Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Convention on Genocide — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 7 December 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale 1:30, 7 December 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on Genocide.

It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve with you as Chair of the proceedings, Ms McDonagh. It is a long time since I have engaged in this art form.

I will begin by expressing my regret that John Howell cannot be with us today; unfortunately, he is not well. He was the co-sponsor, along with me, of at least part of this debate, and I count him as a good ally on matters concerning human rights. The hon. Member for Henley leads the UK delegation to the Assembly of the Council of Europe, which gives him prominence in the human rights debate.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I join the hon. Member for Rochdale in expressing our dismay at my hon. Friend the Member for Henley not being here to speak on a subject on which, as the hon. Gentleman generously said, he is extremely expert. I am sure that the whole House would want to wish him a speedy recovery.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

I will pass the Minister’s words on to the hon. Member; I think we would all agree on that.

On a happier note, we meet today to celebrate the fact that it is now some 75 years since two important universal documents appeared. The universal declaration of human rights was brought into being on 10 December 1948, and, of course, there was the equivalent declaration on genocide. I shall not trespass on to the genocide declaration, because my identical twin, Jim Shannon, will speak on that.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

Some identical twins differ more than others; that is all I will say. Nevertheless, he will speak on that declaration with great knowledge.

The only thing that I will say about the genocide declaration is that it is sometimes very narrowly interpreted as being concerned solely with the partial extermination—the killing—of populations when, in fact, it is much broader than that. It is very important both in the way that the public perceive it and in creating a legal base for many other activities. I will begin by saying what a tremendous thing it was that the United Nations was able to bring that together. It was very much influenced by Eleanor Roosevelt, the spouse of President Roosevelt. It was particularly important because the world had just lived through the most astonishing atrocities: the dehumanisation of the individual, with six million Jews killed in the death camps along with untold numbers of gypsies, gay people and Slavs. Even though those were Hitler’s evil crimes, it is, perhaps, worth quoting Stalin, who said that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. That chilling comment almost summarises what took place during the second world war and how those in the generation that brought into being the universal declaration were able instead to say, “No, we are not prepared to accept that; each human being is valid in their own right”.

The preamble to the universal declaration of human rights says:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

That is the rights of “all members”, without consideration of gender or any other of what we would now regard as protected characteristics. In that context, this was a major change in attitude to the concentration on the individual.

As a slightly barbed comment, I will just say that we even heard in the main Chamber recently a Minister talking about the situation in Gaza and Palestine and saying that the killing of Palestinians was a “by-product”. That may have been an infelicitous use of words, but it is the kind of verbal usage that we must be very careful to guard against, because the life of every individual must be treated as being valid, which is exactly what the universal declaration of human rights reminds us of.

Of course, in this era we can ask, “Has the universal declaration been a success or a failure?” Its level of aspiration is extraordinary: prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex or religion; the right to life and liberty; the prohibition of slavery; prohibition of torture; prohibition of arbitrary arrest, detention and exile; the right to a fair trial; freedom of religion; freedom of expression; freedom of assembly and association; the right to work, which interestingly includes the right to equal pay for equal work and the right to form or join a trade union; and the right to education.

Referring back to equal pay for equal work, it took another two and a half decades before our country even legislated on that issue, when Barbara Castle brought in the equal pay legislation. However, the universal declaration of human rights was developed back in the 1940s, so this profound declaration established the principle of equal pay for equal work.

If we look across the nations of the world, it is not that difficult to be dismayed in this era by the breaching of the commitments that many countries have made to the universal declaration of human rights. I will run through some of those countries; I know that other hon. Members will have other countries that they prefer to talk about.

Let us take the situation in Syria. A terrible war has taken place there, and now 2.4 million children have no access to education and 55% of Syrians are food-insecure. Both of those things are in contravention of articles of the declaration.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, we know about the unlawful killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Ankara. That still screams out as an abuse by the Saudi authorities. And of course Raif Badawi is a Saudi blogger and activist who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for creating an online forum for public debate, and he now faces a 10-year travel ban after his release.

In Iran, the debate about the right of a woman to choose whether or not to wear the hijab, or the scarf was put to the test by the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022. She died in police custody after being severely beaten and tortured. That led to literally millions of people protesting to challenge the Iranian regime’s actions. The result was that 19,000 people were arrested and 551 people were killed.

Oddly, of course, while the Iranians want to dictate that women should wear the veil or scarf in certain circumstances, in France the hijab is banned under certain circumstances, in contravention of these rights that I am discussing.

Russia is now a major abuser of rights. In the Bucha massacre—let us say genocide—in Ukraine, 450 people were murdered, and mass rape and torture took place. In addition, 16,000 Ukrainian children have been kidnapped; only 300 of them have been returned from Russia or, possibly, Belarus. There is also the case of Arshak Makichyan, a climate activist who is charged with terrorism; he has also been stripped of his Russian citizenship and left stateless.

In Serbia, we know that the attacks in northern Kosovo, including the so-called Banjska attack in October this year, were planned by armed Serbian militants, but they were almost certainly organised by Milan Radoičić, who has strong links to the Serbian president. In Serbia, of course, they continue to deny the genocide that took place in a previous era.

On a different continent, in the Philippines unlawful killings have been carried out under the war on drugs, which was launched by former President Duterte. It is believed that maybe over 6,000 people were killed during that period. I met a Filipino priest this week who cannot return to the Philippines because he would be charged by an army officer who wanted to indict him for the criticisms he made of that army officer.

I could go on, with many more cases in Colombia. We know that 182 killings of human rights and environmental defenders took place there in the previous calendar year. There is legislation to protect those defenders, but it is not implemented. Impunity is a major problem.

I will not go through every country in the world, but I want to touch on one or two others. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, war has been endemic for many years: mineral wealth is stolen by the DRC’s neighbours, but routine torture of its citizens also takes place. I met an asylum seeker this week who was granted asylum and now lives in this country as a refugee. In Zimbabwe, arbitrary arrest takes place. In Mali, the Malian and allied security forces have been implicated in hundreds of unlawful killings. There is also no doubt that in India, systematic discrimination against and stigmatisation of religious and other minorities, particularly Muslims, is endemic. In January, photographs of 100 Muslim women, including journalists and activists, were displayed on an app that said they were for sale, in order to humiliate and intimidate them; in October, police in Gujarat publicly flogged Muslim men accused of disrupting a Hindu festival; and in Indian-occupied Kashmir, the actions of the Indian authorities are outrageous. Those very often slip through the net of things to which we are able to pay attention.

I cannot fail to mention the situation at the moment in the middle east with Israel and Gaza. The attacks on Jewish women and the level of brutality meted out by Hamas scream out against everything we believe in. We need to condemn Hamas and the activists who perpetrated those attacks. Equally, however, I have to condemn the actions of the Israeli forces when we see the denial of food and water and of power to hospitals, which, again, are in breach of Israel’s convention obligations. Across the world, there is a pattern of abuse that is both tragic and, perhaps more legalistically, in gross contempt of those countries’ obligations.

The challenges come closer to those who were the driving forces for the universal declaration. The United States is not free of criticism. We have seen people arrested without charge and without process in Guantanamo Bay, for example. Again, the world ought to pay attention to that. In the United States, the right to health is rationed by the power of the dollar, so the poor do not have access to their declaration rights to health. The death penalty—both the so-called legal death penalty and the death penalty sometimes at the hands of the police and other forces—is also something that shames America.

In case people think I am ignoring our own country, we have not ratified the protection for migrant women under the Istanbul convention, for example. We really need to begin to move on that. We have made laws that allow us to strip individuals of their citizenship, leaving them stateless. That cannot be right and is contrary to convention rights. The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 will almost certainly come before the European Court of Human Rights—it needs to do so—because it offers de facto an amnesty from prosecution for the most serious crimes of murder and unlawful killing. Last night, we heard the Home Secretary’s view that he could declare by statute Rwanda to be a safe country. I remind Members that the United States State Department described Rwanda as a country whose human rights breaches include unlawful killing and the use of cruel and discriminatory policies, including torture. By any standards that does not make Rwanda, even by statute, a safe country.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

One must be careful when talking about Rwanda, a country I know extremely well. This is a country that, in the last 30 years, suffered a genocide where 1 million people were killed in 90 days. It is an extraordinary success story of a country that has lifted itself up from the very depths to be one of the safest and most stable countries in Africa today. Do not forget either that, dealing with the aftermath of a genocide, the Gacaca court system was incredibly successful at processing people who had committed murder in their hundreds of thousands and reintegrating them back into society. That is an extraordinary and pretty much unprecedented achievement.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

I have also visited Rwanda and met the same President the Minister will have spoken to. I recognise where Rwanda has come from, but I also recognise that in any journey we expect progress. The US Department of State’s critique is real and we ought to take it into consideration, in particular when we seek, by statute, to declare Rwanda to be a “safe” country. We can argue about the history, but we need to look at the present as well. There are still some unsavoury things—unsavoury is a kind word—that take place in Rwanda and we should recognise that.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I do not want to prolong the debate at this point on Rwanda, but in the opinion of the British Government, and more widely, it is indeed a safe country. The hon. Gentleman may or may not know this, but if we look at the statistics Kigali is a safer city than London.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

Well, I am a Mancunian and we have different views on these things. I shall be leaving London sometime this evening, and not to go to Kigali.

