[Relevant documents: e-petition 554150, Implement sanctions against the Nigerian Government and officials, e-petition 300146, Impose sanctions on China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, and e-petition 585237, Sanction Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights violations.]
Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate, in line with guidance. I also remind Members to have a lateral flow test twice a week if the come to the parliamentary estate. Please be aware of one another as you move in and out of the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Magnitsky sanctions and human rights abuses.
It is a great delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller, and always a delight to be in the same room as you.
If global Britain is to mean anything, it has to mean a passionate commitment by the United Kingdom, in every corner of the globe, to liberty, personal freedom, a fair trial, the rule of law, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right to a family life. Sometimes that will be inconvenient for us and for other countries. We may want strong trading partnerships with Colombia or Saudi Arabia, but we will always find it difficult to do business where human rights are trampled underfoot.
I have been banging on about all this for many years, and I will explain where it started. It goes back to 1986 when I was living in post-dictatorship Argentina. One night I was having a drink with a friend, whom I knew had had a difficult time during the dictatorship, when someone came in and sat at the next table to us. A few moments later, my friend disappeared. I presumed he had just gone to the toilet, but he did not come back for a long time. I went to look for him. He was in a shuddering mess on the floor of the toilets. I said, “What’s wrong?” He said, “That man at the table next to us tortured me for four months.” I asked him how he could possibly know that, because he had told me that he was blindfolded throughout that time.
My friend then said, “Well, the thing is, if somebody has every single day for four months grabbed you, shoved your face into a bucket of shitty ice cold water until you nearly drown, has tied you to a metal bed and applied electrodes to your tongue, the back of your ears and your testicles, and has beaten you senseless every single day for four months, you get to know not just what their voice sounds like or the smell of their breath, but the way they come into a room and sit down at a table. That’s how I know.” Ever since that day, I have thought how fortunate we are in this country to enjoy liberties and freedoms, which are guaranteed to us by our democracy and by battles that people have fought in previous centuries.
That is why I still fight today to end human rights abuses. I am proud that, in memory of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a suite of Magnitsky sanctions is now available in British law. I pay tribute to the Government for introducing them. For me, building a “network of liberty”, to use the Foreign Secretary’s phrase from this morning, must mean more than just expanding free trade. It must mean expanding freedom. Sometimes, I have to say, it has felt like the Government have been reluctant to act. How many times did we have to urge the Foreign Secretary to act on Hong Kong? I still find it perplexing that Carrie Lam is not on any list. Why is the UK list of those sanctioned so much shorter than the US version? Do they care more than we do about human rights? I do not think so.
As co-chair of the new all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions, I asked the Government to consider some names. My co-chair and I are going to be doing this on a fairly regular basis—that is our aim. It is important that we have privilege in Parliament. We do not want to abuse that privilege, but we want to be able to speak without fear or favour on human rights abuses around the world.
Let me start with China and the situation in Xinjiang, where—
Will the hon. Member give way?
That was very quick, but yes.
I want to thank the hon. Gentleman for his speech and for giving way. I want to put on record the Liberal Democrats’ support for the Magnitsky sanctions. Indeed, we welcome the cross-party support on this issue, which is shown in this room.
Members will be aware that the Uyghur Tribunal is going to report tomorrow. In that tribunal, Uyghur families have given harrowing stories of what they have suffered. Does he agree that tomorrow would be an ideal time for the Minister to announce sanctions against Chinese Communist party officials such as Chen Quanguo, who, as the Communist party secretary of Xinjiang will have overseen these crimes against humanity? We all know that those would potentially amount to the crime of genocide.
That was pretty much going to be my next but one paragraph. Of course, I completely agree. The Uyghur population have been and continue to be subject to mass detention, forced sterilisation, forced abortion, the forced removal of children and other forms of torture. To my mind and, I think, in law, that is genocide. It meets all the criteria that are laid down in the conventions. The UK Government have so far omitted to sanction several of those most responsible for these atrocities, all of whom have been sanctioned by the United States. I understand that some of the detail on that has already been provided by non-governmental organisations to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and I am sure the Minister has that.
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) mentioned Chen Quanguo. He is referred to as the architect of the human rights abuses in both Xinjiang and Tibet. He is the party secretary to the Communist party in the region. He is responsible for the mass detention, torture, and cruel and degrading treatment of over 1 million people from ethnic and religious minorities. I still find it perplexing that parts of the middle east, where there are fellow Muslims, still fail to condemn that.
The recently released Xinjiang papers confirm Quanguo’s role in directing the Government’s policies in the region and he should be sanctioned.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The Xinjiang papers talk about Chen Quanguo and the fact he was assisted by deputies, Zhu Hailun and Zhu Changjie in implementing the mass internment of the Uyghurs. I understand the Government have sanctioned four Chinese officials, but that is not enough. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must now take steps to introduce further Magnitsky sanctions, including on Chen Quanguo, the architect of the Xinjiang genocide, and his deputies?
