Iran: Women’s Rights - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:27 am on 21st December 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Labour 11:27 am, 21st December 2022

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support women in Iran fighting for basic human rights; and what representations they have made to the government of that country in relation to mass arrests of those demonstrating for such rights.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the bravery shown by the women of Iran is nothing short of remarkable. This Government stand with them as they demand a better future. We have already worked with partners to remove Iran from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on 14 December. We have helped to secure a Human Rights Council resolution to investigate the crackdown on protestors on 24 November, and we have announced three rounds of sanctions since October on individuals involved in the arrest, detention and sentencing of protestors, most recently on 9 December. Our position is absolutely clear: we will continue to hold the Iranian Government to account for their continued repression of women and girls and for the shocking violence that they have inflicted on their own citizens and people.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer. Since the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, atrocities in Iran continue, as we all know. I agree with the Minister that the courage of our Iranian sisters continues to call us to action. On Monday, Female Voice of Iran visited us in Parliament to lobby for further sanctions against Iran, for the proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organisation, and for the UK to join France, Germany and Canada in supporting the Iranian freedom movement. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, states that all human beings—not just men—

“are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

It guarantees freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. What are the UK Government going to do further to ensure that Iran upholds these rights in current protests?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I welcome both the noble Baroness’s question and her engagement directly with the FCDO. I look forward to further engagement on this and other issues. I assure her that we continue to—I cannot speculate on future sanctions but, as I indicated earlier, there have been three tranches from October to December. We are also working with our key international partners. It is of course important that, ultimately, the future destiny of Iran is decided by its own citizens and people. What is very clear, with every passing day—every passing hour—is that the legitimacy of the current Government is being lost. They are suppressing their own citizens; that has to stop—and stop now.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, the jailing this week in the notorious Evin prison of the courageous Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti underlined the insatiable appetite of the theocratic regime for imprisonment, gender-based violence, torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and execution. Does not this amount to crimes against humanity? At this critical time, what can the noble Lord tell us about the continuation of the BBC Persian radio service following warnings this week from Ken McCallum, the head of MI5, about the targeting of individuals in the United Kingdom who have criticised the state or supported the protests? Will he ensure the protection of pro-democracy Iranians in the United Kingdom and that it is given new urgency?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a number of important points. Of course, on the key point of the safety and security of people who are in the United Kingdom, including institutions and organisations, the Government are working directly with our own security and police to ensure that safety and security are guaranteed. If there are specific issues that are raised directly with the noble Lord on ensuring the safety and security of an individual or organisation, I would urge him to raise it with me directly.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, what specific engagement have we had with British Iranians who, despite the lockdown on social media and communications, have direct links with family and friends in Iran and are therefore receiving updates in a way that perhaps even the Government are not? Will my noble friend consider discussing with his colleagues from the Home Office the potential for a legal route to asylum for those suffering the most extreme violence and persecution, especially those for whom people in the United Kingdom would be prepared to open up their homes?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, my noble friend raises two very important points. Of course, we are looking to engage directly with communities and representatives here who represent Iranian interests, including NGOs. Again, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I would welcome any recommendations on specifics that my noble friend has from her own insight and experience. Our focus at the FCDO has been on international action. I was myself at the UN—I returned on Friday—specifically in relation to the work that we were doing on the CSW. It was very clear there that there was no support for Iran from the majority of countries; there were abstentions and only a handful of countries voted to keep Iran on. On the second point, we have always been a country that has provided safe refuge and sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. Again, safe routes and safe passages for such sanctuary is clearly the Government’s intent.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s efforts at the United Nations, particularly at ECOSOC and its Commission on the Status of Women. I know that we are working with allies and amplifying the voices of international communities, but one thing that I have raised with the Minister before is the important question of how we are supporting those voices of civil society—particularly faith groups—who can condemn this action, so that it is not just simply seen as a western response but a community response to defend women’s rights?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I totally agree with the noble Lord and I assure him that we are talking directly both with individuals and with organisations. Indeed, I have asked to meet with senior leaders of different faith groups here, particularly those who have representation in Iran. It is important that the Iranian Government understand very clearly that none of the approaches that they have adopted currently—whether on the JCPOA, their support for drones in Ukraine or the continued suppression of their own citizens—opens up any avenue for effective and constructive discussion. I continue to engage with different groups and I think that faith groups, particularly those which look towards or operate in Iran, have an important role to play.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I support strongly the Minister’s diplomatic work at the UN that he has just referred to. However, there have been concerns about the ending of programmes that support women in the political, civic and human rights space. That concern was tempered in February when the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, replied to me, saying that

“the Foreign Secretary has been clear that we are restoring funding to women and girls.”—[Official Report, 28/2/22; col. 541.]

In November, the Minister was unable to confirm to me that that was the case. Through no fault of his own, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, was not able to clarify that point in our debate on development last week. Can the Minister be very clear: is that promise—made to me in this Chamber—that funding for women and girls is being restored being upheld or will the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, have to come back to this Chamber to correct the record?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the Government have been clear on this. There are some final discussions to take place—which is why my noble friend Lord Younger, or indeed I, was not clear on that—but, once these figures are finalised, we will of course share them with your Lordships’ House. On the point about my noble friend Lord Goldsmith, he was very clear about the importance that we attach to girls’ education, women’s rights and humanitarian support; at a time of great challenge to the ODA budget, they will remain key priorities for His Majesty’s Government.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

My Lords, this is a brutal and corrupt dictatorship that terrorises its people, slaughters protesters, enslaves women, hangs gay men from cranes, sponsors terrorism around the region and here in Europe and is developing nuclear weapons to attack Israel. Can the Minister tell us why the Government have not already proscribed the IRGC? I urge the Minister and the Government to impose much tougher sanctions on the dictatorship’s leadership, so that we can bring this brutal regime to its knees and free the poor people of Iran.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord’s opening remarks. It is for all those reasons that we have taken a very tough stance on sanctions, including on individuals and the organisation of the IRGC since 2019. The noble Lord knows that the issue of proscription is something that I cannot speculate on, but I can assure him that both I and my noble friend on the Front Bench for the Home Office—both departments—are very seized and aware of the strong sentiments that both Houses, parliamentarians and indeed the public hold on this issue.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, we all applaud the brave women and men fighting for the rights of women in Iran against an autocratic regime that sees women as lesser beings with, as a former Ayatollah put it, only half the brain size of a man. While the expulsion of Iran from a UN committee on women is welcome, does the Minister agree that a more powerful condemnation would come from Muslim leaders stating that the behaviour of the Iranian regime is rooted in perverse and dated culture and has nothing to do with the ethical teachings of Islam?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. While I am not a Muslim leader, I am a Minister who happens to be Muslim and I totally and utterly condemn the suppression of women, not just in Iran but anywhere in the world. Women have a pivotal role to play in any society in any country. The evidence is there: where women play a central and pivotal role, societies prosper and countries continue to progress. Iran needs to change its direction now, not just because of what it is doing to its citizens but because its own religion that it claims to follow tells it to do just that.