2015 Queens Speech Debate – the cruel ideology of Daesh and their orgy of violence in Iraq and Syria

ISIS march on Palmyra

ISIS march on Palmyra

5.40 pm: Thursday May 28th 2015

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, in welcoming the talented team of Ministers who have responsibility for international affairs and security issues, it is clear from the debate today on the gracious Speech that there are no shortage of challenges facing them.

In my remarks, I should like to follow those who have spoken about the particular challenge that is posed by ISIS.

Last week, the barbaric beheadings in Palmyra, accompanied by the blitzkrieg of antiquities and ancient colonnades, graphically illustrated the nature of the depraved ideology that animates ISIS or Daesh, while, in a double victory, its capture of Ramadi underlines the serious threat that it poses and, as other noble Lords have said, the urgency with which we must re-evaluate our military and diplomatic approach.

ISIS may call itself a state but, despite its name, it is not a state, merely a cruel ideology. As a report published today reminds us, ISIS continues to attract adherents from the United Kingdom, including young women whose allegiance and imagination we have failed to capture.

The orgy of violence for which ISIS has been responsible, and which has already destroyed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, along with Hatra and Khorsabad, accompanied by the carnage and slaughter of innocent people, cannot be left uncontested, neither at a military level nor in the battle for ideas.

We are pitted against an ideology that thinks nothing of defiling Shia mosques, destroying Christian churches, blowing up Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and eradicating the Sufi monuments in Mali.

It was Edmund Burke who remarked that, “Our past is the capital of life”.

What we are witnessing is an attempt to eradicate the past and eliminate humanity’s collective memory, while cynically smuggling and selling on the antiquities that are not destroyed to fund this campaign of mass murder.

Last month, jihadist ideology led to the deaths of 147 students and staff in Kenya’s Garissa University College, with Christian students specifically singled out; to the burning alive in a kiln of a Christian couple in Pakistan by a mob of 1,300 people while their young children were forced to watch; to the abduction of young girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram; to the beheading in Libya of 21 Egyptian Copts who were working there; and to the beheading of 30 Ethiopian Christians trying to flee these depravities.

Since 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have been killed or forced to flee their homes, with around 30,000 people added every single day to the 140 million people worldwide who are affected by conflict or natural disasters such as that which has occurred in Nepal.

Is it any wonder that the desperate, from Rohingya Muslims to Middle Eastern Christians, take to the high seas to try to escape?

Since 2011, of the 4 million Syrian refugees, the United Kingdom has offered shelter to just 187, a point that my noble friend Lord Williams referred to in his excellent speech. Let us compare that to the 1.2 million refugees that Lebanon has accepted. Of course, the long-term answer is for people to be able to return to live in peace in their own homes, but we are further away from that than ever.

Echoing what the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, said earlier in her magnificent maiden speech, I say that today’s realities in the region were spelled out by the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict—an issue in which I know the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has taken a particular and significant interest. The special representative reported last week that young Iraqi and Syrian women, particularly from the Yazidi community, are subjected to the most traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment before being sold in slave markets to the highest bidders.

Human Rights Watch reported on the girl, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, who had been traded more than 20 times, but that same report describes how traumatised girls had been banned from using headscarves after some used them to hang themselves.

At the start of this Parliament, I hope that the Government will take more effective action to have those responsible for such atrocities brought to justice before the International Criminal Court, a move that we should initiate in the Security Council.

Championing and upholding the rule of law is the antidote to this ideology, not assassination squads or endless bombardments.

We also need to create more safe havens, a point which my noble friend Lord Hylton and I and other noble Lords from all sides of your Lordships’ House addressed recently in a letter to one of the national newspapers. We need to do that in the affected regions to stem the flow of migrants. We need also to promote Article 18 obligations.

When a country like Saudi Arabia passes legislation defining atheists as terrorists, beheads its citizens, and refuses to protect the right of minorities to follow their beliefs, or to have no belief, is it any wonder that such actions are mimicked by Daesh?

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred earlier to Saudi pressure on the United Kingdom to draw up a report on the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply she will tell us when that is likely to be published.

At the heart of all these issues is the challenge of learning to live together and of respecting difference.

Our failure to make the battle of ideas a priority was underlined recently in a reply to the Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, when it was stated by the Foreign Office that just,

“one full time Desk Officer”


“wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB)”,

and that,

“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues”.

Understanding authentic religion and the forces that threaten it is more of a foreign affairs imperative than ever before, and the resources we put into promoting Article 18 should reflect that reality.

I hope that freedom of religion and belief will be a specific priority in the FCO business plan and that the Government will make common cause with the Labour Party, which gave a manifesto commitment to appoint a special envoy to promote Article 18.

I also hope that, in the battle of ideas, we will think again about our foolish cuts to the British Council budget, from £190 million to £154 million. We should not emasculate the BBC World Service. We should promote the Commonwealth, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said in his remarks, particularly as an agency for education in parts of the world that will change only with the opportunities of education.

In conclusion, it is sometimes suggested that Britain should retreat from the world and relinquish our international responsibilities.

How right was that great Pole Maximilian Kolbe, who was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz, and who said:

“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference”.

Such indifference would be bad for Britain and even worse for the rest of the world.

5.50 pm

Maximilian Kolbe - murdered by the Nazis

Maximilian Kolbe – murdered by the Nazis



Parliament Debates The Government’s Call for Military Action Against ISIS Links to today’s debates: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/unknown/19/ http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown/13/ 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 At the beginning of this month it was reported that since this calamitous conflict began in Syria, in March 2011,the number of dead had topped 150,000, with 6.2 million internally displaced people – a number without parallel in any other country – and nearly 11 million people in need. More than two million Syrians have now fled, marking a nearly 10-fold increase from a year ago. Earlier this month the UNHCR said: “Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs” In the past 12 months, around 1.8 million people have flooded out of Syria, and an average of 5,000 continue to cross into neighbouring countries each day. In August, UNHCR said that the number of Syrian children living as refugees has exceeded one million. This week alone 130,000 displaced Syrian Kurds have flooded into Turkey. In addition, thanks to ISIS, there are 1.8m people displaced in Iraq. I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives I first visited Syria in 1980 and arrived in Damascus on the day on which war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed a million lives. In the decades which have followed disfiguring violence and war have shaped events in the region, leaving in its wake a bitter trail of orphaned children, widowed mothers, hoards of suffering displaced people, refugees and broken towns and cities. Barrel Bombs have rained down on Aleppo It is hard to imagine that a campaign of aerial bombardment in Syria will make that dire situation any better. Indeed, as we attack ISIS command centres, their insurgents will hide themselves in civilian settings and every time a Cruise missile hits the wrong target and kills non-combatants it will radicalise and recruit yet more fighters to their cause. However brave and better armed the Kurdish Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army may be – and we had better hope that this time the arms we provide do not fall in to the hands of ISIS – endless air strikes and drone warfare will not achieve our objectives. We must also be wary of the danger of assuming, especially in the case of countries like Iran, that the old proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is true. Military force alone will not kill the religious ideology that created and sustains ISIS, Boko Haram, the Al Nursa Front, al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hezbollah and the countless mutations which are committed to violence to achieve their ends. By definition, military action cannot kill ideas or beliefs so our central task must be to convince Muslim majority societies, that their own interests demand toleration of minorities and the equality and freedom of people of other faiths. It illustrates the size of this challenge that when an Afghan graduate student submitted a research paper arguing, from the Koran, that Islam supports the equality of men and women, his professors reported him to the police. After being charged with blasphemy he was convicted and given a death sentence. This and beheadings, crucifixions, rapes and enslavement, all underline the scale of the battle for hearts and minds in which we have to be engaged. Until these societies move toward pluralism, encourage religious freedom and respect diversity, they will not enjoy the peace, stability, internal security, and economic growth, for which all people crave. But, in the immediate situation in which we now find ourselves, we could do a lot worse that revisiting the initiative taken by Sir John Major in 1991 during the mass exodus in the first Gulf War. The UN-mandated safe-haven and the subsequent no-fly zone enabled Kurdish refugees to return to their homes and to establish a de-facto autonomous region, which continued until the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003, and which in recent weeks has once again become a vital place of refuge for Iraq’s minorities. If, once again, we established a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border or, ultimately right across Syria, it would at least provide air cover to the FSA, the Iraqi army, and the Peshmerga as they seek to reclaim territory – the size of the UK – which has been needlessly and foreseeably lost to the Islamic State who, with an estimated 10,000 fighters, have been allowed to strike with deadly impunity. Their caliphate has now been imitated by the equally deadly Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. One other thing we must urgently do is to dry up the sources of ISIS revenue. On June 17th I asked the Government about the sources of funding which ISIS have received allowing them “to build up an amazing military capability” with the then Minister responding that she was “not sure about any direct funding”. On July 23rd, in an article in The Times I urged the West to press the Gulf States to end funding for ISIS. It is said that they garner £600,000 a day from selling oil on the black market. The sale of antiquities – some 8000 years old – and ransom money is estimated to give them a daily income of £1.2 million. We must ruthlessly follow the trail of money and expose those who are financing the orgy of killing. Last week, Sabah Mikhail Brakho, the chairman of Iraq’s Beth Nahrain National Union, called on the Gulf States to stop funding ISIS. He said “Financing for ISIS comes from the Arab Gulf countries, whether through governments or individuals. This is sometimes done openly, such as by Qatar, and sometimes secretly, such as by Saudi Arabia, as well as by a number of Kuwaiti individuals,” Earlier this month Western press and intelligence reports indicated that states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, are the main supporters of Jihadist groups in the region. The Daily Telegraph reported that Qatar’s Aspire Sports Academy hosted a number of religious lectures during Ramadan that were attended by Islamist preachers known for their extremism or links with terrorism. They included Sheikh Mohammed Arifi who encouraged Muslims to swell the ranks of militant groups in Syria: “We will not overcome humiliation except by jihad,” he said. Although he was subsequently prevented from entering Britain, on July 14 he gave a lecture at the Aspire Festival in Doha, where he was honoured by two members of the Qatari royal family. The festival was also attended by Nabil Wadhi, sponsor of the Major Kuwaiti Campaign to support 12,000 Islamic fighters in Syria. This campaign claims that it could collect millions of dollars to buy anti-aircraft missiles and was also planning to buy thermal missiles. The Islamic State has been years in the making and it is a crisis which we should have averted. In a House of Lords debate back on February 27th I referred to the “Afghanisation” of Syria, and pressed the Government for more clarity about the indiscriminating way in which support had been given to so-called opposition groups, largely at war with one another; and the need to hold the Assad regime to account for its use of chemical weapons; the Sarin gas which has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus; the barrel bombs which have rained down on Aleppo. In singling out ISIS during that debate I asked for the Government’s assessment of the areas which they controlled, their use of suicide bombers, the radicalisation of recruits, citing the example of an engineering student from the University of Liverpool who had been killed in military action, and argued that “vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress.” Earlier that week I had sent the Government a report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict which described how Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams appeared to be facilitating the entry of fighters, via Turkey. I hope Parliament will be told the numbers of Britons involved with ISIS and the flow of money into their coffers. I would also like to hear something about the plight of the region’s minorities – In February, in arguing that the situation had been exacerbated by the flow of arms into Syria, I warned of the dangers posed to the region’s minorities whom ISIS required to pay tribute, to convert or to leave and asked “what we are doing to provide direct help to these beleaguered minorities”. As long ago as 2008 and 2010 I raised concerns in the House of Lords House about the Yazidis and the “assassinations and kidnappings” which they faced. In the debate in February I quoted the account of a Christian, Basman Kassouha, who described how ISIS had “stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”. I cited evidence of genocide from Bishop Elias Sleman who said that “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres” and asked that we carefully collate such accounts for a day of reckoning. I asked in February that we use our voice in the Security Council to refer these atrocities to the International Criminal Court and said that failure to do so would bring “great dishonour on this country.” I ask, again, what have we done to plead for the rule of international law; and, if the ICC cannot be used, for the creation of a Regional Court in which perpetrators of atrocities which the Prime Minister described on Wednesday as “literally medieval in character” are brought to justice. What are we doing to ensure that the Government of Iraq will have a clear objective to enable communities who have lived in Iraq for almost 2000 years to do so again and to exercise their full rights and to discharge their duties as citizens? And what of the Yazids and Christians who have fled to the Kurdish region? What more can we do to help them? Time is not on our side. The harsh Iraqi winter is approaching. Social tensions between Kurds and Arabs, between local governments and migrants will grow and erupt if they are not headed off. The UK Government has generously given £23 million but the government needs to set out how they are working with international partners to ensure sustained funding for the humanitarian crisis, and efficiency of delivery. The Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into The UK’s response to Extremism and Instability in North and West Africa delivered a salutary warning. Of the intervention in Libya in 2011 it said “considerable resources were expended ensuring that military goals were successfully achieved (for which the Government deserves credit), but there was a failure to anticipate, and therefore mitigate, the regional fallout from the intervention, which has been enormous and, in some cases, disastrous” Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. In other words, following military action will the same thing happen again? Back in February 1 quoted a Dutch priest, Father Franz Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city of Homs who said, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”. He had insisted that “We love life, we want to live. And we do not want to sink in a sea of pain and suffering.” On April 7th it was reported that Fr.Van der Lugt had been murdered by Jihadists. The night before the February debate, Mosul had fallen to ISIS and 120,000 Christians were reported to have fled to the Plains of Nineveh. I asked what we were doing to protect them. Our total failure to provide protection was illustrated by crucifixions, kidnappings and beheading of Christians carried out by ISIS and which I raised in the House of Lords on June 11th. I quoted The Times who said we cannot be “spectators at this carnage”. Those Muslims who have spoken out or defied ISIS have suffered a similar fate. 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 globally 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day – 90 per cent of their killers are also Muslims. In combatting the Islamic State the US and the West will argue that we are part of a coalition which includes Sunni Muslim States but, as we all know, it is much easier to take military action than it is to end conflict. For the sake of all the innocent people who are caught up in this violence, we need to understand, and grapple with, ideas and beliefs which militate against peaceful co-existence and not place all our faith in a campaign of aerial bombardment. Coiexist



On November 22nd 2013 the House of Lords debated the following Motion on Human Rights Violations. The link takes you to the recording of the parliamentary debate and the text of the debate appears below.


Video of the debate can be found here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14207 – the Human Rights debate follows the Questions.  Scroll ahead to 11.38.

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.



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”—


“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.



Iran: Activists in Iran continue to be in “extreme danger”, but will not be defeated by government violence. Weak nuclear agreement harms the cause of human rights in Iran – Hassan Rouhani – one year and 800 executions later: why we should listen to the Iranian Resistance – and stop feeding the crocodiles


1st June 2016

Lord Alton says activists in Iran continue to be in “extreme danger”, but will not be defeated by government violence. 


Twitter link: http://polho.me/1Y2exd5

On politicsHome: https://twitter.com/CentralLobby/status/737956371056988160

A poster with a photo of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader

Recently, a representative of the Iranian cybercrimes police took to the country’s state media to boast of the regime’s successes in disrupting peaceful networks on Instagram and other social media. This brought Western media attention to a series of arrests that had taken place in March as part of a sting operation called “Spider II.”  The Iranian internet has turned into a cultural battleground where secular, pro-democratic ideas are aggressively battled by the Iranian regime.

Eight models were arrested as part of this crackdown, for the crime of posting images of themselves without their legally mandated head scarves. Another 21 individuals have criminal cases pending against them as a result of the same sting operation.

While it’s difficult to confirm the Iranian government’s claims about the extent of the crackdown, the rhetoric surrounding it is alone sufficient to raise the spectre of arrest and persecution for anyone who was involved in similar activities on Instagram or on the internet in general. These activities include not only modelling, but also photography, fashion design, make-up artistry, and blogging. Persons from each of these professions were noted to have been swept up in Spider II.

The danger of arrest is omnipresent in the Islamic Republic of Iran if one’s professional or personal activities are out of step with the fundamentalist zealous ideology that the regime mandates for all of its people. But that danger grows tremendously once a person has been identified by government agents. The regime has a penchant for repeated arrests of activists, and also of other political prisoners who have been arrested in the past for expressing dissent, speak up against the apparent injustice or for indicating secular leanings.

The danger now posed to Instagram models and their supporters is a serious one. Iranian citizens have been given extremely long prison sentences for much less. In 2014, the young cartoonist Atena Farghadani was arrested and subsequently sentenced to 12 years in prison for the crime of posting a single cartoon to Facebook depicting Iranian officials as animals and protesting laws and policies restricting women’s rights. Although her sentence was recently commuted to 18 months, in light of Tehran’s track record for repeat arrests, it is for sure that Farghadani will now be looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life or until the theocratic regime comes to an end.

In his statement to the UN Human Rights Council – Session 31- on March 14, 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, said: “At least 966 persons — the highest rate in over two decades — were executed in 2015. At least 73 juvenile offenders were reportedly executed between 2005 and 2015. In the past two years alone, 16 juvenile offenders were executed. At present, at least 160 others are awaiting the same fate on death row.”

Yet that is not as bad as it gets. About two months prior to Farghadani’s arrest, another activist named Gholamreza Khosravi was hanged in Rajai Shahr prison for the crime of “enmity against God”. His conviction on this charge stemmed solely from his contributing money to a satellite television sympathetic to the Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

While the PMOI still maintains an extensive activist and intelligence network inside Iran, its overall experience is indicative of the extreme danger posed by such activists. Some 120,000 of PMOI activists and supporters have been executed or assassinated since the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979. And the constant pressure exerted on others and on their families has caused a great many to flee to Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere. The PMOI makes up the largest constituent group of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), led by a Muslim woman, Maryam Rajavi.

But it is important that readers not mistake any of the above accounts for accounts of the defeat of activism inside of Iran. Although much of the country’s progressive youth was forced underground in the wake of the repression of the uprisings in 2009, the latest cyberspace crackdown goes to show that such repression has by no means stopped people from voicing their opposition to the regime’s restrictive ideology.

Some of those expressions are relatively private, as with Instagram modelling. Other expressions are still avowedly public, in the form of labour rights protests and gatherings outside of prisons by the families and friends of the regime’s many political prisoners.

Still other acts of dissent take place outside of the country, but strive to put greater pressure on the regime by speaking out from beyond the reach of its domestic repression. These include the protests that were organised in part by the NCRI to coincide with recent Iranian state visits with prospective European trading partners. In one case, the mere plans for this protest compelled the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to cancel a planned trip to Vienna, lest it face the embarrassment of public exposure for the persistence of human rights abuses.

And on July 9, the NCRI will be holding a major gathering of Iranian expatriates and political supporters in Paris called “Free Iran”. Last year’s event drew a crowd of approximately 100,000 people, and this year’s is expected to exceed that figures, thus signifying the persistence of Iranian activism.

There should be little doubt that we will see more indicators of the same perseverance in the run-up to this event. By the same token, we will surely see more crackdowns similar to the arrest of the Instagram models, as well as more of the regime’s boasting about that repression. But such boasting is hollow. The regime’s need to keep returning to the same repressive tactics only goes to show that every instance of repression has led to renewed push-back from an increasingly restive population. The persistence of both activism and repression indicates that there is no end in sight for the conflict between the Iranian people and the clerical regime that struggles every day to make them submit to its fundamentalist ideology.

The Lord Alton of Liverpool is a Crossbench peer

Weak nuclear agreement harms the cause of human rights in Iran: June 2015

https://www.politicshome.com/foreign-and-defence/articles/opinion/house-lords/lord-alton-weak-nuclear-agreement-harms-cause-human – June 30th 2015

Death Penalty Iran

When, at the end of March,  the Iran nuclear negotiations were approaching the deadline for a framework agreement, there was some speculation about whether a breakthrough would refocus some of the world’s attention on the issue of Iran’s abysmal record of human rights violations.

But, as near as I can tell, this did not happen.

Western powers are as myopically focused on the nuclear deal as ever, and I fear that much of the international community does not realize that the rate of executions in Iran is rising, that minorities continue to be persecuted and that the rights of women are relentlessly eroded.

Of course, part of the problem is that there was no breakthrough at the end of March, nor even on April 2 when a framework agreement was finally announced.

That deal seems to have been purely illusory: Tehran’s usual smoke and mirrors.

Almost immediately, the claim of victory was undermined by contradictory American and Iranian statements about what had been agreed.

The Iranians, for instance, insisted that sanctions relief would be immediate and across the board, in keeping with their steady escalation of demands.

Those demands now threaten to push the negotiations even further down the line.

France, as a member of the P5+1, insists that Tehran’s refusal to grant inspectors access to Iranian military sites makes all current proposals unworkable. Several diplomats have declared that a final agreement is unlikely by the deadline of June 30, and the chief Iranian negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, seemed to concur, stating publicly that the talks are not even bound to their self-imposed deadline.

It is disturbing that the French negotiators have had to act as the sole promoters of this hard line, refusing to let Iran get away with keeping its military sites secret.

It would be bizarre (and dangerous) if the US failed to also insist on this crucial condition but it would be in keeping with its consistently soft approach to the negotiations.

On June 13th, in a speech to her supporters, at a major rally attended by more than 100,000 people, Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), characterised the situation in this way:

“Unfortunately, Western governments, the United States in particular, violated UN Security Council resolutions and offered major concessions, propelling the regime closer to the Bomb.”

Many other critics agree, and of course their concerns about a weak nuclear deal with Iran are well founded.

The staunchest critics of the Iranian regime insist that it would either sign an agreement that it could reasonably expect to cheat on, or else delay the talks indefinitely in order to advance its nuclear programme as far as possible before the West began seriously pressing for inspections and dismantlement.

It is not difficult to see how the regime would benefit from this state of affairs, especially given the conciliatory tone set by the Obama administration.

Not only has Iran gained access to billions of dollars in sanctions relief without any permanent restrictions to its nuclear programme, it has also bamboozled the international community into effectively looking the other way on a host of other repressive and destabilising activities.

Because a certain segment of the Iranian government has simply remained at the negotiating table – all the while raising its demands and keeping progress very slow – the Obama administration has apparently convinced itself that the regime is on the course to moderation.

But this is delusional, and one look at the behaviour of the regime should make that clear.

During the first year of the presidency of supposedly moderate Hassan Rouhani, the rate of executions in Iran reached its highest level in a decade.


This in a country that already had the highest rate per capita in the entire world.


The current pace of hangings is on track to push the figure over 1,000 for the year: repeat, 1000 executions in 2015.

