this; and I was deeply moved by what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, as to his origins. The tradition of your Lordships’ House, part of the bricks and mortar of this place, is that a speaker is willed by the House, whatever his or her political views, to give of his or her best. My predecessor in this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, has given an interesting sideline on the internet implications of this.

This tolerance by example needs to be carried out into the wider world of Article 18, to be raised wherever possible as a high priority at bilateral and multilateral levels. I am pleased to see that the FCO’s latest democracy and human rights report states that,

“every minister … is an ambassador for religious freedom”.

That action is being taken to educate those within the department and across government on how better to tackle these issues—again, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to this. It is also important that the European Union speaks, for once, with one voice in implementing its guidelines on freedom of religion and belief, and I would welcome an update on progress from my noble friend the Minister.

In conclusion, I refer to the work of the office of the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who is not in his place. I understand that, despite a reported shortage of funding for his department, he has nevertheless championed, in addition to his own brief, some sensitive but important issues, including women’s rights. Here, again, I would welcome an update from my noble friend the Minister.

1.08 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab):

My Lords, I find this a very troubling debate. The situation is getting worse and we do not know what to do about it. I begin by quoting the special rapporteur’s report last year, which states:

“In practice, manifestations of collective religious hatred frequently overlap with national, racial, ethnic or other forms of hatred, and in many situations it may seem impossible to clearly separate these phenomena. As a result, the label ‘religion’ can sometimes be imprecise and problematic when used to describe complex phenomena and motives of collective hatred. Nevertheless it remains obvious that religions and beliefs can serve as powerful demarcators of ‘us-versus-them’ groupings. Unfortunately, there are many examples testifying to this destructive potential of religion. At the same time, one should always bear in mind that anti-hatred movements exist within all religions and that most adherents of the different religious and belief traditions are committed to practising their faith as a source of peace, charity and compassion, rather than of hostility and hatred”.

What can we say? Where is the new intellectual paradigm, if I may call it that, to reconcile this vast contradiction between what is professed as the peaceful role of religion and the growth of this demagoguery and hatred? I believe that socioeconomic inequality and population growth have something to do with it; and I wish that the Roman Catholic Church would move in the direction in which the Pope seems to be going on the question of birth control. That is because many of the problems are in socioeconomic groups C, D and E on a world scale—in other words, in poor and poorer countries.

We will be accused of imperialism if we try to, as it were, lay down the law. That is extremely frustrating, possibly exasperating. So we have to ask why the United Nations cannot take stronger steps. I ask the Minister: what initiatives can the Foreign Office, in conjunction with Europe or otherwise, take? I speak as a middle-of-the-road member of the Church of England—perhaps we all ought to put our cards on the table. How can we, in our tradition, get better adherence mechanisms? There was something called the Rabat Plan of Action, but what sort of brainstorming can the Foreign Office put into achieving stronger adherence mechanisms in relation to the reports and findings of the special rapporteur? When push comes to shove, the question is: how can the big nations of the world simply ignore these things? It is a tricky political problem but we have to be a bit franker about it. One of the excellent briefing notes from the Library states that Article 18 is now an orphan. I am afraid that that rings a bell, does it not?

We all want to be tolerant but we do not want to be tolerant of other people’s intolerance. We know this in our religious traditions. There has always been—as many of us were brought up to believe—a belief that our religion had the exclusive knowledge of the truth, and that other religious beliefs were next door to apostasy. We have to become more secular at the same time as recognising that religion has more to contribute in the world. My noble friend Lord Desai was getting near to a good point. The post-Marxist analysis suggests that we no longer have the struggle of capital and labour, nor do we have the struggle of the colonised versus the coloniser. Does, as the rapporteur says, the identifier become something against the other? It is impossible in this debate to say anything useful in five minutes but I hope that the Foreign Office will think about what stronger adherence mechanisms could be promulgated for a world discussion? I hope that we can get India, China and other great nations on board to do something like that because I cannot see any other way forward.

1.14 pm

Lord Morrow (DUP):

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this important debate.

I begin by affirming the great importance of the provision of an article in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights that explicitly and specifically protects religious freedom. Back in the 1960s, it was common to hear academics suggest that religion was generally on the wane and that we were moving towards a more secularised world. While church attendance may be less than what it was in the United Kingdom, globally the world is becoming if anything more, not less, religious. In this regard we have seen an explosion of academic interest in religion and desecularisation. In this context, Article 18 is more important than ever, and I pay special tribute to the Lebanese philosopher, Professor Charles Malik, Lebanon’s first ambassador to the United Nations, who drafted and championed Article 18.

I now turn to the application of Article 18 domestically. I would like to focus particularly on the second limb, namely,

“freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

In Christian theology, belief without action is meaningless. We are told in the letter of James—I make no apology for quoting from the Bible because discussions of religious freedom are meaningless if not rooted in an appreciation of real and relevant theology—that,

“faith without works is dead”.

The Christian understanding of worship as living out one’s faith 24/7 and of rejecting the idea that one is just a Christian on Sunday is absolutely central to what it means to be a Christian. This was set out so very clearly by William Wilberforce in the 1797 book that he called his manifesto, in which he explained how real Christianity means transforming belief into action across the whole of life, including politics.

In this context, I have to say that I very much agree with the American first lady, Michelle Obama, when she said:

“Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon … It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well … especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight’s not on us, and we’re making those daily choices about how to live our lives”.

In short, “doing God”, to coin a phrase, involves doing.

Secularists will generously tell us of their fierce commitment to religious freedom and then, in a move that makes them sound particularly supportive, say they believe that freedom of religious belief is an absolute right. In return for offering an absolute right to belief, however, they go on to argue that if ever there is a conflict between the right to manifest religious belief and any other right, the manifestation of religious belief should be curtailed. The truth is that the notion that providing an absolute right to religious belief in this country constitutes something meaningful and substantive is problematic on two bases. First, it means something only if you believe that the British state can get inside your head and prevent you believing what you believe, which does not seem likely. Secondly, it suggests that the centre of religious faith is belief and that one can constrain practice at will without placing religious liberty in jeopardy.

In order to see just how ridiculous this is, we must return to the active principle and that clear statement from the New Testament that,

“faith without works is dead”.

The Bible does not say that faith without works is truncated or diminished. It says that it is actually negated. There can be no faith without works. Mindful of this, it is absolutely right that Article 18 is very clear that the manifestation of religious belief is very broad based.

As I look around Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, I see many wonderful examples of people of faith properly exercising their religious freedom in both belief and practice. Leading politicians have not been slow to affirm this with respect to welfare service provision, as indeed they should if they take their Article 18 obligations seriously. The willingness of politicians to affirm the right to manifest belief, however, is, I am afraid, rather selective. I say this with regret, not because I want to suggest that, if people claim that an action is in some way related to their faith, they should be allowed to proceed regardless—that would clearly be dangerous. Rather, I am suggesting that, if we are to respect the place of religion in our society, and the place of Article 18, we must make space for mainstream religious practice: both that which the secular commentariat agrees with and that which makes them uncomfortable. Sadly, this is not happening.

I would like to have said much more, but time has caught up with me. I would like to have said something in relation to Nigeria, but I totally agree with, and want to associate myself with, the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on this matter.

