Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking – update on the latest amendments and debates on the Modern Day Slavery Bill

Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking – update on the latest amendments and debates on the Modern Day Slavery Bill

Scroll down for earlier stages and background to this legislation:

 

modern slavery

Report Stage amendment on Supply Chain Transparency:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)   8:45 pm, 25th February 2015

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey. I strongly support her Amendments 93 and 94 and the government amendments in this group.

Like my noble friend, I thank the Minister for meeting me and other noble Lords and a number of civil society stakeholders earlier this month to discuss transparency in supply chains. Noble Lords will recall that I and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Mobarik, raised this issue in Committee. I also spoke about it at Second Reading. The Minister kindly said that, unusually following the Committee stage, not only would he have a meeting with colleagues in the House but that he would invite all the interested groups involved in this issue to meet him and the Peers who were able to be there. With the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and others, we were able to have an extremely helpful and useful discussion.

I welcome the amendments that the Government have tabled for Report, and I believe that they could take us a step closer to delivering effective transparency and accountability on action to eradicate modern slavery from the supply chain. Of course, I hope that this evening the Minister can be enticed to take a few more steps down the road that we have been travelling.

While I welcome and am most grateful for the progress that we have made, there are three areas on which I want to speak and on which I am hopeful we can agree some way forward. My Amendments 97A, 98A and 99A each raise an important outstanding issue that we ought to address before the Bill completes its parliamentary passage if we are to ensure that the supply chain clause works effectively in practice as we all want. It might be helpful to the House if I mentioned that the groups that support these amendments include Amnesty International UK, Anti-Slavery International, CAFOD, the CORE coalition, Dalit Freedom Network UK, the Evangelical Alliance, Focus on Labour Exploitation, the Law Society, Quakers in Britain, Traidcraft, Unseen and War on Want. While I pay tribute to them for the support they have given, I link with them Ruth Chambers, who has done an extraordinary amount of work on this. Sometimes the real heroes and heroines behind legislation are the people who do the hard slog.

I heard today from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and had a chance to have a brief conversation with one of its representatives. It subsequently sent me a statement about this group of amendments and, in particular, Amendment 99A. The commission’s recommendation is to:

“Support Amendment 99A … insofar as it would give the Anti-slavery Commissioner power and sufficient resource to take enforcement action”.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised the issue of resources in earlier debates, and they will be the make or break for this Bill. If resources are not provided, it will not be worth the paper on which it is written, but I am pretty confident that the Government are going to back up the rhetoric in this legislation with the necessary resources. I hope we will hear more about that when Minister comes to reply. The commission also says:

“In our analysis, extending this enforcement power to the Anti-slavery Commissioner would be desirable as it would strengthen his/her role and ensure that enforcement of the duty to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement could be carried out independently of government. We consider that the Commissioner should be given a range of further powers, including the ability to require the disclosure of data and information, to conduct investigations and inquiries and to hold agencies to account for non-compliance with laws and policies”.

I am sure the Minister will have seen this statement. It was issued only today, and I am glad to be able to draw it to the attention of the House.

Government Amendment 97, as I have mentioned, is welcome as it sets out a number of areas on which slavery and human trafficking statements may include information, but I stress “may” in this context. The amendment does not go so far as to introduce minimum disclosure measures, which are really necessary if we are going to create a sort of equality of arms. As it stands, government Amendment 97 would still leave it entirely optional as to what companies put in their statements.

I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in Committee on this matter and recognise that different types of businesses will face different challenges in relation to their supply chains. It is a perfectly fair point that he has made, but he also indicated that the Government want a level playing field for industry.

This is also something that businesses have called for. Sir Richard Branson, for example, has been supportive, as has Associated British Foods, the parent company of Primark, which I was able to meet in January with my noble friend Lord Patel. I was particularly appreciative of their support. My noble friend Lady Young referred a few moments ago to the tragedy in Bangladesh, and it was partly arising out of what happened there that I felt it would be helpful to have a discussion with Primark. I believe that the wording I have suggested in Amendment 97A strikes an appropriate balance that will allow for some flexibility while ensuring a level playing field between businesses on what they must disclose information about. This will also enable comparison across industry sectors as we will then be able to compare like with like.

One area about which I am particularly disappointed that the Government have not changed their position is the need for a central place in which the slavery and human trafficking statements can be uploaded and scrutinised. This is a very reasonable proposition. My Amendment 98A would introduce a requirement to upload the statements on to a central website maintained by the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Significantly the designate commissioner, Kevin Hyland, is supportive of this idea and I am grateful to him for meeting Ruth Chambers last week to discuss this.

Ensuring that each company uploads its own statement is a light-touch, practical way of spreading the administrative costs so it is onerous neither for business nor for government, but I am aware that the commissioner will have limited resources, so if this amendment is accepted then his budget will need to reflect this new responsibility. Why is this central repository needed? Quite frankly, without it the role that the Minister has described on many occasions for civil society, investors and the media to hold businesses to account for their supply chains—as he wants them to do—will be nigh on impossible to achieve. This is because of the time and the effort which would be needed to be spent just working out website by website which companies had reported and which had not. Then of course there are the difficulties that such stakeholders face in accessing the annual turnover information that would indicate which companies fall within the compliance threshold.

Amendment 98A would also require companies to include within the director’s report a fair summary of the statement and the web address of the full statement. This link to the director’s duties in the Companies Act 2006 would ensure that company directors took this provision seriously, and will help to propel responsibility for tackling slavery and supply chains into the boardroom. It would not be burdensome or costly to have this additional reporting and it reinforces a point that my noble friend Lady Young made in her remarks a few moments ago. It will also draw the slavery and human trafficking statement to the attention of mainstream investors who might otherwise not be aware of it and empower them to ask questions of the company. Making directors responsible for reporting on what the company is doing to eradicate modern slavery will ensure that it is part of core business. Boardroom responsibility will also change the culture of businesses and create an environment of a race to the top, thereby increasing

the pace at which slavery is tackled within supply chains. I think this would also be good for UK plc, if I can put it that way, as it would promote better business practices which would in turn lead to better profitability and enable UK businesses to play a more leading and competitive role on the global stage.

On Monday the almost ethereal presence of William Wilberforce was regularly drawn to your Lordships’ attention and he was cited on a number of occasions. It is significant that when William Wilberforce was campaigning for an end, first, to the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, and later to all slavery, some argued that to abandon slavery would be ruinous for UK business interests. Of course, that did not turn out to be the case at all. Indeed, our reputation worldwide was enhanced by the results that the Clapham group was able to bring about as a result of its concerted actions in both our Houses of Parliament.

Finally, Amendment 99A relates to the enforcement and review of the provision. In my view, the current lack of an enforcement measure is the Achilles heel; without that measure some might regard the provision as quite toothless. That becomes even more of a risk if the Bill does not specify any minimum elements, which a company’s slavery and human trafficking statement must cover. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to commit to a three-year review of the transparency in supply chains provision, and that he will demonstrate how non-compliance will be dealt with in the absence of an enforcement provision.

I recognise that the hour is late, we are getting to the very end of Report on the Bill, and that time is therefore probably against us in achieving everything that I want in these amendments. However, I know how open the Minister has been to continuing dialogue—we are not quite at Third Reading—and at the very minimum I hope that he will feel able to consider some of the points that we have raised this evening and to see if there is anything further that the Government themselves might be able to do between now and when we finally lay the Bill to rest.

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The Bishop of Derby’s Amendment to Strengthen the Role of Gangmasters Authority: February 25th 2015

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

My Lords, I am a signatory to this amendment and am very happy to speak briefly in support of it this evening. I spoke on this issue at Second Reading and in Committee and I moved a separate amendment on the issue of the proceeds of crime. That was based on an amendment that I moved in your Lordships’ House nearly a decade ago and which was supported at that time by a retired Law Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who was a direct descendent, of course, of the great man who has featured so much in many of our debates. That amendment sought to provide a mechanism for the proceeds of crime committed

by those who had abused workers, exploited people, put them into servitude or slavery—the very things that the Bill seeks to address—to be used to support and provide assistance for those who had been exploited and to support those organisations that are charged with the responsibility of apprehending those who are responsible for such crimes.

Crimes they are. I recalled in Committee that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority—which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who is in his seat this evening, did such distinguished work in helping to create—was established after the fatalities that occurred in Morecambe Bay when some 23 Chinese cockle pickers, men and women, died while they were being ruthlessly exploited by gangmasters. I made the point that this problem has not gone away. As recently as 2011, an almost identical incident occurred not very far away from Morecambe Bay, in the Ribble valley estuary. I quoted a local fisherman, Harold Benson, who said that what had happened at Morecambe Bay had been wholly avoidable, but it was likely to be repeated at places such as the Ribble valley and Morecambe Bay because of the failure to apprehend those who were responsible and because of the failure to provide adequate safety equipment and to provide support and assistance to those who were being exploited in these unacceptable ways.

As a result of raising these issues I was pleased to be able to attend a meeting with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who has been so helpful on this and so many other issues during the passage of the Bill. I reiterate what I said on Report on Monday, that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, have been quite exemplary in the way they have treated all of us who have participated in these proceedings. This is a marvellous piece of legislation and one that I am sure is going to do great good in the future. Although we may disagree on some details here and there, the general thrust of the legislation is to be commended and we must look for other ways to improve it here and there. That is what this amendment does.

The right reverend Prelate has told us that if this is passed, or if the principle is accepted, the Secretary of State will then consult on ways to strengthen and improve the resources of enforcement agencies such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Why do we need to do that? Well, I made the point at earlier stages that until recently only about 37 people were employed by that authority and that resources had been cut between 2011 and 2014. I would be grateful if the noble Lord would share with us some of the detail that he provided during the briefing sessions that we had with him and his officials as to how many people are now employed by that authority and how many convictions they have been able to bring about.

The amendment says that the consultation should,

“end no later than 1 January 2016”.

I think that that is a reasonable passage of time. It goes on in proposed new subsection (3) to say:

“The Secretary of State may by order amend section 3 of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to include other areas of work where the Secretary of State believes abuse and exploitation of workers or modern slavery or trafficking may be taking place”.

This is reasonable; it does not ask for immediate action to be taken, but it asks the Secretary of State and the department to take a more detailed look at some of the issues that have been raised. I look forward to hearing the response that the noble Lord gives in due course.

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The International Dimension of Slavery: Amendment moved on Monday 23rd February 2015

Amendment 30

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

30: Clause 41, page 31, line 15, after “practice” insert “, both in the United Kingdom and throughout the world,”

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 38, 39, 41 and 46. These amendments are to Clauses 41, 42 and 43. I put on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lord Sandwich, who are all signatories to these amendments.

In moving the amendment, it is my privilege to take up—rather inadequately, I suspect—the cause so passionately espoused by my noble friend Lady Cox, who is unable to speak to this amendment due to a prearranged visit overseas. These amendments relate to an aspect of modern slavery that we are in danger of overlooking despite the efforts of my noble friend—who, while we are meeting, I might add, is currently in the war-torn areas of Sudan that she has frequented so often, where she will no doubt be seeing first hand some of the ravages of modern slavery that have been so familiar in that country. This was an issue that she highlighted at Second Reading and again in Committee. I know that, while grateful to the Minister for the meetings that he has arranged and for the letter that he kindly sent to Peers, she was nevertheless disappointed that that letter omitted any mention of this issue of the global nature of slavery, which had been raised by Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House.

I recognise that the Bill focuses on modern slavery in the United Kingdom, and that is right and proper. Yet modern slavery is by its very nature a global phenomenon; it cannot be tackled by one Government

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alone but requires a global solution. With the exception of the section on company supply chains, which we will come to on Wednesday, and which can address the issue only in a limited way—albeit a vital and necessary one—there is no mention of the global dimension of modern slavery at all in the Bill, let alone any measures requiring the UK to play its role on the world stage. These amendments therefore seek to address that omission. For every person trafficked in the UK there are dozens of children in forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton mills, hundreds of women and girls trafficked into Thailand’s brothels and thousands of men, women and children exploited in bonded labour in India and Pakistan.

The scope and scale have been rehearsed often enough during debates on the Bill and I will not repeat them all again here. Suffice it to say that far more people are affected today than throughout the era of the transatlantic slave trade, which is even more reason for us to take up the cause of Wilberforce, Clarkson, Equiano, Roscoe and the other abolitionists celebrated by one of the banners in Westminster Hall marking memorable parliamentary achievements. The Bill should deserve to be celebrated in the same way as those achievements, but it risks falling short if it does not address the global dimension of modern slavery.

The irony is that the Bill was announced amid a cacophony of claims that the UK was, or wanted to be, leading the world in the fight against modern slavery. That is of course a noble aspiration, but we can never make any realistic claim to be world leaders unless we tackle the problem globally and recognise that every country and sector of society has to play its part—business, the public, the Government and non-governmental organisations have to contribute. However, this will not happen until and unless countries move beyond the parochial and recognise that they face common issues; that there are often international links as well as the cross-border movement of people; and that there are groundbreaking approaches in one part of the world that could be used elsewhere, whether in legislation, enforcement, prevention and protection or the rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors.

In recent times there has been a change in language from government departments acknowledging that we are dealing with a global issue, and I welcome that. In particular, I welcome the stepping up of our international response within the Modern Slavery Strategy published last autumn by the Home Office. It is significant that the intention is to identify priority countries, not just those that are the source for significant numbers of victims trafficked into the UK but also countries suffering disproportionately from a high incidence of modern slavery. Moreover, the strategy includes the prioritisation of activity to tackle modern slavery in those countries by working with foreign Governments and civil society organisations. The Government are to be congratulated on this aspect of the strategy. However, as your Lordships well know, a strategy can be discontinued or changed at the drop of a hat. That is why it is essential to undergird this and to ensure continuing prioritisation by making annual reporting on global modern slavery a legislative requirement.

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On the previous group of amendments, I mentioned that Kevin Hyland wrote to me and other Members of your Lordships’ House on 20 February. On page 4 of his letter he said something which relates directly to these amendments:

“British Embassies and High Commissions will develop Modern Slavery Priority Country Plans, working with both international and locally based partners, including the UN, faith leaders and local NGOs. I want to see an increased focus on preventing modern slavery from happening in the first place.

I will support and challenge the development and implementation of these plans and will push to ensure a fully coordinated response when the crime does occur”.

In essence, these amendments place those responsibilities outlined by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in that letter of 20 February in the Bill, and require the commissioner to monitor trends in slavery and human trafficking around the world and the measures taken to address them in order to gain a better understanding of the problem, its causes and solutions and to identify best practice, as well as opportunities for co-operation and collaboration.

Amendment 39 requires each embassy and high commission of the United Kingdom to submit an annual report on slavery and human trafficking in its area of operation to the commissioner. Amendment 41 sets out aspects to be included in these reports. Requiring embassies and high commissions to report will ensure that the workload is not too heavy for the commissioner. I know that there will be some concern about adding to the duties of the commissioner, but he does not seem to be unduly concerned about that, certainly reading the letter I have just mentioned. This approach is a significant improvement on the Modern Slavery Strategy, which puts the inter-departmental ministerial group on modern slavery in the role that I am advocating. I am convinced that that is not appropriate. It requires an independent assessment, which is surely an appropriate task for the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner.

These measures are important because they set out a mechanism for gathering vital information to help build a comprehensive picture of modern slavery across the world and how it is being tackled. This is essential for developing a strategy that will address the issue effectively, hence the requirement in Amendment 38 for the reports to cover not only the extent and nature of modern slavery but legislative and enforcement measures and details of the care, rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors. This section also requires reporting to include any relevant initiatives supported by the UK Government, so that effectiveness can be monitored, and any relevant activities of international bodies or non-governmental bodies, so that we can learn from effective approaches and in the right circumstances support such activity to increase effectiveness. These requirements are deliberately not prescriptive in order to allow the precise format, coverage and emphasis to be developed according to the needs of the moment.

The amendments set out what the commissioner will do with the information reported to him. These reports from embassies and high commissions will inform and shape his strategic plan. They will also enable him to include in his report a statement of the nature and extent of slavery and human trafficking in these areas as well as in the United Kingdom.

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My final amendment to Clause 43 ensures that, for the purposes of this section, “specified public authority” shall also include all embassies and high commissions of the United Kingdom. If, as the Home Office strategy indicates, tackling modern slavery around the world is our intent, it should be in the Bill. These amendments ensure that. They will also encourage joined-up thinking between the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID, something I know that the Minister of State at the FCO, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, wishes to see. I know that efforts to achieve that have already begun. However, in many ways one of the strongest arguments for adopting these amendments is that they will certainly encourage the addressing of these conditions that are conducive to modern slavery, and will therefore support the work of the Home Office, the FCO and DfID.

Poverty, displacement and conflict are common root causes. Modern slavery is as much a gross abuse of human rights and dignity as it is a crime. It is all too common to discover that lack of access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities all play their part. A desperate need for medicine or treatment is all too often the push factor in driving individuals to succumb to apparent job offers that promise financial reward but deliver only despair and exploitation; for example, in the many forms of bonded labour found particularly in south Asia, the nexus of modern slavery.

We would be well advised to take note of Dr Aidan McQuade, CEO of Anti-Slavery International, when he reminded us in a recent Guardian article:

“How the UK and other governments comport themselves in the coming weeks will be a critical test of how serious they are”.

The rest of the world is looking on to see how serious we are; we really can lead the world, if we are bold enough to address the global issue. In her foreword to the Government’s strategy the Home Secretary wrote:

“The time has come for concerted, coordinated action. Working with a wide range of partners, we must step up the fight against modern slavery in this country, and internationally, to put an end to the misery suffered by innocent people around the world. Together, we must send a powerful message to all traffickers and slave drivers that they will not get away with their crimes. And we must do all we can to protect, support and help victims, and ensure that they can be returned to freedom”.

I wholeheartedly agree. To that end, I reiterate my thanks to other noble Lords who have offered their support and I beg to move.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I am very glad to support the amendment and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for having introduced it.

This seems a particularly acute and disturbing example of how we live in a totally interdependent world. It is to live in a fool’s paradise to think that we can find the solutions by acting on our own within the confines of what we call the United Kingdom. This is an international issue—an international disease—and it has to be tackled internationally. Our credibility in building up the kind of international action that is necessary will relate very much, as the noble Lord has just emphasised, to how the world sees our serious commitment within the United Kingdom to putting muscle into our concern.

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I will say also that I am one of those who welcomed the bishops’ letter last week. I was thinking about this earlier in our deliberations this afternoon when we were talking about how we tackled this issue in the United Kingdom in courts, and about whether there had been prosecutions, convictions and the rest. All that is crucially important, but it is happening in the context of a values crisis. We have to ask ourselves very seriously what the prevailing set of values is that established the context within which all these things happen.

I am not a doctrinaire socialist—or, at least, not a dogmatic socialist. I am pragmatic in my socialism; there is a place for the market. However if you build up a culture in which the market is supreme, and it is, to say the least, an amoral market, where is the authority and the ethos within which you can make a success of these things because of the conviction that is there? There have to be other absolutes besides price as regards the kind of society in which we want to live. If we really want to be effective in this, we must have international action and effective legal arrangements in Britain. However, we must work at developing a sense of decency and solidarity—internationally, as well as within our own society—in which these things are unthinkable. If they are just another extension of the market, where people say, “Well, I can make money this way. Why don’t I do it?”, where will we be?

I remind the House, as I have done before, that Adam Smith, who made such an important contribution to the context and concept of economic liberalism and capitalism as it operates, did not at first, as a young man, write about economics at all. He wrote about ethics. He was a very strong Scottish Presbyterian. He took the ethics and values of society for granted and then approached the market. I am afraid that we have bred a society in which the market as a driving force has been seen as something that does not have to take values into account, unless it is forced to do so, and that is what we have to tackle in all these issues if we are ultimately to be successful. However, I really do congratulate the noble Lord on having reminded the House about the indispensability of international solidarity in this campaign.

9 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, as a former council member of Anti-Slavery International and a former member of the Christian Aid board, I support my noble friend’s amendments because they link contemporary slavery in the UK with slavery in the rest of the world. We forget that it was not long ago that non-governmental organisations explained that there was slavery in this country—it was not something that was far away—so we are following that line. The amendments become obvious when you realise that so much slavery is indivisible and that traffickers, and indeed victims, of slavery respect no boundaries.

I was unable to be present on 8 December when my noble friend Lady Cox moved similar amendments in Committee, but I have read carefully her contribution and the Minister’s reply. That there is an international dimension to modern slavery almost goes without saying, except that it is not mentioned in the Bill. We are all aware of the direct overseas experience of slavery and trafficking that my noble friends Lady

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Cox and Lord Alton and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, bring to the House. In Committee, the Minister, at col. 1638, acknowledges that experience and says that we need to go further. But I ask him again: how can we go further? I am not sure whether the Minister has yet stated how the Home Office can go further, apart from referring to passages in the strategy document. My noble friend referred to the letter that we have received from the commissioner, which is of high quality and points out the country plans that he will be following. It strengthens these amendments to read those passages in the letter.

I was most grateful to the Minister for inviting us to meet the new commissioner a fortnight ago. In that conversation, it became clear that the commissioner is already closely in touch with foreign and UK embassies, and he sees this as an important part of his job. He will of course need adequate resources to cover this, as we have touched on elsewhere.

In practice, I do not think that the amendments commit the Government to very much. Apart from close regular liaison between the commissioner and embassies in the course of his work, all that is needed is annual reporting of relevant incidents by embassies and high commissions, rather in the way that this is done annually by the Foreign Office in the case of human rights. It is not an unreasonable request, and my noble friend has already described the more detailed arrangements for this. However, it is important to make the connection in the Bill. The Government are rightly taking all these issues very seriously, and the Minister has, again and again, shown his personal commitment—some of it, I have no doubt, from his experience in China when he was doing his MBA. Sensible changes have been proposed during the passage of the Bill. I suggest that this is one of them and I look forward to his reply.

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab): I support the series of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who seeks to insert a much-needed international perspective in this Bill. No one would dispute that modern slavery is a global problem and therefore no one should dispute that modern slavery needs an international as well as a national response. Our international response in this Bill is lacking, as other noble Lords have pointed out, and this is disappointing. That is why I support the noble Lord’s amendments. They would be effective in helping push the issue of slavery and trafficking up the world’s political agenda, especially Amendment 38. Having each embassy and high commission produce an annual report on government action to fight slavery and trafficking would mean more research into slavery across the world, more information collected and shared, and greater dialogue with a wide variety of the world’s government officials, NGOs, journalists, academics and, more importantly, survivors, monitoring, working together, and sharing and developing partnerships across the world. Learning what works best to tackle the causes of slavery and trafficking, to protect the victims and to prevent it happening in the first place is essential, and we can learn a lot from these annual reports. Through embassy engagement, we can create global solutions to eradicate this global problem.

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Finally, as we discussed in Committee, involving embassies and high commissions in preparing an annual report about trafficking and slavery in their areas of operation is not new. America has been doing it for the past 14 years. Since 2001, they have produced a Trafficking in Persons Report. I cannot see why we in the UK should not do the same. Therefore, I hope that the Government will accept these amendments.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): In the letter from Kevin Hyland, on page 4 on international collaboration, it is clear that the commissioner designate sees it as an essential part of his role to bring together the necessary partners, nationally and internationally. He talks about working with British embassies and high commissions and wanting a significant increase in bilateral, multilateral and joint investigations, some of them supported by EU funding. In the past there have been some excellent bilateral arrangements, particularly one with Romania called Operation Golf, and there were other very good arrangements that worked with Europol and so on. Do the Government think that the current powers of the commissioner are sufficient for him to carry out all the duties that he talks about on page 4—and, if so, is it necessary to have it in primary legislation?

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, in speaking in support of the amendment I want to ask the Minister a question. We had a discussion earlier today about the Secretary of State fixing the budget for the commissioner and we had a debate about public bodies being required to co-operate with the commissioner. Is it the Minister’s understanding that the amendment on setting the budget for the commissioner embraces the whole area of overseas travel and maintaining those international relations? Why are embassies not included in the public bodies that are expected to co-operate with the commissioner? It would be helpful to have some clarification on those two issues.

Lord Rosser (Lab): I wait with interest to hear the Government’s reply. They have an amendment down, which refers to Clause 41(3)(f) and to,

“things that the Commissioner may do in pursuance of subsection (1)”,

which is about encouraging good practice. As it stands, the paragraph says that it may include,

“co-operating with or working jointly with other persons, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere”.

The amendment would make it read, “or internationally”. I have no doubt that the Minister intends to do this, but it would be helpful if he could explain the extent to which he feels that his amendment differs in spirit and objective from the one moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for proposing these amendments and to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.

This is yet another area where we have seen considerable progress since Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to powerful speeches made by a number of noble Lords at Second Reading, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who spoke passionately

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and persuasively about this issue. That speech was very influential in shaping the Modern Slavery Strategy

. A particular element is involved here which I will come back to. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the strategy is helpful in that it is a cross-government strategy. Rather than being domestically focused—clearly, by definition, the Home Office is domestically focused—the strategy reaches across all government departments. Importantly, the Modern Slavery

Strategy complements the Bill as it says what the Government will do as a result of the legislation that is passed.

Page 10 of the Modern Slavery Strategy highlights the fact that, as part of Pursue, we will work internationally to,

“improve our own capabilities and cooperation with international partners”.

The work being done in the Santa Marta group is part of that. I pay tribute particularly to the work being done by the Vatican in that respect. On 9 and 10 April last year, the Home Secretary and international law enforcement representatives attended a historic event at the Vatican to discuss how the church and law enforcement could work together to combat modern slavery. At the conference, the Home Secretary announced the creation of the Santa Marta group—a group with senior law enforcement officers from around the world chaired by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who will work on joint practical measures to strengthen and co-ordinate our response to tackling modern slavery globally. The Santa Marta group met again in London on 5 and 6 December 2014 and has committed to meet again in Spain later this year. The meeting in December was very successful. I think that it was attended by all the 40 or so country representatives from around the world and reflected the two sides of the operation—the country plans undertaken by DfID and the FCO, which have already been referred to, and the crucial work undertaken by the National Crime Agency in tackling the organised crime dimensions by placing people overseas.

The Modern Slavery Strategy goes on to describe in some detail on page 54 the overseas Protect work in which we are engaged. That is not to suggest that this is a sentiment or gesture comprising words only. In the past 18 months, 14 modern slavery projects have been delivered in seven countries. Does more need to be done? Of course, much more needs to be done. I am trying to paint a picture to show that even when this issue was being subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny, the Santa Marta group was involved in it. We recognise that the international dimension is absolutely critical in tackling this heinous crime, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. We cannot do it alone. We need to have the Pursue and Prevent programmes. The aims of the Prevent programme will clearly be international.

The designate Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, wrote that he saw international collaboration as being a key part of his operation. I know that he is just about to visit Nigeria and he has been to Spain. All his visits have been facilitated, as one would expect, by the missions in the respective countries. That work is therefore being undertaken.

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9.15 pm

We have the documents, the strategy and the work of the international commissioner. Clearly, the international travel dimension will be reflected in his budget. He is of course independent, and I cannot say what he should do but, as a result of the Bill, in addition to all that, he will have to prepare his report and strategy. Given his remit—which he has described so eloquently; he gave more column inches to the international dimension in his four or five-page letter than to any other topic, which suggests how important he sees it being—it would be surprising if that aspect did not feature strongly in the strategy he puts forward and in the annual report he lays before Parliament.

As regards where we are going with this, we have had conversations. I met the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I know that there has been great interest in this subject. We looked carefully at where we could put in the Bill something that indicated its international dimension. It seemed to us that the logical fit, given that the commissioner was involved in that, was very much that we should look to amend Clause 41(3)(f), which, rather than containing just a generic “elsewhere”, specifically puts “internationally” into the Bill.

I say to my noble friend, or, rather, the noble Lord—he is a friend—that I can see him grimacing, as if to say, “Is that it?”. I can totally hear him say that but, if that were it, I would have given a very weak response to a very serious problem. What I have tried to outline ahead of that is that we have serious international co-operation, which was commenced by the Home Secretary before this legislation started moving through the Houses of Parliament. We also have the clear commitment that this is a personal passion and belief of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner-designate. Most crucially as far as we are concerned, the Government have clearly set out what they expect to do in terms of delivering on this in their cross-government strategy being worked on by the interdepartmental group.

I am conscious that the noble Lord will push further because he is a champion—in many ways in the model of Wilberforce—who has to keep going. It took Wilberforce 30 years to get his legislation through; at least we have some legislation heading towards the statute book. It may not be everything but it is a significant step forward, and it is vital that we do not leave NGOs or any other organisations—and, most crucially, victims in the wider community—in any doubt that we see the international dimension as absolutely central to tackling this crime. However, as we remove the plank from our eye, we might be able to see a little more clearly where we might operate better internationally. We have a major problem in our own country and it is critical that our first priority is to tackle that. Then, as we are successful in doing so, I believe that our efforts will be more recognised internationally. On that basis, I ask my noble friend to consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bates. He certainly was reading my mind when he referred to Amendment 36 and the replacement of “elsewhere” with “internationally”. If

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that is all that the Government can offer, it is not just that I do not find that a very comforting or acceptable approach; it is more about what my noble friend Lady Cox will make of this when she returns from Sudan. I would not want to be in the Minister’s shoes when my noble friend comes back from those troubled parts of the world. I do not think that it will satisfy her either.

The noble Lord referred to William Wilberforce. I was thinking as he said that that Henry Thornton, one of Wilberforce’s supporters, defended him when he was accused of being interested only in issues overseas. William Hazlitt had criticised Wilberforce for not also taking up the cudgels to deal with things such as children being sent down the mines and public health issues at home. In defending Wilberforce, Thornton said that it was rather like criticising Christopher Columbus for discovering America but not going on to discover Australia and New Zealand as well. In other words, there is only a certain amount that you can achieve at any one time.

I recognise that the noble Lord has made huge efforts during the course of this Bill, along with many Members of your Lordships’ House, to make great progress. He has used the metaphor of being on a journey on a number of occasions. He struck that same metaphor in the response to this debate in reminding us that there is a strategy that will affect all departments from the Santa Marta Group. I pay particular tribute to the British ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, who has played a very important part in facilitating the discussions begun by that group and which have helped to concentrate the minds of people elsewhere in the world on these questions. He was also right to remind us that the appointment of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner will be an important contribution to highlighting these issues overseas.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, was right to remind us of the question of the budget. We did not get an entirely satisfactory reply from the Minister on that point. I thought my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss put her finger on it, as always, when referring to the letters sent by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in saying, “Are these powers sufficient?”. We still do not really know the answer to that. I am not in a position to make that judgment this evening.

I recognise that the Minister has shown a lot of good will, in his usual manner, in dealing with the amendment. Again reverting to the imagery he conjured of Wilberforce and his companions, it took them 40 years to get from the beginning of what they wanted to achieve to the end. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of the anti-slavery legislation—Wilberforce was on his deathbed when word was brought from Parliament that it had been enacted—it was very significant that all over the world, not least in the American Congress, other legislatures followed the example that had been set in the United Kingdom. We should look back to that period and remind ourselves that what we do here will affect what goes on elsewhere. That is why it is important that we get this legislation absolutely right. Although I want to reserve the position of my noble friend Lady Cox, who will no doubt be in

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touch with the Minister on her return—she may want to return to this at Third Reading—for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 30 withdrawn.