The Iranian parliament’s “plan to promote virtue and prevent vice” has been blamed for a series of acid attacks on women; the worsening aggression toward journalists is reflected in the targeting of Westerners such as Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian; and in one recent incident an Iranian police officer stopped a dog-walker on the street in Tehran and shot his beloved pet in the head. Dissenters, non-believers, and minorities fare little better. Human rights and human dignity are routinely trampled on.

The Obama administration seems to believe that any nuclear agreement – whatever it is – will promote greater understanding between Iran and the United States and thus increase Western influence in the Islamic country.

But the facts suggest otherwise.

A weak nuclear agreement threatens to legitimise virtually all of the activities of a regime whose “moderate” elements are insignificantly different from its hardliners.

This will almost certainly increase its hold on Iranian society and set back the cause of human rights.

In the final analysis, that cause can only be advanced by standing up to the regime and by re-coupling the nuclear and human rights issues that the Obama administration has specifically separated within its Iran policy.


In her speech, Maryam Rajavi explained that all of the problems associated with Iran today are interconnected, and all of them go to the very heart of the regime:

“The only way to end the violations of human rights in Iran, the nuclear impasse, the crises in the region, and the confrontation with ISIS and terrorism is to topple the Caliph of regression and terrorism in Iran.”

The West may be tempted by the old expedient sophistry that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”  but they would do well to heed Mrs.Rajavi warning before making such a catastrophic miscalculation.


Also see Stop Feeding the Crocodiles:


strong>Speech by David (Lord) Alton at Westminster on July 17th 2014:

It has been one year since the Iranian regime’s so-called “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani took office. And yet the only changes that we have heard from Iran have been in the wrong direction, increase suppression of the Iranian people, increased executions, increased pressure on political prisoners and increased censure of free flow of information and independent news reporting.

What have we see during this past year? Over 800 registered executions, 58 journalists and internet activists currently in the regime’s prisons, 14 news outlets were closed either temporarily or permanently, the execution of a political prisoner, Mr Gholamreza Khosravi, after being tortured during a total of 12 year in the regime’s prisons, and six political prisoners from Iran’s different minorities groups are currently at death-row.

Last Friday the regime flogged four people in public in the city of Shiraz accused of eating and drinking during the Holy month of Ramadan.

Iran’s official state-run news agency IRNA reported that the regime’s judiciary has sentenced eight Facebook activists to between 8 and 21 year in Prison for ‘plotting against national security, spreading propaganda against the ruling system and insulting officials.

So ladies and gentlemen, Rouhani’s moderate regime has brought no change to Iran, while earlier this week we heard that there has been no solution to the main differences that still exist between Iran and the P5+1 on its secret nuclear weapons programme.

Mariam Rajavi

Mariam Rajavi

As Mrs Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of NCRI, in her speech on June 27 in Paris addressing 100 000 Iranians warned “the P5+1 should not engage in deals in Vienna and Geneva at the expense of the Iranian people’s human rights and offer concessions to the mullahs”. Therefore we need to make sure that the international community do not compromise on essential issues.

After over 18 years of deception by the Iranian regime, especially under Rouhani, as former head of nuclear negotiation team, I urge our government and others:

1. to pressure Iran to stop enrichment of Uranium;
2. accept and sign the Additional Protocol for allowing inspections by the IAEA inspectors at any time and all the suspected sites.

As anyone following the news will know there is an appalling crisis unfolding in neighbouring Iraq. One of the main reason we have gathered here today, is to draw attention to the safety, security and the well-being of the Camp Liberty residents. And I would like to point out that it would be a great mistake if we separate this humanitarian issue from what is happening in Iran.

The Iranian regime is using all its influence and its Quds-force agents in Iraq to annihilate members of the Iranian Resistance through a full-scale massacre of the 2800 Iranian refugees in Camp Liberty similar to the three previous deadly missile and rocket attacks against defenceless Camp Liberty residents since Rouhani took power in August last year.

We need to see that previous promises by the UN and the U.S. given to the people in Camp Liberty are fulfilled. We need our Government to make sure that international laws and conventions securing the rights of refugees in conflict zones are uphold. We should be prepared to accept here all Camp Liberty residents with UK links.

Following the departure of the UNAMI monitors from Camp Liberty in mid June, , the US, the UK and the EU must take urgent actions to persuade the UN Security Council to station blue helmet forces in the camp as a matter of urgency. That is the only viable solution to prevent a looming massacre in Camp Liberty. If we do not do this the much proclaimed UN doctrine of the “Duty to Protect” will be exposed as worthless rhetoric.


Earlier posts:

Following a massacre of members of the Iranian Resistance at Camp Ashraf, at the end of August, Foreign Office Minister, Alistair Burt, said:

“I am appalled to hear of the violence at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, which we understand has resulted in the death of many camp residents. We condemn this utterly, and our thoughts go out to the families of the victims.

Our Embassy in Baghdad is in close contact with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, who are making an urgent assessment of the situation. We support their work, and call on the Government of Iraq to assist the UN fully. The Government of Iraq must also do everything necessary to ensure the safety of the residents and care for survivors, and must conduct an urgent and transparent investigation into what took place, and ensure those responsible are brought to justice”

Alton: “These killings are part of the systematic reign of terror which Iran’s leaders, and their allies, have ruthlessly and systematically implemented against all who dare to question or challenge their tyranny.”
See http://www.isdciran.org/

“The international community failed to listen to the many warnings that this was a massacre waiting to happen – and defenceless people have now paid the ultimate price with their lives.”

https://davidalton.net/2011/11/30/camp-ashraf-is-a-srebrenica-in-the-making-and-the-world-has-a-duty-to-act/ (November 2011 Warning)

Photos: Massacre of Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq

Photos and videos reveal the wounded Iranian refugees were killed in Camp Ashraf clinic while receiving treatment. Majority of those killed have been shot in the head. A number of residents killed while they had been handcuffed.
Iraqi forces returned and killed the wounded residents

Maryam Rajavi: Camp Ashraf massacre aimed at paving way for attack on Camp Liberty
Joint objective of Iraqi government and clerical regime in the September 1st massacre requires an Independent and impartial investigations with presence of representatives and lawyers of residents. It is necessary in preventing a recurrence of crime against humanity..

UNAMI chief visiting Camp Ashraf urged by ex-colleague to reveal truth on Iranian dissidents massacre

Tahar Boumedra, former Chief of UNAMI Human Rights Office & former Advisor to SRSG on Ashraf wrote in an open letter to the Acting SRSG for Iraq: “I urge the Acting SRSG to have the courage to stand up for the truth. History will haunt anyone who will hide the truth about the extra-judicial executions of 52 defenceless civilians.”

Iraq: Impartial investigation of Camp Ashraf deaths crucial
Amnesty International

On previous occasions the Iraqi authorities have failed to conduct effective investigations into attacks on camps housing Iranian exiles. This has meant that no one has been held accountable for these incidents, and that residents live in constant fear for their safety…

U.S. Condemns Attack at Camp Ashraf in Iraq
US State Department

The United States strongly condemns the terrible events that took place at Camp Ashraf today, which according to various reports resulted in the deaths of and injuries to numerous camp residents.
Our condolences go out to the families of the victims and those who were injured in today’s violence.

Canada Condemns Latest Violence in Iraq
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander today issued the following statement:

“Canada condemns the attack that has taken the lives of scores of residents in a camp housing Iranian exiles northeast of Baghdad.
“Our thoughts go out to the families and friends of the victims of this senseless violence. We also wish a full recovery to those injured.

Rome condemns deaths at Iranian dissident camp

Italy’s foreign minister Emma Bonino has deplored the loss of lives at a camp in Iraq for Iranian dissidents, who say dozens of residents lost lives there Sunday in an attack by security forces.
“This is a very serious incident which arouses deep concern. The loss of human lives is completely unacceptable and must be condemned with the utmost firmness,” Bonino said on Monday…

British Foreign Office Minister condemns violence at Camp Ashraf, Iraq
United Kingdom Foreign Office Statement

“I am appalled to hear of the violence at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, which we understand has resulted in the death of many camp residents. We condemn this utterly, and our thoughts go out to the families of the victims…

UNHCR statement on today’s attack on Iraq’s Camp Ashraf
United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees

UNHCR has received reports this morning of an attack on Camp Ashraf, in eastern Iraq.
While we are still seeking detail of what occurred it appears that deadly force has been used and that a number of people have been killed or wounded. UNHCR strongly condemns this attack. The use of violence against a civilian population is unacceptable in any circumstances…Read On

Statement: Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Camp Ashraf, Iraq
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon

The Secretary-General deplores the tragic events in Camp Ashraf today that have reportedly left 47 killed. He expresses his sorrow and extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims…

Statement: Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Camp Ashraf, Iraq
Uinted Nation Assistance Mission in Iraq

The Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (DSRSG) for Iraq, Mr. Gyorgy Busztin, strongly condemns today’s tragic events in Camp Ashraf, which reportedly led to the killing and injuring of several camp residents.

“The priority for the Iraqi government is to provide immediate medical assistance to the injured and to ensure their security and safety against any violence from any side”, Mr. Busztin said…

Iran denies ex-president said Assad’s forces used poison gas

On Sunday, the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) quoted Rafsanjani as saying Syrian authorities had fired chemical weapons at their own people – a striking assertion given Tehran’s close alliance with Damascus. Hours later ILNA replaced the report with one that did not attribute blame for the attack….

Warning was given in November 2011 that there would be a massacre at Ashraf…



The Iranian Moderate Fantasy – and why we should listen to the Iranian Resistance

“Our enemies are small worms … I saw them in Munich” were Hitler’s remarks to his generals in 1938 after the four-power summit meeting of Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain that resulted in the Munich agreement allowing Nazi Germany’s annexation of former Czechoslovakia’s border areas.

Maryam Rajavi

Maryam Rajavi

Iran and the Bomb

Iran and the Bomb

Hitler’s drive for expansion was encouraged, especially by the inaction of Great Britain after annexation of Austria. Appeasement was the motto of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, convinced that he could contain the Nazi regime and its Fuhrer. What followed was anything but control, an unstoppable Hitler rapidly annexing European states and resulting in the Second World War that claimed the lives of millions.

The Iranian question today reminds us of those dark pre-war days of the 1930s as world powers ponder which policy to adopt toward a fanatic regime that aims to get its hands on nuclear weapons. It appears that some believe Hassan Rowhani, who was sworn in as President on August 3, will be setting the tone within the regime’s establishment, thus leading to a possible breakthrough on the nuclear issue. The diplomatic community of the P5+1, overexcited by this new “moderate” president, cannot wait for the new nuclear negotiation team to be introduced in order to continue their endless talks.

But are there really reasons for hope and optimism? This crucial question needs to be answered quickly for the sake of humanity, as Tehran is getting closer to a bomb that has the ability to wipe out nation states. With a service record like Rowhani’s, who played a key role in the Iran-Iraq war as head of the Department of Defence, mercilessly crushed domestic student uprisings (1999) and masterminded terror attacks abroad as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, it is irrational to assume that he will challenge the agenda of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. In addition, Rowhani proudly stated that he deceived the international community by accelerating Iran’s nuclear programme while negotiating with the West.

That’s what he said loud and clear after the sham presidential elections — that this regime will continue enriching uranium and maintain its support for the Syria’s murderous Assad government and the terrorist organization Hezbollah, key issues that currently threaten global peace and security and on which the international community desperately seeks a consensus.

Shaping policy under the influence of the mantra of moderation and reform within the Iranian regime is insane, and reminds me of the words of Albert Einstein: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Indeed, the West has been appeasing this regime over and over again in the past three decades, reaching its peak during President Khatami’s era in the late 90s. The failure of appeasement has until now only served the Supreme Leader’s determination that Iran becomes a nuclear power, as he has not moved away one inch from his evil ambitions.

Further evidence emerged this week that, as Iran plays a game of political musical chairs, very little has changed in reality. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have inspired fear and loathing during his eight years as President but the West have been too quick to assume that Iran is under new management. Just one day after Rowhani was sworn in, Ahmadinejad was appointed to the country’s Expediency council and Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, heaped praise upon him.

Khamenei, is calling the shots in Iran, as he is in charge of major policy questions such as the nuclear programme and his regime’s interfering role in Syria and the greater Middle East.

As the leader of Iranian Resistance, Mrs Maryam Rajavi, accurately pointed out during a grand gathering of some 100 000 supporters of the Iranian resistance movement in Paris on 22 June, if Rowhani’s promises for reform are genuine, he and his administration will have to uphold certain international standards,

In the presence of 600 international dignitaries, she emphasised: “Without freedom of expression and human rights and as long as political prisoners and activities of political parties are not free, and the regime’s belligerent policies in Syria and Iraq continue, and it insists on obtaining a nuclear bomb, nothing will change.” The Iranian regime understands very well the implications of these standards because if it was ever going to uphold them, it would mean the end of its religious dictatorship.

The people of Iran have shown on many occasions in the last three decades their disregard for the clerical establishment — and their cries for freedom and democracy have always been met with gross human rights violations and ruthless violence by the authorities. According to many prominent lawyers these oppressive measures constitute crimes against humanity under international law.

Many historians stress that if Hitler had only been stopped in Munich, the course of history would have changed. Indeed, let us not be deceived by the myth of moderation and draw lessons from human history. It is now crucial to increase the pressure on the regime in Tehran, which is responsible for an annual inflation rate of 42%, an unemployment rate on a wild ride, and more importantly a disgruntled generation that is eager for change. It is a regime which has been responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights and is soaked in the blood of its own people. The West should shape its policy based on recognising the desire of the Iranian people for democratic change and support Mrs.Rajavi and the main Iranian opposition movement. Indeed, a democratic regime change in Iran – which finds a place for secular and dissenting opinions and ideas – and which upholds minorities – is the only sustainable policy that will enhance global peace and security.


8 Years in Prison in Iran for Protestant Pastor…

Pastor Saeed Abedinigalangashi

Pastor Saeed Abedinigalangashi

Evin Prison

Evin Prison

Pastor Saeed Abedinigalangashi - Prayer Vigil Scheduled for September 26th

Pastor Saeed Abedinigalangashi – Prayer Vigil Scheduled for September 26th

Jubilee Campaign has reported on the plight of Pastor Saeed and says what you can do to help…

Pastor Saeed, a U. S citizen, was convicted of threatening the national security of Iran and sentenced to 8 years in one of Iran’s most deadly and hostile prisons simply for his belief in Christianity. We all hoped the Iranian courts would respect Saeed’s basic human rights through the appeals process by at the very least reducing his sentence. We now see they have no respect for an individual’s inalienable right to choose his faith.

The court’s decision to reject his appeal came from Branch 36 of the Tehran Court of Appeals where it was handed down by a two-judge panel, which court refused to give Pastor Saeed’s lawyer a copy of their decision. One of the two judges, Judge Ahmad Zargar, had previously been sanctioned by the European Union for issuing peaceful protesters long-term and death sentences.

This rejection is a devastating blow to Saeed and his wife and children as this means he will have to endure many more years of brutal treatment that already daily threaten his life. The rejection of this appeal comes just one month before the one-year anniversary of his imprisonment. Their next course of action will be to appeal the case to the Supreme Court in Tehran or to beg for a pardon from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. As they move forward with these action items it is important that the U.S. as well as other governments around the world to continue to put pressure on Iran.

Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, has decried the failure of the Obama administration or the US Department of State to advocate for an American citizen languishing in an Iranian jail. She commented through the ACLJ, “I am disappointed that as a country that was founded on religious freedom, our government has been awkwardly silent as an American citizen is wasting away in an Iranian prison because he chose to practice his God-given right to choose his religion. My husband is serving 8 years in the notorious Evin prison and facing daily threats and abuse by radicals because he refuses to deny his Christian faith. And yet, my President, President Obama, has not spoken a word about him. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic speech defending freedom by Dr. Martin Luther King, a brave American who gave his life to fight for the freedom that is so fundamental to our way of life, I am extremely disappointed that President Obama has chosen to remain silent on this critical human and religious rights case of an American imprisoned in Iran.” Additionally she said, “I do hope and pray that as a nation we realize that if we do not speak out against injustice, it is only matter of time before all our children will have to face what my children are facing today. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’

It is imperative we do not stop drawing international attention to Pastor Saeed’s case. Please continue to write to him! Visit Jubilee Campaign’s web site for details of how to help. Letters to prisoners do help. With waves of letters the prisoners are treated more humanely. Please send a letter of Encouragement and tell Saeed how the international community is advocating for his release. Letters sent to other Christian leaders in Evin prison have made a huge difference. Addresses:
Saeed Abedinigalangashi
Evin Prison
Saadat Abad
Islamic Republic of Iran

On Tuesday August 27th news emerged of the murder of a Bahá’í in Iran, a Mr Ataollah Rezvani. You may wish to read the full story here: http://news.bahai.org/story/966

Ataollah Rezvani.

Ataollah Rezvani.

The Bahai community say that the death of Mr Rezvani was religiously motivated. They have learned that recently he faced pressure on his work as well as pressure to leave the city of Bandar Abbas at the hands of agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. He had also more recently begun to receive menacing phone calls from unknown persons. In the past few years local clerics have attempted to incite the population against the Bahá’ís through incendiary sermons.

This killing can therefore be seen in the context of two worsening trends already identified in special reports of the Bahá’í International Community, the first being the growing use of propaganda and media to incite hatred against Bahá’ís in Iran, as reported here: http://www.bic.org/inciting-hatred-irans-media-campaign-demonize-bahais and secondly, the growing trend of violence with impunity, as detailed here: http://www.bic.org/violence-with-impunity

At this time they are seeking to convey to the UK Government, and in the strongest possible terms, the outrage of the Bahá’í community at the killing of Mr Rezvani, as well as their concern for the ongoing situation for the Bahá’ís in Iran. They would like those who are concerned to contact William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to request the UK government to urge the Iranian authorities to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice: haguew@parliament.uk


Human Rights Without Frontiers International say that 17 Iranian Sunnis are to be executed for their religious beliefs

Today’s Zaman (23.08.2013) – An Iranian court has sentenced 17 Iranian Sunnis, including religious scholars, to death because of their religious beliefs, leading a rights group to launch a campaign to save them.

The condemned have been awaiting execution in Tehran’s Gohardasht Prison, also known as Rajai Shahr, west of Tehran since early June. The Sunni prisoners have been convicted of “acting against national security,” and “moharebeh” (enmity against God), which is punishable by death in Iran. The prisoners are said to have confessed to these crimes under torture, according to information from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

The human rights organization says that Iranian Sunnis face grave religious discrimination in the country.

Among the Sunni prisoners sentenced to death by Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court are Ahmad Naseri, Talib Malaki, Hamed Ahmadi, Adrees Neimati, Jahangir Dehghani, Jamshid Dehghani, Sadiq Mohammadi, Shahram Ahmadi, Varia Ghaderifard, Behrooz Shanzari, Farzad Shanzari, Mokhtar Rahemi, Pooria Mohammmadi, Bahman Rahemi, Kamal Malaie, Mohammad Gharebi and Mohammad Yavar Rahemi.

A Sunni news outlet in Iran is circulating a petition to stop the executions. http://sonsofsunnah.com/2013/08/22/petitions-for-17-sunni-muslim-political-prisoners-in-iran-sentenced-to-death/#more-2427

Arrests of members of Iran’s Sunni minority have intensified since 2009, and are focused on towns home to Sunnis like Javanrood, Javansar, Saghez, Baneh, Bukan, Sardasht, Mahabad and Piranshahr, according to information from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Drama and Music To Make Us Think: Disability Hate Crime, Religious Persecution, Bullying, Relationships, the Holocaust, North Korea, Scapegoating of Minorities…

Ten Ten Theatre Company - "The Jeweller's Shop"

Ten Ten Theatre Company – “The Jeweller’s Shop”

Ten Ten theatre company and "Kolbe's Gift"

Ten Ten theatre company and “Kolbe’s Gift”

Confessions of a Butterfly by Jonathan Salt

Confessions of a Butterfly by Jonathan Salt

Rise - "Soldier to Saint"

Rise – “Soldier to Saint”

Rise Theatre Company

Rise Theatre Company

Actors in Living Without Fear

Actors in Living Without Fear



90%of all babies with Down's Syndrome are victims of eugenic abortions

90%of all babies with Down’s Syndrome are victims of eugenic abortions

A Baby With Down's Syndrome

A Baby With Down’s Syndrome

"Some people think I shouldn't be here, but I am. I'm a human being, and I'm in love." - words of an actor in "Living Without Fear"

“Some people think I shouldn’t be here, but I am. I’m a human being, and I’m in love.” – words of an actor in “Living With Fear”


   A theatre company, consisting primarily, but not exclusively, of actors with learning disabilities, recently came to Westminster to perform their play “Living without Fear” – and in one short hour achieved more in raising awareness about disability hate crime than any number of speeches delivered in Parliament.

   Drama has an extraordinary capacity to move, to touch, and to reach people and this production by Blue Apple Theatre made me reflect on both the issue which the company explored and on the way in which they succeeded in catching my attention.

  Jane Jessop is the founding director of  Blue Apple Theatre.  She says that the British Crime Survey found that each year a truly shocking 65,000 assaults take place against people with disabilities and that “this is probably an underestimate”. Some one million people with learning disabilities live in Britain and Mencap say that up to 90% of people with learning disabilities are bullied and harassed on a regular basis

 Determined to raise awareness among policy makers she believes drama is an effective way to do it. So, she persuaded Steve Brine, her local MP in Winchester, to sponsor a performance of the play and, by kind permission of Mr.Speaker Bercow, this was performed in Mr.Speaker’s House.  Among those who had travelled up to see the play was Hampshire’s Chief Constable, Andy Marsh. Esther McVeigh, the Minister with responsibility for disabled people was also present.

  “Living Without Fear” shines a light on the vulnerability of people who are initially thrilled by the idea of independent living but who then have to come to terms with prejudice and negotiate the visceral hatred of the people with whom they have to live alongside. It’s simply impossible to be left unaffected by the play or by a cast which comprises some of those who have experienced such hatred first hand.

   I was particularly struck by the young actor with Down’s Syndrome who says Some people think I shouldn’t be here, but I am. I’m a human being, and I’m in love.”

  He’s right of course: eugenic abortions now prevent most people with Down’s Syndrome from being here. 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome have their lives ended in the womb. The violence, discrimination, and prejudice against people with learning difficulties or disability begins at conception. How sad that this young man’s love is met with society’s rejection.

   Jane Jessop says that her first hope in bringing “Living Without Fear” to Westminster “was to bring our talented actors to the heart of Parliament so that people legislating on abortion and other issues would meet whole and rounded people with learning disabilities, especially those with Down’s Syndrome and see their talent and potential.

