Category: Foreign Affairs

FIRE AID and International Development Conference 2019

The FIRE AID and International Development Conference was held at the London Fire Brigade HQ on 1st November 2019.

The conference was opened by Jim Fitzpatrick MP who is the Chair of FIRE AID. The conference had discussions on the importance of supporting Fire and Rescue Charities, the importance of data and research in post-crash response and working in partnership to improve post-crash response.

FIRE AID is a charity which provides ethical and sustainable donations of fire and rescue equipment and training to over 50 countries across the world.

Lord Sheikh was invited to speak on his experience in Tajikistan when he visited the Republican Fire Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan alongside His Excellency Mr Matthew Lawson, the British Ambassador to Tajikistan to close the latest FIRE AID project.

 

Lord Sheikh’s Visit to Tajikistan

Lord Sheikh visited Tajikistan between 16th to 21st September 2019 at the invitation of His Excellency Mr Masud Khalifazoda the Ambassador of Tajikistan to the United Kingdom. Lord Sheikh had the pleasure of staying at the residence of His Excellency Mr Matthew Lawson the British Ambassador to Tajikistan during his visit.

The purpose of the visit was to find out more about the current situation in Tajikistan and to strengthen political, trade, educational and cultural ties between the UK and Tajikistan. It was primarily a fact-finding mission and Lord Sheikh had the intention of observing and exploring the social and economic factors in the country. He wanted to meet and talk to people, ascertain the situation and make representations to government departments.

To read Lord Sheikh’s summary report from his visit to Tajikistan, please click on the following link: 2020-01-06 – Report – Lord Sheikh Tajikistan Visit 16-21 September. This report was sent to all the relevant persons in the UK, Tajikistan and other countries.

During his visit, Lord Sheikh had a full schedule of engagements. His engagements included the following:

Meeting with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Muzaffar Huseynzoda.

Meeting with the Rector of Tajik Technical University Mr Haydar Odinazoda.

 

The Main Directorate of the State Fire Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan together with the British Embassy in Dushanbe, FireAid, Staffordshire Emergency Services Humanitarian Aid, Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport and the Young Generation of Tajikistan NGO hosted a joint ceremony to officially hand over two fire engines and fire appliances to Tajikistan’s State Fire Service.

Lord Sheikh attended and spoke at the ceremony alongside the Head of the State Fire Service of MIA Major-General Nozimjon Ibrohimzoda, British Ambassador His Excellency Matthew Lawson and the representatives of other partner organisations. During his speech, Lord Sheikh noted the importance of building up the resilience of Tajik firefighters and rescuers so that they could effectively respond to fire cases and traffic accidents in Tajikistan.

Since 2015, with the help of the Fire Aid project, the State Fire Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan have received 6 fire engines, 1 ambulance car and a specialized vehicle for carrying out road accident operations.

 

Lord Sheikh and His Excellency Matthew Lawson spoke at the plenary session of the International GCRF Conference “Tajikistan and Cultural Diplomacy in Central Asia and Eurasia”.  Lord Sheikh highlighted the importance of education for building prosperity in the country. Responding to the questions from the audience, His Excellency Matthew Lawson noted that helping Tajikistan build its resilience is the cornerstone of UK Government’s mission in Tajikistan.

Lord Sheikh’s meeting with Mr Numon Abdugafforzoda, the Chairman of The Committee for Tourism Development under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan.

 

Lord Sheikh’s meeting with Mr Kozidavlat Koimdodov, AKDN Representative in Tajikistan.

 

Lord Sheikh’s meeting with the representatives of the Sughd Free Economic Zone (FEZ). Established in 2008 in a highly favorable location, the Sughd FEZ offers 320 hectares of land and a number of incentives for enterprises.

 

During his visit to the Sughd region, Lord Sheikh participated in the official opening of the 14th UNICEF Tajikistan’s Adolescent Innovation Lab.

 

Lord Sheikh was pleased to meet with active social entrepreneurs in Khujand to listen to their success stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Overseas Aid: Charities and Faith-based Organisations

My Lords, I am pleased to speak briefly in the gap. I begin by saying that I, with my close family and friends, have our own charity, which is entirely funded by us. In addition, I am a patron of two charities. Muslims all over the world believe in helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves. Muslims also believe that we have a moral duty to support charitable organisations through giving our time and resources wherever possible. I am sure everyone agrees there is a great deal of pleasure in giving, as both the donor and the recipient gain satisfaction.

