We will now move on to the two remaining debates of the day. Before we start, let me stress that the Sir David Amess summer Adjournment debate, in particular, is extremely well subscribed, so we are going to have to impose time limits. In the first debate, we will start with a seven-minute limit, but that may have to go down quickly. Sir Iain Duncan Smith has very courteously suggested that I put a bit of guidance on the screens for the 15 minutes that he has allocated for his opening speech. I hope that throughout the afternoon we will be able to get an equal allotment for participating Back Benchers.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered UK sanctions for human rights abuses and corruption.
The UK’s Magnitsky sanctions regime has, as many of us will accept, provided the UK Government with an important tool for tackling the most egregious cases of human rights violations and corruption committed around the world, but several problems undermining the effectiveness of our Magnitsky sanctions regime still exist. From a standing start, at a low base, in the first year of the regime the UK made good progress and sanctioned 102 perpetrators for human rights violations and corruption. Strangely, that number has fallen to only six perpetrators in the second year.
Let us contrast that with what has happened in the United States of America, which is a good benchmark. To mark international Human Rights Day and International Anti-Corruption Day in December 2021, the US announced sanctions on 108 perpetrators; 16 countries were targeted, including China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Liberia, Iran, Syria and Ukraine. In the same week, the UK Government announced just one human rights designation under the Magnitsky regime and four designations under the Myanmar country regime—no sanctions were issued for corruption. That is surprising, because there is a lot of evidence out there about corruption and somehow we did not seem to get moving on it.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has said that it recognises that sanctions are most effective when imposed in concert, yet even as it says that the UK fails to keep pace with its allies, particularly the US, which, again, I come back to as a benchmark. The UK has sanctioned only 20% of the perpetrators sanctioned by the US. That is inexplicable; I have no idea what the US knows that we do not know and why it can act faster and more heavily than we can. We are allowing those sanctioned by the US and other jurisdictions to use the UK as a haven to enjoy much of their ill- gotten gains.
The belated lesson we learned from the international response to the Ukraine crisis shows that such co-ordination is possible, but only if there is sincere determination. That must be reflected in the Government’s effective use of these sanctions. In response to the Ukrainian crisis, the FCDO tripled the size of the sanctions taskforce, but that cannot be just for one country. It is surely vital that the increased organisation does not just focus on Russia; there is an awful lot going on around the world where people are getting away with corruption, brutality and criminality.
That brings us to enforcement. The effectiveness of sanctions is too often undermined by a complete lack of enforcement. Before the invasion of Ukraine, the total value of frozen assets in the UK had not changed significantly since the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation’s first full year of operations, starting at £12.7 billion in 2017-18 and dropping to £12.2 billion in 2020-21. That does not look to me like an awful lot of increased enforcement, although perhaps somebody knows something that we do not. If we look at the money, we see clearly that there was next to nothing happening.
For many parliamentarians, across all parts of the House, oversight of the Government’s use of sanctions has decreased due to amendments made by the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022. I say to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who is on the Front Bench, that the UK Government must recommit to reporting to Parliament annually on their use of sanctions and their rationale. On 28 June, the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the FCDO is working with the Home Office and Treasury on confiscating frozen Russian assets. No matter the result of the current leadership race, which I will park for the moment, the Government must surely remain committed to this issue. I want to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister exactly how committed they really are.
The UK has sanctioned over 1,000 individuals connected to the Russia regime, with a total global wealth, I am told, in excess of £150 billion, so we cannot miss this opportunity to finance reparations for the victims of Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. During the Westminster Hall debate in December last year, members of the all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions named 12 individuals and entities involved in some of the most egregious cases of human rights violations across the world. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and I named them to make sure it was clear and that there can be no excuse for the FCDO to suddenly say that it does not know who they are. We went out of our way to make sure it knew, and we have repeated their names consistently. The media have picked this up and repeated them, too. The names are known and these people are known.
There are a number of other cases where the UK also has to take action. All those involved with the all-party parliamentary group will be making recommendations relating to China, Russia, Iran, Sudan, Nicaragua, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh and Nigeria. We will try to list many of them in the time available, without delaying the House any longer than we have to. I want to run through what has happened in China and why we have so signally failed to deal with the perpetrators of the brutality and crackdown in Xinjiang and Hong Kong—after all, we the guarantors of Hong Kong.
Those sanctioned here in the UK over Xinjiang include Zhu Hailun, former secretary of the political and legal affairs committee of the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region; Wang Junzheng, deputy secretary of the party committee and previous secretary of the political and legal affairs committee; and Wang Mingshan, secretary of the political and legal affairs committee; Chen Mingguo, vice chairman of the Government of the XUAR and the public security bureau of the Xinjiang production construction core. Many Chinese Government officials known to be directly involved in perpetrating abuses in the Uyghur region remain unsanctioned.
Let me compared that with the US, which sanctioned Chen Quanguo, the key architect of all that has been going in Xinjiang. He is a brutal and ghastly individual who is exercising his power to destroy lives. The US sanctioned the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a state-owned paramilitary organisation that runs the region’s mass coercive labour transfer programme —slavery—which puts at least 1.6 million Uyghurs at risk of slavery in factories and in other locations. The UK sanctioned the XPCC public security bureau, the subsidiary responsible for running the prison camps, but for some strange and peculiar reason not the corporation as a whole. The US also sanctioned Peng Jiarui and Sun Jinlong, both senior officials in XPCC, and Huo Liujun, the former party secretary for the Xinjiang public security bureau. What is it that the US knows that we do not know?
The EU is also carrying out sanctions at a higher and faster rate than we are. I have four names of people who have been sanctioned by the EU and who remain unsanctioned here, including Zhao Kezhi, Guo Shengkun and Hu Lianhe. They are all sanctioned by the EU, but not by us.
On Hong Kong, we are a guarantor of one country, two systems, a signed international treaty, so we have a unique responsibility. The perpetrators of the crackdown in Hong Kong have arrested peaceful democracy campaigners and others, including even a cardinal, even for opening their mouths and saying anything against the regime. That is a brutal concept that we in this place are meant to stand against. We have still done very little compared to the US. I will leave it to the hon. Member for Rhondda to name them specifically, if he will.
With regard to Hong Kong, 11 people in the Administration have been sanctioned by the US Administration, not one of whom has been sanctioned by the UK Government. What is going on? I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that there is no dodging this. The reality is that we are not doing what we are supposed to do. The UK should sanction these officials because they have undermined the rule of law, dismantled Hong Kong’s democracy, cracked down on a free press—a thing we take for granted that is no longer in existence in Hong Kong—and allowed police brutality against protesters. In fact, I discovered quite recently that UK Government money had been going to a British company helping to train the Chinese police force in different methods. I now gather—my hon. Friend might confirm this—that that financing has stopped, but it should not have taken some of us to call for it to be checked and stopped for that to happen.
I want to touch on two other areas, Sudan and Nicaragua, because this is not just about China and Russia. There is more to come, as I say, with names on China. In Sudan, as has been highlighted before, the US has taken action against the Central Reserve police, who are responsible for the use of excessive and lethal force against protesters. The UK is yet to take action. The Foreign Secretary is committed to looking into this, and I welcome that, but that commitment must yield the force of the UK’s sanctions regime.
