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House of Commons Hansard
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Foreign and Commonwealth Office
02 April 2019
Volume 657

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cameroon

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1. What discussions he has had with his French counterpart on the reported increase in violence in Cameroon. [910160]

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The UK regularly discusses the violence in Cameroon with international partners, including France and the United States, and I welcome French support for the recent UK-Austria joint UN Human Rights Council statement about the deteriorating situation in Cameroon.

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Southern Cameroons voted to join French Cameroon on the basis that they would be federated states equal in status, but this is clearly not what has happened. It is treated as a region made up of second-class citizens. The UK has a duty to Southern Cameroons to use all available instruments to find a solution to the growing crisis that takes into account the wishes of the people. Will the Secretary of State meet me and a delegation of Southern Cameroons to discuss possible solutions?

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I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the first question on the Order Paper, because this is a worsening crisis. The UK has been strongly engaged with our international partners to find a way forward. Of course, the UK respects the territorial integrity of Cameroon, but we also believe that, where there are calls for more autonomy in the south-west and north-west, the Government of Cameroon need to engage in an inclusive political dialogue, because the violence from both sides is creating a serious situation for civilians on the ground.

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In her discussions with her US counterparts about the worrying situation in Cameroon, has the Minister asked them about suggestions made that resources they have given to help the Cameroonian Government in the fight against terror and Boko Haram are being diverted, misused and used in attacks on some of the communities in Cameroon?

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As I often find myself saying during questions, I am happy to be accountable for what the UK Government have been doing, and I can confirm that we have extensive discussions with the Government of Cameroon, who, as my right hon. Friend will know, are a partner with the international community in the fight against Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa in the north of the country. We also have discussions with international partners to find a way forward on the views expressed with increasing violence by those of a separatist tendency in the south-west and north-west provinces.

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One of my constituents is a member of the South Cameroonian diaspora and is deeply concerned about what is going on. A recent Amnesty report noted the presence of arbitrary arrest, torture in detention and the existence of secret and illegal detention facilities in Cameroon. Does the Minister agree that such activities are in stark violation of the Commonwealth Charter, and if so what efforts has she made to engage with Cameroon through the Commonwealth?

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the range of different human rights violations and abuses noted in the statement which we were pleased to see 39 countries sign at the most recent UN Human Rights Council. Specifically on the Commonwealth, I can tell the House that Lord Ahmad, the Minister for the Commonwealth, wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary-General recently to share UK concerns about Cameroon and press for further Commonwealth engagement on the matter.

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The UK’s aim is to be the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022. Will any of that investment be going to Cameroon?

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My hon. Friend states the UK’s policy aim to be an ambitious investor in African economies, and I can confirm that there are UK companies that invest in Cameroon; businesses are absolutely free to choose to do. In terms of the political track, though, we are trying to engage with the Government of Cameroon—I spoke to the Prime Minister there recently—to encourage them to find a way forward in a political and inclusive dialogue that can address some of the concerns being raised.

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I spent time in Cameroon in 2013 as a political volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas, and it breaks my heart to see what is happening to that beautiful country today. It seems to me that there is a potent mix of contemporary challenges and the long tail of our own and, indeed, French colonial history. Can we take a two-pronged approach? Will our colleagues in the Department for International Development tackle the urgent crises involving displaced peoples and conflict, and will the Minister’s own office make a proper effort to secure a diplomatic solution?

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As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Earlier this year I authorised work by us, through UNICEF, to provide immediate humanitarian assistance. More than 400,000 people have been displaced in the crisis, and more than 30,000 have fled to Nigeria. DFID is doing programming work, and we are urging the Cameroon Government to allow humanitarian actors access to all parts of the country.

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Last week, Human Rights Watch said:

“Government forces in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have killed scores of civilians…and torched hundreds of homes over the past six months.”

How many more innocent victims need to be slaughtered for Cameroon to be suspended by the Commonwealth?

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The hon. Lady is right: there have been human rights abuses and human rights violations on all sides in the conflict. Hospitals have been burnt and villages torched. We drew attention to a range of issues in a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the UK sponsored. Obviously the UK is a member of the Commonwealth, and our Commonwealth Minister has written to the Commonwealth Secretariat suggesting that it encourage discussions on this topic in future meetings.

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Before we move to Question 2 and I call the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I hope that the whole House will want to join me in extending a warm welcome to Gareth Evans, QC, who served with great distinction as a Cabinet Minister in Australia from 1983 until 1996 under—if memory serves me—the Hawke and Keating Governments. As we have just been talking about human rights, let us not forget that he was a key architect of the United Nations’ responsibility to protect. We celebrate that achievement, and many people around the world, sir, will be thankful to you for your leadership on that front.

Persecution of Christians Overseas

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2. What steps his Department is taking to help tackle the persecution of Christians overseas. [910161]

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4. What steps his Department is taking to help tackle the persecution of Christians overseas. [910163]

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17. What steps his Department is taking to help tackle the persecution of Christians overseas. [910177]

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22. What steps his Department is taking to help tackle the persecution of Christians overseas. [910182]

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It is a pleasure to interrupt a mammoth Cabinet meeting to enjoy the harmony and consensus for which the House is famous. [Laughter.]

The United Kingdom has long championed freedom of religion, but I think we should do more for the estimated 240 million Christians who face persecution for their faith around the world. I have therefore asked the Bishop of Truro to conduct a review, which I hope he will deliver in the summer.

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The Secretary of State will no doubt be aware of an Open Doors report which predicts a 14% increase in the persecution of Christians this year. It also says that North Korea is the most dangerous place in which to practise Christianity, where it is seen as a threat to the Communist regime. What work are the Government doing with such non-democratic countries to try to ease the persecution of the Christian community?

