Category: Human Rights

Religious Persecution

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for introducing this important and timely debate. Religious persecution has, unfortunately, been a recurring theme in societies throughout history. Historically, people of faith have been targets for persecution and discriminatory practices.

Although the title of this debate refers to the extent of persecution in this century, I will first touch on an event which occurred in the 20th century but which has had a lasting impact. When discussing religious persecution, I must draw upon the horrors of the Holocaust. This was the state-sponsored killing of 6 million people of the Jewish faith. We must not allow anything like this ever to happen again. I fully support the setting up of a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens.

I have previously spoken in your Lordships’ House about the abhorrence of anti-Semitism. The fact that anti-Semitism is still prevalent in many societies is a great cause for concern. It suggests that there remains more work to be done in educating communities about historical injustices that must never be repeated. I was disturbed to learn that the Equality and Human Rights Commission felt it necessary to launch a formal investigation into reports of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Any such behaviour in a political party is totally unacceptable. Something is not quite right in the Labour Party if three Members of your Lordships’ House have recently resigned from it. The party must take remedial action immediately.

In December 2018, I led a debate in your Lordships’ house on Islamophobia in the UK. Shortage of time means that I cannot go into the details here. I simply ask the Minister whether the Government now accept the definition of Islamophobia proposed by the APPG on British Muslims, to ensure that we can make meaningful change for Muslims in the UK. The Balkan wars of the 1990s were driven by nationalism and culminated in the enforced deportation and senseless bloodshed of civilians, and the destruction of religious sites such as the 16th century Ferhadija mosque in Bosnia. This week is the UK’s Srebrenica memorial week, and we should always remember the Srebrenica massacre.

We can draw parallels between past events in the Balkans and the present situation in Myanmar. The Rohingya have been brutally persecuted in Myanmar and driven out of their homes in Rakhine State. The Burmese army has led a pogrom against the Rohingya, and has been accused of raping, torturing and killing citizens while systematically burning Rohingya villages. This has led to the displacement of more than 1 million citizens. The United Nations Human Rights Council has referred to the treatment of the Rohingya as genocide. I would be grateful if the Minister informed your Lordships’ House whether Her Majesty’s Government would support efforts by the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

I have spoken in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere against the persecution of minorities. Most recently, I spoke in a debate in the Moses Room regarding the rights of minorities, in particular of Christians in ?Pakistan. What are we doing to provide assistance to Pakistan to improve the position of minorities in that country? Unfortunately, some people have hateful ideologies and discriminate against anyone who is different from them in any way. The plight of the Uighurs in China has worsened, with estimates of the number who have been detained without trial in so-called vocational and educational training camps varying from several hundred thousand to more than 1 million citizens. What representations have the Government made, alongside international partners, to the Chinese authorities in this regard?

Christians in China have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the authorities, and there has been interference with where and how they can worship. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro detailed in his recent report the extent of the increased discrimination against the Chinese Christian community, and commented on discrimination against Christians in several other countries. What steps are the Government proposing to take to implement the recommendations made by the right reverend Prelate?

I wholeheartedly support the efforts and investments made by the Government to defend the right to religious freedom. I also welcome the fact that the UN General Assembly has recently adopted a resolution for an international day commemorating the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief. It is vital that we parliamentarians show leadership, stand in solidarity against all types of faith-based discrimination and adopt a societal philosophy that an attack on one group is an attack on us all.

I end with a famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”. There is a powerful message in this poem.

Pakistan: Aid Programmes and Human Rights

My Lords, I accept and respect everyone, irrespective of race, colour, creed or caste; I have been brought up in a multiracial community. I have been concerned about the persecution of Christians and other minority groups in different parts of the world, including Pakistan. I have met Muslim and non-Muslim leaders and spoken on this issue at several meetings. I am looking forward to the Bishop of Truro’s final report. I am in touch with the Pakistani high commissioner, who has taken numerous initiatives towards promoting interfaith harmony.

