Religious Persecution - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:13 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 5:13 pm, 11th July 2019

I must confess that that is not what I was about to deal with, but I have noted the point; I undertake to obtain more information and write to the noble Lord. He also raised the question of the training of Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, as did my noble friend Lady Eaton. We have been extending training in the FCO on the influence of faith on foreign policy, commissioning the LSE Faith Centre to deliver a training course on religious literacy and introducing a series of regular seminars. We have also developed a toolkit on FoRB with top legal and academic FoRB experts, to support FCO human rights desk officers as they promote this human right in practice and combat violations of it.

The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Sheikh, my noble friend Lady Stroud and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, raised the issue of genocide. I can say—there is nothing new about this—that it is a long-standing policy of the British Government that any judgment on whether war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide have occurred is a matter for judicial decision after consideration of all the available evidence, rather than a decision for Governments or non-judicial bodies. The Government feel that this approach provides a clear, impartial, and independent measure of whether genocide has occurred.

My noble friend Lady Stroud asked how the Government are going to reverse levels of social hostility in the United Kingdom. I note my noble friend’s concerns; this is a domestic matter but I undertake to relay her concern to the relevant departments, which are probably the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, raised the issue of anti-Semitism in this country. I reassure him that the Government are committed to combating anti-Semitism both internationally and domestically. At an event at the United Nations General Assembly last September, my noble friend Lord Ahmad reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to education and dialogue to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism in all its forms. The UK also recently took part in an informal meeting of the General Assembly on combating anti-Semitism.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, also raised the issue of a definition of Islamophobia. The Government agree that there needs to be a formal definition. It is vital that we get this right and that any definition reflects the experiences of those who have experienced anti-Muslim hatred. That is why the Government will be appointing two advisers to drive this process and make recommendations on a definition.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of what the UK Government have been doing in relation to the desperate situation in Nigeria. I reassure her that we have made clear to the Nigerian authorities at the highest levels the importance of protecting civilians, including ethnic and religious minorities, and human rights for all Nigerians.

I think it was my noble friend Lady Eaton who raised DfID and how we provide aid. We use partnership principles to ensure that where the UK provides budget support directly to Governments, it does so only when we are satisfied that they share our commitments including on respecting the full range of human rights. In fact, the majority of UK development assistance is provided through non-governmental organisations or multilateral agencies, rather than directly to Governments.

My noble friend Lady Eaton also raised the issue of asylum. Regrettably, that is somewhat outwith my responsibility, as it is a Home Office responsibility, but I will look at Hansard and if there is anything I can relay to the Home Office, I will do so. In that context, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the matter of training. It is an interesting point and I shall ensure that that is also relayed.

The noble Lords, Lord Sheikh and Lord Collins, raised the terrible events of Srebrenica. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, emphasised the importance of education. I totally agree with him. Education is a certain means of ensuring that what previous and current generations were and are aware of never escapes the knowledge and awareness of subsequent generations.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also asked what the UK is doing in relation to the Uighur Muslims. We have raised our concerns on a number of occasions and the Foreign Secretary specifically raised our concerns about the region with the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, during his last visit to China. The UK also spoke about Xinjiang during our Item 4 national statement at the June 2019 United Nations Human Rights Council.

I am running out of time, but if noble Lords will indulge me, I think I can deal with one or two more points. I am sure your Lordships will be mightily relieved to hear that I am approaching a conclusion. When the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, visited Al-Azhar in Egypt earlier this year, he said:

“When people are attacked, physically, verbally or on social media, because of their race, religion or ethnicity, all of society is diminished”.

He concluded:

“To live in a world of peace, we must nurture mutual understanding and invest in making diversity a success”.

As members of a successful, vibrant, multifaith, multi-ethnic society, we know that diversity makes us stronger, not weaker. We know that society as a whole can fulfil its potential only when every individual is truly free, including to practise their religion within the law. Armed with this knowledge, the UK will continue to champion the message of mutual understanding, respect and strength in diversity, at home and abroad. I thank your Lordships for a fascinating and very instructive debate.