In Nicaragua, there have long been allegations against the Ortega regime for its use of torture against political opponents. I want to draw attention to one particular individual in this context—Sadrach Zeledón Rocha, mayor of the city of Matagalpa, who was sanctioned by the US for his involvement in violence inflicted against peaceful protesters. We also understand that the FCDO has received detailed evidence of his involvement in the physical torture of and sexual violence against political prisoners.
I say this to my hon. Friend the Minister: we should be a beacon of freedom, decency and anti-corruption in the world. People should look to the UK as the country that sits on a hill and shines its light of freedom everywhere, into every nook and cranny of the dirty, foul dealings of people who use their money and influence, often here in the UK. I ask him to commit the UK Government, at a minimum, to immediately doing all the sanctioning that the US Government have done. They have the evidence and we have the ability to do it. I simply ask that at the end of this debate he says, “Yes, we haven’t done enough, but now we are going to do all of it immediately.” If he can say that, then he will certainly please us, and he will send hope of freedom to many around the world.
The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and I are tango partners in this—or a tag team, perhaps, depending on which way you want to look at it. I endorse everything he said at the beginning of his speech, but I will start with Iran.
This year, Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, two British citizens, were finally allowed to return to the UK following years of detention and serious human rights abuses in Iran. Those responsible for these abuses are yet to be held accountable and they continue to persecute innocent people, holding them hostage for political gain. In September last year, the FCDO received detailed evidence on 10 individuals involved in state hostage taking and related serious human rights violations that we are also investigating in the Foreign Affairs Committee. In December last year, we named three of those perpetrators during a Westminster Hall debate, as has been mentioned. The FCDO has still failed to take any action in relation to those three people, and that is a mystery to me.
In the wake of this inaction, a number of those individuals known to the FCDO played a key role in the ongoing mistreatment of British citizens, including Nazanin—in particular, Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, a reporter with state-controlled Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, who is known for eliciting forced confessions from prisoners in front of camera during interrogations. This is exactly the opposite of what a free media is all about. I understand that she was present at the airport prior to Nazanin’s release, attempting to interview and film her while she was being pressured to confess by the Iranian Government.
The second person is Hossein Taeb, the former head of the intelligence operation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Under him, the IRGC intelligence ran the notorious Section 2A of Evin prison. He was responsible for the mass arrest and torture of hundreds of prisoners and was the driving force behind the IRGC’s hostage taking. I understand that Taeb was instrumental in the continued detention of British citizens, and that his officers enforced the forced, and therefore fake, last-minute confession from Nazanin and subsequently blocked the furlough of other British nationals in defiance of what had been agreed with the United Kingdom.
If the UK had taken action on those individuals last September, or in December when we called for it, they might have thought twice about continuing to abuse British hostages today. As we have seen, Government inaction, I am afraid, always has a cost. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green referred to Hong Kong. How many times have we called for the sanctioning of Carrie Lam? She has been sanctioned by the United States of America, but not by us. We are the country with the closest relationship with Hong Kong. What about Chris Tang, Stephen Lo, John Lee Ka-chiu, Teresa Cheng, Erick Tsang, Xia Baolong, Zhang Xiaoming, Luo Huining, Zheng Yanxiong and Eric Chan? They should all be on the British sanction list, but they are on the US list. It is crazy.
Let me go to Russia—not physically, although I am not sanctioned, oddly enough, but I do not think I would be safe, unlike some other Members. I want to speak about one particular person, who will be known to quite a lot of Members of this House and of the other place. Vladimir Kara-Murza is one of the bravest people I have ever met in politics. He is a British citizen, although originally from Russia. He is currently detained for speaking out against the war in Ukraine. He has been designated as a foreign agent due to his work with international NGOs and his advocacy of Magnitsky sanctions. He is one of the thousands of political prisoners in Russia who have been subject to serious human rights violations. They move him from prison to prison, and nobody has proper access to him.
I have no idea whether the FCDO is taking a proactive enough role in ensuring that Kara-Murza has proper consular support, but I know that the FCDO has received detailed evidence on the following individuals responsible for such persecution. Andrey Yuryevich Lipov, the head of Roskomnadzor—easy for you to say, Madam Deputy Speaker—is the Kremlin’s chief censor. He has been instrumental in restricting Russian citizens’ access to reliable information about the war in Ukraine and contributed to the arbitrary detention of citizens based on their online activity. He has recently been sanctioned by the EU, but not by the UK.
Konstantin Anatolyevich Chuychenko, the Minister of Justice and a member of the Security Council of Russia, bears ultimate responsibility for the implementation of the foreign agents and undesirable or extremist organisations lists used to suppress opponents and critics of the war in Ukraine. He has been sanctioned by the US and Canada, but not by the UK—there is a theme here.
Then there is Oleg Mikhailovich Sviridenko, the Deputy Minister of Justice under Chuychenko. He is responsible for implementing the foreign agents law. Much like Chuychenko, he plays a key role in the suppression of opponents and critics of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
I mention all those names because there is a context: the authoritarian regimes around the world are a serious threat not only to our values in the west, but to our way of life. It is not just about Russia and China, although of course they are often key state actors; it is also, I would argue, about Saudi Arabia.
It is great to be starting a possible trade deal with the Gulf states, but we must ensure that we respect human rights and bring such issues forward throughout the process. After all, how is Saudi Arabia not an authoritarian regime when it executes 81 people in one day and invites a Saudi journalist to an embassy in somebody else’s country, kills him and dismembers him on the instructions of the Saudi leadership? We have to be very careful how we tread, because there is no point running away from one authoritarian regime, Russia or China, into the hands of another.
The tentacles of authoritarianism are very lengthy, including the dirty money in the City of London. There were 14 strategic lawsuits against public participation in 2021, but only two in 2019 and 2020, so this is a growing problem in the UK. I warmly welcome the fact that the Ministry of Justice said this week that it will cap costs on lawyers and introduce a three-part test to strike out meritless cases, but we need to go much further. The one thing I would beg of the Minister is to have a proper parliamentary process so we can defend our values and tackle human rights abuses and corruption in authoritarian regimes around the world.
I declare an interest as one of only three Members of this House to be sanctioned by both China and Russia. My rather lightweight right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) has been sanctioned only by China.
This is an important issue, and not just to us. It does not come up every day on the doorstep but, when our constituents understand, they feel strongly about it for three reasons. Our constituents expect our trading partners to respect basic human rights, to be transparent about the nature of the goods and services our constituents might buy on the high street, and to be transparent about jobs. We need that greater transparency.
I would like us to go further in legislation on authentic-ation and quality marks to show that goods are produced by countries, regimes and companies that maintain even basic ethical standards, free of slave labour or whatever, just as we increasingly expect to know about the environmental impact and origins of the goods we buy.
Secondly, our constituents expect our taxpayers’ money to be used for humanitarian and other purposes, and not to be used to aid corrupt regimes and bodies, as too often happened in the past. Thirdly, our constituents expect us to stand up for the rule of law and freedom of expression that we take for granted in the UK. If we cannot see that in the partners we deal with, we should be critical friends and have difficult conversations with them, however sensitive our relationship might be. It is important to our constituents for all those reasons.
The noble Lord Ahmad, a Foreign Office Minister, said earlier this year:
“By leaving the EU and moving to an independent sanctions policy, the UK has become more agile and has real autonomy to decide how we use sanctions and where it is in our interests to do so.”
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK plays a central role in negotiating global sanctions to counter threats to international peace and security, so we have an important, almost unique, position and we need to lead by example.