 

The independence and lines of accountability of the Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner:

Clause 40: The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner

Amendment 27

Moved by Lord Warner

27: Clause 40, page 30, line 40, at end insert “and may bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament irrespective of other provisions in this Act”

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, Amendment 27 is in my name and in those of the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. I shall also speak briefly to Amendment 29 in this group, which is in the same names.

I begin by acknowledging the efforts made by the Minister to respond positively to the many points raised in Committee by Members of this House from across the Benches. The House will recall that in Committee there was great concern that the Bill did not go far enough to ensure the independence of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Simply to call the commissioner “independent” was not sufficient if the Bill did not fully reflect that description. The Government have eventually, after a struggle, recognised those concerns to some extent in their Amendment 28. However, I gently draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that it does not even go as far as the rather modest collective amendment we have put down as Amendment 29.

Unfortunately, there is a somewhat grudging flavour to Amendment 28, which makes me retain my concern about the extent to which the commissioner remains clearly on a leash—even if, admittedly, on a slightly longer one—from the Home Office. That is why I

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have tried to provide an override provision in Amendment 27, which would enable the commissioner to,

“bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament irrespective of other provisions in this Act”.

That means exactly what it says. If the commissioner at any time considers that he or she is being thwarted or nudged away from airing publicly any significant concern that he or she has, he or she can draw upon the provisions in Amendment 27 to access either House of Parliament to ensure that the issue is brought into the public domain.

7 pm

The amendment is not directed at any particular Home Secretary but is a provision based on what some of us have observed in Governments of all or any political make-up as reluctance to have difficult or embarrassing issues surface publicly. My colleagues want to ensure a stronger legal bulwark against any such temptation.

It is clear that Parliament has used such a bulwark elsewhere in relation to the Children’s Commissioner, whose functions are set out in the new Section 2 of the Children Act 2004 brought forward last year in the Children and Families Act 2014. New Section 2(3)(e) gave the Children’s Commissioner exactly the same access to either House of Parliament at any time he or she considered it necessary when discharging his or her functions. It states that the commissioner may,

“bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament”.

Therefore, not that long ago, this Parliament gave a commissioner with responsibilities for very vulnerable people—in that case, children—an absolute guarantee of access to Parliament should the need arise. Paragraph 436 of the Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act makes it absolutely clear that the Children’s Commissioner can do this either through his annual report or by other means, such as writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee. To put it graphically, if I may, if a Minister tries to gag the Children’s Commissioner or censor his utterances, the commissioner can go straight to Parliament.

We should also remember that other countries with equivalents to the anti-slavery commissioner give the person direct access to Parliament. The rapporteur from the Netherlands made clear to the Joint Select Committee on the Bill her ability to do this. She saw it as an important way of giving confidence to people outside that they could bring their concerns to the rapporteur.

As we discussed in Committee, the commissioner needs the trust and confidence of a wide range of agencies and interests if he or she is to be successful. That trust and confidence will be damaged, as the Joint Committee said, if there remain doubts or perceptions that the person’s independence is shackled by the Executive. No amount of warm words from Ministers can remove those doubts and perceptions. A statutory guarantee is required and Amendment 27 gives that guarantee. Having accepted that position in relation to the Children’s Commissioner as recently as last year, I hope that the Minister can do the same for the anti-slavery commissioner by accepting my

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amendment, which is framed in exactly the same way as the Children and Families Act 2014. If the Government are prepared to agree to Amendment 27, I will be strongly inclined not to press my Amendment 29. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, indicated, I am one of those who put my name to the amendment, and I am very happy to add my support to it in a short intervention this evening. Before doing so, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of both the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, in dealing with Members from all sides of the House during the passage of this legislation, whether in the series of meetings organised in your Lordships’ House or in the face-to-face meetings with some of us who participated at the Home Office. We are all grateful to them for that. It is exemplary and it should recommend itself to other Ministers who are keen to facilitate their legislation through Parliament. This, of course, does not mean that we have always been of one mind or that we are necessarily going to agree about Amendment 27 to Clause 40.

The issue is the accountability of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. I suspect that it may be one of those issues where we will not find agreement because it cuts right into lines of accountability through the Home Office. Departmental issues may take precedence over what I think may well be the private views of members of the Government but which they may not be able to voice here this evening.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is commendable for its clarity. However, as he also indicated, it is a shrewd amendment, not least because it is based on the Children and Families Act 2014. If what we did a year ago was right in that context, surely it is right to follow exactly that precedent here again this evening.

It seems to me that one of the most important things is to recognise that, however good the nature or good will of individual Ministers, they, and even Home Secretaries, come and go. We are in a period where we face a general election. There may be a different set of Ministers—perhaps from the same party or maybe from other parties—in the very near future, so assurances given on the Floor of your Lordships’ House in the course of debate, even though they are given in good faith, cannot carry over in the same way that legislation carries over. Parliament does not come and go, unlike individual Ministers, and that is why it is so important that we place these words on the face of the Bill.

There have been plenty of precedents where uncomfortable, inconvenient and untimely issues have arisen, and departments have endeavoured to shelve them or kick them into the long grass, to suppress them or simply to ignore them. This amendment would prevent that. If we deemed such a provision to be necessary to protect children, surely it is necessary to protect victims of slavery, many of whom will in any case be children.

In a letter to me just a couple of days ago, on 20 February, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Mr Kevin Hyland, said:

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“My independence will be unwavering, whether that be toward law enforcement, government, the private sector or indeed any organisation”.

I repeat:

“My independence will be unwavering”,

in the direction of government, as he specifically states. Either he is independent or he is not, and this amendment gives him the parliamentary access which will guarantee him that unwavering independence. I hope that this evening the Government will indicate either that they will take this matter away and look at it between now and Third Reading or that they will recognise the spirit in which the amendment is being moved by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and give some guarantees to the effect that he is seeking.

Lord Rosser: While the government amendment is welcome in extending the remit of the anti-slavery commissioner and allowing the commissioner to appoint his or her own staff, there are other areas where there still appear to be constraints on the commissioner’s independence.

The commissioner must still seek prior approval of strategic plans from the Home Secretary on his or her activities and areas of focus, and annual reports may also be subject to redaction before they are laid before Parliament and published. Apart from the impact on the commissioner’s independence, it is not clear within what timeframe this checking and seeking clearance has to be undertaken in order to avoid the prospect of delays, for example, in the publication of a report or the approval of a plan or programme. The delaying of the publication of reports by the Home Office is an experience apparently not unknown to Mr Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Annual reports from the anti-slavery commissioner may be redacted on the grounds that material may jeopardise the safety of an individual, prejudice an investigation or, in the view of the Secretary of State, be against the interests of national security. Perhaps the Minister could say how frequently it has been necessary to redact reports where the same conditions and criteria as it is proposed to place on the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner’s reports already apply in relation to comparable commissioners or bodies.

As has been said, following the passing of the Children and Families Act 2014, the Children’s Commissioner can bring any matter to the attention of Parliament. And again, as has already been said, the Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act state that the commissioner might do this, for example, through annual reports to Parliament or by writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee. Under the 2014 Act, the Children’s Commissioner must as soon as possible lay a copy of his or her annual report before each House of Parliament.

In his letter of 16 February, the Minister said that,

“the Government’s intention has always been that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be independent”.

But it appears that there are varying degrees of independence—or lack of independence, depending on which way one wants to look at it. Perhaps the noble Lord could say whether the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be in the same position

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1473

when laying his annual report before each House of Parliament or writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee as is the Children’s Commissioner under the Children and Families Act 2014—and, if the answer is no, why that should be the case.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, put a direct question to me that other noble Lords have asked. It is because the nature of the information often involves serious crime and young children, and there are matters that may not be appropriate. That is something that is applied to other organisations—for example, with Borders and Immigration, with which the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner shares an office.

I shall make some contextual remarks and thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for returning to this issue. He acknowledged that we have been on a journey with this Bill. The word “independent” was not in the Bill when it was in the other place. That was added and then, rightly, your Lordships asked what it actually meant in precise terms and whether the person has the right to appoint their own staff, or whether they should be able to draw them just from within the pool of the Home Office. Then we found out and were able to confirm that he had already been appointing staff from outside in his designate position, and that he had brought in people from NGOs working in this area to assist in this role.

One point that was helpful in the discussion when Kevin Hyland, the designate commissioner, came to speak to Peers, was that, from his own role, he wanted to be closely aligned to the Home Office because he felt that it gave him a certain amount of authority in dealing with modern slavery—not just within the Home Office but across government. We now have a cross-government strategy, which we have published. He felt that that was very important and that the fact of reporting to the Secretary of State at the Home Office would strengthen his ability to get the changes he wanted in engaging with police officers and other agencies. From his own point of view, he saw no contradiction—to pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton—and he wanted to be unwavering in how he put forward his case and reacted to his role, as he put it in his letter. I emphasise that that came out on 20 February; I do not think that anybody in the Home Office was consulted about it—and, of course, it was absolutely welcome. He wants to build a strong relationship with parliamentarians and to engage in that process.

The idea of any of us who have had the privilege of meeting Kevin Hyland thinking that he would be anybody’s poodle, let alone on a leash, is something that we do not accept. We want to make sure that he has a very serious statutory role to perform, charged by and answerable to the Secretary of State. His task is to ensure that victims are protected and perpetrators prosecuted. Under previous groups, we talked about how that might be done. This is a very good example of how that might be moved forward.

7.15 pm

I know that there are concerns that reports are reviewed by the Secretary of State, but there is another element here, which I want the noble Lord

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to be cognisant of in pursuing his amendment. Amendment 27 would effectively allow the commissioner to report to Parliament about anything without the important necessary safeguards which would avoid inadvertently jeopardising national security, putting victims’ lives at risk or undermining an ongoing prosecution. Moreover—I ask the noble Lord to think very carefully about this point—Amendment 27 would legislate outside the legislative consent Motions passed by the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly, which were agreed specifically on the basis of the current powers to safeguard matters of important public interest. The amendment would leave a Bill that, if passed, would breach the Sewel convention, and put this critical UK-wide part of the Bill at risk. That is a very serious point for the noble Lord, Lord Warner, to consider.

I have tried to make the point to the noble Lord that, in welcoming his amendment, we have introduced our own amendment, which guarantees the commissioner’s independence of role over his budgets and recruitment of staff and also ensures that it is open to any committee to request the commissioner to come and speak to it. It is entirely within its ability to do that, and any Member of Parliament is entirely at liberty to communicate directly or to meet him, as has already been the case on many occasions. We simply underscore the importance of that role, and have this hesitation only in accepting the noble Lord’s amendment at this stage—it could put at risk some of the prosecutions being brought forward, if information should be inadvertently released. Given that we are dealing with matters of organised crime, that would be a very serious matter, which I know will weigh heavily on the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I ask him to keep that in mind.

Amendment 29 would entirely negate the effect of these essential provisions by allowing the commissioner to report to Parliament about any matter and override existing statutory information safeguards and restrictions on disclosure, such as those in the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Official Secrets Act 1989. I urge noble Lords not to effectively remove the critical and proportionate safeguards set out in the redaction provisions. I must also bring an important issue to the noble Lord’s attention, in the Sewel convention. That is very important to bear in mind. He is aware that the Government cannot support amendments in breach of the Sewel convention. To raise such a controversial constitutional issue at this stage in the life of a Parliament would put at risk important provisions for a UK-wide commissioner.

Given these serious risks, and my assurance that the commissioner will already have his annual reports laid before Parliament and be able to appear before parliamentary committees, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment and support the government amendment to strengthen the independence of the commissioner.

Lord Warner: My Lords, that was all very interesting. I thought that there was a certain amount of scrabbling around by the Minister at the end when he went into the Sewel convention and letters of consent. He seemed to be struggling to put the old arguments together—and

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I can see that there has been some burning of the midnight oil in the Home Office to try to scratch together some of these arguments. It was interesting to hear the Minister talk of us going on a journey. It certainly has been a journey; it has been a rather hard slog through a lot of mud to try to get a bit more independence into this person’s role. I agree with him that this has been a journey. However, I have considerable doubts about whether it has been successfully completed.

I am genuinely grateful for all the work that the Minister has put in since the Bill came to the House, and I very much share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. However, that does not alter the fact that we are legislating for the future, not just for now. I have heard nothing in the Minister’s arguments which convinces me that this House should not include in the Bill an ability for this commissioner that is the same as that of the Children’s Commissioner to have direct access to Parliament when the need arises. I say to the Minister—

Lord Bates: The noble Lord claims that he heard nothing, but what does he say to the point about the Sewel convention? It is a serious constitutional point about how this proposal would affect the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Lord Warner: My Lords, if I may be allowed to finish what I was going to say, it would probably be helpful to the Minister. I am not one simply to reject out of hand some of these constitutional issues. However, we are also concerned about the position in this country—England—as well as the position in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. We have the largest population and we are probably dealing with the largest number of enslaved, exploited and trafficked children. If the Government consider that this amendment needs to be amended between now and Third Reading, they could do so and have negotiations with the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and so forth. People have these discussions with other government departments when there is a reasonable period of time in which to do so.

In conclusion, on the basis of what I have heard, I see no reason for not testing the opinion of the House.

7.23 pm

Division on Amendment 27

Contents 154; Not-Contents 178.

On November 17th the House of Lords debated the new Modern Slavery Bill:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/141117-0001.htm#1411179000440

modern slavery william wilberforce 2
Article 4 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that :

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

modern slavery

The  Bill which had its Second Reading in the House of Lords yesterday is a genuine, welcome and long overdue attempt by the Government to address contemporary forms of slavery – particularly human trafficking and to meet our Article 4 obligations. I particularly pay tribute to the work of the Rt.Hon Frank Field MP, Sir John Randall MP and  Baroness Butler-Sloss, as well as many NGOs and individuals, particularly Anthony Steen and Danny Smith of Jubilee Campaign. Although there will be attempts to amend and strengthen the Bill, it would be churlish today not to congratulate the Home Secretary and her team for the work which has been done thus far.

The Government has also shown a welcome willingness to incorporate changes suggested during the pre-legislative process, particularly further support for victims, and their later decision to incorporate a new provision on transparency in business supply chains  although there needs to be clarity on the terms of reference for the consultation, the proposed end date for the consultation, and when the Government expects to present legislation on that issue.

In a letter to Peers last Friday the Government announced  that Mr. Kevin Hyland has been appointed as Anti-slavery Commissioner. He has great experience of law enforcement but I was surprised that this appointment preceded the parliamentary debate on what the role and mandate of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be. Is this role to be about policing or about leadership and strategy?  It would have been bettere if Parliament had been given the  chance to discuss the necessary skill sets before an appointment was made.

We also need to discuss the concerns raised last week in their Report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who suggested that the Bill provides insufficient protection for the independence of the Anti-slavery Commissioner, specifically in relation to appointment, staffing, powers to report on subjects other than those authorised by Government, and Government redaction of reports.  The Committee argued that without greater independence and a broader mandate the new post risks becoming an adjunct of the Home Office concerned mainly with law enforcement, rather than a vital new part of our national human rights machinery.

As to the main provisions of the Bill, I don’t think anyone could reasonably claim that the Bill as drafted is the last word. Rather, it is the like the proverbial Curate’s Egg: “there in parts”. This unfinished work is capable of significant improvement when the House reaches Committee and Report Stages.

Shortly after entering the House of Lords in 1997, and after visits to countries like Sudan, Burma, and North Korea, I began to press the then Government to legislate on modern forms of slavery and on human trafficking.

Human Trafficking

In June 2002 having been told by the Government that “At present there is no specific offence of trafficking in human beings and so no data exist about the confiscation of assets of those engaged in this practice” I attempted to amend the Proceeds of Crime Bill. People trafficking had become the fastest growing facet of organised crime, generating £4.3 billion a year – the third largest source of profit for organised crime after the trafficking of drugs and firearms.

I told the story of an Albanian woman, kidnaped, raped and , believing she had been rescued was brought London, only to be forced into prostitution by her trafficker. A year later I described Saw Naing Gae an eight years old Burmese child whose parents were shot dead by the Burmese military. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Two cases among hundreds of thousands; cases which demonstrate that this is a global issue demanding global solutions.

Human trafficking 2

In 2002 my amendments called for the proceeds of trafficking to be channelled into the support of victims and the resourcing of a strategy to tackle this scourge at source – something I was glad to see the new Commissioner called for over the weekend.

Supporting me in 2002, the late Lord Wilberforce, a law lord and descendent of William Wilberforce, described trafficking as “a pervasive crime committed in all kinds of areas by all kinds of people. It must be dealt with by a great variety of authorities and police forces all over the country, many of which have no idea of the nature of the crime or the remedies available to deal with it.”

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

Two years later, the failure to combat human trafficking was underlined by the tragic death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay – part of a criminal racket, exploiting workers all over England, and estimated to funnel £1m per day back to China.

In 2006 Parliament created the Gangmasters Licensing Authority but 2013 research by Durham University found it had insufficient teeth; and that those trafficked for labour exploitation would soon exceed those trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Professor Gary Craig, said there was a “real problem” getting people to acknowledge that “slavery exists in the UK” and that his research “suggests there may be upwards of 10,000 people at any one time in the UK in conditions which we would class as modern slavery.”

The mandate of the GLA should be extended, have powers of arrest and investigation and keep fines to fund its work. Professor Craig says the resources directed to the GLA are “totally inadequate.”

cockle pickers2

Part of the hold over migrant workers like the cockle pickers is the debt bondage which affects more than 20 million people. Modern-day forms of slavery—based on discrimination because of racial origin, forced labour, child labour, trafficking and debt bondage—all underpin the economic and trade relationships from which we and many other countries continue to benefit.

In confronting all of this does this Bill do enough? Does it justify the Government’s claim to be “world leading” and to be making “legislative history”? Measure the claim against, the independence of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner; the treatment of victims and migrant domestic workers; and the development of transparency of supply chains.

The European Convention on Human Trafficking and the European Directive require us to provide support services to victims. In 2012 report of the Group of Experts (GRETA) invited “the British authorities to enshrine in law the right to a recovery and reflection period” and recommended the UK should “ensure that all potential and actual victims of trafficking are provided with adequate support and assistance from their identification through to their recovery.” GRETA specified that among other things this should include:   “adopting clear support service minimum standards for victims of trafficking and the provision of adequate funding to maintain them.” It’s hard to see how we can comply unless, for instance, legal aid is restored for victims of trafficking and slavery?

modern slavery victims

By contrast with our provisions, in October, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to introduce statutory support services for the victims of trafficking and to introduce statutory child trafficking guardians. Are we really going to provide victims of trafficking less protection in England and Wales than in Northern Ireland?

The most vulnerable group of victims will always be children. It is said that 60-70% of trafficked children have gone missing from care.

In April the House decisively supported Lord McColl’s proposal for introducing Child Trafficking Guardians. But compare the weakness of Clause 47, stating that the Home Secretary will merely produce guidance on support services with the definition of the role which we voted in favour of in April.

I would like to see the Bill introduce a specific offence of child exploitation and trafficking and include a statutory principle of non-prosecution so that children who have been trafficked are not detained, prosecuted or punished for offences committed as a direct consequence of their trafficking, slavery or exploitation.

modern slavery domestic workers

The Bill also fails migrant domestic workers. We need to provide minimum standards for protection and support and create a right of migrant domestic workers to change employer and to apply to renew their visa while in full time employment; and implement the strong recommendations of both the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill and the Joint Committee on Human Rights who called for the reinstatement of the pre 2012 protections for migrant domestic workers.

Last week I met with the Transparency in Supply Chains Coalition and I strongly support their proposals to strengthen the Bill in five respects: (i) coverage; (ii) minimum requirements; (iii) reporting; (iv) monitoring and enforcement; and (v) review. These recommendations draw on their wide experience of corporate responsibility and supply chain management, and also in light of experience of the implementation of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010,

child labour india

The need for measures to tackle modern slavery in company supply chains is amply demonstrated by abuses and exploitation of workers in cotton mills in Tamil Nadu, India. The mills in this region supply high street retailers such as C&A, Mothercare and Primark.

kiln workers pakistan

Or think of the children of brick kiln workers in India and Pakistan who have no future except to adopt the profession of their parents because they have no opportunity to access education.

The report – Flawed Fabrics – published in October details forced labour abuses, including physical confinement in the work location, psychological compulsion, and false promises about types and terms of work. These are modern slaves and our high street decisions keep them in servitude.

flawed fabrics

The findings included “prison-like conditions” in which the women are literally bonded, and girls as young as 15 recruited from marginalized Dalit communities in impoverished rural areas – some of which I have seen first-hand. It reports that workers were lured away with the promise of good wages and working conditions, only to experience “appalling conditions that amount to modern day slavery and the worst forms of child labour.”

 

The report makes several recommendations on brands, retailers and manufacturers it highlights the need for supply chain mapping, transparency and identifying risks.

Such monitoring needs to go beyond tick box approach. NGOs working on the issue have highlighted how easy it is for mills to welcome inspectors, make a presentation to them while behind the scenes the workplace is tidied up, health and safety equipment handed out temporarily, and move under-age workers out of sight. It is essential that the Bill include minimum measures of disclosure with an emphasis on a collaborative approach to monitoring. It is essential to have effective legislation requiring companies to effectively monitor their supply chains and to ensure that this is done beyond the first tier of suppliers. This needs to be done across all large companies to ensure a level playing field.

There should be a requirement on the face of the Bill that a company’s report on slavery in the supply chain must be referenced in the Directors’ Report for each financial year; a requirement in the Bill that reports should be placed in a prominent position on the company’s website (prominently linked to from their homepage); a central repository of the company reports on a government website; a clarification on the face of the Bill that the provision should be the responsibility of the Board and/or CEO; and a recognition that year on year reporting should be progressive.

I would also like to see a requirement for all UK embassies to prepare an annual account of trafficking and slavery in the countries where they are located, to form part of an annual report to Parliament by the Slavery Commissioner, comparable to the US State Department’s annual report of the Office of Trafficked Persons.

In 2006 in the run up to the bicentenary celebration, in 2007, I took part in a House of Lords debate on the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

slave ship2

I mentioned that the city of Liverpool, where I served as a Member of the House of Commons for 18 years, had been at the epicentre of the historic slave trade. Ships like the ironically and perversely named “The Blessing” literally stole people from their homelands and ferried them into servitude and misery.

slave ship

It is estimated that by the end of the 18th century, 60 per cent of Britain’s trading activities centred on Liverpool In total, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.5 million slaves. It is a poignant and shaming experience to stand, as I have done, at the Gate of No Return in Benin, from where so many of Africa’s slaves were wrenched away from their homes, their families, their culture and their identity.

Roscoe

I have a chair at Liverpool John Moores University and am Director of its Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship. William Roscoe was one of those who defiantly stood against the slave trade and, in 1807, during the three months he served in another place, he was able to join with William Wilberforce, in voting against the transatlantic trade. Sadly, he did not live to see the repeal of the slave laws in 1833. Men like Roscoe and Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Grenville Sharpe, Ouidah Equiano and the Rathbone family, help to redeem that sordid period of our history.

roscoe statue

Many of our predecessors in Parliament argued against repeal insisting that to do so would spell ruinous economic disaster for England and her Empire. Economic interests remain a potent factor in the continuation of slavery and is why today even more people are enslaved than in those distant times.

According to the International Labour Organization around 21 million men, women and children around the world are in a form of slavery, estimated to generate a profit of $150 bn per annum.

It is significant that Rathbones – who can count Liverpool’s William Rathbone IV as one of the strong voices raised against historic slavery, have been at the forefront of the campaign for transparency in supply chains, saying: “The power of business needs be enlisted in the fight against modern slavery, as only business has the global reach and necessary resource to make a genuine difference.”   Rathbones have published a letter signed by investors with £950 billion of assets under mamanegement.

Along side investors like that the Modern Slavery Bill can also play its own part in that fight but we will need to strengthen it further before it is enacted if it truly is to set a world standard.

modern slavery william wilberforce 2 modern slavery and wilberforce

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

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

Article 18 – An article of faith

Lord Alton

August 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How you can help Christians in Iraq:

http://www.acnuk.org/campaigns

 

and sign this petition:

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

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

Symbol N

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

Subject: The Times Thunderer, July 23rd, 2014

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

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

The Times newspaper: July 23 2014

Times Thunderer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

Also see:

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

House of Lords

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.40 am July 24th 2014

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

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

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

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

Article 18

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

article 18 an orphaned right

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They are being killed by their brothers”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11.55 am

Lord Patten (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noon

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same report stated, on Christians:

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

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

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

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

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

12.05 pm

Lord Avebury (LD):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.10 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.15 pm

Lord Cormack (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.21 pm

Lord Parekh (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.26 pm

Lord Hylton (CB):

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

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

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

“I carry every Iraqi in my heart”.

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

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

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

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

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

12.32 pm

The Lord Bishop of Coventry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.38 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.43 pm

Lord Desai (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.48 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

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

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

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

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

12.53 pm

Lord Haskel (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

12.58 pm

Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.03 pm

Viscount Bridgeman (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.08 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

1.14 pm

Lord Morrow (DUP):

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

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

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

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

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

“faith without works is dead”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“faith without works is dead”.

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

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

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

1.20 pm

Lord Elton (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.26 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.32 pm

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derive their melody from rolling spheres;

But Faith, o’erpassing speculation’s bound,

Can see what sweetens every jangled sound.

We, who are parts of Adam, heard with him

The song of angels and of seraphim.

Music uplifts the soul to realms above.

The ashes glow, the latent fires increase:

We listen and are fed with joy and peace”.

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

1.38 pm

Lord Sacks (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.43 pm

Lord Bach (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and that to say so,

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

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

1.53 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord Bishop of Coventry:

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

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

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

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

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

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab):

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

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

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

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

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

Lord Clarke of Hampstead:

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

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

I thank the noble Lord for that contribution.

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

Lord Lea of Crondall:

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

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

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

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

2.09 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

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

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

Interruption.

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

Lord Newby (LD):

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

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

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

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

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

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

Motion agreed.

Parliament

Also see:

 

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

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

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

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

Iraqi Christian Persecution Floor Speech by Congressman Frank Wolf

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

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

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

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

Syriac Catholic Church:

1. Syrian Catholic Diocese – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul

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

3. The New Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood

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

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

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

7. Church of the Virgin of Fatima – Faisaliah Neighborhood

8. Our Lady of Deliverance Chapel – Shifaa Neighborhood

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

10. Archbishop’s Palace Chapel – Dawasa Neighborhood

Syriac Orthodox Church:

1. Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese – Shurta Neighborhood

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

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

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

5. Church of The Immaculate – Shifaa Neighborhood

6. Mar (Saint) Aprim Church – Shurta Neighborhood

7. St. Joseph Church – The New Mosul Neighborhood

Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East:

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

2. Assyrian Church of the East, Dawasa Neighborhood

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

Chaldean Church of Babylon:

1. Chaldean Diocese – Shurta Neighborhood

2. Miskinta Church – Mayassa Neighborhood

3. The Antiquarian Church of Shimon alSafa – Mayassa Neighborhood

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

5. Church of St. Ephrem, Wady AlAin Neighborhood

6. Church of St. Paul – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District

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

8. Church of the Holy Spirit – Bakir Neighborhood

9. Church of the Virgin Mary – Drakziliya Neighbourhood

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

11. Mother of Aid Church – Dawasa Neighborhood

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

13. St. George Monastery with Cemetery – Arab Neighborhood

14. Monastery of AlNasir (Victory) – Arab Neighborhood

15. Convent of the Chaldean Nuns – Mayassa Neighborhood

16. Monastery of St. Michael – Hawi Church Neighborhood

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

Armenian Orthodox Church:

1. Armenian Church – Maidan Neighborhood

2. The New Armenian Church – Wihda Neighborhood

Evangelical Presbyterian Church:

1. Evangelical Presbyterian Church – Mayassa Neighborhood

Latin Church:

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

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

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

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

Cemeteries:

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

This item is available as: HTML | PDF.

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

Update July 31st:

INA News

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

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

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

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

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

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

• Mosul is now governed under Sharia law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Symbol N

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

 

From The Oasis Trust:

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

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

Louis Sako |

My greetings to you,

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

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

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

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

 

Have we Become Used to the Elimination of the Christians?

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

Philippe Barbarin |

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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scan0006

Queens Speech Debate at Westminster – the fate of Meriam Ibrahim the Sudanese pregnant woman sentenced to death and 100 lashes is raised along with the violence which continues in Darfur and South Kordofan

Meriam Ibrahim
Question 25 Jun 2014 : Column WA164

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will answer the question asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 10 June (HL Deb, col 236), and on 11 June (HL Deb, col 418), about whether asylum in the United Kingdom will be offered to Meriam Ibrahim, who has been imprisoned and given a death sentence in Sudan.[HL317]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach) (Con): The UK has a proud record of offering sanctuary to those who need it. Each claim for asylum is carefully considered and where we find individuals are in need of our protection, asylum is given. However, to be eligible for international protection, a person must be located outside of their country of origin.

Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim


South Sudan
Question 25 Jun 2014 : Column WA171

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to commit to ensuring that diplomatic engagement with South Sudan continues beyond the signing of and re-commitment to a ceasefire, in order to support an inclusive national dialogue process.[HL315]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): Recommitting to a ceasefire is an important step, but it is only the first step in a long process towards national reconciliation in South Sudan. We welcome the agreement reached between President Salva Kir and Riek Machar to work towards the formation of a transitional government of national unity. This is a further positive step. But both parties must continue to engage constructively in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-mediated peace talks in Addis. The UK, along with our troika (UK, US and Norway) and EU partners, continues to support IGAD efforts to resolve the crisis with both financial assistance and expertise. The UK Special Envoy to the South Sudan peace talks has attended each session of the talks in an advisory capacity since his appointment in January this year, including when the latest agreement on transitional government was reached on 10 June. The Special Envoy has also
met with both parties in South Sudan and has engaged regional leaders whose influence is vital to the peace process. We are exploring with troika partners further ways in which we can support the national dialogue process, both financially and administratively.

Wednesday June 11th Queens Speech Debate
http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/#m738

5.15 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, the Government and the Foreign Secretary deserve to be congratulated for the commitment that they have made to combating violence against women. The House can take real pride in the role that the Minister of State, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, has taken in demonstrating that gender, talent and faith can be great assets while holding high office.

How very different the situation is in Nigeria, where Boko Haram—which means “eradicate western education”—can abduct and kill with impunity. How very different the situation is in Sudan, which incarcerates a woman and sentences her to death on trumped-up charges of adultery and apostasy. How very different the situation is in Pakistan, where a brave and courageous schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot for defying the Taliban’s opposition to education for girls; a country disfigured by honour killings, blasphemy laws and impunity in the face of the assassination of its courageous Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, whose killers have still not been brought to justice.
The jihadists, from Boko Haram to Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, hold a common, distorted ideology, which festers in poverty, hates difference and exploits grievance. For majorities, such as women, or for followers of minority faiths, life is often a living hell. Last week, the charity Open Doors said that, today, one Christian is martyred every three hours. On 31 May, the Times, in a powerful leading article, said:

“Western politicians until now have been reluctant to speak out … We cannot be spectators at this carnage”.