What we must acknowledge is that a debate is taking place in the Minister’s party about the relevance of international law. I hope it will conclude that, as a nation, we are better protected when we are a part of collective security and collective law. To describe the European Court of Human Rights as a foreign court is unhelpful. It is not a foreign court; it is a court that we helped to establish. I hope the fact that there is a debate will ensure that we recommit to the values of the universal declaration of human rights.

On the positive side—I have gone through some of the negatives—the universal declaration has been the foundation of international human rights law. Nine binding treaties stem from it and the majority of United Nations members have signed up to four or more of them, so international human rights law exists and is now actionable, sometimes through national legislation, as we have in our own country, and sometimes through other bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights. The international covenant on civil and political rights guarantees the right to life and equality before the law. The international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights provides for the right to freedom of expression and the right to work, to social security and to education—all very important freedoms and rights. We also have the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and those who have been involved know how important that is.

Around the world, we have seen the expansion of concern—particularly in this country, but in others as well it has to be said—of non-governmental organisations. I will not name them all, but we had a number of them in Parliament this week, ranging from Amnesty International to country-specific NGOs. We recognise the growth of human rights and environmental defenders around the world, and—I mentioned the hon. Member for Henley—the important role of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe system itself in underpinning human rights in this country.

There is no doubt that the universal declaration has been a success. Here in our own Parliament, many structures and bodies are devoted to human rights, but there are challenges, which I put to the Minister in the hope that he will respond, including that defenders of human rights and the environment are under enormous pressure all around the world. They are killed, or they are charged with artificial crimes. We know about that pressure. We, as a country, should defend the defenders of human rights and the environment.

I was a Minister in the Foreign Office in my time, so I know how difficult it is to engage in human rights conversations. I had the delight of talking to President Milošević in his day, when he was about to murder Kosovans—I do not remember him being very responsive to my entreaties on human rights, so I recognise how difficult it can be. Nevertheless, there is a moral and practical obligation on our Government to ensure that the case for human rights is embedded in everything that our Foreign Office does, including striking trade deals. It must show concern about environmental protections and workers’ rights. We must recognise when striking security deals, including those involving the transfer of arms or technologies such as surveillance equipment, that such hardware can be used for the wrong purposes.

We know with near certainty that Yemenis have been carpet-bombed using weapons made in this country. We must take that on board.

I also ask the Minister to follow the model of the Bribery Act 2010 and seriously consider the establishment of mandatory supply chain due diligence to protect the human rights of those working in supply chains, as well as protect the environment that supply chains can put under pressure.

Finally, I think the Minister will definitely be on board with my final suggestion, because it is implicit in his own White Paper. We need to get upstream on these things to ensure that we are building capacity around human rights defenders and environmental defenders, on issues such as impunity and on issues such as environmental protections more generally. In the end, we must build capacity to ensure that crisis does not automatically lead to violence. Those would be enormous gains. I pay tribute to the Minister for being on the more endearing end of the Government—I apologise to the Minister; he will never live that down. I nevertheless look forward to a positive response to our demands, which ought to strike favour as we celebrate the establishment of the universal declaration of human rights.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 1:53, 7 December 2023

It is a pleasure to be in a tag-team with Tony Lloyd. I had hoped that perhaps those with a bigger interest in human rights issues around the world would be here but, for whatever reasons, they are not. That is disappointing, because I think they would have added a lot to the debate. That said, I am pleased that a number of dedicated right hon. and hon. Members always attend these debates. It is a pleasure to work alongside them.

I am also pleased to see the Minister in his place. I think we all look forward to his contribution—I do personally—because we are all of the opinion that his heart is in the same place as our hearts and that we are trying to achieve the same goals. Perhaps we on this side of the Chamber wish there was greater urgency.

I am pleased to see Brendan O’Hara in his place. He and I have been on a number of visits to study, speak up for and better understand human rights issues, so it will be a real pleasure to hear from him.

I am very pleased to see Ms Brown in her place. When she came into the Chamber earlier today, I gesticulated to her as if to say, “Are you going to Westminster Hall?” and she nodded her head. I was not sure whether she knew what the question was, but we are pleased to see her here.

I will speak about Pakistan. Fleur Anderson is here, and she and I had the opportunity to visit Pakistan in February. Some of the things that we experienced and learned were incapsulated in a report, and I will speak about some of them.

This Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. How often have we had to refer to genocide in the House over the years, whether in Westminster Hall or the main Chamber? It happens regularly. Although the word is not used often, that is not because it is not the right word but because it is the right word. When we use the word “genocide”, it sums up exactly what is happening, and some of the things the hon. Member for Rochdale referred to and some that I will speak to will confirm that. The convention is a promise from the international community that such crimes should never happen again—wow, if only they never happened again, but unfortunately they do. The convention serves as the basis of all atrocity prevention efforts in international law, and I am proud of the UK’s role in helping to draft the convention. Whenever things are good and right, we should say so; if they need changing, we also have to say so.

All Members present will know that I chair the all- party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, and they will know my passion for ensuring that that fundamental right is upheld. We speak up for those of Christian faith, those of other faiths and those with no faith, and we do that because it is right to do so. I would have been in the Chamber to speak in the islamophobia debate, but obviously I cannot be in two places at the same time. I have tried in the past to do that; indeed, it has been rumoured that I may have succeeded, but I think that is a rumour. None the less, I would have tried to be there because I very much believe in freedom of religious belief for everyone.

It will be no surprise for those close to these issues that there is a strong connection—indeed, an unparalleled, joined-at-the-hip relationship—between freedom of religion or belief and mass atrocity crimes and human rights abuses, because we have witnessed that around the world. It hurts our hearts and depresses us whenever we see what is happening, because we want to reach out and help everybody and secure their right to exist. Religious minority communities are often the target of atrocity crimes. Violations of FORB are often early warning signs of a worsening human rights outlook for a country. We should be under no illusion that if people have been abused because they are from an ethnic minority or because of their religious beliefs, human rights abuses will be part of that as well. They may be unable to get a job, excluded from education or healthcare, or even not allowed to own their own house, and a lady or young girl will not have the same liberties or freedoms in some parts of the world.

For authoritarians, FORB represents an existential threat. In other words, the very fact that a person has a religious belief or is from a minority is a threat to some authoritarians. It should not be, but it is. For states that seek to impose their ideology, the public presence of diverse and vocal religious and belief communities is a direct challenge. As such, those communities are targeted and scapegoated and, when left unchecked, that can escalate quickly. Mass atrocities are thought of as extreme phenomena that rarely happen, but they happen regularly, unfortunately. The sad truth is that such crimes occur frequently and alarmingly and their frequency seems to be increasing.

Since the last election we have seen a coup in Myanmar leading to an escalation of attacks on Rohingya and the Taliban’s targeting of Afghanistan’s Hazara community, including women and girls as well, to an extent that grieves me greatly. The Uyghurs continue to be imprisoned in Xinjiang, and the Buddhists in Tibet and Christians in North Korea—indeed, Christians around the world, and specifically in the middle east—have been targeted.

The Hamas terrorist group’s abuse and killing of some 1,200 Israelis, and the mass rape—I find it difficult to talk about those things. I understand only too well that the paper reports are quite graphic, and some of the videos are even more graphic. Some of the things that the Hamas terrorists did to Israeli women were bestial. That is the only way I can describe it. I hope they will be made accountable for their actions.

The Baha’is in Iran are the most gentle people you will ever meet. We have probably all met them—I think we have. They are the gentlest people, so kind and so nice. Their very demeanour encourages me whenever I meet them. In Iran, they do not have the right to own land. They have no right to a job, education or healthcare. Their land and property is stolen and their graveyards, where their people are buried, are desecrated.

Those are just some of the things that happen. The situations of the Shi’as and Sunnis, the Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and the Muslims in India tell us that we live in a world that is very, very unsettled.

Examples of groups that are targeted include the Yazidis and groups in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, Tigray, Israel, Palestine, Myanmar and Xinjiang. There are so many examples of states targeting minority religious communities, and the list I have given is far from exhaustive. The violence and hatred shown towards such groups is unacceptable in a world order that declares that human dignity is an essential and irrevocable standard—the fundamental basis of all human rights. That is what we say, but the reality seems very different.