1.20 pm

Lord Elton (Con):

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I would like much more time, but would have liked it to prepare what I have to say. I do not think I have ever embarked on a debate and learnt so much about what is going on in the world that I did not know. I knew the generality, but we now have the particularity, which is very stark. It is interesting that we make this assault on this difficult problem seven days after what was probably the best and longest debate this House has held, on the Assisted Dying Bill, where we looked at death on the individual scale. It seems that we are now turning the microscope round and using it as a telescope to look at death on the ethnic and global scale. The two chime together. It is a grim thought that this current of dark, heartless evil runs through the whole human race and through every faith at some stage in its development.

I approach this with perhaps an unusual level of humility as I listen to the expertise and the visible bravery and courage of others in the debate. First, I would like to leave in your Lordships’ minds—this may puzzle your Lordships until I get to the end—the thought that, when the Syrian disaster first began to grab our attention, it was clear, although not apparently recognised in the echelons of power, that all the minorities who were threatened actually trusted Assad and, rightly, feared the rebels.

We have had a number of approaches this morning and this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Anderson, who is not in his place at the moment, started by saying that peace depends on building bridges between faiths. He was echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, who pointed out that it would be extremely helpful if, at the local and particularly the national level, all sorts of faiths represented in a troubled area could get together to show what was happening and to condemn it. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed to where this is happening at the bottom of the pile, although involving people at the top. It is being done by the astonishing—and in future, I hope, saintly—Canon Andrew White, who is living out a very frail life, in extreme danger, bringing polar opposites in Iraq together. That is one element that we need to pursue.

Next, I echo my noble friend Lady Berridge, who pointed out the importance of religious education. It may amuse her to know that in the flotsam and jetsam that will eventually wash up on some distant Whitehall desk is a tiny paragraph or two of mine from the Queen’s Speech debate—not yet answered—on the similar point that religious education is needed to underpin the civics and the civil behaviour of our population. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, was looking for some means of controlling micro-oppression, as I might call it. What does that is understanding, and education is where you begin to build it.

As has been described by many noble Lords, we are watching a forest fire. My noble friend Lord Patten said it was spreading to Indonesia, but we need to look the other way, too, as it is spreading here. Fires burn in different ways: a heath fire can burn underground for weeks and burst out long after the fire brigade has gone home and gone on holiday. It can also burn fiercely, brightly and scorchingly. That is what is happening.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, used an interesting phrase. He said that Article 18 cannot be enforced and that, if we are honest, we need arms, I think he said. However, we cannot go down that road for reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Singh, pointed out and which our Lord pointed out to Peter somewhere near Caesarea Philippi, because, in the end, it brings evil in its train. However, we can at least deny to the forces of evil some of their materiel, or the weapons of war, which are now reaching a serious scale, for instance in Nigeria.

My noble friend Lady Cox pointed the finger at, among others, Saudi Arabia. That happens in other areas, too. Saudi Arabia was among the first to support the rebels in Syria. Has the time come not only for me to sit down—as my noble friend is pointing out—but for my noble friend and his colleagues to look carefully at whether the whole arrangement of our alliances in the Middle East and north Africa should be considered and, probably, drastically revised?

1.26 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab):

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and make the comment that when he and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, bring these issues to the House, all of us learn something. I am sure we are all grateful for the work that they do, not only here at home but where these problems exist.

I will speak about the abuse of human rights in Iran. Every so often, we get a chance in the House to ask Questions. I have repeatedly asked about the plight of the people in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty; perhaps the Minister can give us an update of what is going on in those areas. Can the Minister also say, in his reply, how many times the United Nations, through the Security Council or other forums, has condemned the brutality and inhumanity of the mullahs in Iran? I will also speak today about the persecution of Christians.

This week in Iran, on Monday, the mullahs’ regime publicly flogged five people, with 70 lashes each, in Nobahar Junction, Azadi Square, Ferdowsi Square and Motahari Junction. In yet another brutal measure, on 14 July, the criminal agents of the mullahs put out the cigarette of a Christian on his lips—stubbed out a cigarette—and beat him savagely. From 11 to 13 July, five more were flogged in the cities of Babolsar and Shiraz. Three of them allegedly received lashes for not observing the fast during Ramadan and two were accused of stealing. These acts are perpetrated in the name of religious leaders—fundamentalists and those who rule by fear.

How different it is now from the outpourings of support for President Rouhani when he won the sham election last year. Since he won that election, 800 people have been executed. The litany goes on and on. In the debate this afternoon, I will talk about two young Iranian women, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh. They were born into Muslim families in Iran and describe a period of questioning and exploring other religions which led to their conversions to Christianity in 1999. They met one another in 2005 in Turkey while studying theology and felt called to return to Iran to share the gospel with fellow Iranians.

Upon their return, the two women began a ministry together which involved Bible distribution and holding secret house church meetings for prostitutes and young people. This work eventually drew the attention of the Iranian authorities and they were arrested in 2009. Their initial detention lasted for 14 days during which they were interrogated, threatened with physical torture and put under pressure to give details of their contacts. The charges levelled against them included apostasy, for which they were placed in Evin Prison and faced the very real threat of death by hanging. Maryam and Marziyeh spent the following nine months in the terrible, infamous Evin Prison, subject to regular interrogation and under pressure to recant, which they consistently refused to do. Considered infidels, they were denied medical treatment and access to other facilities. Despite the harsh conditions they faced, the women were able to give witness to fellow prisoners and the guards, and show them their belief in God.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords have referred to the situation in Mosul. I am confident that all noble Lords will be pleased to hear what Maryam Rajani, the leader of the Iranian Council of Resistance, said this week. Speaking two days ago about the stance taken by the Association of Muslim Scholars, which condemned aggression against Christians, she said, “It was a reasonable stance that challenges fundamentalism and religious extremism”. She added, “Aggression against Christians is unIslamic”, and I hope that message gets through. After 259 days without bail, Maryam and Marziyeh will welcome somebody speaking out for Christians in Iran. Six months after their release, those two ladies went to live in the United States. They have dedicated themselves to sharing their experience in a book, Captive in Iran, which I recommend.

Finally, I implore the Minister to ask our recently appointed Foreign Secretary to re-examine the Government’s relationship with the Iranian mullahs. Instead of talking about reducing the pretty ineffective sanctions, we should be seeking firmer sanctions to help those who are suffering.

1.32 pm

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD):

Tolerance, respect for the other, care for the stranger without the gate: these are the core British values that are enshrined and honoured by our common rule of law. The careful wording of Article 18 meticulously reflects these values and encapsulates our worldwide common right to worship as we wish. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, so powerfully proclaims, this right is under extraordinary attack, so too are our British values, entwined as they are with the article. We have an enemy here in the UK, and it is the same enemy that has erupted in parts of Syria, in Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq and elsewhere.

What is our enemy? We—Jews, Christians and Muslims—are all people of the book. Our capacity to co-operate, share, live, study and work together derives from that. Our common enemy, the Salafi, do not agree. For the Salafi, we are the enemy and must convert or die. The Salafi identify themselves as Muslims, but there are many different strands of Islam. Some may be hostile to other strands or other faiths, but Salafist thinking mutates disastrously to destruction, dominance and executions. It is important to distinguish between these common strands of Islam. Words that are thrown around so loosely now, such as “Islamist”, “fundamentalist Muslim” and so on, are not the Salafists. It is the Salafists and their cousins the Wahhabis who are our common enemy and the enemy of other faiths as well.