When they are not being murdered, they are being forced to pay extortionate jizya tax—protection money—to leave or to die, like the two men who were recently crucified by ISIS in Syria. I was given an account only today from Syrian refugees who are in Jordan, unable to pay a ransom. The head of the family was kidnapped and executed.

Last night, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord King, and my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup, Mosul fell to ISIS. Not surprisingly, overnight, 120,000 people, many Christians, were reported to have fled from Mosul to the plains of Nineveh. When he comes to reply, I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, will tell us what is being done to protect those people who are fleeing from the depredations of ISIS.

I also hope that the noble and learned Lord will update us on the plight of the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April in north-east Nigeria, along with 20 more women abducted this week.

Meriam ibrahim2

I hope that he will also answer the question left partially unanswered yesterday when I raised the case of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman sentenced to 100 lashes and execution, and forced to give birth while shackled in her prison cell. I asked if we would unambiguously offer Meriam Ibrahim and her two little ones asylum and refugee status in this country, demonstrating our values against the values of those who have perpetrated what, for me, is the real crime.

Sudan’s archaic, cruel and medieval laws have also led to Intisar Sharif Abdallah being sentenced to death by stoning and to Lubna Hussein being sentenced to lashing for dressing indecently—that is, for wearing trousers. According to Al-Jazeera, in Sudan in one recent year, 43,000 women were publicly flogged. As we have seen in Darfur, where an additional 600,000 IDPs in the past year have brought the number of displaced people to more than 2.2 million, and in the genocidal campaign in South Kordofan, this is a corrupt Government which uses Sharia to prey on the weak and to kill its own people.

Three months ago, Sudan suspended the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In April, it expelled a senior official of the United Nations. When did we last raise these questions in the Security Council? This, after all, is a country which signed up to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is not worth the paper on which it is written as far as Sudan is concerned. We have to be clear about the implications when a radicalised view of Islam comes to prevail and when democracy, modernity and secularism are seen as spectres—the implications are there of course for the United Kingdom too.

The noble Baroness represents an alternative approach, based on plurality, tolerance, decency and common humanity.

I have previously argued in your Lordships’ House that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be at the heart of such an approach and, indeed, of our foreign policy, and should inform every aspect of the positions that we strike. The implementation of the declaration should be the goal of our foreign policy and a condition of both aid and support.

I will end with one final example. I have chaired the All-Party Group on North Korea for 10 years. Earlier this year, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Mr Justice Kirby, said of North Korea:

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”.

If that is so, and if we are committed to the upholding of human rights, why have we done nothing so far to ensure that the findings in that Commission of Inquiry Report have been laid before the Security Council?
5.20 pm

Meriam ibrahim3

Pregnant Christian Woman Sentenced to Death in Sudan.

http://www.copts.eu/articles/6596-first-picture-and-video-of-the-baby-born-in-a-sudan-jail-to-mother-sentenced-to-hang-for-marrying-a-christian.html

Also see http://t.co/EXbM8T05Y7 – the view of Muslims who oppose this barbarism in Sudan.

To help Meriam Yahia Ibrahim sign this petition:

President of Sudan , Omar Al-Bashir: Save Mariam Yahya
To: President of Sudan , Omar Al-Bashir:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/President_of_Sudan_Omar_AlBashir_Save_Mariam_Yahya/?keUkhab

Also see this article by Nina Shea

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/17/in-sudan-a-pregnant-woman-may-be-hanged-for-marrying-a-christian.html# 

 

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a Christian woman from a Muslim background, was arrested on 17th February 2014 and charged on 4th March with adultery and apostasy. She is married to a Christian of South Sudanese origin. The couple have a young son (who is with Meriam in prison) and are expecting their second child later this month. The Government of Omar al Bshir (indicted by the International Criminal Court for Crimes against Humanity) does not recognise the couple’s marriage, hence the adultery charge.


Heavily pregnant and in a Sudanese prison - sentenced to 100 lashes and execution by hanging.

Heavily pregnant and in a Sudanese prison – sentenced to 100 lashes and execution by hanging.

A further court hearing was held today (15th May). Meriam had been given three days to recant. However, at today’s hearing she calmly confirmed to the judge that she remains a Christian. The judge accordingly confirmed the sentence for apostasy of death by hanging. He also sentenced her to 100 lashes for adultery. The death sentence is to be imposed two years after she gives birth to their second child.

The lawyer acting for Meriam is preparing an appeal which must be submitted within 15 days. Meriam’s husband was not permitted to attend the court hearing today, and has been denied access to Meriam and their son in the prison.

Representations may be made to Sudan’s Misiter of Justice, Mohamed Bushara Dousa at moj@moj.gov.sd

The telephone number of the Sudan Embassy in London is 0207 839 8080
info@sudan-embassy.co.uk or tweet the UK embassy in Khartoum @SudanUnit

Promise to Pray, Protest, Pressurise, and Provide

Promise to Pray, Protest, Pressurise, and Provide

Meanwhile, in South Kordofan the killing continues as the Government of Sudan bomb the region’s only hospital. It is condemned as a war crime.

The hospital, funded by Irish donors in the Nuba mountains region of South Sudan, is back up and running having suffered aerial attacks over two days at the beginning of May.

The Catholic Mother of Mercy hospital, which is funded by donations via Trócaire, is the only functioning hospital for the area of South Kordofan and caters for some 150,000 people amid the conflict between rival forces first sparked in 2011, ostensibly over the disputed oil-rich Abyei region.

There are currently 1,000 patients at the facility.

Bombing of the hospital is "a war crime" by Khartoum's Government

Bombing of the hospital is “a war crime” by Khartoum’s Government

Despite being located away from military installations and strategic interests, the hospital became the target of an aerial bombardment on May 1, and again the following day. Five of some 11 bombs dropped found their target, and though no fatalities were reported, staff and patients were injured as hospital buildings were blasted.

The European Union delegation to Khartoum said in a statement that it “noted with concern” reports of the bombing, stressing that hospitals are protected civilian facilities under international law.

Failure to distinguish between the military and civilians “represents an indiscriminate attack and is a war crime,” the statement said.

– See more at: http://www.irishcatholic.ie/article/irish-backed-hospital-south-sudan-bombed#sthash.cxBwpQPu.dpuf

Speech on the situation in South Sudan, 6.58 pm 24 Mar 2014 : Column 414

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, the whole House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this Question for Short Debate. I am sure that we all thank him for the eloquent way in which he set the scene for this debate.

Following the fighting that broke out in Juba last December, we have seen the violence spread like a plague to Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, where fresh clashes only last week have rendered those areas inaccessible to humanitarian agencies. As we have heard, unverified reports suggest more than 10,000 fatalities. The key message of our debate to all sides should surely be that there should be an immediate cessation of hostilities with no delay.

Both President Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, must understand that anything which further exacerbates the existing ethnic tensions, particularly between the Dinka and Nuer, risks the very future of South Sudan and plays into the hands of those who wanted the world’s newest state to fail from the very outset. They should also take careful note of the statement of the special envoys of the European Union, the United States and Norway in which the troika warned them that, if they fail to engage constructively with the IGAD-led talks, “they will face consequences” and that:

“The people of South Sudan expect renewal, they expect their voices to be heard in forging a more sustainable peace. Business as usual is not a viable way forward”.

The suffering of the people of South Sudan is being further compounded by the collateral effects on humanitarian relief and those who work so selflessly to provide it. Since January there have been three fatalities among aid workers, more than 100 were prevented from relocating from Yirol in Lakes state to Juba for safety, and more than 75 humanitarian vehicles have been commandeered or stolen. It is impossible to feel anything but deep admiration for those aid workers still in the field, risking their lives to bring relief and help to the destitute. Surely there is more that we could do to give them practical help and support.

With 3.7 million people now experiencing acute food insecurity and 7 million facing some degree of food insecurity, according to figures provided by the food security and livelihoods cluster, does the Minister

24 Mar 2014 : Column 414

agree that if, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just mentioned, pastoralists and farmers prove unable to move with their livestock or to plant their seeds at the outset of this rainy season, it is becoming increasingly possible that this crisis of food insecurity will freefall into outright famine? I hope that the Minister will update us on the Government’s own assessment. Perhaps she can also tell us whether, with the reallocation of funds from development projects in other parts of the country to emergency food relief, she would concur that this poses a threat to the country’s long-term recovery. Is it the case that the crisis response plan for humanitarian activities until June 2014 is around only 23% funded, with a shortfall of £592 million? How can that gap be filled?

Over these weeks we have seen former allies become enemies, old grievances re-ignited, and tribalism and factions threatening the cohesion of South Sudan. The failure to address many of these underlying issues and challenges—many of which were well known but ignored in the framing of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement—has played its part in the genesis of this new eruption of violence. Any political agreement crafted between power brokers and warlords that does not address grievances and fails to reach out to affected communities will be a poor basis on which to build a peace. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that politics is practised in South Sudan. It cannot be based on deals between a couple of competing leaders. Sudan’s churches have always had a historic and important role as peacemakers, and groups such as Citizens for Peace and Justice—a coalition of 30 civil society organisations—should be given direct and independent participation at the IGAD negotiating table. They at least, in contrast to some of the political leaders, have had an enduring interest in the humanitarian needs of the people.

As is always the case when violence replaces negotiated political solutions, powerless, vulnerable people, especially women and children, are caught in the cross-fire and are the ones who suffer the most. From December to mid-January, almost 500,000 people were displaced. It is predicted that total displacement may reach more than 900,000 and that 40% of those will be children. The impact is also spreading to neighbouring countries. As we have heard, there are now around 222,000 refugees. As of 12 March, 70,000 South Sudanese had crossed into Ethiopia seeking asylum, with the number expected to reach more than 150,000 by the end of this year. Perhaps the Minister can update us on the Government’s own assessment of the numbers and of those who have been responsible for these events. Is there not an argument for the United Kingdom to have in place a full-time special envoy to Sudan?

We have seen attacks on civilians by government forces, attacks on civilians by opposition forces, ethnic targeting by government forces, and widespread destruction and looting. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us what is being done to hold those responsible to account and particularly to tackle the recruitment and arming of children and young people into their militias. Can she also tell us whether she thinks that the commission of inquiry, which has been referred to, is sufficiently well resourced? Will it have unimpeded access to the affected areas? As well as bringing

24 Mar 2014 : Column 415

perpetrators to justice, does it have within its terms of reference the creation of mechanisms for settling grievances which might pre-empt future eruptions of violence, while fostering a climate in which reconciliation might occur? Reconciliation is not a soft issue—an add-on which might be nice to have—but a hard-edged security requirement.

Will the Minister say what child protection specialists are in the field and whether we have formally requested the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to travel to South Sudan and report to the Security Council, so that due weight can be attached to addressing the appalling plight of the children whose lives have been shattered by these events? Perhaps I may also ask whether the British Government will be bankrolling the elections next year. How can we possibly imagine that an accurate census can be taken when 1 million people are displaced? What genuine choices will be able to be made?

As I conclude, I should be grateful if the Government would tell us what intelligence they have on the role and influence of South Sudan’s neighbours in the conflict. The harsh reality is that events in South Sudan have enabled Khartoum to continue its systematic war of attrition against the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The reality is that events in South Sudan have taken the spotlight off the 18 states affected by armed conflict in the north—not least in Darfur, where violence continues unabated and largely unreported.

7.06 pm
David Alton ( Lord Alton of Liverpool).

 

South Sudan
Questions
4 Feb 2014 : Column WA47

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recruitment of child soldiers by the White Army in South Sudan; what are the command structures of the Army; who they consider controls it; and what they consider can be done to disarm it.[HL4973]

Baroness Warsi: The so-called White Army is an amalgamation of disparate community-based forces with wide-ranging motivations including ethnic rivalry and political grievances. It does not have a command structure in the conventional military sense and has no clear single commander. Various claims have been made during the recent conflict about the political affiliation and command of groups of Nuer youth, described as the White Army by some commentators and political leaders, but evidence to support these claims is limited.
We do not currently have direct evidence of active recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups, but we judge that it is highly likely to have taken place. It will take some time following the cessation of hostilities to assess the humanitarian impact on South Sudan’s children, and whether any resurgence of child recruitment may have taken place.
The Cessation of Hostilities agreement signed on 23 January should apply to all those groups involved in the recent conflict, including those groups who have been described as the White Army. We expect the demobilisation and disarmament of irregular forces will be important questions for the political negotiations that are expected to resume on 7 February. It is vital that the needs of any children recruited during the conflict are specifically addressed as part of any disarmament and demobilisation process.

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS DEBATED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS

 Image

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.

 Image

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

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

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

PROVISIONAL HANSARD

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

Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

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

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, in just under three weeks’ time, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the adoption of a declaration which asserted that,

“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”.

It is as much a declaration of human dignity as a declaration of human rights. I hope that those words and the declaration’s 30 articles will serve as the architecture for today’s debate. These rights are universal and not available for selective enforcement according to culture, tradition or convenience.

Every year, the Foreign Office publishes a comprehensive report on human rights violations. It clearly should be followed by an annual debate in both Houses, the appetite for which is underlined by the distinguished list of speakers who will contribute today, albeit in speeches far too constrained by time limits. We eagerly await four maiden speeches: those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, whose grandfather, Dr Alfred Wiener, dedicated much of his life to documenting anti-Semitism and racism in Germany, and whose first wife, Margarethe, died shortly after being released from Bergen-Belsen.

It was in the aftermath of those horrific events that the 1948 declaration was promulgated, the United Nations established, and the Nuremberg trials commenced. During today’s debate, I hope that we will reflect on whether the Security Council, the General Assembly, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights in 2006, and the International Criminal Court, established by the Rome Statute in 2002, have been effective guarantors of the high ideals of that declaration.

It is just 10 days since China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam were all elected to the Human Rights Council despite concerns about their own human rights records and their decision to exclude United Nations monitors from their jurisdictions. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations General-Secretary, has said:

“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action”.

But will they be able to do so with any certainty in the future? I shall be interested to hear whether the noble Baroness believes that international bodies charged with upholding human rights should be wholly independent of national governments who violate them.

China, in particular, has huge diplomatic, political, economic and military influence, and its attitude will determine the shape of global attitudes to human rights. Through the Opium Wars to the Rape of Nanking and the horrors of Mao Zedong, China has itself suffered gross human rights violations. The protection and promotion of human rights should not only be seen as a moral cause, but it can never be in a nation’s self-interest to see universal freedoms and values trampled upon.

In today’s debate, we will hear about the situation in many countries and we will hear many themes, from female genital mutilation and the use of rape as a weapon of war to the killing of human rights monitors—in Colombia 37 have been murdered already this year—from human trafficking and repression arising from sexual orientation to the caste system, which inflicts such misery on Dalit people. Sometimes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is seen as an à la carte menu from which we may pick and choose. But these rights stand together. None should be emasculated; they are there for a reason.

Let me give one example. In a report by Members of your Lordships’ House, Article 18 was dubbed an “orphaned right”. Sidelining a right which upholds the right to belief, or indeed the right not to believe, is a serious error and the failure to uphold this orphaned right is leading to appalling consequences. As the noble Baroness the Minister rightly warned at Georgetown University last week, there is a need to “build political will” and to actively uphold the Human Rights Council resolutions on the treatment of minorities and tolerance towards other faiths. She said that in large parts of the world Christians “face extinction” and that senior politicians in countries like Pakistan have a “duty” to denounce persecution and to set a standard for tolerance. The noble Baroness is right and she is to be commended for leading by her own formidable example.

There are growing restrictions on freedom of conscience that range from the suffering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim communities in Pakistan and Indonesia to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt; from the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma to Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims in China, and of course Christians in these countries as well as in countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, India, Eritrea and Cuba. But I stress that it is not only people of religion who suffer from violations of Article 18. In Indonesia a young man, Alexander Aan, has been jailed because he declared himself an atheist. For that, he is serving a two and a half year sentence in a remote prison in west Sumatra. Whatever our beliefs, the defence of Article 18 is therefore something which all of us should champion.

Among the organisations mandated to defend human rights that needs urgently to be strengthened is the International Criminal Court. It is mandated to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it has been wholly inadequate in its mechanisms of enforcement. Let us take the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. Last week I met Dr. Kasereka Jo Lusi, a remarkable surgeon who works in Goma in eastern Congo. He told me that an average of 48 women are raped every single hour in the DRC. Twenty different militias carry out these horrors with impunity. Why is no one brought to justice and what can we do to promote a paradigm shift in attitudes and beliefs towards women and girls? In confronting impunity, why is it that Joseph Kony, who created the LRA killing machine responsible for terrible atrocities and indicted by the ICC, has not been brought to justice? Why does the indicted Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, remain at large? Bashir has been hosted by signatories of the Rome Statute, which stipulates that they have a duty to co-operate with arrest warrants. What have we done to seek compliance?

Within the past month, I have made speeches in this House about Egypt and Sudan. Can the Minister give us her latest assessment of the continued aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Darfur and the Nuba mountains? There is also the plight of Copts. We saw the murder of two little girls at a recent Coptic wedding and the orgy of violence which I have described as Egypt’s Kristallnacht.

In May, I raised human rights abuses in Pakistan. If the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Cabinet Minister, who was well known to the Minister and who was charged with upholding the rights of minorities, remains unsolved, what faith can ordinary citizens have in the justice system? Why should potential attackers fear the law? What progress is being made in bringing his murderers to justice?

Last week, the Minister replied to my Written Question about the discovery of two mass graves in Sadad, in Syria. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a new report on the 45 people killed there by the Islamist militias of al-Nusra Front and Daash. Are we any closer to verifying those accounts or to bringing to justice those who have used chemical weapons and those responsible for the daily violations of human rights using conventional weapons?

On Tuesday, I visited the protesters who, for 10 weeks, have been on hunger strike outside the American embassy in London, protesting about the massacre of Iranian democracy activists shot at close range at Camp Liberty in Iraq in September and who are highlighting the execution of 120,000 political prisoners, including women, in Iran since 1979. I hope the Minister will respond to the account of Tahar Boumedra, the former head of UNAMI, about the massacre in Camp Liberty, which my noble friend Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Waddington, I and others sent to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday. Can she tell us when we last raised these issues with Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq? How did human rights violations figure in this month’s decision to upgrade our diplomatic relations with Iran?

As the Prime Minister discovered last week at CHOGM in Colombo, the judgments we make about when and how to engage on human rights questions can derail delicate relationships and even threaten the cohesion of admirable organisations such as the Commonwealth. What balance do we strike as we consider the complex questions of engagement?

I will conclude with the example of North Korea, which, with 2-300,000 people in its gulags and egregious violation of human rights, is sui generis—in a class of its own. Almost all of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration are denied. Only yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously adopted a resolution citing the “systematic, widespread and grave” human rights violations in North Korea, including torture, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, and the network of political prison camps.

I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which, at evidence-gathering sessions, has regularly heard from escapees. Earlier this year, I published some of those accounts and, last month, I gave evidence to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I have advocated the need for such an investigation for many years and pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments for working to secure its establishment. The inquiry has heard accounts of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, slave labour, rape, summary execution, forced abortion and medical experimentation. It has heard how three generations of a family can be dispatched to North Korea’s vast gulag system for such “crimes” as criticising the political leadership. It heard of a mother forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, of prisoners scavenging through excrement for morsels of food, of inmates forced to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and grass, and of an inmate watching the public execution of his mother and brother. Mr Justice Kirby, the Supreme Court judge from Australia who chairs the commission of inquiry, said he wept on hearing many of these accounts.

I have visited North Korea four times, three times with my noble friend Lady Cox. On each occasion we have confronted the North Korean regime with its appalling human rights record. Precisely because of its isolation, I have long proposed a policy of constructive, but critical, engagement with North Korea, what I have termed, “Helsinki with a Korean face”, following the model of our approach to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in the Helsinki process—a robust stand on security and a critical stand on human rights but a willingness to put those issues on the table and talk face-to-face with the regime.

Only a week ago, the Times reported that the regime carried out 80 public executions in seven cities on one day—3 November—for alleged crimes of watching South Korean television dramas or owning Bibles. The Times said that they were allegedly tied to stakes, hooded and killed by machine gun. In the 1990s, 2 million people died of starvation in a country which puts its resources into a nuclear capability and one of the world’s largest standing armies. In January the Sunday Times reported that in two provinces, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae, as many as 10,000 people had died of starvation and that the starving had resorted to cannibalism. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether we have raised these reports with the regime through our ambassador in Pyongyang, and describe our engagement with the United Nations commission of inquiry.

In March I had the opportunity to meet Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma. She famously said:

“Please use your liberty to promote ours”.

Perhaps that is the purpose of a debate such as this and of our being Members of your Lordships’ House. She told me that the BBC’s Burmese Service made a major contribution to the process of opening up Burma. There is much that can be learnt from this and applied to North Korea. Burma is an example of a country where the right combination of international pressure, the flow of information and critical engagement has led to progress.

More than 12%—one report says it is as high as 27%—of those who have escaped from North Korea say that they have heard broadcasts from outside the country. The BBC World Service should make broadcasts to the Korean peninsula a priority. This would help to break the information blockade in the north and promote democracy, human rights and the English language. A popular campaign has been launched by young South Koreans calling for this. To facilitate BBC broadcasts from Korean soil, changes to South Korean law would be necessary. Was that discussed with President Park during her recent state visit? The Government have expressed sympathy for the proposal. Are we taking the idea forward?

In confronting each of the challenges that I have described, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides us with a map and with a compass. I think that today’s debate will mirror the FCO’s six human rights priorities: women’s rights; torture prevention; abolition of the death penalty; freedom of religious belief; business and human rights; and freedom of expression on the internet. Many will doubtless concur with the Foreign Secretary’s view that human rights must be “at the heart” of British foreign policy.

We need to do far more to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is less honoured in its breach, and I hope that today’s debate will demonstrate the determination of this free Parliament to insist on the centrality of the declaration to our approach to foreign affairs while also providing a voice for voiceless people. I beg to move.

11.52 am

Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Con):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on a wide-ranging and comprehensive speech, as well as on raising this debate at a very relevant time. Abuse of human rights takes a great many different forms, but it is on the often savage hostility currently being shown towards religious minorities in many countries that I wish to concentrate.

It was alarming to hear from the Minister only last week that, given the available evidence, Christianity is now in danger of extinction in some nations of the Middle East, which were the very birthplace of the Christian faith. She said:

“There are huge advantages to having pluralistic societies”,

and went on,

“we all have an interest in making sure that Christian communities do continue to feel that they belong and are not persecuted in the places where this religion was born”.

Indeed, the loss of religious freedom has a profound effect on not just the political arrangements in a country but the cultural, social and economic situation that exists there. The right to religious freedom is one of the fundamental promises about human rights made to people in some of the great declarations and finest speeches proclaimed down the years.

On 5 March 1946, while visiting Westminster College in the small Missouri town of Fulton, Sir Winston Churchill famously observed that an iron curtain had descended across Europe. It was less than a year since the war had ended and, with President Truman at his side, Sir Winston said:

“We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man”.

Five years previously, in his State of the Union address, the United States President, Franklin Roosevelt, had spoken eloquently of the four great freedoms which must be fought for and upheld. He listed them as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. While composing the speech, the President let three of his advisers into the secret of the imperishable soundbite that he was about to deliver. The famous “four freedoms” paragraphs were not included until they had been dictated by the President one night in his White House study and taken down in longhand by his aides to be added to the fourth draft. He ended his speech by saying:

“Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them”.

These four freedoms were later enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the new world authority in 1948.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Article 18 promises freedom of religious worship, and among those who voted in favour were Iran, Egypt and Syria. It is clear that when this freedom of worship is abused, the other freedoms singled out by President Roosevelt are in jeopardy, too. This is because fear grips communities where extremism and violence rule, and want stalks the lives of refugees fleeing from persecution.

Democratic Governments who believe in human rights upheld by the rule of law must have the presence of mind and the will to raise such matters wherever religious minorities are being hounded and abused, whether by Governments or by other religious groupings. I must ask the Minister to give an assurance that the Government will have the continuing will and boldness to raise such sensitive issues in the countries under criticism. After all, if the Prime Minister could give a lead in relentlessly pursuing such matters in Sri Lanka last week, surely it is not too much to ask that other Ministers continue to speak out whenever they are dealing with those Governments who commit intolerable abuses of human rights.

A deliberate attempt is being made to engage in religious cleansing in certain communities which are seeking to force into extinction Christianity and a number of other minority religions. If rational discussion fails to produce results, we should seriously consider withholding overseas aid or other forms of economic assistance to those countries until such time as they are prepared to conform to civilised norms. I can see great merit in the suggestion made in another place by my right honourable friend Tony Baldry that the Government should consider appointing a special envoy for freedom of religion and belief who, working with other UN and US emissaries, could co-ordinate the United Kingdom’s diplomatic efforts in this field and shine a relentless spotlight on abuses.

I end with the words of the former Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, quoting the eminent historian, Lord Acton. He said:

“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities”.

11.58 am

Lord Parekh (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate and thank him for introducing it with such passion and wisdom. We are right to concentrate on the promotion of human rights rather than on the promotion of democracy, which has been in the air for quite some time. The rights are easy to identify and monitor, and there is greater international agreement on what rights are worth preserving and what rights are human rights. There is also greater international pressure for implementing those rights as opposed to the promotion of democracy, because democracy can mean many different things in many different contexts. Therefore, I particularly welcome our discussion of violation of human rights rather than violation of democratic norms.

It is also right to point out that we cannot deal with violations of human rights in the whole world; we have to be selective. In that context, it is important for us to concentrate on those countries with which we have close ties, and where we can make an impact. In that context I particularly thank the Prime Minister for the stand he took at CHOGM in Sri Lanka. He was right to go. I think that the Prime Minister of India was not right not to go. Our Prime Minister was right to visit Jaffna, commiserate with the Tamils, condemn the army operations which killed thousands of Tamils, demand an investigation into what actually happened during the war and afterwards, and meet the representatives of the Tamil group.

An equally sensible attitude is increasingly being taken with reference to Gujarat, the Indian state from which I come, where genocide took place in February 2002, when a large number of Muslims were killed with the complicity of the state. The American Government denied a visa to the Chief Minister but the British Government took a very sensible view and said nothing. Increasingly, the British Government began to recognise that we had no conclusive evidence that the Chief Minister had been directly and actively involved in what had gone on; after all, he had been in power for only four months. Nor did we ignore the fact that this sort of thing had happened in other parts of India, and therefore we could not single out one state alone. About 18 months ago, or perhaps a little less, the British Government asked the British high commissioner to India, Sir James Bevan, to visit Mr Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. More recently, the Foreign Office Minister, Mr Hugo Swire, visited the place. In Kolkata recently, the Prime Minister said that he would be more than happy to meet any elected leader. This is not to exonerate the leader of his responsibility but simply to indicate that not talking to people is not the answer.

I wish to make three general points. First, as we cannot promote all kinds of human rights we obviously have to prioritise. Of the six priorities listed by the Government there is not much reference to the rights of trade unions, which in my view have played, and continue to play, an extremely important role. Business rights are fine but they are not supposed to include trade union rights. During the Arab spring, trade unions were the vehicle through which important radical change was achieved. Minority rights are also important. Generally, the standard definition of human rights concentrates on individual rights and tends to ignore minority rights.

Secondly, while we are right to condemn violations of human rights, we sometimes tend to ignore our own complicity in these violations. Large corporations based in our country sometimes engage in practices abroad that violate human rights or lead indirectly to violations of human rights. We ought to tighten up the monitoring of our corporations. Many violations take place during civil wars. We are sometimes complicit in instigating or tolerating civil wars in other countries, which can result in gross violations of human rights.

Thirdly, we tend to be selective about where we condemn violations of human rights and where we do not. Violations of human rights in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are by and large ignored, whereas we tend to concentrate on them in countries such as China. This sometimes gives the impression that we are unprincipled and that we are using human rights discourse or issues to promote a particular political agenda. We need to ensure that we are principled when we condemn violations of human rights.

Baroness Northover (LD):

My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that this is a time-limited debate. When the Clock hits five, speakers have had their five minutes. We want to ensure that we have enough time for our maiden speeches, the Minister’s winding-up speech and for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to respond at the end.

12.04 pm

Baroness Hollins (CB):

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing and introducing this important debate. It has been said that wartime rape is as old as war itself. Women’s lives and bodies have been unacknowledged casualties of war for too long, but now greater media awareness and reporting, probably in part because of the exceptional women journalists covering conflict, have brought wider knowledge of the extent to which rape is occurring. The consequences of rape are also better understood. Five years ago, a United Nations resolution described rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security.

Rape is used as a punishment for men as well as women, by forcing men to watch as their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters are raped. Victims of rape are left emotionally traumatised, physically damaged and at risk of potentially fatal sexually transmitted diseases. Rape humiliates, dominates, instils fear and disperses communities. The after-effects of rape are felt for generations, as women bear their rapists’ children, and face shame and revulsion. Surely it is time to draw a line, and time for the international community to take rape as seriously as it does the use of other weapons. As my noble friend mentioned, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the Congo. Reports of rape have also emerged from the current conflict in Syria. When will women’s human rights be recognised and acted upon?

Rape is always an abuse of power. In the case of rape, it is an abuse of physical power. When communities are under threat, it is the weak and vulnerable who suffer the most. People with disabilities are subjected to more violence in any country, but more so in a country in turmoil, where people are concerned for their own lives and livelihoods and may not have the resources to look after the most vulnerable people in their communities. It may be as obvious as someone with physical disabilities being unable to flee rebel attacks, or as insidious as someone with a disability being last in the queue for food and water. Disabled women and girls are also raped.

The Human Rights Watch report of an investigation in Uganda in April and May 2010, which looked at the treatment of people with disabilities during conflict, was called As if We Weren’t Human. It was sobering reading indeed. Over one-third of the 64 women and girls with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch had experienced sexual violence. Charity, a Ugandan woman with a physical disability, described how, in the camp,

“people told me: ‘You are useless. You are a waste of food.’ People told me I should just die so others can eat the food”.

Women reported being abused by aggressors because of their disabilities. A partially blind woman had her eyes removed because she had not seen where her husband kept his gun. A girl with learning disabilities was beaten and raped because she did not understand the questions she was being asked.

It is unusual for victims of rape and sexual violence in times of conflict to seek help, but when they do, those with disabilities are at a further disadvantage. Health centres and police stations are far away and victims rely on others to take them there, leaving them at greater risk of the untreated physical complications of rape. Police stations and courts do not have the resources to facilitate communication with those who have difficulties, such as the deaf and people with learning disabilities. Many girls and women with disabilities are illiterate and rely on their families for communication. Families will often not support a woman or girl in reporting a rape because of the additional stigma that rape brings to a family already stigmatised by disability.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the specific vulnerabilities of those with disabilities and requires its signatories to take appropriate measures to protect such persons from exploitation, violence and abuse. We signed the CRPD in 2008, but what is our policy on those countries that do not comply with it? What is our policy on those that allow such human rights abuses to be carried out on women and girls? The G8 this year declared rape to be a war crime. Will the Minister explain to the House what the British Government are doing about it?

12.09 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby:

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate, and I also associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk.