“I  hope you could see there is no limit to our ambition in helping them realise their potential. Next was to raise the difficult issues around disability hate crime.”

 Blue Apple’s web site shows the breadth and the range of work in which this inclusive theatre company is involved and which deserves to be seen by audiences up and down the country:   

http://www.blueappletheatre.hampshire.org.uk/  and this link features extracts from the play and lets the actors speak for themselves: http://bit.ly/YLcgFg

    Recently I have seen some other brilliant examples of drama being used to explore contemporary themes. At the Easter Celebrate conference in Ilfracombe there were performances by two Catholic theatre groups – Ten Ten and Rise.

  Rise produced some thought-provoking sketches and are now preparing to take their play “Soldier to Saint” on a UK tour from June 28th to July 12th.
Set in 2020, in an England which is persecuting Christians, it’s the story of a soldier, John Alban. Like his Roman namesake, his friendship with a fugitive priest endangers his freedom and his very life. On a daily basis, in many parts of the world, from China to Nigeria, contemporary Albans are deprived of their liberty or their lives and this is a timely reminder not to take for granted the freedoms we enjoy in Britain: (http://www.risetheatre.co.uk/ )
Drama allows the exploration of countless rich and disturbing questions.
Ten Ten used Celebrate to stage a powerful production of “Heart”, a drama which takes on inter-generational relationships and the role a grandmother plays in challenging her grand-daughter’s bullying of another girl.
Later in the year Ten Ten, are back at London’s Leicester Square Theatre where they previously performed “The Jeweller”, an adaptation of John Paul II’s play, “The Jeweller’s Shop” – which examines relationships, friendships, and love, in the context of three couples whose lives become intermingled. The comedian, Frank Skinner, described “The Jeweller” as “deeply funny, gut-wrenchingly sad and thought provoking.”

Between October 1st and 5th Ten Ten turn their attention to another Pole, St.Maximilian Kolbe, whom John Paul called “the patron saint of our difficult century.” This brand new production of “Kolbe’s Gift” – an inspirational play by David Gooderson – takes us to Auschwitz, where the imprisoned Kolbe encounters a soldier, Franek Gajowniczec, and freely gives his own life to save the other (http:www.tententheatre.co.uk).
Like “Confessions of a Butterfly”, the one man play about the life of Janusz Korczak, written and performed by the Catholic writer, Jonathan Salt, and which I saw at a synagogue in London a few months ago, “Kolbe’s Gift” reminds us of the savagery of the Holocaust; the indifference, the silence, or collaboration of so many; and the danger of “never again” happening all over again in our own times.
Salt introduces us to Korcczak’s heroism but also to children like the boy with the violin – who chooses to become selectively mute after watching the execution of his parents. A profoundly moving and poignant story, it’s not one which I will quickly or easily forget.https://davidalton.net/2012/11/02/confessions-of-a-butterfly-the-remarkable-story-of-janusz-korczak/
Each of these dramas explores a different question and tells a different story but they all raise profoundly important issues in a world which can too easily become indifferent and where we need to find a range of different ways to effect change.
And it’s not just drama: art and graphics, writing, poetry and music all have their part to play. The Catholic musicians, Ooberfuse, have just marked North Korea Freedom week with a brilliant song, Vanish the Night, released on Youtube and features the North Korean escapee and human rights campaigner, Shin Dong Hyok: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=be7WTX_z_E8&feature=share.

An earlier song, about the assassination of Pakistan’s Catholic Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, His Blood Cries Out, has now been watched by over 137,000 people http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABOIQfhyh1g .

In every generation we must guard against prejudice and bigotry, racism and xenophobia and cherish our precious freedoms and liberties. In particular, minorities, ranging from people with learning disabilities to vulnerable ethnic groups or dissenting religious believers, need to have their stories told. And, this is a world in which anti-Semitism, racial intolerance, and the scapegoating of minorities – such as homosexuals living in those Commonwealth countries which still impose the death penalty for homosexuality – or Christians facing death in countries like North Korea or Iran – or institutionalised discrimination in the form of caste based prejudice against Dalits in India – are all distempers of our age.
Perhaps music and drama will succeed in waking us up to these horrific realities when speeches and commentaries do not – and maybe challenge us to change our attitudes and our laws.


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.

North Korea Debated in Parliament – Peers Spotlight Security Huamn rights and Humanitarian Concerns

North Korea spent £500 million launching a missile while people go without food -  and shoot to kill refugees at the River Tumen

North Korea spent £500 million launching a missile while people go without food – and shoot to kill refugees at the River Tumen

Baroness (Caroline) Cox

Baroness (Caroline) Cox

A Camp Survivor Giving Evidence

A Camp Survivor Giving Evidence

north korea missile launch
Shin Dong Hyok

Shin Dong Hyok

Calls for BBC World Seervice To Broadcast To Korea

Calls for BBC World Seervice To Broadcast To Korea

North Korea Prison Camps Kim Young Soon - a survivor giving testimony

North Korea Prison Camps Kim Young Soon – a survivor giving testimony

Shin Dong Hyok - born in Camp 14 where he was incarcerated for 23 years

Shin Dong Hyok – born in Camp 14 where he was incarcerated for 23 years

To view the debate on North Korea click here:




Korean Peninsula
Question for Short Debate January 21st 2013
5.01 pm
Asked By Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the security, humanitarian, and human rights situation on the Korean Peninsula

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank noble Lords from all parts of the House for taking part in today’s short debate. I know that the retiming of the

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debate will deprive us of several contributions, notably that of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, who has to chair a Select Committee.
The Motion before us focuses, as I will, on three things: security, humanitarian needs and human rights concerns in North Korea. Since 2003, when, with my noble friend Lady Cox, I made the first of four visits to North Korea, I have served as chairman of the All-Party Group on North Korea. Last September, while in China, I visited the River Tumen, where many trying to leave the DPRK have lost their lives.
The continuing security challenges posed by North Korea were underlined by its rocket launch in December and reports a week ago that it may be about to conduct its third nuclear test. Last Friday, the Russian ambassador to the UN Security Council, Vitaly Churkin, said:
“Our position is that the North Korean rocket launch is a violation of a UN Security Council resolution, so the council should react”.
Even more significantly, China is also likely to support a new resolution this week-a significant diplomatic blow to Pyongyang, about which the Minister will doubtless say more. We are talking about the most militarised country on earth, with the world’s fourth largest army and biggest special forces. North Korea’s arsenal includes the full array of weapons of mass destruction: a plutonium-based nuclear weapons programme now supplemented by uranium enrichment; the world’s third largest chemical weapons arsenal; possible biological weapons; and a range of ballistic missiles.
A failure to hammer out a long-term political settlement and a conflict triggered by a Sarajevo moment would replicate the horrendous haemorrhaging loss of life that saw the catastrophic deaths of around 3 million people in the Korean War. The 2010 sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island underline North Korea’s capacity to initiate hostility, and, in the cyber domain, interference with the GPS systems of planes using Seoul’s busy airports, all indicate North Korea’s ability to inflict harm, short of invasion.
An isolated rogue state has the power to inflict other miseries, too, including drug trafficking, currency counterfeiting, crimes of abduction and the transfer of nuclear technology, which can be sold to terrorists or to countries such as Iran, and which I hope the Minister will comment upon. Since 1953, North Korea has promoted an ideology based on “military first”. For both sides, it has largely been a case of military first, second and third. In this context, Kim Jong-un was right in his New Year’s Day assertion that,
“past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war”.
In a similar vein, the Republic of Korea’s new President, Park Geun-hye, has called for deeper engagement. She said:
“While we cannot allow the North to develop nuclear weapons … we must keep open the possibility of dialogue, including humanitarian aid”.
Britain has diplomatic relations with both sides and should build on the successful 2011 visit of Choe Tae Bok, the Speaker of the North Korean Supreme Assembly, who expressed interest in both our Northern Ireland

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peace process and the Hong Kong formula of two systems in one country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan clearly understood, advocating the use of soft power should not be confused with being a soft touch.
President Park made reference to the dire humanitarian situation-my second point. Two million died during the 1990s North Korean famine. Our previous two excellent ambassadors in Pyongyang both issued warnings about the reappearance of malnutrition, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, when she spoke to our all-party group last year. In July in the House I warned of the unacceptable use of food as a “weapon of war”. Food deprivation and malnutrition lead to physical frailty and stunting, long-term intellectual impairment and increased vulnerability to disease. North Korea’s leaders might reflect that the cost of their missile launch-more than £500 million-could have bought 2.5 million tonnes of corn and 1.4 million tonnes of rice. I hope that the Minister will give her assessment of the current food situation and Kim Jong-un’s recent announcements of Chinese-style agricultural reform, as well as her assessment of the welcome brokering by Jang Song-taek-Kim Jong-un’s uncle-of two new joint economic zones with China.
Thirdly, on human rights, according to the United Nations, 200,000 people are languishing in festering prison camps-the kwan-li-so-where 400,000 people have died in the past 30 years. In an evidence session here, Shin Dong Hyok described how he was born and spent 23 years in Camp 14 and was tortured and subjected to forced labour. At 14, he was made to watch the execution of his mother and brother. BBC Radio 4 has broadcast extracts of his harrowing story The evidence given to our committee and described in a House of Commons debate initiated by Mrs Fiona Bruce MP include accounts of executions, torture, detention, forced labour, trafficking, religious persecution and the “guilt by association” policy, which leads to the arrest, imprisonment and punishment of detainees’ families for up to three generations. We have also heard of women impregnated by Chinese men facing forced abortions or infanticide following deportation by China.
When did the British Government last raise with the Government of China the issues of forced repatriation, the absence of a refugee adjudication process, the denial of access by the UNHCR and the other matters to which I referred? A few months ago, I raised in your Lordships’ House the use of capital punishment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said that officials from the Foreign Office would reply to me on that point, but I still have not received a reply.
Just a week ago, describing what she called a “beleaguered, subjugated population”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for an international inquiry into serious crimes, a proposal supported by around 50 human rights organisations. She said that security questions,
“should not be allowed to overshadow the deplorable human rights situation … which in one way or another affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere … in the world”.

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North Korea has never allowed United Nations special rapporteurs on human rights to enter the country, but with 25,000 North Koreans living in the south and an estimated 100,000 living illegally in China, there would be no shortage of evidence for such an inquiry to assess.
Straightforwardly, do Her Majesty’s Government support the creation of a United Nations-sponsored commission of inquiry, and will we vote for it if it comes to a vote? Historians will surely question our generation’s extraordinary indifference to North Korea’s gulag archipelago.
Looking to the future, an approach based on Helsinki-style engagement would surely seek to build on the small advances of recent years. One is in education. Here I make reference to the remarkable story of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, to the first Chevening scholars at Cambridge, and to the use of English as the north’s second official language. This should encourage the BBC World Service to respond positively to the 18 Korean organisations which have requested broadcasts to the Korean peninsula-an issue which Peter Horrocks, the director of BBC Global News, will address at the all-party group on Wednesday of this week.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“Everyone has the right … to receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
The World Service’s 80th anniversary-and its role in places such as the former Soviet Union and Burma-is a timely reminder of the power of ideas. We know that 14% of defectors say they listened to foreign broadcasts, and 44% of those questioned said that they admired foreign societies. Two weeks ago Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, were in North Korea urging internet freedom.
Not to encourage reform, not to invest in promoting progress and not to break the information blockade would render pointless Britain’s millennium decision to forge diplomatic relations with the DPRK. We owe it to the coming generation, to the Koreans who perish during their hazardous escapes, to those who suffer from a lack of food or medicine, and to those who are the victims of an ideology that has become prisoner of its own rhetoric, to do better than simply offer Cassandra-like predictions of thermonuclear war-predictions which, if they came to pass, would reduce the whole peninsula to an irradiated cemetery.
As today we assess the security, humanitarian and human rights challenges on the Korean peninsula, with the new leadership in the north and south and in China, too, and with today’s second-term inauguration of a United States President, surely there is a moment for change: a time to end the war and to replace it with long overdue peace and prosperity.

5.12 pm
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, one of my favourite political quotations is the famous remark of Edmund Burke that for evil to triumph requires only that good men remain silent. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady

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Cox, are wonderful examples of good men and good women not remaining silent. The courage that was required to visit North Korea time and again in the face of all kinds of discouragements, fears and threats is greatly to the credit of them both, and they stand as Members of this House with every possible right to claim the respect and admiration of us all.
I begin by saying about North Korea that it is, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Alton, implied, a deeply traumatised state. It is a state with a very strong history of being victimised-by the Japanese, by the Chinese and by those in other countries-and one that has never really recovered its balance from that terrible history. The strange thing about North Korea-and in this respect I think it is unlike Iran-is that the idea that one might sacrifice one’s population to a nuclear attack does not seem to cross the minds of the North Korean regime in the way that I think it crosses the minds of all other regimes, including nuclear powers, such as India and Pakistan, and would-be nuclear powers, such as Iran. North Korea has destroyed or allowed the destruction of such a large part of its civilian population that the one great barrier against using a nuclear weapon-the fear of losing one’s own population-probably has less effect in North Korean than in any other country on the face of the earth. That is the most frightening thing about North Korea. It looks like a county whose regime would be capable of using a nuclear weapon because in the end saving the regime is more important than saving the population.
Let us look briefly at the security history, although I wholly take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that that is in many ways secondary to the terrible, indescribably awful human rights regime that has been conducted for so long by this extraordinarily strange dynasty of Kim Il-sung and his successors, which has become a kind of secondary religious heresy demanding the deification of its own leadership. The story in North Korea is one of having walked away altogether from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty-the NPT-to which it originally belonged. It walked away from the NPT in order to breach some of the key provisions, one of the most important being that there would not be a continuation by its members of nuclear testing in the face of what has not been a new treaty, tragically, but what has certainly been a very long period of postponement and delay when no nuclear power, with the single exception of North Korea, has continued to test nuclear weapons. Other countries are frightening in their own way, but this direct breach of this key provision, widely morally accepted, if not legally accepted, is an extremely disturbing fact.
North Korea has about five or six nuclear bombs, based, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly said, on the use of plutonium, ironically originally provided as part of the nuclear materials for peace movement in the United States in the 1970s. It broke the understanding and conditions of that provision of nuclear materials for peace by deliberately saving the plutonium from that programme and using it as the origins of its relatively small nuclear arsenal. The best information we have is that something between six and eight fully realised nuclear weapons are owned by North Korea.

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That is one of the smallest nuclear arsenals in the world but it is still one capable of creating immense and savage destruction.
North Korea went ahead to produce a great many short-range ballistic missiles-we believe that it has some hundreds-and also medium-range ballistic missiles, of which it certainly has scores. What it has failed to do so far, with the exception that I shall come to in a moment, is to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles, which has become a major objective of the regime. By an intercontinental ballistic missile, we mean one with a range of more than 3,000 miles, capable of reaching Japan certainly, but also the west coast of the United States. The first attempt by North Korea in 2009 to develop an ICBM failed rather obviously and conspicuously and was noted with some satisfaction by the rest of the world. Tragically, only a month ago, on 12 December 2012, once again the regime-this time of Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il-was successful and the missile managed to find its way across Japan, flying high above Japan but nevertheless into Japanese airspace, before it crashed some time later into the Pacific. It was clearly a successful intercontinental launch.
At the moment, the belief generally held in the nuclear weapons community is that North Korea has not been able to miniaturise nuclear warheads to the point where the relatively small or low-power ICBMs it may be producing could carry them intercontinentally to a country such as the United States. But even having said that, the fact that it is now capable of launching such a package, although not yet miniaturising it to a point that it becomes effective, is obviously not far away from what could be a fully fledged ICBM carrying a nuclear warhead.
The one piece of relatively good news is that the speech that the new “Young Leader” of North Korea made a few weeks ago to mark his taking over of power-although there was very little in it that was not Orwellian in its terminology and philosophy-contained a small sign of light when he spoke of creating a movement towards some kind of peaceful agreement with South Korea. The possibility therefore arises, which might be worth pursuing, of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula which fits into the pattern of the non-nuclear zones which have now been established from Latin America, by way of Africa, to parts of Asia.
The offer lies on the table, as it has for several years, in the six-plus-one peace talks, of which North Korea is a member, that in return for a decision to end nuclear testing and development and fully to accept the additional protocol of the nuclear peace treaty, North Korea would then have opened to it investment, supplies of food aid and a willingness to allow it to rejoin the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, that is a fairly distant hope at the present time for a country as strange as this one. If anyone deserves such a response and the good will of the rest of the world, then the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, do. They have gone as far as human beings who are not themselves in government can go to try to bring it about.

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5.21 pm
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this short debate. I have been able to attend some of the meetings organised by the all-party group, and particularly welcomed the chance in 2011 to meet the Speaker of the North Korean Assembly, Choe Tae Bok, when he visited the United Kingdom as the guest of that all-party group. Among the questions we touched upon during that discussion were the humanitarian situation and the issue of religious freedom, and today I should like to say something about both.
Forty years ago, North Korea’s gross domestic product was twice that of South Korea. Today, North Korea is among the world’s poorest nations while the south is among the richest. Today, the gross domestic of South Korea is nearly 30 times that of the north-a 60-fold difference. The situation has been aggravated by famine, a series of natural disasters and the near total collapse of the Soviet economies, once the DPRK’s primary market, all of which have, of course, contributed to the country’s abject poverty.
UNICEF DPRK recently published its national nutritional survey. There was one slight encouragement: that malnutrition had dropped by four percentage points since 2009. However, I go on quickly to say that, nevertheless, malnutrition is over 27%. UNICEF’s representative in North Korea, Desiree Jongsma, reminded us of what that statistic means. She said that,
“more than one in every four children remains stunted, hostage to life-long ill-health and reduced educational and career prospects as a result of a lack of much needed proteins, fruits, vegetables and fats, as well as frequent infections due to a lack of both essential medicines and clean water, as well as poor hygiene”.
On average, boys in North Korea are five inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts and weigh 25 pounds less. Malnutrition, of course, leads not only to physical weakness but to intellectual impairment. It leads to a frail population and makes the people especially vulnerable to disease.
When the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, visited North Korea, I understand that they were told by senior DPRK officials that the average citizen receives only a meagre 350 to 400 grams of rice each day, well short of even the regime’s sparse target of 600 grams. However, I understand that the reality in practice is that many see no rice at all, subsisting instead on husky cornmeal. Two million people are estimated to have died during the famine of the 1990s.
In those circumstances, we need to think very carefully about the morality of food being used as a weapon of war or coercion. Surely it can never be right to withhold food from starving people as a way of punishing their leaders. It was a tragedy that the £126 million food programme which the United States had generously decided to put in place last year was literally blown off the agenda by North Korea’s decision to launch a satellite nine months ago. However, the North Korean leadership should also reflect on the morality of spending vast sums on developing a nuclear capability and on maintaining the world’s fourth largest standing army when they cannot feed their own people. That is surely a scandalous and immoral misuse of resources.

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The former Leader of your Lordships’ House, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, said that the situation has been “getting worse year on year”. She continued,
“the most vulnerable people in North Korea are victims of a situation over which they have no control. They are suffering from no fault of their own”.
South Korea’s decision to withhold food aid, supported by the Obama Administration, has inevitably put innocent lives at risk while doing nothing to bring about the end of the conflict between north and south. You cannot starve people into submission and you should never try.
In May 2012, two organisations, Sant’Egidio and Caritas Korea, delivered 25 tonnes of food aid to the DPRK. That was done at the request of Han Tae-song, North Korea’s former ambassador to Rome. That is but a small contribution; nevertheless, it is an act on which we must build. It is not coincidental that those organisations which have been taking in food and medicine have often been inspired to do so by their Christian faith. I think, for instance, of the remarkable American priest, Father Jerry Hammond, who has made more than 40 visits to North Korea, taking in medicines to combat tuberculosis.
Paradoxically, despite that outpouring of practical love, since the 18th century Korea has been the scene of much persecution of Christians. In 1846, Korea’s first ordained Catholic priest, Andrew Kim, was at the age of 25 taken to the Han sands, where he was stripped naked and decapitated; there have been more than 8,000 Catholic martyrs. In 1866, Robert Jermain Thomas, a Welsh missionary, travelled on behalf of the Bible Society to Pyongyang and to the Taedong river, where he was executed. The latest Open Doors World Watch List, published less than two weeks ago, ranks North Korea as the country where Christians are persecuted the most, as has been the case every year since the list was first published in 2002.
Christians are motivated by love, believing that each person is made in the image of God and, because of that, worthy of the utmost respect and elevation of their human dignity. Religious freedom would bring untold blessings to North Korea, not least through the provision of sustained and significant programmes providing for food, education, welfare and health.
Kang Pan Sok, the great-grandmother of Kim Jong-un, was the elder of a Christian church in Pyongyang, so the leadership of that country know from their own story that they have nothing to fear from the Christian faith. It would be a sign of great hope if perhaps, in her memory, her great-grandson could now see the way to opening the path for the church to play its part in building and helping to contribute to a prosperous and peaceful North Korea. Now there is something to hope and pray for.
5.30 pm
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing much gratitude to my noble friend Lord Alton for initiating this debate. I serve as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which he chairs, and, as has been mentioned, I have travelled with him to North Korea on three occasions. I take this opportunity to pay sincere tribute to his

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tireless dedication to highlighting the situation in North Korea and his endeavours to promote the interests of citizens living there. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her very kind words.
I shall focus on human rights violations, referring to the Foreign Office update of its 2011 human rights and democracy report, in which the Government say that there has been,
“little change in the … human rights situation in the DPRK”.
I refer also to a recent statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who, after describing the human rights situation in North Korea, said that the DPRK Government have not accepted assistance to help to review North Korea’s criminal code and criminal procedures code to help to bring North Korea into line with international obligations. Does that remain the case, and do the Government have any further information about the numbers and conditions in the network of prison camps in which, as has been mentioned, the United Nations has estimated that some 200,000 inmates languish?
Have the Government responded to the call by Dr Marzuki Darusman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in DPRK, that individual,
“states and the international community … undertake a comprehensive review of the relevant documents, to assess the underlying patterns and trends, and … consider setting up a more detailed mechanism of inquiry”,
into human rights violations? If so, how?
In the absence of access to the prison camps-a request that my noble friend and I have made repeatedly to the North Korean authorities-and given the denial of access to the UN special rapporteur, we have to rely on the testimonies of those who have managed to escape. It was such first-hand testimonies that, eight years ago, prompted my noble friend and myself to become engaged in dialogue with the authorities in Pyongyang. We believe in building bridges and using our freedoms to promote the freedoms of those who do not have freedom.
I offer some examples of those first-hand testimonies. Most recently, two North Koreans, Dr Heung-kwang Kim and Yong-il Kim, told the all-party parliamentary group how they had risked their lives to leave the country. Dr Kim is the author of North Korea’s Future in 10 Years. He left North Korea, disillusioned with the economic system and a salary that was insufficient to feed himself and his family, claiming that,
“the State was indifferent to our lack of food”.
Yong-il Kim escaped from North Korea in 2000. He rode on the top of a train for 16 hours to avoid detection by the authorities. He helped to secure false papers for his parents and two brothers and they crossed the River Tumen into China, where, as my noble friend has said, many escapees are shot dead. After four years working in China, and alarmed by the number of forced repatriations to North Korea, he travelled to South Korea and is now the executive director of People for Successful Korean Reunification. He urges democratic nations to,
“emphasise human rights as much as they have emphasised security questions”.

