Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:46 pm on 29th July 2020.

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Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop 5:46 pm, 29th July 2020

My Lords, I, too, welcome this new regime of sanctions, but we must of course ensure that targeted sanctions do not become empty gestures. As other noble Lords have indicated, these sanctions will be most effective when they are consistent with other foreign policy priorities and done through co-ordinated, collective action. Without the support of a wider coalition, we risk being isolated diplomatically.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, noted elsewhere, we face the uncomfortable truth that, in future, we risk being more isolated and so more susceptible to economic retaliation, which will necessarily impact on government decisions about sanctions. Sanctions against Russia and Burma are one thing but—as has just been referred to—sanctions against China are quite another. There are ethical as well as strategic calculations here.

For example, as has been mentioned, we imposed sanctions against 20 named individuals for their role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi yet resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia shortly after. While clearly signalling our disapproval of the brutal murder, did our wider economic interests risk blunting the message in a regrettable and potentially counterproductive way?

I noted the Minister’s reference to freedom of religion or belief. Sanctions should indeed be applied to those who commit severe violations in this field but, given that freedom of religion or belief is a foreign policy priority, I find it slightly surprising that this right is not explicitly included in the scope of the regulations in relation to sanctions. I wonder whether the Minister can offer an explanation or commentary on that, and perhaps give an assurance that it might be considered in any future revision of the regulations.

Like others, I am particularly concerned about gross human rights abuses in China, especially against Uighurs. As one of my episcopal colleagues noted last week in a letter to the Foreign Secretary,

“the images that we have seen in recent days and the reports emanating from the region are harrowing and require a clear and unequivocal response.”

While the issues here are wider, religion clearly is an element. Given what we know about the situation, and our awareness that other countries have applied Magnitsky-style sanctions against those responsible, will the Government look again at this matter?

The aspiration that Britain be global is a fine one, but it needs substance. How we respond to the hard cases will demonstrate that substance. The new sanctions regime is a useful foreign policy tool and, while it needs to be used judiciously, we should not be afraid to use it when the need arises.