I am normally very reluctant to draw direct parallels with what happened in Nazi Germany, but when we see detention camps, people being taken away from their families and people being identified by virtue of their genetic make-up, it feels remarkably similar. If the world chooses to turn away at this point, in the end it will regret it.
There is an important point here about the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is known as the XPCC. It is a state-owned paramilitary organisation, known for its involvement in the mass imprisonment and severe physical abuse of the Uyghurs, and its use of forced labour to produce the majority of the region’s cotton. As the recent report by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice shows, this cotton ends up in the global supply chain and people often cannot spot that the clothes they are wearing come from slave labour.
While the UK has recognised this use of forced labour and sanctioned a subsidiary of the XPCC, it has yet to sanction the corporation as a whole, despite the fact that it controls large swathes of the region’s industries, associated with widespread labour abuses. In relation to that, it is important that Peng Jiarui and Sun Jinlong, who have both held senior positions in the XPCC and have had command control over the arbitrary detention, ill treatment and forced labour of Uyghur Muslims, should also be added to the Magnitsky list.
Huo Liujun, the former party secretary for the public security bureau in the region, oversaw the use of artificial intelligence to racially profile, track and imprison members of the Uyghur community. Recent reports indicate this same system was used to target and forcibly sterilise Uyghur women. He should also be on the list.
Let me turn to Iran. As many Members will know, Iran’s arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment of foreign and dual nationals for diplomatic leverage over other states has escalated since 1979, with state hostage taking becoming an institutionalised part of its foreign policy. We have seen this most notably with some of our own nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is being held hostage in Iran and is now spending her sixth Christmas away from her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and their daughter, Gabriella. Also, Anoosheh Ashoori has now been detained in Iran for four and a half years. Our hearts go out to them.
I understand that detailed evidence about this has already been provided to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, but let me list some people who I think should be added to the sanction list. Ali Ghanaatkar has acted as head of interrogations and as judge in Evin prison. In his role, he has been involved in the ill treatment of detainees, particularly in the use of forceful interrogations and threats, and in bringing false charges against them. He should be on the list.
Gholamreza Ziaei is the former head of Evin prison, which has become synonymous with torture and death and is where a number of British nationals, including Nazanin and Anoosheh, have been detained. As the head of the prison, he was responsible for the inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and was sanctioned by the European Union in April this year. He has been sanctioned by the EU, but not yet by us. I think he should be on the list.
Ali Rezvani is an Iranian state media journalist for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-controlled 20:30 News. He has not only been involved in the interrogation of detainees but has revealed detainees’ interrogation files, broadcast forced confessions, forcibly detained family photos and spread misinformation regarding political prisoners, dissidents and hostages. He has peddled propaganda against victims to justify and encourage their ill treatment, thereby promoting, inciting and supporting Iran’s practices. He should be on the list.
On 25 October 2021, the military staged a coup in Sudan, overthrowing the joint civilian-military transitional Government. Since then, violence has escalated rapidly, with reports of the military torturing and killing protestors and carrying out enforced disappearances. It all sounds remarkably like Argentina. Again, I understand that evidence has been provided to the FCDO, but let me give some names. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the leader and public face of the military coup in Khartoum. Security forces under his command targeted activists, members of resistance committees and journalists, ordering their arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance. Al-Burhan has also implemented an ongoing internet blackout, trying to prevent news of his human rights abuses from leaving Sudan. He has failed, but he should be on the list.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, previously known as the Janjaweed—Government-supported militias that committed gross human rights abuses in Darfur. Under his leadership, the RSF played a critical role in the planning and execution of the coup and has repeatedly used excessive force to beat and kill protesting civilians in Khartoum. He should be on the list. Abdul Rahim Hamdan Dagalo is reportedly an active member of what security analysts describe as a small security council responsible for the planning and execution of the coup. The council has directed the militarised response to the protest, including the use of live fire against peaceful protestors. He should be on the list.
I turn finally to Rwanda. In August last year, Paul Rusesabagina, the subject of the film “Hotel Rwanda”, which many Members may have seen, and a vocal critic of President Kagame and a cancer sufferer, was drugged, bound and forcefully returned to Rwanda, where he has been imprisoned and tortured. I have met his daughters online, and it is a very upsetting story. A large number of international human rights organisations have recognised this case as one enforced disappearance. Two individuals are directly involved.