Many of the pictures painted are dramatic and challenging, and I invite the House to think a little about the context that we are in and how we might approach some of these huge issues. The Government have identified six key priority areas, including women and freedom of religion, and those are the two things that I will look at in particular. We are in a world where we have ideals and fall short of them, and need to negotiate between the two.

In my own language, I start by inviting us all to look at the motes in our own eyes. I am embarrassed that my church has legislation in place to discriminate against women, as much religion still does. We are moving towards tackling these things, and the prime movers have been women themselves. One point that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made is that the victims need to be listened to so that they can help us understand what changes are required. It is not legislation but the stories of the victims that need to come first.

We as a church have been criticised, rightly, for the long and tortuous path of giving women full access to leadership in our institution. It is very easy for society to think that we have already done that: we have sex equality legislation and human rights legislation. Noble Lords will know that next Monday is White Ribbon Day, when in this country we remember the increasing levels of violence against women in our society. That is part of the context.

Just yesterday I was involved in a debate for Parliament Week—where the theme, as we know, is “Women in Democracy: Women in Society”—about lads’ mags and the fact that companies such as Tesco sell these magazines along with cheese and cornflakes. They objectify women and normalise the offensive attitude of making women commodities. We give large companies such as Tesco the freedom to degrade the women in our midst. That is the context in which we come to this debate: the motes in our own eyes.

I will suggest a way in which we might move forward. I think that the Government already have some line on this: the Foreign Secretary talks about engaging with complexity and the Minister talks about being pragmatic. We need to be pragmatic in negotiating between ideals and reality. As a trustee of Christian Aid, I know that women are key to development, with new voices and new perspectives, but I also know through my work with Christian Aid that the human trafficking of women and girls is increasing exponentially. Therefore, the ideals and the practice are in enormous tension.

I turn briefly to my specific point. The 2012 list of countries about which we have particular concern does not include India. My diocese works with churches in north India and is especially involved with Christian Dalit peoples—the lowest caste. In the past week, I have been in touch with a colleague in Delhi who worked with Christian Dalit women. She told me about Lakshmi, who works on a construction site from six in the morning till six at night and has to sign a register saying that she is getting the minimum daily wage, although in fact she is paid less than half of it. She also told me about a girl called Anjum, who was put into a brothel at the age of 15 and, last week, was rescued by the churches. She had found herself in that position because she was a Dalit woman in that culture.

The Prime Minister has just visited India and is talking about a special business relationship with that country. We need that: it will be good. However, what can we put into that relationship that will lead these issues to be taken seriously? In your Lordships’ House earlier this year, we made a decisive intervention during the passage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill about Dalits in our own country. First, how can we take that learning and that experience into our work with business in India to help people aim for a similar result?

Secondly, how can we maintain concern for women and girls caught up in the ever-expanding criminal work of human trafficking? Thirdly, how can we look at the motes in our own eyes and challenge the right of large companies such as Tesco to degrade women in the midst of selling cheese and cornflakes and make it normative? As has already been asked, how can we better play a role in the UN? Finally, I guess that I and my colleagues on these Benches need to go back to our own institution and ask how women can play a more constructive and creative role among us so that we have more integrity in contributing to this debate.

12.14 pm

Lord Finkelstein (Con):

My Lords, at the moment I took the oath in the House I was filled with wonder and gratitude. There was gratitude to be given the privilege to sit among your Lordships and to contribute to your deliberations. There was gratitude to my supporting Peers, the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Coe, the latter having forgiven me for defeating him in an egg and spoon race. What can I say? He can run but he dropped the egg. There also was gratitude to all the officials of the House. They have helped me to overcome every practical issue related to having a peerage, save the one that still vexes me; namely, how, in a suburban house containing three children and six guitars, do my wife and I fit a two-foot, red leather box with a large wax seal? I now understand the strategy of barons since the time of King John, which is to get a castle first and only then acquire a peerage.

Finally, there was gratitude that as the son of refugees I live in peace in this extraordinary country with its respect for human rights. It is therefore fitting that human rights should be the subject of my maiden speech. My mother is a survivor of Belsen concentration camp and my father was an exile in a Siberian prison village. Pinner is nicer. People often bemoan the absence of big ideas in British politics. I always reply that big ideas drove my family from their home and their country, murdered my grandmother, starved my mother, imprisoned my father and stole our property. So I like pragmatic, small British ideas, our quiet suburbs and our stable institutions. My politics were never better summarised than by my paternal grandmother saying, “While the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, I am safe in Hendon Central”.

My necessarily brief contribution to this debate is that we in this country have a special understanding of the value of allowing people to live their life in peace as they see fit, to enjoy their privacy and never having to fear what they are because they fear their neighbours or the state. For that reason, because of the respect for that fundamental human right, we have become a leader in extending to gay people the freedom, equality and respect that should rightfully be theirs.

However, with that leadership comes a responsibility. Last year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights identified 76 countries which criminalise private, consensual same-sex relationships. Even where homosexuality is not illegal, all over the world lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are subject to arbitrary arrest, violence and torture. When they are the victims of crime, they cannot turn to the police or the authorities because it is they who will be arrested. They are left defenceless. In Iran, there are secret executions; in Cameroon, there is torture and imprisonment; and, in Belarus, there is police intimidation and confiscated passports.

The only complaint that these countries can make is: why pick on them? The disrespect that they show to fundamental human rights, and the way in which they defy international law, is not theirs alone. It is common. I recognise—we all do—that there are limits to what we can do and I know that much of what we can do we are doing. It is right to pursue a policy of active diplomacy; right to link aid to the Commonwealth to the question of gay rights; and right to use bilateral diplomacy to, for instance, raise Russia’s discrimination against gay people. Perhaps, as the Foreign Office reviews its priorities in its human rights policies, which I am sure it does from time to time, it might consider whether the rights of LGBT people should be among them. After all, internationally, if it is not us, who is it?

12.18 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD):

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for that extraordinary tour de force that describes the parlous state of human rights in the world today. We are grateful to him because he is dogged in his determination to continue to raise these issues and to make our consciences awake. I am delighted to be speaking here today but I cannot continue without congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, on his extraordinarily witty and elegant speech, which was serious too in subject matter. We wholeheartedly support his views on LGBT rights.

The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and I have two things in common. We are both alumni of the London School of Economics, that hotbed of political radicalism. We both started political life as members of the Social Democratic Party—less of a hotbed of political radicalism. But it is well known that the noble Lord could not really contemplate a future with the Liberals or indeed the Lib Dems when the merger between the SDP and the Liberals happened and he made his way to the Conservative Party. But as with all things in life, what goes around comes around and we are both now happily united under the wonderful umbrella of coalition government. I am sure that I echo the sentiments of the whole House when I say how delighted we are to have such a distinguished journalist among our ranks and we look forward to his witty, elegant and thoughtful contributions.

I also want to mention how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Suttie. She will bring a formidable knowledge of foreign affairs and the European Union to our deliberations, as I am sure we will hear before too long in this debate. For myself, given the limited time that we have today, I want to talk of just one situation—the most egregious human rights violation currently under way, namely; the civil war in Syria and the failure of the international community to do anything to end those atrocities.

In the two and a half years of this war, we have had talk of arming the opposition to change the balance of power in the early stages. Then there was talk of a no-fly zone to enable a humanitarian corridor to be established. Finally, there was the failed resolution of 29 August this year, which was an attempt on the part of some United Nations Security Council members to live up to their promises on responsibility to protect—namely, to act collectively to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

During all this time, the cost of the tragedy in Syria has risen. We have 150,000 dead, 7 million people displaced—2 million in neighbouring countries. Moreover, we have seen the hopelessness of getting even basic medical assistance to the victims of violence. It is estimated that of the original fleet of 500 ambulances in Syria, only 40 or so are still operating. More than 16,000 doctors have fled and at least 36 paramedics in uniform have been killed.

Let me turn to the record of the United Kingdom Government. Yes, we have been generous—some half a billion pounds in humanitarian assistance and countless visits to refugee camps by luminaries to publicise the state of those camps. But when genocide is under way, with jihadi groups singling out not just Alawite but all Shia as infidels, and ethnic cleansing through killing or displacement is rife, it is legitimate to ask when the international community will act.

So let me turn to the concrete question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, only last Tuesday regarding the creation of a humanitarian corridor. My noble friend Lady Northover, who I am delighted to see is in her place today, explained how difficult it would be to get all sides to the conflict to sign up to a ceasefire at the same time. While I can see the difficulties on the ground, it is also evident that when there is a will on the part of the Russians—the main obstruction in this case—a solution can be found. The chemical weapons inspectors were given safe passage only a few weeks ago.

What discussions has my noble friend been having with Russia and Iran regarding their leverage with the regime to gain the co-operation of the Syrian military and with Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the compliance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—a rather neutral-sounding name for the al-Nusra Front and all its barbarism? What discussions have the United Kingdom had with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army?

While we accept that there are several hundred groups fighting on the ground, we can all agree that most have external powers whose support keeps them going. So let me turn briefly to the United Nations Security Council. The current composition provides an opportunity. If Russia co-operates with permanent members, as it did over chemical weapons, then we also have a further three Commonwealth member states plus an EU state. With the impending replacement of Saudi Arabia by Jordan, the necessary majority for a fresh United Nations resolution should surely be attainable. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell the House what efforts the Government are making to secure the United Nations Security Council resolution to provide some sort of humanitarian corridor in Syria.

Human rights protections derive from the inalienable and pre-political rights of individuals. It is a collective responsibility of all to uphold them.

12.25 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Lab):

My Lords, first, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate. When I saw that each of us had about four minutes to make our contribution, I was concerned whether we would be able to have a debate in depth and breadth which would touch on many of the issues about which I feel passionately. I should have had greater confidence in your Lordships’ House, because each speech before mine has ticked off a number of the issues that I wanted to touch on, whether religion or human rights for gay people and women. To the fine maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, I feel able to say “amen”.

I would like to take my few minutes to concentrate on issues relating to women. The recent discourse within the Commonwealth has shown us the importance of human rights and the way in which they impact on all our people, but the rights of women is a matter which the Foreign Office has rightly highlighted as a key issue which we as a global community should communicate. I absolutely agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the impact of rape. According to the World Health Organisation, domestic violence affects one in three women across the world. It is now of pandemic proportions. It is the greatest cause of morbidity in women and girls worldwide. If it was any other form of disease, there would be a global outcry that so many women and girls are dying and being seriously injured by such a vicious and pernicious form of assault on their human rights, their dignity and their right to live.

The report demonstrates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. It goes on to make it clear that, globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. Globally, 7% of women had been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner. The scale and enormity of the abuse of women must be seen to be believed. Ban Ki-Moon was right when he said:

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable”.

I commend the Minister, in particular, and Her Majesty’s Government for what they have sought in policy in relation to women and girls, but does she think that it is right that Foreign Office policy should restrict its purview to violence against women in areas of conflict, bearing in mind that violence against women in and out of conflict is a fundamental breach of their human rights which needs to be addressed? Will the Foreign Office consider expanding that role?

I commend the Government on signing the Istanbul convention last year, but when are they likely to ratify it, so that we can become one of the first 10 nations to enable that convention to come into operation? If we are to continue to have our position of prominence in raising the issue of human rights for women and girls, it is incumbent on our Government to use their best endeavours to make sure that we are among those 10. I have to tell the Minister that if the previous Government were still in being, I very much hoped that we would be the first to sign and ratify and would not risk coming not even in the first 10.

This is something that we can choose to address. If we wish to make violence against women something of the past, it will take all of us to raise our voice. Will the Minister tell us a little bit about the strategy that the Government intend to operate and deliver in order to make that a reality?

12.30 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

My Lords, I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate. Manipulation of religious sentiment to persecute those of other faiths is a sad feature of human rights abuse in much of the world. I would like to take this opportunity to give a Sikh perspective on possible ways to a fairer and more tolerant society.

When we talk of human rights abuse, we immediately think of countries such as Syria, North Korea and Iran. We rightly condemn their abuses of human rights, but we look more benignly at countries with which we have close political alliances or trade links—as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, perceptively observed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby reminded us, we should look to the mote in our own eye. If we were consistent, the UN report of a government massacre of some 40,000 men, women and children from Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and evidence of continuing human rights abuses would have led to that country’s immediate suspension from the Commonwealth pending an investigation.

I will give another example of this less than even-handed approach to human rights. Next year sees the 30th anniversary of the Indian army attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar and the subsequent massacre of tens of thousands of Sikhs throughout India. An independent inquiry headed by a former Chief Justice of India found overwhelming evidence of top Congress Party involvement. Yet our Government’s response to this attack on a minority faith was total silence. When I raised the matter with a then Cabinet Minister, I received the reply, “Indarjit, we know exactly what’s going on, but we are walking on a tightrope. We have already lost one important contract”. He was referring to the Westland helicopter contract.

We rightly condemn the use of sarin gas in Syria but were silent over America’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam—which, even today, is causing horrendous birth defects half a century after its use. The same country’s use of drones to fly over sovereign territory to kill and maim those it does not like and, in the process, kill many innocent civilians sets a dangerous precedent.

I have spoken about our country’s selective approach to human rights only as an example. Other world powers, including India, China, the USA and Russia, behave in exactly the same way, making any co-ordinated approach on human rights virtually impossible. It was the great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov who said that there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.

My hope is that Her Majesty’s Government will take the lead in working for a world in which principle always transcends the interests of trade and power-bloc politics. I firmly believe that our country is best placed to give a lead in this wider view of human rights.

12.34 pm

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab):

My Lords, I am very proud and honoured to stand here today as a Member of this House and make my maiden speech. I begin by thanking noble Lords on all sides of the House for the warm welcome that I have received. They will know that I am preceded here by my husband, my noble friend Lord Kennedy, but I also know that noble Lords will be familiar with the quote that begins, “Behind every great man …”.

I also thank all the staff for the help they have given me. One day when I was looking particularly confused, one staff member asked, “Would it help, my Lady, if I pointed out which the way Lord Kennedy went?”. I was impressed by how skilfully he gave me the option of going in the opposite direction. I need to give particular thanks to the doorkeepers. Some noble Lords may have noted that when I and my noble friend Lord Kennedy were introduced, the galleries were rather packed. I would like to thank the doorkeepers and assure them that there are currently no other Kennedys working for the Labour Party on the way to this noble House.

I also thank my supporters, my noble friends Lady McDonagh and Lord Collins, and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Gould, for all their advice and support. My final thank you is to my friend Margaret Bradley, a local Cradley historian whose research helped me with this speech.

I was delighted when it was agreed that I could use Cradley as my territorial title. It is a town rich in history. For hundreds of years, ironwork—nail-making and chain-making—was the staple industry of Cradley and its surrounding towns. Right up until I went to university, I lived in Cradley, in the same house and in the same street—and it is where my father still lives today. Since at least 1830, my ancestors’ livelihoods relied on the nail and chain industries in Cradley and the surrounding towns.

Noble Lords may be wondering why the history of my home town is relevant to today’s debate on human rights. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this crucial debate. It is relevant because it reminds us of the evils of child labour. In Cradley, children were born, reared, worked and died in the chain shops. It was not unusual to see baby baskets swinging from iron poles so that women could hammer iron and rock their baby at the same time. By the age of eight, children were experienced chain makers.

Thankfully, the dominance of child labour in Cradley is a distant memory. However, this is not the case in many other parts of the world, where child labour exists on a colossal scale. Millions of children younger than the basic minimum working age are deprived of their childhood and work in appalling conditions that damage their physical and mental well-being. The ILO estimates that across the world, instead of going to school, 168 million children aged five to 17 are child labourers. Every child has the right to a childhood, and every child has the right to an education. Child labour is a violation of a child’s human rights.

Today, I want to highlight two areas of child labour that particularly affect girls: mining and domestic work. Across the world there are more than 85 million children engaged in hazardous work, the most menacing of which is the plight of child miners. Children as young as six and seven are handling explosives, exposed to toxic air and carrying heavy loads. The physical and psychological effects are traumatic for both boys and girls. However, girls bear a double burden as they also have to carry out domestic chores at home for the family. There is no time for rest, and no time for school.

Another area where girls are particularly vulnerable is when they work behind closed doors as domestic workers. Some 11.5 million children, mainly girls, work dawn to dusk taking care of domestic chores in other people’s homes. They live with their employer. They are under the control of their employer. They are isolated and trapped. Many suffer verbal abuse or, even worse, physical abuse. Girls are suffering in silence. It is slavery by anyone’s definition.

We must work with each other and everyone involved in our civil society to alleviate global poverty, achieve universal primary education and eliminate child labour. We know we can all do more. There are many charities in the UK that work to alleviate poverty. I declare an interest as I am a trustee of one such charity, APT—Action on Poverty. APT fights poverty by giving people the means to feed their families all year round and forever. It works with local partners on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia to build lasting livelihoods for the most vulnerable.

We know that child labour is directly linked to poverty, which is why charities like APT are vital. When a person knows that they can feed their family not just today but every day in the future, they can fully embrace education, not employment, for their child. If children fail to get an education, they fail to get the skills needed for their own growth as well as their country’s economic growth. The poor of today remain the poor of tomorrow. Sadly, child labour is not just an issue for developing countries. Studies have shown that children here in the UK have been found in forced labour. That is why I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward a modern Slavery Bill, which I hope is still due in December. I hope that it will pay particular attention to child labour here and across the world.

Government must do more to work with international businesses to encourage them to address the issue of child labour in their operations and supply chains. Businesses should not just demand that child labour stops but should help influence national Governments and employers in countries around the world, encourage better working conditions, mobilise communities around education, support social protection programmes, and invest more in education and in modernising agricultural production in poor rural communities where child labour is rife.

I will make one final plea. The next World Day Against Child Labour is on Thursday 12 June 2014. Let us all commit now to join together on that day and encourage other organisations to join with us. Children need to be learners, not labourers. Children should no longer be denied a childhood, an education or the most basic of human rights: a future.

12.41 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB):

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this very important debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her very clear and powerful speech. It is particularly important that she mentioned something that has not been mentioned so far in this debate, namely the way that children are still exploited in so many parts of the world. We look forward to hearing her clear and powerful voice on subsequent occasions.

When future historians look back on the immediate post-World War II period, they will judge that one of the greatest achievements of that time was the UN declaration of human rights and the ensuing conventions. Those affirmed in law the unique worth of every single individual. They are, in the words of the late Ronald Dworkin, “trumps”, which cannot be overridden by any raison d’état. Of course the trouble, as we know, is that it is so easy to be deeply depressed at the massive way in which human rights are violated in so many countries in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a long list at the beginning, although he did not mention some of them. It is very easy to get depressed by that, and it is difficult to know what to focus on in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminded us, it is important that we should not be selective. However, when we get depressed, we need to go back to the fact that we still have a benchmark in the UN declaration. It is a question of being as persistent in the pursuit of that as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been in setting us a very good example in his wide-ranging and persistent concern for human rights.

I hope that noble Lords will excuse me if, as chairman of the All-Party Group on Dalits, I focus very briefly on them. I do so first because of the sheer scale of the problem that affects them: there are something like 260 million Dalits in the world, mainly in India and other south-east Asian countries. Secondly, although all human rights violations are appalling—torture, religious persecution and so on—there is something particularly humiliating and degrading about the way in which Dalits are totally rejected by the surrounding culture in which so many of them live and every area of their lives is affected. If anyone doubts the sheer horror of this I would recommend the novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The “fine balance” of the title is the balance between hope and despair. I have huge admiration for the poor of India, for their sheer resilience, hope and even joy, despite everything. However, the problems are huge. In almost every area of exploitation the Dalits will be found at the bottom, more exploited than anybody else.

I am glad to say that we will hear more over the next months about different forms of trafficking. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that because the Dalits are the most vulnerable of all groups, they are found in all forms of trafficking and at a much higher percentage than other groups. Trafficking takes the form of bonded labour. It also takes the form of the Sumangali system for the payment of dowries. Although that system has been officially abolished in India since 1961, it still goes on. However, the sex trade is perhaps the most shocking of all. As Dalit Solidarity Network UK puts it,

“Most girls and women in India’s urban brothels come from Dalit, lower-caste, tribal, or minority communities”.

Much of that has its origin in religiously sanctioned prostitution. It has been reckoned that some 250,000 women in India fall into this category, many of them enslaved unknowingly when they were still young children. Dalit Freedom Network has said that almost all women trapped in ritualised prostitution are Dalits.

When the concept of human rights was first formulated after World War II, the particular concern was the way in which individuals need to be protected against their states. There is a particular complication, of course, with the kind of discrimination the Dalits experience, because it is so deeply embedded in cultures. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government, when they raise their general concerns about human rights in India and other south-east Asian countries, will continue to bring this issue before those Governments.

12.46 pm

Lord Patten (Con):

My Lords, like the words “location, location, location” in a very different context, “consistency, consistency, consistency” should be the key to our Government’s attitude to countries that violate human rights. Our foreign policy must be realistic—of course I recognise that. I am in favour of our trading nation having the commercial foreign policy that we are developing. However, I am also in favour of the motif once used so effectively by the late Robin Cook: the need for an ethical foreign policy. The two are not at odds and indeed both trade and aid can be used as powerful levers to bring about change over the years in delinquent countries. To illustrate this I will compare and contrast our attitude in this context, particularly in relation to religious freedoms, on Iran and on Turkey, where there are dominant Governments.

I turn first to Iran. While all are hopeful that Mr Rouhani, the new President, may make things better for persecuted minorities, we should all recall that instant warm words of welcome in the media for apparent, new liberal change around the world often have to be eaten pretty quickly, as the plight of the poor Copts in Egypt, highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, shows us at the moment. They are clearly the most up-to-date victims of religious clearances in Africa. In Iran, all religious groups other than orthodox Muslims are now in the religious cleansing firing line under Mr Rouhani’s new presidency. There is no or little freedom and much persecution of all those who are not Muslims, from Sufi dervishes to evangelical Christians, from the poor Baha’is, who are so persecuted, to those Armenian and Assyrian churches who happen to conduct their services in Farsi, which is thought not to be acceptable. Some of those churches are still being closed down under the new liberal presidency of Mr Rouhani.

There has been little visible change and a bit of hope, and the Government have been very robust in trying to do what they can to help and to condemn such persecution in Iran. Good. Strangely, however, the Government seem—although perhaps I am misguided—to pull their punches a bit on Turkey, a country which is always described as “mildly Islamist” in polite diplomatic discourse. Bad. Is it mildly Islamist for Turkey to suppress the ancient Greek monastery on Halki island, or to restrict the freedoms of worship of the Alevis in Turkey? Is it “mildly Islamist” to make it impossible for Christians to have public places of worship established in the seaside holiday-making areas of coastal Turkey? One Anglican clergyman has told me that they have to flit from house to house underground to have underground services, as if they were living in some kind of penal times—and actually they are living in some kind of penal times.

I am very glad that some of our leading western Christian leaders have got off their knees at long last to say that this anti-Christian trend must be resisted. I hasten to add that I recognise that being on their knees is part of the day job of right reverend Prelates, and others, as they pray for us in need of their prayers. But I am glad that they have shown this leadership. A few years ago, I took part in a debate in this place with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which highlighted the apparent onset of Christian clearances in Iraq. It is a bit late now, as those clearances are more or less complete. Turkey next? I do not know—I hope not—but I do know that it is not “mildly Islamist” to disperse with such terrifying violence peaceful demonstrations in Gezi Park in central Istanbul, where I have walked, rightly condemned by Amnesty International for its “large-scale human rights violations”. Is it indeed respectful of freedom of expression for so-called “mildly Islamist” Turkey to have in its prisons more journalists than any other country on earth, including China? Only three days ago, on Monday, it was reported that the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Bulent Arinc, is calling for the former Christian basilica of Hagia Sophia, presently a secular museum, to be opened up for prayer—I guess Muslim prayer.

In my noble friend’s wind-up, could she find a moment or two just to explain to your Lordships what exactly is meant by the phrase “mildly Islamist”, or do we turn a blind eye to what is going on in Turkey?

12.51 pm

Baroness Suttie (LD):

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this timely and important debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on his excellent and deeply amusing maiden speech. In the month since my introduction, I am grateful to noble Lords from all sides of this House for having made me feel so welcome. I am hugely grateful, too, for the helpful advice from ever-patient members of staff who have dealt with my numerous questions with good humour and tolerance. In particular, I would like to thank Black Rod and his department for their excellent induction course.

I also thank my two supporters. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and I have been friends since getting to know each other in Brussels, when she was serving on the Committee of the Regions and I was working in the European Parliament. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope is in some ways responsible for getting me involved in politics in the first place. As my excellent constituency MP in Hawick in the Scottish borders, I used to write to him on a regular basis from Hawick High School with a variety of obscure and occasionally precocious inquiries. We subsequently worked together on two separate occasions over several years in the other place. As a very dear friend and colleague, he has also been a constant source of sunny optimism.

Exactly 25 years ago, I was studying in Voronezh State University in southern Russia in the Soviet Union. I was there as part of a three-month Russian language exchange programme from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. It was there that I not only learnt the beautiful Russian language but learnt to appreciate Russian art and culture as well as the very generous and at times overflowing Russian hospitality. It was the era of Glasnost and Perestroika which by then, in 1988, had even reached the provincial city of Voronezh. It was a time when culture flourished, banned novels were published, and, as British students, we were able to discuss issues such as politics and humans rights, which in the darker days under Brezhnev would have been unimaginable.

After graduation, I returned to work in St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it still was then, from December 1990 to spring 1991, as an English teacher. By this stage, the Soviet Union was in a state of evident collapse. I survived thanks to the kindness of my Russian friends, as food was rationed and the shelves were completely bare. The August putsch took place later that year and, by the end of December, the Soviet Union was dissolved.

During my regular visits to Russia in the 1990s, I saw the gradual transfer to a free market Russian style of capitalism but, sadly, this has not been matched by a move towards parliamentary democracy, independent institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Indeed, since the parliamentary elections at the end of 2011, which many observers regarded as fraudulent, and the presidential elections to re-elect Vladimir Putin in the spring of 2012, we have witnessed a considerable backwards step in terms of parliamentary democracy and human rights. Journalists and businesspeople, in particular, have faced threats and serious intimidation, or worse, when they have challenged the Kremlin’s line.

I am relieved, as I am sure are all noble Lords, that the British freelance journalist Kieron Bryan was granted bail yesterday, but the case of the Greenpeace 30 more than ever illustrates the need for thorough judicial reform in Russia. I hope that the Government will continue to press the Kremlin for a speedy, transparent, proportionate and fair conclusion.

In March this year, I did some political training work in Chisinau, in the Republic of Moldova. The politicians I spoke to told me of their fears of having such a heavy dependency on Russian energy supplies. In the run up to the Vilnius summit next week, as they prepare to sign association agreements with the EU, they are understandably worried. Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin’s chilling remarks to Moldova that he hoped that they, “Wouldn’t freeze this winter”, are perhaps sadly typical of the current neo-colonial state of mind in the Kremlin.

In the run up to the Sochi Olympic Games, when Russia is very much in the public eye, we must use every opportunity to continue to push for real institutional reform in Russia, as well as an independent judiciary and for the creation of genuine parliamentary democracy.

12.56 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB):

My Lords, it is a considerable honour to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. She is a proud daughter of Hawick, a historic town, which I know. She has told us of her experience of international development and human rights, especially in Russia and eastern Europe. I know that she has spent many years in Westminster and has gathered that kind of political experience, not least in managing two senior Liberal Democrat politicians, including the Deputy Prime Minister. That must be a test of endurance. We look forward to hearing her many times in future.

I also have the exhortation of the new noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, ringing in my ears—that we know we can all do more. That will take a lot of living up to, because human rights is an essential issue in foreign affairs. My noble friend Lord Alton has raised it with a skill nurtured over many years in Westminster, and he has given me and others a lot of encouragement. I have joined him often in debates, especially on Sudan, where human rights violations continue daily. He mentioned the Nuba mountains and the bombing there, and I agree with him about strengthening the ICC. But today I shall be in Asia, for a change.

The Commonwealth summit, or CHOGM, has again tested the nerves of diplomats all over the world in the past week, which is largely down to our own Prime Minister and the initiative that he has taken. I have seen the Channel 4 documentary; there can be little doubt of the shelling and abuses of human rights against fleeing Tamils in the last stages of the civil war. President Rajapaksa has a hard shell but, with India and Canada keeping away, he has received a strong message of disapproval. I am sure that the UK was correct to stay with the Commonwealth meeting and influence it from within. At the same time, we must not forget the atrocities of the Tamil Tigers during the war; nor can we ignore the strength of feeling on both sides.

There comes a point where outsiders without such recent experience cannot really fathom the depth of prejudice and discrimination that continues beneath the surface, long after the world has turned away. I am thinking of the EU candidate countries mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, in the Balkans, where the European External Action Service is still pushing through its hardest tests of good government, not always with success, against the relatively recent background of ethnic genocide. Politicians cannot behave like leaders of human rights NGOs, whose stamina we all applaud. Political parties have to be selective; picking from what my noble friend called an à la carte menu, they turn continually to other subjects, and for this reason are always open to charges of hypocrisy.

We can learn a lot from our recent debate on China—another Conservative initiative, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. His understandable concern was with our business and trade with China, and whether our relationship would be affected by too much emphasis on human rights, such as our preoccupation with Tibet and China’s attitude to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province, where the conflict has been no less violent. The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said in that debate that,

“it is perfectly possible … to exert quiet and helpful influence, to encourage moves towards greater openness while avoiding explicit criticism or confrontation … not through lecturing or preaching but through the sharing of best practice with partners representing a very ancient civilisation”.—[Official Report, 7/11/13; col. 349.]

That seems to sum things up very well.

The Dalai Lama told a journalist recently that trust develops gradually, even with an animal,

“if you show genuine affection”,

but that if you are,

“always showing bad face and beating, how can you develop friendship?”.

The same might be said of many other situations in which we have to do business with tyrants or bring humanitarian aid to victims of brutality.

In Nepal there are unresolved human rights cases left over from the 10-year civil war—more than half of them at the hands of the army or the state. According to the agency INSEC, more than 3,500 violations took place in one year alone, 2012, including much violence against women, but there has been no single prosecution in the seven years since the end of the conflict, owing to the political turmoil. This is why I am particularly asking the Minister if she will make every effort to encourage Nepal to re-establish the independent human rights commission, which has never been quite independent and needs more support from outside. This is where I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who seems to think that every country can fend for itself. We must reassert the international solidarity that is so important in these situations.

Human rights in the Commonwealth and elsewhere will elude us as long as governance, the rule of law and other principles of democracy remain unaddressed. We have to keep banging the drum and not get too frustrated when no one listens.

1.03 pm

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield:

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate. It follows on very helpfully from a short debate that I secured two weeks ago on the situation with regard to religious freedom following the events of the Arab spring.

The all-party parliamentary group’s recent report on international religious freedom, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, to which a number of us in this Chamber contributed, accurately shows that over the past decade every region in the world has seen marked declines with regard to religious freedom. Christians in Egypt and Syria, Baha’is in Iran, Shi’ite Muslims in Indonesia, and Sunni Muslims in Thailand and Burma face serious threats to their viability and even survival. We have heard other examples today, including comments by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on the situation in Turkey.