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My third example, Ahn Myeong-Cheol, aged 37, described how his father killed himself when he learnt that he had been heard criticising the regime, while his mother and brothers were sent to prison camps as a punishment for his criticism. Ahn was “re-educated” and became a prison guard, witnessing guard dogs, imported from Russia, tear three children to pieces and the camp warden congratulating the guard who had trained the dogs. After he escaped, Ahn published They Are Crying for Help, urging the international community not to look away from the human rights violations and crimes against humanity experienced on a daily basis by the North Korean people.
My fourth example, Lee Young-kuk graphically described the degrading situation in prison:
“From the very first day, the guards with their rifles beat me. I was trampled on mercilessly until my legs became swollen, my eardrums were shattered, and my teeth were all broken. They wouldn’t allow us to sleep from 4 am till 10 pm and once while I was sleeping, they poured water over my head. Since the conditions within the prison were poor, my head became frostbitten from the bitter cold. Not a single day passed without receiving some form of torture and agonizing experience”.
My fifth example, Lee Sung-ae, described how prison guards pulled out her finger-nails, destroyed all her lower teeth and poured water mixed with chillies into her nose. Finally, Kim Hye-sook was sent to gaol aged 13 because her grandfather had gone to South Korea. She spent 28 years in the prison camp; as a child she was forced to work in coal mines and witness public executions. In 2011 she showed the all-party group her paintings depicting the suffering she both witnessed and experienced, ranging from deprivation of food to public executions and even cannibalism. She wept as she spoke about the death of her son in the camp.
According to Mr Narayan from Amnesty International, around 50,000 people are imprisoned in Camp 18, and two of every five prisoners die there. He showed the all-party group a DVD entitled “‘Hell holes’: North Korea’s Secret Prison Camps”, which may be viewed on YouTube.
Capital punishment has also been used routinely. In one recent year there were 52 executions, including the Minister of Railways, Kim Yong-sam, and Vice Minister So Nam-sin. May I ask the Minister when the British Government last made representations to the DPRK about the use of capital punishment in that country?
In conclusion, my noble friend and I have emphasised the importance of opening up dialogue; promoting Helsinki-style engagement; constantly reminding the authorities of their obligations and duties to their citizens; and breaking the information blockade. Like my noble friend Lord Alton, I have always been deeply impressed by the role which the BBC World Service has played in countries such as Burma and in the former Soviet Union. Despite the risks in listening to such broadcasts, people are desperate for news and contact with the wider world. As one escapee remarked:
“The flow of information is the most important way of changing attitudes and breaking the vice-like grip on the population”.
I therefore strongly support the possibility of the extension of the BBC World Service to the Korean peninsula. I was delighted when the Foreign Office Minister, Hugo Swire, told the last meeting of the all-party parliamentary group that:
“The issue is back on the table”.

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Before I finish, I briefly refer to the humanitarian situation in DPRK, with especially dire needs in the field of healthcare. I am very hopeful that Merlin-I must declare an interest as a founder trustee-might be able to undertake a programme there. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government would be willing to consider sympathetically supporting such an initiative.
The Korean people, both north and south, are gracious, courteous and hospitable. We must do all we can to help the people in North Korea to promote their human rights; to alleviate their humanitarian needs; and to support their peaceful progress, security and prosperity so that soon they may earn a respected place in the community of nations.
5.38 pm
Lord Black of Brentwood: My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this important subject. I would certainly echo the very appropriate comments from my noble friend Lady Williams. As I want to talk about freedom of expression, I draw attention to my media interests in the register.
The words of President Franklin D Roosevelt in his address to Congress in 1941 are probably some of his best known. It seems appropriate to talk about an American President in a stirring speech to Congress on a day like this. He looked forward to a world in which there were four fundamental freedoms. The first of these was freedom of expression, in his words “everywhere in the world”. For the benighted people of North Korea this most fundamental of human rights does not exist in any way and is not in prospect in any way. While South Korea has a relatively free press with near universal internet use-indeed it is one of the most connected in the entire world-North Korea remains the most repressive and isolated media environment in the world.
The regime owns all media, attempts to regulate all communication and ruthlessly limits access to information. Both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists based in Washington place it right at the bottom of the international press freedom leagues, languishing alongside Eritrea.
All information is distributed by the Government across radio and TV, which deliver a centrally composed message bombarding the population with flattering reports about their leaders, and never mentioning the economic hardship, the famine or the malnutrition-which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford mentioned- all of which blight the country.
Radio and TV sets are supplied pre-tuned to government stations, and radios must be registered with the police. Neighbourhood officials-I use the word advisedly-verify the government seals. Tampering with a set can result in the perpetrator being sent to a concentration camp. Under the penal code, listening to foreign broadcasts or reading so-called dissident publications are “crimes against the state” that carry terrible punishments including hard labour or, in some circumstances, the death penalty. According to Freedom House, the international free speech watchdog, in 2010 alone more than 1,000 people were arrested for possessing or watching foreign films acquired on the black market.

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There is no such thing, of course, as independent journalism. Journalism students are taught to adhere to a strict hierarchy, with news simply defined as championing socialism and denouncing imperialism. Ideological training takes place once a week for journalists for the duration of their career. Even then, despite these remarkable controls, there is a danger. According to one author, Ashlee Male:
“A mere typing error can result in a journalist being taken to … a ‘revolutionisation’ camp'”,
for re-education. One such journalist, Song Keum-chul, was sent to a concentration camp a number of years ago and has never been heard of again.
As we have heard, any form of contact with the outside world is rigorously controlled. Mobile phone use was permitted only in 2008, having been banned in 2004, but most of the 1.5 million mobile phones-and that is a tiny number in a country of 24 million-are in the hands of the country’s political, commercial and military elite. North Korea’s full connection to the internet occurred only in 2010, but for ordinary citizens web access is available only through a nationwide intranet that does not link to foreign sites.
All this means that North Korea is totally isolated. As Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said after a recent visit to the country-mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton:
“As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world … It will make it harder for them to catch up economically”.
That seems to be the crucial point, because freedom of expression is the foundation stone for economic growth.
The only glimmer of light is that very tiny cracks in this repressive regime are reportedly beginning to appear. A study released by InterMedia in Washington last year, entitled A Quiet Opening, finds that access to external media through bootlegged TV and smuggled foreign DVDs is becoming more commonplace in the countryside outside Pyongyang, despite the risks that we have heard about from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. There is a little more mobile access through the use of smuggled mobile phones. The report concludes:
“Despite the incredibly low starting point, important changes in the information environment in North Korean society are underway”.
In Japan, an organisation called Asia Press is training journalists and providing them with video cameras to record daily life in North Korea. The images are loaded on to memory sticks and then smuggled out through the porous border with China into Japan for wider broadcast. These are admittedly tiny cracks, but I hope that the national media-and we have heard about the role of the BBC World Service today-with encouragement from our Government and international organisations can nurse and expand on them in years to come. For every dam burst, a tiny crack is always the starting point.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, the flow of information in a country like this is absolutely crucial and we should do anything we can to encourage it. I ask my noble friend to ensure that the issue of free expression continues to be at the top of our human rights agenda for the tragic people of North Korea, for they deserve no less than that.

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5.45 pm
Baroness Berridge: My Lords, I serve as an officer on the North Korea All-Party Parliamentary Group which the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, chairs so ably. It will, alas, become clear that this membership has not given me any fluency in the Korean language. I intend to focus my remarks on the rule of law-or the lack of it-in North Korea, but I also want to mention the question of religious freedom.
My noble friend will know that 179 former North Korean political prisoners and defectors recently wrote to the foreign ministers of a number of UN countries appealing for their Governments to support an international inquiry into crimes against humanity in the DPRK. A remarkable coalition of almost 50 human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch and the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, endorsed this request. I join the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in asking my noble friend to outline consideration given to that proposal for an international inquiry.
Will she also outline how Her Majesty’s Government have responded to calls from the United Nations for individual states such as the United Kingdom to shine a light on what we all agree are systematic and heinous violations of human rights, which may possibly be the worst in the world? This request chimes with the welcome remarks of my right honourable friend William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, in calling for human rights to be a central strand of this country’s foreign policy.
In October, Dr Marzuki Darusman, the current UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea-an ironic title-presented his latest report to the General Assembly of the UN. He stated that,
“for several decades egregious human rights abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have been extensively documented by various actors, including organizations of the United Nations system”.
He called for a much more rigorous approach by the international community in collating, assessing and acting upon the evidence of widespread abuses of human rights.
As the coalition of human rights organisations has said, the time is long past for an urgent, thorough, independent and impartial international investigation of the system of political prisoner camps known as kwan-li-so, in which gross violations of human rights, including torture, forced labour, sexual violence and executions, are widespread and systematic. All of these have been extensively documented and highlighted during evidence-taking sessions by the All-Party Group on North Korea. Although it is 60 years since the armistice was agreed, the human consequences of the Korean War still, unfortunately, reverberate. Just before Christmas, two of the families of Korean War abductees visited Westminster. Even after the passage of so much time, these families have still not come to terms with the abduction of their loved ones.
A separate group also gave evidence to members of the all-party group about an abduction which occurred in 1969. Lee Mi-il’s father, Lee Seong-hwan, was one

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of an estimated 100,000 people who were abducted by the North Koreans during the course of hostilities and never allowed to return to their families. Mr Lee and his family had been trapped in their apartment after the North Koreans captured Seoul and blew up the Han River bridge. On 4 September 1950 a North Korean major came for Mr Lee, accused him of giving money to those fighting the communists, and took him away. His wife, who was heavily pregnant with their second child and is now in her 90s, has never seen him again or heard any news about his fate. She has spent a lifetime waiting for him to return. Her daughter says:
“My mother says she has given up hope of seeing him before she dies, but I know she still has hope in her heart”.
Mrs Lee’s story is one of several testimonies contained in a short book with the well chosen title, Ongoing Tragedy.
In the report that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, published two years ago, Building Bridges Not Walls, they set out the case for a systematic approach based on upholding human rights and the rule of law. They have helped to encourage a growing international consensus around this objective, and it was encouraging to see, for the first time, the adoption of the annual resolution on North Korea at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012. More recently, in November 2012, the UN General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee also adopted the annual North Korea resolution by consensus for the first time ever. This shows increasing international resolve and momentum, but still more needs to be done, not least because, despite those resolutions, North Korea has failed to change its repressive policies.
Let me also say that part of the remit should be an examination of religious persecution in North Korea. Here I remind the House of my interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom. As the right reverend Prelate outlined, North Korea is bottom of the table for religious repression and has been for 11 consecutive years. A senior defector remarked:
“The North Korean authorities put defectors in different categories according to the reason they left. Those who bring a Bible back or have been involved with Christians in China tend to be executed”.
Religious Intelligence UK estimates that there are 406,000 Christians in North Korea, and a possible further 280,000 secret Christians. None of these statistics is verifiable, but what is verifiable is the fate of those who practise their faith.
In 2011, reports detailed a further campaign of execution against Christians in North Korea. At least 20 Christians were arrested and sent to the Yodok political prison camp for their faith. When the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised these reports, North Korean officials said that they were “lies” and that the execution of Christians was “impossible”. Compare that response with the evidence given here in Parliament by a Christian woman who escaped from one of the camps. Jeon Young-Ok had to undertake risky expeditions across the North Korean border to find money and food for her children, who were suffering in the deadly famine of the 1990s.

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She was caught and jailed twice in her efforts to feed her family. Mrs Jeon was caught and put in the northern Pyeong-an detention camp. She recalled:
“We were made to pull the beards from the faces of elderly people. Prison guards treated them like animals. The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame. I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live”.
Jeon Young-Ok added:
“They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it”.
Despite all this, she harbours no hatred for her country and shows extraordinary composure when she states:
“The past is not important but these terrible things are still happening in North Korea”.
That is why we must act.
The international community, which for so long has appeared indifferent to the fate of women such as Jeon Young-Ok should remind itself of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s warning:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.
Bonhoeffer perished at the hands of the Nazi regime that was responsible for racial cleansing, slave labour, brutal torture, the disregard of lawful process and manifold abuses of human rights. Too many people turned a blind eye to all that. Our generation should not be guilty of making the same mistake.
5.53 pm
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard:The reason that I so much admire the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on North Korea is because I share his view that ostracism is not the answer. I was the negotiator on the opening of diplomatic relations with the DPRK and I visited Pyongyang to open an embassy there. I do not think that was wrong. It seems to me that however awful the regime and its human rights record- it is awful, and its human rights record is awful-it cannot be the right answer to break off contact. The object of the exercise must be to find ways of incentivising reform. This means doing business with a very unpleasant regime, and there are no easy answers.
As the right reverend Prelate said, food aid is a difficult issue. One knows that most food aid goes not to the intended recipients but to the armed forces. The industrial zone, Kaesong, is a difficult issue. It generates employment but the foreign exchange it brings in serves to prop up the regime.
We should take our lead from Seoul, which clearly wants-it must, as they are relatives, friends and the same people-reform in the north as much or more than anybody else, and has more right to demand it. However, it does not want the implosion of the state. It does not want revolutionary change. It would like to see a staged reform process. This may sound idealistic but there have been one or two little signs in the changes to the current regime in Pyongyang that we ought to be trying very hard to encourage.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for instituting this debate-and I am very grateful to him and to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for all that they do. Contact really matters, even if often one meets people with whom one thinks one is making no progress whatever. Ostracism is not enough.

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5.56 pm
Lord Triesman: My Lords, it is really important to debate this issue and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the chairman of the all-party group, for providing the opportunity. He, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others, as many noble Lords have said, have often made it possible for us to give witness to crimes against humanity, inhuman conduct, humanitarian abuses and religious persecution. All of these have been graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, and by the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady Berridge. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that to make these visits and to say what is said requires very great courage. I admire that and have recently also been reading about Father Jerry Hammond and understand that kind of courage as well.
Sometimes it is painful to admit that terrible events occur in places where the United Kingdom has very little influence. It is not because we are indifferent to these matters but because of the historical position. We rightly demand to know what the Government are doing and what they have done. Ministers routinely, as I know, end up saying that they have raised all these concerns on all possible occasions, sometimes in the company of others. We all welcome this activity because we want to see it but in the same breath we sometimes have to acknowledge that we have a limited impact.
Nonetheless, I am wholly aligned with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I think that what they have demanded of us, quite rightly, is that we never look away and that we always take the positions that are needed strongly. I also greatly admire the positions taken on a number of occasions by my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander. One of the positions he has taken, if I may just make this point to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, is about the absence of the rule of law and the importance of trying to argue on that front as well as about religious intolerance and repression.
The Question rightly draws together humanitarian crises and security. The dynamics of the internal oppression in North Korea are generated in large part by the belligerence of the state on regional and perhaps international scenes. It is surely a function of the grandiose posturing of the leaders of a small, militarised and impoverished state feeling the need to shore up their power internally that they will brook no opposition or alternative systems of thought, culture or media-as the noble Lord, Lord Black, quite rightly pointed out-or religion, art or indeed anything. It is a manifestation of a kind of paranoia, a fear of internal close-at-hand phenomena undermining them and a wildly exaggerated sense of importance, which I am afraid, some dynastic cults manage to produce among themselves. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, it is in part a product of a terrible history. It has given rise to what I can only describe as a pathology. The nation should reflect, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford said, on the issues of morality but I say with a heavy heart that I do not expect that to happen any time soon.

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Yet, however grotesque or even absurd North Korean positions are, it is a problem which is far too large for the world to ignore. The critical question is who can potentially influence events. Who might impact on the risk of a growing nuclear arsenal? Who might successfully urge the end of the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles? It seems unlikely that the North Koreans will influence these matters themselves. Their dynastic leader is perceived to be unprepared for leadership and unable, even were he willing, to corral his father’s allies. This may well produce greater internal instability, which is capable of being translated into external aggression. Indeed, it is only the routine acts of local antagonism to neighbours that we can count on as the certainties: the intercontinental rocket launch that effectively ended the huge aid mission of the United States, the leap-day deal; and the links with Iran over that rocketry. I have no doubt, as has been said, that they will make progress on it. They will have the equivalent of a Kahn in rocketry and nuclear weapons, the influence of a Werner von Braun in missiles. They will find that kind of leverage.
There are threats of further nuclear tests: a third nuclear test possibly in the very near future. There has been the sinking of a South Korean warship and the bombardment of a South Korean island. There is the threat of spreading nuclear weapons, as noble Lords have mentioned, to rogue states, terrorists and non-state actors. There are the alleged cyber-attacks, denied by Pyongyang, on civil aircraft GPS guidance, although I think there is probably reasonable evidence that it happened. The sequence of provocations cannot be in any sense accidental.
Can South Korea influence events? I hope so. In an extensive and revealing interview with Al-Jazeera, President Park’s closest associate at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies said that she had been principled, resolute and determined to keep her promises to achieve greater reconciliation and influence. Yet the rocket launch has become a major security concern. President Park stressed that it underlined the urgency for more diplomacy. I applaud that. However, she also notes that North Korea’s determination to sustain its nuclear programme and defy UN resolutions make it difficult. Indeed, the regime in North Korea has not only denounced her in the most unflattering terms, but described her predecessor in the past five years as bringing “nightmare, despair and catastrophe” to the region.
The United Sates has probably played, at least for the time being, the key diplomatic cards available to it to achieve the short-lived leap-day deal, which has now melted away. If I am right, and in the light of the lack of any progress, the various collapses of the six-plus-one talks inevitably raises the question of the role of China. United States and Chinese assessments may be linked in a somewhat paradoxical way. The United States appears to believe that influence could be created by aid and the support of humanitarian projects. In short, North Korea would become dependent on the relationship. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked whether building bridges might be the right way or creating dependence as part of the same strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, rightly argued the same point just a moment ago.

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It is not easy to read the Chinese thinking, but they may have concluded that, over long years, a relatively chaotic client will come to depend on the one steadfast friend it can probably count on: one source of trade, one source of military cover, one source of diplomatic umbrella, and a very powerful regional power to boot. It may be thought that this creates a kind of marginal stability which is better than anything else on offer. If that is right, the strategic choices of the United States and China are diametrically different. If the views remain this dissonant, then the prospects for much progress are probably poor.
China is investing in North Korea. Surplus military equipment flows to the country. There may well be technical experts working on the North Korean rocketry. All these approaches must cause us anxiety and perplexity. I believe that we need a clear sign from China: perhaps a vote in the United Nations will be that sign. Most of all, the approaches seem at odds with China’s own economic trajectory and its growing rise into a role as a world power in international institutions.
I ask whether the Government share any part of this assessment; whether they believe that there is an alternative dialogue into which life can be breathed; and whether the approach of the six-plus-one nations may be revivified in a more viable form. I also ask what is open to us beyond being the honest witnesses that I described at the beginning of my speech and the advocates for the victims of the appalling humanitarian crimes.
6.05 pm
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for calling this debate and for the active role that he has played in raising the profile of North Korean issues in Parliament. He absolutely deserves the plaudits that he has received from across the House today. Noble Lords clearly share our concerns about the North Korean security threat, and the appalling human rights and humanitarian situation there.
Let me start by setting out the Government’s assessment of the current situation in North Korea. Kim Jong-un has now been in power for more than a year. Over the past 12 months there has been intense speculation as to whether this new, young, western-educated man will lead positive change in North Korea. We have certainly seen some changes in style: greater openness about his family life, more public appearances and a surprise new year’s speech claiming that North Korea wants to improve relations with South Korea, and will focus on improving its economy. It could be the distant hope to which my noble friend Lady Williams referred. However, whether any of these statements will lead to real changes for the people of North Korea remains to be seen.
North Korea remains a significant security concern. It tried twice to launch satellites in 2012, in both cases allowing it to test its ballistic missile technology in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. The success of the second satellite launch, in particular, serves as a reminder that North Korea

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poses a real and severe threat to international peace and security. I add my support to much of what we heard from my noble friend Lady Williams. The UK simply cannot accept repeated violations of Security Council resolutions by the Government of Pyongyang. It was right that the UN responded to April’s satellite launch with a strongly-worded UN Security Council Presidential Statement. We are working closely with Security Council colleagues to respond to the launch which took place in December.
North Korea also continues to sell its dangerous technology to any willing buyer worldwide, presenting a broader risk to peace and security. The UK continues to work with international partners to ensure that current sanctions are rigorously implemented but, as the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea noted in its most recent report, more needs to be done to help others with implementation.
Noble Lords will be aware of the speculation that the South Korean President-elect, Park Guen-hye, wants to pursue dialogue with North Korea during her five-year presidency. The UK would welcome improvements in inter-Korean relations and would welcome in particular the resumption of negotiations on the denuclearisation of North Korea. However, repeated provocative acts by North Korea have made it difficult for others to engage in negotiations. We are therefore concentrating our diplomatic efforts on urging North Korea to refrain from further provocations and to take concrete steps to engage in constructive dialogue. However, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is right when he says that we must always be looking for opportunities in terms of who and what can influence the North Koreans.
The nuclear issue is of enormous concern to the international community but, as noble Lords have set out so clearly, we must not lose sight of the situation of the people who live in North Korea. Food deprivation and malnutrition were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford.
As your Lordships are well aware, North Korea has some of the most repressive controls on civil and political rights in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the well publicised memoirs of Shin Dong-hyuk, which have shown that the conditions for political prisoners are truly shocking. Individual stories repeated in the House today again have shocked many of us.
I remain deeply concerned about the policies of some countries that, in breach of UN conventions, continue to repatriate North Korean asylum seekers. The UK has taken a leading role in ensuring that North Korean human rights abuses have been highlighted in international fora. We co-sponsor the annual UN General Assembly resolution on human rights in North Korea. This year it was passed without a vote-a significant first. As an EU member state we co-sponsor the annual Human Rights Council resolution and have been actively lobbying North Korea to allow the UN special rapporteur access to the country.
We are actively considering with UN partners whether there is anything more that we can do to encourage North Korea to change its policy on human rights. The UK has also undertaken small-scale work in-country

