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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 3:24 pm, 25th October 2018

I was not suggesting that religious differences played no part in the attacks, just that they are not the sole cause. We can legitimately blame a number of other factors, including the fact that the media misreport situations widely across Nigeria. We can also blame rapid population growth: the population of Nigeria is about 190 million at the moment, but the World Bank predicts that by 2050—not long hence—it will be 400 million, making it the third most populous country in the world, after India and China. In that situation it is not surprising that tensions arise.

The tensions do have religious aspects. On 15 April 2017, 12 worshippers died and many more were injured in Aso village in Kaduna state, when herdsmen opened fire on an Easter vigil service. Media reports said the attackers boasted about disrupting the Easter celebration, but it not known whether that is true. There are efforts to promote interfaith dialogue, to ensure that feelings on all sides are listened to and that reconciliation is reached.

I intervened on my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy with a point about the importance of the European Court of Human Rights and what I might term its parent body, the Council of Europe. The right to hold religious beliefs is protected under article 9 of the European convention on human rights. A wide range of faiths have brought cases to protect their freedom to practise religion. I accept the point made by my hon. Friend Kevin Foster about needing to tighten that up, but it depends on countries being willing to accept the judgments of the Court. Russia has suspended itself from the Council of Europe and can no longer appoint judges, although the population of Russia still has access to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court is hearing a vast number of cases brought by Russian individuals against the Russian state.

That is important for the reason that I raised earlier. The European Court of Human Rights was born out of the conflict of world war two, which had a great deal to do with religion—the Jewish faith and the imprisonment of those of that faith in concentration camps. However, the Council has gone beyond that. We have produced a tremendous number of reports about the need to ensure respect for the religious backgrounds of refugee families coming to Europe—that must of course be mutual, and respect should also come from them. We must not forget the vital role that the Council plays. It may be ignored by many UK Ministers and the UK may be the only country never to send a journalist to monitor its actions, but it still carries out its role and the treaties are signed, by us and others, on a consensual basis. That is an important point to bear in mind.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford on bringing the debate, and hope my remarks have been helpful in elucidating some of the details.