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I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the Open Doors report, which contains some stark statistics. It states, for example, that 80% of the people who suffer persecution for their religious belief are Christians. The most striking statement is that the vast majority are in the very poorest countries: this is not, on the whole, a problem affecting people who live in affluent countries.

My hon. Friend is right to mention that countries such as North Korea have been singled out. The purpose of the review is to ensure that we use all the UK’s diplomatic leverage to highlight these issues and put pressure on those regimes to change.

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The Open Doors report says that about 245 million Christians are suffering high levels of persecution in 73 countries. Where is the UK focusing our help?

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I want to ensure that we exercise maximum influence where we have that influence. The striking thing about that report is that, notwithstanding the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) made about North Korea, some of the worst offenders are in the middle east, notably Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan and Somalia, where the population of Christians has fallen from 20% to around 5%. In many of those countries, we have big aid budgets and a lot of influence.

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The UK has a proud history of standing up for the rights of minority faith groups, both in the United Kingdom and overseas. As the Secretary of State says, we have a budget of over £2 billion, which is being allocated to the middle east and Syria, where the situation is particularly appalling. How can we use that budget to protect Christians from the appalling persecution they are facing?

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I pay tribute to the Department for International Development, which has allocated £12 million recently specifically to promote freedom of religious belief. The gist of my hon. Friend’s question is right—where we have a large aid budget, with countries such as Afghanistan, it is absolutely essential that we make it clear to the Government in those countries that we are expecting progress on freedom of religious belief. We need to remember that many of the worst conflicts in the world have happened because people of different religions have clashed; so promoting harmony between religions is one of the best long-term ways of promoting peace.

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Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that often the persecution of Christians does not get the attention that it deserves—almost as though there was a bizarre hierarchy of victims, whereby they are not deserving of the same degree of attention as others? If we are serious about tackling freedom of religious belief and expression, we need to ensure that much more attention is given to some of the awful examples of persecution of Christians right around the world, and that the Government are not ashamed to step up and call it out.

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My hon. Friend is right. I think it is fair to say that there has been some hesitation in the past in our embracing the issue of persecution of Christians—whether from a misguided concern about our history and the role of missionaries, I do not know—but now is the time when we have to put all that behind us and say that freedom of religious belief is an essential and indivisible part of freedom, full stop. The UK should always be on the right side of that issue.

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Christians are some of the most persecuted in the world, and clearly we have to do more to help. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said about the work that he has commissioned. Are Christian women not often doubly persecuted, for both their religion and their gender? That needs looking at very closely as well; there needs to be more work around the world with Governments to tackle that problem.

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I would widen the point even further, and say that women from all religions, not just Christian religions, are double victims. Where there is persecution of any religion, often women come off worst. I think the most inspiring example of courage in the face of that persecution is Nadia Murad, the recent Nobel peace prize winner, a Yazidi campaigner who suffered absolutely horrifically but is an inspiration to persecuted women all over the world.

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Could the Government go one step further in contesting the persecution of Christians around the world by making it clear that Asia Bibi, who has been persecuted for many years for her faith, will be offered asylum in this country for herself and her family, should she wish to accept it?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her interest in the Asia Bibi case, which I know is shared in all parts of this House. I reassure the hon. Lady that making sure that she is safe, and has somewhere safe to go, is a top priority for this Government. We have had numerous private discussions with the Pakistani Government about how to progress this issue. I do not want to go into the details of those discussions, but we are making progress and I am very hopeful that this will have a positive outcome.

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Risca in my constituency has a large Egyptian Coptic church, to which many people travel every weekend to worship. Many of their family members and friends are subject to terrible persecution in Egypt and have been, as the Secretary of State knows, subject to terrorist acts. What reassurance can he give my constituents and those who travel to the Coptic church that everything is being done to stamp that out?

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The atrocities suffered by the Copts are some of the very worst suffered by Christians anywhere, and there have been several examples of those in Egypt. However, the Egyptians are trying very hard to address these issues. They recently opened a brand-new cathedral, and that is a big step forward for any country in the middle east. We obviously want to encourage them on the journey.

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It is good that the Foreign Secretary has come to the peace zone—this Chamber—this morning.

China continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. Non-approved churches are being closed down and pastors are being jailed. How does he intend to strike the balance between valuing China as a post-Brexit trade partner and standing up for those people in China whose human rights are being abused because of their religion?

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I thank the hon. Lady for asking that question. Of course China is an important country with which we have critical relations in the world, but having those relations means that we have to be able to raise issues of concern when we meet our Chinese counterparts. That is what I did when I visited China in August last year and raised concerns about freedom of religion in Xinjiang province. We had the universal periodic review in November last year, and concerns were also raised at the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. We will continue to raise those concerns with China at every opportunity.

Rules-based International Order

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3. What steps he is taking to strengthen the rules-based international order. [910162]

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The rules-based international system has made the world collectively massively safer and more prosperous than it has ever been before. This country played a major role in setting it up and we will always defend it, as we did when we held Russia to account after the terrible attack in Salisbury.

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It has now been five years since the annexation of Crimea by Russia and since then Putin has repeatedly proved to be one of the greatest threats to the rules-based international order. The UK has led international efforts to try to make Russia see sense, and this has very much taken place online and in the media. With this in mind, will the Foreign Secretary join me in urging Members of Parliament to think twice about appearing on Russia Today, which remains a propaganda tool of the Russian state?

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments; he could not be more right. It is incredibly important that when Russia does things such as invading neighbouring countries, as it did in Crimea, no one in this House should say things such as the Leader of the Opposition said, which is that Russia has more right on its side than Ukraine. That is quite wrong, and it is giving people permission to do that kind of thing again.

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Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the world today. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us what the Government are doing to maintain an international focus on this and, in particular, what representations he has made to the Trump Administration in the United States on this crucial question?