First, Johnston Busingye, Minister of Justice at the time of Mr Rusesabagina’s arrest and under whose authority he was detained and tortured. During a televised interview, Johnston Busingye admitted that the Government of Rwanda paid for the flight that transported Mr Rusesabagina back to Rwanda. He has since been removed as Minister of Justice and appointed high commissioner to the United Kingdom. As far as I understand it, the UK Government have still not given their agrément to the appointment. I hope they will announce today that they have absolutely no intention of doing so. He should be on a list of sanctioned individuals, not of people to be escorted to Buckingham Palace to have their credentials agreed by Her Majesty. Secondly, Colonel Jeannot Ruhunga, secretary general of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, was also heavily involved with that unlawful kidnapping and the associated human rights violations. All these names should be added to the list of those sanctioned by the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing the debate and for his work as one of the co-chairs of the APPG. If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mrs Miller, I hope to raise the case of General Shavendra Silva, current chief of defence staff in Sri Lanka and apparently responsible for gross human rights violations including torture and extra-judicial killings. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s need to focus his remarks today, but I ask his APPG to consider that case at a further session down the line.
My co-chair, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), is telling me that we will, but my hon. Friend makes a really good point, which is that we need a proper process whereby we can feed into the Government all the suggestions and concerns that individual Members have from their connections with other parts of the world, and get good outcomes.
Right at the beginning of the process, I think I asked the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), something like 27 times when the Government would introduce Magnitsky sanctions. We now have them in place, but the whole idea was that there would be a parliamentary process for assessing who else should be added. We want to work with the Government to achieve that, because in the end we all share our humanity. If a child goes hungry in Botswana, that is a problem for the children of this country. If somebody is deprived of their freedom in Russia, Chechnya or any part of Africa, that is a matter for our freedom too. We all share in the same humanity.
Order. I plan to call the Front-Bench spokespeople at around 6.4 pm. We have four speakers on the list. If you do the maths, five minutes each means that everyone will get in. I call Iain Duncan Smith.
It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mrs Miller. As was referred to earlier, I am a co-chair of the APPG and we are in complete agreement about this. I will résumé the list, as it were, though not in the detail laid out by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—and he is my hon. Friend in this case. We should do so without fear of retribution, because that is the natural form of debate. I say that as someone who is already sanctioned by the Chinese Government. My answer to them is: “Yeah, so what?” Several countries have been mentioned. I congratulate the Government on having introduced the Magnitsky sanctions. There is no question that they have shown a willingness to take some actions, and we have put some people on the sanctions list. However, as has been said, we are not going far and fast enough, and that is the whole point of the APPG and of today’s debate.
I will start with China. As I said, I am sanctioned. Today the Prime Minister said categorically, as I understood it, that the policy of Her Majesty’s Government is to have a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympic games in China. I think I was not alone in hearing him say that. He even illustrated it by saying clearly that not only Ministers but officials would not attend. Thus it is, de facto, a diplomatic boycott. I put that on the record and hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take back to the Foreign Office the clarity of that statement. As far as we in the Chamber are concerned, and now publicly, this country now has an official diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympics, and there can be no difference of opinion on that matter.
The abuses in China are phenomenal. It leaves all other countries behind it. The level, scale and ferocity of the abuses is unprecedented in modern times, when we think about the Uyghurs and the genocide. I know that the Government do not want to say genocide because they stand by the legal stuff about having to get it either through the UN or the International Criminal Court, but China is not a member of one and we know that it blocks the other. Every other country that I know of—many of great potency, such as the Americans—has declared it a genocide.
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) is quite right that tomorrow there will be the final outcome of the tribunal. There is no question in my mind that new names will come from that in due course, and we will look to get them sanctioned, but there is the genocide of the Uyghurs, the oppression and suppression of the Tibetans over decades, and forced labour camps. We should actually call them what they are, which is concentration camps, not forced labour camps. Why do we try to find another phrase that takes the meaning out of it? As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda said earlier, they are concentration camps and this is redolent of that terrible time when turned our back on so many, and so many people died as a result. In addition there are the Christians, the Falun Gong and now the Inner Mongolians. China is arresting and persecuting peaceful democracy campaigners on a daily basis, threatening its neighbours, taking over the South China sea, killing Indian soldiers and threatening to declare war on Taiwan.
I do not know how much more a country can do to tell us its direction of travel. It is not as though the Chinese are hiding it or that it is a secret from us any more—they are very clear. We need to react to that and to make it clear that they will not get away with it. That is why I will repeat the names that have just been mentioned.
In China, we have Chen Quanguo, the Xinjiang Communist party secretary who has been talked about and is the architect of and key to the whole design of what is being done. He was also the key to what was done in Tibet—the Minister will no doubt make that point. We also have the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. It is interesting, and unusual, to ban an organisation through Magnitsky sanctions, but it is state owned and clearly a paramilitary organisation, and it is up to its eyeballs in what is going on in Xinjiang.
We also have Sun Jinlong, who has a senior position in XPCC, as mentioned earlier, and very clearly part of the Uyghur genocide suppression. Huo Liujun is the former party secretary of the Xinjiang public security bureau. Critically, he has overseen the area of artificial intelligence and racial profiling—how can we say now, in this day and age, that people are being profiled and chased because of their race? It is almost like reading a book about the 1930s.