The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 is a welcome start, but we are lagging behind in how we use it. I have banged on in this Chamber and in this House for many years about the Chinese communist Government’s abuses, not least in Tibet, where for 63 years, since the invasion of 1959, that peace-loving people have been subject to the most aggressive and hideous abuse and oppression. More than 1 million Tibetan lives have been lost, yet there have been no sanctions against Chinese Government officials. It is only recently, following the publicity on what is happening in Xinjiang, that the fate to which the Tibetans have been subjected for all those years has come to light.
China is effectively asking the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, to bury her highly anticipated report on human rights violations in Xinjiang, which shows the lengths to which China will go not to have this news get out. We have a duty to give a voice to the oppressed living under such regimes.
So what have we done in China? As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, there have been limited sanctions because of Xinjiang, against just four Government officials and the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, but, as we mention in every debate, Chen Quanguo—the architect of so much oppression, first in Tibet and now against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang—is still not on our list. The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps is a paramilitary organisation controlling large swathes of the region’s economic production, and it, too, needs to be properly sanctioned. In Hong Kong—where we had that unique historic responsibility—notwithstanding the brutal crackdowns, the undermining of the rule of law and the dismantling of democracy, despite the guarantees we were supposedly given in the Sino-British agreement, no one has been sanctioned by the UK, in contrast to the United States. The list given by my right hon. Friend started with Carrie Lam. Despite all the oppression for which she was responsible, she has never been sanctioned by us, but she has been sanctioned—along with 10 others —by the United States.
There was one very telling bon mot in the Prime Minister’s valedictory comments yesterday. His first piece of advice to his successor was
“ stay close to the Americans”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2022; Vol. 718, c. 962.]
We have the same interests as America in respect of how we deal with oppressive states. I simply do not understand why we are not mirroring the list of people whom it has rightly found to be in violation of the values that we hold dear, and has therefore sanctioned. I strongly echo the cry of my right hon. Friend: let us have all those people included by our Government as a matter of urgency. It would be a great, speedy achievement on the part of the new Minister if he were to bring that about.
I agree with the recommendations of the all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions, and I pay tribute to its members who are present today. We need, very quickly, to increase the number of Magnitsky sanctions imposed by this Government. We need to co-ordinate better and follow the lead of some of our allies who share our values, and then take the lead; we need to resource the FCDO’s scrutiny of some of these people rather better, and we need to act as a global leader. We now have the powers to do that. We have the necessary legislation. It has been a great achievement in the last few years, but it is frustrating that we are not using it properly: that needs to be subject to greater parliamentary oversight. Finally, we need to be bolder in freezing and confiscating, in a speedy fashion—not just securing—the assets of those whom we know to be serial abusers of human rights, and whom we should be sanctioning now.
I urge the Minister to make a name for himself very quickly by taking on board all those recommendations, and everything that he has heard here today.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who have done so much on this issue, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate. As has been suggested, it might be polite to call the Magnitsky sanctions a work in progress. This should be an issue that brings all of us together, from all sides, and on which we should be able to reach agreement, but, as we have heard, there is a gap between the rhetoric and the reality in the way in which the sanctions have been implemented thus far. Indeed, in some instances the rhetoric is not even there.
The introduction of Magnitsky sanctions was a positive step in guaranteeing consequences for those around the world who think that they are above the law. It is just unfortunate that the Government have failed to use them to their full potential, or to apply them equally. The horrific scenes that have emerged from Bucha, and many other places in Ukraine, over the last few months are a reminder of our duty to ensure that the people who carry out such atrocities and violations of human rights should be isolated and ultimately brought to justice.
We have heard about the “drop-off” in the general use of Magnitsky sanctions—which are still relatively new—but more broadly, we have seen the Government’s targeted sanctioning of the bankrollers of the invasion of Ukraine become sluggish. In March, the Lord Chancellor and the former Housing Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), told us that they supported a move from a freeze on assets to pursuing the seizure of assets. They specifically mentioned the seizure of homes belonging to oligarchs to house Ukrainian refugees, but I am afraid we heard no more about that. The Prime Minister said that the aim of the sanctions programme was to “hobble the Russian economy” so that the war became untenable. He also promised that, until Putin responded by withdrawing from Ukraine, he would continue to go further in his efforts. Despite the sanctioning of individuals, I do not think that we have seen that followed through.
On corruption, I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s statement yesterday on the Government’s intention to tackle SLAPPs. The measures both to limit costs and to introduce a public interest test and an early strike-out all seem sensible. As always, the devil will be in the detail.
In their response to the call for evidence, the Government recognised:
“Many respondents who reported that they had experienced SLAPPs said that they had been investigating and/or writing about issues of corruption, financial crime and associated issues.”
They also said:
“The subject matter of work that sparked SLAPPs was not limited to corruption, however. Other respondents spoke of work on human rights violations, notably at the hands of corporations, and environmental issues as being the subject of SLAPPs.”
These powerful people, with access to unlimited resources, have been using SLAPPs to silence criticism and stop the reporting of their shady tactics. The Government are still considering whether to include a penalty for those who have brought forward a SLAPP case. Perhaps where a proven record of corruption can be found, the use of Magnitsky sanctions would be an effective and instant deterrent.
It is important to ensure that the UK applies sanctions on the grounds of both human rights and corruption. There has been a heavy focus on Russian oligarchs, but there are many other atrocities happening around the world. Magnitsky sanctions were used against some of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, but Saudi Arabia continues to violate its citizens’ human rights as part of its regime, and no further sanctions have been applied.
We have double standards on occupation. We speak out quite rightly against the occupation of Crimea and Donbas, but we say and do much less in relation to the occupation of the Palestinian territories and of Western Sahara. We have already heard about the increasingly urgent situation in Hong Kong, where citizens are detained and imprisoned for simple opposition and free speech in relation to the Chinese regime, but we have done very little other than issue platitudes.
We heard earlier during business questions about the appalling record of the Bahraini regime. There are many such regimes around the world. It is not a coincidence, I am afraid, that we are only willing to speak out, and sometimes act out, against those around the world who are not our friends. We should be able to speak up equally about those countries with which we have traditionally had closer relationships.
In summary, we should do more, we should do it equally and we should also do it quickly. We should not have to rely on journalists like Tom Burgis, Bill Browder and Catherine Belton to do the Government’s job for them, and they should not be the victims of much of this oppression. As we go forward, I hope that the Government will be listening and that they will act, particularly by bringing forward early legislation in relation to yesterday’s statement. It will not be easy, because public interest defences and cost capping are difficult concepts to put into law. If the Lord Chancellor is still in post at the beginning of September and we have the Bill of Rights, as was promised in today’s business statement, I do not want this issue to be compromised by association with that very controversial and, in my view, unnecessary piece of legislation. Nor do we want to see the anti-SLAPP legislation used to cover for the press barons who would use it to abuse in their own way. Why cannot we have cost capping where claimants as well as defendants are being abused? That is something for the Government to go away and think about.
I welcome very much this debate and I am very grateful to those who secured it. We just need to see some movement from the Government now.
I intend to speak only briefly. One of the great privileges of sitting in on a debate such as this is to hear from colleagues who know so much more and have worked so much harder that I on this and have provided real leadership. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), and, indeed, the doubly sanctioned hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton).