Let me give an example. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke strongly about the situation in north Iraq. I speak about Mosul, which I know well. What is it like today with ISIS—that armed group of Salafists—having taken over the city and the region? Civil society has gone. All social life has disappeared from the streets. No family parks are allowed to function. No play areas for children can be opened. The coffee shops have shut. There is no judiciary. The ruler is the executioner. All minorities are subject to displacement, assault and execution. So, too, are the majorities. The holy shrines of prophets are being destroyed. All the mosques of other Sunni strands of Islam—that is to say, the non-jihadi Salafist group—have been taken over. The clerks have either been assassinated or persecuted. The synagogues have been taken over as well. The Shia are under the threat of killing wherever they are. They are the majority in the country. They are being executed. The Yezidi have been displaced from their homes and places of work. The Shabak groups are obliged to leave their areas. Christians have been turned out forcibly. They have had a special favour; they have been warned and told to leave.

The Shia are automatically executed when their names betray their strand of Islam. Anyone who is not Sunni jihadi—Salafi—must hide or run away. Women are not allowed to leave their homes without a niqab covering the whole of their face and should be accompanied by a man. That is not Islam. Show me the verse in the holy Koran that says that must be the case. You cannot find it. Public services are fractionally running, but there is separation of the sexes. The management team of your local health centre, if it still exists, is from ISIS. The directors-general of health and education are now prisoners in their own homes. They are Sunni. The health facilities are being run by few staff, with the majority remaining inside their homes in order to stay alive. Those who are working are uncertain about any salaries. Even worse, who is going to provide them with the drugs and fresh equipment when their stocks run out, which is happening? There will be epidemics, including cholera, which was in the area very recently. The new rule applied to schools and hospitals allocates a day for men and another for women, so that the two genders are not in the facility at the same time.

Is there not familiarity with the situation that was uncovered this week by Her Majesty’s inspectorate in its report on schools in Birmingham? Examples of this include altering the curriculum and schemes of work so that children are not allowed to hear musical instruments or to sing and changing the art curriculum so that they may see and draw only designs but not full faces or images. I recall having that argument with Hezbollah in south Lebanon. Indeed, in 2007 the Muslim Council stated that girls in schools should be covered except for their hands and faces. I cannot find the verse that tells me that that should be so. There is no Christmas, despite the fact that the birth of Christ is in the Koran and Jesus is a prophet in Islam.

What is the Islam that I know and love? It talks of music:

“’Tis said, the pipe and lute that charm our ears

Derive their melody from rolling spheres;

But Faith, o’erpassing speculation’s bound,

Can see what sweetens every jangled sound.

We, who are parts of Adam, heard with him

The song of angels and of seraphim.

Music uplifts the soul to realms above.

The ashes glow, the latent fires increase:

We listen and are fed with joy and peace”.

What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that true Islam, like true Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, is firmly embedded in the school curriculum, taught, implemented and demonstrated? Her Majesty’s Government must give an answer.

1.38 pm

Lord Sacks (CB):

My Lords, I, too, am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for allowing us this opportunity to share our concerns about one of the most profoundly disturbing developments in our time. Seldom have I heard a more searing and devastating set of testimonies than I have heard today of the evils currently being committed in the name of the God of love and peace and compassion.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1989, Soviet communism collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War came to an end. Many believed that we were about to witness throughout the world the spread of market economics, liberal democracy and the kind of tolerances we associate with both. Today, we know it did not happen that way. We have seen instead a new tribalism, leading to massacres in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, the division and balkanisation of societies along religious lines, and the return of the one thing that could take humanity back to the dark ages, namely the use of religion as the robe of sanctity to disguise and legitimate the naked pursuit of power.

The persecution of Christians throughout much of the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I am appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked. We have heard about this from many eloquent speakers today. What is happening to Christians in these places is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. We must not forget either, as others have said, that the vast majority of victims of Islamist violence and terror are Muslim, and our hearts go out to them too, as they do to members of all other persecuted groups such as the Baha’i in Iran, and so many others.

I wish I did not have to speak about the position of Jewish communities throughout the world but, sadly, I do. In the past few weeks mobs have assaulted Jews in France, attacking synagogues and setting fire to Jewish-owned shops. There were attacks in Berlin. In November 2013, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published a report showing that two-thirds of the Jews in Europe regard anti-Semitism as a significant factor in their lives, three-quarters believe that it has worsened significantly in the past five years, one-third have personally experienced some form of harassment, and they are deeply afraid for the future. Forgive me if I say that I did not expect, 120 years after the Dreyfus case and 70 years after the Holocaust, that the cry of “Death to the Jews” would be heard again in the streets of France and Germany.

In all this we recognise the power of the internet and social media to turn any local conflict into a global one. We see how the wilful confusion of religion and politics allows soluble political problems to be turned into insoluble religious ones. We witness the ignorance that allows people to mistake one strand within a faith for the whole of that faith, and we pay a high price for our fascination with extremists. It is the worst, not the best, who know how to capture the attention of a troubled and confused world.

That people in the 21st century are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated and robbed of their liberties because of the way they worship God is a moral outrage, a political scandal and a desecration of faith itself. I believe that God himself weeps at the evils being committed in His name. Let us urge, as strongly as we can, the worldwide implementation of Article 18 as one of the great challenges of our time so that we can all exercise our fundamental right to live our faith without fear.

1.43 pm

Lord Bach (Lab):

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the expert speakers in this debate and a particular privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, with his tremendous reputation. His speech today was full of wisdom and wise words, and it was excellent that he was here to take part.

This has been a major debate on a major issue of our times, instigated, if I may say so, by a major player in your Lordships’ House. Only two weeks ago we were debating the World Service and the British Council. Yesterday, as the House has heard, we were debating the United Nations commission of inquiry into North Korea, and today we debate an issue of fundamental importance to the type of world we want. What these debates have in common, of course, is that they were all secured by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. They also have in common an emphasis on human rights and decent values in a very imperfect world. The House and the wider public owe the noble Lord a great deal.

The central issue of today’s debate is, surely, the continued and increasing breaches of Article 18 in a large number of countries where Governments have a theoretical commitment to freedom of religion or belief. Governments have turned a blind eye or, in some cases, encouraged outrages against those who have dared to remain true to their faith or, even, to their lack of faith.

Recently, his Holiness Pope Francis said that there were more martyrs today than in the first centuries of Christianity, which, we were all taught at school, were scarred by blood and brutality. Almost every week, we hear of new outrages committed against people of faith. In our minds today are the Christians who have had to flee Mosul as they faced wicked threats and treatment from ISIS. Indeed, shocking news is coming through as we speak. The BBC is reporting that Islamist group ISIS has ordered women aged between 11 to 46 years in Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation. If that is true it has the capacity to shock even us, given all that we have heard today. There are, and have been for days, reports that last weekend ISIS was putting on Christian doors in Mosul in Arabic, the letter “N”, meaning Nazarene, to point out where Christians lived. It does not need me to say the parallels that there are with the last 100 years in Nazi Germany.

This is all in a part of the world where Christianity began and where, even under despotic rule, whether it be the Ottoman Empire or more recent dictators, Christians have been allowed to practise their religion without hindrance. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, wrote graphically in yesterday’s Times reminding us that the number of Christians in Mosul has gone from 30,000 to zero. Of course, there are many other examples of this, not just in the troubled Middle East, but around the world. It was estimated that one-third of countries in the world had a high or very high level of government restrictions on freedom of religion and that 76% of the world’s population, calculated as 5.3 billion people, live in such countries.

