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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 1:30 pm, 12th March 2020

The Government should. Next week I will present a request to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate specifically on India. The hon. Gentleman, and other hon. Members who have signed that request, will have an opportunity to debate the issue, in Westminster Hall I suspect. I mention that, as I have tried to mention a lot of other things. I agree with him and I thank him for the intervention.

Sectarian violence has caused dozens of deaths, the destruction of religious buildings and physical altercations in the Indian Parliament—even the Parliament has not been above the verbal and physical abuse of people. That conflict and instability illustrates the point that hon. Members have made repeatedly in such debates, which is that FORB violations can cause and exacerbate conflict between communities and must be addressed before they explode into violence.

In 2018, the APPG for FORB wrote that, “Violence and discrimination, combined with arbitrary exclusion from legal institutions, could cause significant grievances among non-Hindus in India, which may lead to domestic conflict and violence.” Unfortunately, that has proven to be the case. It is for that reason that Government Departments such as the Department for International Development must invest greater resources in promoting freedom of religion or belief to prevent conflict, rather than responding to crises only once violence has already erupted, when it is too late.

Similarly, it is vital that the Government recognise how the potential for societal instability and conflict caused by human rights violations can harm economic prosperity and limit hopes for long-term, prosperous trading relationships with countries such as India, as Afzal Khan referred to. We have a relationship that we wish to build on, but they have to address the issue of human rights. Will the Minister assure hon. Members that FORB violations will be discussed in the Government’s trade negotiations with relevant countries? Will he assure us that provisions to protect human rights will be included in any such deals?

It is particularly important to address FORB violations quickly whenever they emerge because conflicts can spread and violence between Hindus and Muslims in India can have knock-on effects in Pakistan, where non-Muslim minorities such as Hindus and Christians face severe persecution.

If I am spared, I will be visiting Pakistan with Lord Alton from the other place over the Easter period. Just yesterday I had the privilege of meeting a delegation from Pakistan who described how blasphemy laws are being misused there to persecute religious minorities, and how young women and girls from those communities are being taken from their homes. According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace, the Pakistani authorities prosecuted a total of 1,170 blasphemy cases between 1987 and 2012, with scores of new cases being brought every year.