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We have been investing a huge amount in our global leadership on climate change, and we are the G20 country that has the biggest drop in emissions per unit of GDP. We are also bidding to host COP 26, which will be the next big climate change conference on the fifth anniversary of the Paris conference. We have a different view from that of the Trump Administration, and we are very open about that with them. It is all the more important that the countries that do not share their view and that think we have a responsibility to future generations should stand proud in our support for this vital agenda.

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My right hon. Friend has made powerful comments about the role of the United Kingdom as a network player in the international rules-based system. Will he tell the House a little bit about the work he has been doing with our European partners, especially after the Foreign Affairs Committee published its report about a year ago on how to look forward to working with our European partners, on supporting the international order and the international rules-based system that Britain played such an important part in building?

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. In all the debates we have about Brexit—I have now met my counterparts in every EU country—the one thing that comes across loud and clear is that the part of the world that has suffered the most from not having adherence to a rules-based international order is Europe. That is why European countries say to us constantly that they want to continue to have their vital strategic and military relations with the United Kingdom, whatever the outcome of Brexit, and that they want Britain to play a strong and influential role in upholding the rules-based order across the world. That is what we will do.

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The rules-based international order would be strengthened if countries were seen to be held accountable for adhering to the conclusions of the United Nations Human Rights Council. What steps are Ministers taking to hold Sri Lanka to account for its failure to bring to justice those who are guilty of perpetuating major human rights abuses?

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This is something on which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific has done an enormous amount of work through his contacts with the Sri Lankan Government. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue, not least because many members of the Sri Lankan community in this country have a great deal of concern about it. Overall, the picture in Sri Lanka is remarkably better than it was a decade ago. However, there will never be lasting peace unless there is justice and accountability for the things that went wrong.

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Is it not a matter of the greatest regret that our most important ally, the United States, is in clear contravention of United Nations Security Council resolution 497 by recognising Israeli sovereignty claims over Golan? As annexation of territory is prohibited under international law, will the Foreign Secretary send a very strong message to the United States that the British House of Commons condemns unreservedly this breach of the rules-based order?

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I am happy to do that. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—we should never recognise the annexation of territory by force. That has been one of the great achievements since the founding of the United Nations. I do that with a very heavy heart, because Israel is an ally and a shining example of democracy in a part of the world where that is not common. We want Israel to be a success, and we consider it to be a great friend, but on this we do not agree.

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If we are to maintain a rules-based international order and strengthen it, the Foreign Secretary will agree that reciprocal arrangements for our constituents when they go abroad or when citizens of other countries come here are absolutely vital. Julie, the niece of my constituent, Deborah Pearson, was killed—murdered—by her ex-partner in Eilat in Israel at the end of 2015. I have raised this with the Foreign Secretary’s predecessors, but we are no further forward. We now know that the police were called five times, but they palmed her off, saying that she was a nuisance. She had 78 bruises on her body, and lost over a litre of blood. Will he meet me so that we can get justice for Julie and Deborah, my constituent?

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I thank the hon. Lady for raising that case. Obviously, our hearts go out to her constituent’s family over a truly terrible incident. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific is very, very happy to meet her and make sure that we are doing everything that we can.

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May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming our distinguished and learned visitor, Gareth Evans, who continues to make a vital contribution, as he has throughout his career, to the concept of the rules-based world order? On that subject, we must note that it is six months to the day since Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered by Saudi agents in their embassy in Istanbul. The greatest tribute that we can pay to him today is not to look back at his death but to look at the murder of innocent children in Yemen whose lives he tried to save with his journalism and which matter just as much as his did.

I realise that I have not asked a question, so let me say this. In that light, what possible justification can the Foreign Secretary offer for the Saudi air strike last week on the Save the Children-supported hospital in Kitaf, which was clearly marked on the Saudi no-strike list? The strike killed three adults and four children, including an innocent child aged just eight years?

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Let me tell my opposite number that that is exactly why we are doing everything that we possibly can to try to create peace in Yemen. It is why I am the first western Foreign Minister to meet the Houthi side, even though they were the ones that were the cause of the conflict when it began four years ago. I am the first western Foreign Minister to visit Yemen to see where we could progress the Stockholm accords. I am not prepared to let Labour pose as the great humanitarians, as their foreign policy is to support an evil regime in Venezuela that stops its own people accessing food and medicine—it just does not work.

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We need to speed up, because progress is slow.

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Does the Foreign Secretary understand the frustration we feel in this House when time and again over the last four years, including on Jamal Khashoggi, we get the same response from the Government? They regret what happened, they want a proper investigation by the Saudis, they promise real consequences and nothing ever happens. There is no investigation, there are no consequences and bin Salman carries on with complete impunity.

I ask the Foreign Secretary yet again what it will take for this Government finally to tell bin Salman that he cannot keep getting away with murder.

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The right hon. Lady just is not reflecting what has happened. Thanks to action by this Government and other Governments, a judicial process started in Saudi Arabia on 3 January and we are sending observers. We have a UN special rapporteur, Agnes Callamard, who is responsible for looking at extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and she is leading an independent international inquiry.

When I became Foreign Secretary—the right hon. Lady was shadow Foreign Secretary then, too—we did not have a peace process in Yemen, and now we do, which is thanks to the UK and the huge diplomatic effort we have been making.

Venezuela

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5. What discussions he has had with the Lima group on the political and security situation in Venezuela. [910165]

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18. What discussions he has had with the Lima group on the political and security situation in Venezuela. [910178]

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On 4 February, I attended a Lima group meeting in Ottawa at the invitation of the Canadian Foreign Minister. At the meeting I spoke to the Foreign Ministers of Colombia and Brazil about the crisis in Venezuela. I have also spoken recently to Chilean Foreign Minister Ampuero and Peruvian Vice-Foreign Minister de Zela. We continue to work closely with the Lima group, the Organisation of American States, the United States and like-minded European and international partners to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela.