The questions for us must include why, in a more globalised world, where people are able to mix, meet and travel more freely than ever before in human history, there is now more, not less, intolerance. What can we do about it? The All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge—it is a privilege to hear her today—in its paper on Article 18, talked with great force and made the point that although Article 18 remains the single most significant statement of the international community’s commitment to freedom of religion or belief, it is hamstrung in practice because it has never been the subject of a focused United Nations convention, unlike the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, and others.

Professor Malcolm Evans, who I believe assisted the Committee, argues that there has been evidence of intention of creating such a convention, but it has not been achieved and, to use his words, is still “on hold” after 45 years. That is why the document that the committee of the noble Baroness produced is called Article 18: An Orphaned Right. The Government are rightly praised for describing freedom of religion or belief as,

“one of the Government’s key human rights priorities”.

It is good to hear that every Minister will be an ambassador for religious freedom when he or she goes abroad, and that the Government have a strategy for promoting this particular freedom. Indeed, one can see the influence of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, in these developments. Although it is always an enormous pleasure to debate with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and I am delighted to see him in his place, it is in one way a shame that the noble Baroness is not here today because this is really her territory. It seems to the Opposition that she has made a real mark on this subject in her years in office. The recommendations in the all-party report are very important. It would be good to hear from the Minister when he sums up what responses to them he can give on behalf of the Government.

Many countries are formally in breach of Article 18. Some have been referred to in today’s debate. Of course, what is happening in Syria and Iran, where Sunni is set against Shia and vice versa, shows us that interfaith behaviour is entirely relevant to Article 18. Historically, Christianity has hardly set a good example over the centuries—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. But that is no reason now for not arguing strongly that there is an urgent need for Article 18 to be complied with around the world.

It is interesting to note that Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which calls in the same way for freedom of faith and belief, seems on balance to have been much better observed over the years than Article 18, which we are debating today. Surely that is partly because there is an effective legal remedy if Article 9 of the ECHR is breached. Article 9 does not stand alone; it is embedded in practical law. That must surely be a lesson for us to learn.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the speech made by my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander on this subject following an article he wrote in the Daily Telegraph last Christmas. I will quote from it but time is very short. He just said:

“It is simply wrong for any faith to be persecuted”,

and that to say so,

“is not to support one faith over another—it is to say that persecution and oppression of our fellow human beings in the name of any god or ideology is never acceptable and is morally repugnant”.

Surely he is right and action is necessary. We look forward to hearing what the Government propose. Of course, the House looks forward to hearing from the Minister.

1.53 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD):

My Lords, I am afraid that in the very short time I have, because we are running a little in this debate, it will be impossible to respond to everybody on every point that has been made. I apologise for that.

I was also going to apologise that, in this instance, I am summing up on something that is so very much the subject of my noble friend Lady Warsi. In preparing for this debate, I read the speeches she made in Georgetown, at the Pontifical Academy in Rome, in Oman and Kuala Lumpur. After that, my high respect for her rose further. It is partly because of who she is and where she comes from that she is able to speak with such conviction to diverse audiences and have them accept what she says. In particular, she talks about her background as the child of a mixed Sunni/Shia family and her comfortableness about being a British Muslim. In understanding religion, she quoted in one speech an imam who taught her that your religion flows across the bed of the society in which you live. That is a lovely concept. Therefore, to be a British Muslim is of course a little different from being an Omani or Saudi Muslim, and the same applies also for many other faiths. I pay very considerable tribute to the work my noble friend has done and is doing.

She certainly contributed to upgrading the Foreign Office’s emphasis and understanding of the importance of religion. The Human Rights and Democracy Report for this year has a very useful section on freedom of religion and belief which says,

“Baroness Warsi has made freedom of religion or belief an FCO priority, and now every minister at the FCO is an ambassador for religious freedom, raising and promoting these issues in the countries with which they engage”.

It goes on to talk about training and seminars within the FCO and briefings for representatives elsewhere. My noble friend Lord Cormack asked for a specific FCO envoy on religion. The problem that other states have found with appointing a specific envoy on religion is that a large number of countries then refuse to accept visits from him or her. However, everyone having this as part of what they do and say helps in the many difficult countries with which we must have this dialogue.

Of course, my noble friend Lady Warsi also worked with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and one must have dialogue with a range of organisations around the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, will know, the UK currently holds the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Sir Andrew Burns has done some excellent work in that respect. He, my noble friend Lady Warsi and others have also encouraged various different faith communities to think about genocide and holocaust as something which moves across different faiths and has been a tragedy for many of them. In recent months, the commemoration of the tragedy of Srebrenica is very much part of all that.

I assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry that the reshuffle will in no sense affect this emphasis. This Government, as my noble friend Lady Warsi said, “does God” because we recognise that religion, power, faith and ideology all flow in and out of each other. Religion can be misused as a force for evil as well as good.

As most noble Lords will know, my noble friend Lady Warsi convened a group within the Foreign Office on freedom of religion and belief, which includes people from a range of different faiths—and from none, because we emphasise that Article 18 includes the right to believe, to change your religion or not to believe. It is a statement of religious toleration and of toleration of thought altogether. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, suggested that the United Kingdom was on its way to withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and then, perhaps in time, from the UN declaration on human rights, or at least from Article 18. All I can say is: not this coalition Government, whatever a future Government might do.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to our work with the Arab League and others on freedom of religion. We work with as many international organisations as we can on all these issues.

We heard in this debate a huge range of concerns about attacks on many different religions in many different countries. The most immediate concerns we all have are about the attacks on Christian communities across the Middle East, the region from which the three great monotheistic religions grew and within which different faiths have managed to co-exist, with occasional disasters, without too much hatred over so many centuries. We also heard about south Asia, from which a number of other global faiths emerged, where to our horror we see Buddhists attacking Muslims and Hindus. There is also the Muslim-on-Muslim violence that we see across the Middle East. We know that religion is used in a whole host of ways across a great many countries.

Religion has linked historically with power and has also—sorry; I have lost one of my pages. Religion was abused as part of the way in which states established themselves, such as forced conversions and killings of religious minorities. When I read of the way that ISIS is behaving in Mosul, I recalled that in 1870, when the tsarist Russians conquered the north Caucasus, they offered the Circassians and the Chechens the choice of conversion or expulsion. That is the origin of the Chechen and Circassian communities in Aleppo, Amman and elsewhere. It is one of the reasons why the king of Jordan has just visited Grozny to talk to the local Chechens about some of those links.

We all have to recognise that tolerance takes a long time to develop. Religion and modernity have had a difficult relationship. Indeed, the origins of religious fundamentalism were in the 19th century United States, as rural communities came to terms with the tremendous problems of transition to urban and modern life. We have seen that turbulence now running across the Middle East and elsewhere, where the speed of change from traditional society to modernity is so much greater and where, therefore, the fundamentalist reaction is often so much stronger.

We are conscious that the resistance to a liberal and open society has been there in a great many religions. I recall the papal bull that denounced liberalism and all its works in the 1870s. To some extent, the disillusion with Arab nationalism and the collapse of the secular faith of Marxist communism have left a hard-line version of political Islam as an all-enveloping ideology for the discontented, dispossessed and frustrated young men of so many countries, including some of our communities in this country.