There are many Muslim charities that are based in the United Kingdom. UK Muslims gave over £100 million to charity during the month of Ramadan last year. That is £38 a second. Muslim charities help deserving causes in the United Kingdom and provide support and assistance in overseas countries. Some of these countries have been affected by war; others are affected by famine, climate change or natural disasters. These charities perform splendid work in providing water, shelter and food. They are also involved in helping people to earn a living. I feel that charities should get involved in the education of young people and the training of people generally in order to make them self-sufficient.

I would like to emphasise that Muslim charities help to support and provide aid to non-Muslims as well as Muslims. They support people of all races, colours and religions all over the world. This fact needs to be appreciated, as it sets out the philosophy of the Muslim charities. I have connections to several Muslim charities and know the trustees and senior executives. There are charities that have been doing remarkable work, going back to the early 1980s. It is the faith of the Muslims, and we believe that faith is the fourth emergency service. Individuals have shown a willingness to volunteer time, professionalism and extend friendship. While the giving of charity is part of the Islamic faith, most Muslims will give charity with humility. Muslims believe in discretion, and we feel that the left hand should not know what the right hand gives.

I would also like to state that Muslim charities are the bedrock of their local communities and help whenever there are problems in the UK. For example, after the Grenfell tragedy, Muslim charities played a vital role in helping the people who were affected. I would like to add that at the charities with which I am connected there is proper governance, accountability and transparency in every aspect of their work. These charities have controlled their expenses and put into practice proper safeguards, which are implemented at all times. I was very pleased that a recent event organised with Islamic Relief that I hosted in the House of Lords was attended by the Secretary of State from the Department for International Development and the Minister. DfID has provided support to Islamic Relief under the UK aid match programme. I would like to ask the Minister: is DfID willing to accept applications from suitable Muslim charities for similar support? 

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development:

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, talked about the generosity of Muslim charities. I attended the wonderful event in the River Room. In one of those amazing juxtapositions, in the space of one week I went from announcing an aid match for the Lent appeal for Christian Aid to doing to the same for CAFOD. I then went to the launch of Islamic Relief, involving zakat. We were UK aid-matching them all. The first time I heard that £100 million had been given in one month by the Muslim community of Britain, I had to double-check it. I thought, “Surely there’s an extra nought on the end”, but the figure is absolutely correct. I do not know why we do not hear more in the media about our British Muslim community. It is the most generous of the faith communities in the United Kingdom and we are incredibly proud of the contribution that it makes to this great country.

Link to full debate on Hansard

British-Uzbek Relations: New Opportunities Forum

Lord Sheikh spoke on a panel at the British-Uzbek Relations: New Opportunities forum in May 2019.

Lord Sheikh outlined his own experiences in Uzbekistan to date and stated how he thinks that changes in both Uzbekistan and the UK might support new opportunities for interaction between both sides.

Lord Sheikh has visited Uzbekistan four times over the last three years. He has attended meetings with the leaders of the country and in fact was asked to be an observer at the 2016 presidential elections. He has prepared reports on various subjects regarding the country. In view of Lord Sheikh’s knowledge of Uzbekistan, he noted the significant reforms made in the country and its potential. He stated that the UK should improve its ties with Uzbekistan relating to political, economic, educational and cultural links.

 

 

 

 

Foreign Policy – Debate

My Lords, this is a most timely and important debate. The world is transforming before our eyes and Britain must be capable of setting its foreign policy in the context of these changes. Over the past 12 months, I have visited East Africa, Russia, Syria, Turkey, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, India and Egypt. I went to these countries to speak at international conferences, for humanitarian reasons or to attend important events-and also for commercial purposes. These visits have enabled me to acquire a better understanding of the situation in the various countries, and I have built up some excellent connections with politicians and people of the countries. I have also fostered good relationships with high commissioners and ambassadors of various countries, as well as their diaspora in the UK. We all need to be involved in networking at all stages; we must foster country-to-country as well as people-to- people contacts.

In view of the time constraints, I shall comment only briefly on some salient issues. Last weekend, while the Prime Minister was showing a strong lead in Canada, the Foreign Secretary was spelling out a new approach to foreign policy in an interview for the Sunday Telegraph. He has expanded on that vision today and I commend his analysis. His vision, based not on the historic blocs but on taking a fresh look at the new global dynamics, is most welcome.

