International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:07 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston 2:07 pm, 25th October 2018

I hope that the Minister will discuss with his Pakistani counterparts what can be done to support this beleaguered population, especially given that the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religious belief, Lord Ahmad, is an Ahmadi himself. If we fail to stand up for the freedom of religious belief of Ahmadis in Pakistan, we place ourselves in the rather ridiculous position of failing to stand up for the freedom of religious belief of our own special envoy for freedom of religious belief! It is urgent that we deal with that.

One thing that could really help, and which I urge the Minister to push for, is the implementation of the 2014 Pakistan Supreme Court judgment, which ordered the Government to, among other things, establish a national council for minority rights. This body has yet to be established, but if it were set up and the judgment implemented fully, it could have a significant impact on the welfare of Pakistani religious or belief minorities.

The hon. Member for Strangford mentioned that religious minorities in Pakistan do not having sufficient skills to obtain more valuable employment. The chairman of the Public Service Commission in Pakistan suggested an interesting idea to our delegation to address that problem. He mentioned the possibility of gathering all those who had just fallen short of the qualifications needed for a particular job, and training them to get them to the required standard, so that they would be ready when the next job came around that is put aside for these people. He specifically mentioned nursing as an area where such a program could be especially effective, and that he would appreciate support from the UK. Similarly, the Punjabi Ministry for human rights specifically asked our delegation to suggest that the UK earmark aid funding to help religious minority groups to overcome the significant barriers they face in Pakistan, which, believe me, are quite shocking. Will the Minister consider those ideas?

Before I finish I want to talk about refugees from Myanmar. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently declared that Chin State in Myanmar is stable and secure from a refugee perspective, and that it would begin to return Chin refugees from India and Malaysia. The Chin Human Rights Organisation has, however, produced a report detailing how systematic violations of freedom of religious belief, including killings, torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, are still prevalent. Is the Minister willing to ask the UNHCR to share the information on which it based the conclusion that Chin State is stable and secure?

I thank the Government for their work on freedom of religious belief and for graciously meeting and supporting our delegation in Pakistan. I hope the Minister will do all he can to investigate and evaluate claims of forced organ harvesting in China, including pushing for an independent international tribunal on the issue. I trust that he will also work with his Pakistani counterparts to push for implementation of the recommendations made by the hon. Member for Strangford, and to support religious minorities in Pakistan, such as the Ahmadis, by calling for the establishment of a national council for minority rights. Finally, I am sure that refugees from Chin State, Myanmar would be immensely grateful if the Minister asked the UNHCR for the evidence showing that the state is stable and secure.