In going to Iran, I will not make any more of what has been made of it already, because we are limited in time, except to say simply that Iran is another despotic state that cares nothing for human rights or the rule of law. Again, I will repeat the names that have already been mentioned. Ali Ghanaatkar is head of interrogations and the judge at Evin prison. With the ill treatment of detainees and all the rest that has been mentioned, that man should be on the list. Gholamreza Ziaei, the former head of Evin prison, should also be on the list—no question at all about that—as should Ali Rezvani, an Iranian state media journalist who has also been involved in the interrogation and brutalisation of detainees.
In Sudan, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan—his name has been mentioned, but I repeat it—is the leader and public face of the military coup in Khartoum. He is a brutal individual who commands security forces and is hugely implicated in the ongoing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of key players in that area. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo is commander of the Rapid Support Forces, known for being the Government-sponsored militias that committed gross human rights abuses in Darfur. Many others have been mentioned, but I want to come to Abdul Rahim Hamdan Dagalo, who is reported to be an active member of what security analysts have described as the small security council. He is a brutal individual responsible for the planning and execution of the coup, plus the detention and torturing of many people in that country.
Finally, I mention Johnston Busingye in Rwanda. I reiterate this point: what exactly do the Rwandan Government think they are doing in nominating that well-known and abusive individual who has been responsible for so much of what is going on in that country as an ambassador to London. Goodness gracious me, I have no idea! Do they think that the UK is an easy touch, for some reason, and that they can easily get that individual in here and it will all be all right? We need to see a strong statement from our Government, first and foremost, and secondly—
Order. Will the right hon. Gentleman bring his comments to a close?
I am just finishing now, Mrs Miller.
Finally, I name Colonel Jeannot Ruhunga, secretary-general of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, heavily involved in detention and torture. I simply say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the reason I am repeating the list mentioned by my co-chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, is that, whatever happens after this, I want to share a part of that. The Government must now sanction those people, at least as a start.
I call Afzal Khan.
I did not wish to speak, Mrs Miller.
You were on the list. I call Gareth Thomas.
I cannot compete with the quality of the two previous speeches. They were both excellent. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for securing the debate.
I simply want to raise the case of one particular individual, who now holds the position of chief of the defence staff and commander of the Sri Lankan army, General Shavendra Silva. Those who have followed the terrible events in Sri Lanka at the end of the conflict in 2009 will be aware that evidence has emerged over the last 12 years of widespread human rights abuses at that time, including extrajudicial killings and extensive use of torture, deliberate attacks on civilian targets, including hospitals, and the use of weapons that have been banned internationally, such as white phosphorus and cluster munitions.
Despite repeated efforts by the international community, the Sri Lankan Government have resisted any efforts to bring to account any of those responsible for those abuses. Despite their best efforts, however, groups of individuals and non-governmental organisations have chronicled the evidence of those human rights abuses.
I hope that the Minister is aware that on 9 April the International Truth and Justice Project submitted to her Department a 50-page dossier setting out General Shavendra Silva’s complicity in the human rights violations that took place in the north of Sri Lanka towards the end of 2008 through to May 2009. General Silva was then commander of the elite 58 Division of the Sri Lankan army, which was very much involved in the conflict.
The US has already imposed a travel ban on General Silva and his family, having found him accountable through command responsibility for
“gross violations of human rights, namely extrajudicial killings, by the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army”.
The question is why we as a country have not followed suit and imposed similar restrictions on Mr Silva, particularly around travel but also around financial assets and so on, or used the tools available to us under the Magnitsky package of measures to hold at least one person properly responsible for those terrible abuses at the end of that conflict.
Although the Minister will quite rightly feel a responsibility to answer the questions and points put by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, I will be very interested to hear, as will my constituents and many others across the UK, what her Department’s reaction is to the dossier that the ITJP submitted back in April.
I do not know whether I have to declare an interest as a fellow sanctioned MP. Slightly ironically, it means that I have a negative financial interest in this issue, because if I had any assets in China they would have been frozen, but let me put that on the record for good measure.
I know that I am very much the secondary or support act to the two proposers of the motion: my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I congratulate them on securing this debate and on their work with the all-party parliamentary group. This is a really important subject and I am very proud that we have taken a lead with the Magnitsky sanctions that have already been announced. However, I am frustrated that we have not gone further and faster, and if the APPG can continue to put pressure on the Government to do so, it will be doing very good work indeed.