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will briefly break the cross-party unity. I worry that one reason that we have not tackled the sanctions regime nearly as much as we should, which we could easily have done, as he so well illustrated, is that there is still an awful lot of dirty money sloshing around in the City of London and in the London property market, and there are many people there who perhaps do not want that to be tackled. I understand that, but if we are to defend our values, we have to defend them at home as well as abroad. We have heard a menu of likely candidates today against whom we could easily justify bringing in sanctions. There is absolutely no point bringing in the Magnitsky sanctions if we do not then use them. I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). I welcome the proposals on SLAPPs, and I look forward to any legislation that is required being brought in fairly quickly and having support across the House.
I wish to briefly talk about Mr Bill Browder, of whom I am a huge admirer. I have met him in this House a couple of times. He initiated the whole Magnitsky sanctions debate and the change in the regime. He has been tried in absentia in what is nothing more than a kangaroo court in Russia and been sentenced to ridiculous lengths of time. His commitment to the memory of Sergei Magnitsky and to justice has never been dimmed, and we should pay tribute to Mr Browder and to continue to support him in his work. His book, “Freezing Order”, which I have read—all hon. Members should read it—reads like a spy novel, but it is not fiction; it is reality. It is quite astonishing. He talks about businesses and other organisations which are facilitators and live in the west—in the United Kingdom, the European Union—and live and work in the United States. For whatever reason, they are facilitating the people who, as has been demonstrated, are undertaking human rights violations. They are facilitating those people’s abuse of our political system to delay, frustrate and put barriers in the way of the search for justice. That facilitation would not be possible in the countries that they come from. Just as I talk about the money sloshing around in the City of London, I say we have be alive to those businesses and law companies—my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda has drawn attention to this in previous debates—that are facilitating and supporting the human rights abuses under the cover of our natural commitment to fair justice and to the fact that everyone should be included.
Those companies need to declare themselves. I am very much in favour, as Bill Browder is in his book, of a foreign agents registration Act for the UK. That is necessary to see who these facilitators are. Frankly, at some point, those businesses, law companies and PR companies need to decide which side their bread is buttered on and where their best interests lie.
I completely agree that we should have a foreign agents registration Bill. My understanding is that the Government are intending to put that in the middle of the National Security Bill, but only on Report. Is it not vital that we have proper debate on that, with at least two days on the Floor of the House to consider it, because it is a matter of constitutional security?
My hon. Friend is an expert in matters of procedure. He is also an expert in matters Magnitsky. If he thinks that that is the best way forward, I think it is the best way forward.
I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but I pay tribute to Bill Browder and all those people around him who, in the face of death threats, have continued their search for justice. We owe it to them to support them.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on securing this debate and thank the Backbench Business Committee. I will not be taking part in the Sir David Amess Adjournment debate, so I want to place on record the thanks of my party to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to Mr Speaker and the wider team of staff, for all you do to support the House. I hope everybody has a good recess.
It is a sad fact that human rights abuses are taking place everywhere in the world, every day. As an MP elected in 2019, I find the information we get on this subject—the wide variety of places where it is happening and also what we hear from constituents—almost overwhelming. I am very grateful to my constituents in North East Fife for raising such issues with me. Like others, I want to refer to some of the campaigns and issues that have caught my attention.
First, I want to talk about political prisoners in Belarus, where there are currently 1,260 persons classified globally as political prisoners. These include bloggers to business owners, politicians to peaceful protesters—hundreds of people imprisoned in politically motivated persecutions, simply because they have exercised their right to freedom of expression and political participation. Through the #WeStandBYyou solidarity campaign, I am one of a number of godparents to one such political prisoner, and his name is Pavel Drozd. He was arrested on 3 November 2020 for alleged computer hacking and was tried earlier this year—a trial held behind closed doors without any due process. He has been sentenced to three and a half years in a penal colony. We sadly know very little about his welfare because his family, quite understandably, have distanced themselves from the campaign for his freedom. They are at threat themselves for speaking out, so I do have sympathy with their position.
Will the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to support political prisoners such as Pavel, and to put pressure on the Belarusian Government to free such prisoners and reinstate proper democratic practices? I would also like to invite the Minister, and indeed anybody else in the House as a whole, to join me in solidarity by becoming a godparent. I am happy to send over information to anyone who expresses an interest.
Like others, I would like to talk about Bahrain. I know that it was mentioned this morning and that concern for the plight of prisoners in Bahrain is shared across the House. Indeed, I highlight my early-day motion on the issue and thank Members who have signed it. Dr al-Singace is serving a life sentence for his role in the 2011 pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain. His trial did not meet any of the standards of fairness that we would expect. He has been tortured and denied medical treatment, despite having chronic medical conditions. His work, which was apolitical, has been confiscated and his calls to his family have been stopped. In response to the conditions that he and others are suffering, he has been on hunger strike and has refused to eat solids for over a year. One can only imagine the impact of that on his physical and mental health.
Last year I met with Ali Mushaima, who was on hunger strike outside the Bahraini embassy calling for the release of Dr al-Singace and his own father, Hassan Mushaima, who has also been sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in that uprising. Mr Mushaima is 74 and is in remission from cancer. For the past year he has been held in a medical facility, but the authorities continue to deny him medical care. These are men who are facing life in prison without health care and are being subjected to degrading treatment simply because they believe in democracy.
The Government have continued to hold high-level meetings with Bahraini officials, and Prince Nasser continues to freely attend high-profile events such as Royal Ascot. Just two months ago, it was reported that he met with the Prime Minister. I very much hope those discussions involved highlighting what I have just described. I hope the Minister will join me in denouncing the treatment of Bahraini prisoners, and indeed the anti-democratic rule of a country where freedom of speech and assembly is repressed and the torture of dissenters is widespread.
As I have said, human rights abuses are taking place all the time. As we have seen from the war in Ukraine, where there is the political will for sanctions, then they are applied; but as others have highlighted, for other countries and other places, this Government are strangely reticent. I am conscious that, just last weekend, the “Home of Golf” in my constituency hosted the Open. Golf is not a sport that has been devoid of controversies in this area. It makes it difficult for us to feel that we can make a stand and speak out about the support for potentially repressive regimes if the Government do not do things to support that.
More recently, the situation in Sri Lanka has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds, as the Rajapaksa Government force their country into crisis with unsound economic policies, corruption and draconian police powers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) recently called in the House for an international arrest warrant to be issued for President Rajapaksa. I reiterate that call and hope that the Minister can respond to that point.
Finally, I want to highlight the fact that the Iranian hostage takers have failed to have any action taken against them through Magnitsky sanctions. We are all grateful for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz in March, but the Government’s refusal to use the sanctions regime available to it arguably emboldened their captors. All three went through unthinkably awful experiences before their release that could have been avoided if we had actually taken action. I hope that the Minister will explain to the House and to Nazanin, Anoosheh and Morad why that was not done at the time.
As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said in his opening remarks, tools are available within the FCDO. We must properly utilise the taskforce and Parliament must be fully sighted on this. On the last day of term, there is clearly an interest in this topic in the House—please act.
The UK’s role as a leader in the protection of human rights is something to be proud of. We are lucky to live in a country where we do not need to worry about having our rights breached or being abused in the worst ways. It is important, however, that we make use of the tools that we have to deter other world leaders from putting minority groups in danger. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, and it was a good day when we saw their plane touch down on UK soil at RAF Brize Norton.