I am sure we all feel that we should not only maintain but strengthen our relationship with the United States. I am encouraged by the conciliatory attitudes of the Obama Administration, particularly towards the Muslim world. I commend the importance that the Government attach to India and look forward to an enhanced partnership with India. The importance ascribed to this was demonstrated by the reference in the gracious Speech. We need also to accommodate the development of greater links with other countries with emerging economies. We have seen the rise in economic power of the Gulf states and we welcome the involvement in various companies and organisations in our country, which will strengthen not only economic but political ties with the Arab states. I have previously spoken in your Lordships’ House on the important role that the Commonwealth can play in building strong relationships in various ways, particularly in strengthening political ties and resolving conflicts. I was pleased that the coalition programme included a statement on strengthening the Commonwealth.

I have already stated that I have visited countries including Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I fully support the entry of Turkey into the European Union. We need also to resolve problems in Cyprus. I also feel that we should engage with Turkey and its involvement in resolution of conflicts in surrounding areas, including Iran and Palestine. We cannot afford to ignore the challenges presented to us by the ongoing conflict in Palestine. Recent events can serve only to stiffen our resolve that the only long-term and sustainable solution involves two states, with the achievement of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. That will be the most acceptable solution.

Last week, I visited Russia to make a keynote speech at an international conference on Islamic finance. Our relations with Russia have deteriorated in recent months and some serious issues remain outstanding. Engaging with Russia is complex. The Government have announced that they will seek to establish a new relationship. I feel that we should give that serious consideration.

About three weeks ago, I attended and spoke at a conference in Uganda relating to peace, democracy, the rule of law and the maintenance of human rights. We should continue to ensure good governance and seek to bring to book persons who have committed crimes against humanity.

I have watched with alarm the way that relations with Iran have deteriorated, particularly following last year’s presidential elections. We must not forget the important opportunity that the UN presents and Iran needs to engage with the international community. We should wish to have a constructive relationship with Iran, which is a key power in the region. I hope that the Iranian Government will not switch off to the possibilities being held out to them.

I strongly support the coalition pledge to ring-fence the development budget. Not only is it the right decision from a humanitarian perspective, but it shows the world that we are serious as a nation about supporting developing and emerging economies. This will undoubtedly contribute towards reinforcing British influence and prestige in global affairs.

China has witnessed an impressive growth over the past 30 years. Before long, we can probably expect it to be the largest economy in the world. It is a self-confident country with expanding influence, not least in Africa. I welcome the positive engagement that we appear to enjoy with the Chinese Government. Furthermore, we need to harness Chinese influence in confronting and overcoming the challenges of Iran and North Korea.

The new world presents us with a great opportunity and I am delighted that this Government are taking a bold and impressive approach in regard to their foreign policies.

Sri Lanka

Lord Sheikh asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What steps are they taking to achieve peace in Sri Lanka.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I have made it clear to the Sri Lankan Government that the UK stands ready to support a process of reconciliation. We continue to urge the parties to the conflict to place peace above self-interest and to engage with Sri Lankans from all communities. A sustainable solution to the conflict should promote democracy and stability and uphold international human rights principles. Only a just and inclusive political process can achieve this.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The fighting and turmoil in Sri Lanka is causing not only problems in the country but a great deal of distress among Sri Lankans who have settled here.

In November 2006, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland visited Sri Lanka. We have achieved peace in Northern Ireland, and I believe, because of our historic ties, that what we have learned in Northern Ireland can be of assistance in relation to the problems in Sri Lanka. On 1April, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister came here and had discussions with Ministers. Subsequently there was fighting on 23April. Is there any merit in sending a ministerial delegation to Sri Lanka? And can we continue with our financial support in order that that can be used as an incentive to achieve peace?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point about the comparison with Northern Ireland. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, pressed this point on the Sri Lankans and sent people with expertise on the Northern Ireland solution to advise them. On 1 April, when the Foreign Minister was doing his briefing, I again reminded him of the Northern Ireland parallel and offered to make expertise available to him.

As to the point about a ministerial visit, I will be visiting Sri Lanka in the coming months.