We must become a leader in the way in which we apply and enact Magnitsky sanctions, to encourage as many other like-minded Governments around the world as possible to follow suit. It is really important that we maintain a multilateral and co-ordinated approach, so that the impact is such that the targets of the sanctions and the countries in which, in most cases, they are part of the regime simply have to sit up and take note, causing them maximum disturbance, annoyance and inconvenience. It is really important that we do not just name people under Magnitsky sanctions, but follow through to make sure that they are very effective and have the desired impacts, so that they are not just a box-ticking exercise. We should also be doing a lot more to investigate their assets. I am afraid that London has too often become the home to some of those despotic regimes and the despotic people who prop them up through property and other, largely hidden, assets. We should be redoubling our efforts to investigate the laundering of money through London, particularly the London property market.
I am not going to alarm the Hansard Reporters by going through a whole list of names that are difficult to pronounce and even harder to spell, but I will reinforce the references made by both opening speakers to Chen Quanguo, the architect of the genocide in Tibet. It is under his watch that many of the more than 1 million Tibetans who have lost their lives since the invasion by the Chinese Communist party Government back in 1959 have died. He has overseen the eclipse of the teaching of the language, the culture, and the religion of many ethnic Tibetans, putting hundreds of thousands of nomadic farmers—who were simply getting on with their lives in the ways that generations of their ancestors have done for centuries—into concentration camps under the guise of retraining, slaughtering their herds and forcing them into a Sinicised lifestyle that is very alien to many of those people. That was the training ground for what he is now doing in Xinjiang, and we have heard all about the forced sterilisation, the concentration camps—let us call them out for what they are—the slave labour farming of cotton, and other things.
Magnitsky sanctions must be just the start of our clamping down on all of those things. There is a limit to what we can do, but we can have trade boycotts, we can have limitations on businesses doing business in certain parts of the world, and we can, I hope, have a full diplomatic boycott of China’s winter Olympics. When the Prime Minister refers to an effective boycott, and the Foreign Secretary repeats those words in a meeting I was in a little earlier, that can only mean a full boycott, which must include diplomats based in Beijing. It would be absurd if UK Ministers, officials and members of the Royal Family did not go to China but our ambassador in Beijing still turned up to the Olympics, as she apparently wants to. That must be made absolutely clear.
The second person I will re-emphasise, who has already been mentioned, is Carrie Lam. It is inconceivable that she should not be on a list, given that we are seeing the impact of the oppression that is snuffing out freedom, liberty and entrepreneurship in that country now, because many Hong Kong citizens are already coming to this country. We welcome them, and we will welcome many more who are fleeing the crushing abuses against their freedoms.
I will conclude—leaving plenty of time for all of our questions to be answered—by asking three questions of the Minister. First, how does the Foreign Office decide who goes on the sanctions list? What information does it require? Is there some sort of algorithm that decides it? If so, the list that the algorithm has come up with does not, strangely, include some names. What more could we, including the APPG, do to provide information that might make the Foreign Office’s job easier, making sure that the right people and more people go on that list?
Secondly, and really importantly, how do we co-ordinate our list with other countries? I know that when the initial Magnitsky names were announced, it was on the same day as some announcements were made by the EU and the US. As I said earlier, it is really important that these sanctions are internationally co-ordinated, but there is a question as to why the UK has sanctioned only 24% of the individuals and entities already sanctioned under the Magnitsky sanctions regime of the United States. We have common interests and we share the same values, so why have we not applied those sanctions to three quarters of the people who the United States thinks they should be applied to? Have we just not got round to it yet? Is the Foreign Office under-resourced in examining their credentials? Do we not trust the judgment of our allies in the United States? Some explanation of how the system works would be helpful because this is a really important innovation and a powerful tool that the UK can proudly use to stand up for the values, freedoms and liberties that we take for granted here, but which, alas, many other countries do not. Working with those like-minded countries, we can bring the change, and the freedom and the liberty, to many people who do not enjoy the luxuries that we do in this country.
It is great to see you in the Chair, Mrs Miller. Let me congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on gaining the debate and the members of the all-party group on the work that they have undertaken to highlight the deep and profoundly worrying human rights abuses across the world.
I am sure we all agree that the abuse of individuals, political and religious groups, and, indeed, minorities across the world by a range of global state actors is well documented, but less well documented are the lesser-known non-state actors now participating in the field of human rights abuse. Nevertheless, the systematic utilisation of global finance to enable those crimes against humanity in many ways remains cloaked in secrecy, underpinned by the rightly named—at least as I see it—dark money.
Dark money is an issue that I and many of my SNP colleagues have taken a keen interest in since 2015. Like the hon. Member for Rhondda in relation to today’s debate, we do so for good reason, believing in an open, transparent political process founded on the rule of law, and believing in parliamentary democracy—a model that seeks to hold Government to account for their actions.
It used to be said that all roads lead to Rome—a very lovely place indeed—yet from my perspective in the political world today, especially in the age of dark money, the road always seems to lead to the Kremlin. The debate takes its name from the late Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer to whom the hon. Gentleman alluded. Magnitsky uncovered large-scale tax fraud while working for Hermitage Capital based here in London. Sergei, as we know, died in a Russian prison owing to mistreatment.
