[Robert Key in the Chair] — Human Rights

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:01 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 5:01 pm, 18th December 2008

The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the current difficulties in the Security Council. Our priority, rightly, is to work for the people of Zimbabwe. The debate has raised several matters of immense concern to us which have required us to engage with the international community to respond to the crisis. We have upheld the EU targeted measures that restrict the movement of key figures, and we continue to work in the UN and, of course, the Security Council to raise Zimbabwe as a matter of urgency. We lobby South Africa and the regional elders to effect change, and we welcomed the report of the group of elders which directly linked the failure of social and economic policy with the current humanitarian crisis.

The UK is a major contributor to Zimbabwe. In the current financial year, we expect to have provided some £47 million in aid. The UK is the second-largest bilateral donor to Zimbabwe, and I can assure the House that our bilateral aid is channelled through the UN and non-governmental organisations, not the Government of Zimbabwe. We made a major contribution of £9 million to the UN world food programme appeal, and most recently provided a support package of £10 million to provide life-saving assistance and to respond to the escalation of cholera.

The final country that I will be able to refer to is Burma. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South is right in referring to the worsening human rights record there. I can assure him of action over the past year. We have done what we can: we helped secure unprecedented Security Council action and strong condemnation of the regime by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, and we strengthened EU sanctions. We also raised Burma with those countries that are best placed to influence the regime, including China, India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Ultimately, as we all know, the key to ending human rights abuses in Burma lies in a peaceful transition to civilian democratic rule, and we fully support and will continue to support the efforts of the UN Secretary-General to bring that about. Our embassy in Rangoon continues to press for that.

I am pleased to have participated in this debate and I know that right hon. and hon. Members are also pleased to have done so. Once again, I thank the Foreign Affairs Committee for its ongoing scrutiny of our international rights policy. I know that that scrutiny will continue as we move into the next annual human rights report cycle.

What better way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights than to express our determination to do more, to do better and ensure that this landmark document is as powerful in practice as it is in aspiration? I thank hon. and right hon. Members here today—and those who could not be here—for their support in doing this.