Gulf States: Human Rights Abuses - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 24 November 2022.

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Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated 3:15, 24 November 2022

My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow my friend the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, and I agree wholeheartedly with every word that he said. Of course, personal boycott does work. It worked with Miller beer in the United States and with orange juice and Anita Bryant. I also congratulate my friend—I have a lot of friends in this—the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, on the timely debate, and associate myself with his excellent opening statement.

I will highlight abuses against LGBTQ+ people in the Gulf states but express my concerns against all human rights abuses, particularly those outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. Of the 11 UN member states that prescribed the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations, three are Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Among the Gulf states, only Bahrain does not formally—I underline formally—criminalise LGBTQ+ people. Across the other states, penalties for same-sex relationships range from three years’ imprisonment to the death penalty. In several of the states being trans is formally criminalised, and in all these states there is evidence that these penalties are rigorously enforced.

Oppression and the arbitrary detention of LGBTQ+ people is a reality across all these states; it is a day-to-day experience of discrimination, exclusion and hate crime. It is worth noting that there are no human rights defenders openly working on LGBTQ+ issues because it is completely unsafe to do so. In Qatar, same-sex relationships are criminalised with a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment or stoning under sharia law. These are human rights abuses and we should condemn them without hesitation

It is incredible that, in 2022, Qatar and other countries around the world and organisations such as FIFA are so terrified of diversity and inclusion, and the concept of the universality of human rights, that they ban rainbow armbands, OneLove armbands, rainbow hats and any display of solidarity. It is pathetic. They are terrified of diversity. They are terrified of loving relationships between human beings—loving relationships which are the building blocks of civilised societies. Any Government, theology or culture that denies, denounces and restricts human rights such as these will ultimately fail.

Though I am, as I said, speaking of LGBTQ+ people in the Gulf states, there is a common denominator. Those who criminalise, demonise and misrepresent one minority quickly move on to another. Indeed, in some instances we see the total marginalisation and discrimination against the majority: women.

For me, there is no hierarchy of human rights and civil liberties; the denial of one group or individual is a threat to us all. Human rights should not exist as a ladder of rights, afforded to minorities and women as they are ranked on that league ladder. I believe that human rights and civil liberties exist as a landscape. Imagine that landscape—the one stood beside the other, beside the other, beside the other; and then take one away, and another, and a minority, and another and another; and then look at how the force on that landscape is diminished. Those who are left are made vulnerable by the disappearance and the denial of the rights of those no longer favoured.

All rights are connected; that which happens to the women of Iran, or to migrants fleeing across Europe or across the English Channel, are as important to me as if they were happening to me. That is similarly true of what happens in the Gulf states and around the globe. It is pure chance that we are not in their place, their shoes, their danger. That is why we must always stand with the most defamed and the most disfavoured. We must have the courage to stand in their shoes and imagine that it were happening to us. If we would not want it to happen to us, how dare we allow it to happen to others. This is the defining concept of the universality of human rights, and why the mirror that we hold up to ourselves we should have the courage to hold up to others.

Here I bring my points back home. The mirror that we hold up to ourselves in this country has, until recently, been a positive reflection. Sadly, that mirror has become distressed by culture wars, in which one minority is pitted against another; in which one group is portrayed as deserving while others are defamed, ridiculed and shamefully misrepresented. Culture wars in the United Kingdom have been promoted not only by and within the media but by politicians, who should desperately know better, and by some members of this Government.

My plea to the Government is to lead by example: show Britain at its best; bring forward an inclusive ban on the inhumane conversion therapies, include trans people, and end these culture wars in which minorities are being portrayed as undeserving of the equal protection of the law. Stop the defamation, the blatant stereotyping and hate speech against trans women and trans men, and their families. Show that what we expect of others and of other countries we expect of ourselves. We are not equal until we are all equal. Equality does not diminish the rights of the other, it reinforces them. We abide by the same laws without exemption.

Let us ensure that our trade agreements, such as with the Gulf states, enshrine respect for human rights and the rule of law, and the concept of non-discrimination, and that such agreements are accompanied by mechanisms for upholding such principles. EU free trade agreements convey and maintain these principles, and so should we, as with the Cotonou agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Let us in the United Kingdom make the social and economic case for equal rights, as well as the civilised case. To stay silent, to look the other way, or to do nothing, whether here or abroad, is to condone inequality and abuse. FIFA and world football have placed a spotlight on the Gulf states, but human rights abuses are also happening elsewhere. It is a spotlight that will last long after the final match. It is a spotlight that reminds us that that which is done against people in other countries is as important and as urgent as if it were happening to us. I say to the Government that, on the world stage, we must lead by example. That is the most effective approach that we can take to effect real change elsewhere. We cannot, on these defining issues, face both ways.