It is also well known that the previous Government believed that the then existing fraud legislation was actually enough. In February 2018, the then Foreign Secretary, now the Prime Minister, argued that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill provided enough powers. At least some of us would say that, luckily, the then Prime Minister recognised the opportunity to improve existing legislation, and the tone changed with the Government saying they would consider changes to Bill, which has been mentioned by Members previously. We are glad that those came forward.
During the debate, various Members have highlighted some of the most egregious abuses of the dignity of the rights of people and peoples across the globe, from the profoundly familiar way in which the Uyghur people are treated and herded by the Communist party of China to the killing and torture of protestors during the military coup in Sudan. Given that Members have gone into some detail on those points, I will not give another detailed exposition of inhumanity, so let me follow the money that might finance those abuses and undermine democratic governance. Specifically, I want to refer to Scottish shell companies that have siphoned billions of dollars, including from the former Soviet Union, and, in particular, the link, cited by David Leask of openDemocracy, to an Uzbek business empire.
Mr Leask highlights the fact that in a rather unassuming southside-of-Glasgow trademark tenement lies the official headquarters of a company known as Yardrock Development. The investigation by openDemocracy revealed that the company in question is linked to the Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and it will come as no surprise that this company is a Scottish limited partnership—a company structure known globally as the UK’s “homegrown secrecy vehicle”. Indeed, in recent years, some SLPs have been blacklisted by the United Nations Development Programme, and even by the World Bank, given the ongoing concerns relating to their ability to undermine transparency and good governance. SLPs are safe ports in a storm in murky waters for dark money. They are harbours offering access to doubtful financial probity and dodgy dealings.
Let us go back to Mr Leask’s investigation, which states that:
“In a report published this month, UzInvestigations, a group led by Professor Kristian Lasslett of Ulster University and supported by the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, found that eight SLPs, including Yardrock Development, owned a total of more than $128m worth of equity in Orient Group companies… UzInvestigations said the Orient Group had risen in prominence with the support of the Uzbek state”
and its leadership—a company with direct links to the President via one of the owning group’s founders and shareholders, Oybek Umarov, who is
“a brother of Otabek Umarov, deputy head of the Presidential Security Service and Mirziyoyev’s son-in-law”.
Additionally, UzInvestigations has highlighted that another senior executive is even the
“son of a serving minister.”
Mr Leask’s investigation also states:
“Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, echoed Lasslett’s concerns. ‘As more wealth accumulates in the hands of those close to senior state officials, the link between extreme economic and political power becomes stronger,’ she said, adding: ‘This is a significant threat to any prospect of democratisation in Uzbekistan.’”
This is a slippery slope of authoritarianism, ably assisted by nepotism and Scottish limited partnerships. If allowed to go unchallenged, corruption in a political process undermines the rule of law, undermines the courts and undermines public confidence in liberal democracy. Corruption opens the door to the abuse of the person, a collective of people, a culture and a political movement. It emboldens those who use dark money to facilitate it. The role of SLPs in Uzbekistan cannot be glibly ignored.
We need only look at what is happening in Hong Kong, which has been mentioned briefly. Hong Kong might not have been in the news as much as it was previously, but that is largely due to the Communist party’s national security law. Let us be under no illusion: what we are witnessing is the death of democracy in Hong Kong.
Order. May I encourage the hon. Gentleman to wrap up his speech?
I will indeed, Mrs Miller; I will come to a conclusion in just a moment.
What we are seeing in Hong Kong are freedoms being destroyed and the rule of law, democracy and the right to freedom of expression being totally undermined by the Communist party. Will the Minister give us some clarity on the position on Hong Kong and those in the Communist party of Hong Kong? Can the Minister state that the Government recognise the impact of Scottish limited partnerships on the future of democracy—not only on these islands, but in Uzbekistan—and their role in facilitating the movement of finance that is used to undermine human rights across the globe?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Miller. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), everyone in the all-party parliamentary group and all Members who have contributed to the debate on the many serious issues that they have raised, and on the work that they are doing to highlight individuals who they believe should be sanctioned under the Magnitsky regime. I reiterate the official Opposition’s previous welcome to the Government’s implementation of the regime, which many in this House had long called for, including some in this room and the Opposition. I put on the record again our heartfelt condolences to the family of Sergei Magnitsky and I salute all those who have campaigned in his honour.
Tragically, human rights abuses are on the rise globally. Unfortunately, as we have seen, the pandemic has exacerbated such abuses around the world: criminals have been using the global disarray as a vessel to broaden their operations and corruption, and dictators have been using the pandemic as an excuse to crush political dissent. Indeed, 70% of the countries covered by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index have recorded a decline in their overall democracy scores, with the lowest scores since 2006. The Opposition have pledged to put human rights at the heart of our international policies with consistency and with a commitment and resolve to act to defend liberties, the rights of all around the world and our international obligations. This debate is therefore very welcome.
