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Persecution of Christians

Volume 627: debated on Monday 17 July 2017

The petition of parishioners of the Parish of Saint John Southworth, Nelson, Brierfield and Fence, Lancashire,

Declares that the petitioners believe that attacks on Christians in 20% of the world's countries since 2014 is concerning and that more should to be done to combat religious persecution.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take further action to prevent and raise awareness of attacks on Christians, worldwide.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Andrew Stephenson , Official Report, 30 March 2017; Vol. 624, c. 511.]

[P002032]

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Ahmad) made the following observations:

The persecution of individuals based on their religion or belief remains of profound concern to the United Kingdom. The freedom to practise, change or share one’s faith or belief without discrimination or violent opposition is a fundamental human right, and the UK Government are committed to defending this human right and promoting respect and tolerance between religious communities.

The Foreign Offices work on Freedom of Religion or Belief

At country level, we lobby Governments for changes in laws and practices that discriminate against individuals on the basis of their religion or belief, and we continue to raise cases of persecution in individual countries. For example, Ministers and British diplomats recently raised religious freedom in Russia, following the Russian Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a ruling that recognises Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘extremists’. In Sudan, we have lobbied consistently on behalf of four imprisoned Christian pastors, who have now been released, partly due to our efforts. During his visit to Pakistan in November, the Foreign Secretary raised the rights of all Pakistani citizens, including religious minorities.

We are deeply concerned about persecution of religious minorities in the middle east, where we have seen appalling crimes committed against Christians, Madeans, Yazidis and other minorities, as well as the majority Muslim populations in Iraq and Syria. The UK is determined to seek justice for all the victims who have suffered as a result of crimes committed by Daesh around the world. At the 71st United Nations General Assembly in September 2016, together with the Government of Iraq and other international partners, the Foreign Secretary launched the campaign to bring Daesh to Justice. On the humanitarian track, Britain has pledged more than £2.3 billion to support those affected by the conflict in Syria, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis. In Iraq, we are working with the authorities in Ninewa to ensure that protection of minorities is properly addressed in their strategic vision for the region.

The UK works to promote Freedom of Religion or Belief at the United Nations. We are committed to promoting implementation of key resolutions, including Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, which focuses the international community on combating religious intolerance, protecting the human rights of minorities and promoting pluralism in society.

Our programme funds support our strategic aim to promote and protect Freedom of Religion or Belief globally. Under the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, we are funding a project to develop lesson plans for secondary school teachers in the middle east and North Africa region to enable them to teach children about the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief. We are also continuing to support a network of human rights defenders in South Asia, and are beginning to build up a network of youth activists.

Freedom of Religion or Belief is a priority for the Prime Minister, who reiterated in her Easter message her conviction that we must “do more to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practice their beliefs openly and in peace and safety”. In my new role as Minister for Human Rights, I am committed to working with my Ministerial counterparts and our diplomatic network to move this agenda forward through lobbying and practical action on the ground.