If freedom of religion and belief is a primary barometer of the social health of a nation, the palpable decline in recent years in respect of this most fundamental right suggests a worrying state of affairs regarding the health of the global common good. Despite this trend, Governments the world over—ours included, I fear—still assign it too low a priority than the scale of the crisis at present requires.

Part of this reluctance, I imagine, is that Governments and opinion-makers are hesitant, perhaps even reluctant, to acknowledge the connection between levels of religious freedom and the basic health and well-being of societies. This is not about protecting the rights of one religious community over another but about providing for the human flourishing of all, irrespective of whether they have a religious belief—as was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is about being confident of one’s core values in our society, so that a variety of different communities may prosper.

Like other noble Lords, I applaud the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for the careful attention she has devoted to this issue. I noted in an earlier debate that she is a near neighbour to me in Wakefield; there is solidarity in West Yorkshire. Her speech last week to the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington DC was but the latest example of the forthright engagement that we have come to expect from her.

It is of course true that a great deal of work is being done in relation to freedom of religion and belief. However, this work is not necessarily focused on ensuring that everyone is able to exercise that right in peace and security. So the question, it seems to me, is how we move on from the essentially negative strategies that have been rooted in combating discrimination, intolerance, hate speech and incitement. Of course these things are important, but they work only once there is a clear commitment to the underlying value of the freedom of religion or belief. Core values need to be supported by proactive policies. Other noble Lords have hinted at such policies; indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the independent human rights commission. Is it not now time for the Government to shift their attention to a more positive approach to religious freedom and to recognise the wider societal benefits that it brings?

How might this be achieved? Some suggestions have already been put forward during this debate. Certainly the appointment of an ambassador at large or a special representative for religious freedom would help enhance the voice of the UK as the champion of an inclusive approach to freedom of religion or belief. A number of us have been pressing for this recently.

The head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights and democracy department is indeed an impressive figure. However, the incumbent of that post on her own is unable to give this matter the attention it rightly deserves because of competing priorities and pressures on her department’s time. We need to look again at strengthening the machinery of government in this area. It is to be hoped that when the Foreign Affairs Select Committee looks at its work programme for the next year, it will take upon itself the task of examining this issue with its usual forensic attention. I have been assured in a letter by the committee’s chair that this will be taken into account.

In concluding, I note only that unless we are prepared to give this issue the urgent attention it requires, we cannot be surprised if respect for religious freedom continues to decline markedly. The existing strategy across our world is not working, and it is time to think again.

1.08 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con):

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord for securing today’s debate, particularly as I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief. We specifically added “or Belief” when the British Humanist Association became one of the stakeholders. The issue has for too long been viewed as global identity politics. Christians seemingly speak up only when Christians are persecuted, Sikhs for Sikhs, and Baha’is for Baha’is, and this has contributed to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not being treated as a universal human right. The issue needs careful nuance and although some commentators, especially some on the centre right, want neat analyses, the following cursory around-the-world tour reveals that to be too simplistic.

On 28 August 2013 in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, Mr Ataollah Rezvani, a well known Baha’i, was murdered. He had come under pressure from agents of the ministry of intelligence who were intimidating him. On 17 November at around 9.30 in the morning, Pastor Zhang Xiaojie, who leads the Nanle county Christian church, a Three-Self state sanctioned church in China, was detained. Currently the pastor and 20 other members of the church are still being detained without arrest or charge. As has already been mentioned, Alexander Aan, an atheist, is in prison in Indonesia. Interestingly, Papua New Guinea has recently launched a consultation to prohibit non-Christian worship. If you are a Hindu in Pakistan, the law does not allow you to marry. Also, in November 2012, Ummad Farooq, whose father is president of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in his local community, was shot in head. Ummad is being treated in Birmingham and I am proud to say that he is claiming asylum here in the United Kingdom.

In Colombia, two pastors were killed in 2012 and about 300 indigenous Christians were displaced from their homes. Pagan indigenous populations receive material support from paramilitary organisations to organise the persecution of local Christians. The Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and, of course, all followers of whatever religion or belief in North Korea are being persecuted. However, not all persecution is far from our shores as anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews and Jewish places of worship have re-emerged in Europe, particularly in Hungary and Greece.

All the studies point to a simple fact: the persecution of people of faith or no faith on the basis of their belief is rapidly increasing. I warmly congratulate the Government on the fact that this is a human rights priority for them, but given the trend I have just outlined, does it not merit its own sub-group of the Human Rights Advisory Group? Most if not all of the other priorities do so. Moreover, does it not justify more than a part-time, unpaid special rapporteur as its main resource at the international level? The Prime Minister is to visit China next month, so will Her Majesty’s Government raise the case I have outlined, as well as the plight of Falun Gong followers who are tortured and imprisoned for their belief?

I was heartened to read in the Minister’s recent speech delivered at Georgetown University in America the assertion of the freedom to change one’s religion. This is the reason the APPG’s first report focused on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as it is the international instrument that states this unambiguously. Globalisation and the internet on smartphones means increasing exposure to different beliefs around the world. While traditionally where you were born and the community you were from perhaps dictated what you believed, individuals are increasingly able to make such decisions for themselves. There is a global trend of religious conversion and the emergence of new religious movements. This positive empowerment is, however, often met by harsh responses from many Governments around the world. For instance, as other noble Lords have mentioned, while diplomatic developments with Iran are promising, dozens of Muslims who have become Christians, along with Baha’is who are seen as apostates, remain in prison because of their faith. Can my noble friend please comment on our policy towards religious freedom in Iran?

A truly worrying example in this context are the recent reports that the Arab League is developing a regional blasphemy law that will criminalise any expression of opinion that is deemed a blasphemy, even when such opinions are expressed outside the jurisdiction of a particular country. If such a proposal ultimately is put into law by Arab League states, it will be in full breach of international human rights standards. Have Her Majesty’s Government made representations to the United Nations and the Arab league on this proposed blasphemy law?

I hope that protecting the freedom to convert will be on the agenda of the January summit on Article 18 that my noble friend is planning. The United Kingdom should be at the forefront of preserving the freedoms that have been opened up to this Twitter generation.

1.13 pm

Lord Mendelsohn (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate and pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate. The noble Lord is well known for his commitment to these issues and I can recall listening, in the late 1980s, to a passionate defence of the rights of Jews being persecuted in the Soviet Union that was made by the noble Lord. Today, I possess a great sense of gratitude for the warm welcome that I have received from all sides of the House. I have been truly struck by the sincerity and good will of all. I would also like to thank the staff of the House for their unfailing courtesy and useful advice. Their help is hugely appreciated. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Levy and Lord Janner of Braunstone, who supported me at my Introduction. Together with my mentor, my noble friend Lord Mitchell, they embody the best of this Chamber. I am sure that I will learn more from them and, indeed, from the whole House than I will ever be able to contribute. This is also a very special debate as I find myself in the company of good friends and colleagues who have made really outstanding maiden speeches.

I grew up with friends and family scarred by and in the shadow of the Holocaust. I appreciated the universal lessons that were drawn from those terrible events. Also around that time we saw the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the establishment and operation of the murderous and brutal regime known as Democratic Kampuchea. As a young school pupil, I remember participating in the work of a TV appeal to bring relief to the Cambodian people. These events have had a lasting impact on me, and in many ways they have guided my life. The events of the Holocaust and the end of the Second World War gave rise, of course, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

International systems, conventions, treaties and courts may not be perfect, but it is essential that they exist rather than not. I congratulate the Government on their successful election to the Human Rights Council. This reminds us how broad the role is that Government can play, and in this regard I would like to make a few suggestions and offer some thoughts on what the Government can consider. First, we need to remind ourselves that our work defending, protecting and advocating human rights protects not only those who face the denial of those rights, but also our own way of life. This is a dangerous period and the erosion of human rights can be an early sign of a broader attack on liberty. If our role in the world is to stand for anything, it is not just about adhering to the universal declaration, it is surely to protect our liberal values and way of life and extending the same rights and freedoms to others. We should do this by making the world more stable, increasing economic inclusion, making government outcomes more fair, less corrupt and more effective, and giving more people a stake in successful democracies. We should cement all of that in place through stable, equitable free trade and a growing economic interdependence that binds us together.

Secondly, this is a vast task with many actors. Human rights and democracy are frequently challenged. They are still very young in most countries and under pressure, particularly where education and the checks on elected Governments and corruption are weak, as well as where there is little appreciation that violence and discrimination against women is perhaps the greatest bar to a nation’s progress. Human rights must be part of a long-term strategy across a range of government departments, international institutions, parliamentary initiatives and an active, thriving international NGO and civil society sector.

The Government are well placed to achieve a lot and their influence depends on the level of international engagement. I am encouraged by the work of this and many previous Governments to extend our reach, and I add my support to these efforts. But I would encourage the Government to look more closely at whether we are using all the tools we have as effectively as possible. Surely it is worth considering whether development aid can do more to support a strategy of long-term political development as part of a wider strategy across government departments.

My final point is this. We need to address the economic dimensions that influence the attainment of human rights. There is a need to understand that the factors which curb human rights go beyond the traditional notions of corrupt regimes—rather, it is the fact that terribly uneven societies endure and the extractive capabilities of nations continue to be plundered while the prosperity and well-being of their citizens are ignored that causes great forms of repression. Creating the right market conditions, promoting growth, values and responsibility in the private sector is certainly part of it, but there is some merit in the argument that we should be vigilant. We must try to ensure that we do not allow societies to reach the tipping point where a population feels that the diminution of their and their children’s long-term economic prospects and a fundamental lack of hope adds to instability and conflict and a further erosion of their human rights.

I thank all noble Lords once again for the warmest of welcomes.

1.18 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab):

My Lords, I feel privileged to follow my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn. I read that when he was introduced into the House, he said, “If, over my service, I can make even a fraction of the contribution to public life of my introducers, I will achieve a great deal”. My noble friend has a long history of working towards justice, both in the UK and in the Middle East. He is deeply involved in, and dedicated to, his work in the north London Jewish community. After today’s excellent, enlightened and thought-provoking maiden speech, I am sure that his presence in this House will be greatly appreciated. The presence of my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn on our Benches along with my noble friend Lord Bach will be music to the ears of all sides of the House. I am sure they will bring great harmony.

I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving us the opportunity to speak on this issue, which has been so pertinent to our values and is the foundation on which the principles of our Commonwealth are built. Following the Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka, there cannot be a more appropriate time for this House to deliberate on how these values and principles translate into action beyond our immediate environment, into the Commonwealth and extending into the international domain.

As has been said, during the UK’s successful bid to join the UN Human Rights Council, a point of collaboration was made. We all agree that collaboration and international unity are paramount to how the Government are able to respond to violations of human rights. The point committed our Government to working more effectively with international partners and emphasised constructive association with both Commonwealth and EU partners to share best practice and expertise. With this newly acquired position, we furthered our ability. I need not point out to this House that with ability comes obligation.

The Government have made reference to the steps they have taken to promote human rights in Sri Lanka, through bilateral and supranational funding and through sharing experiences and expertise. My concerns are twofold and I would like to hear the Minister’s response on the following points. What efforts are being extended to other Commonwealth countries, and how do the Government intend to utilise the merits of the Commonwealth charter to promote human rights internationally? Further to that, as the Government are keen to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, what assessment, if any, have they made of their proposed British Bill of Rights and how it would compromise our own ambitions to work internationally?

I will not delay the House any longer, as most of the questions that I want to raise will come up later.

1.23 pm

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB):

My Lords, we are all immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton not only for introducing this debate but for his long persistence and faithfulness on these issues over, one dares to say, a generation. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for introducing in his excellent maiden speech the responsibilities of business and the corporate sector. I want to focus on that in some of my remarks.

We are all conscious of the UN human rights responsibilities as they were laid out in the 1940s, but they were updated in 2011 by the guiding principles on the responsibilities of business. The new principles and burdens which fall on business, in essence, oblige businesses to sign up to the Human Rights Council guiding principles. They require organisations such as my own, KPMG, to:

“Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur”—

and—

“Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services”.

This is a golden opportunity to bring the corporate sector into line with the responsibilities of public authorities. It is a chance for corporations, which have long held in private their own concerns about whether they have witnessed, for example, trafficking of individuals, unfair discrimination or employment procedures in other companies that were unacceptable, to take a stand alongside public duties.

On 16 October, there was an interesting report in the Guardian on a new assessment survey rating called “Tomorrow’s Value Rating”, set up by an organisation that seeks to assess the way in which companies are living up to the guiding principles on business and human rights. It found some interesting points of note. For example, although a vast majority of companies, such as my own, are signatories to the UN Global Compact, only a third of those that said they were devoted to human rights had a policy in place or a mechanism for measurement. It also found that in the oil and gas sector only three of the 10 companies covered had a stand-alone human rights policy and that management of human rights often appears to be reactive rather than proactive.

One does not want unduly to punish companies that are in the early stages of assessing their human rights responsibilities, but this is a chance not just for a debate in this House but to look at the way in which the Government think about future legislation for the UK alongside our partner countries, to set a tone of expectation in the corporate world as well as in the political sphere. In 2013, a long list of obligations relating to the principles of human rights for companies was set out by the Institute for Business and Human Rights in the UK. Point 6 of its 10 points of emphasis is titled:

“Renewing efforts to protect lives in the work-place”.

I want to draw attention to a specific example with a positive outcome, and I hope that we will see companies acting in this way in future.

None of us will forget the events in April surrounding the collapse of a building in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. We will all recall the loss of life—1,200 individuals—the maiming, in particular, of many women and the loss of livelihoods. However, I am immensely grateful to be able to report to this House and for the benefit of public understanding that many of the companies involved, including ABF—Associated British Foods—the owner of Primark, decided that they would take their responsibilities immensely seriously. They would not only pay out for those who had lost livelihoods but stand together to take a responsible position on building requirements, regulations and standards for the future. Not only was this a dreadful affair that saw the unjust loss of multitudes of lives but it has been a golden opportunity for corporations to take their duties seriously. I am very grateful for the leadership of George Weston, the chief executive of ABF, and for his stand in its annual report, published on 5 November.

In conclusion, we have an opportunity in the corporate sector as new markets increasingly emerge where many of the pressure points that my noble friend Lord Alton and others have mentioned are brought to bear. If we can bring about a process for better common working practices between corporations and public authorities, we could see companies taking a greater lead in preventing human rights abuses.

1.27 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I much admire, on his commitment and his courage, often in joint harness with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I will make three brief points.

First, I recall in the early 1980s going to a south Asian country and saying to our ambassador, “What are you doing about human rights?”. His answer was, “Oh, that’s a job for my first secretary”. That would no longer be allowed. Indeed, there has been an immeasurable improvement in the overseas department’s links and attitude to human rights. I think, for example, of changes in the structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the human rights and democracy department; the human rights report, which, happily, came from a recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which I chaired at that time, which has certainly been refined and improved; the human rights and democracy programme; and also the much improved links with non-governmental organisations.

My second point is about the interlink between the domestic and the foreign. I recall the former Foreign Minister of Australia, Senator Gareth Evans, saying, “How can we Australians be taken seriously on human rights representations abroad if we maltreat our Aborigines”—being Australian, he actually said “Abos”—“at home”. That shows that there is a linkage between what we do at home and the strength of our representations abroad. That obviously relates to our immigration policy, our counterterrorism policy and our attitudes to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Looking at our international organisations, I am delighted that we are now on the Human Rights Council, which is an enormous improvement on its predecessor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which could reach agreement only on attacks on Israel. I look forward to reports during our two-year tenure, starting in January. I think also of the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe, included in the second priority in the 2012 human rights report.

On the Commonwealth, of course we think of CHOGM and whether or not the Prime Minister should have attended the Sri Lankan summit. Yes, there is a time for engagement but I am troubled by the question of cui bono—who actually benefited most from the Prime Minister’s attendance? I fear that the answer may well be the President of Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth charter is a magnificent document but in practice, if one looks at the 60% of Commonwealth countries that still have capital punishment and attitudes towards the criminalisation of homosexuality, there is much work for our Government to do in persuading our Commonwealth colleagues of the importance of human rights.

On the Council of Europe, there is a danger of the Government making a major error in defying the European Court of Human Rights in respect of prisoners’ rights. I do not talk about the subject of the question but the danger of defiance. The Prime Minister unwisely said that,

“no one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/12; col. 923.]

I saw the embarrassment of the Attorney-General when he appeared before the Joint Committee earlier this month. It would be a disastrous precedent in respect of Russia, Turkey and other defaulters, if we—pioneers of the system in the Council of Europe—were to defy it. There is a way out. Clearly the court will grant a wide margin of appreciation. It is insisting only that there is no blanket ban.

Finally, there has to be a balance in any matter of human rights. Sometimes it is best to do things in a low voice and behind the scenes. I was a member of the human rights mission to China that was led extremely ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, in which we were effective because we made quiet representations to the Chinese authorities. I concede also that there is a temptation to be strong on the weak and weak on the strong.

Of the six FCO priorities, freedom of religion is key. This has been the leitmotif of so many speeches in this debate. It is very important indeed that the Government consider seriously the recommendation of the excellent report of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and others, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, which includes the right to change one’s religion, which was omitted from the final communiqué of CHOGM—I wonder why. The Government should look carefully at the case for a special envoy or ambassador and I hope that they will come back with a positive response to that.

1.32 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on his tenacious commitment to justice and the protection of human rights. From a vast array of concerns, I will focus today on Burma and Nigeria.

The widely celebrated reforms in Burma are welcome but while western political leaders, investors and aid agencies flock to Rangoon, many ethnic national peoples suffer military offensives, gross violations of human rights by the Burmese army and exploitation of their natural resources by the Burmese Government.

The Muslim Rohingya people suffer systematic oppression, with 140,000 forced to live in dire conditions in camps in Rakhine state and thousands more forced to flee to Bangladesh or in precarious boats to other countries. Human Rights Watch describes the situation as “ethnic cleansing”. Will Her Majesty’s Government support calls for an independent international inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity?

My small NGO, HART, works with partners in Shan, Kachin, Karen and Karenni states. We have visited them to witness the plight of their people, which has not been reported by the media. In Kachin and Shan states, the Burmese army continues military offensives, driving hundreds of thousands of civilians to camps for the displaced. We have seen their destitution and heard heartbreaking stories of atrocities perpetrated by the army, including the recent rape of girls aged eight and 15.

Land confiscation and environmental degradation from investment projects are increasing, as in northern Shan state, with China’s oil and gas pipelines. Indeed, people in Shan state are asking what sort of peace this is, when they are losing more and more of their lands and livelihoods.

In Karen state, the cessation of fighting is welcome, but the ceasefire allows the Burmese army to build more, larger camps along the Salween river and the Burmese Government to exploit, destroy or confiscate natural resources, with no compensation. Human rights violations by the Burmese army, including sexual violence against women, continue with impunity.

Burma’s ethnic national peoples share many concerns; for example, that the 2008 constitution, which does not recognise the rights of ethnic national peoples or allow for the development of a federal union, will become the accepted political road map for Burma, and that ethnic national people, who retain their armies for protection from Burmese military aggression, will be seen as rebel groups with rebel armies.

Their situation is best expressed in the words of their own local leaders. I quote a leader of the Shan people:

“The Burmese Government has conceded just enough credibility to achieve everything it wants from the international community: investment, aid and hosting international events”.

A senior officer in the Shan state army said:

“When the lights went on in Rangoon, everyone rushed there—and nobody stopped to visit us in the darkness”.

A healthcare worker helping displaced people in the jungles of Karen and Karenni states said:

“They are playing a game like Chess: take one piece at a time. While they sign a ceasefire with the Karen, they launch major offensives in Kachin State. They wear a beautiful mask, but the original face, which is brutal, is hidden”.

Will Her Majesty’s Government make much stronger representations to the Burmese Government to desist immediately from military offensives against civilians in Kachin and Shan states; to increase humanitarian assistance to displaced people in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states and allow unhindered access for international aid and human rights organisations; to call the Burmese army to account for violations of human rights, including murder, torture and rape; to ensure that concessions granted to the Burmese Government in recognition of recent reforms do not promote exploitative investment; and to allow ethnic national people to participate in discussions and agreements concerning the extraction of resources from their own lands—and the future of Burma?

I turn very briefly to the disturbing situation in Nigeria’s northern and central belt regions. The escalation of violence in the past two years by the Islamist Boko Haram movement follows two decades of violence in which thousands of Christians have been killed and hundreds of churches destroyed. Although Christian communities may have resorted to self-defence, the instigation of violence has been consistently asymmetrical, and now Boko Haram has stated its commitment to drive all Christians out of northern Nigeria.

We work with partners in Plateau, Kano and Bauchi states. These states are generally not visited, for security reasons—which is why we have gone there—and we have seen the suffering of local communities, as well as initiatives by local leaders, such as the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, and the Anglican Bishop of Bauchi, to promote reconciliation between the different faith communities. Given Boko Haram’s escalating violence against Christians and its equally brutal killings of Muslims who do not support it, will Her Majesty’s Government do more to support these initiatives, in addition to the already well supported programmes in Kaduna state?

I conclude by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to highlight situations that we encounter working with victims of oppression, who are often trapped behind closed borders or off the radar screen for security reasons. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurance to some of these hidden victims of violations of human rights in our world today.

1.38 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab):

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving us the opportunity to have this timely and important debate. I also thank him for his tireless efforts, in this House and outside, to expose the persecution and ill treatment of people. My comments could apply equally to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. They are an example of why this House exists and why we have to take an interest in other people’s affairs.

This debate is timely because there are currently seven people on a hunger strike here in London. A group of very brave people are calling for the release of seven hostages taken by Iraqi forces at the behest of the mullahs in Tehran. Many Members of this House will be aware of the hostage situation in Iraq. The tragedy of the hostage-taking is quite easily traced back to the evil regime in Tehran. This House is indebted to the persistence and determination our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who cannot be with us today but who keeps members aware of what is happening to those seven hostages. His efforts are in stark contrast to those of our own Government, who appear to be quite laid back about latest outrage and abuse of human rights in Iran.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending a meeting in this House on the human rights situation in North Korea—another meeting arranged by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We heard from Mr Michael Kirby, the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We heard a report on the situation in North Korea. My remarks today will concentrate on the dreadful situation in Iran, but at the meeting on North Korea I heard a quote from a Mr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Many of you will know of Dietrich Bonheoffer; I did not—I put that down to my obvious lack of education. The quote stuck in my mind; I wrote it down straightaway. Mr Bonheoffer said:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.

I must confess that I did not know anything about him, but now I know much more. He was hung by the Nazis just 23 days before the German surrender. I am confident that that brave Lutheran pastor, who opposed the Nazis, would be with us in this debate today, not being silent but speaking out about what is going on.

While we remain silent, the evil regime in Tehran and the hearts of those wicked people grow stronger. It is almost 30 years since I first became involved in protests about human rights abuses in Iran. Over the three decades, I have seen evidence of the torture wrought upon innocent people: gouging of eyes, lashings and stoning of women. Many other things have gone on that are too evil to talk about, but in my locker in this House I have the video evidence of how those wicked people have treated their own people.

I think of those poor people of Ashraf camp, where they put loudspeakers right the way round, bombarding them 24 hours a day and driving them mad with the incessant noise. In recent years, we have seen unprovoked attacks on the residents of Ashraf. On 1 December, 52 people were killed—52 lives extinguished by these wicked people. Those victims had been promised protected person status when the Americans and British left Iraq. Our Government promised that we would look after those people in Ashraf, but they quickly abandoned all attempts to give them some guarantee of freedom. All they get is ever more pressure, ever more torture and ever more violence against them.

I also recall with great sadness the murder of Faezeh Rajabi. Faezeh was a 19 year-old girl who communicated with us by a telephone link, and I had the pleasure of talking to her. She died among her friends in the massacre of 8 April 2011. I also think about the 16 year-old girl who appeared in court having been raped and assaulted by a man. The judge said to her, “You’re responsible for this immorality”. She had the temerity to argue with the judge and he ordered, “Take her out” and she was hung. She was a 16 year-old girl. When people talk about the “moderate” Mr Rouhani, I would suggest that if you are going to parley with him, you should take a very long spoon. There is not time to tell this House about his pedigree, but I recommend that all those who want to know what this so-called moderate is all about should read about him. I deplore him and the people he represents. Maybe we should remember those voices that are silent now, of Lord Corbett, of Lord Slynn, of Lord King of West Bromwich and Lord Archer of Sandwell. They called over the years for our Government to do something stronger about what is going on Iran and I echo their sentiments today.

1.45 pm

Lord Cormack (Con):

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. I pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has been an indefatigable campaigner. He gave a very fine keynote speech today and it is a privilege to take part in this debate. It is a privilege also to follow four very distinguished, and I might say distinguishable, maiden speakers, each one of whom brought a particular quality to our deliberations.

In a brief debate, I want to highlight one or two things. First, we must always be persistent—the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, did right to quote the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think back to those in our own country who struggled for what we now take for granted but what, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, pointed out, is certainly not taken for granted in many parts of the world. I think of Wilberforce and his campaign against slavery, and Shaftesbury, who rescued children. We have a great deal to be proud of—which does not mean that we have great deal to be complacent about. We must also remember that persistence pays off.

I want to relate two, very brief stories to the House from my own experience. I do it in the light of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, who talked about Russia as it is today—and certainly there is a great deal of imperfection. When I came into Parliament some 43 years ago, I immediately became a great friend of the noble Lord, Lord Janner. We decided to form a campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. He thought that it was right that I should chair it, as a Christian, and he was a very tireless secretary. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, because I pay tribute to him. At that time, it was impossible to get a visa to go to Moscow to argue our case. It was impossible to get religious books accepted in the Soviet Union. I remember we sent one, signed by all the party leaders, to a dissident called Slepak’s son for his bar mitzvah. It was sent back. Twenty years later, as a member of an international commission on human rights, I took part in an epiphany service in the Kremlin in a place where the leaders of the Soviet bloc countries had gone in the past and Christian worship would never have been permitted. At that service, handed to Mr Gorbachev’s special representative and chef de cabinet, Andrei Grachev, was a volume of the Scriptures which was symbolic of a million Bibles being accepted into the Soviet Union. That was true progress.

I relate just one other incident. Two years later, in 1972-73, we were in Vienna receiving some who had come out and been given visas. There was one young lady who spoke the most perfect English. I joked with her and said, “You must have been top of all your classes” and she said, “Well, actually, I was, until the day after my parents were granted the visa, when I was summoned to the vice-chancellor’s office and told that I had been the victim of a mistake and I had failed everything”. Twenty-one years later, I stood in that vice-chancellor’s or chancellor’s office in the University of Tartu in Estonia, a country by then a member of the European Community and of NATO, and rejoiced at the freedoms that had come.

I tell these two very brief stories merely to illustrate that persistence can and does pay off. It is important that we maintain dialogue—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the Helsinki accords. It is important that we keep contact with those countries whose regimes we deplore, and it is important that we deplore them publicly so that there is pressure on the leaders of those countries to make them realise that they are not acting in isolation but are being looked at, and that their words and deeds are being monitored. Let us remember that in almost every country of which we are talking, be it Pakistan, Nigeria or Iran, a vast majority of ordinary, decent people are desperate to have the freedoms which we enjoy and which my noble friend Lord Finkelstein spoke so movingly about earlier in this debate. If we are going to be able to ensure that human rights really are universal, we must keep up both the public and the private pressure.

1.50 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB):

My Lords, the debate we are having today on human rights violations and the Government’s response to them is of critical importance to our relations with a whole range of countries where those abuses have taken, or are taking, place. These are not simple judgments to make and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has done much to shine a spotlight of publicity on so many such countries, most particularly North Korea, deserves credit for insisting that we examine the dilemmas posed to our foreign policy.

It is easy enough to caricature the two extremes: a foreign policy based solely on realpolitik, aimed at securing the national interest as narrowly defined; and, on the other hand, what has been called an ethical foreign policy where human rights considerations override all others. However, it is also easy to dismiss either of those extremes. The real dilemmas are to be found in the foreign policy choices that lie between those two extremes, and they have to take account of the separate circumstances of individual countries. There is no single template for policy which can be applied worldwide.

This week the spotlight is very much on Sri Lanka, where the Commonwealth Heads of Government have been meeting, where massive abuses of human rights by both sides took place during the final phases of the civil war, and where the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights recently discerned a drift towards authoritarian rule, with pressure on an independent judiciary and free press. I trust that the Minister will give the House some idea of how the President of Sri Lanka responded to the Prime Minister’s representations. Will she also assure us that the Government will not slacken in their advocacy of an independent inquiry into the events at the end of the war? An inquiry is surely going to have to be international if it is to be truly independent. Will we also keep up the pressure on the need for reconciliation and genuinely even-handed treatment of all ethnic and religious groups in that country if the present very welcome peace there is to be consolidated and sustained?

In considering how Britain should respond to human rights abuses, I suggest that one mistake we need to avoid is looking at the issue principally, or even solely, in the context of our bilateral relationship with the country in question. However, Britain’s influence and leverage are unlikely to be decisive nowadays. All too often we have seen how easy it is for the country in question to punish us for our temerity and play us off against other countries which have been less assertive. We saw that over the Chinese reactions to the Prime Minister receiving the Dalai Lama, and the Russians are past masters at that game. A multilateral approach is not just a soft option and makes it more difficult for the country on the receiving end of the pressure or the sanctions to divide and rule. I give a few examples of where it has been very successful: the Commonwealth sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa; the wide-ranging international sanctions on the military regime in Burma; and the pressure the European Union is bringing to bear on Ukraine in the run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit later this month. This surely points to our making maximum use of the multilateral instruments and forums that exist for handling human rights. How effective are those instruments and what sort of shape are they in? As many other speakers have said, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights must surely remain the cornerstone of our activity, whether multilateral or bilateral. However, it contains no enforcement machinery and the UN Human Rights Council, established in 2006, has yet to prove itself fully, although its universal periodic review of every member state’s human rights record is an instrument of real value. We need to do what we can to strengthen the hand of the admirable High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay, who visited London recently. In that context, I hope that the Minister will say what response the Government gave to Ms Pillay’s plea for an increase in our voluntary contribution to her office’s work to help reverse the recent reduction in resources at her disposal.

Then there is the Council of Europe, the convention and the court of human rights, which is so often intemperately denounced for excessive interference in our affairs. Do those critics ever stop to consider the work the council’s machinery does in a whole range of countries whose human rights record is well short of perfection? Any action we might take which weakens that machinery would inevitably reduce its effectiveness.

I conclude with a simple thought. The 20th century saw probably the most widespread, dramatic and repugnant abuses of human rights in recorded history. The challenge to us is to ensure that in the 21st century the world turns away decisively from that appalling inheritance and that Britain plays a prominent part in bringing that about.

1.55 pm

Lord Triesman (Lab):

My Lords, I echo the congratulations given to the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and to my noble friends Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lord Mendelsohn on their outstanding speeches and look forward to their future contributions. I was intrigued to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, has five guitars at home, as do I. It sounds to me as if we have a basis for at least some sort of discussion.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate, which centres on human tragedy and the stance that we should take to it, and for providing the architecture for it: that is, the 1948 universal declaration, and the need to construct foreign policy with Article 18 in mind. Indeed, that was enlarged on by my noble friend Lord Parekh. Her Majesty’s Government—in my view, rightly—have set out their six priorities and their decision to serve on the human rights global machinery. I support these priorities unreservedly, not least because they flow from the voices of victims. These priorities orientate us. However, I hope that we will also explore the contradictions which result from them, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a few moments ago.