Turning to China, the state has persecuted and abused minorities for decades there. The Uyghur people are a prime example. The People’s Republic of China has quite openly sought to completely squash a population based on their religion, looking to eradicate them. That campaign has seen the Uyghur tribunal find that the PRC has committed genocide against them. The evidence seen by the tribunal was horrific. It makes for deeply uncomfortable reading, yet the PRC pushed back on the findings—that is unsurprising but galling in the face of the mountains of evidence, because they have so far not faced the necessary consequences for their actions.
The Uyghurs are not the only persecuted minority facing such atrocities in China. It is a country that demands total allegiance to the ruling Chinese Communist party. President Xi Jinping has consolidated his power, asserting himself as the ultimate power in the country in a way that his more recent predecessors did not.
Followers of the religion Falun Gong have also faced a campaign of persecution under the guise of the state’s doctrine of atheism. In reality, it was what the ruling CCP saw as a threat to its total dominance—the religion’s peaceful teachings were popular and its following grew faster than anticipated. Like the Uyghurs, followers of Falun Gong have been subjected to re-education camps, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, torture and death. They have been violated in the worst ways and are allegedly the main victims of forced organ harvesting in China. It is unthinkable and distressing.
Religion has been at the root of almost all similar campaigns of hatred and oppression for centuries—unacceptably so, but that is a sad truth. I recognise, though, that religion is not always at the heart of these problems. Staying with China as an example, we can look at how they have sought to extend their reach, oppressing what they see as treasonous dissent for any reason. Only a couple of weeks ago, I joined colleagues in Westminster Hall to debate the situation in Hong Kong. The treatment of those with British national overseas status as China tightens its grip on the region has been horrifying to watch, with citizens victimised for wanting to live in a democratic society.
Taiwan is another example of how China is looking to dominate what it sees as China’s, even if the Taiwanese people do not. After what we have seen playing out in Ukraine, tensions and anxiety are incredibly high, and it is understandable why. Despite all that, only five Magnitsky sanctions have been designated in China so far. China is not the only country by a long shot that the Government should be looking at closely in this respect. The UK’s sanction regime, applied in the right way and swiftly, could have a real and tangible impact, so why are we not utilising it to its full effect?
Keeping pace with our international allies is crucial if sanctions are to have the desired impact. In the first year of legislation being in place, the UK handed out 102 sanctions to perpetrators of corruption and human rights abuses. The next year, it was just six. To date, we have sanctioned only 20% of the individuals that the United States has, as we have heard, and I struggle to understand why progress is so slow. Co-ordination is absolutely essential.
Will the hon. Lady add another country, Nigeria, to her list? It is nothing to do with religion in this case, but there was a terrible massacre on 20 October 2020. Tukur Yusuf Buratai and Ganiyu Raji were two of the officers in charge of the shooting on civilians at a protest on that day. Would she support adding them to the sanctions list?
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, and I know my friend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) often mentions Nigeria. I agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda that a whole host of people should be added to the list. We can see how effective it has been with Russian sanctions.
Co-ordination is essential. Not doing so effectively undermines the very purpose for which the sanctions were created. Like so many colleagues, I am passionate about the protection of human rights. It is not enough to just say that we have the liberty to enjoy them here at home; if the UK wants to be seen as a world leader and an advocate for the oppressed and victimised, we have to do our part in modelling that behaviour for the rest of the world. We have the tools already. Let us use them to build something that will stand the test of time and help those who need it the most.
First, I thank all hon. and right hon. Members for their magnificent and significant contributions. They have covered many of the subject matters. I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. I was just sitting here writing down a list, and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned Nigeria. Nigeria is an area where there has been barbarism towards the humanists. When the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) and I visited Nigeria back in May, we asked the question for him.
There are abuses across the world. There are the Sunnis and the Shi’as in the middle east, the Baha’is in Iran, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow and Russia, and the Uyghurs and Falun Gong in China. I asked a question in business questions about the issue. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) mentioned all those people too. We have Hindus in Pakistan, Muslims in India and Buddhists in Tibet. I know the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is always interested in that issue, and I met some Buddhist people from Tibet this very week on Tuesday morning, and they reiterated the clear issues for them. They were very interested in the kidnapping and disappearance of the Panchen Lama, and the hon. Gentleman knows that case only too well. We have Baptists in Ukraine. Where Russia has taken over, Baptist pastors have gone missing, and we do not know where they are. The churches are destroyed. It is a catalogue of pure evil and wickedness across the world. It is not just one place.
In the short time I have, I will refer to the international ministerial conference that took place just a few weeks ago with 80 countries. It served as a forum where Her Majesty’s Government encouraged international co-operation to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief for all. Six pledges were made, four of which are pertinent to today’s debate. They were: to raise awareness of the current challenges to FORB issues across the world and of best practice in preventing violations and abuses; to speak out bilaterally, as well as through multilateral institutions; to look for opportunities to work more closely together with international partners to implement practical solutions; and to reinforce global coalitions for collective action.
The hon. Member for Rhondda and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) have spoken out a number of times about freedom of religion or belief, and one of the strongest tools we have is Magnitsky-style sanctions. We want to see them working. We must work with other countries like us to champion the rule of law and equal rights for all members of society. These regulations are vital to protect vulnerable minority communities, to stop perpetrators profiting from these crimes and to punish those responsible. We must not forget that it is often minority religious and belief communities who are the canary in the coal mine.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the phrase “seamless garment”? It refers to Jesus’s robe when it was taken off him and they decided to cast lots for it rather than cut it up. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that human rights are a seamless garment in that we cannot separate one category of human rights from another? Would he therefore also seek to condemn the execution in Iran of Mehrdad Karimpour and Farid Mohammadi for homosexuality in February this year?
I certainly would, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analogy of the seamless garment. I believe that human rights and religious belief work together and that when we attack one, we attack the other, so I have absolutely no compunction in agreeing with him on that. I will say that and put it on the record.
During the ministerial conference, numerous violations of freedom of religious belief were highlighted. For those cases, the threshold of evidence needed for Magnitsky sanctions was more than high enough. I want to raise one case in particular. Even though it has already been mentioned in today’s debate—the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green has been to the fore in this matter—the situation in Xinjiang deserves special attention, especially as this House, the Home Secretary and our closest allies recognise that there is overwhelming evidence of genocide against Uyghur Muslims.
Since 2003, the Chinese Communist party has sought to eradicate—I use that word on purpose; the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) used it as well—the Uyghur culture from China. For nearly 20 years, there has been a systematic approach to Uyghurs that has led to mass forced labour, forced relocation, the detention of up to 2 million people, arbitrary torture, forced sterilisation, executions and even organ harvesting on a commercial basis. As China commits these crimes, it also seeks to profit from the detention of the Uyghur Muslims, and as the arrests have increased, so has the economic output of the region.
This is where Magnitsky sanctions can make a real difference and where the UK can start to implement its duty to prevent genocide under the 1948 genocide convention. This is exactly the kind of situation the regulations were put in place for. Indeed, in 2020 Her Majesty’s Government announced co-ordinated action with the EU, the US and Canada to introduce sanctions on four Chinese Government officials and the public security bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which runs the detention camps in the region. However, unfortunately and disappointingly, the UK Government have refused to impose sanctions on senior Chinese Government officials who are known to be directly involved in perpetrating the abuses, including the six perpetrators who have been sanctioned under near-identical legislation in the United States of America. This is part of a trend where the UK is getting slower in protecting global human rights. I say this disappointedly and very respectfully to the Minister, who I know has the same level of interest in protecting global human rights as I have. I am proud of our country’s commitment to upholding human rights on the world stage and that we are seen as global leaders in this field, but this reputation should not be taken for granted.