A number of noble Lords have talked about the United Kingdom as an example. Among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, talked about the importance of remembering that religious toleration begins at home. I am not entirely sure that we should quote Magna Carta in our defence. I know that Article 1 of Magna Carta says that the English church is to be free, but that is the defence of the organised religion, not of the individual. It is also the defence of the church and all its privileges from the king. That is not my understanding of Article 18, so we need to careful about quoting Magna Carta.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry:

I interpreted it as the seed from which has grown the tree and a proper universal application of that principle of seeking for religion not to be controlled by the state.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, it was a very small seed and, sadly, the tree—looking back at British history—grew rather slowly. We had a civil war and quite a lot of killing of Protestants by Catholics and Catholics by Protestants and others on the way to the achievement of the religious toleration that we have.

I grew up as a Protestant and I was instinctively anti-Catholic. I did not have the category of Jewish in my mind so I had no concept of whether I should be anti-Jewish, pro-Jewish or what. I slowly learnt not to be anti-Catholic and so one has moved. Over the past two to three generations in this country, the levels of intolerance have, happily, gone down a great deal. When I occasionally go to services in Westminster Abbey where I was a choirboy, and where you would never have seen a Catholic priest in the 1950s, I see not only representatives of the other Christian churches, but a range of other faiths represented: the Chief Rabbi, representatives of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and other communities. That is the way we should be going; interfaith dialogue and understanding in our schools and among different organised churches are what we should be doing to promote and defend an open society.

In particular, I regret that as regards what I think I learnt as a child about the three religions of the book—the Abrahamic faiths—we have lost some of that sense that the three great monotheistic religions belong together.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab):

In the profound spirit of liberalism and ecumenicism that has pervaded his speech, could the Minister have a look at the rules concerning Catholic marriages in the Crypt?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

I was going to make another point, which is that we are all deeply aware at the present moment of the current conflicts in the Middle East, including between Israel and Palestine and the extent to which that spills over to some of the misunderstandings of our discontented young. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, that I went to address the Board of Deputies before the last election on behalf of my party and said, among other things, that we all have to understand that Jerusalem is a holy city for three faiths. I was heckled by someone who said, “No it isn’t. It’s the eternal city of the Jews”. We all recognise that there are some great sensitivities here, with different understandings of the past, and that what some call Judea and Samaria others call the West Bank and others call the Holy Land. They are matters that we cannot get away from and have to address.

There are many who do a lot of good work in that respect in the United Kingdom. I recall Tariq Ramadan, now on the panel of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, saying that he sees Europe as the society within which the necessary reconciliation between Islam and modernity will take place. Let us all work for that.

A large number of countries have been mentioned in the debate and it is impossible in these last few minutes—

Lord Clarke of Hampstead:

I wonder if I can help the Minister. Ten years ago, as a practising Roman Catholic, my wife and I renewed our marriage vows in St Mary Undercroft. We have not been able to do it this year for our diamond wedding anniversary, but that might alleviate some of the fears that some Peers have.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

I thank the noble Lord for that contribution.

The situation in Iran and across the Middle East, the question of south Asia, what is happening in Burma, Indonesia and the new laws set out in Brunei—a great many countries have been mentioned. Sadly, however, we have not mentioned the Central African Republic, where Christians, or people who call themselves and identify themselves as Christians, are killing Muslims, and people who call themselves Muslims are killing Christians. I regret to say that they are probably using the religious symbol as an excuse for competing with the others. We have to recognise that not just modernity, but rising population and shortage of resources fuel some of those conflicts that appear to be religious.

Lord Lea of Crondall:

The Minister will be aware that I was not the only one who asked a specific question about what steps the Foreign Office is considering, and whether there is any brainstorming there, as to how to strengthen the adherence to the famous article.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, I have two minutes left, which is why I am attempting to run through this. I promise I will write to the noble Lord, in so far as I can. I have already explained that the Foreign Office is actively engaged in all of this in terms of internal education and our constant dialogue with others. We have, again, come back on to the Human Rights Council so we are working across the board on this issue.

The debate has demonstrated our concern with the large number of countries in which religious toleration is absent and where there is discrimination against minorities within each religion and against different religions from that which is the official religion of that country. I can assure your Lordships that the Government are actively concerned with this. We see it as something that the British Government must actively work on, at home and throughout the world, as one of the important ways in which we help to maintain our open and tolerant society and to strengthen those principles of liberal, open societies across the world.

2.09 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, although I had the privilege of entering your Lordships’ House in 1997 as an independent Cross-Bencher, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and I first met—in what seems a far-off age—when I was president of the National League of Young Liberals. I immediately recognised that I had encountered someone who had an extraordinary breadth of knowledge of world affairs. But as befits a former cathedral chorister, as he has pointed out, he also has a great knowledge of the relationship between faith and politics. Although he is not the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to whom we have all paid tribute for the extraordinary work that she does in this area, we are all indebted to him for his reply today, and we look forward to the correspondence that will come from the detailed questions that have been raised.

I thank all noble Lords who have made such rich, eloquent and knowledgeable contributions to this debate. None of us could have known how topical and timely this balloted Motion would prove to be. Many have spoken from first-hand experience. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, set us off with a metaphor about the unleashing of a tiger, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, used a similar metaphor when he talked about the prairie fire that is likely to spread. Many noble Lords referred to the dangers of that fire burning closer to home, including the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson.

Interruption.

The Minister actually took only 15 of his allotted 20 minutes, and with one speaker struck off the list—

Lord Newby (LD):

My Lords, I inform the noble Lord that the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, took less than his time was because he did not have any more time than that to take.

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

I am sorry, my Lords, but people stuck to their time limits and one noble Lord removed his name from the list, so there was some extra time. The courtesy of the House is all that I am trying to observe in thanking all those who have participated in this important debate.

Article 18 demands an end to suppression, persecution and gross injustice. It should be at the heart of our concerns, not an orphaned right.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con):

My Lords, I apologise, but the time allotted for this debate has now elapsed and I must put the question.

Motion agreed.

Parliament

Also see:

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10989576/Social-media-fuelling-surge-in-back-to-the-dark-ages-religious-persecution-Lord-Sacks.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHHIMY7Wgg8

http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/right-to-religious-freedom-being-violated-universally-says-lord-alton

Courage is needed now to stop the genocide of Christians in Iraq. Congressman Frank Wolf gave a floor speech declaring the expunging of Christians from Iraq as Genocide. Please listen to him. You can find his speech here.

Iraqi Christian Persecution Floor Speech by Congressman Frank Wolf

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxaSjw8Np4U

Meanwhile, the Assyrian International News Agency reports that All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS.

(AINA) — Since taking over Mosul on June 10, ISIS has destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered all 45 Christian institutions in Mosul.

The following is the complete list of the Christian institutions in Mosul, grouped by denomination.