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The Labour party and its leadership have an unforgivable record of defending the Maduro regime, which is so toxic that people have started leaving the party. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that this Government condemn the human rights abuses and the regression of democracy, and will continue to promote freedom and democracy and offer support to surrounding countries that are dealing with the refugee crisis as a direct result of this abhorrent regime?

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I can give assurance to my hon. Friend on all those things. We are working closely with all international partners to find a resolution to the fact that the Maduro regime has completely bankrupted his country and made it destitute to the point where 3.6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries.

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Throughout my visits to the region, it has become abundantly clear that the humanitarian situation in Venezuela is having a huge impact across Latin America. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to address the consequences of the continued political humanitarian abuse?

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May I first congratulate my hon. Friend on all his work in the region as an effective trade envoy? He has built up some very good relationships to our benefit.

We are, of course, working with the Department for International Development to deliver a humanitarian aid package of over £6.5 million, on top of the multilateral activity to which we always contribute in such a significant way.

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In its declaration last month, the Lima group called on the UN high commissioner for human rights to publish a report on human rights abuses in Venezuela. Can the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with the United Nations about this? Although the UN has been vociferous about the impact of sanctions on the regime, it has been strangely silent on the curtailment of the freedom of the press and other human rights abuses in Venezuela.

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I am delighted to hear an Opposition Member raise the topics of the abuse of human rights and freedom, on which we have been speaking very loudly and on which we are working very deeply with the Lima group. The fundamental issue is Venezuela’s poverty. People cannot get basic goods, and the fact that President Maduro is blocking aid from getting into his own country is so contemptible that, on both sides of the House, we should all speak with one voice in condemning it.

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Given the continuing humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela, does the Minister agree that we need to ensure that both the Lima group and other Government agencies in both North America and South America additionally press President Maduro to ensure that food supplies are delivered to the people of Venezuela?

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Yes, indeed. All countries across the world have to do their bit. Canada and the European Union international contact group are doing a lot. We all have to work together, and one of the most concerning developments at the moment is that President Maduro is trying to strip Juan Guaidó of the immunity he enjoys as a member of the National Assembly. We in this House should send out a very clear message today that that would be utterly unacceptable and that Juan Guaidó is the interim President we recognise.

Colombia Peace Process

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6. What assessment he has made of the progress on the Colombia peace process. [910166]

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Since 2016, Colombia has made significant progress in its peace process; the FARC is now a political party and the last elections were the safest in decades. I reaffirmed our full support for the peace process with the Colombian Foreign Minister on 4 February in Ottawa. The UK has expressed concern to the Colombian Government over delays in the transitional justice system, which is a critical part of the peace process. We continue to support the process through the conflict stability and security fund.

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I understand that there were a couple more paramilitary killings last week. Did the Minister read the report by Michel Forst, the UN special rapporteur, who has said that the national landscape continues to be plagued by violence, particularly gender-based violence? Will the Minister put the problem of the continuing structural gender-based violence in Colombia on the agenda for the November conference on the preventing sexual violence initiative?

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Yes, I certainly will, because preventing sexual violence against women is one of the UK’s human rights priorities in Colombia. Indeed, Foreign Office officials recently met the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) to discuss that. I hope that illustrates once again the extent to which we are really working together across the House to tackle these vexed problems at all levels, in every way we can.

Diplomatic Relations: Saudi Arabia

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7. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the UK’s diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. [910167]

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I visited Saudi Arabia most recently on 2 March. We have a long history of close co-operation in support of regional stability, alongside frank conversations on areas of concern, including human rights.

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I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. A UN human rights expert has said that the court proceedings relating to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi have been secret and fall short of international standards, and it was reported only today that Saudi Arabia is paying his family so that they continue to show restraint in their public statements. Can the Foreign Secretary update us on any conclusions that he has reached from the promised credible investigation into the murder?

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I can assure the hon. Lady that we have been clear from the outset that what happened to Khashoggi was fundamentally against our values, and that there has to be full accountability and a transparent judicial process that meets international standards. That process has started and we continue to monitor it; we are sending observers to see what happens in the trial process. We continue to exercise our strong views on the issue, in private and in public.

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13. Leaked medical reports published in The Guardian last weekend showed that Saudi political prisoners have been subjected to torture, some are malnourished and others have been denied access to medical care. Are the Government silent on this? [910173]

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Absolutely not. I raised the issue of detained women campaigners when I was recently in Saudi Arabia, and the Prime Minister has raised the case of Raif Badawi, the blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes. The interesting thing about the report, if it is true, is that it was commissioned by the King, who wants to understand what is going on in the prisons, to ensure that they meet international standards of humanitarian justice.

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Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that in the past week three women human rights activists have been released conditionally on bail in Saudi Arabia? What are the Government doing to press for the release and discharge of other women in prison?

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I had not heard that report, but it would be excellent news. I can reassure the hon. Lady that I raised the issue when I met the Saudi Foreign Minister on my recent visit. We have asked to have access to the trials, but that has been denied. We continue to follow the case very carefully and press it at every opportunity.

Middle East

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8. What assessment he has made of the diplomatic implications of rocket fire from Gaza towards Tel Aviv. [910168]

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We are concerned by the recent violence in Israel and Gaza, and we welcome the Egyptian efforts to de-escalate the situation. At the UN Security Council on 26 March, the UK condemned the rocket attacks, which injured two British-Israeli citizens. We regret the loss of life, including the death of four children in protests over the weekend—mercifully, fears of major violence were not realised. Our diplomats in the region urge all parties to continue to demonstrate restraint in the tense days that lie ahead.

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I thank the Minister for his response and associate myself with his comments. Last month, more than 60 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel. Two were intercepted above Tel Aviv, while another destroyed a residence in central Israel that was occupied by a British-Israeli family, resulting in injuries, including an injury to a six-month-old baby. What steps are the Government taking to support our ally, Israel, as it fights this terrorist attack on the country?

