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Human Rights

Volume 653: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2019

1. What recent assessment he has made of the safety and security of human rights defenders throughout the world. (908694)

The UK is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide and supports the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the High Commission for Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The UK is one of the longest-standing members of the Human Rights Council, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware. Regrettably, human rights defenders face unprecedented attack in many parts of the world. In 2018 alone, more than 300 such defenders were killed, and thousands more were imprisoned, attacked or tortured around the world.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. There has been a surge of attacks against and repression of human rights defenders around the world. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women’s rights activists, including Samar Badawi, have been detained since last May, and there have been reports that some have been tortured. I welcome Lord Ahmad’s announcement last month that the Department will publish the guidelines for embassies about support for human rights defenders, to aid clarity and consistency. When does the Minister envisage that publication taking place?

I do not want to put my ministerial colleague under undue pressure, but this is clearly something that we consider a major priority. Obviously, as Ministers we raise human rights issues with all our overseas counterparts, in both public and private forums. In December, as part of the UK’s commitment to freedom of religious belief, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is sitting to my right, announced an independent global review of the persecution of Christians, which will contain recommendations on practical steps in respect of that persecution. Of course, that applies to religious beliefs of all sorts.

An estimated 1 million Uighur Muslims are being held in detention camps in Xinjiang by the Chinese Government. In the very week that we commit to relearning the lessons of the holocaust, does the Minister share my concern that such human rights abuses and persecution cannot go unchallenged? It is quite disgraceful conduct from a permanent member of the Security Council. What is the Minister doing to protest to the Chinese Government about these issues?

May I address this issue up front? I suspect that many Members from all parties have grave concerns about it. We are concerned about what is happening in Xinjiang province, including the detention of, as the hon. Lady says, more than 1 million people without trial in political re-education camps. Not only did British diplomats on the ground visit Xinjiang in December 2018 but we are raising and will continue to raise this issue bilaterally with the Chinese. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did so most recently in Beijing in the autumn.

Human rights defenders face particular challenges in the Gaza strip, which is controlled by Hamas. Journalists are oppressed, demonstrations are violently put down and public executions take place. What are we doing to support human rights defenders in the Gaza strip?

I reassure my hon. Friend that Ministers, particularly my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, do make clear our concerns about the rights of human rights defenders and the importance of their work in every part of the world.

Brave human rights defenders are alerting us to a terrible new wave of persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Chechnya. What steps will the Government take to remind the Russian authorities of their responsibilities, including publishing an independent inquiry into this issue? They are signatories to the European convention on human rights and these abuses cannot be allowed to continue.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are and remain deeply concerned by the recent reports of the renewed wave of persecution of LGBT folk in Chechnya. Both the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas have in the past week made it clear to their Russian counterparts that we must stop such persecution and hold those responsible to account.

What discussions about the human rights situation have Ministers had with the Government of Colombia, either directly or through the embassies, following the bombing of the police academy in that country?

There are obviously great concerns. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, a number of cadets were killed taking important action as human rights defenders. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas has raised this issue at a bilateral level, and we will monitor the situation carefully.

It will indeed. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) speaks avidly, repeatedly, and, if I may say, persistently on this matter—and indeed extremely effectively. My right hon. Friend can be assured that we will address that along with other issues about Christian persecution across the world.

One of the most chilling aspects of the violence in Zimbabwe in recent days was the statement of the President’s spokesman that this was

“just a foretaste of things to come”.

In the light of that, does the Minister agree that it is time for the UN to revive the Security Council resolution on Zimbabwe that it failed to pass in 2008, and will the UK seek to initiate that discussion?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. This is deeply disappointing to all of us in this House. We all celebrated the demise of the Mugabe regime, feeling and hoping that a new chapter of Zimbabwe history was commencing. We are very concerned about the disproportionate response of the security forces to the recent protests. May I reassure the House that my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador on 17 January to urge the Government there to show restraint and fully investigate any cases of alleged human rights abuses? Obviously, we will take this up in multilateral forums such as the UN. I do not want to make a firm commitment to what the hon. Lady has said, but she will know that, in this fluid situation, we will keep all our options open.