In the first year of the UK’s Magnitsky sanctions regime, 102 perpetrators were sanctioned for human rights abuses. However, the following year this fell to just six perpetrators. In the same period, the United States sanctioned more than 130 individuals or companies, again under near-identical legislation, when the threshold of evidence was met for both the UK and US regimes. The major question that everybody is asking is: if the American Government can do it, why can’t we?
The Government’s own impact assessment for the global anti-corruption sanctions legislation stated that the policy envisaged the UK working
“more closely with international partners, including the US and Canada”.
Clearly we are failing to keep pace with sanctions designations. This lack of co-ordination not only weakens the impact on perpetrators but encourages sanctioned individuals to use the UK as a safe haven to profit from corruption or human rights abuses, as many Members have said today. It also sends a message that the UK is unwilling to condemn such behaviour. As of today, the UK has sanctioned only 20% of those sanctioned by the United States. We need to do better. When I and others in this House raise specific questions on sanctions in this Chamber we always get the same response—namely, that it is the policy of the Government not to discuss specific individuals before sanctions are enacted. For goodness’ sake, just do them! Just follow what everybody else does. More transparency is needed from the Government and there is need for increased parliamentary oversight.
I will finish with four questions to the Minister, and I am sorry that I seem to be rushing. That is “rushing” as in rushing my words, not as in Russian. I have questions I want to ask the Minister. What steps have the Government taken to co-ordinate or share evidence of abuses with the United States and the other 22 countries with Magnitsky sanctions legislation? Does the Minister agree that Magnitsky-style sanctions can be an appropriate tool to help to prevent genocide and other crimes against humanity? Will the Government expand the sanctions on perpetrators of atrocities in Xinjiang province? Finally, will the Government use evidence presented in the international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief, held just a few weeks ago, to enact sanctions on perpetrators of egregious abuses of the rights of religious minorities? I know that the issue is close to the Minister’s heart, and we are looking for a substantial response. No pressure, but I want the right answers today.
I, too, begin by thanking the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for securing this debate. I also put on record my appreciation for all that they do as co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions. I also thank those who have spoken in this debate—the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) and for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), as well, of course, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
It is essential that we take every opportunity in this House to talk about the plight of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Yazidis in Iraq, and that we shine a light on state corruption and abuses of human rights where we see them. That is why the passing of the Magnitsky law in 2020 was so important, putting in place a system whereby meaningful sanctions can be taken against states, institutions and individuals involved in human rights abuses or corrupt practices. It was an extremely important first step, but it was only the first step, because having the law in place and not using it effectively is almost as bad as not having the law there at all. The APPG’s report “Stuck In First Gear” makes for depressing reading for those of us who desperately want to see the United Kingdom lead the way in freezing the assets of, and imposing meaningful sanctions on, individuals and states who commit the most egregious human rights violations.
It appears that having given themselves the power to do something significant and meaningful, the UK Government are becoming increasingly timid in the exercise of that power. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West pointed out, from a first-year high of 102 sanctions, there were only six in the following year. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife and the hon. Member for Strangford said, in highlighting the ongoing abuses in Bahrain and China, as much as we would all love to believe that things were getting better around the world and the situation had improved so much, we know that it simply has not. Indeed, it could be argued that things are getting much worse. It is therefore extremely disappointing to learn that in the opinion of so many highly respected members of the APPG there is a paucity of ambition when it comes to using the legislation effectively and consistently.
Lord Ahmad said:
“Sanctions work best when multiple countries act together…to send a political signal that such behaviour is intolerable.”
But, as we have heard, when the United States announced sweeping sanctions against 16 countries and many individuals, the UK used the power only once against an individual and on four occasions against the Myanmar regime. Why are the powers not being used in a co-ordinated fashion and in tandem with our democratic allies? Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us as to exactly what was the behaviour that the United States saw at the end of 2021 in China, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Liberia, Syria, Ukraine and Iran that they deemed to be intolerable but which the UK Government presumably found to be tolerable?
Yesterday, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) were in contact with Richard Ratcliffe who, along with his wife Nazanin, has repeatedly called on the Foreign Secretary to use Magnitsky sanctions and whatever other options are available to better protect British nationals who are being illegally or arbitrarily detained overseas. As the hon. Member for Rhondda said—Richard made this point, too—the Foreign Secretary has had in her possession since last September a file containing 10 names of Iran’s hostage takers, including three people directly involved in Nazanin’s detention and imprisonment. Could the Minister explain why no sanctions have been imposed on any of those Iranian officials, who both we and they know are complicit in the arrest and detention of UK nationals and in human rights abuses against them?
In 2020, the Government’s intention was to take a global leadership role on Magnitsky sanctions. No one anywhere in the House would criticise them for that ambition, but to be a global leader we must ensure that our own house is in order. Further to the important points made by the hon. Members for City of Chester and for Hammersmith, we must close the loopholes in the UK’s financial system.
Earlier this week, we debated the deteriorating security situation in Nigeria, where endemic corruption is taking that country to the brink of collapse. Next year’s presidential elections could be the last chance Nigeria has to prevent itself from descending into chaos and even, heaven forbid, civil war. But that endemic corruption is not just a problem for Nigeria to solve in isolation. Professor Sadiq Isah Radda, the Nigerian President’s anti-corruption tsar, said:
“There are thieves and there are receivers, London is most notorious safe haven for looted funds in the world today. Without safe havens for looted funds, Nigeria and Africa will not be this corrupt. So, for the West to have a moral voice of calling Nigeria or Africa as corrupt, they must shun looted funds by closing safe havens and returning all looted funds to victim countries.”
I urge the Minister, in addition to strengthening and imposing meaningful Magnitsky sanctions, to look strongly, closer to home, at the role that financial institutions here in the City of London are playing in facilitating corruption, to the extent that a Commonwealth country could be on the brink of collapse if something is not done very quickly.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) not only for securing this critical debate but for their assiduous leadership on these matters across the House. I also welcome the Minister to his new role. I am delighted that we are engaging in such important discussions before the House rises for the summer, and I thank Members across the House for their thoughtful and valuable contributions to the debate.
Let me begin by reiterating Labour’s support for the Magnitsky sanctions regime introduced back in 2020 and acknowledging the constructive nature of interactions between the Government and the Opposition on, for example, the implementation of sanctions on Russia since its illegal and barbarous invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, I have just received a summons to a debate at the start of the new term on sanctions on Belarus.
Where the Government have got it right, we have supported them, but where we believe they should and could have gone further, we must say so. I express my heartfelt condolences to the family of Sergei Magnitsky. If we are to honour his memory, the full force of our sanctions regime must be utilised to root out and condemn human rights abuses worldwide. Across the House, we know that sanctions work only when the UK works multilaterally to hold the perpetrators of abuses to account by leading and drawing on our historic and defining global partnerships, not least with the United States and the European Union. That has rightly been raised by Members across the House today.
The foreign policy of the next Labour Government will be grounded in securing the rights of people across the world and ensuring that Britain plays a crucial international role in advocating for the rule of law and, particularly when it comes to human rights, working with others and not lagging behind. This matters now more than ever, because we stand at a crossroads: a global trend towards authoritarianism and human rights abuses could prevail if we do not utilise every weapon in our diplomatic and legal arsenals to counter it.
