Refugees and Human Rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 24th January 2018.

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Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston 4:02 pm, 24th January 2018

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, but the current climate raises serious questions about our ability to uphold those human rights in an ever-changing world. We have seen a rise in populist nationalism across Europe, and particularly in the United States. Some of the traditionally liberal democrat states have increasingly treated refugees very poorly and overlooked state-led human rights abuses for financial benefit. Such is the case with our Government’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

It is the UN’s responsibility to uphold human rights around the world, and the UN is weakened by the membership—and the vetos—of Russia and China. It is the UK’s responsibility to prioritise human rights in our policy towards refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has recently announced that he will not be seeking a second term because, as he stated, that might involve bending a knee and lessening a voice. His view seems to be that the UN’s founding members and key human rights advocates are favouring at best silence, and at worst complicity in the current state of affairs.

Meanwhile, the Rohingya face forced repatriation and a return to state-sponsored violence in Myanmar. Thank goodness that a pause has been put on that—for now. The Yemeni people face slaughter and starvation, already displaced people in the Central African Republic are being killed, and 5,000 children have died, including of diphtheria.

There are also known to be 500,000 Palestinian refugee children living in the west bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Last week the US Government cut their financial support for those children by half—$65 million gone from children in desperate need, all because the President felt he had been shown insufficient appreciation and respect. I know that my right hon. Friend Emily Thornberry and my hon. Friend Kate Osamor wrote to the Foreign Secretary about the issue last week. I was going to ask what measures he plans to take, but the Minister advised my right hon. Friend earlier about the efforts to encourage the release of the $65 million and to augment it with finance from other nations. That is desperately needed.

We must stand up and fight for the fundamental human rights that equalise us all and for the refugees, among the most vulnerable people on earth, who need us to advocate for them. The world has changed, and it has changed substantially. The bipolar world is long gone, and multipolarity has replaced it. The UN must adapt accordingly and we must work collectively to sharpen its teeth when it comes to human rights.

The UN declaration of human rights was conceived at a time of consensus about the direction in which the world should head. We may never see its like again, but no matter how fast our world may be changing, and no matter what technology may be designed in the future, that does not mean that we should abandon those ideals. We need to explore how we can change, and we need to adapt. I therefore call on the Government to show strong leadership in the UN and to work through international organisations to uphold those rights.