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Human Rights

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will hold discussions with the Association of Tour Operators on introducing a traffic light system to classify foreign tourist destinations as having good, fair or bad human rights records. (287012)

Consular officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) are in regular contact with travel industry professionals and associations on a range of issues. It is for individuals to decide where to travel. We would encourage people to take such decisions on the basis of our travel advice and other publicly available information on their proposed destination. The FCO's Annual Human Rights Report, published most recently on 26 March 2009, provides a comprehensive assessment of the human rights record of countries of concern around the world.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his most recent assessment is of the human rights situation in relation to Christians in (a) North Korea, (b) Saudi Arabia, (c) Iraq, (d) Afghanistan and (e) Somalia; and what representations he has made on that situation to the Government of each such country. (287019)

We condemn all instances of violence and discrimination against individuals and groups because of their faith or belief, wherever they happen or whatever the religion of the individual or group concerned.

The Government continue to be extremely concerned about continuing reports of serious, widespread, and systematic human rights abuses in North Korea, including the suppression of religious freedoms. We raise these concerns with the North Korean authorities at every appropriate opportunity, most recently in February 2009, urging them to engage with the international community, particularly the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea Human Rights. They continue to refuse to engage on this issue. We are also working with non-governmental organisations, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide, as we prepare for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of North Korea’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council in December 2009.

The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains poor. We particularly oppose the lack of freedom of expression and religion. Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country which does not allow the practice of other religions. We continue to urge the Saudis to respect freedom of religion and to honour article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is done at ministerial, ambassadorial and official level.

In February 2009 the UN UPR reviewed human rights in Saudi Arabia. The UK made a number of recommendations. On 26 March 2009 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2008 Annual Human Rights report was launched by the Foreign Secretary. In the report we highlighted that “the public practice of any religion other than Islam remains banned. Renouncing religious belief in Islam is an offence punishable by death”. Our embassy last raised Freedom of Expression with the Saudi Government in Riyadh on 13 July 2009. We will continue to lobby on this and other important issues.

The security situation in Iraq shows continued signs of improvement, but violence does continue to affect many people, including Christians. The UK continues to encourage the Government of Iraq to protect all communities and to take tough action against those responsible for any acts of violence and intimidation regardless of political, ethnic or religious affiliation.

Promoting human rights is integral to building a stable democracy in Afghanistan. But after 30 years of conflict Afghanistan is starting from a low base. Poverty and weak state institutions are big contributors to human rights violations. Conservative cultural values often exacerbate the severe hardships many still face. We condemn all instances where individuals, including Christians, are persecuted because of their faith or belief and take every opportunity to urge Afghanistan to implement laws and practices which foster tolerance and mutual respect. This includes full implementation of those norms laid out in the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Our embassy in Kabul continues to follow the human rights situation on the ground closely and raise matters of concern with the Afghan Government.

We recognise that the human rights situation in Somalia has been appalling for a very long time. The ongoing civil conflict has impacted adversely on all sections of society, but particularly on vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities including the small community of Christians. We continue to urge the Transitional Federal Government to combat human rights abuses as an important component of the Djibouti Process to restore peace and stability to the country. We support the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights in Somalia and the work of human rights organisations to gather accurate information and evidence about the situation on the ground.