I have a similar objective to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, which includes his point about multilateralism. I will focus on capital punishment as an example of a priority. Our strategy is to oppose the use of the death penalty because we promote human rights and democracy and because there are no circumstances in which we believe that it is appropriate or ethically justified. We want to influence people and dissuade them from using capital punishment, including those with whom we enjoy normal, peaceful diplomatic and trade relations, such as our traditional friends the United States, but also countries such as China or Iran. We are also clear about the imperative of developing relationships with those countries.

Iran, with whom we seek a renewed relationship, not least because we wish to reach an accord on nuclear enrichment and end conflict in Syria, has killed at least 120,000 people judicially and non-judicially since the overthrow of the Shah. It routinely executes minors, and nearly half of those suffering the death penalty are under 30. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Kennedy on her important intervention about children generally; the execution of children is part of that. There have been 59 United Nations General Assembly resolutions and countless reports by the human rights commission but they have had more or less no impact.

I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the murders at Camp Liberty, North Korea, Joseph Kony, and much else. I also support what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said about Burma, the analysis of Syria of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the remarks made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, about the suppression of people because of their caste. The United Kingdom’s priority is clear and right, yet “no relationship with Iran” is a position that it would be difficult to advocate or sustain in the world of real politics. We lobby at a high level, fund human rights and pro-democracy projects and take trenchant positions on all these issues. However, we cease diplomatic relations only exceptionally and unwillingly. That seems sensible and necessary in most circumstances.

The FCO has a priority to prevent torture and, a few moments ago, my noble friend Lord Clarke illustrated what this means in Iran. Again, the ethical priority cannot somehow mean that we cease to deal with states that employ torture, much as it is repugnant to us. That is not out of indifference or cynicism but because we need relationships to address a wide variety of global and regional problems. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of the problem of dealing with tyrants. I can personally say that you may end up talking for days, as I did in Doha, with people who you would rather see hauled before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, if only you could achieve that outcome.

The FCO also has a priority, which was rightly emphasised by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, to end violence against women and girls—a problem which is now frequently a weapon of war, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, so rightly said. We have a detailed policy that repays reading, as will study of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby has said today. Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, talked about gay people’s rights. We should prioritise all these issues, just as we prioritise the renewal of the push towards democracy. In this case, we apply few tests of who we will or will not deal with. There is no adequate litmus test available, and even when we hold our noses, we frequently have to prefer to talk.

Like the late Robin Cook, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Patten, also referred today, I ask myself what might guide us in these difficult times and give us a chance to set out a strategy that is neither naive nor bombastic about human rights. What guides the post-Cold War world, a world of multipolarity? There is a great instinct in general to hold nations directly or indirectly accountable for their actions. It is our current trajectory that I want to look at. Do we balance properly the ethical foreign policy that we should adopt, if we can, with the United Kingdom’s national interest and its commitment to human rights? There must be a new disposition between all these.

I conclude that there will never be an unbending standard to judge every circumstance and, equally, that no foreign policy can be humanity blind because it might happen to suit us on a particular day because of a particular commercial interest. If we were to do so it would give full scope to dictators, war criminals, illegal arms dealers and others. It would demand of us only that we looked after our own security and financial profitability. We would have intervened in Libya because it had armed the IRA and not because it was slaughtering its own people. These are the issues that we have to face. We would have turned our backs, in those circumstances, on the 1948 convention.

Does the Minister agree that the core guidelines, which we may need to behave more appropriately now, are perhaps these? First, our foreign policy in these areas should obviously protect our security and that of our allies, while promoting conditions in which we are least likely to be attacked at home or have our people attacked in other parts of the world—and we should do so with our allies in a multilateral way. Secondly, while our choice of means in such circumstances would almost always lead to peaceful means, we must acknowledge circumstances where, for the right and wholly disclosed reasons and with parliamentary consent, wherever possible, we should intervene as a last resort with proportionate steps and reasonable prospects of success. I labour this point because, aside from our own security—the paramount reason—we also have obligations to protect. They are part of our international obligations and often imply preventing, reacting and rebuilding after conflict. I find it hard to conceive of retaining a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as I wish this country to do, if only the United Kingdom’s interests ever determined the judgments that we made.

My noble friend Lady Howells made the point that human rights must be matched by a responsibility to protect; she is absolutely right. I commend my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on their comments in this regard. In my final few moments I will commend also the work of the Canadian Government, who have captured this thought. Their international commission on intervention judges the evidence of serious harm, including mass murder and starvation, and whether the state involved is unwilling, unable or opposed to averting such harm. If these conditions hold, the principle of non-intervention yields to the responsibility to protect—something that we should take very seriously. It was close to Robin Cook’s thinking, and I believe that it was close to Tony Blair’s in his speech to the Chicago press club.

In all these cases, what we may need is a realistic checklist that gets us through how we are to deal with despotic, murderous and antidemocratic regimes—regimes for whom war crimes are just a tool that they use from their toolkit—and at the same time oppose the behaviour that they espouse. I commend the Canadian approach as being among perhaps the best architecture that has been designed. It was somewhat lost in the aftermath of 9/11 and it is hardly known or studied in many circles, but it should be. It should also be fully debated and I hope that on some occasion, we may have the opportunity to do so in your Lordships’ House. Let us try to make sure that we are debating the fundamentals of how we proceed alongside the examples of egregious harm.

2.36 pm

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

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless efforts to shine a light on the darker corners of humanity. He brings to our attention the plight of those suffering human rights abuses throughout the world, not just today but on a regular basis in your Lordships’ House. Secondly, I take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on their maiden speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, mentioned the phrase “Behind every man” but did not complete it. I have a phrase of my own: behind every powerful woman there is usually a man who wakes up in the morning and says, “Darling, where are my socks?”. Given the in-depth knowledge of the area of human rights among the noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today, I very much look forward to hearing more from them on these issues.

This has been a wide-ranging debate and it is almost impossible for me to respond fully in 20 minutes, so I apologise if I do not address all concerns. As always, the interventions were thought-provoking and wide-ranging. It was incredibly interesting to hear from noble Lords such as my noble friend Lord Cormack, who can through his own experience recall changing situations around the world. I am also grateful for the incredibly thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who eloquently detailed the challenges, conflicts, considerations, principles and pragmatisms that all play into our foreign policy—and, of course, human rights as a part of that.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights underpins what we do but, sadly, it is too often disregarded. We take our place in the international human rights community incredibly seriously. That is why we campaigned most recently for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. I am delighted to say that we were elected with 171 votes, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for his kind congratulations. As the noble Lords know, the Human Rights Council was set up in 2006 and has addressed numerous rights-related situations in countries such as Burma, North Korea, Belarus, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Sri Lanka, to name a few. The United Nations Human Rights Council also addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and business and human rights.

A number of Human Rights Council resolutions, such as those on Libya, have led to vital action at the UN Security Council. When our term begins in January, we will bring this commitment and ambition, as well as our resources, to support and strengthening the council, and to uphold the independence and effectiveness of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—something that we believe is of paramount importance. Of course, we will be working alongside countries whose records on human rights give us cause for concern, too. But with membership comes responsibility and we will not shirk from reminding other states on the Human Rights Council of their responsibilities.

The universal periodic review process has played a critical role in facilitating the wider acceptance of international human rights scrutiny. The success of UPR is a priority for the UK; it is often the first time that a state has had the opportunity to carry out an open, self-critical review of its human rights commitments. The majority of states have engaged constructively, and the UPR looks likely to help facilitate wider acceptance of international human rights standards. It is therefore a crucial tool for implementing our human rights priorities. The UK works hard to ensure that other countries approach the UPR process in a transparent and constructive manner, and it is therefore important to us that we are able to demonstrate having taken the process seriously ourselves. The UK’s own UPR was successfully presented in 2012 by the Ministry of Justice, under the direction of my noble friend Lord McNally.

We have pledged to use the membership of the Human Rights Council to work for the protection of the most vulnerable in our societies, responding actively to global challenges and looking ahead to the future of universal human dignity, and to keep human rights at the core of the UN’s work. We will particularly press forward on the six global thematic priorities that the Government have set. Before I go through them, though, I acknowledge the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, of considering LGBT issues as a thematic priority. I will certainly consider that at the time of our review.

We continue to work on our first priority, which is the abolition of the death penalty. We work with the all-party parliamentary group, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, to push forward the debate towards abolition in countries that retain the death penalty. We fund practical initiatives, such as training judges and lawyers and modernising penal codes, to reduce the use of the death penalty. We work for an increase in countries voting in favour of the UN’s biennial resolution against the death penalty, which will be run next in 2014. This demonstrates how, over time, the tide of global opinion is turning against the use of the death penalty.

Another priority is on initiatives to prevent torture. We are running a global campaign to encourage states to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and the optional protocol. The protocol compels states to establish intrusive mechanisms of inspection of places of detection, to shine a light on the treatment of people held by the state. We share the UK’s own experience of implementing the optional protocol through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and run projects to help states to set up their own systems to end the scourge of torture.

We use our membership of the HRC to push for more states to take action to implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights—another thematic priority. This specifically references the principle of the effective abolition of child labour, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. The UK has done this through its own action plan, launched in September by the Foreign Office and the Business Secretary. The plan responds to the call for British business to help the principles flourish in every market, in a way that respects human rights and ensures proper remedy for those whose human rights are harmed by business activity. I hope that this is seen as the start of the Government setting the tone on expectations and standards, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings.

On the specific issue of child labour, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, at the Human Rights Council in March this year the UK co-sponsored the resolution on the rights of children, which further calls upon all states to translate into concrete action their commitment to the progressive and effective elimination of child labour, which interferes with a child’s education and is harmful to a child’s health, both physical and mental, and to their moral and social development. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, was right to reference in his maiden speech that market forces too must work for the benefit of the populations of countries that are rich in resources.

Another priority for the Foreign Office is working to ensure freedom of expression, both online and offline. Freedom of expression underpins democracy and is the gateway to many other rights and freedoms. In a networked world we need to ensure that people everywhere, including those not yet connected to the internet, can enjoy the economic and social benefits of a free, open internet, and can do so safely and securely. This is the vision that the Foreign Secretary set out on the London conference on cyberspace in 2011, which has since been taken forward by conferences in Budapest and Seoul, and which we will further pursue at the conference in 2015 in The Hague.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, detailed harrowing examples of the abuse of women. Women’s rights are another priority—tackling one of the greatest challenges of the century, to ensure that the full social, economic and political participation of women becomes commonplace. We work to end impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war and for wider violence against women and girls. We share our own experiences in tackling problems that the UK faces, along with many other countries, from how to get women on boards to ensuring that no girl has to endure the trauma of FGM or forced marriage.

I take on board what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said about violence in a domestic situation. The Foreign Secretary, however, has focused his efforts on preventing sexual violence in conflict because he feels that accountability and justice is an area where there is the most glaring lack of political will, and where Governments can make the most difference. The PSVI initiative supports existing and extensive cross-government work on conflict prevention and violence against women and girls. The initiative has made excellent progress in securing great international commitment to tackling sexual violence in conflict. G8 Ministers agreed a historic declaration in April, and in June we secured the first Security Council resolution on this issue in years.

In September at the UN General Assembly, the Foreign Secretary launched the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which has so far been endorsed by 135 countries. The political campaigning has been underpinned by practical action that is already starting to take place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the DRC, Kosovo, Libya and Mali and on the Syrian borders. I commend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for referring to the White Ribbon project, to which I was able to lend support only yesterday; it is an incredibly important initiative for men to speak out against violence directed at women.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, also spoke about the Istanbul convention. The UK is supportive of the principles underpinning that convention but there remain a number of areas that need further consideration before a final decision can be made on whether to sign—particularly the criminalisation of forced marriage and the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction to the wide range of offences in scope of the convention. As part of this further consideration, the UK Government launched a consultation in December 2011 on whether to create, for example, a new offence of forced marriage. The Government are considering how these and other issues might be resolved, and will make a statement in due course. Should the final decision be that the UK signs the convention, primary legislation will need to be introduced to make sure that the UK law is compliant.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, raised the issue of the abuse of human rights of disabled members of our society. In 2012 we used our role as host nation of the Paralympic Games to highlight the power of sport to deliver the vision of the UN convention. The UK is proud to have welcomed the highest ever number of participating Paralympic teams at the Games, and disability rights were a core element of our joint communiqué on human rights.

The sixth thematic priority, and a personal priority of mine, is one that was raised by my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Singh: the freedom of religion and belief. I shall explain what religious freedom means to me. It means the freedom to have a religion, to believe what one chooses to believe, to manifest those beliefs, to show them outwardly, to share them with others, to change your faith or to not have a faith, and to do so without fear of discrimination, attack or persecution. I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Berridge that we place emphasis on both religion and belief. We work in this area in many ways, including in multilateral organisations—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, is sometimes the most effective way.

Within that, we are committed to working with the United Nations Human Rights Council to implement Resolution 1618. This resolution lays the foundations for combating discrimination against people based on their religion throughout the world. Political consensus is crucial to achieving that. Therefore, in January this year I brought together in London Ministers and senior officials, from the Foreign Minister of Canada to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia and the OIC, to try to take forward a political track to the Istanbul process. A further meeting was held in New York during the UN General Assembly week.

We also engage on this issue through bilateral engagement. I have made freedom of religion a priority in the areas that I have responsibility for, but I also believe that every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is and should be an ambassador for religious freedom. We saw that with the Prime Minister in Sri Lanka only days ago. Each and every one of us raises and promotes these issues in the countries for which we have responsibility.

Thirdly, we engage in project work with human rights and faith-based organisations around the world, particularly those that bridge sectarian divides and promote dialogue between religions.

Fourthly, given the key role that faith plays in our global politics today, we are equipping our diplomats with the understanding of the crucial role that religion plays in the world today. We are ensuring that experts on freedom of religion and belief sit on the Foreign Secretary’s Advisory Group on Human Rights. I am planning to hold a conference on freedom of religion and belief next year to bring the many strands of this work together.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and others suggested the appointment of an ambassador for religious freedom. We keep this constantly under review, but we have also been looking at the experiences of other countries that have done this and we have seen that, disturbingly, these ambassadors are sometimes not given access to the countries, or indeed to individuals at the highest level in those countries, to raise these challenges. Therefore, it is important that we make sure that we work in the most effective way in this area.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, that we have greater credibility overseas if our record at home is good—a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked me specifically about meeting Navi Pillay. I do not have an answer to that but I will certainly write to him with an update.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lords, Lord Parekh, Lord Anderson and Lord Hannay, spoke of CHOGM. There has of course been much debate about the Prime Minister’s decision to go to last week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. I believe that the Prime Minister was right to go. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, not talking to people is never the answer. By going, the Prime Minister shone a spotlight on the situation there, and he was the first foreign leader to visit the north of the country since 1948. Because of his decision, journalists were granted access that would otherwise have been impossible to gain, and the local people—the families of the missing—were given an international voice.

The PM was bold and blunt in his views. He had a frank and tough meeting with the President, in which he clearly set out the need for Sri Lanka to make further progress in a number of areas, including a credible and transparent independent investigation into allegations of war crimes. If the Sri Lankan Government fail to do this, the UK will fully back an international investigation. The talks also covered a meaningful political settlement with the north, including demilitarisation, and proper implementation of the range of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. However, I accept that more needs to be done, not just in Sri Lanka but to ensure that the principles of the Commonwealth charter are applied by the countries of the Commonwealth.

My noble friend Lady Falkner asked about Syria. We are deeply concerned about recent media reports of mass graves being discovered in Sadad. We have consistently made it clear that those who have committed these and other crimes during the conflict will be held to account. We have trained more than 60 Syrian activists to document human rights violations and abuses to assist in any future accountability process. We have consistently made it clear that those responsible for the most serious international crimes in Syria should be held to account, and we believe that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court. We will continue, publicly and privately, to make the case for ICC referral. We are pushing for a strong resolution on human rights and accountability to be adopted by the UN.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others raised the issue of Camp Liberty. We remain of the view that the Government of Iraq, as a sovereign Government, are responsible for the situation at the camp. We have called on the Government to take all necessary measures to locate missing residents and ensure the safety of the remaining residents at Camp Liberty.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the issue of Sudan. We continue to make the case to the Government of Sudan and the international community that we expect compliance with arrest warrants for ICC indictees. We regularly lobby Governments and make public statements to this effect—for example, when President al-Bashir recently travelled to Nigeria.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, raised concerns relating to discrimination against the Dalit community. DfID has supported the Indian Government’s Education for All scheme, which has helped to bring the number of Dalit children in school proportionately in line with the general population. We have also supported measures in India’s 120 poorest districts to promote empowerment and access to benefits and services for excluded groups. Dalits have been a large part of that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, gave an incredibly interesting account of her experience in Russia. The promotion and protection of human rights continues to be a key priority in our bilateral relationship with Russia. The UK is unique among EU member states in holding annual bilateral meetings to allow formal discussions about human rights. In addition, we regularly meet human rights defenders and NGOs in Russia, and we fund projects run by Russian NGOs to promote progress in human rights.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, asked about the European Convention on Human Rights. We have agreed, in the context of the coalition agreement, that the obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be enshrined in British law.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about Burma. We are lobbying the Burmese Government for further action to address the humanitarian situation. We are providing £4.4 million in humanitarian aid—the largest amount of bilateral aid—for Rakhine state, and we are continuing to support Kachin state. In July, the Secretary of State for International Development announced a further £13.5 million of UK funding. Unfortunately, I shall not be able to address further questions on Burma and Nigeria.

The noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, spoke about Iran. The UK will continue to hold Iran to account for human rights abuses. To date, we have designated, under EU sanctions, more than 80 Iranians responsible for human rights violations, and have helped to establish a UN special rapporteur. Last autumn, we lobbied for the support of a UN General Assembly resolution on Iran’s human rights, which was supported by an overwhelming majority. As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said, increasing our bilateral engagement with Iran will enable the UK to have more detailed, regular and direct discussions on human rights.

I end by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for allowing us to discuss these important issues. Without respect for human rights, security cannot be guaranteed. Without peace and stability, economies will not grow, poverty will endure, the rule of law will crumble and the cycle of poverty, abuse and instability will perpetuate. Preventing this, breaking this cycle and upholding the fundamental rights to which every human is entitled are at the very core of every aspect of our diplomatic engagement, just as I know it is at the core of the work of this House. Once again, I am grateful for the contribution of all noble Lords to this cause.

2.27 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, it was suggested during Question Time today that your Lordships have no business spending time on non-domestic issues. Twenty-six powerful speeches, including the Front-Bench speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, illustrate why this House should spend time on these issues, why it should bring its insightful, intelligent, well informed and wise contributions to these questions, why we have a duty to use the hard-won freedoms gained over 800 years since the promulgation of Magna Carta, and why we should use our liberties and freedoms to speak for the women in the Congo, the dissidents in Iran, the 300,000 in the gulags in North Korea or the 44 young people who were murdered by Boko Haram while sleeping in a dormitory in northern Nigeria.

Anyone who doubts the relevance or purpose of your Lordships’ House should read today’s Hansard. During my time here, I have felt deeply privileged to be able to work with many of your Lordships who have spoken in today’s debate. In four remarkable maiden speeches, we have heard about the oppression of gay people, about Putin’s Russia, about the need for an overarching strategy on human rights and about child labour.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, reminded us that the welcome modern slavery Bill will appear later this year. More than 200 years ago, William Wilberforce and his friends believed that they had abolished slavery. Interestingly, he also said, “Now we must turn our attention to the Dalits and the caste system”. These old evils still need to be combated, even as new giants emerge. Perhaps in our generation we might make caste history. Wilberforce, whose biographer is our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, once remarked that, having seen the evidence, “we cannot turn away”. Today, there has been no shortage of evidence and, like Wilberforce, we cannot turn away.

During our debate, we heard mention of the assault on the right to belief. It was mentioned in many speeches, including those of the two right reverend Prelates. I agree with Timothy Shah, who said:

“When people lose their religious freedom, they lose more than their freedom to be religious. They lose their freedom to be human”.

Lest anyone doubts the evidence, let them read the 160-page report that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes every year on human rights violations. If a Select Committee produced that report, there would be a mechanism to debate it. It should be a given that every year we should have a full-scale debate on that annual report in both Houses. It should not be left to the vagaries of a ballot. Given the vast experience in your Lordships’ House on all our Benches, it is patently absurd that there is not anInternational Affairs Select Committee, a Foreign Affairs Select Committee, where issues such those that we have been debating today can be examined in detail.

The Foreign Secretary has rightly said:

“While human rights are not the only consideration in forming a nation’s foreign policy, if we allow human rights to suffer while we pursue our legitimate national interest, we will in the long term have failed”.

We have seen remarkable change in our lifetime—the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the beginnings of a peace process in Northern Ireland. Since coming to your Lordships’ House, I have been able to go to Burma on four occasions, three of them illegally. Eighteen months ago, I would not have believed that I would be able to address an open air meeting of the National League for Democracy in Yangon. It is a small beginning, a small start and a welcome change.

It was said by Benjamin Franklin that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We have been vigilant today but, as so many have remarked, we must persist, persist and persist. We must use our freedoms on behalf of those whose freedoms are cruelly denied.

Motion agreed.

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Baroness Cox and Lord Alton Highlight The Continued Killing In South Kordofan and Darfur

Sudan and South Sudan: EUC Report
The EU: Sudan and South Sudan-follow-up report
Motion to Take Note
17 Oct 2012 : Column GC568

Map of Darfur and South Kordofan

Darfur aerial bombardment

Children are being left malnurished as the regime forces non governmental organisations to leave

South Kordofan bombing

The consequences of conflict

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxi4R3uP9bo&feature=youtu.be

7.20 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to her new ministerial responsibilities, as others have done. I couple with that my thanks and, I am sure, those of many other noble Lords, to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who dealt with these issues over such a long period and with patience and diligence, and always with great kindness in the way in which he responded to the vexed inquiries that many of us made to him. The noble Baroness, of course, has personal knowledge of Sudan, having travelled there to negotiate the release of Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher who was arrested after a pupil in her class named a teddy bear after the Prophet Muhammad. I know that the noble Baroness is deeply committed to religious tolerance, to co-existence, and to finding ways of resolving the kinds of conflicts that your Lordships have been discussing today. We should all be extremely pleased that she has these new ministerial responsibilities, and we all, I am sure, wish her well.
Earlier we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jay, about how Darfur has often been swept to one side in the concerns about north-south relationships. That is true, and I want to return to that issue shortly in my remarks. I begin by referring to the situation in South Kordofan, as the most reverend Primate, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, have done. On innumerable occasions I have raised this issue on the Floor of the House with my noble friend Lady Cox, who I am sure will expend a lot of her remarks on that question when she comes to speak.
A meeting was held earlier today with members of the All-Party Group on Sudan, of which I am an officer, along with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and others who are here. I was struck during that meeting with senior officials from the Foreign Office by how immediate and contemporary these concerns are. As a result of a reference that they made to an article that appeared in yesterday’s Guardian, I took the trouble to obtain a copy of that article. I have not seen the YouTube video that apparently has been placed on the internet to which the article refers, but it says:
“Dramatic video footage and satellite images have revealed Sudanese security forces are waging a violent campaign in the Nuba mountains comparable to war crimes in Darfur … The Satellite Sentinel Project … shows the terrifying ordeal of a teenager being tied up and interrogated at gunpoint as a village goes up in flames”.
It goes on to say:
“The SSP said a joint unit of Sudanese army, militia and police forces burned and looted Gardud al Badry”.
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, a partner in the SSP, was quoted in the Guardian report yesterday as saying:
“‘We are seeing a repeat of Darfur without the international witnesses’ … He added, ‘Through this campaign of targeted violence, which amounts to crimes against humanity, and its denial of humanitarian access, the government of Sudan is displacing thousands of civilians and contributing to insecurity in the region'”.
Four days ago, an AFP report stated:
“Tanks, artillery and helicopters staged a show of force in the capital of Sudan’s South Kordofan state on Friday, official media said, after unprecedented and deadly rebel shelling of the town”.

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The military parade of force was led by Ahmed Haroun, who, along with Field-Marshal Omar al-Bashir, referred to earlier in our debate, the president of Sudan, is the governor of Kordofan, and like Bashir is indicted as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court. As I raised with officials earlier today, I hope that we will hear from the Minister what we are doing to ensure that we are taking witness statements from those who have been driven into South Sudan from South Kordofan. Many are in refugee camps. It is perfectly possible, therefore, to take first-hand witness statements of the depredations that have occurred in Kordofan. Aerial bombardment continues even while we are meeting.
I turn specifically to Darfur because we are about to reach the 10th anniversary of that conflict, and I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take the opportunity, when we reach the anniversary in February next year, to mark it with a series of events, as the all-party group intends to do. Today is a good day to ask the Minister what has happened to Darfur, as did my noble friend Lord Jay and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in their remarks. Why is Darfur forgotten while violence is not only continuing, but when one report earlier this month stated that this is,
“the bloodiest year yet in the region”?
Why is the international community so supine in demanding an end to the violence? Since my visit to Darfur in 2004, and the report which I then published then, entitled If This Isn’t Genocide, What Is? 2 million people have been displaced. About 200,000 to 300,000 people have been killed and 90% of the villages have been razed to the ground; and the situation continues to be bleak. Just this week, the acting head of Darfur’s peacekeeping mission, Ms Aichatou Mindjaouldou, highlighted the recent alarming rise in violence with high civilian casualties, calling the trend an “alarming development”. Between 25 and 27 September, more than 70 civilians were killed in Hashaba with reports of aerial bombardments there as well as in South Kordofan. Further west, four Nigerian peacekeepers were killed on 2 October in an ambush near El-Geneina in west Darfur, the area I visited eight years ago.
In the context of the EU sub-committee’s remit-at paragraph 6 the report refers briefly to the “extremely serious” situation in the region, the EU is a member of the Joint Commission which is one of two ceasefire monitoring and implementation mechanisms provided for in the July 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. It was tasked with resolving disputes referred to it by the Ceasefire Commission, the other mechanism. Perhaps in the sub-committee’s future work, it might be interested to find out why we have failed to put those instruments into operation.
The failure to create peace has left approximately 3.2 million people in Darfur currently receiving food aid, including some 1.7 million IDPs registered in camps. As I said, Darfur is a dangerous and lawless region. There are fears that the operations of the NGOs and humanitarian agencies that deliver this aid will face increasing difficulty due not only to increasing violence, but also to deliberate attempts by the Government of Sudan to restrict access and impede operations. We have already seen the expulsion of numerous NGOs from Sudan over the past few years,

17 Oct 2012 : Column GC570

13 in 2009 and four this year from east Sudan. The situation that is developing there is extremely ominous as well. If the space for humanitarian operations in Darfur continues to narrow, what will be the implications for the millions of people dependent on aid? If the remaining NGOs are made to leave, how will the gap be filled?
Let me mention one of those NGOs. Earlier in the year, with my noble friend Lord Sandwich, I attended a meeting in your Lordships’ House which was addressed by the remarkable Patricia Parker MBE, who is the chief executive officer and chairman of trustees of Kids for Kids, a charity that works in Darfur and whose patrons include the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, and the noble Lord, Lord Cope. Mrs Parker believes, as I do, that Darfur is has become out of sight and out of mind as the juggernaut of the world media and campaigning activism has simply decided to move on. At the Conservative Party Conference, the Foreign Secretary William Hague specifically highlighted the use of rape as a weapon of war and rightly cited Syria, Rwanda and Bosnia, but not Darfur, where there continue to be almost weekly reports of rape. Why was there this omission and why has it gone out of mind?
In Darfur, rape has led to HIV becoming a major issue. I was sent a photograph last week of a dying little boy in El Fasher hospital who had already seen both his parents die of HIV. Before the conflict erupted in Darfur 10 years ago, HIV was unknown. Since then, year by year, rape has been used as a weapon of war with horrifying consequences. This conflict has been fuelled by a regime whose leaders are indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity. The Sudanese air force continues to bomb its own people weekly and a recent report from the organisation Waging Peace shows that government-sponsored attacks are increasing in their regularity as the regime continues to work through its local proxies.
It would be good to hear from the Minister what she is doing to ensure that Field Marshall Omar al-Bashir is brought to justice. Have we supported the suggestion made on 5 June by the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Luis Merino Ocampo, as he relinquished his post? He argued that the UN Security Council should consider asking member states and regional organisations to conduct operations to arrest Sudanese officials indicted by the ICC. Is that something which Her Majesty’s Government would be prepared to support?
As the conflict has raged it has led not only to systematic rape, it has decimated the ability of the people to feed themselves and their children. We heard a very pertinent contribution by my noble friend Lord Cameron on the issue of agriculture and the importance of sustainability in terms of people being able to feed themselves. Let me give an illustration of the scale of the problem. Last year, Hilat Ibrahim, a village of 1,500 people, lost 37 children to malnutrition. One in every 12 families has lost a child, and Kids for Kids reports that the majority of families in the villages have not been able to save enough seed to plant this season. Children are facing horrendous conditions in the villages of Darfur, yet again the international media is sadly silent.