Some of the greatest foreign policy challenges faced by the Government have been responses to atrocity crimes: the war in Ukraine, the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the situation in Israel and Gaza and the collapse of the peace process in Sudan. I mention that because there is a duty on us, our Minister and our Government to do something for them. While our foreign policy treats atrocity crimes as an exceptional phenomenon, our response as a country will always be reactive and perhaps inconsistent.

The hon. Member for Rochdale mentioned Ukraine earlier. I am conscious that if we had responded in a stronger way when Russia invaded Crimea and Donbas in the eastern region, perhaps we would not be facing the calamitous obstacles that we have to overcome today.

Nigeria is one example of an African country where Christians are abused and attacked almost on a daily basis. That is happening in north-east Nigeria and is now creeping down into the middle of Nigeria. Middle Africa is the armoury of all of Africa. It is so flush with weapons that you could almost arm your own army from the reservoir of armaments that are available.

The hon. Member for Rochdale referred to the attacks in the Philippines; I asked a business question about an attack there just last week on a Roman Catholic mass, where four parishioners were murdered and many more were injured. Atrocities are growing around the world, and radicalisation seems to be growing. Some people—a great many people, perhaps—are unable to listen to someone else’s issues and do not understand that someone might have a different religion.

When I first came to this place, I was a member of the parliamentary friends of Colombia group. The hon. Member for Rochdale referred to that country, so I want to mention it quickly. Big businesses that should know better—some have their headquarters in western countries —carry out land grabs against peasants and the lower class, and are encouraged by the police and the army. We speak for those people.

The UK is a leader on the prevention of atrocity crimes, and the Government have much to be proud of. I will set out some of the things they have done, but the Minister will know already. They committed to prioritise mass atrocity prevention in the integrated review of the 2030 foreign policy framework. Last year, a new mass atrocities prevention hub was created in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. A full overview has been carried out of the FCDO’s primary tools for crisis analysis, and atrocity prevention has been integrated into several country strategies. The UK is currently championing a groundbreaking crimes against humanity treaty at the United Nations.

Despite all those successes, I believe there is still a considerable shortfall in the UK’s response to the threat of atrocity crimes under the genocide convention, which places a duty on states to prevent possible genocides. Currently, the UK has no mechanism to prevent future genocides and relies on non-domestic courts such as the International Criminal Court to make a determination after crimes have been committed. That means the UK’s response is retrospective and often misses the chance to prevent unfolding atrocities.

To better prevent future genocides, the UK needs a consistent response to mass atrocity crimes. We have several asks of the Government, and I know the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute will emphasise them even more strongly. Most modern atrocity crimes share similar features, such that policies can be introduced to address the causes. They are motivated or legitimised through a politics of identity-based grievance, discrimination and/or human rights deficits. There is often an organised conspiracy by either state or non-state actors, many parts of which may act through domestic legislation or be legitimised by authorities. It is frustrating to watch that happen. The actors take advantage of unchecked power, even if it is enjoyed in a limited environment, and they can escalate the situation quickly, leading to widespread violence and systematic human rights violations reaching the threshold of international atrocity crimes such as genocide or crimes against humanity. There is a stepping stone from abuse to genocide; we can see the pointers.

Mass atrocities are predictable and often preventable. Early intervention is vital if we are to have the best chance of success in stopping situations escalating to the point of mass atrocities. In addition to the moral argument, early intervention brings with it a lower financial and diplomatic cost. One of the first tools used to prevent mass atrocities is targeted human rights sanctions. However, they are often inconsistently applied, and there is a lack of co-ordination with allies such as the US and the EU.

When dealing with states such as China and Russia, sanctions can have a significant impact on trade, but inaction also has a cost. If Russia had been more strongly challenged after it annexed Crimea in 2014, after the events in Donbas, or even during the 2008 war with Georgia, it is likely that the current war in Ukraine could have been prevented. I remember Sir Chris Bryant speaking up strongly when those things happened. His words were prophetic, and if the west had responded harder and quicker—it has acted now—some of the things that have happened in Ukraine would not have happened. The impact of the war is the largest driver of the cost of living crisis: it has cost £60 billion in additional energy costs alone.

I pay tribute to churches and missionary groups in my constituency and, indeed, across Northern Ireland. Others will refer to their own churches. They do incredible fundraising and work with non-governmental organisations, in particular in Zimbabwe and Eswatini. Patrick Grady will no doubt refer to Malawi, which he has always talked about. Those churches and groups have played a critical role. The earlier the intervention, the less harsh it needs to be; as such, intervening carries less of a diplomatic cost.

My four asks are coming up. Intervention needs to be consistent: we need to respond in the same way to the crisis in Ukraine and the situation in Sudan. I asked for an urgent question on Sudan this week; unfortunately it was not granted, although that is not a criticism. We are using this debate to highlight the issue. Without a consistent response, perpetrators will continue to feel free to act with impunity.

The way to achieve a coherent, consistent response in both domestic and international policy is for the UK—our Government, our Minister—to have a national strategy on mass atrocity crime. That is one of the main recommendations of the International Development Committee report “From Srebrenica to a safer tomorrow: Preventing future mass atrocities around the world”. It states that without concerted action, mass atrocities are likely to become more common, which will constrain global development. That is the point of this debate.

Good things have happened, but not enough of them and not to the extent of making change. We are here to speak up for those who have no voice, the voiceless in the world—our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives and families and have been abused. That is important. The UK is leading the world on its human rights policies on freedom of religion or belief and preventing sexual violence in conflict. A natural extension of those priorities would be a national strategy on mass atrocity crime. That is my ask for today.

I want to use my final few minutes to ask the Minister a few specific questions. Just last week, the US State Department made a determination that war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing were happening in Sudan. Given that the UK is a penholder for Sudan at the UN Security Council and given the targeting of places of worship in the current crisis, are we not now in a position to make a similar determination for Sudan? I ask the Minister that question directly.

The all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief has recently released a report following a trip to Pakistan; the hon. Member for Putney and I were at the launch just last week. It was a well-attended event at which we were made very aware of the persecution, ethnic cleansing and murder—all the things happening to Christians, Shi’as, Sikhs, Hindus and Ahmadis in Pakistan. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady will speak about that shortly. We are both happy to give the Minister a copy of that report to make sure he knows what we are talking about. We have made a number of recommendations, which I believe the Minister will endorse. It is important that he does.

Lastly, does the Minister recognise the intersection between atrocity crimes and freedom of religion or belief? What role does that intersection play within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s new mass atrocity prevention hub? I conclude with those comments. I say gently to the Minister that we have those four asks; others will have theirs. As I said earlier, I am happy to see the Minister in his place as I believe he understands the issue. What we need is not words but actions. We have put forward some ideas about how the UK can play a greater role in respect of the UN genocide convention or the universal declaration of human rights.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 4:13, 7 December 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McDonagh, and to speak in this debate on the 75th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights and the UN genocide convention. I am pleased that the Minister of State, Mr Mitchell, is here to respond this afternoon. I thank my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd and the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this debate. I also thank Dr Kate Ferguson and the whole team at Protection Approaches as well as the teams at the Aegis Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Remembering Srebrenica and the young people from Hampton School, who have campaign called “Genocide 80/20”, and who are campaigning tirelessly on preventing genocides and mass atrocities.

In the 1990s, long before being elected to this place, I worked in Bosnia during and after the war; more recently, I visited the site of the Srebrenica memorial to the genocide. I have also visited Yad Vashem in Israel and the Holodomor memorial in Kyiv, which I went to last year with other MPs.

Given that background and those visits, I am honoured to be the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity. I became chair four years ago, when I was elected— I cannot believe it has been four years—because I am so passionate about not seeing an endless train of atrocities. Some of the most important decisions that we will make as parliamentarians will be about atrocities, but when we see them it is too late for many people.

I will focus on early warning and prevention, and especially the call for a national strategy on mass atrocity crimes. This is not an abstract policy area; we have seen it with our own eyes. I have seen the real and devastating impact that hate has when it is left unchecked. The convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide was the first human rights treaty— adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, 75 years ago this Saturday. It signified the international community’s commitment to make sure that the incomprehensible horrors of the past could never be repeated. That commitment to “never again” has resounded down through those 75 years, and it must really mean something.

The convention means that the international community has committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure that the early-warning systems are in place and that there are no excuses for inaction. It sets out a definition of genocide as the

“intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

It is that special “intent” that makes it a uniquely difficult crime to determine.

While the convention was a signal of the intention of 152 states to finally end genocide once and for all, its implementation in the real world falls short of its bold ambitions, as we have seen over these 75 years. Responses are too frequently focused on acknowledging that a genocide has already occurred, and sometimes punishing those responsible. That is absolutely important—it is important that justice is seen—but it falls short of fulfilling the original intention of the genocide convention: there is not enough focus on identifying potential genocides and preventing them before they metastasise into a cancer of hate and suffering.