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to improve the treatment of vulnerable groups. One area where we have seen some positive developments in North Korea is in the situation of people with disabilities. Due to severe social stigma, 10 years ago it was unusual to see a disabled person on the streets of Pyongyang; now this is a commonplace. Last year, the British embassy in Pyongyang provided funding for training at a deaf school in Wonsan. We also assisted the North Korean authorities in sending swimmer Rim Ju Song, the country’s first Paralympian, to London in 2012. Of course, North Korea is very far from meeting international human rights standards. However, the achievements to date in the way in which people with disabilities are perceived and treated is one small progress.
We also have concerns about the humanitarian situation in North Korea. Assessments by the World Food Programme confirm that there remain chronic levels of malnutrition. There also appears to be a widening gulf between the visible relative affluence of Pyongyang and appalling conditions elsewhere in the country. The UK contributes funding to organisations operating in North Korea. Between 2011 and 2014 we will contribute £100 million to the World Food Programme’s global budget and we also contributed a fifth of the Central Emergency Response Fund’s £15.4 million funding for North Korea. The British embassy in Pyongyang has also worked with the North Korean authorities on a number of small-scale humanitarian projects, including a project to provide a safe source of soybean milk to young children. The embassy also sponsored a visit to the UK to provide training for North Korean doctors treating spinal injuries and providing rehabilitation.
However, despite this work, we are clear that the North Korean Government bear significant responsibility for their failure to feed their people adequately. Of particular concern is the prioritisation of resources to the military. This year North Korea has spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding its satellite programme while simultaneously seeking aid. This money could have been spent on improving the critical infrastructure, which could have made it easier to transport food around the country, or, simply-as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said-on food. We must continue to be clear to North Korea that it cannot just rely on aid from the international community. It needs to take measures to ensure that the right conditions are in place so all of the resources that it has available, including any aid, can be used most effectively, and it must give real and tangible priority to improving the humanitarian situation of its people.
If Kim Jong-un delivers on his new year’s promise to improve the economic situation, the UK would warmly welcome this. We will focus our diplomatic efforts in the next 12 months on promoting the benefits of economic development in North Korea. However, we will not provide North Korea with development assistance over and above what we are currently providing until its Government demonstrate that they are ready to take concrete steps towards reform.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of the BBC World Service in North Korea. This is primarily a matter for the BBC World Service, under the terms

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of the broadcasting agreement. However, I am aware that the BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks will be speaking to the APPG on North Korea later this week and I am sure that matter will be raised with him.
My noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood made a fascinating and well informed contribution. I agree with his assessment of restrictions on freedom of expression. Our concerns were reflected in the General Assembly resolution, which we co-sponsored. The British embassy in Pyongyang continuously tries to find ways in which to expose the North Korean people to the outside world-simple steps. For example, in 2010 we secured the broadcast of “Bend it Like Beckham”; we have a British Council English-language teacher training programme, and in 2012 we sent the first two achievement scholars to the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, talked about diplomatic relations with North Korea. The UK advocates a policy of critical engagement with North Korea. Engagement is the best way of communicating our views and ensuring that our messages on human rights and proliferation are understood.
My noble friend Lady Berridge, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of the commission of inquiry. At the Australia-UK ministerial consultations on 18 January, the Foreign Secretary and the Australian Foreign Minister committed to looking at what more can be done to improve the effectiveness of UN mechanisms, including around the issue of the commission of inquiry.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of prison camps. We regularly raise this issue when we have the opportunity. We are also consulting with international partners in advance of the Human Rights Council meeting in March. As he is aware, given the significance of the abuse, unfortunately the DPRK still refuses to engage in serious dialogue or provide any access on this issue. The noble Lord also raised the issue of repatriation of North Korean refugees from China. We believe that people who have escaped

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from DPRK are entitled to protection under the international Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. We regularly raise this matter with the Chinese Government and encourage them to work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of UN mechanisms and whether North Korea has accepted assistance from the UN to engage with UN mechanisms. We are not aware of this, but the UK Government have also offered assistance in relation to North Korea’s engagement with UN mechanisms. Again, we have not received a positive response.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and my noble friend Lady Berridge raised the issue of persecutions of Christians in North Korea. We continue to have concerns about the persecution of people in North Korea because of their religious beliefs, and these concerns were highlighted in the 2012 United Nations General Assembly resolution. We regularly raise these concerns; we both raised and detailed how many individuals have tragically paid with their lives for simply having a faith. It is also important to note, in today’s debate, how many noble Lords who have taken part in the past have spoken of the importance of faith and of their faith.
In conclusion, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contribution to this evening’s debate. We do not expect change in North Korea to come overnight. It is therefore vital that we maintain the conversation on what can be done to encourage North Korea to embark on a positive path towards change. It is also important that the North Korean authorities see firsthand the concerns that have been raised by noble Lords here today, and I therefore ask Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Pyongyang, Michael Gifford, to draw the Hansard report of this debate to the attention of the North Korean Government. If there are any specific questions which I have failed to answer in summing up, I shall make sure that officials write. If they do not, please catch me in the Lobbies, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, and I shall make sure that it happens.
House adjourned at 6.18 pm.

Iran and Capital Punishment – Why is the world so silent in face of Tehran’s appalling human rights record?- the fate of Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani, facing execution in Iran



Iran: Capital Punishment — Question
11:28 am May 24th 2012 and, September 2012,  the fate of Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani – facing execution in Iran

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench):

My Lords, when did her Majesty’s Government last raise the issue of human rights with Iran? When they were in full diplomatic relations with Iran, did they discuss the execution of people for their sexual orientation, of others, such as the Baha’is and Christians, for changing their religion, and of women, who are regularly publicly executed for so-called social offences? Is this not something that we should at least be making a démarche about and certainly trying to draw the international community into full unison, not just on the security questions, which we regularly raise, but on these profoundly important human rights issue too?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)The answer to the first part of the noble Lord’s question is almost continuously. However, we are constrained by the fact that our diplomatic relations with Iran are now at a very low level. As he knows, there are no ambassadors between the two countries because our embassy was attacked and had to be evacuated. So far we have not got any agreement from Tehran to our request for a protecting power to look after our interests and maintain contacts. However, that does not stop us almost continuously working with the UN special rapporteur to keep this kind of horror on the UN agenda and to keep up the international pressure in every way that we can.


Why is the world  so silent in face of Tehran’s appalling human rights record?

As much of the world’s attention is focused on Iran’s nuclear program, the regime’s leaders have continued their reign of terror on Iranian dissidents. And the world has been cravenly silent.

Iran has achieved the dubious status of ranking only second to China for the number of people it has executed.

Now it has issued a death sentence on Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani,  a supporter of the principal opposition resistance group, the Peoples Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).  According to Amnesty International Khoshravi is scheduled to be executed on September 10. This sentence not only continues Iran’s policy of bloody repression, but as unlikely and ironic as it might first appear, it is legitimated by the United States and their misguided policy towards the PMOI.

The case of Gholamreza Khosravi is a very telling story of justice,  the mullahs’ style.

A political prisoner in the 1980’s, he was arrested in Kerman Province (in Southern Iran) in  2008 by the Ministry of Intelligence and  was sentenced to six years’ of imprisonment, three years of which were suspended.  He has reportedly spent over 40 months in solitary confinement.

He was charged with allegedly providing support to Simay Azadi, a pro-PMOI TV outside of Iran.

Following an appeal by the Ministry of Intelligence, the three-year suspended sentence was implemented, bringing his total sentence to six years actual imprisonment.  During this period Khosravi was reportedly subject to torture and extreme duress while kept in solitary confinement. The regime were determined to illicit a televised, self-incriminating confession. However, he steadfastly refused to cooperate with authorities in this manner.

As is typical of Iran’s farcical judicial system, Khosravi was denied due process or any semblance of a fair trial. Following two retrials, Khosravi was sentenced to death after the conviction of a fresh charge of “enmity against God” (moharebeh), for his alleged ties to the PMOI, which the Supreme Court confirmed on April 21st, 2012.

According to Amnesty International, Gholamreza Khosravi, aged 50, was told in July 2012 that his death sentence will be implemented on September 10. That is about two weeks before the mullahs’ firebrand President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is about to address the UN General Assembly.

Facing growing regional and international isolation, a restive population, and crippling sanctions, the Iranian regime has resorted to extreme measures to quell any hint of dissent at home, in particular towards the PMOI, the only viable organized opposition.

The Iranian authorities continue the extensive use of the death penalty, with over 600 executions reported in the country from official and unofficial sources in 2011. Since the 2009 uprising, the regime has arrested scores of individuals affiliated with the PMOI, charging each with “moharbeh” and sentencing them to death.

That is appalling by any civilized standards. But in a strange twist of irony, the Iranian regime has repeatedly pointed to the U.S. State Department’s classification of the PMOI/MEk as a terrorist organization to justify the execution of those linked with the group.

The State Department, facing a court ordered deadline to review the designation of the group, has continued to play politics with the review, much to the detriment of those whose lives hang in the balance. Seemingly, the PMOI has been denied a fair trial both in Iran and in the United States. To date, the State Department has not presented any evidence to warrant the continued enlistment of the PMOI, and has ignored court rulings and evaded judicial inquiry.

As the clock is ticking towards September 10, one could wonder why the US and EU have not spoken out against such a blatant violation of human rights; why they have not condemned this injustice; and have not called for his sentence to be rescinded immediately.  As Dr.Martin Luther King once observed: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Whether in Tehran or in Washington, it appears the PMOI has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. It might be too much to hope that the clerical regime will amend its ways  but  where here are the sons and daughters of Thomas Jefferson – who held that tyranny gains a foothold  when we shrink into studied silence?

That silence should come to an end at once and  Iran’s brave dissidents  – seeking to create  their own “ land of the free” – should be protected, not marginalized, by the unwarranted terror tag which day by day plays in to the hands of the authors of so much misery, suffering and fear.


Statement issued by the National Council of Resistance of Iran
September13, 2012

Iran: 13 hanged on only 4 days

The inhuman clerical regime hanged a prisoner  in public in Tehran on September 13.  Previously a 34 years- old prisoner  was hanged in public in Shahroud on September 12 . A group of 11 prisoners were hanged collectively in Tehran’s Evin prison on September 8. The number of executions only for the period of September 8 to September 11 has  reached to 13.

Unprecedented intensification of internal and international crisis, particularly economic bankruptcy that has resulted in crippling inflation on Iranians, has intensified the Iranian regime’s fear of growing public anger. The fragile clerical regime, particularly at a time when the dictator of Syria, its main regional ally is on the verge of collapse, has resorted to increased suppression and death penalty in order to prolong its life even for a short period.

The Iranian Resistance calls on the international community, especially human rights organizations to take immediate and decisive action to stop the brutal repression in Iran, especially the brutal death penalty.

Iran: Speech in House of Lords

Text of a speech given in the House of Lords on 10/12/02

British Policy towards Iran

“British Foreign Policy Is Incoherent, Contradictory, and Expedient.”

Some human rights groups have made the error of criticising the British Government for using the appalling human rights of Iraq as grounds for concerted international action against Saddam Hussein. Their criticism is the wrong one.

Cruelty and inhumanity manifest themselves with periodic predictability and it is the duty of democratic nations to turn the regimes who are responsible into pariah states.

Instead of complaining that their dossiers have been cited as a causus beli against Iraq, they should be pressing the British Government on when they now intend to publish similar documentary evidence against regimes such as North Korea, Burma and Iran.

They should be asking why human rights abuses can constitute grounds for military action in Iraq, while human rights abuses in Iran are merely dismissed as a unfortunate aberration which should not get in the way of Britain undertaking “business as usual.”

They should be asking the question why it is possible for our American allies to designate a country like Iran as part of an “axis of evil” while the British Foreign Secretary has conferred upon the regime a wholly undeserved respectability.

How can it be business as usual with a regime who have already executed more than 400 people this year? How can it be business as usual with a regime that between March and August stoned 10 people to death? How can it be business as usual with a regime that incarcerates political dissidents; that has developed

Shahab missiles that can reach all Middle East capitals and many in southern Europe; that is developing weapons of mass destruction; and that has been responsible for the death of an estimated 120,000 political prisoners?

Today I want to concentrate on one issue: Her Majesty’s Government’s attitude towards the Iranian regime and its attitude towards the opposition to that regime.

As I do so, I am thinking of this country’s own experience in combating Nazi Germany; of what it learnt about the folly of appeasement and collaboration; I am thinking of family members of mine who gave their lives fighting that regime; and I am thinking of the brave resistance in countries like France and Yugoslavia who ultimately triumphed.

Jack Straw described our current policy towards Iran as “constructive dialogue”. We are told that soon we will be engaged in a human rights dialogue with Tehran and also a dialogue on political and trade relations.

Simultaneously, the Home Secretary has listed the Mojahedin as a proscribed organisation. Whatever opinion one has about the Mojahedin, it is indisputable that they are the most active opposition inside and outside of Iran. It is also indisputable that the Iranian regime considers them as its number one enemy and a threat to its survival.

So, in reality, setting aside diplomatic niceties, in this battle between the Iranian regime and its opposition, Her Majesty’s Government has taken the side of the regime.

Although I am sure that government spin doctors would not put it in this way, and would doubtless offer other justifications, whether we like it or not, this is the reality. Therefore the real question is whether this is the right policy for our country. It is worth remembering that in this part of the world we have been wrong before.

We seriously miscalculated during the time of the Shah. We did not anticipate change until it was too late. Our then government continued its support for the Shah until the very last days that the Shah was in power. We ignored the Iranian people and their genuine desires for change and we lost. And so did they. So, let us be loud and clear to our government not to repeat the same mistake.

The British government’s policy has been based on a myth: on a non-existent notion that thereis a genuine moderate faction within the regime that could bring change. This is wishful thinking. It is also incredibly naïve to go on with this mesmorising self delusion after five years of Khatami’s tenure. The recent anti-government demonstrations by students and by the people of Iran, once again illustrated that people’s demands go far beyond what any faction within the regime could offer.

Despite the regime’s crackdown intimidation and threats, tens of thousands of students risked their lives at recent rallies to chant such slogans as “down with dictatorship” and “Khatami resign.” This demonstrates that they have no illusions about Khatami and that they seek the overthrow of the regime in its entirety.

According to the Reuters one student leader said, “we have never looked at Khatami as a leader of the reform movement. He played the role of a catalyst to prevent the fall of the regime. We are thinking beyond Khatami.” The question for the British Government is, are they? Or are their views based upon short term considerations? Our government should listen to the message from Iran and not what they are told at private diplomatic meetings by those who are personally responsible for execution, torture and terrorism and represent a murderous regime.

The policy of dialogue, under any pretext, has failed. It has only emboldened the regime and the more we proceed with this policy the more they will believe that they can act with utter impunity. According to the Iranian regime’s official media, – not the opposition – since the beginning of this year 407 people have been executed. Just the sort of press hand out that chillingly reveals the nature of this regime: one founded in visceral brutality.

This figure, of course does not include the secret executions. In addition inhumane punishments such as amputation of arms and limbs, gouging out eyes and public flogging have become rampant, unprecedented even by the standards of the Iranian regime. A 21-year-old women, was sentenced to eye gouging in public “to set an example for the public” in southern Iran on July 24. An 18-year-old boy was hanged in public in Mashad on June 18. A 17-year-old teenager was sentenced to death by Tehran’s juvenile court on August 18. In late September, two persons were stoned to death after being imprisoned for 15 years.

The policy of dialogue has neither deterred Tehran from supporting terrorism nor its ambitious desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In August the Associated Press reported on new secret nuclear projects initiated by Tehran. More recently the US media reported that Administration Officials and nuclear proliferation specialists say Iran is trying covertly to produce weapons-grade uranium or plutonium.

When I was recently in the U.S. I heard that what worries U.S. officials and experts most is Iran’s interest in technology for the production of nuclear reactor fuel and the handling of spent fuel. This “fuel cycle” can include reprocessing of the spent fuel to extract weapons-grade plutonium. Sources from within Iran have indicated that two secret nuclear sites are under construction. One, about 25 miles south east of the city of Kashan, is to be used for nuclear fuel production. The site includes two large halls 25 feet underground. A facility meant to produce heavy water is being located alongside a river near the central Iranian city of Arak. John Wolf, assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation said the State Department’s information is consistent with these disclosures. He says “There are two clandestine sites, including one underground.”

So much for our collaboration and business as usual with the regime.

Of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojaheidn Organization of Iran is the largest and most active opposition movement in Iran. The PMOI espouses a democratic, modern and tolerant interpretation of Islam. Therefore it has a unique role in combating Islamic fundamentalism.

The greatest conundrum facing the west in its dealings with the Islamic world is how can we counter Islamic fundamentalism, without offending the religion of Islam and Muslims? The answer is to be found in organisations like the Iranian resistance.

Yet, because the British Government has based its policy on improving relations with the present theocratic regime, it has conceded that regime’s demand to label the Mojahedin as terrorists and has proscribed them. This is wrong, both from an ethical and political point of view.

How can it ever be ethical to condemn the victims in order to appease the oppressor?

When apologists for the regime – from bishops to secretaries of state – describe the present regime as moderates, let us not forget that these are the former hangmen. Khatami, is acknowledged to have been a staunch supporter of the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988. He was Khomeini’s minister of information, or propaganda, for almost a decade.

I have never been convinced by the government’s decision to proscribe the Mojahedin. After all, the Home Secretary has acknowledged that PMOI has not been engaged in any attack against UK or western interests over the past two decades and has no plan to do so. Moreover, the Mojahedin military conduct falls perfectly within the international laws governing the war of liberation. I can see little difference between them and with, for instance, Nelson Mandela’s ANC.

The PMOI has been recognized as a legitimate resistance movement not only by the majority of The UK House of Commons and more than 120 Peers, but also by the majority of the US Congress and parliaments in several European countries. But above all, by such a policy, the UK government is once again distancing itself from the Iranian people.

Iran is on the brink of change. To continue with this wrong policy, is tantamount to be once again on the losing side of change in Iran. If we remember the struggles of 1939 – 1945 we would see that our commitment should be to millions of Iranians who are expressing their legitimate resistance. Such a bold initiative would represent a serious guarantee for an amicable relationship between the two nations once the mullahs are overthrown.

Our present policy is incoherent, contradictory and expedient. It does us no credit and represents craven posturing to a regime that is among the world’s worst pariah states.

Debate on Iran

Hansard text for 25th April, 2001.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I should be grateful if the noble Earl would give way. I simply want to ask whether he is in any way correct in relying on one person’s statement that the human rights circumstances under the Shah were better than they are under the present regime. I travelled in Iran during the time of the Shah and was arrested three times by SAVAK, his brutal secret police. They had a reputation of which the noble Earl may not be aware. Is he sure of his ground in making that statement?

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am pretty sure of my ground. I have a friend, a distinguished man who did good work under the Shah and under the present regime, and who found the present regime intolerable and decided to leave Iran. That is fact. There is no further argument. He is a successful and reliable man who is much admired in this country, and that is his testimony. If I may say so, it is even more reliable than the always reliable testimony of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Leaving aside the personal issue, I rely on what my friend says. The present Muslim regime in Iran is one of extreme religious fanaticism.

Fanaticism has its merits. We usually call the Reverend Ian Paisley a fanatic. Nevertheless, he called for a prayer in Parliament the other day. I wish that I had been there when he was last elected. I should have voted for him. But the Reverend Ian Paisley is not like one of the mullahs. He once gave me a little book on the Epistle to the Romans. No one could think that he would be a cruel man or that he would do anything harsh like the mullahs.

As I said, according to my friend, the present regime is one of extreme religious fanaticism. He is not my only Iranian friend; most of his drivers come from Iran and they say the same: that the present regime goes altogether too far. It is not based on sound Muslim teaching.

That brings me to the important speech made by the right reverend Prelate. It was far more important than anything I can say. He said so many things so well that I can do little more than say, “Ditto”. I am sure that we must approach the question as though it were in large measure one of religious fanaticism. The situation is not the same as it is in Iraq, where there is a military dictator; it is not the same trouble as under the Communists; it is a religious question. The right reverend Prelate explained it very well.I have little more to say save that we are dealing with a religious problem. I look to religious leaders, including the right reverend Prelate, to show us the way forward.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this important and timely debate. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for his generous words about Islam and for his reference to the Koran.

Your Lordships will be aware that I have spoken on human rights in Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya, the Balkans and in northern African and Middle Eastern countries. At the outset, I remind the House that human rights were first established in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad–peace be upon him–in his famous Mount Arafat sermon 1,400 years ago. Rights were given to men, women, children, prisoners and refugees, and even environmental rules were established.

One must never confuse that with the political situation in Islamic countries where things appear to be done in the name of Islam and yet have no relevance to Islam. Of course, Islamic rules are interpreted by different governments and institutions. However, in Iran we have seen considerable improvements in legislation, human rights and the education of women. Reference has been made to the resolution passed last week by the United Nations Human Rights Commission welcoming the report of the special representatives on human rights. In relation to the areas I mentioned earlier the report noted that,

    “certain foundational improvements have taken place”.

The report refers to the efforts of the Sixth Majlis to improve the status of women and girls, in particular the project of a Bill aiming to raise the marriage age and a Bill to remove the existing ban on unmarried women studying abroad. However, the report expresses concern at the delay on the part of the Council of Guardians.While no one can defend the abuse of human rights, I should like to draw attention to the tremendous changes that have taken place in the Islamic republic of Iran in the past five years. Despite strong resistance from the hard-liners and the conservative element, President Khatami and the Majlis have opened up Iran to the outside world. I had the pleasure of visiting Tehran 18 months ago. I spoke with many young graduates, including young women students, who were staunch supporters of change and supporters of President Khatami.

It is absolutely imperative that we understand the complex nature of the struggle that is taking place within Iran between the moderates and the conservatives. In this debate we should not provide any reason for the hard-liners to criticise the reformers for not securing any support from the West. Here I should like to point out, as was mentioned earlier, that one organisation based in Iraq claims that it is fighting for a change inside Iran; however, I saw no evidence for supporting that organisation. It is most hated for its terrorist activities inside Iran. It is seen as an instrument of Saddam Hussein rather than as a legitimate opposition group. Even the British ambassador in Iran told me that the popular support in Iran was for the modernisers and for Mr Khatami, and that there is no support for any external organisation.