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I think we all recognise that Israel is an important strategic partner for the United Kingdom and that we need to collaborate actively on issues of defence, security and intelligence. In October 2018, the Government launched the UK-Israel counter-terrorism dialogue to share best practice and insights on a wide range of capabilities. We are now committed to holding such a dialogue annually, which will help to complement the already strong operational relationship between our countries.

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21. Two weeks ago at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UK abstained on a motion to support the accountability of violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territories. Since then, another Palestinian health worker, Sajid Muzher, has been shot and killed by Israeli forces—the fourth in just this year. Does the Minister agree that the killing of Palestinian medics is fuelled by the impunity that results from countries not voting at the UNHRC? Will we use our vote in future? [910181]

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There are two issues at stake, so I shall go into some detail, if I may. We abstained on that UNHRC resolution calling for an inquiry on the basis that the substance of such a resolution must be impartial and balanced. We could not support such an investigation when the resolution refused explicitly to call for an investigation into non-state actors such as Hamas. I should also say—this relates to the hon. Gentleman’s Question 21—that we have stressed and will continue to stress the importance of protecting and delivering medical services, particularly in Gaza. As recently as 28 March, the Department for International Development announced a new £2 million package for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which will contribute to the delivery of urgently needed supplies.

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What action has my right hon. Friend taken, given that Hamas is organising for women and children to go to the border between Gaza and Israel and therefore provoking violent confrontations?

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Clearly, we want to try to avoid violent confrontation at all costs. As I said in my earlier answer, mercifully, the major concerns about violence at the protests this weekend, which we felt could have been a lot more serious than they were, were not realised. My hon. Friend will recognise that we do all we can on the ground to try to defuse some of the tensions. That is an important part of our diplomatic work, which we do with other countries as well, of course.

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I utterly condemn the latest rocket attacks that the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) raised. We know that Hamas is given tens of millions of dollars a year by Iran to fund these terrorist acts. What steps are the Government taking to stop the Iranian regime funding barbaric middle east terror groups such as Hamas?

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The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. She will recognise that Hamas is one of a number of Iranian proxies in the region. Our position is that Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously agreed and signed agreements. We condemn Hamas and other terrorist groups for firing rockets into Israel from not only Gaza but elsewhere, in the way described by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). Those groups must permanently end such attacks against both civilians and defence forces.

Overseas Soft Power

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9. What steps he is taking to enhance UK soft power overseas. [910169]

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15. What steps he is taking to enhance UK soft power overseas. [910175]

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We regard the UK as a soft power superpower, and this is widely recognised in independent international surveys and reports. [Interruption.] A few more tongue twisters and I will be anyone’s! This is the sort of thing you want to do at 11 in the morning, not 11 o’clock at night. The FCO vigorously continues to support the UK’s soft power through the funding of, among others, Chevening scholarships, the British Council and the BBC World Service.

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The Commonwealth is one of the driving forces of UK soft power around the world. What plans does my right hon. Friend’s Department have in place to capitalise on these relationships to improve our power and security?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the UK has an unbreakable connection to the Commonwealth and the democratic, inclusive values that it upholds—we discussed earlier the importance of maintaining a rules-based international order, particularly in these uncertain times. The Commonwealth also proudly represents some of the fastest-growing economies and accounts for one fifth of global trade. We shall of course continue to work closely with all members of the Commonwealth to ensure that it realises its full potential in that regard, and to ensure a more sustainable, prosperous and secure future.

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Royal Yacht Britannia played a key role in promoting UK trade around the globe during her years of active service. More than 50 Members of this House believe that such a role would be enhanced post Brexit and that a new national yacht would help to promote our international humanitarian role. Will the Government now support our campaign in this brave endeavour?

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I fear that I may have to disappoint my hon. Friend, who represents a coastal constituency. As a regular visitor to Broadstairs in his constituency, I know what a wonderful part of the country it is, but I have to inform him that there are no plans to commission a new royal yacht for the royal family.

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Can we include in soft power the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union? Will the Minister help us to breathe life into those organisations so that we can get meaningful dialogue on the issues that really worry us, such as the rights of Christians, including the persecution of Christians in Pakistan? Why are we not having that sort of debate here?

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I say to the hon. Gentleman that, with regard to the CPA and the IPU, we do. I appreciate that, for many Members who wish to get more engaged, travelling is obviously difficult because of the nature of the electoral arithmetic at the moment. May I also point out the incredibly hard work that goes on at the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, particularly with regard to getting constitutional change in many parts of the world? Many of those programmes are done on a cross-party basis, which provides a very positive stance for UK democracy abroad and will, hopefully, enhance aspects of the soft power to which he refers.

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Can the Minister tell us what impact Brexit has had on the UK’s reputation, and whether a no-deal Brexit will be better or worse for that reputation?

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Ironically, a recent UN report showed the UK rising up the happiness league, but I appreciate that some of these surveys cannot be relied on too much. On a serious note, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and it is a concern for all of us as Foreign Office Ministers who work abroad. It is very easy for us in this country to be a little bit self-deprecating about Britain and its brand abroad, but I am always very struck—certainly in Asia and the Pacific, and, with my new responsibilities, in the middle east—by just how respected the UK and its brand are. Those countries recognise that there are some uncertainties at the moment, but that view will continue.

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I am glad that the Minister recognises the challenges, but as he might have said in “Jaws”, “You’re going to need a bigger yacht.” We have heard Pascal Lamy talk about the UK’s reputation being much diminished and Jürgen Maier from Siemens talk about the country’s tremendous reputation as an economic powerhouse being wrecked. We need to address that, as it is not good for any of us. Will the Minister recognise that before this Government take us down the route of a disastrous no deal?