The APPG on the prevention of genocide, which I chair, has set out the case for the need for a consistent response to mass-atrocity crimes—a need for a national strategy. There is not enough strategic oversight from the Government to pick out those early indications or risks, or to respond to urgent warnings. Modern atrocity crimes all share very similar features and should be met with policies that address them.

I have heard people in my constituency say, “I can’t watch the news at the moment—it’s too much.” It feels so overwhelming when we hear about all the situations happening. However, saying that there is something is similar about them—that they can be addressed early on, that they can be spotted and that action can be taken—gives power back to Governments, back to us, and to our embassies and high commissions around the world, so that we can take action.

Those broad causes can be broken down into separate elements. First, modern atrocities are often motivated or legitimised through politics of identity-based grievance, discrimination and often a lack of human rights. Secondly, they can be through an organised conspiracy by state or non-state actors. Thirdly, modern atrocities frequently arise from a group taking advantage of unchecked power. If that power remains unchecked, escalation can then take place faster than the international community can respond, leading to widespread violence and systematic human rights violations.

Those may sound like extreme and rare occurrences, but that is not the case. Across the world, mass atrocities occur much more frequently than we would like to think, and many have been raised by other members in this debate. Just look at Ukraine or the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan, which the hon. Member for Strangford has already referred to and which we saw when we visited Pakistan earlier this year. There is a report with many recommendations for both our Government and the Government of Pakistan, which I hope the Minister will look at and consider as well.

Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Tigray, Myanmar, Xinjiang, the Hazaras, the Yazidis, and what is happening in Israel and Palestine are all examples of ongoing atrocities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale said, we condemn the actions of Hamas against the Jews, who are living peacefully—the rape of women, the killing and hostage-taking. We also condemn the disproportionate use of force by Israel—the use of access to water, food, medicines and fuel as a weapon of war, and the forced displacement of 1.7 million people and rising. The incidence of mass atrocities is rising across the world because inequality, social fracture, democratic backsliding, resource scarcity, arms proliferation, climate change and the internationalisation of malign, non-state actors are all moving us in the wrong direction.

Although that news is deeply concerning, we know that mass atrocities are predictable and often preventable. Early intervention is the key. Not only is that more likely to succeed in saving lives, but it will have a lower financial, military and diplomatic cost as well; it is good value for money to save lives by early intervention when it is seen that atrocities are on their way to being committed. As I have said, to intervene early enough we need a coherent strategy backed up with strong political will that is consistently monitoring and responding to the causes that I have outlined. Early intervention is not good only in itself; it is fundamental to our security in the UK. Preventing mass atrocity crimes is not a nice-to-have or a concern simply for those of us committed to human rights; it is fundamental to our national security.

Let me first commend the progress made in recent years. Since I became chair of the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, we have been monitoring the situation closely, and we have seen progress. There is commitment to prioritising mass atrocity prevention in the integrated review and in the new 2030 foreign policy framework.

There was the creation of the new mass atrocity prevention hub, which sits in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Although it is welcome, that hub must have teeth and the scope to work across Government Departments, with clear lines of accountable political leadership with the means to prevent, mitigate, respond and punish. At the moment, we do not have an approach for how to foresee and respond to the pathologised violence of mass atrocity crimes, which is different from violent conflict. The hub must be preventive in nature, in line with the UK’s commitment.

It is also encouraging to see the integration of atrocity prevention in several countries’ strategies—meaning that embassies and high commissions are taking this up and taking action—and to see the UK championing a crimes against humanity treaty at the United Nations. In the international development White Paper published recently, there is a section that says that new technologies should be used to expedite the forecasting of conflict and mass atrocity risks, extending the length of time from a few months to a few years in advance, in order to buy time for response. Access to data and technology should be extended so that early warning is used more systematically across the international system. It is a good start and it is good in its own right, but it just does not go far enough; a national strategy would take that much further.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

Just a brief point, if I may. I fundamentally agree that the national strategy would move the situation forward, but we also need to internationalise this process. We need to at least bring together like-minded nations who would be prepared to buy in to exactly the same framework.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I wholeheartedly agree. The UK championing a crimes against humanity treaty would be one stage of that, but it needs to go further, with internationalising through many other treaties that we are involved in and in many other streams of work.

If we had an international strategy and embassies took it up consistently, we would be more enabled on the ground through different embassies working together, as they do in many countries. A national strategy must have four components; this has also been raised in the International Development Committee’s report, “From Srebrenica to a safer tomorrow: Preventing future mass atrocities around the world”, which concluded that there was an urgent need for the UK to adopt a national strategy for preventing and responding to atrocity crimes.

The four core components are, first, that prevention-first policy thinking should be at the centre of any strategy. That prevention-first approach must address the causes of atrocities by disrupting and dismantling the organised architecture of atrocities. Secondly, the strategy must invest in network analysis that monitors and evaluates the drivers that cause atrocities; maps potential motivations and the interrelations between perpetrators and the coalitions that can help prevent escalation; and identifies the points where leverage can be effectively applied, and which actors can do that. The paragraph in the international White Paper incorporates that.

The third part must be a more holistic approach to developing a resilient society—this is the part that I keep going on about in many meetings. It is about civil society strength, where cohesive, equitable communities, high in public trust and with strong, inclusive institutions, can limit and mitigate the damage from both internal and external shocks. When the potential for mass atrocities is building, women’s groups, young people, access to better employment and jobs or support for human rights defenders and environmental protectors can be the crucial things on the ground that stop and prevent movement towards atrocities. As well as the diplomatic and military, civil society is absolutely crucial. It is like the three legs needed for the stool that will enable us to prevent atrocities.

Lastly, we need an institutionalisation that finds the right balance between integration and specialisation—this is how the mechanics of Whitehall works—to ensure that atrocity prevention is neither mainstreamed nor siloed to death. It leads to more effective action by co-ordinating, convening and unlocking responses. If we brought in this national strategy, the Minister would be free to do what is absolutely right, without being hamstrung by a lack of real political infrastructure.

The absence of a policy on atrocity prevention has left the UK ill-prepared to respond to some of the greatest foreign policy crises of our time: Sudan, Ukraine, Tigray and more that have already been mentioned. When the Government refused, over years, to acknowledge the atrocity risks rising in Sudan, the Minister here went further than most this summer to call out the atrocities in Darfur. Without policy on these crimes, however, even with his contributions the UK is unable to go further and take meaningful actions necessary to help protect people in Sudan. That is just one example. The Minister knows that the violence we are talking about, whether in Darfur or Syria, is markedly different from armed conflict and should not be responded to in the same fashion.

To conclude, we need a national strategy on mass atrocities, so that we lead international efforts to stamp out signs of atrocity wherever it raises its ugly head. We need a strategy that has political weight; that is consistent and not up to the interests of different Ministers, ambassadors or high commissioners; that is built in with early warning and identification; and that is resourced both in Whitehall and in countries. We need to ensure it supports a civil society for peace, so that when we say, “Never again,” we really mean never again.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North 2:27, 7 December 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I join the warm congratulations that were paid to Tony Lloyd on securing the debate and the support that he had from Jim Shannon and, of course, John Howell, to whom we all send good wishes. All three of them have very long-standing commitments to global justice and to the defence and protection of human rights around the world. It is fitting to be having the debate in the week when the 75th anniversary of both the universal declaration of human rights and the UN convention on genocide will be marked. This is an important time for reflection, both on how far we have come and, as others have said, how far we still have to go.

A number of events in and around Parliament have marked these anniversaries. There was an excellent showcase event on Wednesday hosted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and several all-party parliamentary groups. I know that the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief hosted a similar event. Many organisations have also produced very important briefings in advance of the debate, and I hope to draw and reflect on some of them.

This is an issue of deep concern to residents in Glasgow North. It is a constituency of really considerable social and economic diversity, but the constituents are united in their support for justice, peace and respect of human rights around the world. In fact, it boasts not one but two Amnesty International groups. I have regular correspondence and in-person meetings and lobbies with not just Amnesty members, but other constituents from similar organisations who are equally passionate about these issues. I am very proud to be able to speak on their behalf.

One of the most important aspects of the declaration is its universal nature; it applies to everyone, everywhere, equally. Fundamental human rights are just that: they are fundamental, essential and an intrinsic part of human dignity and freedom. They can be denied, or they can be only partially or not even fully realised, but a right in itself cannot be taken away. A prisoner of conscience, arbitrarily detained in a dictatorship, still has a right to freedom of speech under articles 9 and 19. A child experiencing severe malnutrition in a famine-hit country still has a right to food and clean water, just as a homeless people here in central London or in Glasgow North has a right to a roof over their head—both those scenarios come under article 25. A refugee and asylum seeker today in the United Kingdom still has a fundamental right both to seek asylum and refuge and to work, even if the UK statute book says otherwise.