Freedom House articulated this clearly in its most recent “Freedom in the World” report, which concluded:
“The present threat to democracy is the product of 16 consecutive years of decline in global freedom...As of today, some 38 percent of the global population live in Not Free countries, the highest proportion since 1997.”
There are so many examples to list. Colleagues across the House have done an exceptional job of providing a sense of the dangers in the global picture and how our sanctions regime must match them.
Of course, in Ukraine, Russian forces have committed egregious and heinous abuses in the deliberate targeting of civilian areas, the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war, and the use of mines and explosive equipment to murder innocent people returning to their homes. We are now hearing shocking stories about the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens, including children, into the Russian far east, and the tearing apart of families in a brazen and appalling attempt to undermine and wipe out Ukrainian society.
We have supported the Government’s sanctions regime, which is levelled at Putin’s inner circle, oligarchs and the profiteers of the regime, but I want to put on the record that the unity between the Government and Opposition on this issue is not uniformity. I had some frank discussions with one of the Minister’s predecessors—the right hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), who is now the Secretary of State for Education—when we believed that the broadening of the sanctions regime did not come quickly enough and when there were clear cracks in the system or a lack of resources.
Let me follow up on the issues that I have raised consistently. What is the Government’s latest position on the seizure and repurposing, as opposed to merely the freezing, of the assets of those who have been sanctioned? Indeed, are any considerations being given to the repatriation of revenue to support humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine?
I have just returned from an extremely useful trip to the western Balkans. It is clear that the situation in that region is very dangerous and fragile. Indeed, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, has warned of the real prospect of a return to violence. Many in the House will recall the scale and severity of the human rights abuses committed in both Bosnia and Kosovo, which I visited in the 1990s. Labour will continue to support the Government in levelling sanctions at those throughout the region, such as Milorad Dodik, for their role in inciting tensions recently.
As has been mentioned, we must hold those in Nigeria to account for the appalling crimes that have been committed—not least the shocking events in 2020, when military forces opened fire at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos. The then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), called on the Nigerian Government to investigate the reports of brutality at the hands of the security forces, yet to date the Government have failed to impose any sanctions in response, despite their having received, as I understand it, detailed evidence from Redress and Nigerian partners that identifies the perpetrators. We have heard in recent days about the shocking sentences handed out to three gay men in northern Nigeria, who were sentenced to be stoned to death. Surely we must take action against those who perpetrate or threaten such horrific abuses.
After the military coup in Myanmar, the Government took the welcome decision to implement further sanctions against Burmese military organisations—but that took two months, despite egregious crimes being committed against the population in real time. Is it an issue with our existing sanctions regulations, which need to be modified to cope with crises in real time? Or, as I alluded to earlier, are there often simply too few people at the FCDO and the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation to ensure prompt and consistent responses? I know that the number in the FCDO unit has increased, and I pay tribute to the officials who do such excellent work in this policy area, but we are lagging behind the United States and others in terms of the investment and resources that we put in. The staff numbers at the OFSI are simply not enough. We need to see better co-ordination among the OFSI, the National Crime Agency and other enforcement bodies to ensure a consistent approach.
Let me turn to a fundamental point that a number of Members raised: why is it the case that the UK has sanctioned only 20% of the perpetrators of abuses who have been sanctioned by the United States? I cannot understand how we are so far behind one of our closest allies. According to Redress and the all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions, there has been a slowdown in the use of Magnitsky sanctions in recent months. The ramifications are immense.
We have heard about Xinjiang, where the human rights abuses have shocked the world. I pay tribute to those from all parties in the House, many of whom are present, who have been consistent in raising those abuses. However, from the party secretary who has orchestrated the brutal crackdown on the Uyghurs and other religious minorities to the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which runs the mass coercive-labour programmes throughout the region, there have been exemptions that are frankly staggering. Why have the Government held off? What more do they need to see to do the right thing?
Another problematic issue with the UK lagging behind others is that sometimes people move their assets in case the sanctions come to them as well. We have seen significant cases, one of which I raised with the Foreign Secretary when she appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee recently: in the case of Sistema, the individual simply gave half his material goods to his son and managed to escape the sanctions. Why are we so slow?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s point, which emphasises the point that I made about acting multilaterally, quickly, urgently and in co-ordination.
We heard a lot from my hon. Friend and others about Hong Kong. The United States have sanctioned at least 11 officials—from Carrie Lam to Chris Tang—for their role in infringing on the rights of the people of Hong Kong. What is the Government’s trepidation about this? We can look at Ali Ghanaatkar in Iran or Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo in Sudan; the former was head of interrogations in Evin prison, while the latter is responsible for gross human rights abuses in Darfur. I have not even got time to mention the many examples that we have heard from across the middle east and the Gulf states. What of Alexander Lebedev—will the Minister clarify? We know that he has been sanctioned by Canada as a former KGB agent and known associate of Putin. Have we sanctioned him, and if not, why not?
We want the Government to make proper and far-reaching use of the Magnitsky regime that we adopted back in 2020, and indeed the country regimes, but that requires ambition, urgency and proper resourcing. The House has made its voice very clear today; there has been complete consistency across the House, as I hope the Minister has heard clearly. The protection and advancement of human rights should be at the heart of any British foreign policy, and I hope that the agreement that the Minister has heard across the House will result in action commensurate with the violations that are unfolding across the world today.
This is my first appearance at the Dispatch Box; I do not know whether it will be my last. First, I want to pay real tribute to the work of our brilliant United Kingdom Foreign Office officials, who work day in, day out around the world on advancing the United Kingdom’s interests. All in the House will want to join me in paying tribute to them, and specifically their work on sanctions—thank you.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for securing this important debate. I know from speaking to both of them their commitment and passion about doing everything that we can to stand up for human rights. I pay tribute to the work done by all colleagues in the House to advance human rights, as well as—I look to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—freedom of religion or belief.
I thank the all-party parliamentary group on Magnitsky sanctions for all that it does. Three of the recommendations made through its secretariat, Redress, were considered by the sanctions team at the Foreign Office and designations were made with regard to those specific cases. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda is suggesting certain figures with his fingers, but the specific numbers have to meet specific criteria.
On what the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) said, yes of course I absolutely pay tribute to Bill Browder, who is an inspiration. He did amazing work on getting the United Kingdom where we need to be on the Magnitsky sanctions. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), the former Foreign Secretary, for working with Mr Browder on a bipartisan basis to take the agenda forward. I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for saying that he wants to work together on a bipartisan basis, and I very much look forward to working with him.
We stand in full support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and all in this House and the other place who have been sanctioned by foreign Governments. On my left, to the back, is my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has been doubly sanctioned. I say to all parliamentarians who have been sanctioned that nothing that those foreign Governments do will ever stop Members in this place from speaking up for what is right and proper.
In my new role as the Minister with responsibility for sanctions, I will continue to engage with parliamentarians across the board. Having heard about the different areas around the world that have been highlighted, I can say—and I did say to the team at the Foreign Office when I was first appointed—that we should have regular engagement with Members of Parliament.
That is all very general, but may I ask the Minister about one specific case, which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and by the shadow Minister? I refer to the Lekki massacre in Nigeria. We know when and where it happened. A judicial inquiry is taking place. We know who was responsible. We know that people were killed by the military and the police there. Given all that, why have the Government not imposed sanctions in that specific case?