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It is incumbent on all of us not to talk the country down in what we appreciate are difficult times. We want to see progress—significant progress—in this regard. I am struck by the fact that we are experiencing slightly hyperbolic, frenzied activity in this House and, dare I say it, among some commentators. As I have said, what I see on the ground is that we have been respected for many, many decades and that a huge amount of work goes on, not least in the soft power area. I am sure that that will go from strength to strength in the years to come.

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Lord Ricketts, the former head of the Foreign Office and an expert of soft power, said last month:

“The Foreign Secretary is making a big mistake if he thinks this…blame game over Brexit is going to change any minds in Europe.”

Does the Government accept that Lord Ricketts is right, and that the only ones responsible for this Brexit mess are this Government alone?

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I had a chance to speak directly with Lord Ricketts in a radio studio a week ago. He recognises, I think, the difficulties that we face in dealing with the Brexit negotiations. I have been out not just to Brussels, but to the OECD in Paris recently. Again, I was very struck, as I worked with counterparts, by the fact that there is an important agenda, and that many European countries recognise the importance of the UK. We need to have the strongest of relationships. Clearly there are uncertainties about the precise nature of our departure from the European Union, but that is a part of it.

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Will my right hon. Friend commit to speaking with his other partners in the Government to try to obtain more funding for the GREAT campaign, which plays an extraordinarily important role in promoting the UK—and our products and companies—globally?

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The GREAT campaign is a fantastic success. Part of my role is to deal with communications, representing the Foreign Office on a cross-departmental basis. We recognise the importance of this particular campaign and work strongly on it, particularly with the Department for International Trade.

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We are late, but if colleagues were in a caring, sharing mood, and were prepared to consider each other, we could get through a little more.

Catalonia

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10. If he will take steps to promote human rights and self-determination for Catalonia in Spain. [910170]

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Thank you so much, Mr Speaker; I am ever grateful.

As I have previously made clear to the House, the situation in Catalonia is a matter for Spain. We remain clear that questions related to the issue of Catalan independence should be resolved within the proper constitutional and legal channels of Spain.

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It is everyone’s responsibility—including this Government’s—to uphold human rights. Far from becoming the major global player that Brexiteers imagine, the UK appears more and more irrelevant on the world stage. Is it the case that the UK Government are not seeking to uphold self-determination for Catalonia because they need Spain’s help in further Brexit negotiations?

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No, it is because we uphold the rule of law, as we have discussed earlier in questions. We uphold the rule of law here with Scotland and we uphold it in Spain with regards to Catalonia. Certain accusations that Spain somehow has political prisoners are absurd. It does not have political prisoners; it has prisoners who happen to be political.

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rose—

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A sentence, Mr Graham.

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Tolerance of people of different faiths and sexualities is incredibly important for the promotion of human rights. Does my right hon. Friend therefore share the disappointment of many that tomorrow the kingdom of Brunei—a key Commonwealth partner and long-term ally of the UK—is introducing the death penalty for homosexuality?

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No, no, no—sit down. The question is about Catalonia. [Interruption.] Well, I have been advised, and I am afraid that the question did not strike me as in order. We must move on. The hon. Gentleman can try again later.

Lebanon

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11. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help ensure a secure and stable Government in Lebanon. [910171]

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The UK remains fully committed to helping to promote Lebanon’s security and stability. The Prime Minister conveyed that message to Prime Minister Hariri as recently as 24 February. We provide direct support to Lebanon of over $200 million a year. These funds help to secure borders, to provide the opportunity of education and to strengthen service delivery.

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What specific security assistance are Her Majesty’s Government providing on the borders of Lebanon?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question, as I know he takes these matters extremely seriously. We have invested more than £60 million in Lebanese security since 2012. By 2020, we shall have trained over 11,000 soldiers in specialist and essential infantry skills and techniques for urban and rural security operations across the board. This assistance includes significant support for the land border regiments, and has helped to secure Lebanon’s border with Syria for the first time in its history.

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Some 1.25 million Christians have fled Syria to go to Lebanon. Will the Minister confirm what help he has been able to give to those Christian refugees?

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I know that the hon. Gentleman takes these matters extremely seriously, and the House much respects him for that. Many of those refugees, and some Palestinian Christians, have been in Lebanon in waves going back 20 or 30 years. Obviously, a huge amount of Department for International Development work goes on in the area. We recognise that many people have been there for quite some time and will be there for quite some time to come, and we therefore try to enhance their economic opportunities. The UK has played a leading part in trying to ensure tariff-free access to EU markets for many of those individuals.

Lesotho

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12. If he will make an assessment of the level of democratic governance in Lesotho. [910172]

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Lesotho continues to experience political fragility and democratic and development challenges. Together with the Southern African Development Community, we are working to support the implementation of governance reforms.

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Prime Minister Tom Thabane and Minister John Maseribane both admitted to Channel 4 News that they had received payments into their personal bank accounts from Mr Arron Banks. Will the Minister meet me to discuss governance in Lesotho, its current position in the Commonwealth and the advice that she is giving to British companies operating in Lesotho about the Bribery Act 2010?

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question, and the strong links that exist between people in Wales and people in Lesotho. Of course, I am always delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. Regarding the allegations made on Channel 4, we urge anyone with evidence to give it to the appropriate authorities.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [910185]

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I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who stepped down last week. He served twice as Minister for the Middle East and was immensely respected and liked both in the Foreign Office, which does not happen with all Ministers, and in this House for his integrity, wisdom and kindness.

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran. I know that I speak for the whole House in hoping that the Iranian authorities will see beyond the differences between our two countries and allow this innocent woman to come home and join her family.

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Today is the 107th day of İmam Sis’s hunger strike. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) and I visited him in Newport East this weekend. He is one of 1,000 Kurds on hunger strike around the world, demanding that Abdullah Öcalan is allowed access to his lawyer and removed from solitary confinement. Turkey is a NATO member and has the highest number of MPs and journalists in prison in the world, following—

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Order. I am sorry, but this is an abuse of the House. What we want is a one-sentence question with a question mark at the end of it. Lots of other colleagues want to take part. One question, Mr Russell-Moyle.