The universal nature of human rights means that we are all affected. If one person is denied their rights; if one person is not able to live in true and full human dignity; then in some way all our rights and all our collective and individual dignity is diminished. It is to our shame that so many people experience denial of their rights around the world. It is our responsibility, and indeed in this place our special duty and privilege, to work for a world in which everyone’s rights are respected and realised.

I have a few examples. The United Kingdom Government are right to recognise the challenge that China presents to established economic and governance systems around the world. Many of the consumer goods and services that we take for granted here in the UK and other western countries are dependent on labour and produce from China. Far too often, there is a risk that that labour has been forced and used as a means to persecute ethnic and religious minorities. A number of my constituents have had to flee China in fear of their lives because they practise the disciplines of Falun Gong or Falun Dafa. To their immense credit, from their homes in Scotland, they take action to call out the oppression of their fellow practitioners in China today. They would very much like to hear the Minister joining those condemnations, along with condemnation of the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and certain branches of Christianity, not least the locking up of Catholic prelates and clerics, and indeed the general intimidation of anyone who dares to criticise the Chinese Communist party.

It is also my privilege to chair the all-party parliamentary group on Eritrea, a country often described as the North Korea of Africa. I hear that phrase particularly from citizens of Eritrea itself who have fled to the UK in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. Despite the incredibly high rate of asylum grants to people from Eritrea by the UK Government, the Government now want to be able to deport to Rwanda anyone from Eritrea who arrives by irregular means. But there is no safe and legal route for anyone who has spoken out against the regime in Asmara to leave that country, let alone to arrive in the UK. The UK Government effectively want to ban asylum claims from one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet.

I invite the Minister, perhaps along with the new Illegal Immigration Minister, Michael Tomlinson, to meet some of the young Eritreans who I met here in Parliament on Tuesday and hear their testimonies about the brutality that they have escaped—arbitrary detention, the arrest of family members, forced conscription and torture—and then explain to them why the UK Government’s position is that they are not welcome here and should go back to France, a country where they do not speak the language. The Ministers might also like to listen to their concerns about the Eritrean regime continuing to gather intelligence on their activities here in the UK, and the methods that it uses to levy a 2% tax on the income of expatriates.

Among the organisations at the IPU’s marketplace on Tuesday was ABColombia, which I have worked with both before and since being elected into this House, and with which I had the privilege of visiting Colombia back in 2018—I know that the hon. Member for Rochdale takes a keen interest in the situation in that country as well. Many of the communities there that face challenges to their human rights experience these less at the hands of the Government and more often as a result of the actions of multinational companies. For example, AngloGold Ashanti wants to displace peasant farmers in the Cajamarca region by opening what its marketing sales makes sound like a small artisanal gold mine. In fact it is called La Colosa, and would involve essentially blowing the top off a mountain, with all the attendant risks to land, water quality and the way of life for people living in hundreds of surrounding square kilometres.

In the north of the country, the multinational Glencore has chosen to sue the Colombian Government for millions of dollars because the constitutional court made a decision to prevent the expansion of its Cerrejón coal mine, which would violate the fundamental rights of the Wayúu indigenous peoples. It is more important than ever that the UK Government seek to find ways to incorporate the Ruggie principles on business and human rights into appropriate legislation and regulations, so that companies based in the UK or that trade on the London stock market are held to the highest possible standards.

One of the biggest themes of the 75th anniversary of the UDHR has been the role of people who defend human rights. A human rights defender could be anyone: a journalist, activist, lawyer, health professional, teacher or other community leader who works to defend human rights and expose injustice.

I remember meeting some of the human rights defenders in Columbia. That phrase—to me, anyway—conjured up an image of grizzled campaigners who had been doing that their whole lives. But what struck me was how remarkably young some of those people were, and how prepared and willing they were to take incredible risks to their wellbeing and future livelihoods to speak out in defence of their communities.

As Amnesty International and others have said, around the world such people are being increasingly stigmatised, intimidated, attacked and subject to unjust prosecutions. One of the particularly salient cases they highlighted was that of Ahmed Mansoor, who has been imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates after speaking out about the detention, torture and unfair trials of other dissenting voices. While much of the world’s attention is currently focused on Dubai as it hosts COP28, will the Minister say whether the UK’s delegation will raise Ahmed Mansoor’s case with the UAE Government or, indeed, whether anybody else visiting that part of the world might also do so?

Several of us here have been able to meet and hear testimony from other human rights defenders who visited Parliament earlier this week, including those supported by Freedom from Torture, Survivors Speak OUT, and the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, which also has projects across the UK. Many of them echoed those calls for mandatory supply chain due diligence to protect human rights and the environment in the production of the goods that we all take for granted.

I was also asked to raise the decision by the UN Security Council to adopt a UK-drafted resolution lifting the arms embargo on Somalia. What reassurances have the Government received that a fresh flow of legitimate arms to Somalia will not be used by the regime against peaceful protestors and human rights defenders in that country?

As almost everyone has said, we cannot have a debate today about human rights and working to prevent atrocities without discussing the tragedy unfolding in Palestine—a tragedy that has led the United Nations Secretary-General, for the first time during his term of office, to invoke article 99 of the UN Charter, which empowers him to call to the attention of the Security Council a situation that may threaten

“the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The message that I have heard from thousands of constituents in the past two months—from totally unprecedented numbers, as I suspect is true for many of us here today—is that there must be an immediate and lasting ceasefire on both sides. Aid must be delivered, the process of rebuilding must begin, and there must be a just and peaceful political process that delivers a settlement agreeable to all, in line with the global consensus on, and support for, a two-state solution. There must be accountability for the atrocities perpetrated on, and since, 7 October.

The UK Government should be prepared to co-operate with the International Criminal Court’s exercise in gathering evidence of potential breaches of international humanitarian law. They must also be explicitly clear that they are not supplying weapons to the region that will end up being used to commit such breaches. More broadly, as Fleur Anderson said very powerfully, the Government need to step up their efforts to prevent such atrocities from happening in the first place.

Despite the pledges that were made in 1948, genocide has repeatedly been perpetrated. The lessons of the holocaust have clearly not been fully learned, whether it is the killing fields of Cambodia, the slaughter of the Tutsi in Rwanda, the massacres in Srebrenica or the atrocities committed against the Yazidi people by Islamic State/Daesh in 2014. Monitoring organisations identify as many as 20 emergencies worldwide where persecution and killings may be meeting the definitions of genocide.

The UK Government have to adopt a whole-of-Government approach to adopting an atrocity prevention strategy, and they should look again at proposals for a genocide prevention response Bill, such as that recently introduced in the House of Lords. The hon. Member for Strangford was right to draw attention to how persecution of religious communities is a particular part of the growing trend of mass intimidation, persecution and, indeed, killing, around the world, and the extremism that appears to be driving that.

It is shameful that we should end up having this debate on the day after the United Kingdom Government announced proposals in their own legislation to override so much of the global human rights framework. By their own definition—found in two of their own Bills this year—their approach to people who come to the United Kingdom seeking refuge and asylum might not be, and in fact probably is not, compliant with their duties under the European convention on human rights. My constituents in Glasgow North do not support this Tory Government’s approach to people who arrive here from many of the countries discussed today. They flee war, oppression and persecution, and then find themselves being oppressed and their rights to claim asylum being denied in the very country where they are seeking sanctuary. We will oppose the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill next week, just as we opposed the Illegal Migration Act 2023. The day will come soon when Scotland can have its own independent migration policy, and make it clear that refugees are welcome here.

Perhaps looking to the future is a good note to begin to end on. Yesterday, many of us will have met inspiring young activists who came to Parliament from across the country to talk about the climate emergency and the need for climate justice. The rights of the planet itself and the rights of future generations should not be forgotten as we mark the anniversaries of the human rights declaration and the genocide convention. I thank Darcey and Isobel from The Holy Cross School in New Malden, who took time yesterday to explain many of the works of art and design on display in the Attlee Suite. They captured their generation’s response to the climate challenge and the need for action now, by this generation of politicians and global leaders, to ensure a just and equitable distribution of the planet’s resources for everyone who lives here, now and in the future.

This has been a valuable opportunity to reflect on 75 years of the global human rights framework, and the many challenges and barriers to fully realising the vision first set out in 1948. That vision is shared by many of our constituents and championed by many of the Members present, especially those who secured the debate. The Government, and indeed the official Opposition, must understand that this is where true consensus in modern politics can and must be found. Pandering to ever more extreme views that seek to minimise the importance of fundamental human rights, or that seek to other or even dehumanise sections or groups within society, is not a route to effective and stable governance, but to ever-more discord and trouble. We have a responsibility both to everyone on the planet today and to future generations to live up to the declaration of our post-war predecessors, and to keep on striving for a day when human rights truly are universal.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 2:41, 7 December 2023

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh, for this debate to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations universal declaration of human rights and the UN convention on genocide. I sincerely thank Tony Lloyd for securing this important debate and for the way in which he opened it. I put on record my best wishes to John Howell and wish him a speedy recovery.