Syriac Catholic Church:

1. Syrian Catholic Diocese – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul

2. The Old Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul (The church goes back to the eighth century AD)

3. The New Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood

4. Church of Mar (Saint) Toma – Khazraj Neighborhood

5. Museum of Mar (Saint) Toma – Khazraj Neighborhood

6. Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation – Muhandiseen Neighborhood

7. Church of the Virgin of Fatima – Faisaliah Neighborhood

8. Our Lady of Deliverance Chapel – Shifaa Neighborhood

9. The House of the Young Sisters of Jesus – Ras Al-Kour Neighborhood

10. Archbishop’s Palace Chapel – Dawasa Neighborhood

Syriac Orthodox Church:

1. Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese – Shurta Neighborhood

2. The Antiquarian Church of Saint Ahodeeni – Bab AlJadeed Neighborhood

3. Mar (Saint) Toma Church and cemetery, (the old Bishopric) – Khazraj Neighborhood

4. Church of The Immaculate (Castle) – Maidan Neighborhood

5. Church of The Immaculate – Shifaa Neighborhood

6. Mar (Saint) Aprim Church – Shurta Neighborhood

7. St. Joseph Church – The New Mosul Neighborhood

Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East:

1. Diocese of the Assyrian Church of the East – Noor Neighborhood

2. Assyrian Church of the East, Dawasa Neighborhood

3. Church of the Virgin Mary (old rite) – Wihda Neighborhood

Chaldean Church of Babylon:

1. Chaldean Diocese – Shurta Neighborhood

2. Miskinta Church – Mayassa Neighborhood

3. The Antiquarian Church of Shimon alSafa – Mayassa Neighborhood

4. Church of Mar (Saint) Buthyoon – Shahar AlSouq Neighborhood

5. Church of St. Ephrem, Wady AlAin Neighborhood

6. Church of St. Paul – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District

7. The Old Church of the Immaculate (with the bombed archdiocese)- Shifaa Neighborhood

8. Church of the Holy Spirit – Bakir Neighborhood

9. Church of the Virgin Mary – Drakziliya Neighbourhood

10. Ancient Church of Saint Isaiah and Cemetery – Ras AlKour Neighborhood

11. Mother of Aid Church – Dawasa Neighborhood

12. The Antiquarian Church of St. George- Khazraj Neighborhood

13. St. George Monastery with Cemetery – Arab Neighborhood

14. Monastery of AlNasir (Victory) – Arab Neighborhood

15. Convent of the Chaldean Nuns – Mayassa Neighborhood

16. Monastery of St. Michael – Hawi Church Neighborhood

17. The Antiquarian Monastery of St. Elijah – Ghazlany Neighborhood

Armenian Orthodox Church:

1. Armenian Church – Maidan Neighborhood

2. The New Armenian Church – Wihda Neighborhood

Evangelical Presbyterian Church:

1. Evangelical Presbyterian Church – Mayassa Neighborhood

Latin Church:

1. Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and Convent of Katrina Siena Nuns – Sa’a Neighborhood

2. Convent of the Dominican Sisters, – Mosul AlJadeed Neighborhood

3. Convent of the Dominican Sisters (AlKilma Monastery) – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District

4. House of Qasada AlRasouliya (Apostolic Aim) (Institute of St. John the Beloved)

Cemeteries:

1. Christian Cemetery in the Ekab Valley which contains a small chapel.

This item is available as: HTML | PDF.

© 2014, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use.

Update July 31st:

INA News

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

he Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the city of Mosul, Iraq on June 10. Almost immediately thereafter it began to drive Assyrians out of Mosul and destroy Christian and non-Sunni institutions. Here is the status as of July 29:

• There are no Assyrians/Christians remaining in Mosul, all have fled to the north, to Alqosh, Dohuk and other Assyrian villages.

• All Christian institutions in Mosul (churches, monasteries and cemeteries), numbering 45, have been destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered (story).

• All non-Sunni Muslim groups in Mosul — Shabaks, Yazidis and Turkmen — have been targeted by ISIS. Most have fled.

• Water and electricity have been cut off by ISIS. The water shortage in the areas surrounding Mosul is now a full-blown crisis. Residents have been forced to dig wells for drinking water. Water tankers are providing some relief.

• Mosul is now governed under Sharia law.

• 50,000 Assyrian residents of Baghdede (Qaraqosh) fled from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. Nearly 80% have returned.

The following is a summary of the events that have unfolded in Mosul.

• June 10: ISIS captures Mosul, occupies the Assyrian village of Qaraqosh, enters the St. Behnam Monastery, bombs an Armenian church (story).

• June 12: ISIS issues Islamic rules for Mosul (story).

• June 14: Assyrian, Yezidi and Shabak Villages come under Kurdish Control (story).

• June 15: Kurds attempt to remove an Assyrian council leader in Alqosh and replace him with a Kurd (story).

• June 18: ISIS Cuts Off Water, Electricity, Destroys Churches (story).

• June 19: ISIS destroys statue of the famous Arab poet Abu Tammam (story).

• June 21: ISIS begins imposing a poll tax (jizya) on Assyrians in Mosul (story), orders unmarried women to ‘Jihad by sex’ (story), destroys the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Immaculate Church of the Highest in the neighborhood of AlShafa in Mosul, as well as the statue of Mullah Osman Al-Musali. Shiite Turkmen in the villages of AlKibba and Shraikhan flee after receiving threats from ISIS. ISIS arrests 25 village elders and young men who are Turkmen in the village of AlShamsiyat; their whereabouts is still unknown. (story) ISIS orders Christian, Yazidis and Shiite government employees not to report for work in Mosul (story).

• June 23: ISIS Rape Christian Mother and Daughter, Kill 4 Christian Women for Not Wearing Veil (story).

• June 25: ISIS limits water from the plants in Mosul to one hour per day. Residents in surrounding areas are forced to dig wells (story).

• June 26: Kurds Clash With ISIS Near Assyrian Town East of Mosul, forcing nearly 50,000 Assyrians to flee (story).

• ISIS begins confiscating the homes of Christians and non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS rounds up many of the security agency members of the police and army in Sabrine Mosque and asks them to declare “repentance” and surrender their weapons and other military equipment. After doing so, all of the prisoners are tried and sentenced according to Sharia law and executed. ISIS has prevented delivery of government food rations to Tel Kepe and other areas not under their control (story).

• June 28: ISIS kidnaps two nuns and three Assyrian orphans. They are eventually released (story).

• July 3: ISIS seizes the house of the Chaldean Patriarchate and the house of Dr. Tobia, a member of Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and an Advisor to the Governor of Nineveh on Minority Affairs and General Coordinator with International Organizations (story).

• July 8: ISIS Removes Cross From Church in Mosul (story).

• July 10: ISIS bars women from walking the streets unless accompanied by a male. Nearly all barber shops and womens’ salons are closed (story).

• July 15: ISIS Stops Rations for Christians and Shiites in Mosul (story).

• July 17: ISIS issues statement ordering Christians to convert or die (story).

• July 18: ISIS in Mosul marks Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” (for the word Nasrani, which means Christian) (story).

• July 19: ISIS plunders Assyrians as they Flee Mosul; families march 42 miles (story).

• July 22: ISIS and Kurds clash near Assyrian town, 2000 Assyrian families driven from Mosul (story).

• July 25: ISIS destroys the tomb of the Prophet Jonah (story).

A US-based international Catholic agency has issued a plea for emergency funds to help tens of thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

“These Christian families have arrived with only their clothes, having been forced to leave everything behind in Mosul,” said Ra’ed Bahou, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s (CNEWA) regional director for Jordan and Iraq.

As families were “fleeing the city on foot,” he said, “ISIS militants stole whatever dollars they had in their pockets, even their passports and identification papers.”

Bahou made the comments in a news release from CNEWA announcing the agency has launched a campaign to rush funds to the families.

The Islamic State fighters, a group of militant Islamists formerly known as ISIS, have solidified their control over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul by imposing Shariah, Islamic law, and have ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed.

Mosul’s Christians have instead fled to the Christian villages of Ninevah province, some just a few miles from Mosul, or to the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.

An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Jordan, Beirut and Jerusalem. It has been active in Iraq for more than 50 years, but redoubled its efforts among the vulnerable Christian population in 1991.

“Christian families have found refuge in churches, convents and monasteries,” Bahou added.

