Bangladesh

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th May 2016.

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Photo of Simon Danczuk Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale 12:00 am, 24th May 2016

What recent discussions he has had with his Bangladeshi counterpart on the protection of human rights in that country.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

What representations he has made to the Government of Bangladesh on violence towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in that country.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I would like to start by expressing my condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones and homes to Cyclone Roanu over the weekend. I welcome the strong leadership shown by the Government of Bangladesh.

I raised my concerns about human rights and violence against LGBT people again this morning with the Bangladeshi high commissioner. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend Mr Swayne, raised this with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh during his visit there in August 2015.

Photo of Simon Danczuk Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale

With extra-judicial killings, disappearances of political opponents and fraudulent elections, Bangladesh is quickly becoming a failed state. Does the Minister not think that it is time to start applying some form of sanctions to try to get Sheikh Hasina to hold a proper general election as soon as possible?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Like all those in this House, I was absolutely appalled by the senseless murders of the LGBT activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy, and we call on the Bangladeshi Government to bring those responsible for the killings to justice. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Extremist-related murders of members of minority religious groups and those whose views and lifestyles are contrary to Islam have increased in Bangladesh since February 2015, and we are discussing this regularly with the Government of that country.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister has said that he has talked to the Bangladeshi Government, but does he really think that that Government are taking sufficient steps to tackle the issue of violence against LGBT people?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Clearly I do not. We have a certain amount of leverage in Bangladesh—we are the largest grant aid donor, giving £162 million in 2015-16—so our voice has some influence there. In the past year our human rights and democracy programme has provided safety training for bloggers, and we have also funded a project promoting the rights of LGBT groups in Bangladesh, but there is a huge amount more to do. We are not shy of pushing the Government of Bangladesh in the right direction, but sometimes it takes a little bit of time and persuasion.[This section has been corrected on 26 May 2016, column 1MC — read correction]

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

The human rights of secularists in Bangladesh are threatened. Last month, Nazimuddin Samad, a law student in Dhaka, was killed for blogging, “I have no religion.” Will my right hon. Friend raise this with his Bangladeshi counterparts and ensure that secularists’ rights are also protected in Bangladesh?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There was not only the Daesh-claimed killing on 9 April in Dhaka of Nazimuddin Samad, but the murder on 23 April of Rezaul Karim Siddique in Rajshahi, in the east of the country. This is becoming an all too familiar occurrence in Bangladesh. There is a disagreement: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina blames the opposition parties for trying to destabilise the country and the victims for insulting Islam; we think the problem goes beyond that.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford

Do not the Government of Bangladesh’s inability to protect human rights and the absence of effective opposition to that Government require the UK Government, which continues to provide substantial aid to Bangladesh, to have a timetable for intervention to ensure that democracy and human rights continue in that country and do not fall under a single-party state?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I do not think my hon. Friend is suggesting that we should tie our aid, which helps some of the worst-off people in the world, with political progress, but I take on board his point. There is much more we can do in Bangladesh and we are trying, not least through the role of the new Commonwealth Secretary-General. Bangladesh is of course a member of the Commonwealth and we want the Commonwealth to take more action in that country, which at the moment is not heading in the right direction.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

Around 70 to 80 women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh abroad each day. Law enforcement is failing to prevent forced prostitution. What discussions is the Foreign Secretary having to press that legal systems prevail for women and girls in Bangladesh?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, although of course it is not just Bangladesh that is affected. We have done a lot on human trafficking through legislation; we have also done a lot on the supply chain, where I know there are concerns. We continue to raise the matter, not just in Bangladesh but in countries around the world. It is something we want to erase. It is unfortunately all too common and we take it seriously.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am delighted to hear that the Minister is so concerned about the recent killings of liberal activists in Bangladesh. He mentioned the brutal murder on 25 April of Xulhaz Mannan, editor of the country’s first and only LGBT magazine, and the appalling fatal machete attack on blogger Nazimuddin Samad on 6 April. Surely the Government of Bangladesh have been far too slow to act. What additional pressure are he and the Government prepared to put on the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that these murders are dealt with properly?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Government of Bangladesh would argue, as the high commissioner did to me this morning, that one of the victims of these crimes was a cousin of a former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, so this is something they are taking extremely seriously. I do believe that Bangladesh has a problem, and we will continue to talk to our Bangladeshi counterparts on a range of issues, some of which are of very great concern.