Freedom of Religion or Belief — [Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:47 pm on 1st March 2018.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State 3:47 pm, 1st March 2018

I accept that point, although that was not my experience in the discussions I had. We will continue to make the case for the Ahmadi minority. We will also raise another issue that was brought up today: the persecution and forced conversions that the Hindu minority face.

Let me touch briefly on our project work. The United Kingdom is working to promote freedom of religion or belief and religious tolerance through a range of UK projects. Some are funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through our Magna Carta fund for human rights; others are funded by the Department for International Development. DFID and FCO officials are, I hope, working side by side in that regard as seamlessly as in other areas of government.

The right to freedom of religion or belief is one of a range of human rights that DFID takes into account when providing direct financial support to foreign Governments. I cannot speak for my ministerial colleague and hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin or for the Secretary of State, but I know that they will be made well aware of concerns raised in our debate. DFID and FCO officials work closely to focus the minds of Governments of countries that receive aid on the fundamental importance of respecting all human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Let me give some examples of how UK funds are spent. Our embassy in Rangoon in Burma is supporting projects to address the drivers of prejudice and inter- communal violence. The Rohingya issue has been dreadful, but is by no means the only profound minority issue in Burma today. We have tried to deliver an inter-faith dialogue and workshop for civil servants, parliamentarians and non-governmental organisations. One has to find a way to address the catastrophic issues around the Rohingya.

Similarly, we are supporting a project in Pakistan that shows animations in schools and online to highlight the value to society of diverse religious, social and ethnic groups. Our Magna Carta fund is supporting a project to raise awareness of challenges faced by freedom of religion campaigners in south and central Asia. Our aim is to persuade people of the need for better protection for such campaigners. The project also trains them in advocacy so that they are better equipped to defend themselves. It has facilitated discussions between human rights defenders and the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, who was delighted to tell us that those interactions have helped him to develop his own analysis of the specific threats facing human rights defenders.

I thank all hon. Members for indulging me in my attempt to put as much of our work on the record as possible. A huge amount is going on. I am very pleased that my team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is so energised, not least by the passion felt in Parliament for the work being done. Our diplomatic network will continue to work hard to promote and defend the fundamental right of freedom of religion or belief around the world through direct engagement with host Governments and UK-funded work. We are also ensuring that our staff are trained in religious literacy to improve their ability to carry out this important work.

I always look forward to working closely with the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief. I thank hon. Members profoundly for their work to ensure that the public profile of this crucial issue remains so high.