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Has the Foreign Secretary raised the matter with Turkey, and will he send representations to the Council of Europe following the Welsh Assembly’s resolution?

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Excellent. Thank you.

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I am very happy to look into the case in detail for the hon. Gentleman. Turkey may be a NATO ally and an important friend of the United Kingdom, but that does not prevent us from raising important human rights issues.

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T2.   What assessment has the Department made of the validity or otherwise of accusations of vote rigging in the recent Nigerian elections? Further to that, what support will be given to ensure the integrity and independence of the judiciary in Nigeria and the upholding of the rule of law? [910186]

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The UK was one of the funders of what is known as a parallel voter tabulation exercise, which is like an extensive BBC exit poll. It gave a result that was consistent with the officially declared results, and our Prime Minister called President Buhari to congratulate him on his re-election. However, we are aware of various reports from both our observers and others, and a strong stance against election-related violence was taken yesterday in my meetings with Nigerian opposition leaders, where I emphasised that concerns must be taken through the judicial process and that the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria is incredibly important.

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As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) said in respect of Cameroon, if Brunei does not abandon its barbaric proposals to whip or stone LGBT+ individuals to death, will the Minister of State guarantee that the Government will ask their counterparts on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to consider Brunei’s immediate suspension?

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I raised with the Bruneian Government my concerns over the introduction of the hudud punishment most recently in a letter to the deputy Foreign Minister on Friday 29 March, and I discussed the imminent introduction of the Sharia penal code when I was in Brunei last August. Our high commissioner Richard Lindsay in Bandar Seri Begawan has also received assurances that both common law and the sharia penal code will operate in parallel for all nationals and residents, including British citizens, and be the primary means of administering justice in Brunei. We will continue to lobby to ensure that any British citizens in Brunei will be subject to common law rather than the penal code.

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T3. [R] I thank the Government for securing United Nations Human Rights Council resolution 34/1 on Sri Lanka, but do Ministers share my grave disappointment that, 10 years after the horrors of Mullivaikkal, no one has been brought to justice for war crimes in the Sri Lankan conflict? [910187]

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I reiterate the earlier comments of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We welcome Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of a new resolution of the UNHRC in March, which continues its reconciliation and accountability commitments. However, I understand that my right hon. Friend speaks for many of her constituents who come from the Tamil part of Sri Lanka. As a penholder, the UK has played a leading role in trying to bring the parties together, but while we accept that positive steps have been taken, much faster progress is needed. We shall continue to urge Sri Lanka to implement fully its commitments under UNHRC resolutions 30/1 and 34/1.

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T5. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Foreign Secretary has spoken about the pernicious role of the Iranian Government in various disputes around the middle east, not least in support of the Houthis in Yemen. What more can he tell us about what Britain is doing alongside his counterparts around the world to put serious pressure on the Iranians, not only on human rights abuses in their own country but on the appalling role they play right across the middle east? [910191]

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The hon. Gentleman is right; Iran’s human rights record remains a matter of serious concern. On 17 December, the UK co-sponsored a UN resolution on human rights in Iran, highlighting its failure to meet a whole range of international obligations in that area.

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T4. Newly elected President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe is not restoring good governance and human rights or rooting out corruption in the country. What more can we do as a soft power superpower to ensure that the Zimbabwean Government root out corruption, recognise human rights and bring in inward investment, to return prosperity to that great country? [910189]

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I welcome my hon. Friend’s question and reassure him that we are doing everything we can. We summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to the UK to register our concerns about the human rights violations and abuses that were noted in the January fuel protests. I travelled to southern Africa and met a range of neighbours to encourage them to send the same message as Commonwealth countries to the Government of Zimbabwe. If the Government of Zimbabwe would only follow through with the things they have said they will do, we would not be in this situation.

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T7. Will the Secretary of State consider hosting a major conference on the rights of women? Is he not disturbed by the reports of rape being used worldwide against women as a punitive measure? It is scandalous, and the lion woman’s brave avenging of the rape of her daughter should be celebrated—cautiously, of course. Can we have an international conference on the rights of women? [910193]

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Yes we can, and indeed we will. This November, we will host a major conference on the prevention of sexual violence as a tool of conflict. I have met Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege, the Nobel peace prize winners who have campaigned on this issue. Whether it is Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq or Burma, we are clear that this has to become an international taboo.

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T6. What advice would my right hon. Friend give to those on the Opposition Benches, and particularly on the Opposition Front Bench, who regard the regime in Venezuela as a leading exemplar of government, despite its sending 2 million refugees into Colombia, putting up roadblocks to prevent aid from coming into the country and inviting in Russian troops to keep the peace? [910192]

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I would say to them that the shadow Chancellor was absolutely right when he said that Venezuela was “socialism in action”.

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T8. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka. What is the Minister doing to promote the civil rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka? [910194]

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If I may, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers). We are doing a lot, as a penholder, and playing a leading role in trying to bring parties together. We are pleased to see that Sri Lanka is co-sponsoring a new resolution at the Human Rights Council in March in Geneva, but I appreciate that we need to see some genuine progress, and I very much hope that the international community can come together and bring that about.

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I know that the Foreign Secretary and I will both welcome the House’s decision last night to reject an EU customs union. What assessment has he made of the foreign policy implications of such an arrangement, were it ever entered into?

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I think people would see it as very curious that a country that voted to take back control was choosing to cede control in a number of areas of vital national interest. I think they would also be concerned that it would not resolve the national debate on Brexit, because many of the people who voted for Brexit would not see this as delivering a true Brexit.

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Will the Secretary of State recognise the incredible action by thousands of young people across our country in striking for action on climate change? Will he not only recognise that we are facing a global emergency on climate change, but declare a national emergency on climate change, just as the Labour party has done?