The hon. Gentleman knows, having been a parliamentarian here for many, many years, that as a Minister of the Crown I cannot comment on specific cases. What I can say is that I will take the matter away and ask the Foreign Office officials to look at it. I will also say that when we come back in September we will ensure that we have that meeting and engagement with Foreign Office officials, looking at sanctions, and that if I am the Minister, I will look at this specific issue.
The Government have long recognised the power of sanctions to promote our values and interests, and combat state threats, terrorism, cyber-attacks and chemical weapons. We have demonstrated just how powerful these measures can be. Working closely with our allies, we are introducing the most severe sanctions that Russia has ever faced, to help cripple Putin’s war machine. That is a key part of our response, alongside our economic, humanitarian and military assistance for Ukraine and its great, brave people in these difficult, challenging times. Our sanctions include asset freezes on 18 of Russia’s major banks, with global assets worth £940 billion. Since Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine almost five months ago, we have sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and 100 entities.
The Minister should bear in mind that he has managed to do that only because we have basically adopted all the EU sanctions, and all the Canadian and American sanctions, and that those run out in a few days, so he is going to have to do them all over again. It will not be the same number by the time we get back in September.
Let us look at what we have done in comparison with partners around the world, as the hon. Gentleman mentions what we have done with regard to other European partners. We have done more than any other country in the sanctions we have put forward as part of the action we have taken against Russia for its illegal invasion in Ukraine.
The hon. Gentleman says that that is not true. I am very happy to have that conversation with him and officials, but my understanding is that for the number of sanctions we have applied in connection with Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the figures are about 1,000 individuals and 100 entities. In my understanding, that is the largest number of any international partner in the world.
I can ask my officials to look at that specific point and come back to the hon. Gentleman on it.
The UK has designated more individuals than any other G7 member, demonstrating our leadership in this field. We also brought forward emergency legislation so that we could respond even more swiftly and effectively. We now have a significantly expanded sanctions directorate within the FCDO to take forward these measures. I visited it this week, where I was impressed by the incredibly hard work everyone is putting in to deliver our objectives. Let me be clear that these measures are working. Sanctions imposed by the UK and our international partners are having deep and damaging consequences for Putin’s ability to wage war.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green asked about greater collaboration with the US as we move forward on sanctions designations. I will be in the US next week to speak to counterparts, looking at sanctions and how we can work together even more in the coming months and years on this point. That may not be quite what he wanted me to say, but it shows our commitment to work with our international partners. Having come into office 10 days ago, I will be in the US next week meeting counterparts about this specific, important issue.
Meanwhile, we continue to impose sanctions in support of human rights and democracy elsewhere in the world, using our geographic regimes. That includes measures cutting off arms flows to the military in Myanmar, targeting those supporting the Assad regime in Syria, and bearing down on politicians who undermine the hard-won peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In recent years, we have boosted the tools at our disposal through our independent sanctions framework. We launched our global human rights sanctions regime in 2020 and our global anti-corruption sanctions regime the following year.
Our global human rights sanctions regime helps us hold to account those involved in serious human rights violations or abuses—including torture, slavery and forced labour—by imposing targeted asset freezes and travel bans. Since the regime was launched, we have designated 81 individuals and entities. We have used it to stand up for the rights of citizens in countries ranging from Russia to Belarus, Venezuela, Pakistan, The Gambia and North Korea. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) mentioned Belarus. Only yesterday, the other place approved the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2022, which will come back to this House in September, allowing for further debate.
China and Hong Kong have been mentioned by parliamentarians across the House. We have taken robust action to hold China to account for its appalling human rights violations in Xinjiang, including systematic restrictions on religious practice. On that point, I thank the hon. Member for Strangford for the amazing work of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of region or belief, which he chairs. As a former special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, and having worked with my US counterpart, Sam Brownback, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, to set up the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance—it had 26 member states at the time—I totally understand what such partnership working and collaboration can do to advance interests that are important to both our great countries.
Last year, we imposed unprecedented joint sanctions against those responsible for enforcing China’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang. We took that action alongside 29 other countries, demonstrating the strength of international resolve. We have also led international efforts to hold China to account at the United Nations, taken measures to tackle forced labour in supply chains, funded research to expose China’s actions, and consistently raised our concerns at the highest level.
On Hong Kong, we continue to challenge China for breaching its legally binding commitments under the joint declaration. We have called out its conduct on the world stage. Together with our G7 partners, we have condemned the steady erosion of political and civil rights. We have also opened our doors to the people of Hong Kong through a new immigration path for British nationals overseas, with over 120,000 applications. Moreover, we have suspended the UK-Hong Kong extradition treaty indefinitely, and extended to Hong Kong the arms embargo applied to mainland China since 1989, as updated in 1998.
Although it would not be appropriate for me to speculate about future possible designations, we remain committed to working with partners to hold China to account, and not only China. We remain committed to working with international partners, whether our friends in Canada, our friends in Australia, who apply a similar system of sanctions, or the EU. We will work together, hand in hand, to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to hold those perpetrators to account for serious human rights violations. That is a top priority for this Government.
Our global anti-corruption sanctions regime targets those involved in bribery and misappropriation, stopping them freely entering the United Kingdom and using it as a safe haven for dirty money. The hon. Members for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) talked about how we can address the issue of dirty money coming into the United Kingdom. That is also a key priority for the Government. In just over a year, we have designated 27 people, including Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta and their associate Salim Essa, who were at the heart of long-running corruption that caused significant damage to South Africa’s economy.
I conclude by reflecting on the words of Winston Churchill:
“It is wonderful what great strides can be made when there is a resolute purpose behind them.”—[Official Report, 7 May 1947; Vol. 437, c. 455.]
The United Kingdom Government have demonstrated our vision and purpose by taking significant steps on this issue. Of course we can do more, and we will do more. The Government will work with parliamentarians to do all we can to ensure that serious human rights violators are brought to account.
Again, I thank the hon. Member for Rhondda and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green for all they have done. I look forward to working with them when Parliament returns in September. I go to the United States next week, so this timely debate enables me to say to my US counterparts how important this issue is not just for Congress but for Parliament.
I start by thanking Redress, which has been hugely influential and important. Without its data, we would not have been able to have this debate today.
My hon. Friend the Minister must not take this personally, but this is not good enough—I am sorry. He set out a very laudable list of people and countries, but the fact remains that we have sanctioned only 20% of what the US has sanctioned. There is no answer yet as to why the US knows more than we do, and why we have not asked it for what it knows that we do not know. As we go into recess, the Government now have a few weeks to get this sorted out and to come back with a list of all the people they will sanction just to get us level with the US. I would like to see us sanction more, but there we are.
I draw the House’s attention to the reality in Xinjiang, where the Uyghurs are being decimated. It is the crime of all crimes: genocide. How have we not sanctioned the architects of this brutal, foul crime? Will my hon. Friend please go back to his office and say, “Get the names of those the Americans have sanctioned, and let us now sanction them immediately.”
We should stand for freedom, human rights and the rule of law, which are features of what we do here. If we cannot spell out to the world that we will not allow these acts of brutality and corruption to take place anywhere in the world, and even in London, we are not worth that title. I believe we are, so can we please come back in September and sanction everyone we can?
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered UK sanctions for human rights abuses and corruption.