With the Syrian Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena, who are homeless themselves, the clergy, religious and villagers are trying to provide basic necessities, said the CNEWA release. It said refuge, especially in the villages of Alqosh, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Bartella and Tel Kaif, is “tenuous at best,” because the Islamic State has cut the electricity and water supply and has announced its intentions to overrun the region.

“These villages are in the hands of God,” Bahou said, “as ISIS says their next ‘gift’ will be the villages of the Ninevah Plain.”

Monsignor John E Kozar, the president of CNEWA, said the agency will get the emergency funds to the bishops, clergy and religious, “who in the frenzy are courageously providing water, food, mattresses and medicines” to fleeing Christians.

The world is “witnessing, at the hands of extremist thugs, the eradication of a cradle of Christianity in the cradle of civilization,” the priest said in a statement.

He added that the agency will help the “shepherds of this flock to tend their sheep, with the basics they need for survival now, even if their flock is dispersed.”

The BBC reported on July 28 that in a joint message, France’s foreign minister and interior minister have offered Iraqi Christians asylum. “We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory,” their statement said.

Symbol N

This symbol is the letter “N” in Arabic, and ISIS painted it on Christian homes in Mosul to identify the homes as followers of the Nazarene/Christian. Christians were given the ultimatum to leave, pay the jizya tax of an exorbitant rate, or be killed. The last Christian has left Mosul or was forced to convert.

 

From The Oasis Trust:

‘Hurry up, the Life of Iraq Depends on it’

Letter to the Honourable Parliamentarians of Iraq from the Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans (15 July 2014)

Louis Sako |

My greetings to you,

At a moment when our beloved Iraq is undergoing a crisis of security and order, when day by day the number of deaths and refugees is growing and destruction is growing worse, we unite our humble voice, as an Iraqi Christian religious point of reference, to the voices of the Shiite and Sunni authorities to beg you to speed up the election of the three presidencies [the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the President of the Parliament] and thus to save the country from the danger of chaos and fragmentation.

This is a national, moral and historic responsibility which hangs over you. Hurry, therefore, to stoop to compromises and set to work to choose the three presidents in an urgent way, because the life of the Iraqis and the unity of Iraq depends on it. As citizens we believe that salvation for all of us depends on your unity and on your mutual comprehension.

We propose that you say this prayer at the beginning of your session: ‘O God, help us to set in motion a dialogue between us so that we can understand each other and resolve divergences without becoming rigid in our approach and without forms of obstinacy. O God, help us to spread peace and calm amongst the children of our people so that Iraq emerges victorious from this trial. Amen.’

We place great hope and trust in you and we wait impatiently, together with millions of Iraqis, to receive good news.

 

Have we Become Used to the Elimination of the Christians?

A cry has gone up from the heart of old Europe: Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyons calls our attention to the Christians being systematically killed in Iraq. Because we cannot become used to the news of death that comes every day from the East and because we cannot remain silent. He calls on everyone to act in first person.

Philippe Barbarin |

 

Words seem powerless in front of the tragedy of the Christians of the Middle East. The information – which is at times contradictory – that arrives from Iraq bear witness to the chaos and the anxiety of our brethren. On Tuesday evening I received the appeal of the Patriarch of the Chaldeans, Louis-Raphaël I Sako, who in March I had the joy of receiving in Lyons and who is now involved in the synod, together with about twenty bishops of the region. He told me that the situation was a frightening one but that the worst was still to come. Unfortunately, the elimination of the religious minorities is not the collateral damage of the mad strategy of the murderers – it is their declared objective.

It should be said that in France the situation of the Christians of Iraq is not a great generator of emotions. How can we explain that in our parishes as well we do not share sufficiently in the worries of our brethren in the East? The explanations without doubt vary. The press reflects the consciences of our country: the Christians of those areas are seen as an external problem. And then there is certainly a sort of fatalism: the region has fallen prey to deathly quakes for such a long time that all of us have become habituated to what is unacceptable.

The fact that here in the West religions are officially respected but often the object of suspicion does not help matters. The situation of persecuted Christians in the world often provokes in our politicians only a polite and tardy compassion that is rarely followed by consequences. Asia Bibi has begun his fourth year of protective custody in a Pakistani high security prison without this depriving the world of its sleep; Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag gave birth in a Sudanese prison, breastfed her baby chained up on death row, was freed for a few years in response to American pressure, and was then arrested again. Once again there has been an absence of important French voices capable of putting up opposition with simplicity, strength and firmness.

The communal reflex of a human group leads it to defend its own members. That Christians have received the vocation to love all men without distinctions as regards race, culture or religion is a teaching that comes directly from the Gospel. But this – which is a grace – should not make us close our eyes to the disasters that befall our nearest neighbours.

In 1794 Rochefort was the place of one of the greatest massacres of priests in our history. 829 refractory priests were deported by the Committee of Public Health. Out of 829, only 274 survived: they had sworn never to speak of the horror that they had witnessed in order to allow France to rise up again. Today the city of Qaraqosh, in the plain of Ninive, with the inflow of refugees, has become the largest Christian city in Iraq. Do you hear the cries that come from it? They are those of a refugee camp. Qaraqosh is not Rochefort because the massacre is under way. This is why we cannot keep quiet in silence.

Yesterday the Patriarch said to me that a division of the country would be preferable to a civil war which would kill all the innocent first of all. If only the international community could help in finding a solution…But let us not expect everything from states and their diplomacy. Let us act here and now, as indeed the Pope has invited us to do.

When John Paul II welcomed me to the College of Cardinals he laid emphasis on the meaning of the purple of the cardinalate: it is a reference to the blood of martyrs. For this reason today I invite Western Christians to raise a fervent prayer to heaven for our Eastern brethren. I invite them to cultivate awareness of this brotherhood that unites us beyond any distance, beyond the centuries. I would like to repeat to them the words of the Patriarch: ‘What we most lack is your nearness, your solidarity. We want to be certain that we are not forgotten’.

I propose that we encourage the associations that at the present time work in the plain of Ninive. I beseech Western Christians and all men and women of good will who work in the field of health care, of education, of alimentation and of first aid to come to the help of the survivors. I would like to launch a twinning of our diocese with one of the dioceses that is most in need. I propose that a percentage of the money of the collections of our parishes, if they so wish, should be given during the course of the year to alleviate the poverty of our brethren in Iraq. I invite all Christians to remain vigilant and careful and to watch over their brethren.

May the heirs of St. Pothin become the brothers of those of St. Thomas, the Apostle of the East! As Pope Francis has said, we are faced with an ecumenism of blood: it is not Catholics, Protestants or Orthodox that are martyred – it is Christians. And there is reason to fear that the persecutions will not stop with the Christians. From today the city of Qaraqosh should become a sanctuary for all the belligerents and a port of peace for the thousands of civilians of all confessions who go there. Because it is men who are killed, in silence, amidst the cries of a Brazilian football pitch.

The Patriarch said to me: ‘We retain our hope but, as you know, hope is fragile’. And if their hope was also in our hands? Pope Francis observed: ‘Christians persecuted for their faith are many in number. Jesus is with them, and so are we’. So are we!

Complete version of the appeal published in Figaro on Thursday 26 June 2014.

 

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HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS DEBATED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS

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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.

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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.

Meeting at the House of Lords with Mr.Justice Michael Kirby's Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea.

Meeting at the House of Lords with Mr.Justice Michael Kirby’s Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea.

