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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:02 pm on 25th October 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State 4:02 pm, 25th October 2018

I was going to come to that, because it was raised by our hon. Friend John Howell. Let me set out Lord Ahmad’s objectives. He will have two additional full-time staff working alongside our diplomatic network and international partners to work across Departments for a step change on freedom of religion or belief within diplomacy, to promote FORB in key countries of concern—obviously those will change from time to time, with their particular circumstances—and to respond effectively to any instances of the suppression of FORB that we are made aware of. I appreciate that there are only two members of staff, but there will be a greater emphasis on that issue in our embassies and high commissions overseas, not least among those who are employed locally.

I have raised the issue of freedom of religious belief on my travels over the past few months—for example, with the Nepalese Prime Minister. I have raised our concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Xinjiang with the Chinese Vice Premier. The Foreign Secretary reiterated our concerns about Xinjiang with Chinese state councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi when he visited in July. As hon. Members have said, we have increasingly grave concerns about the human rights situation in China and the Chinese Government’s deepening crackdown. Credible reports have been published recently about re-education camps and widespread surveillance and restrictions targeted at ethnic minorities. That issue has been covered in The Economist and elsewhere for some months.

Lord Ahmad has been extremely active in promoting human rights, including the freedom of religion or belief, in Sudan. For example, he expressed our serious concern about the persecution of Christians and the wanton destruction of places of worship. At the recent UN General Assembly in New York, in a meeting we hosted, to which many other countries were invited, he drew attention to the scourge of antisemitism and to the UN report on the crisis in Burma, which concluded that the Burmese military may have inflicted genocide. It has certainly carried out ethnic cleansing and has committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.

For the avoidance of any doubt, genocide is a legal term, so my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce will understand that we therefore tend not to use it. We do not wish to downplay the issue, but the term is legal rather than political, and it makes more sense for us to focus on political issues on which we can hold people to account directly.