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Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief

Volume 650: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2018

10. What steps he is taking to protect (a) human rights and (b) freedom of religion or belief throughout the world. (907995)

The FCO’s 2017 human rights and democracy report demonstrates the breadth of the issues we work on and how we mobilise our diplomatic network to champion universal rights. This of course includes freedom of religion or belief. As a testament to that commitment, on 4 July the Prime Minister appointed my FCO colleague, Lord Ahmed, to the role of special envoy on FORB—an end to which I can assure this House he works tirelessly.

The biggest recipient of UK aid, Pakistan, has received £2.8 billion over the past 20 years—that is nearly £400,000 a day. Should we not suspend aid until Pakistan promotes freedom of religion and belief for its minorities and allows an innocent woman, Asia Bibi, falsely imprisoned for nine years, to leave Pakistan, and should we not be offering her asylum in the United Kingdom?

I know that a number of Members have concerns about this question. As the Prime Minister has stated, our primary concern is the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family. We want to see a swift and positive resolution to the legal aspect of this case in Pakistan. I should perhaps say that one allied nation has, for some years, been in detailed discussions about providing a safe destination for Asia Bibi and her family once the current legal process is complete. The House will appreciate that going into detail on these discussions would compromise that safety.

Having recently returned from the Holy Land with a cross-party delegation of women MPs—and, indeed, your Chaplain, Mr Speaker—I am very concerned about the human rights abuses that I saw. Does the Minister agree that there is a renewed urgency to find a solution to the conflict in this area?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. I could not agree more. We will continue to work as closely as we can with all parties. As I have pointed out, we do a lot of work underneath the radar. The Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East work very closely in relation to these issues and will continue to do so, looking after the rights of religious minorities across the world.

19. My constitu- ents brought me this message from their friend in Cameroon about Kumbo:“It has become a dead town. The crises are intensifying…and road blocks have also been intensified. Everyone has gone to villages. Villagers are hosting refugees from Kumbo… The Gendarmes have started shooting civilians carelessly. Pray for us in Kumbo. No way to supply essential goods from Bamenda.”What is the Secretary of State doing to protect human rights in Cameroon, particularly in the Anglophone areas? (908005)

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa has recently been in Cameroon and speaks regularly with counterparts. We are extremely concerned about the issues in the Anglophone area. As the hon. Lady will be aware, a considerable amount of work goes on with Boko Haram on the porous border between Cameroon and Nigeria. We will continue to do all we can to protect the interests, particularly in the Anglophone area

Cambridge PhD student Peter Biar Ajak was detained without charge by the authorities in South Sudan in July for doing nothing more than speaking out on the human rights of his fellow citizens. The Government said at the time that that was of great concern. Can the Minister tell us what action has been taken since then to secure Peter’s release?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We remain appalled by the conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation in South Sudan. We welcome the regionally led peace agreement signed on 12 September. We believe that that is the only real chance and opportunity for the people of South Sudan, who have suffered for so long. There are positive steps, but I accept, as the hon. Lady points out, that progress is very slow and inconsistent. We welcome reductions in violence, and we work with our mission there to try to move towards ceasefire violations coming to an end.