I am also deeply concerned about the banning of many newspapers and journals by the judiciary, as mentioned earlier. Your Lordships will understand that this is part of a power struggle and I am pleased to announce that two-thirds of all newspapers are still pro-democracy and pro-modernisation. Iran’s intelligence services have also gone through some change. As your Lordships will no doubt be aware, two years ago the head of operations was arrested for ordering the killing of dissidents and later committed suicide in prison. Although reformers have the backing of the majority of the population, unfortunately since last year’s elections hard-liners have reasserted their grip on the judiciary and on other institutions–a point made by almost every speaker.

I congratulate the BBC and the World Service for providing an excellent news service to the Iranian people, with balanced news and views. The BBC World Service radio (Persian language) has a regular following in Iran, including the president, politicians, decision makers, young people and intellectuals. The BBC has made an enormous contribution to the process of democracy in Iran. I congratulate the Foreign Secretary, the right honourable Robin Cook, and our Government for the strong stance they have taken with the Government of Iran regarding women’s rights, minority rights and human rights, including the resumption of diplomatic relations at ambassador level.

Therefore, I do not believe that condemnation from the House will help the democracy and change that is taking place in Iran today. We should follow the lead of the UN Human Rights Commission and acknowledge that a change is taking place in Iran. In the words of the executive summary of the United Nations Human Rights Commission report:

    “Certainly every shade of opinion seems to make itself heard, despite the massive repression of the reformist press. Democracy in the form of popular elections continues to make progress. Some argue that the point of self-sustaining take off has been reached”.

I am pleased to hear that positive steps have been taken regarding the situation of the Baha’is in Iran. I call upon all those in powerful positions inside Iran to ensure that minority rights, women’s rights and children’s rights are safeguarded in accordance with the UN declaration of human rights and other international human rights agreements.

Finally, as the oldest parliament in the world, we have an opportunity to help in the process of change that is taking place in Iran by having a serious dialogue with the elected Iranian representatives and exchanging visits rather than condemning and strengthening the hands of the conservatives. Iran has a strategic position in the region, with Afghanistan in the north-east, Iraq to the west, and the largest natural resources in the region. Iran is also an influential and active member of the OIC, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

When the presidential elections are only six weeks away, we cannot afford to isolate Iran at this crucial time by condemning the growing democratisation that is taking place. We should continue to encourage democracy and progress in Iran where over 50 per cent of the population is under the age of 20 and 52 per cent of university students are female. Such a country has a vast potential.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this important debate from which I believe many of us have benefited a great deal. We have heard some extraordinarily interesting and perceptive speeches. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, I should like to associate myself with the condemnations made of human rights abuses in Iran. It is perhaps particularly difficult for a woman–or, for that matter, for a Baha’i or a Christian–to accept some of the dreadful things that have happened to women and to minorities in Iran. I defer to no one in agreeing that such matters must be condemned. We must persuade the regime in Iran that the road to a civilised modern world lies through respect for human rights. All of us, from whatever country or part of the world that we come, recognise that fact. It is interesting that the next topic for debate tonight is precisely the issue of human rights and discrimination on religious, racial and gender grounds.

I suppose that this debate has turned in many ways not on any question about the outrage of human rights abuses in Iran but on whether our view about the Khatami experiment is an optimistic or a pessimistic one. I believe that that division has run through the speeches made from all Benches in the debate tonight. The arguments for the pessimists are unquestionably strong. In 1997, when President Khatami was elected, there seemed to be a real opportunity for rapid development in Iran towards a democratic state. Although the election of the president was not completely clear of doubt, it was conducted in a pretty transparent and acceptable manner. The more recent election of the Majlis, which led to a clear majority of moderate reformers, appeared, again, to be a most encouraging step forward.

However, in the past few months, the closing of reformist newspapers and journals and, above all, the detention and imprisonment–indeed, in some cases, torture–of scores of dissident reformers has filled many of us with some discouragement. The essential question is: what line should we take? Despite the fact that the sky has clouded since that bright dawn of 1997, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and the right reverend Prelate that there are some real signs of hope.

One of those signs of hope is the sheer courage of the reform element both within the Majlis and outside it in the universities, and elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and my noble friend Lord Phillips both referred to the very courageous statement made by the 150 members of the Majlis only a few weeks ago about the detention of the members of the freedom movement. Since then–indeed, only today–there has, again, been an extraordinarily courageous manifestation with 109 university professors signing a letter to their president drawing his attention to the effect on universities and on the intellectual climate of the detention of dissidents who, at no point, have ever turned to violence as a way of expressing their opposition.

Therefore, the first hopeful point is one that I believe the whole House should express; namely, our profound respect for members of the reform movement in Iran, who, at huge risk to themselves–risks that most of us, thank God, have never had to contemplate–have continued to bear witness to the need for democratisation in Iran.

The second sign of hope was the one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed: half of the population of Iran is aged under 20. The evidence, which is overwhelming, shows that the younger elements in the population of the country strongly support President Khatami and the movement towards a more democratic regime. In short, as time passes, the situation should inevitably improve not worsen. However, it is also important to point out that 40 per cent of those same people of Iran live in either abject or extreme relative poverty. Relative poverty is not the best seedbed into which to plant the seeds of democracy.

That brings me to my third point, which is one that needs to be most clearly made. The present condition of Iran has made possible the establishment of an illiberal and totalitarian theocracy. I should add that we, too, remember theocracies in our history that behaved little better in their own day and in their own time. However, that theocracy is, in part, a reaction to the intervention by Western powers who established a Shah, against what was clearly strong, popular feeling in Iran. Those powers supported him in what was a cruel policy; namely, of literally seizing and confiscating a large number of small peasant holdings in Iran in order to sell them to large agro-businesses, with no compensation whatever in many cases to those who had owned, admittedly, infertile and rocky land. However, it was land which belonged to them and which underpinned a powerful conservative view in Iran. The regime forbade the worship of Islam, and did so to such an extent that it actually detained people who had a copy of the Koran in their homes.

I saw evidence of this in 1970s when I travelled around Iran, during the time of the Shah. Those powers subsequently provided weapons and support to Iraq in the most cynical way for one of the most dreadful and painful civil wars that we have seen since our own Second World War, and which led to deaths on a scale equivalent to that experienced in the First World War in Europe. Perhaps we Europeans, Americans and other Western powers ought to make it plain that we accept some responsibility for a reaction back to medieval values, given how hypocritical and, in many ways, self-interested modern politics must have looked to many Iranian citizens.

The fourth point I want to make, which has not been touched upon so far, concerns the reasons why the West sometimes changes its attitude towards a particular Islamic state. Even now the Energy Committee under Vice-President Cheney in the United States is discussing the possibility of lifting the present economic sanctions on Iran. So far as we know President Bush has said that the time is not ripe. However, we should not pretend to ourselves that one of the major reasons for even considering the lifting of sanctions is directly connected to the huge recent oil discoveries in the Caspian Sea and to the possibility of pipelines passing through Iran or, alternatively, through Georgia and Turkey. We should not be too noble in not regarding our own economic involvement with Middle Eastern and Islamic states when we consider issues of human rights. Let me make it plain that that in no way forgives for a moment abuses of human rights, but it does at least recognise that we have been complicit in some of the abuses of human rights in other Middle Eastern countries.

My final point relates to what we might do now. We have heard some constructive suggestions. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, suggested–I am sure that he is right–that there should be closer interchanges and relations with the Iranian Majlis, which badly needs the support and encouragement of old democracies such as those of the United Kingdom, Germany and others. I believe that such exchanges could strengthen and increase respect for the Majlis. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate is right to suggest that there is room for a deeper and more profound interchange of religious views and values between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I defer to his knowledge which is infinitely greater than mine in that regard. I too have come across in Malaysia, Pakistan and elsewhere the profound divisions with regard to the interpretation of Islamic holy writ between the more modern members of the faith and those who are wedded to more ancient and traditional attitudes. As a Roman Catholic, who am I to suggest that there are not similar tensions and differences among Christian religions, as anyone who is familiar with Vatican Two and its aftermath is bound to accept?

We must try to meet the huge challenge of how we live with Islam not by reverting to the view that this is a clash of civilisations which will lead to a kind of new crusade, but rather by recognising that on every possible level we need to encourage the more liberal, modern minded, tolerant and, in the widest sense, religiously credible members of Islam, Judaism and Christianity to develop many dialogues between ourselves in which we all accept that the recognition of human rights is a fundamental element that binds us all together. We should hesitate just a little before condemning a whole people and rather recognise that there is a real opportunity that out of Iran may grow a regime with which we can live much more comfortably than with the theocracy of today.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, your Lordships’ House clearly owes a singular debt to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for promoting the debate and raising issues at a very appropriate time given that the Iranian presidential elections will take place on 8th June. I assume that that will occur the day after our general election. He initiates the debate at a time when great changes are afoot in the whole Gulf area and in American foreign policy. However, we are obviously concerned centrally with the question of human rights.

I propose to confine my remarks to four subjects: first, whether reform is or is not going forward, which constitutes the central theme of the debate; secondly, our interests in relation to Iran in its present state; thirdly, the specific question of human rights abuse to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred and to what extent that remains an internal matter; and, fourthly, what, if anything, we can do about it all.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, rightly said, with her usual accuracy and eloquence, there has run through the whole discussion the central question of whether the Khatami regime is a reforming regime. Are things getting better or has nothing much changed at all? Are we talking about the same people who were previously involved in the most hideous atrocities and are still presiding over a country in which atrocities continue but who are using slightly different words?

As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, it is impossible for most of us to reach a judgment on the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, speaks on the matter with great authority. If one listens to him or to the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, one hears an unqualifiedly grim tale of atrocities carried out in a sinister and sick country. However, if one listens to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, or to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, it appears that the situation, although difficult, is getting better. On listening to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I had the familiar feeling that I wished to Heaven I was as certain of anything on these matters as he seems to be of everything. I cannot reach a judgment on whether his confidence is soundly based and how one weighs that against the evidence of the most hideous things that are still happening. The layman must have grave doubts about the matter.

A ministerial statement from the British Government to Iranian Ministers contained a phrase about respecting each other’s cultural identities. One has to ask oneself what kind of culture is reflected in conducting mass hangings, stoning people to death, amputating limbs and imposing extrajudicial death sentences, let alone, on a lesser scale, in the suppression of the media or in other acts of cynicism and hatred and certain police action. Just as our views and the opinions expressed in the debate differ, so Iran itself is a country with deep divisions of view and with a completely dual power structure. There is the power structure of President Khatami, the police and the official state forces and that of the revolutionary courts, the Council of Guardians and its guards, who hold people under arrest without trial and conduct their separate system of law, hate and violence. Against that background, to reach a judgment as to whether the situation in the country is improving or going backwards is even more difficult.

My instinct is that some progress is being made if one looks very hard. However, there is also clear evidence that even in the past few months, and perhaps even while we speak, horrific things are happening which cannot be condoned by any stretch of the imagination in any context, Islamic or any other. To turn a blind eye to those events is not to serve the cause of democracy and stability, let alone to support the values that we do support and try to include in our relations with the rest of the world as we should. As I say, perhaps matters are improving a little, but it is hard to tell. There are certainly some evil and bad elements in Iran and among those who govern it at present.

I shall discuss human rights abuses in a moment. As regards our broad interests in this matter, as a responsible power we want to see stability and security in the Gulf region. We are uneasy about regimes which spend much money–however, all kinds of regimes do this–on the development of new missiles–we have to ask why they need those missiles–and which trade in the dark world of the arms markets and which perhaps dabble in weapons of mass destruction. We have an open fear about Iraq in that regard, but we are also fearful about Iran’s intentions. Those countries appear to be unreliable. One is not sure whom they will bite next. However, we must have security in the Gulf. Some 65 per cent of the world’s oil reserves are to be found in the Gulf region, whatever may be found in the Caspian Sea. But I say with respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that I understand that it is not nearly as plentiful as was thought. Vast reserves are to be found in the Gulf region which will dominate world oil markets for years to come.

It must be true, too, that it is in our interests to see a prosperous Near Asia and Middle East. If only Iraq could develop a democratic regime, and if only Iran could develop a democratic, prosperous regime, what wonderful prospects there would be for the entire Middle East. Here are two sets of people–the Iranians, in particular, are brilliant people, with a fantastic history, and full of talent: think what the possibilities would be if it could open out as a free, lively and vigorous society.

We are right to long for that and to want to use our policy leverage, such as it is, to break open this sad little world. As the Financial Times reminded us in an article yesterday, 40 per cent of those living in Iran are in absolute or relative poverty. That is a colossal percentage. It demonstrates what a miserable and sick society it is.

Then there is the question of the Middle East peace process and the role of the Hezbollah. If there are to be better relations with Iran, if there is to be business with Iran, it must be accompanied by efforts by Iran to play its part in the peace process far more than it has been prepared to do so far. If people say that the Israelis go over the top and attack when the existence of their country is threatened, the same criticism has to be applied to the Hezbollah, the so-called “army of god”, and some of its atrocities and attacks. There must be give and take in that area; and there is little sign of any give whatsoever in condoning the actions of the Hezbollah terrorist groups.

Then we come to the real focus of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, wanted us to consider the human rights issue. There used to be a time when the argument that these were internal issues was the end of the matter. One was told not to interfere. Just as the Chinese Government tell us that we must not comment on many of their affairs and self deceptions as they are internal matters, so we are constantly told by the mullahs that how they govern their country is an internal matter. But that is no longer the world in which we live. We now live in a world in which human rights issues are taken into the heart of nation states. The concern with human rights is linked directly with the stability of the globe. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, quoted Mary Robinson saying that,

    “Today’s human rights abuses are the cause of tomorrow’s conflicts”. 


The Foreign Secretary reminded us of that in his speech on 28th March. It was in some ways a strange speech. It did not mention Iran or Iraq, which I found a little strange. It mentioned Burma and other countries. But that is the new order of things: that today we feel justified in carrying concern for human rights right inside nation states. In doing so, one must realise an even greater responsibility in commenting on these issues and a greater need for accuracy and transparency than has existed in the past.The fourth matter involves what to do. Whatever we have heard about the horrors of Iran, the way it is governed today and has been governed in the past–there may have been unqualified horrors–it is, as always, a matter of light and shade. The Iranian nation has had to contend with an appalling refugee problem: 1.4 million Afghans have been driven out by the maniacal Taliban–in many ways it committed the same kind of atrocities, or worse; we do not really know–and have come into Iran. There are half a million refugees from Saddam and his hideous activities, and many other refugee problems. My impression from past experience with the Iranians is that they have been dealing with these refugee problems with great care and competence, and deserve some support, which in a substantial way the British Government and other governments have sought to give them. So one must understand that in making judgments from far away.

What do we do? Do we encourage closer links? Do we let businesses, which are always looking for ways to get into areas, become more closely involved? My judgment is that a general policy of isolation, having nothing to do with Iran, is probably wrong. I think that one has carefully and gingerly to see whether some contacts can be opened and maintained. If the Americans aim to remove their sanctions–I agree with those who suggest that they do–I think that that is probably the right way forward. They will have to keep a close watch on the armaments trade. But I do not think that the sanctions have been very effective. And the Bush administration is an energy administration. They are all energy men; they think entirely in terms of oil. They note that America now imports 60 per cent of its oil supplies. When I had some responsibility for these matters 20 years ago, it was 20 or 30 per cent. That makes America very vulnerable. They are concerned about all aspects of oil, and that will drive their policy in the Gulf and the Middle East, as it will drive their policy elsewhere.

I do not agree with a total cut-off: that no businessman, even if he knew the risks, could go in. When applied by this Government to Burma–they tried to pressurise Premier Oil to get out of Burma–that policy was totally wrong. It is pathetically misplaced and misunderstands the way in which openness and democracy are helped.

What do we do about the declared opponents of the theocratic tyranny–the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq–which has been made a proscribed organisation, to its great indignation? I appreciate that it is a difficult issue for the Government to decide. We cannot provide a nest for terrorist, violent organisations. But we can provide, and have often provided in our history, a home for exiled governments pleading for freedom to return to their land. So the judgment has to be made; and I appreciate that it is very difficult.

My heart does not go along with the broader proposition that somehow we can excuse the mass hangings, killing of children, murder of the Baha’is, and so on, because it is all part of understanding Islam and seeing issues in an Islamic context. I listened with as much sympathy as I could to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I note the point he makes: that we have to see things through Islamic eyes and that we must understand Islam. But let us understand the right kind of Islam. Let us think back to Islam and Christianity, which lived together in the early centuries after Christ, up to the 1500s and later. The gentle Islam is a wonderful thing. Christians, Islam and Mohameddans lived in peace and worshipped in each others’ churches in syncretic symbiosis. That went on; it can go on again today. But not if we are dealing with this extreme, horror-filled, tyrannous theocracy which does things in the name of Islam and I think insults the name of Islam in doing so.

My plea would be that we should understand the right kind of Islam and not this sick mutation of it; that we should look hard for signs of opening up in Iran and work with and respond to them. But we should not let out of our minds for one moment some of the facts which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, and others have placed before us. They should be constantly in our minds in dealing with this once great country–as I hope that it will again be one day.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this debate and to all noble Lords who have participated in it. I thank the noble Lord for the far too generous, fine compliments he so graciously paid me; and for the compliments paid me by my noble friend Lord Longford.

Her Majesty’s Government share many of the concerns which all noble Lords have rightly expressed about the human rights situation in Iran. As so often, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams put her finger on the issue with skill and elegance. The balance is between the optimists and those who are pessimistic about the future for Iran. The noble Baroness also reminded us of the risks faced by all those who are committed to democracy in Iran. I cannot but agree with her on that.

With the cautious acknowledgement of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that some progress is being made and that it would be wrong to withdraw, the balance of the debate has tipped slightly in favour of those who are cautiously optimistic about change, lodged as it is in the hopes and aspirations of the young people of Iran and the reformers.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we do not and will never put commerce before human rights. That is why only last week we and our EU partners put the resolution of the Commission on Human Rights to the vote–and won. We have consistently co-sponsored that resolution and the annual United Nations General Assembly resolution on the human rights situation in Iran, the last of which was adopted on 4th December last year. Those resolutions underline the continuing international concern about certain Iranian human rights policies. A significant part of the process of improving UK-Iranian relations is to raise our concerns over such issues. Ongoing EU-Iran dialogue also contains a substantial human rights element.

We remain particularly concerned about the discrimination practised against some religious minorities, most notably the Baha’is, who are still unrecognised by the Iranian constitution. They were mentioned by a number of noble Lords. The harsh prison sentences handed down at the trial on espionage charges of a number of Iranians, including 13 members of the Iranian Jewish community, are also a cause of concern. We continue to urge the Iranian judiciary to show clemency in that case. The sentencing of 10 representatives of the academic and intellectual community in Iran for attending a conference in Berlin in April 2000 was another affront to human rights.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rightly referred to the conviction on 27th January of 15 intelligence officers for their involvement in the serial murders of liberal intellectuals in 1998. That represented a significant victory for President Khatami. It was the first time since the revolution that officials of the system had been tried and prosecuted for extra-judicial killings. However, as noted in the Commission on Human Rights resolution passed in Geneva on 20th April, we regret that all the circumstances surrounding the killings are not fully clarified. The resolution urges the Government of Iran to continue the process of investigation and to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice in accordance with the due process of law.

The violations of the legal rights of prisoners and the high number of executions remain important issues. There is also continuing discrimination against women in the courts and in society generally. We regularly raise a broad range of human rights concerns, including those on specific cases. Only last week, the permanent under-secretary raised such issues vigorously with the Iranian Foreign Minister and his officials. We and our EU partners have also demarched the Iranian authorities on a number of specific cases, including the trial of the Shiraz Jews and the sentencing of those who attended a conference in Berlin. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we continue to be vigorous on such issues.

The use of capital punishment has been referred to several times. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, we are implacably opposed to the use of the death penalty and we shall continue to lobby with vigour in all forums with all our partners to have that form of punishment expunged from the systems and statute books of the world. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, that the Government wholeheartedly share the distaste that he so graphically demonstrated.

However, it is important to recognise that since the election of President Khatami in May 1997 there have been a number of significant improvements in Iran’s human rights record, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and, most potently, my noble friend Lord Ahmed said. We welcome the Iranian Government’s commitment to developing an Islamic civil society based on respect for the rule of law. Engagement with the outside world will help to speed up the process of change and democratisation. In February 1999, local elections were held for the first time in Iran’s history. They put local power in the hands of the people. The mass participation in those elections reaffirmed the Iranian people’s support for the reform process.

The subsequent Majlis parliamentary elections in February and May 2000, in which 190 of the 290 seats were won by reformers, were further evidence of a more open and vigorous electoral system, as a number of noble Lords have said.

There have also been some modest improvements in the situation of women, notably with the appointment of Iran’s first four women judges and its first woman vice-president. The efforts of the Iranian president and other senior figures in the executive to press for a change in attitude towards women and women’s issues are particularly welcome and have been recognised by the UN special representative on human rights, Maurice Copithorne.

An increasing number of Iranian women now take part in politics and go on to higher education. More than 50 per cent of the university intake in Tehran is now female. That is a positive development that has been commented on tonight. One of the changes brought about by the Islamic revolution in 1979 was better education for women. Many of the women who have received that education now work and expect to do so as a right.

None the less, there is still strong evidence of continuing discrimination against women in the courts and in society generally in Iran. Recent UN resolutions on human rights in Iran sponsored by the EU have called on Iran to take further measures to eliminate discrimination against women.

We also welcome President Khatami’s affirmation last year that Iran’s constitution forbids any pressure on any person for their ideological convictions and grants all citizens their rights. We also welcome his comments that, as a president elected by the people, he is committed to defending the rights of all citizens as nationals of Iran. We hope that that will extend to all groups in Iran, including minority religious groups such as the Baha’is, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I greatly welcomed his sensitive and balanced approach and wholeheartedly agree that such sensitivity is needed.

Of course, Iran could do more. We continue to urge the Iranians to allow the special representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Maurice Copithorne, to visit Iran soon. In his latest report, published in January 2001, he welcomed some progress, but regretted that it had been overshadowed by regression in other areas, notably freedom of expression. It is right that noble Lords have noted the range of negative developments that he noted in his latest report. We share those concerns. That is why we have supported his work in its entirety.