Sudan: Darfur

Lord Sheikh asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What is their assessment of progress towards a peace settlement in Darfur?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, due to fragmentation among rebel movements and intensified fighting between the Government of Sudan and rebel groups, there has been no recent progress in the political process. At a meeting convened in Geneva on 18 March by the UN and AU envoys, the UK set out proposals for a cessation of hostilities and actions to revitalise the political process, including the urgent appointment of a single chief mediator and deeper engagement with civil society.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In January our Prime Minister met the Chinese Premier. Subsequently, in February, our Foreign Minister made a statement in China. It is said that China can perhaps do more to achieve peace. What is the Minister’s assessment of Chinese involvement? Can we influence the situation in any way?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, China continues to be constructive on the immediate issues ahead of us in Darfur. The Chinese envoy for Africa and Darfur, having visited London, went on to Sudan and put constructive pressure on the Government to accelerate the deployment of UNAMID and to prioritise political negotiation. Obviously, at a broader level, we are all concerned that not enough has been done to insist to the Government of Sudan that they must make and keep the peace in Darfur.

Kenya: Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Lord Sheikh asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What assistance they are providing with regard to the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission and to the proposed work to be undertaken by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kenya.[HL1932]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): The Government welcome the announcement by Kofi Annan on 15 February that the parties have agreed to establish a truth, justice and reconciliation commission. We, with our international partners, await further details on how the parties intend to take this forward and stand ready to provide assistance as necessary.

We welcome the fact-finding mission to Kenya of the team from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and from the office of the United Nations Special Adviser for Genocide to investigate potential human rights abuses. We will seek to ensure that their findings and recommendations are acted on. It is important that the causes of violence are addressed and allegations of human rights abuses are investigated thoroughly. Along with our international partners, we continue to provide support for those displaced and harmed by post-election violence in Kenya.

Kenya: Humanitarian Relief

Lord Sheikh asked Her Majesty’s Government: What measures are in place to ensure that the £2.2 million they provided for humanitarian relief in Kenya is reaching the people who need assistance and is not being misappropriated at any level.

Baroness Crawley (Baronesses in Waiting, HM Household; Labour) The UK’s assistance to the humanitarian relief effort in Kenya is being provided through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Kenya Red Cross Society and Medecins Sans Frontieres. These are strong independent organisations that organise and deliver humanitarian services directly to targeted beneficiaries. DfID has a long-standing partnership with these agencies and has found them to be well-managed and effective organisations. The work is regularly reviewed and assessed on the ground by our team based in Kenya.

Zimbabwe

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Blaker for initiating this debate. What we have witnessed in Zimbabwe over the past few years has been absolutely horrific, and, while we can all rehearse the depressingly familiar statistics, we need to recognise that this is, first and foremost, a human tragedy. Effectively, the Government of Zimbabwe have declared war on their own people. The cruelty that has been inflicted under Mugabe’s regime will take a long time to heal: and the hurt continues. Fifty-six per cent of the population in Zimbabwe lives on less than $1 dollar a day and around 80 per cent lives on less than $2 dollars a day. In economic terms, Mugabe has managed to transform one of Africa’s most successful economies into a complete disaster. Inflation is rampant and some economists count the figure as above 11,000 per cent. There is a shortage of food and the basic necessities of life.Mugabe’s hold on power appears strong. He continues to be declared the winner of elections, despite these being considered as seriously flawed by the opposition and foreign observers. In the 2005 elections, Zanu-PF won more than two-thirds of the votes in parliamentary elections said by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to be fraudulent. But, as my noble friend Lord Blaker acknowledged in the Motion for this debate, the damage extends well beyond economics and politics. Around 3,000 people die in Zimbabwe every week of HIV/AIDS, with an estimated 1.8 million Zimbabweans infected with the disease. When some people stand up and proclaim the wonders of their assistance in tackling this human tragedy, they measure their contribution in terms of money spent. We should focus attention on the number of infections prevented and on the number of treatments, rather than the crude measurement of finance injected.To focus our minds, life expectancy has fallen below 35 years, and there are an estimated 1.3 million orphans. I am appalled that other African countries have not shown more leadership and initiative: their approach has been supine. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity in his response to this debate to update the House on the actions of the British High Commissioner in South Africa to ensure that Mugabe is placed under maximum pressure. I appreciate that the British Government have to overcome sensitivities, given our colonial history with Zimbabwe, but it must be possible to do more.Zimbabwe stands as testament to the truth that although the power, even of a good Government, to do good, is not infinite, the power of a bad one knows no limit. I hope that other African leaders will change course and live up to their responsibility for the disaster that keeps deteriorating in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has done his country no favours, and the sooner he is out of office the better. It is imperative that the country returns to true democracy, and that opposition leaders are respected and protected. Other African countries need to support this.In conclusion, it is not the removal of Mr Mugabe that is necessary; the country needs humanitarian aid, the building of institutions, the restoration of democracy on a proper basis, and considerable investment by foreign countries.