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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 4:34 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Minister of State (Europe) 4:34 pm, 13th October 2008

I want to make some progress.

As Europe Minister, I thoroughly support the EU policy to promote and protect human rights defenders. They may be lawyers or politicians, they may be housewives or soldiers, but they share one thing—they are on the front line of human rights and, more than any policy document, they provide a short sharp glimpse into the world's trouble spots.

It is brave for one individual to challenge a state, especially on its human rights record, so such people need our support and I conclude my speech by paying tribute to some of them: Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist shot dead outside her home in 2007, and the many supporters of the "One Million Signatures" campaign in Iran, men and women calling for an end to discriminatory laws against women, many of whom have been harassed, detained, interrogated, and in some cases even prosecuted for crimes against national security, simply because of their efforts to support equality.

At present, attention is focused on the Nobel peace prize, awarded to Martti Ahtisaari for his efforts over three decades to resolve international conflicts. I also support other prize-winning human rights activists: Gege Katana, who has stood against sexual violence in Congo, winning the Front Line award, and who was guest of honour at a reception at the British embassy in Kinshasa, and Sudanese human rights lawyer Salih Mahmoud Osman, winner of the European Parliament's Freedom of Thought prize.

Many human rights defenders are in jail or under house arrest. The most prominent is Aung San Suu Kyi, who provides a reminder to the people of Burma that there is an alternative to military repression. In China, Chen Guangcheng received a sentence of four years and three months for obstructing traffic and damaging public property. He, too, is a human rights defender. British embassy monitoring helped to secure EU pressure for the release of Umida Niyazova from an Uzbekh prison. On the EU's doorstep, Viktor Gonchav, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yury Zakharenko and Dmitry Zaradsky opposed the Belarusian authorities. They disappeared during 1999 and 2000. There has been no independent investigation. However, to come back to an earlier intervention, I welcome the recent release of the last three political prisoners in Belarus. For the first time in a decade, that country has no political prisoners, and that is a positive step. Our reactions to that have to be tempered by the fact that we must continue to encourage engagement, while recognising that, in some instances, sanctions of different kinds continue to have a purpose as progress is made.

Finally, let us remember Gift Tandare and the many other victims of Robert Mugabe's repression in Zimbabwe. Violence and the threat of violence have long been the chosen political tools of Mugabe and his party. When the then Opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was beaten last year, Mugabe's response was that he deserved to be "bashed"; he told the police to "beat him a lot". A positive future in Zimbabwe depends on the violence of the past never being repeated.

The people whom I mentioned have fought for the causes they believe in. They have been unfairly imprisoned and have suffered. Part of our policy on human rights must be to fight their corner, just as we must tackle their Governments. Above all, we must build an international community that ensures that our universal human rights are universally promoted, respected and protected.

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