Maurice Copithorne gave a clear welcome to the progress made in other areas, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He has assured us that he believes that we should remain engaged with the Iranian authorities. I agree with the exhortation and caution of my noble friend Lord Ahmed and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, among others, about the need not to give negative indications to those who wish to diminish the importance of the reformers in Iran. We believe that those issues can best be addressed within a policy of constructive critical engagement and dialogue. Face-to-face discussion of those difficult issues has real value. We would be loath to abandon them at the first sign of difficulty.

The recent arrests of religious nationalists provoked passionate debate in the Iranian parliament. The security and foreign policy committee summoned the intelligence Minister to answer questions about the arrests. He stated that his ministry had not been involved. Nevertheless, clearly there remain in Iran forces which are resisting democratisation and the development of an Islamic civil society.

However, we should also recognise that there exists in Iran a strong movement for change and democracy. We agree with noble Lords who, during the debate, have made that plain. President Khatami has spoken of the importance of that. He said:

    “There is no threat more serious to our popular system than a situation in which the rulers of the country cannot justify their conduct to the people”.

Of course, the arrests show the limitations on the freedom of speech. But the extent of the debate and controversy which the arrests provoked demonstrate that legitimate opposition is possible in Iran. We know that the MeK claims that the resort to arms is the only option. It issued the following statement:

    “First, the viper never gives birth to a dove and the Mullahs’ regime lacks the capacity for reform. Second, the only language the criminal Mullahs understand is the language of armed resistance”.

That is clearly not true.While perhaps not yet as far reaching as we might hope, change for the better is taking place in Iran through debate and discussion led by people who have chosen to stay in their own country rather than by those who have based themselves abroad and resorted to armed attacks and terrorism.

That process has met with many difficulties and setbacks. The proliferation of the press and the relative freedom of expression in recent years were seen as major developments in Iran’s efforts to reintegrate itself into the international community. Therefore, it is all the more regrettable that over 30 newspapers and other publications have been closed in recent months and that a number of journalists and editors have been arrested. However, there is still a wide range of newspapers and critical commentary, and new publications still appear on the streets.

As did my noble friend Lord Ahmed, I pay tribute to the sterling work carried out by the BBC World Service. It not only has journalists posted in Iran but also has expert analyst teams based in Bush House, some of whom have played an incredibly important part in the wider debate. Some of them were also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about the jamming of the TV station. We understand that SIMA TV is currently under investigation by the Independent Television Commission for broadcasting incitement to violence and for biased reporting of the situation in Iran. Therefore, it is not quite as straightforward as it might appear at first blush. I cannot but agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that the overall picture in relation to such journalistic activity is not entirely bleak.

The result of the presidential elections in June will be important in determining the direction of progress in Iran, including that in relation to human rights. Many challenges still lie ahead. Some people claim that the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran–also known as the MeK–is fighting for freedom in Iran. Although the MeK claims to be seeking to advance a legitimate struggle for democracy, such a claim is difficult to reconcile with its history of violence and authoritarian nature.

The group alienated the Iranian people and lost any popular support it may have had in Iran when it sided with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. It maintains a standing army of several thousand fighters in Iraq, supported and armed by the Iraqi regime, from where it launches cross-border attacks into Iran, including terrorist attacks.

Despite claims that it attacks only “legitimate targets”, the indiscriminate nature of some attacks means that civilians have been killed or put at risk. In February last year, a mortar attack on government offices in Tehran killed one person and injured five others. The MeK has assassinated senior Iranian officials and launched mortar attacks against government buildings in Tehran and elsewhere. Over the past year, the group has claimed responsibility for a series of mortar bomb attacks in central Tehran and other Iranian towns, such as Karaj and Ilam, resulting in death and injury to both civilians and servicemen.

We understand that the Iranians have launched attacks against MeK camps inside Iraq, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Clarke and the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We note, too, that Iran describes those attacks as limited and defensive operations aimed at halting MeK terrorist activity inside Iran. Iran claims that they are in accordance with Clause 51 of the UN Charter. I believe that that leads us to another debate as to where the rights and wrongs of that situation lie. However, those are the claims that have been made by the respective parties.

The MeK and the National Council of Resistance in Iran, of which the MeK is the dominant group, have a very effective publicity machine. They are also aware of the bad image of Iran created in the West by the country’s poor human rights record. However, that does not mean that the MeK or NCRI would improve the situation in Iran. The MeK has called for new elections to be held under the auspices of the UN. That ignores the fact that the majority of Iranians voted for the present government. We may question some aspects of the process, but the Iranian people elected President Khatami, who was not the favoured candidate, and later elected a parliament in which the majority of the members are reformists who are willing to challenge what is going on in Iran.

The MeK had their roots in times of repression. At that time, its campaigns of violence may have seemed the only solution. But the political situation in Iran has moved on. The election in 1997 of President Khatami marked the beginning of this change in direction. We should respect the wishes of the Iranian people.

The situation is fluid. It is right that we should keep it constantly under review. However, there is hope that out of Iran may emerge a well-run, diversified and dynamic market economy, fully integrated into the global economy, which will be capable of contributing to a healthy bilateral economic relationship. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was right to refer to the noble and good history that Iran had in the past and to say that this is a joint aspiration for Iran’s future.

I know that all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate wish there to be a peaceful transition and the emergence of a full democracy in Iran with a civil society based on the rule of law. At present, it appears that those aspirations are shared by President Khatami and–much more importantly–by the vast majority of the Iranian people who elected him. Iranians have hope. Their courage has already been commended, and I join those who commend the courage of the reformers.

At present, it appears that the aspirations are also shared by others outside who might strengthen them. The evidence thus far suggests that the president and his government remain genuinely committed to this course. President Khatami has stated his commitment to an Islamic republic. We hope that he will honour that commitment and the commitment to a civil society based on the rule of law. If he does so, he will satisfy the wishes of the vast majority of the Iranian people.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, this has been a well informed debate in which every speaker who has contributed has done so from the basis of knowledge and conviction. I am extremely indebted to everyone who has participated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, described the fault line that has run through the debate as a difference between optimists and pessimists. That remark was echoed by the Minister. It was once suggested to me that a pessimist is an optimist with a sense of history. Those of us who put perhaps too much faith in people who caricature themselves as reformists are sometimes bitterly disappointed in the end. One figure that should cause us at least some concern is that last year there was a 300 per cent increase in the number of refugees from Iran seeking asylum in this country. There was a similar trend throughout the rest of Europe. That is an interesting insight into the way in which Iranians perceive the situation in their country.

We in this place are extraordinarily fortunate to have the opportunity to speak freely about human rights questions and our liberties and freedoms. It is right that we discussed the questions that we raised today. We should remember that those who have been suffering acutely–whether in prisons, by being stoned to death or being subjected to the most terrible privations–will be grateful to us for having done so.

I say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford that those who have been suffering are Muslims, too. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, who sensitively drew out an understanding of Islam. That must not cloud, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, our over-riding concern for the universality of human rights. Those rights must be applied to all, whatever their state or denomination. We in this place have a duty to work towards that objective. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Iran: Violation of Rights


Lord Alton of Liverpool rose to call attention to the violations of human rights in Iran and to the policy of Her Majesty’s Government towards Iran; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 27th March, in a debate in your Lordships’ House, considerable dismay was expressed by noble Lords about the decision to place the Iranian resistance movement on the list of proscribed organisations. In moving the Motion on the Order Paper today, it is not my purpose to revisit those arguments, to which we shall doubtless return via the appeals procedure and the courts in due course.

Some months ago, and prior to the Home Secretary’s order, I first sought to raise the abuse of human rights in Iran and Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards that country. I am glad to have secured a place in the ballot, enabling me to do so today.

This is a timely debate, especially in the light of the decision last Friday by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to keep Iran under annual review for human rights violations and also in the light of the assessment by the Special Envoy, Professor Maurice Copthorne, that there are,

    “continued executions . . . in particular public and especially cruel executions”,

and that the regime uses,

    “torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”.

In his report to the 57th session of the commission, Professor Copthorne said:

    “breaches of human rights are in large part as egregious today as they were five years ago”.

He added:

    “In some key areas, it seems hard to accept that there has been any substantive and quantifiable improvement since Khatami took office”.

He also said:

    “Torture in Iran is practised in its most primitive form”.

Today’s debate takes place just days after Iran fired 77 scud missiles at camps occupied by members of the Iranian resistance, some of which missed their target, killing civilians nearby. I place my remarks in the context of a statement made by the Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook, published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Wednesday 28th March, when he took as his theme human rights in foreign policy. He said:

    “When I made our commitment to human rights”–four years ago–“I was criticised in some quarters for sacrificing the national interest for principle. There is something odd with a national interest that is in conflict with principle. I would robustly argue that the British national interest is promoted, not hindered, by a commitment to human rights”.

Taken at its face value, I wholeheartedly endorse those sentiments, but measured against Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards Iran–a country that intriguingly and perhaps oddly, to use the Foreign Secretary’s word, is not referred to at all in Mr Cook’s statement–I argue that we have been too concerned with normalising relations. Concern for commercial gain appears to be greater than concern for continuing violations of human rights.Nor is it the case that we are impotent in the face of such abuses. Mr Cook rightly observed that the reality is that we cannot do everything, but that does not free us from our duty to do what we can. Even if we were to set aside questions of duty and principle, I do not believe that it would be in the long-term interest of the United Kingdom to hitch ourselves to the present religious dictatorship that, as in the time of the Shah, will ultimately be the losing side.

Contrary to what is frequently said, dialogue with the Iranian regime has not improved the human rights situation–quite the reverse. A few weeks ago Abbs-Ali Alizahdeh, a senior judicial official, was received at Geneva. On his return to Iran he was even more emboldened in defending the so-called retribution law, which involves punishments such as amputation and eye gouging.

Mr Khatami gave the lie to the notion that he favours deep-seated reform. Last year he said that,

    “talk of changing the constitution amounts to changing the state. This is treachery”.

On another occasion he said:

    “Let me remind you that I did not come in the name of reform”.

I want to place before your Lordships’ House examples of past and present atrocities which throw considerable doubt on the claim that this is a regime that we should encourage or one with which we should conduct business. That there may be reformist elements within the Marjlis, the Iranian parliament, I do not dispute, but to confuse those elements with the regime itself and its declared policies and practices is self-deceiving.

Perhaps I can illustrate my argument with examples of persecution against political dissidents, religious minorities and women. I am indebted to the BBC World Service which states in a briefing note that,

    “since the general elections of February 2000, hard line conservatives have reasserted their grip on all the levers of real power which they command”.

The BBC has reported on the move by the judiciary to ban over 20 newspapers and journals. It says:

    “It appears that his opponents have all but wiped out reforms introduced by him”–

that is Khatami–

    “in the past three years, especially freedom of speech. For example, pressure on liberal clerics has increased and a special court to prosecute members of the clergy has been very active. The vice police have suddenly become active in the past few weeks by arresting women for improper clothing or raiding parties attended by young people”.

The BBC also reported:

    “An Iranian court has delivered harsh sentences against a newspaper editor and 6 other defendants, ranging from 4 to 10 years, for taking part in a controversial conference in Germany. For western policy-makers, this sends two negative signals. First, it shows the further erosion of human rights and basic freedoms in Iran. Secondly and even more worrying, is that ahead of a crucial general election in June, President Muhammad Khatami and the reformist camp are under attack by the conservatives, who have blocked reformist legislation, closed down dozens of reformist newspapers and magazines, and imprisoned reformist journalists and intellectuals”.

The BBC’s Iranian affairs analyst, Sadeq Saba, also recently reported on what was described as “horrifying stories” of political dissidents jailed in the notorious Evin prison, north of Tehran. One such account concerned the feminist lawyer, Mehrangiz Kar, who spent 53 days in Evin prison for taking part in the German conference, to which I have referred. Mrs Kar describes how filthy her solitary cell was:

    “The floor of the cell was covered like a carpet by dirty pieces that carried the sign of the dried vomiting of the previous prisoners. The metallic toilet with its large opening and small base and a movable lid was infectious and dried dirt was stuck to its inner walls”.

In Mrs Kar’s experience, the most intolerable torture was sleep deprivation.Another feminist campaigner and publisher, Shahla Lahiji, who spent about two months in Evin prison gives a macabre account of life inside the prison:

    “The door is closed with a dry sound and I am standing in the middle of the cell. There is a feeble gray light illuminating the space. My feet are swollen. I lean against the wall . . . The water is warm and smells of white spirit . . . I force myself to drink the water . . . A black large cockroach is moving down the wall of the toilet bowl. I don’t even bother to kill it. I follow it with my eyes as it crawls beneath the blanket and disappears. I can’t think. I don’t feel the passage of time. While still standing I lean against the wall and close my eyes”.

The investigative journalist, Emaddin Baqi, who is serving a five-and-a-half year prison sentence on charges of endangering national security, describes Evin prison as a graveyard for the living. He says that prisoners are deprived of some of their basic human rights and complains about widespread corruption among the prison staff.

The dissident cleric, Mohsen Kadivar, has recently served an 18-month prison sentence for criticising the Iranian supreme leader. He says that prisoners are subjected to the cruellest types of treatment. He believes that the worst psychological torture for a political prisoner is when he is put in a cell with common criminals. But he is optimistic about the future. He says:

    “Evin should not be feared. It should be welcomed. It seems that there is no other way for freedom and democracy in Iran than going through Evin. But we should hope that one day Evin will be turned into a recreational park or a playground for children. And that day is not very far away”.

The suppression of free speech by alleged reformers has led to the closure of 23 publications and to the jamming of the satellite television programme “Simayeh Azadi”. That censorship is totally contrary to international agreements, but it has occurred with barely a murmur of protest. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House whether we have made a demarche or raised these violations in any international forum? I hope in reply that she will spell out the specifics of any remonstration or protest that we have made.Perhaps the journalists condemned to prison may in one respect be regarded as fortunate. Last month, on the eve of the Iranian new year, the Mullahs’ regime publicly hanged five people, bringing to 75 the number of people executed or sentenced to death since January 2001. At least 13 of those victims were publicly stoned to death. That is double the number for the same period last year, so any argument that the situation is improving is clearly erroneous.

As many Peers know, in one year alone, in 1988, 30,000 political prisoners were butchered, an atrocity that has never once been condemned by Khatami. Indeed, as the Sunday Telegraph reported on 4th February, it is alleged that he was complicit in the massacre. It also begs a question, which I put to the Minister, as to whether we are pressing for those responsible to be tried for crimes against humanity. Amnesty International points out that under President Khatami, the reformer, there have been 800 executions. The question for us is whether such a regime is one in which we should be investing morally and politically.

Last week, I received a beautiful and moving card from Laila Jazayeri, the director of the Association of Iranian Women in the UK. The card was designed and painted by a political prisoner who spent 12 years in Iranian goals. He had been a talented university student studying physics. His time in prison has left him paralysed, able to use only his hands and parts of his upper body. The tragic personal story of Behrooz is the story of continued suffering and pain of countless numbers of Iranian people.

I said that I would refer also to the persecution of religious minorities. Since the Khomeni revolution seven Christian leaders have been martyred; churches have been closed down; bible printing and Christian bookshops are banned; evangelising is illegal; and the human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, reports that Christians are watched and are often called in for questioning. In one case of apostasy, the convert was executed. I shall happily make available evidence from the Jubilee Campaign to any Member of your Lordships’ House who would like to see it.

During the past decade, the execution of Mehdi Dibaj, the murder of the Reverend Tateos Michaelian who was the President of the Council of Protestant Churches in Iran, and the assassination of Bishop Haik Hovespision-Mehr have traumatised this very vulnerable minority. Human Rights Watch reported that

    “churches have been shut down, scores of young Christians have been imprisoned and tortured”.

Others who have been killed include the Reverend Hossein Soodmand, who was hung, and Mohammed Bagher Yusefi. The Anglican priest in Shiraz, the Reverend Sayyah, had his throat cut and Bahram Deghani-Tafti, the son of the Anglican bishop, was shot dead.Christians are not the only ones who have suffered. There have been reports of the persecution of Bahais, of Suni Muslims and of Zoroastrians. Yesterday I received a letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. It has drawn attention to the plight of Iranian Jews. A letter from Simon Plosker, Public Affairs Officer, concerns 10 Iranian Jews now in goal. Thirteen were originally held on charges of espionage on behalf of Israel and the United States; charges which both those countries have consistently refuted. However, the fact is that under Iranian law any contact whatever with Israel is defined as “espionage” and the maximum penalty is the death penalty.

The spurious nature of these charges and their possible anti-Semitic basis are borne out by the professions of the accused; Hebrew teachers, Jewish community leaders, circumcisers, ritual slaughterers, a Jewish cemetery attendant and a 16 year-old boy. Concern regarding the fate of these Jews was acute in the light of pervious experience. After all, two Jews were executed in 1997 on espionage charges and in 1998 a 60 year-old man was executed on vague charges of being a Zionist agent.

On 21st September 2000, Jewish prisoners who had been imprisoned were taken to the Shiraz Court of Appeal and the verdict was given. The outcome was that they are to remain in prison for terms ranging from two to nine years. The Board of Deputies comments that despite claims by Iranian officials that Iran’s judicial branch was “independent”, in early September the judiciary announced a delay, reportedly to provide a reprieve to President Khatami during the trip to the United Nations where he was attempting to portray Iran’s regime as one that respects the rights of its citizens.

The verdicts raise many questions as to the appropriate Western response. Western governments must surely give thought as to whether they can rightly carry on with business as usual, given the clear violations of the human rights of these Iranian Jews.

The Board of Deputies wants to know whether it is to be “business as usual” with the regime. That is the question at the heart of this debate. It is about Mr Cook’s pledge that national interest and principle are two sides of the same coin.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, who has done so much to keep human rights to the fore, who recently voiced her frustrations about the international funding and commitment of national governments to human rights, has, because of her frustrations, alas, decided not to seek a second term. That decision should enliven and stimulate our determination to become a standard bearer in promoting and upholding the principle of human rights. In the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, we have a diligent, competent and articulate advocate and I would like to see her given greater authority and a wider ranging mandate to concentrate exclusively on highlighting these issues. Their importance is central to the pursuit of our foreign policy.

Mary Robinson has remarked that

    “today’s human rights abuses are the cause of tomorrow’s conflicts”.

That is most certainly the case in Iran. The Mullahs are facing a collapsing economy and have responded with intensified oppression. Focused aid as a quid pro quo for a national minorities policy and for fundamental democratic and judicial reform would at least be a more logical policy for Her Majesty’s Government than the one we are pursuing today. Collaborating with a regime which last month publicly executed five people, one of them a woman, by hanging them from a crane in east Tehran, which has already hung or sentenced to death some 75 people, and which stones people to death, gouges out eyes, amputates limbs and publicly flogs is neither ethical nor principled. It will be, as Mrs Robinson observed, merely sowing the seeds of tomorrow’s conflict.To answer the Board of Deputies, we should have no business collaborating with such a regime, and no business interests can justify such involvement. I hope that today’s debate will bring these issues to a wider audience and encourage the Government to reassess this policy. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for providing us with the opportunity to voice concern at the continuing abuse and denial of human rights in Iran.

Almost every day information becomes available that confirms that the regime in Tehran continues to rule by what can only be described as a policy of fear and terror. There is no scarcity of information about the human rights situation in Iran. The information comes from members of the Iranian community here in Britain and Iranian communities in other countries. The information comes from our own media, from human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and, as recently as last week, from the UN Human Rights Commission following its meeting in Geneva just a few days ago, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

The meeting of that commission voted in favour of a resolution to continue its annual review of the human rights situation in Iran. At the meeting, the Iranian Ambassador, Ali Khorram, had requested that the mandate of the UN special envoy on Iran, Maurice Copthorne, should be ended. The reason the Ambassador gave to the commission was that he considered,

    “that the 18-year long process had proved to be ineffective and fruitless”.

The UN Human Rights Commission rejected the arguments put by Ambassador Ali Khorram and carried a resolution that called on the regime,

    “to continue its efforts to consolidate respect for human rights and the rule of law”.

I have no doubt that there are those who will draw comfort from other references in the resolution which acknowledge,

    “some improvements in its record, particularly concerning women and children”.

Such crumbs of comfort do little to relieve the fear of those both inside and outside Iran whose lives are affected by the brutal system. That brutal system is also recognised by the UN resolution. I refer specifically to the part of the resolution which,

    “deplores the continued executions, in particular public and especially cruel executions”,

already mentioned.Additionally, the United Nations has again called upon Tehran to,

    “take all necessary steps to end the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, particularly amputations”.

During the debate in your Lordships’ House on the 2001 order relating to the Terrorism Act 2000 on 27th March, I drew attention to the report of the United Nations special envoy in Iran earlier this year (col. 162). The quotation from Professor Copthorne has already been mentioned but it is worth repeating. He said:

    “Breaches of human rights are in large part as common today as they were five years ago”.

Again, where is the progress towards a better system of justice in Iran?Professor Copthorne reported that 200 people had been executed so far this year and that a further 75 people have been sentenced to death, including eight women. Some of the sentences included death by stoning.

No resolution, however diplomatically it is drafted, can deny the fact that the people of Iran live in fear. Recent punishments in Iran, some of which have been mentioned, serve only to underline and confirm the brutality of the regime. On 11th January of this year the French press agency reported that the official Iranian news agency had said that Iran’s Chief Justice, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Sharrudi, had confirmed,

    “that 800 drug traffickers were on death row and called for further harsh punishment. Eight hundred cases imposing the death penalty on drug traffickers have been looked at by the remission panel, but no sentences were commuted”.

The report also quoted the head of Iran’s judiciary as saying that it was,

    “important to take firm action against drug traffickers. Harsh punishments must be considered and applied in public to strike fear amidst the groups of traffickers”.

This is the same head of the judiciary who last November underscored the need to carry out “retribution verdicts in public”, such as hangings, the amputation of limbs and the gouging out of eyes. We have heard about that.It is also worth looking at the footnote to that report by the French news agency, which comes from a Marjlis Deputy, Ali Mir-Khalili–someone from inside the Iranian Parliament–who said:

    “The State Security Forces are putting pressure on the people on various pretexts. They murder people and then justify the killings by just saying that the victim was a drug trafficker”.

The rest of the world can draw its conclusions as to what is going on from that comment.A further example of the brutal regime is the public lashings of three young men, all in their 20s, who had been accused of drinking alcohol and having illicit sexual relationships. In February this year the three young men, two brothers and their cousin–Ismail, Majid and Mahammad Rahimi–staggered away between their police escort, each having received 180 severe lashes. In the wonderful civilisation that we enjoy in this country it is difficult to understand how any civilised government can have dealings with a regime that publicly executes, lashes and stones its own people.