To pick up on what Jim Shannon said, I too am disappointed that a debate of this significance, marking such an important milestone, has not attracted more Members. Irrespective of that, it has been a thoughtful and considered debate. I thank Fleur Anderson, and my esteemed colleague, my hon. Friend Patrick Grady, for the way in which they have participated.

What has come out of this debate is the harsh and disturbing truth that the UDHR and the genocide convention have rarely been more needed than they are right now. While we can take for granted the fundamental rights of freedom of belief, freedom of speech, human dignity and justice for all, for far too many people that is simply not the case. Attacks based on race, skin colour, religion, belief, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and so much else continue to rise in just about every part of the world. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford for his fabulous work as chair of the APPG for international freedom of religion or belief. He is right when he says that not all human rights breaches are violations of FORB, but all violations of FORB are a breach of fundamental, individual human rights, and FORB cannot be hived off or treated any differently.

Members will be aware that throughout this week, in just about every corner of the estate, events have been taking place to mark the UDHR and the genocide convention, with politicians, academics and religious leaders sharing their thoughts on how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Like many Members present, my diary was full of invitations to speak and to attend events, and I managed to get round as many as I could.

However, I will single out one event, which is the event on Tuesday that has been referred to already by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North. It was the event organised by the all-party parliamentary group on human rights and the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union. Various human rights groups came along, including ABColombia, Amnesty International, the Prisoners of Conscience trust, the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines, Freedom from Torture, Peace Brigades International UK, Survivors Speak Out, the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights and Survival International.

Alongside each of those groups was one or more incredibly brave human rights defender—people working at the grassroots in their communities and facing extreme personal danger, but nevertheless doing the work. Listening to their stories confirmed the vital importance of the UDHR, how fragile it is and how we must all work to defend it. In the spirit of what my hon. Friend said, those young people were not just there defending their own human rights or those of their community; they are on the frontline of defending the human rights of every single one of us.

As we have heard, it was on 9 December 1948, in the wake of one of the most heinous episodes in recorded history, that the countries that were then members of the United Nations formally adopted the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. The following day, 10 December 1948, they signed the universal declaration of human rights.

As Professor Brett Scharffs, Director of the International Centre for Law and Religious Studies at Brigham Young University, said at a meeting here in Parliament yesterday, the people behind those conventions,

“were not starry-eyed idealists, nor were they naive. They were battle-weary statesmen and women who had come through two devastating World Wars and were sincerely searching for a better way. Their hope, their optimism and their idealism was hard-earned.”

In a world still reeling from the unspeakable horror of the holocaust, world leaders came together with one voice, saying, “Never again.” Never again, they declared, would the world be plunged into a global conflict of the kind that had dominated most of the first half of the 20th century, and never again would the world be reduced to being a passive bystander when a people or group were facing systematic persecution, ethnic cleansing or genocide based on their nationality, race, religion or ethnicity.

Those world leaders, who had seen for themselves the horrors of the Nazis and who had lived through them, fervently hoped that this new treaty was going to be one of the most transformative and important pieces of legislation in our history. When they said, “Never again”, they meant it. Those dates, 9 and 10 December 1948, changed everything because, as the hon. Member for Putney said, from then on states were not only committed to having a legal obligation to criminalise genocide and punish the perpetrators; they were legally obliged to act if they became aware of a serious risk of genocide.

In reality, unfortunately, it would be more accurate to say that 9 and 10 December 1948 should have changed everything, because bitter experience tells us that gross violations of human rights and genocides have not stopped in the intervening 75 years. Indeed, the crime of genocide has continued almost unchecked, in the killing fields of Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, in the mountains of Sinjar, in Syria, in Myanmar, and in many other places.

Despite 150 countries being signatories to the genocide convention, making them legally obliged to act against genocide, we still witness atrocities in Ukraine, Tigray, Darfur, Xinjiang, Afghanistan and Gaza, while other areas display the early warning signs of being at risk. As we mark the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, the sad reality is that the noble ambition of its founders has been lost in a fog of political expediency and the quite uncanny ability of world leaders to ignore the blatant reality of what is staring them in the face.

In 2023, world leaders still roundly condemn atrocity crime, but because of the legal obligation that the genocide convention puts on them, they are still reluctant to call it what it is: a genocide. To avoid having to adhere to their legal responsibilities, they find it easier to ignore the reality of what is happening, thereby fostering a widespread expectation of impunity among the perpetrators.

Sadly, in my experience, when a President, Prime Minister or Secretary of State solemnly declares, “Never again”, what they are in fact saying is, “I genuinely hope this never happens again, but should it happen again on my watch, don’t expect me to do very much about it.”

As was highlighted by the hon. Members for Strangford and for Putney and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North, a huge part of the problem is that this Government still have no atrocity prevention strategy. As late as November 2021, when asked why they do not have one, they replied that they did not believe it was necessary. Minister, is that still the Government’s position? After all that we have seen in Ukraine, Gaza, Tigray, Darfur and Xinjiang, is that really still the UK Government’s position? If it is, will the Minister explain how he thinks that is working?

I expect there to be much backslapping and lots of self-congratulatory speeches in the coming days as the world marks those truly momentous days in December 1948, but it is worth taking a few moments to reflect on the reality of just how far we have actually come in the last 75 years and perhaps consider how those hard-bitten, battle-weary architects of the UDHR and the genocide convention would view what we have done to achieve their ideal of ridding the world of genocide and atrocity crime.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 2:51, 7 December 2023

I am very grateful to be called, Ms McDonagh. I believe this is the first time that I have served under your chairship; I hope it will not be the last. I am also very grateful to my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd and the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale and the hon. Member for Strangford spoke with great knowledge and passion, and I am grateful to them. I also want to put on record my best wishes to the hon. Member for Henley for a speedy and full recovery. Before I start, I would also like to thank in particular Kate Ferguson of Protection Approaches, who works with Members across the House. She is a real source of huge support on how we can use our tools more strategically to prevent atrocities.

The 75th anniversaries of the universal declaration on human rights and the genocide convention are this weekend, and I want to start by noting what an achievement they were. The world came together after the devastation of the second world war and the utter unprecedented horror of the holocaust, and committed to action. I know we all believe that working together internationally against genocide and human rights abuses is no less essential today.

As we have heard, right now in Sudan there are massive numbers of people under threat. The past weeks and months have brought more and more evidence of mass killings, rapes and the systematic forced displacement of civilians. The evidence is particularly strong that the Masalit communities are repeatedly—repeatedly—targeted for atrocities. Right now, El Fasher in North Darfur is in desperate peril. Civilians in Khartoum continue to be killed and denied humanitarian access, and the violence is spreading.

I truly welcome the United States’ determination of war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and in particular the recognition that arms and funding to the military faction fuels the horror, not matter what the source. I believe the US determination builds on work in this House and in Government, where we have worked together to shine just a fraction of the light that Sudan’s crisis requires. As we warned before the summer, permanent partition or even state collapse in Sudan is an increasingly serious risk. The scale of atrocities that could result, in addition to the many already committed, is simply enormous.

Despite the severity of the humanitarian crisis, the UK, as the UN Security Council penholder on Sudan, is now presiding over the closure of the UN’s Sudan mission. So far, the international community has not had enough co-ordination and commitment for the mediation in Saudi Arabia or the African Union’s leadership to have an impact. The situation is utterly bleak. It is joined, as we know, by the sheer horror in Gaza that we see day after day on our screens, where children are being killed in their thousands as their homes are bombed; where civilians are being kettled into so-called safe zones that are anything but; and where the siege continues and humanitarian access is denied despite the tireless efforts of colleagues.

[Ian Paisley in the Chair]

However, we cannot just sit here and wring our hands. I believe that we cannot be content with symbolic acts of condemnation, and we cannot let petty political divisions take hold—not when it comes to Sudan, Myanmar or Gaza. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted from what we can actually do, because, as the raw ongoing experiences of Sudan teach us, the way in which we work against atrocities and support universal human rights needs to adapt. Let us face it: we live in a more polarised world than in recent decades, and it is far more complex and fragmented than in the 1950s. The relationships that we need to navigate are much larger in number and massively diverse in nature. Misinformation and hate speech spread at a speed and scale that we have never seen before. That means that we must approach these questions from a place of humility and respect, recognising that we are not always the best people to lead; that we do not always have the answer; and that trust is hard-won and easily lost. We must recognise that our international reputation has been damaged over recent years and look to renew it.