The rights of minorities are protected under the constitution of Pakistan. Articles 33, 36 and 37 provide legal protection to minorities. The Pakistani Government have established legislative measures that promote and protect minorities’ rights. There is political will on the part of Pakistan’s Government to improve the position regarding the rights of minorities. As far as Christians are concerned, Islam considers them as people of the Book, and the Books of Allah include the Holy Koran, the Torah, the Gospel of Jesus and the Psalms of David. It would therefore be wrong to subject Christians to any discrimination.

The problem unfortunately is with certain religious and community leaders who are insular and have their own agenda. It is necessary therefore to change the culture and attitude of these people, and we need to support Pakistan in this regard. I met Dr Shoaib Suddle in the House of Lords following his appointment as the chair of a commission for minority religious equalities. He personally reached out and briefed me and other partners in the UK, earning our support for his proposed activities. He has a long-term programme of work, which will include implementing reforms for the freedom and protection of minorities in Pakistan. This will be consistent with words spoken by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his speech on 11 August 1947: “You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan … We are all … equal citizens”, as a nation in the state of Pakistan. I very much hope that this vision is now achieved.

Human Rights

My Lords, historically, the people of Britain were protected not by a written human rights Bill but by ancient statutes such as the Magna Carta, the 1689 Bill of Rights and the principle of habeas corpus. However, as we approached the 21st century, it became necessary to offer a more structured definition of the rights of the individual and how these should be protected in our modern society. This resulted in the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000, tying Britain to rights detailed in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The Human Rights Act solidified the relationship that Britain already had with the European Convention on Human Rights, of which it had been a signatory since 1966. The intention was to make it easier for individuals to protect their rights inthe British judicial system. Since 2000, however, the interpretation of the Act and the failure to find the right balance between individual and community rights have led to the emergence of a culture of rights, which is being exploited to the extreme. Several high-profile cases have attracted media attention by highlighting the difficulties that the British courts have had in translating the Act into practice—for example, the Court of Appeal’s refusal in 2004 to deport nine Afghan hijackers, despite the fact that the Taliban regime that had threatened them had been toppled. This was seen as evidence of the Act’s ability to put the needs of an individual above the safety of the community or even the nation.

Not only has the Human Rights Act not been fully effective, but this Government have taken an increasingly anti-libertarian stance in the wake of September 11. Legislation such as the Preventionof Terrorism Act 2005 has attempted to restrict some of the very rights that the Labour Government intended to protect with the introduction of the Human Rights Act. Furthermore, the introduction of ID cards is totally wrong. It interferes with the privacy of citizens but does not offer them protection against harm. It is an unwanted imposition.

There are alternatives. A debate is emerging on the feasibility of the repeal of the Human Rights Act, to be replaced by a British Bill of Rights that would reflect more accurately the relationship between the citizen, the state and security. A Bill of Rights would have to balance rights with responsibilities. It would have to outline clearly the core values that give us our identity as a nation, and would likely mirror many of the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it would also provide the opportunity for national discourse on what fundamental civil liberties should be protected, and greater clarification of the exact details in a British context would enable the courts better to apply the Bill of Rights. This change would not remove all controversy. We could not deport some people because of the fate that awaited them in their own country. To deport them would constitute a violation of Article 3 on protection from inhuman and degrading treatment. The Bill would help to prevent decisions, such as the one concerning the Afghan hijackers in 2004, which appear to be irrational and wrong.

A Bill of Rights would also silence critics who believe that the UK has lost too much parliamentary supremacy due to compliance with European laws. By entrenching a new Bill of Rights in Parliament, the UK would be asserting her own decision-making power and restating our legislative independence from Europe. That would clarify fundamental duties, safeguard liberties and provide equality in law and civil rights.

Undoubtedly the system as it stands is creating far more questions than it is answering. The introduction of a new Bill of Rights would strengthen our hand in the fight against crime and terrorism. Ultimately, a British Bill of Rights would have the power to promote awareness and be a reminder to British citizens that each person has as much of a responsibility to uphold another’s human rights as they have a right to have their own rights protected. If the Bill is suitably drafted, it will incorporate common values so that British citizens of all backgrounds will feel that it applies to them and there will be common ownership of the Act. I am sure, therefore, that there will be acceptance from everyone in the country.