Human Rights

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th January 2018.

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Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence) 12:00 am, 9th January 2018

What steps he is taking to promote human rights in discussions with his counterparts in other countries.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Labour, Croydon Central

What steps he is taking to promote human rights in discussions with his counterparts in other countries.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

What steps he is taking to promote human rights in discussions with his counterparts in other countries.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Human rights issues are raised directly by all Ministers in all interactions with counterparts. I myself have raised them nine times in the past four months. We also support civil society organisations on the ground and support human rights norms through multilateral and international organisations.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

In Egypt, the treatment of the LGBT community continues to deteriorate, but I understand that lawmakers in the Egyptian Parliament are now considering a Bill to punish same-sex relationships with a maximum 10-year prison sentence. What representations have the Minister or the Foreign Secretary made to President Sisi about these alarming developments?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

These are very alarming developments, and the transition from what was believed to be an Islamist Government to a nationalist Government appears to have coincided with a crackdown on such issues. The Foreign Secretary has raised the matter directly with President Sisi and we will continue to champion these issues and raise them in every interaction with the Egyptian Government.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Labour, Croydon Central

We saw again this weekend the perils of the sea crossing from Libya to Europe. Migrants in Libya are also in danger. Amnesty says that 20,000 people are being held in detention centres, subject to torture, forced labour, extortion and unlawful killings. What are the Government doing to put pressure on the European and Libyan authorities to allow NGO rescue ships access to Libyan waters and ensure that people are not trapped in that country and refugees are able to exercise their right to asylum?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

We are very focused on and aware of this issue. A lot of our focus at the moment is on the detention centres, and on ensuring that we work with the UN, with the EU and through DFID programmes on improving conditions in those detention centres.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

From experience, I know that the Foreign Secretary welcomes Opposition holding the powerful to account, even if his minders have not always done so, but on two recent delegations I heard of dissenters facing difficulties. We hear of child detainees in Israel, and in Bangladesh opponents sometimes being “disappeared.” Is it not time to place a greater emphasis on human rights in our dealings with these two key allies—or do arms sales receipts outweigh our ability to be a critical friend?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Ministers are very aware of both the issues of child detainees in Israel and of Opposition politicians in Bangladesh. They are raised continually in our interactions with those Governments. We try to do it sensitively, both at a ministerial level and at a diplomatic level, and we believe we can make progress on both issues.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

Is the issue of religious freedom raised at every possible opportunity, particularly in countries where people are persecuted for their faith—or lack of it?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Absolutely; religious freedom is critical, and particularly critical in a world in which religious and sectarian violence appears to be increasingly dominant. We must advocate religious freedom, and we do so also through Department for International Development support to civil society organisations.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

We provide aid to many countries where appalling human rights abuses take place, whether that be the persecution of minorities or the construction of illegal settlements. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should make aid and direct support for Governments conditional, unless they use best endeavours to tackle such abuses?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

That is a very important question. Our belief is that we need to do these things simultaneously. We need to use our political relationships actively, in order to drive human rights improvement and change, but at the same time we have an obligation to very vulnerable, marginalised people in those countries, and we need to continue to provide development assistance to them.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Since May, at least 21 Christians have been given long prison sentences in Iran for practising their faith. Did the Foreign Secretary raise the issue of human rights with his Iranian counterpart, particularly that of freedom of religion?

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

Mr Speaker, happy new year. I welcome the Foreign Secretary back to his place and I hope that the Prime Minister today recognises how important it is that he continues to have the support of a talented Front-Bench team in ensuring that his work is done properly.

On boxing day, the Saudis launched two separate airstrikes in Yemen, killing a total of 68 civilians and at least eight children. The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator said that this showed that both the Saudis and the Houthis are committing indiscriminate attacks against civilians, showing a complete disregard for human life. My question is this: do the Foreign Secretary and the Minister agree with that judgment against both sides?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As the shadow Foreign Secretary is aware, we continue to press very strongly in all our meetings with the Saudis on these issues. We have made some progress on the port of Hodeidah, although it is too early to be complacent; it remains a very difficult situation, and we need to continue pushing. And happy new year to the right hon. Lady too.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

I thank the Minister for that answer, but surely airstrikes by the Saudis, who are our allies, that are this indiscriminate are just as indefensible as attacks by the Houthis. He has mentioned the Houthis. More widely, how are we going to end the conflict? We have a proposal from the former Minister for the Middle East, Mr Ellwood, currently a Defence Minister, who wrote in The Sunday Telegraph this weekend urging a more interventionist UK role. He wrote:

“We must be less risk-averse, haunted…by our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

He specifically recommends that the port of Hodeidah

“is calling out to be stabilised by a third party”.

Does the Minister agree with his colleague’s proposal, and if so, who does he propose that third party should be?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

At the moment, we do not believe that the key to reopening the port of Hodeidah will be a third party. We have made a lot of progress. In particular, I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for International Development, who, in a recent visit to Djibouti, while working on the issue of Yemen, got undertakings on the port of Hodeidah. We will be watching this very closely over the next 30 days. We absolutely agree that the airstrikes must be investigated, and investigated objectively.