PROVISIONAL HANSARD

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/unknown/104/

Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards countries responsible for violations of human rights.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

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.

11.52 am

Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Con):

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”.

11.58 am

Lord Parekh (Lab):

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.

Baroness Northover (LD):

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.

12.04 pm

Baroness Hollins (CB):

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?

12.09 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby:

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.

12.14 pm

Lord Finkelstein (Con):

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?

12.18 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD):

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.

12.25 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Lab):

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?

12.30 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

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.

12.34 pm

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab):

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.

12.41 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB):

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.

12.46 pm

Lord Patten (Con):

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?

12.51 pm

Baroness Suttie (LD):

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.

12.56 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB):

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.

1.03 pm

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield:

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.

1.08 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con):

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.

1.13 pm

Lord Mendelsohn (Lab):

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.

1.18 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab):

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.

1.23 pm

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB):

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”—

and—

“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.

1.27 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

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.

1.32 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

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.

1.38 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab):

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.

1.45 pm

Lord Cormack (Con):

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.

1.50 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB):

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.

1.55 pm

Lord Triesman (Lab):

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.

2.36 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con):

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.

2.27 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

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.

Motion agreed.

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Egypt’s Kristallnacht – Speech in The House of Lords October 2013 and Tribute to Dr.Helmy Guirguis, founder of the UK Copts

Remarks by Lord Alton of Liverpool at a Memorial Service for Dr.Helmy Guirguis – Founder of the UK Copts – at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, 6.30 pm, March 3rd 2015.

 

Dr.Helmy Guirguis - founder of the UK Copts.

Dr.Helmy Guirguis – founder of the UK Copts.

 

Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015

Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015

In 1997, when I was raised to the Peerage as a Baron, and entered the House of Lords, one of my young children asked me “Dad, does it mean we get a castle?”.

 

No, but, I told him, that thanks to Her Majesty the Queen, Garter-King-of-Arms, would be talking to me about my right to a coat of arms.

 

What should go on a coat-of-arms, my son asked?

 

Symbols, and a motto which mean something to you and which connect with you, your family, and the beliefs which animate you. So, we talked about what these might be.

 

Ten years earlier, while a member of the House of Commons, I had been one of the founders of Jubilee Campaign – a charity which, among other things, campaigns for freedom of religion and belief – rights conferred under Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Jubilee had been founded in response to the murder, incarceration and egregious violations of the human rights of countless men and women in the former Soviet Union.

 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall Jubilee wanted to refocus its work and asked me to travel to Egypt and to publish a report into the discrimination experienced by Egypt’s Copts.

 

It was the visit which first opened my eyes to the wonderful story of this apostolic church, rooted in the earliest accounts of Christianity. I was privileged to visit St.Mark’s in Cairo and to meet the late Pope Shenouda III.

 

That visit opened my eyes to the suffering and persecution of the Copts and to the remarkable humanitarian work of men and women like Maggie Gobran, whom I wrote about oin my book Signs of Contradiction.

 

That visit led me to meet UK Copts – represented so well by Bishop Angaelos –  and to my first encounter with the wonderful Dr.Helmy Guirguis. I have been proud to be associated with them ever since.

 

My only regret in travelling to the international Coptic Conference in Washington, last year, was that Helmy’s health made it impossible for him to be there with me.

 

So what has this to do with my son’s question?

 

When, in 1997, Garter-King-Of-Arms  asked me what symbols I wished to incorporate into my coat-of-arms I told Helmy of my intention to include the Egyptian ankh cross.

 

The ankh is the Egyptian symbol of eternal life. Some say it represents the giving of life.

 

Although it has its origins in an antiquity which predates Christianity its symbolism at the heart of the new dispensation represented by the Holy One who came as a child to Egypt and was crucified at Golgotha.

 

Nailed to His cross is all our suffering, our sins, our mortal failings and our pain. It is the cross which gives life and truly represents eternal life.

 

Along with the ankh cross, for my coat of arms, I chose two words as my family motto. They are the words which were given to Moses; Choose Life.  They were words which were at the heart of everything which Helmy did and for which he stood.

 

I am told that in ancient Egyptian mythology the ankh means that once the pharaohs, or, indeed, any other person dies, their heart is weighed on a scale against the feather of truth.

 

If the heart is heavier than the feather, it means that the person committed too many bad deeds in their life.

 

I have no doubt that when his heart is weighed on the scale of truth, and his work written into the Book of Life, Helmy’s heart will be lighter than a feather because in all that he did – as a doctor to his patients and as a physician to a sick society – he never abjured the truth. He understood to what suffering the failure to detect the symptoms of this malady would lead.

 

As a doctor – and, indeed, as a patient – Helmy knew a thing or two about the heart.

 

In his professional life he clung to the ancient duty of the physician – that if you cannot help you do not harm.

 

He also knew that the heart of the human problem is the human heart.

 

That is why he used his considerable talents to promote an alternative medicine to the hatred and sectarianism which seems to characterise life in much of the Middle East today.

 

He was an apostle of peace, respect, tolerance and co-existence. But he also knew that we had a duty to tell the truth and to stand up for those who are voiceless and powerless.

 

The consequences of ignoring the signs of disease have been seen most vividly, in the aftermath of Helmy’s death, in the shocking beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. They went to their deaths as martyrs, with the gentle name of Jesus on their lips.

 

The most fitting memorial to them; the most fitting memorial to Egypt’s Copts – who in an orgy of violence, reminiscent of Europe’s Kristallnacht, have seen their churches, homes and business desecrated and attacked; the most fitting memorial to members of the ancient churches being slain across the Middle East by ISIS and their fellow travellers; the most fitting memorial to a truly good man, will be for others, from the next generation, to be inspired by the work of Dr.Helmy Guirguis, and to now take up his mantle.

 

May he strengthen our resolve and deepen our own hearts.  May he rest in peace. 

 

Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015

Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015

http://www.justicemagazine.org/jm/index.php/read-the-magazine

Egypt’s Kristallnacht
David Alton

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.

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, after Kristallnacht in 1938

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, after Kristallnacht in 1938

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.

Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, Egypt,  August 2013

Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, Egypt, August 2013

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.

Pope Tawadros II

Pope Tawadros II

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?

Egypt's new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

Egypt’s new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

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.

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

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?

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

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.

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini - after the Italian dictator.

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini – after the Italian dictator.

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.

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

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?

Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani Facing the Death Penalty in Iran

Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani Facing the Death Penalty in Iran

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.

human rights
——————————————————————————————————–

Speech In The House of Lords – Tuesday October 29th

2013.Arab Spring

Question October 29th 2013
5.57 pm

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.
6.03 pm

http://www.copts.co.uk/articles/5852-arab-spring.html

Egypt – A Second Revolution?

Last week saw the second anniversary of the seismic events which led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

It also saw the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution – which many fear could lead to a full scale civil war, plunging Egypt into the fratricide which has so disfigured neighbouring Sudan and which has erupted in Syria.

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini - after the Italian dictator.

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini – after the Italian dictator.

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

Egypt's new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

Egypt’s new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

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 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.

December 9th 2011 British Parliamentary Debate On The Plight Of Christians In The Middle East

http://www.copts.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3437&Itemid=1

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldtoday/l_19.htm

House of Lords
Friday, 9 December 2011.
10 am
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Christians in the Middle East
Motion to Take Note
10.06 am
Moved By The Archbishop of Canterbury

That this House takes note of the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

 

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