The Magnitsky sanctions have given us the power to stop violations against civilians without subjecting them to the consequences of broader-brush sanctions, which could harm them. They provide accountability, a deterrent against carrying out gross violations of human rights, compliance with international human rights law, respect for human rights, and respect for democracy, the rule of law and good governance.
We know that sanctions work and have a significant impact, especially if we adopt them in further partnership with allies. They have little impact if they are just used unilaterally, but when we work in concert with our allies, such as the United States and European Union, they can have a huge impact. Together, the UK, the US, the EU and Canada represent one third of global GDP, yet they are also the locations where billions of pounds’ worth of dirty blood money passes through. The potential to have an impact on individuals responsible for human rights abuses and corruption is at our fingertips, not least those who use London as their bolthole, as has been referred to.
It is welcome that corruption has been included in the regime of offences for which sanctions can be applied under the 2021 regulations. We hope that will act as a huge deterrent to the activity that sees £100 billion illegally flowing through the UK every year, according to the National Crime Agency. We have seen the FCDO designate 49 individuals with sanctions, including visa restrictions and asset freezes: Saudis involved in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, Russians involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, Myanmar generals involved in genocide against the Rohingya and those involved in North Korean concentration camps.
A year later, we saw 78 designations identified by Redress, with 24 sanctions specifically on the basis of corruption. They included those in Russia, the Guptas in relation to South Africa, Sudanese businessmen and Latin Americans involved in bribery. I understand that the FCDO will not publish the list of individuals it is investigating to designate for sanctions. I appreciate the reasons for that but I agree with Members that the sanctions regime is not going far enough with the individuals designated. There is a great contrast between the UK, which has applied only 78 designations this year, and the US, which has designated 340 individuals. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, the UK sanctioned only 24% individuals and entities already sanctioned by the United States Magnitsky regime. We must go further.
Many important examples have been raised today; I hope the Minister will listen to them all. I want to draw attention to a few others. My former brief related to sub-Saharan Africa; my understanding is that sanctions have been issued only relating to South Africa and Gambia, when of course there are many other individuals who should be dealt with. We heard of Sudan; I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the situation of Eritrea and the horrific human rights abuses, including horrific sexual violence and sexual human rights abuses taking place in Ethiopia. I hope the Minister will actively consider individuals who have been involved in perpetrating crimes there and, of course, the wider crimes by the Eritrean regime against its own citizens.
We have heard about Sudan and Rwanda, and we should be considering locations from Cameroon to Zimbabwe when it comes to individuals responsible for heinous acts, as well as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. We have rightly heard a huge amount of attention on China and Hong Kong; there have only been three designations against officials in the Chinese regime, despite horrific abuses against the Uyghur population. I agree with colleagues who raised the situation of Chen Quanguo—a prime example of an individual who should face sanctions. It is absurd that the US has designated that individual but we have not.
I hope the Minister will listen closely. We have heard excellent contributions about Sri Lanka. I have raised in this place other regimes, including Bahrain in the middle east. We also heard today of Iran. We need consistency in policies. If we are to apply sanctions, we cannot cosy up to regimes in other ways. Let us look at the situation of Saudi Arabia, which the former shadow Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), raised in relation to Saudi acquisition of assets here. I also want to raise concern about parliamentary scrutiny. They have that in the United States Congress; we should have it here.
I hope the Minister can outline the practical ways in which we can provide information confidentially—not just in debates such as this, with due regard to privilege—and how we will work across Government to ensure that information is fed in from all Government Departments, not just the FCDO.
I thank the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for tabling this debate, and for his valuable co-operation as chair of the all-party parliamentary group, along with the other colleagues on the APPG. I am grateful to all hon. Members for their insightful contributions. I will try to address all the points raised and the countries mentioned within the time that I have.
On 6 July 2020, the Government established the global human rights sanctions regime under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The regime gave the UK a powerful new tool to hold to account those involved in serious human rights violations or abuses. It was intended to target individuals and entities involved in serious human rights violations or abuses, rather than entire countries.
Our global human rights sanctions regime reinforces our ability to defend the rules-based international system. It complements and enhances our global leadership on the promotion and protection of human rights around the world and enables us to use asset freezes and travel bans against those involved in serious human rights violations and abuses and those who profit or benefit from them. The human rights included in the scope of the regime are the right to life, the right not be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to be free from slavery and forced labour.
Since launching our global human rights sanctions just under a year ago, the Government have designated nearly 80 individuals and entities. Those designations demonstrate the Government’s commitment to standing up for human rights and minority groups, including those in Belarus, Myanmar, China, Russia and North Korea.
On 22 March, the UK sanctioned four Chinese Government officials and the public security bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps for their role in the serious human rights violations that have taken and continue to take place against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Those measures were taken alongside measures by the US, Canada and the EU, sending the clearest possible signal that the international community is united in its condemnation of China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and signalling the need for Beijing to end discrimination and oppression in the region.