The list of acts of brutality since the beginning of this year includes 24 youngsters accused of dancing in a disturbing manner, whatever that may mean. The 17 boys who were arrested received 58 lashes and each of the girls was sentenced to 28 lashes. All of the youngsters were sent to Adelabad prison in Shiraz. In another case reported in the Kayhan Daily on 15th January, men received lashing sentences in Qom, the verdicts to be carried out in stages over three days. Six were given between 50 and 74 lashes in six districts. In February of this year a man charged with theft had four fingers amputated, plus two years in prison and 74 lashes.

These illustrations of justice in Iran indicate how right Amnesty International is to draw attention in its July report, under the heading “More Failures of Iranian Justice”–I obtained that document as recently as Monday of this week–to the failure of the regime in Iran to deliver the promised reform to its judiciary. It is worth mentioning that the promise was made in 1999 by the same head of the judiciary who in January of this year had advocated the carrying out of “retribution verdicts in public”, such as hangings, the amputation of limbs and gouging out of eyes. The same man who made that promise said exactly the opposite two years later.

Last Wednesday the world recoiled at the news that Iran had fired scud missiles at camps inside Iraq belonging to an Iranian rebel group. The report said that the Iraqi Government were furious and reserved the right to respond with suitable means to the attack on their country. When I heard Channel 4 News I thought that somebody had gone completely mad, given the present situation in the Middle East. The Mojahedin said that one of its members was killed as a result of the attacks on its camps closest to the cities of Kut and Khalis in Iraq. Channel 4 News also said that, according to reports, some of the missiles missed their targets and landed on residential areas. Other reports put the number of surface-to-surface scud missiles launched at 77.

The missile attack lasted 10 hours. The Mojahedin camp at Habib to the north of Basra was hit in two series of attacks with 27 missiles. Twenty-four missiles hit the city of Jalawla, killing a 33 year-old mother and her daughter aged six and wounding dozens of other people. Two missiles landed near Jalawla’s mosque and the rest landed on residential areas. Thirteen missiles hit Khalis about 100 kilometres north of Baghdad, while five hit Meqdadiah. In Kut, some of the craters left by the impact of these missiles measured up to 12 metres in diameter and up to 5 metres in depth. At about seven o’clock in the morning three more scud missiles landed near Kut, one of which hit the city’s technical college.

As would be expected, there was a reaction. A Reuters report last Wednesday referred to a statement issued by Massoud Rajavi, the Iranian resistance leader, following the scud missile attacks. In his statement he urged the UN Security Council to condemn the attack and take a stance immediately against the Mullah’s outlaw action in breach of international law. I ask my noble friend whether Her Majesty’s Government will give support to that call by Massoud Rajavi.

The damage inflicted by the unprovoked attack on innocent civilians has been seen by reporters from western news agencies and television networks. Those reporters have visited the scenes of destruction in Jalawla, Kut and Khalis.

On the day following the attack, not unexpectedly, Iranian exiles, refugees and supporters of the resistance took part in rallies in 18 cities across the world, including Oslo, Melbourne, Washington, Ottawa, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Berlin and in at least six other cities in Germany.

The dangers and the threat to stability in the region by the scud missile attacks that have caused civilian casualties and damage to property are obvious. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris summed up the reaction of many who can see where such unwarranted attacks could lead. In a statement it said:

    “Whatever action which could jeopardise the region’s stability must be avoided”.

It added:

    “In this spirit, we deplore the missile attack by the Iranian regime”.

I should like to return to the question of the brutality of a regime that includes death by stoning. I quote an appeal by Amnesty International in January of this year. The appeal was for interested people and organisations to protest at that time against the imminent execution of a number of young people. I shall not quote all of the appeal, but by way of illustrating the brutality of the Mullah’s regime I simply quote Amnesty’s description of how the sentence on a 3l year-old woman (Maryam Ayoubi) was to be carried out:

    “Maryam Ayoubi had reportedly been facing 15 years’ imprisonment followed by stoning to death . . . However, new reports indicate that she will simply be stoned to death”.

I quote this go give your Lordships a description of how the sentence is carried out:

    “Stoning to death is prescribed for certain offences under the Iranian Penal Code. According to the Penal Code, men should be buried in a pit in the ground up to their waists, and women buried up to their chests. Individuals who manage to dig themselves out and escape from the pit while the stoning is being carried out have their lives spared. Article 104 of the Penal Code states that ‘the stones should not be too large so that the person dies on being hit by one or two of them’, so is designed to cause grievous pain leading to eventual death”.

Amnesty International commented at the time that in the unlikely event that this poor, unfortunate woman was able to dig herself free before she was killed, she would then start her 15-year sentence.The time for making excuses for dealing with these people is long passed. Constructive dialogue is acceptable if it has any promise of bringing about change. In the words of the head of the Iranian judiciary, who only last week sought to end the UN monitoring of human rights abuses,

    “the 18-year long process had proved to be ineffective and fruitless”.

Perhaps the time has come when we should recognise that constructive dialogue with the regime is not bearing fruit. It is not crumbs of comfort from diplomatic resolutions that the people of Iran need and deserve; they want the free world to speak out loudly and firmly against the barbaric methods of justice that the regime routinely uses in its endeavours to cling to power.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Clarke, have both referred to the resolution passed last week in the Human Rights Commission and to the report of the special rapporteur, Dr Maurice Copithorne, who, among other things, regrets that the Government of Iran have ceased to co-operate by allowing him to visit the country. Fortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, told us, there is enough evidence available to build up a detailed assessment, something which I suggest the thematic rapporteurs of the Human Rights Commission should bear in mind when they are refused invitations. Dr Copithorne says that freedom of expression is a matter of despair and many people feel that the president has lost his struggle to create a more tolerant society operating under the rule of law.

The rapporteur says that the legal system, particularly the judiciary, is in desperate need of repair. The status of minorities remains a neglected area of human rights. The murder and disappearance of intellectuals and political dissidents is a stain on Iran and will remain so until all the outstanding questions are answered and the perpetrators brought to justice. The trials of those who attended a conference in Berlin–mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton–have the strong appearance of farce, he says, except of course for those who are going through this unreal experience.

The rapporteur’s report was completed in December. Since then, as Dr Copithorne told the commission, there has been no improvement in the state of freedom of expression and of the press. He said that the revolutionary courts and the special court for the clergy make frequent use of pre-trial detention, particularly of journalists, students, intellectuals and political dissidents. The detainees are often held incommunicado in secret places of detention, a practice which is conducive to torture, and, as might be expected, many cases of torture have indeed been reported to the rapporteur on torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, of which I give two examples.

First, Mr Abbas Amir-Entezam, deputy prime minister and spokesman of the 1979 interim government of Mehdi Bazargan, was arrested in 1998 at his home in Tehran. He is one of the unfortunates held in Evin prison. He is said to be in urgent need of appropriate medical attention for kidney failure and a ruptured eardrum and loss of hearing in one ear, allegedly as the result of his long detention and repeated subjection to torture. He is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

Secondly, Mr Akbar Ganji, an investigative journalist, was hung upside down in a cell while four guards kicked him in the head and stomach. He was punished with 80 days of solitary confinement when he started a hunger strike to protest against his treatment. Ganji had written a series of articles implicating former President Rafsanjani in the murders of dissidents and intellectuals carried out by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.

At the end of 1999, as your Lordships may recall, four well-known opponents of the regime were savagely murdered and a number of people were arrested for those crimes. They all turned out to be agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. The principal accused, Sa’eed Emami, was a deputy Minister of the Ministry of Intelligence. He died later on in Evin prison after he was said to have drunk a bottle of hair- remover containing arsenic while he was in his bath and was momentarily not observed by the guards. Most people believe that he was eliminated by the regime because he knew too much and would have fingered several top people if he had appeared in court. Emami’s boss was Ali Fallahian, the former Minister indicted in a German court for the murder of the Kurdish leader Dr Sadegh Sharafkandi and his three companions in a Berlin restaurant in 1992. But there were certainly other high-ups in the regime who knew and approved of the assassination of political opponents, some of whom are still there. Mr Fallahian is standing as a presidential candidate in the elections. But others named as part of the conspiracy have included–I have mentioned former President Rafsanjani–Fallahian’s successor at the Ministry of Intelligence, Mr Qorhanali Dorri-Najafabadi, and Ayatollah Ahmas Jannati, the head of the Council of Guardians, and many others.

Emami was said to have made a confession on videotape. But it was never made public in spite of assurances that it would be shown on television. The trial of the other 18 defendants linked to these four murder charges was finally held in camera at the end of last year. No attempt was then made to link these particular murders to earlier killings by Ministry of Intelligence agents, some of which I described in my book Iran: State of Terror published in 1996. I also analysed the available evidence on the more recent killings, which were known as the “chain murders”, and the way that they fitted into the pattern of state-sponsored murder in my book Fatal Writ, published a year ago. In his current report, the rapporteur says that he reiterates his deep concern over this tragic abuse of the human rights of the victims, and his dissatisfaction with the way the government have handled the investigation over the prolonged period of two years.

Why should not the rapporteur undertake an inquiry into the regime’s use of murder to silence its opponents? If he announced that he was going to collect and analyse evidence on the phenomenon, including assassinations committed abroad and attempts to kill the author Salman Rushdie and many other people associated with his book, a great deal of fresh material might become available. It would serve to underline the international community’s abhorrence of the gang which master-minded the killings of the Christian priests mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and of a former prime minister, Kurdish leaders, political opponents, intellectuals, and all the people associated with the publication of The Satanic Verses.

The recent wave of arrests of members of the nationalist Iran Freedom Movement and others has been described as a “creeping coup” by Joe Stork of the Washington-based Human Rights Watch. Twenty people were arrested in March and another 40 earlier this month in what Mr Stork said looked like a coup designed to stifle free expression and activism for reform in the run-up to the forthcoming election. As has been mentioned, already 30 independent newspapers have been closed down and hardly a week goes by without news of further arrests of journalists. Among those detained in the latest sweep was Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, leader of the newly formed Democratic Front of the Iranian People, and all the people who were attending his weekly lecture at that time. Mr Tabarzadi is editor-in-chief of the daily Hoviyat-e-Khich, and, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres, his arrest brought the number of journalists in custody in Iran up to 21, the largest number for any country in the world. Last Saturday that rose to 22 with the arrest of Amid Na’ini, editor-in-chief of Payam-e Emrooz magazine, who was said to have confessed to publishing two sacrilegious articles, one of which said that the Angel Gabriel was an “imaginary creature”.

On Monday, Mohammad Salamati, a close ally of President Khatami, went on trial, accused of spreading rumours of a conservative-led impeachment motion against the president. He is managing editor of the weekly Asr Ma, Our Age, and also secretary-general of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organisation, and an important member of the Second Chord Coalition which supports the president. Mr Salamati came before the notorious judge Sa’id Mortazavi, who has been responsible for the decimation of the press and journalists. He was accused of questioning the reliability of state-controlled TV reports about the conference held in Berlin, mentioned earlier, to discuss reform in Iran.

Yet another senior figure belonging to the president’s faction, Mostafa Tajzadeh, the deputy interior Minister who is supposed to be supervising the elections on 8th June, appeared in court in relation to his alleged role in the violent unrest which arose at a pro-reform student conference in Khoramabad last August.

Finally, another newspaperman, Gholamheidar Ebrahimbai-Salami, managing director of the daily Hambsategi, has been summoned to appear in the administrative court on charges which are not yet known.

I can understand the Government wishing to believe that President Khatami would be able to liberalise the regime, to end arbitrary detention, reduce the number of executions, extend freedom of expression and widen the political space to allow democratic pluralism. However, it has to be recognised that none of these have been achieved during the four years of his presidency, and there is no prospect that the forthcoming election will lead to any amelioration. It is not even certain, with just over a month to go, that Mr Khatami will stand as a candidate. But if he was genuinely committed to reform, he must be bitterly disappointed at having been able to achieve so little, and he will be reflecting that within the straitjacket of the velayat-e-faqih, the doctrine laid down by Ayatollah Khomeini of the supremacy of the spiritual leader, the elected president and Majlis have about as much say in national affairs as your Lordships do in this country in our affairs. Three years ago, the BBC hailed Mr Khatami as Iran’s Gorbachev, and Foreign Office experts were convinced that somehow, miraculously, he would transform the regime into a participatory democracy. In fact, as the BBC now says in its evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee,

    “since the general elections of February 2000 (convincingly won by the reformists), hard-line conservatives have reasserted their grip on all the levers of real power which they command, and have struck back in every way possible”.

People may still support Mr Khatami, if he decides to stand, because he is perceived to want change, and not because he can actually deliver it. But I doubt whether it is possible to sustain indefinitely a political system which is incapable of producing what the electors demand. A theocratic dictatorship with a democratic veneer is unworkable and unstable, but for as long as it lasts, the governing mullahs have to trample on human rights, to counter the growing opposition to their rule.Our policy should not be to rely on the process of reform gathering momentum but should take account of the possibility that the extremists will come out on top, whatever may happen on 8th June. If human rights are under greater threat than ever with a so-called reformist president and a would-be reformist Majlis, why should it be assumed that 8th June will make any difference? With the reactionaries in control of the judiciary and the Basij militia, which is to recruit another 2 million new members this year according to its commander, as well as the Revolutionary Guards Corps, they are in a position to stamp out unrest and dissent. Our policy for the period after 8th June has to take account of that; otherwise, we shall fail.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I share with others in the House a concern about the violation of human rights in Iran. I do not doubt the figures and the stories quoted this evening and also in the debate in the House on 27th March on proscribed organisations in relation to the Terrorism Act. Concern is perhaps too weak a word; there is sadness, anger and sometimes a sense of horror. Nevertheless, I did not sign the letter on human rights in Iran circulated by some Members of your Lordships’ House for a reason I should like to explain and why I am glad of the opportunity to take part in this debate.

Iran is an Islamic state and Islam is a fundamental part of its life and culture. If it is to move in the direction that we all want to see, with genuine democracy, greater respect for civil liberties and less abuse of power, then it will do so, I believe, in Islamic terms. The problem with the letter and some of the language of this debate is that they are couched in Western human rights language. Human rights are, I believe, of universal validity and are not simply an invention of post-World War II Europe. But we need to pay attention to the Islamic context in which that language has to become a reality. In short, my contention is that there needs to be a greater appeal to the fundamental principles of Islam and Islamic civilisation, which properly understood can underpin and reinforce the values which we share and support from a secular, Jewish or Christian perspective.

Like other noble Lords taking part in the debate, I have received a wodge of papers from the National Council of Resistance of Iran. It is, as we know, particularly critical of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in the debate on 27th March. In response to that speech it asserts:

    “Fact. If ‘standards of Western European democracies’ mean the principles stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right of life, freedom of speech . . . then according to which logic can one argue that the Iranian people are not entitled to them?”.

They are entitled to them. But in speaking about them I suggest that it would be most helpful if we could appeal to those fundamental principles and values which are already enshrined in Islam as a religion and in Islamic culture and civilisation.Take religious toleration, for example, which is of such crucial importance to the beleaguered Baha’i community in Iran. Sura 2:256 of the Qur’an says:

    “There is no compulsion in religion. Rectitude has become clear from error”.

Then there is human dignity, which is always violated when there is not due process of law, and cruel or degrading punishments, which have been referred to in the debate today. Sura 15:28-29 of the Qur’an says:

    “And when thy Lord said to the angels ‘See, I am creating a mortal of clay of mud moulded. When I have shaped him, fall you down, bowing before him!'”.

The angels, according to the Qur’an are called to bow before human beings, the respect we owe our fellow sister and brother human beings cannot be less. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, is to take part in the debate. I hope that he will be able to elaborate on and reinforce these principles.Within the Islamic world at the moment there is a great debate about the relationship between democracy and Islam. We have to recognise that some, both governments and extremist opposition parties, believe that they are incompatible. But others argue that Islamic values demand a democratic system. The concept of Shura or consultation is fundamental to Islam. There is also the tradition of independent reasoning, Ijtihad, and consensus, Ijma. On this basis some leading Muslim thinkers argue that democracy is not only compatible with Islam but is required by it. So as one prominent writer has said:

    “The legislative assembly–majlis al Sura–must be truly representative of the entire community, both men and women. But a representative character can be achieved only through free and general election; therefore the members of the majlis must be elected by means of as wide as possible suffrage, including both men and women”.

We all know that the basis of political power in Iran at the moment is complex and not always clear, but obviously the role of the Supreme Leader and the Council of Guardians is crucial. Nevertheless, there is an elected president and an elected majlis or parliament. Another leading Muslim writer on human rights in Islam has written:

    “An integral part of this vision”–

the Islamic vision of human rights–

    “is an insistence in freedom of expression, encompassing the right to criticise government at all levels, and especially to protest against tyrannical action, stemming from the Qur’anic injunction to ‘enjoin good and prohibit evil’ (Qur’an 9:71). Alongside freedom of expression, the Islamic system also upholds political pluralism; the Prophet observed, for example, that difference of opinion within the Muslim community was ‘a sign of God’s mercy’. Indeed, the jurisprudential doctrines of difference of opinion (iktilaf) and reasoned thinking aimed at arriving at a level of opinion (ujtihad) have long informed a pluralistic intellectual tradition in Islam. The general Qur’anic exhortation to justice has important implications in the affairs of state, as in the criminal justice system; the Islamic vision insists that all accused enjoy the right to due process of law in open court, and hence to freedom from arbitrary imprisonment”.

That is a devout Muslim writing about the tradition of human rights in Islam.We know that there is a democratic element in Iran at the moment and I should like to suggest that we should do all we can to encourage the development and growth of that democratic party within a culture which is and, so far as one can tell such things, will remain essentially Islamic. Despite the tensions and struggle between those who want to change in a more democratic direction and those do not, things have changed for the better.

Last year, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester led a Church delegation to Iran. He wrote of his trip:

    “Change is certainly very visible . . . in some respects the position of women is better than before 1979 and they are socially very confident. Religious and ethnic minorities are also a little more relaxed and appear to be freer today than in the early years of the revolution”.

He thought that there was a recognition that change would come more cautiously and gradually than originally had been imagined. I myself was recently in Iran on holiday and found people to be remarkably cheerful and open. In the papers we received from the National Council of Resistance in Iran, reference is made to many of the atrocities that have taken place over the past year and concludes from this that:

    “This stems from a simple reality of the regime ruling Iran. The government in Iran is based on a theory of government called velayat-faqih, or the absolute rule of the religious jurist. By understanding this underlining concept, it becomes quite evident that any change to this principle is tantamount to the collapse of the whole theocracy rule in Iran. That is why this system is absolutely incapable of any reform and moderation”.

I would suggest that that is an unduly pessimistic assessment. There are forces for change in Iran at the moment and I believe that there are principles and values in Islam itself which can reinforce and carry forward this process of change.The non-Islamic religions in Iran have suffered very badly since the revolution, above all the Baha’is, whom I have already mentioned, but also the small Jewish community, some of whom were tried and imprisoned last year, and the Anglican Church. On the positive side, the Anglican Bishop in Iran has now been officially recognised by the state. On the negative side, the property that was seized after the revolution has not been returned and the resolution of the 1988 Lambeth Conference respectfully requesting the Islamic Republic of Iran to respond positively to the claims of the Anglican Church in Iran has not yet happened.

While in no way glossing over the abuses which continue in Iran and continuing to draw attention to these, as other noble Lords quite properly have done this evening, I believe that we should welcome and affirm the process of change which has taken place there. Above all, we should see that process and its future possibilities within its Islamic context and do all we can to bring to the fore those Islamic principles and values which resonate with our western human rights language.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, Iran is an extraordinary country with an extraordinary history and a no less remarkable present. In his report on the human rights situation in Iran to the United Nations Human Rights Commission on 16th January this year, Mr Maurice Copithorne, the Special Representative for the commission, put it this way:

    “Iran is going through a period of critical turmoil. The struggle is for the soul of Iranian society, for certain values such as justice, one of the oldest political values going back, scholars say, to the Achaemenian period”–

that is over 1,000 years ago–

    “and for the more modern ones of accountable governance and the welfare and dignity of all citizens”.

Mr Copithorne went on to say that he,

    “believes that change is clearly underway and that given certain foundational improvements that have taken place–

I emphasise those words–

    “in areas such as women’s education, democracy and health, the trend is now irreversible”.

I draw special attention to that judgment on the part of Mr Copithorne.However, in the same report the Special Representative quite rightly identified various serious failings, one of which is,

    “the currently successful mass suppression of two fundamental human rights, the right to the freedom of expression itself and the right to be free from detention for seeking to exercise that right”.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to that.However, I would add that, despite the closure of over 30 reformist papers over the past year or so, invariably without any open process or clear legal justification, the Canutes of the reactionary Iranian clerical establishment cannot keep the genie of free expression in a bottle of their choosing. Just before we debated the Terrorism Bill in relation to MKO/MeK/NCRI in this House on 27th March, I asked the British Embassy in Iran to let me know how things then stood in terms of reformist newspapers. Although it was only six weeks ago, the embassy reckoned that at least 10 such national newspapers were in circulation, each with readerships in excess of 60,000.

As recently as this month, more than 150 of the 290 deputies in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, sent a formal letter to the head of the judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, demanding an end to what they called the illegal and unwarranted arrest of liberal and reformist figures. This followed the recent banning of the liberal opposition group, which again has already been referred to, the Freedom Movement, and the detention of more than 40 of its activists. Yet in the very aftermath of that banning, a new reformist paper, Nowruz, went on sale, run by one of the reformist MPs, Mr Mirdamadi. I suggest to noble Lords that all this is not nearly as a black a picture as so far has been painted tonight.

Students continue to hold demonstrations and conferences which thousands enthusiastically attend to express their views. On the anniversary of the 1999 student riots–I was there with a parliamentary delegation the following week–the Tehran university students were back on the streets, publicly making their views felt. In August of last year a massive conference took place at Khorramabad, to which various speakers were invited and which the revolutionary guards did their best to prevent and upset. No fewer than three inquiries have taken place since the disturbances in Khorramabad. Two of those inquiries have come to the clear conclusion that the revolutionary guards were responsible and must not be allowed to undertake such disruptive activity.

Of course, producing reports and coming to conclusions is not the same as achieving results, but it is all part and parcel of a vigour of democratic expression and activity in Iran which, I venture to suggest, has not been fully or indeed fairly expressed so far in the debate.