17 Oct 2012 : Column GC571

In February 2011, Henry Bellingham, then the Minister for Africa, said that,
“we will not be taking our eye off Darfur, as we work tirelessly to establish a lasting peace in that troubled province”.-[Official Report, Commons, 1/2/11; col. 724.]
Yet whatever the words, the violence is increasing, HIV is rampant, children are malnourished and the world has moved on. Even at the height of the violence and when Darfur was in the headlines, aid did not reach two-thirds of the population. The international community claimed that its aid programme was a success because the aim was to help those people who had fled to the camps. But what of the families struggling to survive in the villages in rural areas? The months ahead are set to be the hardest ever.
Over half the population of Darfur has no water source. Almost a quarter of the population, including children, walk more than six miles to reach water in winter. In the summer “hungry” months, many walk more than 20 miles. Walking for water continues to be dangerous, with frequent reports of attacks. UNAMID has at times provided escorts to groups of women from the camps, but not for the women in the villages. With failed crops, women have to scavenge not just for water, but for wood and wild food such as mukheit, which is toxic, but anything is better than nothing if you are trying to survive. It is harder to find scarce food in a group, and still they are attacked. Healthcare in villages has collapsed.
UNAMID is the world’s most expensive peacekeeping force, yet it is regarded by most Darfuris as siding with their oppressors in Khartoum, so ineffective have been its operations. Moreover, its capacity is about to be cut. On 31 July, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2063, renewing the mandate of UNAMID for a year. The resolution authorised a reconfiguration of UNAMID to include 16,200 military personnel, 2,310 police personnel and 17 formed police units of a maximum of 140 personnel each. Prior to the adoption, the council was briefed by the joint AU-UN Special Representative for Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari. Mr Gambari said that implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur was behind schedule and that a new implementation timeline had been created. UNAMID, the world’s largest peacekeeping force, has received a lot of criticism for its failure to protect civilians, a lack of clarity in its protection mandate, and some suspicions from Darfuris that UNAMID is too close to the Government. However, as with the humanitarian agencies, UNAMID has been a victim of the number of restrictions and bureaucratic impediments to its operations by the Government of Sudan. Darfur, as I have said in every respect, is difficult terrain. Its new iteration consists of a number of cuts to troop numbers to reflect the contested suggestion that there had been a “drastic decrease” in the number of people killed in clashes and to enable it to react more rapidly. This does not accord with the description of 2012 as the “bloodiest year yet” in the region.
I would like to hear from the Minister about the renewal of the UNAMID mandate and whether Her Majesty’s Government supported the reductions in the number of peacekeepers in Darfur. What steps have been taken to implement the Doha Document for

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Peace in Darfur, to which I have already referred? Can she tell us how the UK has highlighted other critical issues, including the escalation in violence that I have mentioned-the attacks against civilians and the use of sexual or gender-based violence? What of the failure of other rebel movements to sign the Doha document? What of the deaths of 10 UNAMID peacekeepers in the past year and the prevention of humanitarian agencies from assessing those most in need?
Given that Khartoum has expelled most international humanitarian groups, whose presence is desperately needed, what representations are we making to the Government of Sudan, the rebel groups and the international partners to urge greater access for the humanitarian organisations? What has been the result of those representations? What assistance might we consider extending beyond our current programmes to communities struggling to survive in rural villages in Darfur? Will we commit to adjusting the balance of spend on bilateral assistance in Darfur towards greater funding for sustainable development projects in rural villages, and encourage other donors to do likewise?
What support will we give to IDP families to enable them to settle in host villages, enabling them to be assimilated in the community through integrated projects? Kids for Kids has a unique “welcome home” package that is sustainable and does that, and I hope that the Minister will agree to meet Mrs Parker to discuss that important work. Can the Minister tell us, either today or through correspondence, what we are doing to promote civil society in Darfur? Finally, what is the Minister’s assessment of the current state of this continuing conflict?
The situation in Darfur, and more broadly in Sudan and South Sudan, requires sustained high-level political action by the European Union and Her Majesty’s Government for years to come. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, we must also remember that this area of the country has been consistently and intentionally marginalised for decades. It will take decades to build peace and stability, and a long-term view of development is essential. Now is most certainly not the time to take our eyes off Darfur.
7.36 pm

Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

  https://davidalton.net/media/  

Click on this link for the power pont presentation which accompanies this lecture and which is in the Media section of the web site.

Click on the linkbelow for a link to the video recording of the lecture:

http://maranathacommunity.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/maranatha-lecture/

Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art

Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

David Alton

Thanks

I am very pleased to have been asked to deliver this Maranatha Lecture tonight, especially as it gives me the opportunity to thank Dennis and Sheila Wrigley for their friendship and encouragement over these past 40 years.

Let me also thank Kevin McKenna for his work in organising tonight’s event.

Maranatha’s call for unity, renewal and healing has always been close to my heart and although all three of those words are each worth an entire lecture I have chosen tonight to concentrate on the damaged and wounded world in which we live and the need for healing in our own lives; in our families; in our communities and in our nation.

 

Explaining the title of the Lecture

 

For the lecture’s title I have used a phrase which appears in T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets – the second of which is called East Coker.

East Coker is a village in Somerset, mentioned in the Doomsday Book and with evidence of Roman habitation.   Eliot’s ancestors came from the village and his ashes were brought there after his death in 1965.

Eliot, an American who took British citizenship and went on to win the Nobel Prize for poetry,  visited the village in 1940, as war raged throughout Europe; and it was against this fiery and chaotic background, and in this context of a nation facing catastrophe, that Eliot composed  East Coker:

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art”

The Four Quartets  (“Burnt Norton,” “East Coker,” “The Dry Salvages,” and “Little Gidding”) are the clearest and richest exposition of Eliot’s Christianity and move us beyond the spiritual desiccation and sense of defeat represented in  his 1922 poem, “The Waste Land” and deftly take the reader from chaos to renewal, from damage to healing, from despair to hope.

The wounded, bleeding, surgeon capable of treating the distempers and afflictions visited upon us is Christ, the true physician: the wounded healer who applies the hard steel of the scalpel to cut away the infected and gangrenous decaying tissue.

Bloody and risky though it can be, exposing ourselves to this sharp compassion is the only way to new life and new hope.   East Coker is a call to put ourselves trustingly into God’s hands.

Anyone who has undergone surgery will concur – and I had surgery on my spine last year – the decision to place yourself in the healer’s hands requires careful deliberation and total trust. This is easier said than done in a world which encourages us to be autonomous and to believe that your destiny is in your own hands alone.

A twelfth century Welshman, Walter Map, understood that the hard sharpness of the surgeon’s implements is a prerequisite in the accomplishment of healing: “Dura est manus cirurgi, sed sanans:  The hand of the surgeon is hard, but healing.”

That Eliot had the healing of the nation in mind, as well as each of us as individuals, is clear from the war time context in which the poem was written. It contains profound insights into the human condition and the suffering from which none of us is immune.

East Coker is a poem about agonised redemption.

The Problem of Pain

 

It was written in the same year that his contemporary, C.S.Lewis, composed “The Problem of Pain”.   Like Eliot, Lewis, too, was trying to make sense of the troubling and unsettling perennial question of how belief in a loving and omnipotent God may be reconciled with the existence of suffering.

It was a problem which particularly disturbed my father, who fought at El Alemain and Monte Casino, and whose brother, an airman, was killed in 1942. How could God allow such terrible suffering? The temptation is always to blame God.

Why do some people die in car accidents and others do not? Why does a child get abducted or abused, and others do not?  Why do some families face starvation, civil war, life as refugees or become homeless, and others do not? Why were some of us among the tube passengers killed on July 7th 2005 by terrorists but others not?  Why Hitler, why Stalin, why Syria, or Congo?  Last week I stood at the River Tumen, in North East China. It’s the border with North Korea, where escapees are shot dead by border guards if they try to cross the river. Why them and not us? Why are Christians persecuted in Nigeria, Sudan, and 60 other countries, but not us?  Why do terrible things happen to good people but not others?

Straightforwardly, none of us know the answer to this “why” question. Our faith is simply incapable of giving us all the answers to these and other vexed questions.

In St.Matthew’s Gospel we are told He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt: 5, 45) and no explanation is given as to why this is so. Our faith simply gives us the strength to live with the unanswered and unmediated questions which besiege us.

Even if we did know the answers, our loved ones would still be sick or dead, others would be hungry or living in fear, and evil would still be stalking the world.

It could be that we have been looking in the wrong place and asking the wrong questions.

Asking the Right Questions

Discovering the healer and His art enables us to find peace about the questions which cannot be resolved while questions like “what”, “how” and “who” – as in “what can I do to help?; “how should I put my private faith into public action?” and “who is my brother and my sister?” will deliver answers worth having.

It is against a questioning and doubting backdrop that Eliot writes the memorable stanzas of The Four Quartets – his last poem.

East Coker encourages us to spend less time wrestling with the question “why?” and to place ourselves instead in the hands of a “wounded surgeon” who is bloodied and wounded so that we might experience healing. The powerful metaphor of Christ as the wounded surgeon is accompanied by the metaphor of “the dying nurse” to   describe a Church which helps us pass through birth, life and death into Christ’s promise of eternal life.

Eliot understands that “time is no healer: the patient is no longer here” and that some questions are beyond answer.

Against the loss and pain experienced by so many, Eliot tells us that “in my beginning is my end” and that “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again”.

None of this may seem propitious but the poet reflects that “perhaps neither gain nor loss, For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

Eliot concludes East Coker with words drawn from the fourteenth century English mystic and anchoress, Julian of Norwich, who at the age of 31, while suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, had a series of intense visions of Jesus. Eliot writes that despite the unanswered questions:

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one”

 

East Coker was written at a time of utter uncertainty for this nation.It was composed as Winston Churchill was telling the House of Commons, on June 18th 1940, that “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

It was written as the German High Command announced that ‘The British army is encircled and our troops are proceeding to its annihilation’.

It was written as King George VI, on May 26th called the nation to prayer and repentance – following which Hitler ended his general advance; a storm of great fury grounded the Luftwaffe; and, as calm settled on the Channel, some 335,000 men of the British army were evacuated from Dunkirk.

It was written as the German Air Force, that summer,  would send 800 aircraft to begin their systematic and lethal bombardment of our cities.

The survival of Christian civilisation.

 

In preparing the nation for the battle which lay ahead, Churchill cast up what he called “this dread balance sheet” which pulled no punches in carefully assessing the scale and the nature of the threat which faced our country at the hands of the Nazis:

“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.  Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”

In every generation new battles have to fought; new enemies to be faced.  Eliot wrote that “Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation.”  Healing and renewal will go together.

Facing Today’s Challenges

The challenge today may not be aerial bombardment  but what Churchill called the survival of Christian civilisation, our British way of life, the freedoms and liberties which we cherish, must be defended in our own and in every time.

In the debris of wrecked and ruined homes, of prematurely ended lives, of embattled and frightened communities, must come the same desire to move towards the sunlit uplands and to do this we will need more than ever “the sharp compassion of the healer’s art.” Only then shall in Mother Julian’s phrase shall“all manner of things be well.”

So much, then, for the ispiration behind the title of this lecture. What if, like Churchill, we were to examine the dread balance sheet of Britain today?

 

Christianity and Social Order

 

In 1942, while we remained at war, Archbishop William Temple published his “Christianity and Social Order”.  He insisted that “The Church must announce Christian principles and point out where the existing social order at any time is in conflict with them. It must then pass on to Christian citizens…the task of re-shaping the existing order in closer conformity to the principles.”

That is the challenge, too, for this generation.

The Dread Balance Sheet in 2012

 

To utilise Churchill’s phrase, if we carried out an evaluation of Britain today how would our Dread Balance Sheet appear?

A faithless society has become an atomised, lonely, and selfish society; a faithless society has become a culturally diminished society; a faithless society has become a fatherless society and a broken family society. What has been done in the name of freedom has created a world of CCTV cameras; to high streets which have become no go areas after dark; and to binge drinking and shelves full of anti depressants. How has this made us freer or happier? In 2006 a report by University College, London stated that “The UK has the worst problem with anti-social behaviour in Europe.”   It has increasingly felt like a world rapidly going to hell in a basket.

 

The Children Test

A good place to begin in examining the Dread Balance Sheet would be to ask how British children fare in Britain 2012.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked that “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children”
The Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that three-quarters of a million British children have no contact with their fathers following the breakdown of their relationships.

A quarter of our children live with one parent, not two, and a third of these live below the poverty line. Many single parents struggle valiantly – and some very successfully – to bring up their children. But I doubt that many believe their situation is better than having two parents to shoulder the responsibility.

Men particularly need to understand that you may be able to walk away from your girlfriend or to divorce your wife but you can’t divorce your children and to them you have an unending responsibility.

In 2002 the think tank, Civitas, in a report entitled “Experiments in living: the fatherless family”, found that children being brought up without a father are more likely to live in poverty and deprivation; to have emotional or mental problems; to have trouble at school; to have trouble getting along with others; to have a higher risk of health problems; that they are more likely to run away from home and are likely to be at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that, according to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year.

Save the Children says that 3.9 million children are living in poverty and that a staggering 1.7 million children are living in severe, persistent poverty in the UK-which is, after all, one of the richest countries in the world. Every day 4,000 children call Childline. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children.

The Child In The Womb

Before they are born, each day we abort 600 of our children, some up to birth if they have a disability or defect such as a cleft palate or Down’s Syndrome. Blessed John Paul II once observed that “a nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope” and that “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying,”

The latest abortion statistics reveal that taxpayers spent £118m on abortions in 2010, of which £75m went to private clinics; that of 6.3 million abortions, just 143 were where a woman’s life was in danger; and that 48,000 people have had more than one abortion– some as many as eight. In the north west of England 24,933 people had between 2 and 10 abortions.

And consider three recent reports.

The first concerns a group of ethicists linked to Oxford University who argue that newborn babies are not “actual persons”, don’t have “a moral right to life” and can legitimately be killed after they are born. It’s called infanticide although they prefer the euphemism “after birth abortion.” A child is then represented as a threat rather than as a blessing:  

 

   The second, the result of investigative journalism at its best, revealed how nine British abortion clinics were willing to abort babies on the grounds of their gender. The Health Secretary branded it immoral and illegal but The British Medical Journal blog carried an article stating that sex-selection abortions were justified on the grounds of “choice”.

   The blog asserts that “health professionals, and everyone who is pro-choice on abortion, should support pro-choice doctors and women seeking abortions, whatever their reasons, even when sex selection may be involved.”

 “Our Kingdom” – a group which includes doctors, writes supporting this view: “… sex selective abortion is not gender discrimination. Gender discrimination applies only to living people.”

 

   Once more there’s a chilling logic. It just a question of “my right to choose” – the slogan against which all our values are now shaped. The mantra puts “me” centre stage, not the needs of another; it promotes “rights” not duties; and it admires “choice” without a thought for the consequences. 

 

  Personal choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to care for two patients, the child and its mother, and to unfailingly uphold the sanctity of human life.  Gender abortions are justified by this choice-driven, impoverished, and inhumane defence of child destruction.  

  The third story concerns a Court ruling that Catholic midwives may not object, on grounds of conscience, to being required to supervise or assist staff involved in abortions.

For me, forcing unwilling people to be complicit in the taking of innocent life smacks of neo-fascism, not intelligent or tolerant liberalism.

All we need to comprehend about abortion can be found in the words of the Fifth Commandment.

Apply those words to the eugenics used to kill 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome in the womb – 90% of whom are now hunted down and aborted before their births. Now we’re now seeing attempts to eliminate them and to let them die rather than treat them in our NHS Hospitals.

Is this the same NHS that we were celebrating in the Olympic Stadium? What a contrast, too, with the inspirational achievements of disabled athletes, during the Paralympics celebrated in the same stadium, and who have taught us so much about courage and the overcoming of seemingly impossible odds.

As we rush pell-mell into Nietzschean-style eugenics and ethics, we should recall those inspirational moments, remembering that people with Down’s Syndrome are human beings – not “a drain on public finances”; that disabled people would not be “better off dead” and that by allowing the elimination of the weak it is we who expose ourselves as the truly weak

Remember the sharp compassion of the healer’s art not the surgeon’s knife, or hypodermic syringe, used to hunt you down and kill you. Doctors should always be defenders of life not its destroyers.

Victor Frankl in The Doctor and the Soul said “sometimes the unfinished are among the most beautiful of symphonies.”  One in five of our children remain“unfinished”, not making it to birth and many of those who do, never experience the beauty of innocence or hope.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that if you abuse and kill the child in the womb you are unlikely to have much respect for the child after birth.

Life After Birth

 

Consider that five million images of child abuse are in circulation on the internet, featuring some 400,000 children. In Edinburgh, figures published in 2010 showed a 75 per cent increase in the number of babies addicted to drugs because of their mothers’ addiction.

Last year, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in despair, which is one call every seven seconds.  Samaritans say that ‘A conservative estimate is that there are 24,000 cases of attempted suicide by adolescents (10-19 years) each year in England and Wales, which is one attempt every 20 minutes” As they grow up suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths among young people aged 15 to 24.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that more than 140,000 people attempt to commit suicide every year; that 29.4 million anti-depressants were dispensed in one recent year – a 334 % increase since 1985 at a cost to the National Health Service of £338 million; that 7 million are now living alone in Great Britain – entirely unprecedented in our history.

26% of British households comprise just one person and on present trends, by 2016, 36% of all homes will be inhabited by a single person – a trend accelerated by family breakdown and phenomenal divorce rates – the highest in Europe.

This has led to huge pressures for additional accommodation and to toxic loneliness.

 

How we treat the elderly: better off dead

 

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet also reveals that our treatment of elderly people is fast becoming a national scandal, with an estimated 1 million elderly people who do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.

I was in China last week a country which still shows respect for the elderly. Here we talk endlessly about making it easier to kill the elderly by legalising euthanasia.

Instead of the sharp compassion of the healer’s art many legislators now believe that a lethal injection would be preferable.

A new Bill to legalise assisted dying is to come before Parliament and last week the Liberal Democrats said that we should introduce Dutch and Belgian style euthanasia laws.

Consider what this will mean.

In Belgium there are calls for euthanasia for prisoners and it is reported that they have been harvesting organs from people who have been euthanized.

In Holland statistics indicate that the number of euthanasia deaths in 2011 in the Netherlands increased by 18% to 3,695. This follows increases of 13% in 2009 and 19% in 2010. Euthanasia now accounts for 2.8% of all Dutch deaths. A House of Lords Inquiry in 2005 predicted  that Dutch-style Liberal Democrat laws would lead to 13,000 euthanasia deaths annually in Britain.

The proposed new British law would use the framework and provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act as a template – paving the way for the same outcomes. Instead of approaching seven million unborn children, it will be legions of disabled, sick and elderly people whose lives will be ended.

The proposals will be disguised with words like compassion and dignity but the reality will be doctors who will be required in future to kill patients; disabled people made to believe they would be better off dead; patient safety compromised; and politicians using the new law as a pretext to withdraw resources from the care of the sick.

Far from providing dignity in dying these proposals will sound the death knell for Britain’s outstanding hospice movement and palliative care. To die with dignity we don’t need doctors to kill us. The so-called right to die will soon become a duty to die quickly!
The Bill is to be based on the findings of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying.
Hopelessly biased and distorted, the Falconer Commission was stacked full of euthanasia sympathisers and was established by Dignity in Dying (formerly The Voluntary Euthanasia Society).
The British Medical Association (BMA) – who oppose any change in the law – passed a 5 point resolution that undermined the Commission credibility by questioning its impartiality and independence.

The euthanasia lobby decided to set up their Commission because when two genuinely independent Parliamentary Select Committees carefully examined the issue they did not recommend a change of law.

When votes were then taken in the House of Lords it resulted in large defeats for their proposals (148-100 and 194-141). The last attempt at legalization in Scotland also resulted in a heavy defeat (85-16) for Margo Macdonald’s Bill in 2010.

For the record, and to give some idea of the scale of the parliamentary Inquiry, the Select Committee covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively, 15 oral sessions, 48 groups or individuals giving evidence, with 88 witnesses giving written evidence; 2,460 questions were asked and the committee receiving 14,000 letters. Compare the coverage given by the BBC and others to the parliamentary Inquiry with the media circus and feeding frenzy generated by the Falconer Commission.

An unbiased and impartial account of this debate might mention the opposition to a change in the law expressed in Parliament – predominantly on the grounds of public safety – and by the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, the hospices and Disability Rights Organisations – who eloquently set out all the negative outcomes which would result from a change in the law.

There is a systematic propaganda campaign being orchestrated by the media aimed at changing the law and for several years we have been treated to a barrage of propaganda. Even the BBC’s Radio Times joined the pack, claiming on its cover that watching a man die in Switzerland would be “5 minutes of television that will change our lives”.

The sub editor who chose that caption perhaps failed to appreciate its irony: that the 5 minutes it took to change our lives, irredeemably ended another’s life.

The BBC are in danger of being reduced to the role of mere cheerleaders, producing five programmes in the past three years in favour of a change, while signally failing to present the other side of the argument. But this isn’t just about bias.
The BBC’s recent programmes celebrating assisted suicide not only break their own Code about providing balance when discussing ethical issues but, even more seriously, they also breach the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines, published in 2000.
The WHO clearly set out the responsibilities and duties of the media. Consider some of these strictures in the context of the programme featuring Terry Pratchett and the euthanasia centre in Switzerland.
The WHO begin by reminding the media of the incredible impact which it can have in informing attitudes and behaviour:
“Media strongly influence community attitudes… media can also play an active role in the prevention of suicide.”

The WHO points to the way in which television can negatively influence suicidal behaviour. One study showed an increase in the number of suicides for up to 10 days after television news reports of cases of suicide.

They also warn against publicising suicide stories where celebrities are involved and warn against sensational coverage – which they argue should be assiduously avoided. The coverage should be minimized to the greatest possible extent possible. The WHO is right when it says:
“Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life. The majority of people who consider suicide are ambivalent. They are not sure that they want to die. One of the many factors that may lead a vulnerable individual to suicide could be publicity about suicides in the media. How the media report on suicide cases can influence other suicides.”

A person’s death should not be a form of prime time entertainment, part of the battle for programme ratings – dressed up in the name of a hollow compassion.

In this country 550,000 people die each year. Very rarely do any make the newspapers or the media. Why does one lethal cocktail – but not 549,999 deaths – warrant wall to wall campaigning coverage?

Macmillan nurses, hospices and palliative care give the overwhelming majority in Britain a dignified death which does not involve commissioning doctors and nurses as patient killers. By all means agitate for improvement where the provision or practice isn’t good enough but let the BBC end this one sided and relentless campaign.

Consider what is at stake.
Chillingly, Baroness Warnock, who shaped the laws which have led to the destruction of millions of human embryos, has said that the sick are “wasting people’s lives” because of the care they require: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.” Suggesting that we have a “duty to die” she said “I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.”
This turns the argument into a worth based on someone’s economic value rather than on their true human value and their human dignity.

In case you think “putting people down” just “couldn’t happen here” consider the situation in Holland.

Just before Christmas the Dutch announced that they are considering mobile units to kill people in their own homes. 1,000 of the 4,000 euthanasia deaths in Holland each year are now done without the patient’s consent.

Not content with this, the Dutch say that 80% of people with dementia or mental illnesses are being ‘missed’ by the country’s euthanasia laws. They say that the death-on-wheels mobile units are necessary because some GPs have refused to administer lethal drugs to their patients.  And, in March this year euthanasia clinic launched six mobile euthanasia teams in the anticipation that they will achieve 1,000 deaths per year.

These mobile death units are targeted at “unmet need” including people with chronic depression, disabilities, Alzheimer’s, loneliness and those whose request to be killed has been refused by their doctors. It’s as if the Dutch have forgotten the last time mobile death squads were deployed in Europe.
This isn’t giving people “dignity in dying”. Sending out mobile units to administer lethal injections, to “put people down”, will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable.

It diminishes the dignity and humanity of the sick and elderly and diminishes those of us who condone it.
Imagine what will happen in Britain if the proposed laws are implemented. You have a terminal incurable disease. You have the option of palliative care at £1,000 a week or a glass of barbiturates at £5. What will happen if we accept Lady Warnock’s proposition that “you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”

How many relatives would put an inheritance before a life? One in eight current cases of elder abuse currently involves financial abuse by relatives and it would inevitably increase if we change the law. And health ministers, counting their pennies in a recession, will be tempted to go for the cheaper option – one Conservative Health Minister has already announced her support for assisted dying. A Bill allowing assisted suicide will carry the seeds of its own extension. If we allow it for some why deny it to others?

So how long before the Dutch mobile killing units arrive in a street near you?

To imitate Holland is unnecessary, dangerous and unethical.

As the distinguished lawyer, Lord Carlile QC, puts it we have “a hard law, with a kind face.” We should keep it that way.

Lord Carlile says: “The real concern was, and remains, public safety — the potential for collateral harm to the great majority of terminally ill people from giving a few individuals a “right” to prescription suicide pills. The so-called safeguards… were paper thin.”
Baroness (Ilora) Finlay – herself a professor of palliative says we don’t understand the difference between euthanasia and indefinitely continuing inappropriate treatment:
“Doctors regularly discontinue futile treatment. But they don’t do it in order to end a patient’s life: they are simply recognising that death cannot be prevented by treatment… end-of-life decisions, which are made every day by doctors, aren’t the same thing as ending-life decisions.”
When the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs of the patient are met, requests for euthanasia are actually extremely rare. Less than 1,000 people persistently ask for it. 95% of Palliative Medicine Specialists are opposed to a change in the law. The Association of British Neurologists warn that severe depression will lead to cases of assisted dying  and that a law which says two doctors can determine such cases will offer few safeguards.

There will be no requirement that either of the two doctors should have any knowledge of the patient concerned. It isn’t required that they should have seen the patient’s case notes – or even examined the patient. The whole casual process could take place over the phone.

There is no requirement that either of these doctors should have any expertise in, or experience of, the medical condition in question. And yet this is an essential pre-requisite for determining the presence of a terminal illness and for giving a prognosis of its course.

There are no arrangements for seeking an expert opinion in cases of doubt – what will happen, for instance, if a patient is suffering from cognitive impairment or their judgement is clouded by depression?

To suggest that vulnerable people could be protected by two doctors being “of the opinion in good faith” is dangerously naïve at best and deceptive at worst.

Such a casual system of assessment is totally out of proportion with the gravity of the decision that is being taken.
Proponents of change insist that public opinion favours such a change. But public opinion probably would re-introduce capital punishment, too, and are we to suspend prudent judgement in that case too?
Rather than imitating the Dutch, we need to get behind groups like the admirable Care Not Killing Alliance, to defend and care for the sick and elderly and to put our energy into extending compassionate palliative care and hospice provision, and practical loving support – let’s demand “dignity in living” with the same fervour as those who want to license the routine killing of the most vulnerable in society

Recall, too, the story that when Mother Teresa was the guest of the White House at the National Prayer Breakfast she described to President Clinton and his guests how she had visited a home for the elderly where they had no shortage of material conveniences, but “why” she asked “does everyone sit looking at the door?”

She received the reply “It is because they are looking for the relatives who never come to visit them and who have no time for them”. Care and kill should never be used as synonyms and have no place in the healer’s art.

 

The loss of human dignity and corrupted values

 

If we have scandalous concern for human dignity at the beginning and end of life Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet shows that the deficit is not much better when it comes to other vulnerable groups. 2,000 people  are sleeping rough in England the number increased by a fifth last year;  84,900 households (which may contain more than one person) are classified as homeless; the prison population has increased by 85 per cent since 1993 with 87,673 men and women are in our jails; gun crime in the United Kingdom claims 30 victims every day; the average lifespan for people who get involved in gun crime in Manchester is a mere 24 years; that one woman in every four will be the victim of violence in her own home during the course of her lifetime.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet   reveals that individuals now owe more in debt than the wealth generated by the entire country in a year.  At the end of July 2012 total UK personal debt stood at a revised £1.410 trillion – up from £1.406 trillion at the end of July 2011.

331 people every day of the year will be declared insolvent or bankrupt. This is equivalent to 1 person every 60 seconds during a working day.  Almost 30 of every 10,000 people living in the north west of England are destined for insolvency.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals a society where too many people think they owe nothing to anyone except the pursuit of their own desires.  We increasingly fail to participate.

Opting Out of Society

 

The Caravan Club and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have more members than all of the UK’s political parties combined. Just 1% of the population are members of a political party in the UK. We have come a long way since the Liberal, Conservative or Labour Club sat in the heart of every community. Trimdon Labour Club – the scene of Tony Blair’s Sedgefield triumphs – closed a year ago.

In 1951 the Conservative Party had 2.9 million members, Labour, 876,000; today they have 177,000 and 190,000 respectively and the Liberal Democrats have seen a reduction of their membership by 30,000 to 66,000.

Involvement in church life has also declined. While almost 2 out of 3 still identify themselves as Christians around 15%, 4 million people, go to church at least once a month – the fourth lowest attendance rate in Europe. Intriguingly many still claim a personal relationship with God but decline to make the effort to take part in church life. They believe without belonging; believe without participating.

There has also been a decline in membership of trades unions from 13million to 7 million in little over 30 years; and representative organisations, such as Women’s Leagues and the Mother’s Unions, also experiencing significant falls.

For a society to be healthy we have to be participators and the trustees, not the owners, of what we possess. Social, political and economic activity must ultimately centre on the common good rather than individual acquisitiveness or the hegemony of the state.

Living and partly living: the abolition of man

TS Eliot could have had our diminished and dehumanised society in mind when he suggested that we are “living and partly living”, while CS Lewis prophetically foresaw a society where we would see what he famously called “The Abolition of Man”.

And how do we intend to address the deficit on Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet?

What can we learn from what has gone before?

During the eighteenth century men like John and Charles Wesley, their hearts warmed, as they said, by the Holy Spirit, stepped into the quagmire that was Britain then. Their new enthusiasm so alarmed the church authorities that church doors were literally barred against them.

In the fields and at make shift venues the re-evangelisation of England began.  The Wesleys, George Whitfield, and others, deepened the religious renewal – followed in the nineteenth century by the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, and then by the Catholic Spring and Cardinal John Henry Newman and Cardinal Manning.  The religious awakening was accompanied by a commensurate awakening of social virtue and work for the common good,and among the achievements of Christian social reformers such as William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury were the abolition of slavery, the ending of child labour, public health legislation, ragged free schools, and significant social progress.

A century later, in 1904, Joseph Jenkins led an extraordinary Welsh religious revival which brought 100,000 converts in a year. Many became the flag bearers for political and social activism. The chapel spearheaded reform and deterred revolution.

Through these examples of religious and spiritual revival we can trace personal renewal and then national reconstruction.  We can also see the path we need to take.  Having understood the Dread Balance Sheet and analysed the root causes we then need to commit ourselves to act.

Be clear: a nation or State will not survive for long if its communities and civil structures are decaying or if its rulers do not pursue civic virtues. A society where individual autonomy and individual choice become trump cards in every game lives dangerously close to the edge.   A respect for law, a sense of personal responsibility, public spirit and munificence, firmness of purpose, discernment and foresight, perseverance, and a sense of duty might be chief among the civic qualities to which we aspire; and our gifts must be used for the common good.

It is self evident that our civil society has become increasingly uncivil as modern citizenship has revolved around the flaccid language of rights alone and with a weakened sense of ethics and a lack of virtue, and with no shared framework for reaching conclusions because there are so few shared values.

We have created a dehumanised society where we breed unrealisable demands, a cult of selfishness and materialism. The Jewish sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

 

And what will be the fate of those who are only for themselves?  Eliot puts it like this in East Coker:

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark…

…And we all go with them, into the silent funeral…”

 

Does it have to be like this?

When Europe was facing the challenge of Nazism the Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, prophetically wrote: “The most important question for the future is how we can find a basis for human life together, what spiritual laws we accept as the foundation of a meaningful human life.”    

And to meet this challenge Bonhoeffer argued that we each have a duty to take a stand:  “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds. What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.”

 Bonheoffer also warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself” while Dr.Matin Luther King said Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

In every sphere of life today we need plain, honest, straightforward men and women willing to speak up about the condition of our nation.

Like Bonhoeffer, St.Edith Stein died at the hands of the Nazis.

A German-Jewish philosopher, who became a Catholic nun she died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. At a time when the Nazi State was stifling dissent and corralling its citizens into conformism with the tenets of National Socialism, Stein wrote tellingly about the responsibility of every citizen to be an agent for good or ill; and about  the way in which the values of the individual citizen determine the nature of the State in which they live. Both society and the State consist entirely of persons. These are not mysterious entities.  They are made up of men, women and children whose strengths and weaknesses, talents and needs, are all too real.

“The state is not an abstract entity. It acts and suffers only as those individual agents through whose actions the functions of the state are discharged act and suffer… Moral predicates apply to the state only insofar as they apply to the relevant individuals.’  

The State, then, takes its inspiration from the values of its citizens.