Sadly, many of the tools of the multilateral system, such as Security Council resolutions and UN sanctions, simply are not as accessible as they once were. To be frank, as we know, that is sometimes because Russia sees chaos, destruction and division as being in its interest. However, in other cases it is much more complicated than that.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady. I recall that this morning I got a message—actually, a video —on my phone. The message was clear: 120,000 Christians in Artsakh—I hope that is pronounced correctly—in Armenia are under threat. They have no gas, water or electricity; they have no hope, and they are being butchered by an Islamic regime sponsored by Russia. I will make a plea for them, if the Minister is listening. That is another example of genocide against my brothers and sisters.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

Certainly. I hear the hon. Gentleman’s plea, and I am sure that the Minister will be able to respond to that with knowledge and compassion. I argue that the causes I spoke about earlier, and which we have all spoken about today, make the challenges of this agenda so much more challenging, not less—and more necessary.

It is now more important to support accountability through the International Criminal Court, including in conflicts we see on our screens day in, day out in Ukraine, Palestine and Israel. It is more important to work with civil society and protect human rights defenders and journalists. Most importantly, in a world that seems ever more dangerous, the prevention duty in the genocide convention is more relevant, not less. If we are smart and strategic, we can do a lot to work against the perpetrators, enablers and drivers of atrocities. The UK has powerful strengths that we can deploy, including our still-expansive diplomatic network and national expertise in legal and financial services.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale and for Putney (Fleur Anderson) have said, we need to raise the alarm early, based on more extensive mapping and monitoring of atrocity risks and stronger links to civil society organisations. We need to work with our partners to bring together information about the networks that fuel atrocities, rapidly build awareness of patterns of rising violence and share evidence of responsibility. We then need to be proactive by using that greater understanding of those driving the violence to press armed groups towards de-escalation and mediation and to cut off external backers’ money to perpetrators.

We need to empower our excellent in-country diplomats to support the community-level leaders and human rights defenders who can make the difference when it matters most to prevent an escalating crisis. That is so rarely about big, flashy money; it is about rapid, quiet support for those who can calm tensions, provide credible alternative narratives in place of incitement and, if the worst comes to the worst, document the violence so that perpetrators can be held to account. It surely goes without saying that preventing a crisis avoids the vastly bigger costs of humanitarian aid, forced migration, emergency evacuations of UK nationals and the loss of development opportunities, which are shattered for years to come. And it saves lives.

What I am saying is that we need a prevention-first approach. The White Paper makes genuine, welcome progress on that, but we now need consistent leadership to turn words into reality over the coming years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale said, there are serious concerns about Rwanda—internally in terms of human rights and externally via the evidence of atrocities by the March 23 Movement in the DRC. That has been raised in FCDO, in addition to being raised multiple times by colleagues on both sides of the House. I gently say that it may damage our relationships with many partners if there is a suspicion that a narrow migration partnership, which the Opposition do not support, might be getting in the way of consistent UK support for human rights and atrocity prevention.

But it is not all bleakness and horror. If we work together and are strategic, we can help to slow the increasing violence across the world. To give just one example, there is hope that the draft convention on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity will continue to make progress with UK support. Perhaps—just perhaps—the convention might add strength where some argue that existing international laws fall short. Perhaps there will be more legal and diplomatic clarity in future about the intentional denial of access to food, water or medicine in internal conflict. Sadly, that has been evidenced in recent years in Ethiopia and now in Sudan.

We need to consistently support progress where we can. A safer world, where rights are protected for all, is a world with far fewer people in desperate need of humanitarian aid. It is a world where the politics of division and hatred is harder for malign actors to exploit, and it is a world with more opportunities and security for the UK—a world where we do not scrabble from crisis to crisis, but where our long-term international partnerships can flourish for mutual benefit. Surely we want to live in a world where the high ideals of 75 years ago are truly honoured and implemented, and surely that is worth fighting for, with strategic thinking and with passion.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa) 3:04, 7 December 2023

I think this is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley; it is a great pleasure, and I very much hope it will not be the last. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Members for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this debate, and very grateful indeed to the hon. Member for Rochdale for his kind words about my hon. Friend John Howell. It has been an extraordinarily good debate, and one that reflects extremely well on the House. I say that because I think the issues that have been raised have been governed by a steady theme, and that there has been a degree of unity on both sides of Westminster Hall. I hope that my speech will reflect that. May I say at the outset that I hope I will pick up virtually all the points made, but if I miss out any point, my diligent officials will make sure that we write to hon. Members to address it.

It is my great pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government. I am grateful for the contributions of all hon. Members and I will, as I said, try to respond to all the points raised. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rochdale both for his words and for his tone. I can confirm that he is remembered with great affection in the Foreign Office from his time serving there. I also thank him for his comments on the White Paper and his emphasis on the importance of working upstream, which the White Paper sets out very clearly. I thank Ms Brown for her words about the White Paper. Having been at the COP last weekend, I confirm that the document is resonating with our friends and colleagues around the world, not least because 50 countries had input into it. It has been welcomed by all parties in the House of Commons, and I think it charts the way ahead in a number of very important ways.

To pick up a point that the hon. Member for Rochdale made, I confirm that we ratified the Istanbul convention back in 2022. Although some reservations remain, we are committed to implementing our obligations under the convention. May I thank him for his personal remarks when he said that he found me to be among the more endearing members of the end of the Conservative party? I am extremely relieved that he thinks we have got an endearing end, and thank him very much for his remarks.

I thank the hon. Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for West Ham for their words about Kate Ferguson and protection approaches, and for explaining eloquently why they matter so much. I have worked with Kate Ferguson both in opposition and in government, which shows you how long this relationship is, Mr Paisley. I too pay tribute to her for the drive and ambition with which she prosecutes these issues.

Seventy-five years ago, a visionary group of leaders came together to make two bold statements of intent. In a world ravaged by war and divided by ideology, they recognised that every human on earth has certain inalienable rights—rights that must never again be threatened or trampled on—and so the universal declaration of human rights came into being. The day before endorsing the declaration, the United Nations General Assembly added the convention on genocide. It was a powerful recognition that in the aftermath of the holocaust, international co-operation is required to liberate humankind from the “odious scourge” of genocide that has—in all periods—inflicted great losses on humanity.

When one considers the world in which they were forged, the declaration and convention are remarkable achievements. They committed future generations to an immense responsibility. I think one of the best books I have ever read was that written by Philippe Sands, “East West Street”, which sets out very clearly the birth pangs of that strategy. When one considers the terrible challenges that the world faces today—humanitarian crises, conflicts and more—we feel the weight of that responsibility resting on all of our shoulders.

Britain is determined to carry onward the torch handed to us by those pioneers and do everything we can to protect life and dignity, and shape a world where human rights are safeguarded, democracy is at the fore and the rule of law is respected.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee

I apologise for not being able to be here for the whole of this important debate. I am really interested in the points the Minister is making about ensuring human rights are embedded across the world. Does he recognise the role that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other organisations play in promoting human rights to parliamentarians around the world? Will he join me in praising them for the way they help parliamentarians who believe in human rights to bring them to their Parliaments?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I agree fulsomely with my right hon. Friend. She has undoubtedly read the international development White Paper, in which all these strands of thinking are drawn out. The Government made a very strong commitment in it to enable those brilliant organisations to continue their excellent work.

All hon. Members who spoke underlined the importance of shaping a world where human rights are safeguarded, democracy is at the fore and the rule of law is respected. I hope our forefathers would be pleased if they heard what the House has been saying today. We must use our voice on the international stage to highlight human rights violations, galvanise action and hold those responsible for abuses to account. All the while, we must work with partners across the globe to be a force for good, stand up for the vulnerable and champion equal rights for all. At a time when internationalism is so badly needed, we see an international system that is weak and divided, but let us never forget that in parts of the world where events and actions are very dark indeed, the UK has often been a beacon of light.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to reflect on some of the key aspects of that work, which have been identified in the debate. First, on accountability, the recent events in Israel/Gaza are a tragedy, as many have set out. Together with the United States, last month we targeted the Hamas leadership with a new tranche of sanctions, restricting the group’s ability to operate. We have been clear that we support Israel’s right to defend itself proportionately in response to the terrorist acts by Hamas. We are appalled by the reports of rape and sexual violence committed during those brutal attacks on 7 October. The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war at any time, in any place, is abhorrent and a grotesque violation of international humanitarian law, and must be condemned without reservation. It is important that all action is in accordance with international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians. Britain recently announced an additional £30 million of British aid for vital supplies into Gaza.

In Ukraine, nearly two years on from its illegal invasion, Russia continues to demonstrate a total disregard for human rights and human life. We led efforts to refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court, and created the Atrocity Crimes

Advisory Group alongside our allies from the European Union and the United States. Inside Russia, repression has increased, with a systematic crackdown on civil society. Alongside partners, we have reiterated calls for the immediate release of those detained in Russia on political grounds.