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I welcome very much young people being involved in climate change issues; I do not welcome quite so much their missing school to do so. I would say that we are making a lot of progress in this country—in fact, I think we have done more than anyone else in the G20 on climate change—but it is not enough. As a global community, we still need to do more, which is why we want to host COP 26 and galvanise the world to take more action.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that, already, another seven journalists have been killed in the course of their work this year, coming on top of the 80 who died last year? Two of those were in Mexico, which is one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalism. Will he say what more can be done to press the Mexican Government to take action?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue, and indeed for raising it consistently. He is absolutely right: Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a journalist. The Mexican Government have taken action, and we are in touch with them closely about what they are doing. However, we need to draw the world’s attention to this issue. According to the latest figures I have seen, 348 journalists were arrested or detained last year for doing their job. That is why this summer, jointly with Canada, we will be hosting the first ever international conference on media freedom at ministerial level.

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What steps is the Foreign Office taking to guarantee the human rights of people in Sudan, especially since the President declared a year-long crisis in Sudan?

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I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to raise this, because it is a very serious situation, and we are engaging strongly with the Government of Sudan on the issues he raises. Most recently, I had a phone call with the Foreign Minister of Sudan in which I particularly drew attention to the women who were due to be flogged. I am very pleased to hear that they have subsequently been released.

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Tomorrow, Brunei introduces a penal code that includes death for apostasy, death for adultery and stoning to death for homosexuality. I suppose at this point I should declare my interest on all three counts. Very much more seriously, what are we going to do with our super soft power to make it clear just how much this is a total violation of the standards we should share?

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We have made and will continue to make representations. Obviously there are grave concerns about the nature of the sharia penal code, if it were brought into play. As I mentioned earlier, we are raising concerns about the introduction of the hudud punishment. We have a strong bilateral relationship—underpinned of course by our military presence in Brunei, as my hon. Friend will be aware—and we hope that will mitigate the potential impact of the sharia penal code on UK forces, associated civilians and their dependants.

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What pressure can the Foreign Secretary bring to bear on the Indian Government to ensure that UK nationals in prison there have their human right to a fair trial respected? The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) has been a powerful advocate for Jagtar Singh Johal. I have a similar case of an elderly constituent who has been in prison since 2015, and his family are seriously concerned about his health.

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I accept that the time for which the legal process drags on in many Indian consular cases is hugely frustrating. I am obviously very happy to meet the hon. Lady in relation to this particular case.

If I may, in relation to the Jagtar Singh Johal case, let me say that I know it has been an incredibly distressing for Mr Johal and his family. I very much respect the hard work of the constituency Member of Parliament. As the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) knows, we have met the family on three occasions since he Mr Johal imprisoned at the beginning of 2018. The hon. Gentleman is going to meet the Foreign Secretary on 24 April.

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This Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the terrible genocide that took place in Rwanda, a country my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary knows well. The hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the noble Lord Popat and I will be at the ceremonies on Sunday in Kigali, representing our Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend think that the UN doctrine of the responsibility to protect—R2P—which has been so well developed by Gareth Evans, is yet sufficient to ensure that such terrible events could never take place again?

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I hope the greatness of Gareth can be properly celebrated in the Chamber today.

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I hope to join him in Kigali this Sunday as the UK Government representative. The world can never forget the events in Rwanda 25 years ago. The world has made progress in vowing to say never again to genocide, but we must remain alert and engaged in order to prevent such incidents from happening ever again.

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How does ignoring or dismissing the International Court of Justice ruling on the Chagos islands enhance the United Kingdom’s reputation as a soft power superpower or uphold the international rules-based order?

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First, it was not a ruling; it was an intermediate decision and non-binding. We are of course in discussions with Mauritius, but we fully uphold our right to take the position we have taken over many years.[Official Report, 3 April 2019, Vol. 657, c. 8MC.]

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The UK has a duty to prevent under the genocide convention. Mass atrocities are invariably preceded by red flags. Early warning signs, such as the persecution of minorities, happened in Burma against the Rohingya and, indeed, in Rwanda. What is the FCO doing to help identify and act on such red flags?

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We are doing lots, but the most important thing that we have to do is make sure that when there has been genocide or alleged genocide, there is accountability. Burma is a case in point, and we hosted a major meeting on that very issue at the UN General Assembly. If there is no accountability, people think they have a chance to get away with doing it again, and that must not happen.

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Further to the earlier answers on Brunei, we are talking about people being stoned to death for being gay—having rocks thrown at their heads again and again to draw out the process of death by blunt trauma. Surely the Minister agrees that that is barbaric, inhumane and contrary to Commonwealth values. How can the Government reverse this appalling state of affairs?

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As I have pointed out, the Sultan of Brunei has become more religious as he has grown older, and that is one of the reasons why he wanted to bring in the sharia penal code. I was out there last August and it was very clear to me, from speaking to him and his advisers, that they envisaged that the common law stream would continue as well. I appreciate that the headlines cause concern. I have written to their representative here in the UK and made it very clear to them that this was going to cause massive parliamentary and media concern, which obviously has come to pass over the past couple of days. Our excellent high commissioner to Brunei, Richard Lindsay, is, on a day-to-day basis, making clear those grave concerns, which have also been expressed during the course of this morning’s questions.

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The 70th anniversary of NATO falls on Thursday. What message does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have for member states with regard to strengthening this alliance, which has done so much to keep peace over so many years?

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NATO has, I think, been the most successful military alliance ever, and it is the foundation of our rules-based international order. My message is very simple: we must not be complacent for the future, and there is a fundamental imbalance when one half of the alliance is spending 4% of its GDP on defence and the other half—the European side—is spending between 1% and 2%.

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Order. Thank you, colleagues. I am grateful to all who took part, but we must move on. Demand, as usual, massively exceeds supply.