We heard earlier about the horrifying stories coming out of the Uyghur Tribunal. Will the Minister commit to examining the findings of the Uyghur Tribunal when its judgment comes out this Thursday?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, and I intend to cover the tribunal later in my speech. Just last week, alongside the EU, US and Canada, we imposed further sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations in Belarus, under our Belarus regime. We imposed an asset freeze on a key state-owned entity in order to maintain economic pressure on the repressive Lukashenko regime.
In addition to our new human rights sanctions, on 26 April we launched our global anti-corruption sanctions regime, which gives us the means to impose anti-corruption sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world. It represented a significant step forward for the UK’s global leadership in combatting corruption around the world and promoting fair and open societies.
Since the launch, we have designated 27 individuals who have been involved in serious corruption from nine different countries. We will continue to pursue such designations and promote our values around the world, using powers under both our global human rights and anti-corruption sanctions regimes throughout the year of action, starting with the US-hosted summit for democracy taking place over the next two days on International Anti-Corruption Day and International Human Rights Day.
I recognise that Members today referred to certain named individuals, and I am sure that they will fully understand that I cannot speculate—it would be inappropriate for me to do so.
There is one person that the Minister could undoubtedly speculate on, because he has been appointed as the Rwandan high commissioner. Surely the Government can announce whether they or not will accept his agrément.
I will come to that specific case a little later. I want to cover the points about how Parliament will be consulted and be part of the process, which was raised by several hon. Members. We recognise the range of views expressed by parliamentarians on the best approach to take on the designations proposals and we are grateful for the interest that they take in that. Of course, they can continue to engage with the Government in the usual ways—such as this debate—or they can write to the Foreign Secretary.
I will turn to some of the more specific questions and countries that were raised. On Sudan, we have condemned the abuses and we will continue to press for accountability, including by considering sanctions. However, we also note the fragile situation there, following the 21 November deal which reinstated Prime Minister Hamdok as a first step back towards democratic transition.
On Rwanda, which the hon. Member for Rhondda raised, I assure him that we are following the case of Paul Rusesabagina—the hon. Gentleman pronounces it better than I do—very closely. I assure him that the Minister for Africa has raised our concerns about due process. On Kashmir, I recognise the concerns. We have raised them with the Governments of India and Pakistan.
On the Uyghur Tribunal, we welcome any initiative that is rigorous and balanced, and that raises awareness of the situation faced by the Uyghurs and other minorities in China. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are following the work of the Uyghur Tribunal very closely, and will study any resulting report very carefully. Of course, the policy of successive UK Governments is that any determination of genocide or crimes against humanity is a matter for a competent court.
We and our partners continue to press for an end to hostilities in Ethiopia, and for Eritrean forces to withdraw, and we fully support all mediation efforts. I think it is fair to say that the scale of the human rights abuses detailed by the joint investigation report is horrific. I note that the Government of Ethiopia have set up a taskforce to take forward recommendations from the report, and we will continue to consider a full range of policy options, including sanctions.
As I explained, we work very closely with our partners, in particular the US, Canada and the EU, which have Magnitsky-style sanctions legislation. We co-operate very closely with Australia, which last week introduced legislation to its Parliament that grants it the power to impose global human rights and anti-corruption sanctions, because UK sanctions are most effective when backed up by co-ordinated collective action.
The global human rights sanctions and anti-corruption sanctions regimes have given the UK new very important and powerful tools. The designations that we have already made show that we will act to hold to account those involved in serious human rights violations or abuses, or serious corruption, without fear or favour. In close co-ordination with our allies, we will carefully consider future designations under the regulations. Through concerted action, we will provide accountability for serious human rights violations or abuses and serious corruption around the world, and deter those who might commit them in the future.
I call Chris Bryant to wind up.
Thank you very much, Mrs Miller. I am afraid that the Minister wound me up at the end. Why can the Government not simply say that somebody who has blatantly been involved in the drugging and illegal extradition of somebody to Rwanda will not be accepted as a representative of Rwanda to the Court of St James’s as a high commissioner? I cannot understand that. It is a very simple ask. I understand why Ministers always say, and say endlessly to us, “We don’t want to speculate about sanctions because that undermines the system.” We do not want Ministers to speculate; we want them to implement. It is quite simple.
I like the Minister enormously; she knows that I do. We want more action. Only 24% of those people who are sanctioned by the United States of America are sanctioned by this country. Why? Is it because we are more picky? Is it because we are more cowardly? I do not understand. There is no argument for it so far. I hope that in the new year, the Government will set aside a whole day for us to debate this matter in Government time, to understand how we can ensure that the UK is, and will always be, the beacon for liberty, freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to life.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Magnitsky sanctions and human rights abuses.