If Britain is to be remade it will require a huge effort to persuade every citizen to take seriously the promotion of the commons good.Out of the present malaise and crisis is an opportunity to proclaim a belief in human dignity, the worth of each life; the duty we each have to the communities of which we are a part: a call for an outpouring for the common good.

Crisis or Opportunity?

The Chinese calligraphy for the word crisis can also be used for the word opportunity.  Dire situations can be turned around.

Winston Churchill wept when he saw the destruction of the East End of London by Nazi bombardment. He understood the importance of drawing a whole nation around a common cause:  “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.”

Today, our nation faces a new common enemy and a new peril. It is both external and internal.  But it can also become a common cause; and one of the best weapons we have remains Churchill’s belief in those single words which we in Great Britain cherish: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.

Britain urgently needs to feel the sharp compassion of the healer’s art – and think what our country would be like if healing became a central mission of the Church in every family, neighbourhood and across the nation.

In the Four Quartets Eliot tells us that “The only hope, or else despair, Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire.”

He is referring to the fire of the Holy Spirit and to “The dove descending breaks the air,  With flame of incandescent terror,  Of which the tongues declare,  The one discharge from sin and error … Love is the unfamiliar Name, Behind the hands that wove, The intolerable shirt of flame, Which human power cannot remove, We only live, only suspire, Consumed by either fire or fire.”

Touched by the sharp compassion of the healer’s art our hearts can be repaired and as we are healed we may then heal our families, our communities and our nation.

There is no other way and our task must surely be to persuade our fellow citizens to join us in seeking the balm of the wounded healer.

Yanbian University of Science and Technology Lecture, September 2012. Turning Dreams Into Realities.

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“Turning Visions Into Reality – Dream, Plan, Achieve.” Yanbian University of Science and Technology, Jilin, September 2012. Delivered on the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the university at Yanji in North East China.

 https://davidalton.net/media/  – click here for power point presentation to accompany talk (scroll down list to Yanbian (YUST)  Lecture.

http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/NewsUpdate/index_124527.htm

It is a great pleasure for me to be at Yanbian today at the invitation of your founder and President, Dr. James Kim – for whom I have the highest admiration.

Dr.Kim says “I believe in the power of education”– and so do I. Dr.Kim believes that “education can plant seeds of the values that are critical in reaching our desired end. These values include understanding; respect; sacrifice and reconciliation.” I believe that too.

We also both know the truth of the Chinese proverb that says “if you want to plant for one season, plant a seed; if you want to plant for ten years, plant a tree; but if you want to plant for life, give a young man or woman an education.”

 The purpose of education must be – as my own university in Liverpool puts it – to help young people dream, plan and achieve – to turn your dreams into realities.

What Has Gone Before

Almost three thousand years ago, in the Book of Joel (2:28) comes the prediction that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions.”

   And in the Book of Proverbs (29:18) it states that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

   What those sentiments anticipate is a generation of leaders who will speak with insight, have a clear vision of the future, govern wisely and act justly in both promoting the common good and in providing security and protection for their people.

Writing in the same millennium as Joel, Confucius offered sage advice about how anyone hoping to enter public life should first prepare:

  “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

A similar thought was captured by Mahatma Gandhi who said:You must be the change you want to see in the world”

   The Nobel Peace Laureate and eighth President of South Korea, Kim Dae Jung, understood the importance of personal transformation as the preparation for political life. In his Prison Letters, he wrote that:

“We have to be reborn every day and make fresh progress every day. The object of our conquest is ourselves. We have to fight and conquer that self that is complacent, the self that tries to escape, the self that is arrogant and the self that is carried away by a single moment of success.”  

   For tomorrow’s leaders – that is your generation – facing today’s challenges – what Gandhi was signifying was the centrality of personal transformation.

 

Life Without Values

  Without such change, political life can be a game of charades where its participants are seduced by the allure of power; where, in a Faustian Pact to obtain self advancement, they trade the principles they once espoused and the ideals they once embraced.

  A key objective for tomorrow’s leaders must be the promotion of harmony: harmony in our world, between nations, between cultures, between beliefs, between mankind and the natural world. When we bring together of our thoughts, our words and our actions, that is harmony.

Harmony and Peace

The Asian belief in the centrality of harmony is something which the West needs to understand and embrace. In ancient Chinese Taoist thought all reality is determined by constantly changing relationships and by the harmonious complementarity of the two primal principles of Ying (the receptive, feminine, the earth) and Yang (the creative, masculine, heaven).

Hinduism sees the idea of ahimsa as pivotal.  Ahimsa proclaims a rejection of the use of force and all that is harmful. For Mahatma Gandhi the ancient ahimsa was promoted as non-violence in all spheres of life including the political realm.

A second objective must be compassion and the promotion of peace.

For the Buddhist all life is suffering.  But karuna – the concept of compassion in Buddhism – mitigates the suffering through an outpouring of compassion and encourages each encounter with humanity and nature to be based on loving-kindness.

For Jews the Hebrew word shalom (like the Arabic word salaam derived from the same word stem) has a more substantive meaning than the English word peace. Jews use the word as a benediction or a blessing and the implicit prayer that the person so greeted will reach a place of contentment, happiness wholeness and inner peace.

The New Testament develops this understanding of the Old Testament message of peace.  Jesus’ nativity is proclaimed as peace on earth; God’s kingdom is to be the kingdom of peace and righteousness; the Beatitudes praise the peacemakers as blessed and Jesus intensifies this message through the command to love one’s enemies. The disciples are told to speak peace in the name of Jesus after His Resurrection He greets the disciples with the words:”Peace be with you!”

Without this inner peace, and inner calm, which so many of the world religions foster, it is not possible to promote peace among the nations or within a nation; or to forestall chaotic anarchy and conflict.  But, once you have experienced this inner pace and inner harmony the challenge is to take it into the service of the world.

Service Not Power

 Political life should revolve around the concept of service, not power.

  Politics needn’t be a dirty game of power hungry self-seeking, personal gain, manipulation and deceit. If it does become an avaricious dirty game it will be because those who are playing it do not have clean hands. Politics is only as good as the people who enter it; only as good as their vision; only as good as their conduct.  The quality of what they do will depend on their willingness and capacity to become the change they wish to see in the world. 

  The sophistry is sometimes offered to the aspiring politician that, if only they can climb a little higher up what the nineteenth century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli described as “the greasy pole” of politics (“I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole”), and then they will be in a position to change things.   But, by then, usually, the only thing which has changed is the would-be leader him or herself – and not in the manner which Ghandi had in mind.   If they have failed to master themselves, the effect of power on an individual can be disastrous.  

 

 

 

 

Politics As A High Calling

Aristotle, the author of the classical work “Politics”, saw political leadership as a high calling and the father of democracy held that shame would attach to those who refuse to play their part.

Aristotle insisted that that everyone should pursue virtue and work for the common good – koinonia – a rich word which implies active participation, common unity, relationships and sharing of gifts.

 Koinonia is not about constitutions or civic structures of government but about the qualities in mankind which made civic co-existence a possibility. It is about our inter-connectedness with Aristotle writing in “Politics” we are “not like solitary pieces in chequers”.

 

 

 

The Ancient Virtues

Aristotle’s ancient virtues remain for me the key to building a civil society:

Justice

Wisdom

Temperance

Courage

Magnanimity

Tolerance

Munificence

Prudence; and

Gentleness

But these were not theoretical qualities. Koinoinia requires action and through engagement and deeds we both learn and change.

From Virtue To Action

Let me give an example from British history of one man who entered political life and who, although he never became Prime Minister or the leader of a political party, made a profound difference to the koinonia – to the common good.William Wilberforce lived from 1759 to 1833 and entered Parliament as the youngest MP. Wilberforce was motivated by his religious beliefs but once said that “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.”

He identified the slave trade – traffic in human beings, sold for profit into lives of abject misery – as the greatest humanitarian cause of the day.  For forty years he dedicated himself to the abolition, first, of the Trans Atlantic slave trade and then to slavery itself. When he was on his death bed he was finally brought the news that the law had been changed by Parliament and that the trade had been abolished.

By and large, those who led the campaign for abolition of the trade were men and women of deep religious conviction, notably the Quakers, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe, Olaudah Equiano, Josiah Wedgewood – who created the medallion “Am I Not a Man and Brother”, John Newton, the Liverpool ship’s captain and slave trader who changed his mind and last composed “Amazing Grace” – the Liverpool MP William Roscoe and William Wilberforce himself.

Estimates of the numbers of Africans sold into slavery vary but over nearly four centuries about 12 million people were forcibly transported into bondage.

 Between 1701 and 1810 around 5.7 million people were taken into slavery, 2 million coming from the Slave Coast, where Benin is situated.  Around 39% went to the Caribbean, 38% to Brazil, 17% to South America and 6% to North America.

 Many of the slaves shipped out of Africa from the Bight of Benin were taken to the port of Ouidah, which is situated near Cotonou, the present capital and which I visited .Not since I visited the holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel had I experienced such harrowing emotions.

 In the total Atlantic trade, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.6 million slaves.

 In his Journal of a Slave-trader, John Newton wrote:  “I have no sufficient data to warrant calculation but I suppose not less than one hundred thousand slaves are exported annually from all parts of Africa, and that more than one half of these are exported in English ships.”

 The last letter written by the great John Wesley was to Wilberforce and asked “what villainy is this?” which allowed the enslavement of Africans. Wesley told Wilberforce to put his trust in God and to work for an end to such evil – “a scandal of England of religion and of human nature.”He told him to be a force for change and an “Athanasius contra mundum”literally to be like the 4th century Christian Bishop, Athanasius, “Athanasius against the world.”  Take a stand: be willing to pay a price. Take on the whole world if necessary. Be a sign of contradiction.

 What We Can Learn From Wilberforce

 

  Wilberforce’s story has great relevance to anyone interested in entering public or political life. His was the first great campaign for human rights and human dignity. It involved painstaking research; the production of newsletters and leaflets; fundraising; the creation of logos and eye-catching public awareness; posters; press reports;  public meetings; marketing and publicity; lobbying; petitions; boycotts; and parliamentary and political action at every level.

Wilberforce needed persistence – it took 40 years – and tempted though he was, he didn’t give up at the first discouragement and defeat. He couldn’t have done it by himself – it needed coalitions and alliances. It needed intelligence and passion. He invoked the importance of combining pressure and prayer. Wilberforce identified a priority – what he believed to be the greatest injustice and a cause to which he should give his life in political service and he made it his chief concern – rather than the gadfly’s approach, jumping from one fashionable or faddish cause to another.

The Relevance Of This Story For Today

 

If we want to put principles of common humanity and the pursuit of the common good into practice today we should first identify the cause to which we should devote ourselves. For some it will be the freeing of people’s held in oppression; for others it will be the safeguarding of the created world; for others it will be standing up for the dignity and sanctity of human life or opposition to the capricious use of capital punishment, arbitrary detentions or corrupted legal processes; for some it will be the championing of people with disabilities, or a despised minority, or an economically or socially disadvantaged group; for others it will be holding leaders to account, opposing corruption, working for democracy or freedom of expression, belief or conscience.

Wilberforce once said “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

If he were here today he would return to the cause of the suffering of his fellow creatures and to the question of slavery. Consider the following:

  • 27 million people enslaved today
  • ILO say this includes 8.4 million children
  • 700,000 trafficked every year
  • Debt Bondage affects 20 million people
  • Forced labour, child labour, economic servitude, racially motivated and caste based slavery all still persist throughout the world At least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide
  • 80% of the 700,000 people trafficked annually are women and children
  • Human trafficking is the third largest source of income for organised crime (after arms and drugs)
  • Trafficking generates  an average of $7 billion per year: one year it was put at $32 billion

The popular myth is that slavery is a thing of the past, but more people are trafficked today than were enslaved in the entire history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Most people assume that the slave trade was long since consigned to the dustbin of history by William Wilberforce.

In reality the trade in human beings is a rapidly growing scourge that affects countries and families on every continent.

Those trafficked may be forced into prostitution or to work as domestics, as labourers, or market traders and in a variety of other jobs. Recent research suggests that, at an absolute minimum, hundreds of women and children are being trafficked into the UK each year.

The UN believes it is the second largest criminal activity in the world, second only to drug smuggling; that it nets $36 billion a year to the traffickers; and that 100,000 Modern Day Slaves are trafficked around the European Union each year.

. People have been transported into many forms of slavery and not from choice.

They include children who are pawns in debt bondage whose alcoholic or drug dependent parents get a lump sum payment from traffickers to take their children to London or other cities to ‘educate them’. In fact the education is in how to commit ATM theft, pick-pocketing and shop lifting.

Then there is sex trafficking. Girls mostly, with threats of violence to themselves and their families if they try to escape or keep money from their ‘clients’ (2,200 brothels in London alone); and the cannabis factory boys – many brought in from Vietnam.

Of the 15,000 domestic workers coming to Britain a year, approaching 700 are likely to have been abused in some way.

Without political pressure from the highest level, fighting human trafficking will continue to be a low priority for the police. If the police find a gang that deals with arms or drugs, they are likely to be dealing with human trafficking as well. The criminal gangs are sophisticated, flexible, and not short of money. Demand and abuse go hand in hand. There is big money to be made by trading in people who – unlike drugs or arms – are recyclable.

 

Human Rights, Human Life, Human Dignity

 

But human rights abuses come in many forms and closer to home, in China there will be situations crying out for a twenty first century William Wilberforce- champions of human dignity, of good ethics, of the safeguarding of precious resources, of the principle of duty, and many other noble and good causes which promote the common good. Your task is to find the cause which needs you to champion it.

While you are students at YUST you must be equipped to reach beyond academic attainment. Young people must have the opportunity to think, enquire, debate and understand how decisions will affect their lives and the future of their nation. They need to have lain before them potential ethical dilemmas, moral conundrums, technological and scientific challenges, the rapidly changing pace of living – and world crises, ranging from hunger, to global warming, to the exploitation of finite resources.

Education of the citizen must above all underline the moral significance of self-knowledge – as agents in the way we live and affect others. We need citizens who embrace the idea of individual moral responsibility for their actions.

Unless we are able to conceive of ourselves as an agent or agents with regard to how we behave, it will be impossible to develop any sense of responsibility or judgement in the way in which we use science.

Gaining that sense is important, for it is often the case that a new scientific discovery can be put to good, ethical uses that can improve our lives, but will also have more sinister, unethical applications that will cause harm. In other cases a technology may be clearly beneficial in principal, but must be deployed with care, lest unintended side effects end up doing more harm than good. This is why it is important that the next generation of scientists are given a good moral education, so that they can be mindful of and differentiate between the different applications of their work, and carefully consider the ethical implications of the discoveries they make.

Let me give one example of what I mean.

In the last few decades, climate change has become a serious issue for the international community. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the planet is changing in ways that will adversely affect lives everywhere, but particularly those in less well developed countries, such as the equatorial African states where droughts are set to increase in frequency – we need only consider the events of this year, where many lives have been lost in countries like Somalia and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa – where I have travelled  – to understand the devastation this will cause – or the island nations of the Pacific, who could be swallowed up by the ocean entirely if sea levels rise as many scientists predict they will. Make no mistake, this is an issue that respects no borders and that all nations ignore at their peril.

Climate change is an unfortunate side-effect of the industrial age, a product of our short-sightedness in seizing short term benefits at the expense of the future. But just as it arose from the products of scientific progress, so the answers will come from the scientific community and from your generation. But you must always guard against corruption and the debasing of ethics.

It is a sobering thought that more than half of the participants at Hitler’s 1942 Wannsee Conference, which planned what was called “the final solution to the Jewish question” – that is the extermination and murder of Europe’s Jewish people – were either medical practitioners or in receipt of other academic doctorates. Nazi collaborators included a cast of scientists, doctors, judges, lawyers, philosophers and academics. It’s so very easy to be corrupted.

In other cases, scientists may feel that what they are doing will lead to a useful outcome – a new treatment, a better understanding of the disease. Yet this does not mean that all methods are acceptable.

The seductive scientific argument that “if only” you would permit us to do this or that experiment we might make any number of useful discoveries gets dangerously close to a form of blackmail. It relies on the old canard that the end will justify the means; that unethical experiments may be used for seemingly ethical reasons. There is also an assumption that modern man is far too sophisticated and far too decent to fall into the sort of monstrosities characterised by the Nazi scientists. Yet, history teaches us that vain gloriousness and hubris attended by vanity and conceit are often the trump cards when men seek to justify their unethical actions.

So, you need to be champions of change whilst preserving the highest ethical standards and ideals. Nothing in science – whether it be physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology or neuroscience – can lead to the conclusion that the universe is bereft of meaning or intelligence or that we can be other than guardians and custodians during our brief sojourn on our small part of this great creation.

Einstein asserted that misuse of science could only be countered “by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. …I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.”

The first words of the Confucian classic, “The Great Learning”, says that “The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness.”

That love of the “the great learning” at the service of humanity should inform all that you do at YUST and inform your lives as you seek to turn your visions into reality and to change the world.

Let me draw to a conclusion.

Change doesn’t just happen by itself; and it may come at a price.

 

Change Doesn’t Happen By Itself

As a teenager I felt especially challenged by the killing at Memphis on April 4th 1968 of Dr. Martin Luther King, then aged 39, who five years earlier had given his landmark speech – “I Have a Dream” – in which he described the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence as a promissory note:

“A promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “inalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned.”

Fundamental change in the USA, Europe, and in South Africa’s apartheid regime – how we view colour and race – was ushered in by King’s sacrificial entry into political life. But he understood the price that would be paid to bring change:

“Change,”he said, “does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

Those who believe that politics is about grandstanding, sound-bites, personal aggrandisement, the pursuit of power, or a charmed life will rarely develop King’s bent back but nor will they have the satisfaction of bringing an idea or a great cause to birth.

Two months after Dr.King’s assassination Robert Kennedy also paid the ultimate price in championing civil rights and opposing racial segregation. Kennedy’s religious faith led him to a profound belief in the importance of individual actions, that each of us is made in God’s image (Imago Dei), is, therefore, of inestimable worth, and that we should neither be discouraged by seemingly impossible odds or by the intractable nature of the challenges we face:       

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” (Robert Kennedy).

Looking at the world today, there are no shortage of great challenges:  – 800 million people racked by starvation or despair, living below any definition of human decency; at egregious violations of human rights,  from Iran to North Korea – where I have travelled several times; famine in Somalia and the Sahel; unspeakable violence in Syria and Nigeria, Congo and the Sudan; and at the domestic challenges in Britain which I describe in a lecture entitled “The Condition of England Question”, which include 1 million young people not in education, employment , or training,  and over 2.6 million without work – a 17 year high in a flat-lining economy and 1 million elderly living in toxic loneliness who don’t see a friend or a neighbour during the course of a typical week.

 We can very easily overawed – like the boy in Louis Stephenson’s rhyme who is dejected by the one-damn-thing-after-anotherness of life and despairs that “the world is so big and I am so small I do not like it at all at all”.   As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “In this life, we cannot do great things, we can only do small things with great love.”

I often remark that we are not great boulders but small stones – and that it is small stones that must first move for a landslide to happen.  To take up this challenge, as Gandhi had it, we must become the change that we desire to see; and be encouraged by Winston Churchill’s observation that “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Politics should always be a campaign of service where the love of power is replaced by the power to love. Politics should always be about service not self-seeking; virtue not vanity; speaking up for the powerless, not narrow partisanship; respectful of opponents, not the silencing of dissent; tolerant of difference, not the crushing conscience and not blindly accept the dog whistle of people who want you to follow them.

 

A Price To Be Paid

There may also be a price to be paid if you commit yourself to political service. Think of Kim Dae Jung’s years in prison. In the end he was not executed but political leaders may well have to pay the ultimate price.

Think of the fate, 18 months ago, of Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti and the Punjab’s Governor, Salman Taseer. One was a Christian, the other a Muslim. They stood together in opposing prejudice, terror and intolerance. Both were murdered.

Bhatti sensed the almost inevitable consequence of his courageous words and actions.

He said that his stand would “send a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair” adding that his life was dedicated to “the oppressed, the down-trodden and the marginalised” and to “the struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom and the empowerment of religious minorities’ communities.”

 The story of Shahbaz Bhatti is a one which should inspire us all. He was called to a political life and in the end he laid down his life for his friends: standing against a world which he knew to be unjust and which needs to change.

Shahbaz Bhatti life and death reminds us that change comes at a price. John Henry Newman captured this though when he reflected that:

 “Good is never accomplished except at the cost of those who do it, truth never breaks through except through the sacrifice of those who spread it.” 

  Like Dr.King and Robert Kennedy or Kim Dae Jung, Shahbaz Bhatti sacrificed himself for his beliefs and in the service of others.  Like Gandhi, his own life represented the change he wanted to see.  Most of us will never be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice but let us never forget Aristotle’s warning that shame will attach to those who refuse to play their part; and that evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing.  As Dr.Martin Luther King once observed: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” while Dietrich Bonheoffer, who died at the hands of the Nazis warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

So, to turn today’s dreams into tomorrow’s realities you will need courage and determination; you may need to go against the tide; to speak out and behave with intelligence and compassion.

You will need to cherish your dreams: to dream; to plan; and then to achieve.   I can think of few places where you will receive a better preparation to meet those challenges than Yanbian University of Science and Technology.

 

Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and has served in both Houses of the British parliament for the past 33 years. Image

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImagehttps://davidalton.net/2011/10/14/report-on-the-first-international-conference-to-be-held-at-pyongyang-university-of-science-and-technology-and-how-the-university-came-into-being/

John Lee Tae-Sok: Korean Schweitzer among Sudan’s lepers – “Don’t Cry For Me Sudan”

A few months ago I hosted a delegation from North Korea which included the Speaker of their national Assembly, Choe Tae Bok. During the visit each member of the delegation was presented with a DVD celebrating the life of a remarkable Korean who has become known as “the Albert Schweitzer” or “Fr.Damian” of Sudan.

 

I chose the DVD because it says nothing about the fierce hostility and enmity between North and South Korea and I chose the DVD because it celebrates the story of a remarkable man whose heroism and self sacrifice should unite the people of the north and south, both in admiration and pride in the life of John Lee Tae-Sok.

 

I also chose the DVD because Catholic priests have been banned from North Korea for sixty years and John Lee Tae-Sok was a Catholic priest, a Salesian, and a medical doctor. Perhaps the DVD – “Don’t Cry For Me Sudan” – will help the North Koreans to see the Church and the work of its priests in a different way. The Sudanese he helped christened Fr.John “Fr.Jolly” because of his winning smile and gentle humour.

 

The story of his life has certainly had a phenomenal impact in South Korea, where newspapers reported that audiences have been leaving the cinemas in tears, having been so affected by Fr.John’s outpouring of love. 300,000 people have now seen the film.

 

Fr.John was born into a poor Catholic family in 1962, the ninth of ten children – another of whom has also been ordained.  John’s father died when he was aged nine and John would also die at too early an age – succumbing to cancer of the colon in 2010.

 

After his father’s death John’s mother brought up the family by herself, counting the pennies earned from her work as a seamstress. They lived in the St. Joseph parish of Song Do in Pusan:  a parish built for the poor and needy of Pusan, after the Korean War, which had left many Koreans destitute and unemployed.

 

John was helped through his studies by his mother who encouraged him to read medicine. On qualifying, he practised as a surgeon in the Korean army but repeatedly he felt the call to be a priest. His mother felt she had already given one son to the Church – his brother is a Capuchin friar – and initially she tried to deter John from entering the priesthood but ultimately gave her blessing. He was ordained in 2001.

 

It was while he was training for the priesthood that John visited the Salesian mission in southern Sudan. It was the first time he had been in a colony of lepers – men and women with Hansen’s disease. He was so disturbed by the rotting limbs and squalor that in a state of shock he went off into the bush to get the disturbing encounter out of his sight and mind. The Salesians working there did not expect to see the young army doctor again.

 

They were wrong.

 

On his return to Seoul the memory of the lepers never left him and in 2001 he announced that he would “be a better missionary among the lepers than anywhere else.”   Alarmed that he should want to go to Southern Sudan – where two million people had lost their lives during the civil war waged by Khartoum’s despotic government, his mother and family were deeply distressed but once again they finally accepted and endorsed his decision.

 

Arriving at a place called Tonj, Fr.John began the arduous task of erecting a medical clinic. Using the same hands that would treat 300 patients daily, he personally constructed the building to which desperate Sudanese would bring their illnesses. In his jeep he went out searching for the lepers.

 

A memo written by Lee Jae-hyeon, a policy director for South Korea’s Environment Ministry, who visited Tonj while working for the United Nations, and who was one of Fr.John’s sponsors graphically described the working conditions in the village:

 

“The heat wave was deadly. It was 55 degrees Celsius. I didn’t realize thermometers had more than 50-degree markings until the priest showed me. I felt like my clothes were burning. The river in Tonj was a muddy puddle. Children splashed in the water, and instead of dabbling in it, they gulped up the water.”

 

After the clinic came classrooms for a school and other facilities. In the absence of anyone else to do it he would teach the children maths and music.  A gifted musician, Fr.John persuaded Korean friends to send a crate load of instruments and uniforms and he founded and trained the Don Bosco Brass Band.

 

News of his work spread and a South Korean film maker came out to make a documentary.  Following Fr.John on his rounds they recorded the social developments and the health programmes which he had initiated.

 

This phenomenal out-pouring of energetic love and commitment inevitably took its toll and it was during a short break in 2009 that cancer was discovered.  In Seoul he underwent chemotherapy but on January 14th 2010, aged 47, his life came to an end.

 

This, however, was not the end of the story.

 

The film-maker, Koo Soo-Hwan, returned to Sudan and interviewed many of the families of the Dinka warriors whose lives had been so profoundly touched by Fr.John’s humanitarian work.   The film that emerged was “Don’t Cry For Me Sudan” – taking its title from the Dinka boys who weep as they carry a picture of “Fr.Jolly” through the village of Tonj as they hold their own funeral in his memory. They are members of Fr.John’s brass band. Not much given to public displays of emotion these young people and their families are tearful as they describe the acute loss they experienced in learning that their priest and doctor would not be returning to them.  A copy of the Korean movie has now been made with English subtitles and extracts may be seen on You Tube at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34_No6iVIgg

 

The film’s director recently came to see me in London.  He had been intrigued to learn that I had given a copy of his movie to the visiting North Korean delegation. What had I hoped to come out of this? “An appreciation that one man’s life can change a world, and that all Koreans should be inspired by and celebrate the life of a remarkable and truly wonderful man.”     

 

 

Exploitation of Oil in Sudan

House of Lords

Monday, 9th July 2001.

Sudan

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What is their response to recent developments in Sudan.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we remain focused on the situation in Sudan and are committed to helping to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. What really matters to the people of Sudan is an end to the enormous suffering caused by war. We were concerned, therefore, at the recent rebel offensive in Bahr El Ghazal and by the Government of Sudan’s response. Last month we prompted an EU statement calling on both parties immediately to stop hostilities in order to create an environment conducive to negotiations and have reiterated that message bilaterally.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. As this is the first time the Sudan has been discussed in your Lordships’ House since the sad loss of Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, this may be an appropriate time to say how much we all miss him and his always valued contributions on this subject.

Can the Minister say what the Government have to show for their policy of dialogue with the Government of Sudan, who continue to bomb innocent civilians and to perpetuate a war in which over 2 million have died and 5 million have been displaced? Has not the time come to follow the example of the United States

9 Jul 2001 : Column 926

and adopt a more robust approach to that undemocratic regime which took and holds power purely by military force?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in her tribute to Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. We will sadly miss him.

The US Administration are reviewing their policy on Sudan. In fact, only this morning I had a meeting with Assistant Secretary Kansteiner. As the noble Baroness is aware, we take a balanced view on Sudan. Our central objective is to secure a just and lasting peace. The EU-Sudan dialogue focuses on five areas–I shall not go into them in view of the short time available. We believe that the Sudan has made progress in relations with its neighbours; for example, it signed an agreement with Uganda. The Sudan is adopting an acceptable approach to counter-terrorism. We have noticed some progress on human rights and democratisation and there has been some moderation of police and security activity, although I agree that abuses undoubtedly occur. So there has been some progress, but there is still a long way to go.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the removal of civilian populations, the food shortages and the mass murders arise to a substantial degree from the exploitation of oil? If the oil companies chose to use their economic muscle to exact more ethical standards from the government, they might save thousands of lives. Has anyone discussed that possibility with them?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble and learned friend will be aware that through our own ethical trading initiative we have pressed organisations to ensure that they adopt ethical standards in their work in a variety of development countries. We have pressed for oil revenues to be used for development projects and for transparency in the oil accounts. The Government of Sudan gave public assurances to that effect. We shall be looking to them to honour those assurances. We shall remain focused on that issue as more evidence becomes available.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, among the five issues that are being discussed in the Sudan, the noble Baroness did not mention the abolition of slave-like practices. Does she agree that, although the committee established by the Government of Sudan to eradicate the abduction of women and children has made some useful progress, the practices continue up to the present day? No serious investigation has been made of the root causes and nobody has been prosecuted for the crime of abduction, contrary to Article 25 of the Convention Against Forced Labour which was signed by the Government of Sudan as long ago as 1957. Will the Government use their good offices, both bilaterally and through the ILO, to persuade the Government of Sudan to comply with the recommendations made recently by the Anti-Slavery International to eradicate those practices once and for all?

9 Jul 2001 : Column 927

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble LordLord Avebury, may find it helpful to know that we have been looking to the Government of Sudan to ratify ILO Convention 182 on extreme forms of child labour. To bring an end to abusive child labour practices, including slavery and bonded labour, has been a priority not only of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but also of the Department for International Development. We will continue to press the Government of Sudan on those matters.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, has the Minister seen the recent reports from the Bishop of Rumbek about the killing of civilians in Raga as a direct result of the bombing of those civilian populations? Bearing in mind what she has already heard from those who spoke earlier, is it not time that we reviewed our policy about exploitation of oil in Sudan? The areas around oil fields have been ethnically cleansed of civilian populations. In the light of that, should not we review the advice given by the Department of Trade and Industry in its booklet, Doing Business In Sudan, a Guide for Exporters?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, the Department of Trade and Industry and the FCO do not promote trade with the Sudan. We are completely honest in the information we give to companies in relation to what we feel about the situation there. We were of course concerned to hear the reports of aerial bombings in southern Sudan. We raised that matter with the Sudanese Government at the highest level, making it absolutely clear that the bombing of civilian targets was unacceptable.

Lord Elton: My Lords, in view of the pertinent remarks of the noble and learned LordLord Archer, can the Government say whether the time has come for our Government to call a conference, either bilaterally or through the United Nations, of the governments of all those countries in which companies exploiting oil in the Sudan are located, to agree minimum standards of human rights and to require those companies to make observance of those standards a pre-requisite of their continued operation in the extraction of oil?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, in my reply to my noble and learned friend I made absolutely clear that through our work in the Department for International Development as well as that done in the FCO, we are trying to ensure that companies take their corporate responsibilities extremely seriously. We are pressing the Sudanese Government to try to ensure that oil revenues are spent in a developmental context. I shall take away the nobleLord’s specific point of bringing the oil companies together and write to him.

Baroness Strange: My Lords

Noble Lords: Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we are now into the ninth minute.