Meanwhile, in October we delivered a statement on behalf of 50 countries at the UN, drawing attention to the serious violations being suffered by members of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, China. In the Human Rights Council and UN Security Council, we led on resolutions establishing or renewing UN accountability mechanisms for Syria, South Sudan, Sudan and Iraq.

Reports of an increase in ethnicity-based violence in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan are profoundly troubling. The international community must act to prevent history repeating itself.

On the subject of Sudan, which was raised by the hon. Members for West Ham and for Strangford, I wish to say a little more about what we are doing. Since the outbreak of conflict in April, over 6.3 million people have been displaced. In a BBC interview on 1 October I condemned the violence in western Sudan and made it clear that it

“bears all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.”

On 17 November Britain, alongside Troika partners—the United States and Norway—published a joint statement condemning the reported mass killings in west, central and south Darfur. The British Government are funding the Centre for Information Resilience, a research body that is gathering open-source evidence about the ongoing fighting in Sudan. This financial year we have provided £600,000 to CIR’s Sudan witness project.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I will, if the hon. Gentleman just gives me a moment. Britain also continues to fund and provide support to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sudan, a UN body that provides a crucial role in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations.

In October Britain led efforts at the Human Rights Council to establish an international and independent fact-finding mission to gather and preserve evidence of credible human rights violations and abuses, including atrocities committed in Darfur.

Since the outbreak of conflict on 15 April we have also taken steps specifically on atrocity prevention. We have enhanced our atrocity risk monitoring, including monitoring of conflict-related sexual violence, and put dedicated capacity on human rights and atrocity prevention into the Foreign Office’s new Sudan unit. I am happy to receive the information that the hon. Member for Strangford kindly said he would send me. I have gone into Sudan in some detail because there is great interest in what is happening in Sudan, particularly in Darfur, and I wanted to share it with the House.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response to our concerns over Sudan. I mentioned in my contribution that I understand the United Kingdom holds the key for Sudan when it comes to any vote at the United Nations. If that is correct, is it the intention of our Government and our Minister, or whoever will be responsible, to use that key that they hold to make sure that the very clear issue of genocide that is taking place in Sudan can be brought to the attention of the United Nations at the highest place, and then we can act on it as well?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Member for Strangford is quite right to identify the importance of Britain’s role as the penholder on Sudan. He will have seen the extensive work that we are carrying out in that role not only in the United Nations, but as one of the Troika and one of the countries that works closely with the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and many other bodies to try to bring peace and stability back to that country that is suffering so much. On the words that I used about what is going on in Sudan, if the hon. Member looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will see that I have been very clear in what I have said and what I have condemned.

On atrocity prevention, we joined Gambia in its petition to the International Court of Justice for measures against the Myanmar junta in its actions against the Rohingya people, which many have spoken of eloquently in the House.

On the issue of realising rights, human rights are essential to achieving sustainable development—a point that was made by the hon. Lady who leads for the Opposition, the hon. Member for West Ham. Our new international development White Paper, which has already been mentioned, sets out commitments towards promoting peace, justice and strong institutions. UK funding is supporting action to protect human rights across the globe, leveraging diplomatic engagement—I thank her for her words about the diplomatic service—and targeted programming alongside our international partners. The high commission in Kuala Lumpur is funding a project to support gender equality, networking opportunities and resources for women.

In Mongolia, Britain’s contribution to the UN trust fund to end violence against women has helped support women’s rights organisations to provide disability-inclusive services to survivors of intimate partner violence. In Ukraine, Britain’s funding so far has enabled 153 judges and 36 prosecutors to receive training in forming war crimes judgments to ensure that robust, evidenced war crimes cases can be brought to trial. In a connected world, the internet and independent media have a powerful role in supporting democracy and human rights. As such, Britain will continue to be at the forefront of efforts to support media freedom, to counter politically motivated internet shutdowns and to tackle disinformation.

Turning to promoting equality, our international women and girls strategy underscores the three E’s: educating girls, empowering women and girls by championing their health and rights—in particular, their ability to decide for themselves whether and when they have children—and ending gender-based violence. Work to make that a reality is needed at all levels. At the UN Human Rights Council, we partnered with the United Arab Emirates to secure a resolution on girls’ education and climate change. In the past year, Britain has sanctioned 15 individuals and entities that have committed human rights violations against women and girls, including crimes of sexual violence in conflict. On the ground, Britain’s programming supports women’s rights organisations to provide services to survivors of intimate partner violence. We also support up to 1.6 million marginalised girls across 17 countries to gain an education.

We must remain ever vigilant against attempts to roll back fundamental rights and equality for all. Too often we see attempts to reverse or undermine the rights of women, girls and LGBT+ people at the local and national level, as well as online. That has a huge impact on the lives and safety of individuals and on national prosperity, democracy and security. We will continue to use every tool at our disposal, with the full weight of UK expertise and clout, to shift the dial and stay true to the universal declaration’s promise of equal rights for all.

I raise the issue of the relevance of new technology. Of course, the world does not stand still, which is why I want to think about the future. Developments such as artificial intelligence present not only huge opportunities but risks for human rights. The Bletchley declaration of the AI safety summit recognised that the protection of those rights needs to be addressed for AI, alongside principles such as transparency, fairness, safety and privacy. The UK is committed to the design, development, deployment and use of such technologies in a way that is consistent with the rule of law.

Patrick Grady raised Somalia and the new resolution before the United Nations. He will be aware that the President of Somalia was a guest of the Government here in London just a week or so ago, and was the principal speaker, along with our Prime Minister, at the global food security summit. Britain is a very close partner of Somalia, involved in all aspects of that country’s work and life. I first visited Mogadishu 11 years ago. I went back there just under a year ago and saw the extraordinary changes being wrought in a country that has suffered so deeply from violence and underdevelopment. The auspices for beating back the terrorists are good—they are better than they have been—and we will continue to firmly support Somalia in every way we can. As the penholder on Somalia, we work closely with all parties to drive forward that ambition, and the declaration to which the hon. Gentleman referred makes that clear.

To conclude, 75 years after the declaration and convention, when the world stood firm to avow “never again”, freedoms continue alas to be under serious threat. Millions of people around the world continue to suffer persecution. There is a blessing recited on Holocaust Memorial Day that includes the words,

“our hearts grow cold as we think of the splendour that might have been.”

Every life lost is a loss for the world. Our past commitments must be used to build the future that every human being deserves, and I hope the words used across this debate will give encouragement to people in many places who are caught up in desperate jeopardy.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale 3:25, 7 December 2023

I begin by thanking the hon. Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) for their comments about the reception two days ago, which was actually hosted by IPU, the chair of which is with us today—Karen Bradley—and myself as chair of the APPG on human rights.

I want to make a quick reflection. I am perhaps a little older than some people in this debate, and I grew up in a world where Africa and other parts of the world were subject to colonialism; when we saw South Africa descend into apartheid; when we saw brutal proxy wars in Mozambique and Angola; and when we saw the violent decolonisation process in Kenya, at least in part because of the acts of our own society, and even more so in French Algeria. I have lived through the Vietnam war, the bombing of Cambodia and the atrocities that later took place there.

I could go on and on: military dictatorships in Argentina, Chile and many other parts of the world; here in Europe, Greece was under the heel of the colonels; Spain and Portugal were fascist dictatorships; and central Europe—or the east of Europe, as we used to call it—was under the yoke of domination by the then Soviet Union, or even military rule in the case of Poland.

I do not say that to say that it has always been bad. I say it because change can happen, and change happened in all those places because of political will. It is the political will inspired by the universal declaration of human rights and by the genocide convention that can make a material difference in this world. We have heard some very good speeches today, and I congratulate everyone who has taken part. It is important that in this House of Commons, this Parliament of ours, we uphold the values of human rights. I have to say that we heard some very good things from the Minister that we, as a nation, can be proud of in terms of our own contribution. In the end, it is that exchange of not simply resources, although that does matter, but values that can make a huge difference in this world. That can enshrine the values of these two things that we celebrate today and make the change around the world that is there.

Obviously, in the end, there are very great specifics in this, but there does need to be political will. That political will needs to be internationalised; it is not enough for us to be a model country. We have to be part of an international consensus for change. We need to build the institutions: the human rights defenders, the environmental protectors, and the NGOs around the world. I think it was my hon. Friend Ms Brown who mentioned the role of the International Criminal Court. It is also, of course, about looking to strengthen those institutions that can make a material difference—not simply the ICC, but others too. That is a role we have to play our part in, but internationalise as well.

I think the message that has come across today is that we must fight for the change that we want to see take place. We have heard some good things, and we have actually heard a commitment to real action. We need to see more action from our Government—in fact, all our Governments—on a global basis. This debate has been significant because it does say, once again, that those who had the political will 75 years ago lit a light, and we must bear that light into the future.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on Genocide.

Sitting adjourned.