The UK regards the status of Western Sahara as undetermined. As a member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), I have been assured that the UK regularly discusses Western Sahara with Morocco and others, and fully supports UN led efforts to reach a lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. The UK is encouraging all parties to engage with the UN led political process.
The UK's position on Western Sahara is consistent and longstanding, and it is unaffected by recent developments, be it the normalisation of relations between Israel and Morocco, or the decision by former President Trump in December 2020 to recognise Western Sahara as part of Morocco, which is purely a matter for the US.
Hamas' military wing has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the UK since 2001 and is listed in Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The UK maintains a no contact policy with the group in its entirety.
I share the Government's position that the Hamas ideology is unacceptable, and I strongly condemn all acts of terrorism.
I appreciate concerns about the political wing of Hamas, and I understand the political wing of Hamas is not proscribed as it is considered that there is a clear distinction between Hamas’ military and political wings.
In distinguishing between the political and military wings for the purposes of proscription, the Government's aim is to proscribe only those parts of Hamas which are directly concerned in terrorism.
While it is Government policy not to comment on whether or not a group is under consideration for proscription or not, I thought it may be helpful to set out the legal basis on which proscription decisions are made.
While it is Government policy not to comment on whether or not a group is under consideration for proscription or not, I thought it may be helpful to set out the legal basis on which proscription decisions are made.
Legislation allows for a group to be proscribed in the UK only if the Secretary of State believes it is currently concerned in terrorism, as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000. This means an organisation can only be proscribed if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism (including the unlawful glorification of terrorism) or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.
Organisations which cause concern, are kept under continuous review. As and when new material comes to light it is considered and the organisation reassessed as part of that process. Individual members are, of course, subject to criminal law.
This country has been, and always will be, open and outward-looking, leading in solving the world's toughest problems and striving to be a force for good in the world. Whether it is stepping up to support desperate Syrians and Yemenis in conflict zones, leading the fight against Ebola and Malaria, or supporting millions of children to gain a decent education, the UK is at the forefront of helping those countries most in need.
Nevertheless, we must be honest about where we are. The UK is currently experiencing its worst economic contraction in 300 years because of the pandemic, with a budget deficit double that caused by the 2008 financial crisis. At this time of unprecedented crisis, tough choices must be made, which is why the Chancellor announced a temporary reduction in the UK’s ODA budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of the UK's Gross National Income (GNI).
I am encouraged that the UK will be spending more than £10 billion in 2021 on its seven ODA priorities, as set out by the Foreign Secretary, climate change and biodiversity; global health security, including Covid-19; girls' education; responding to humanitarian crises, such as those in Yemen and Syria; science and technology; resolving conflicts and defending open societies, including human rights and promoting trade.
As one of the most generous aid donors in the G7, with a commitment considerably higher than the OECD average, and coupled with our expertise and convening power, the UK remains a development superpower.
The UK is the biggest bilateral donor to the Global Partnership for Education, the largest fund in the world dedicated to improving education in developing countries; and the World Bank International Development Association, which works to accelerate progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Likewise, our contribution to the COVAX AMC is amongst the largest, and will contribute to the supply of at least 1.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines in 2021, already reaching over 135 countries and economies.
I have been assured that the UK will return to 0.7 per cent as soon as the fiscal situation allows. That is, as the Chancellor clarified on 12 July, when the Government is no longer borrowing for day-to-day spending and when debt is falling. I believe this the most economically prudent way in which to return to satisfying the 0.7% target in light of the prevailing economic circumstances. I would like to make clear that I am only supportive of this in the knowledge that this commitment to get back to 0.7% will occur as soon as possible, and I will be vigilant in ensuring that this is adhered to.
I welcome that the Government, recognising the strength of feeling felt by many Members across the House on this matter, and even though it was not necessarily obliged to do so by the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, gave Parliament a meaningful vote on its decision. I am glad that Parliament, recognising the need to manage the public finances responsibly and maintain strong investment in domestic public services, voted to approve the Government’s plans by a handsome margin.
Palestine Lobby Day
I do not agree with EDM 138 and I do not believe that an investigation into arms sales to Israel would be appropriate. However, I remain concerned about security in Israel and our friendship with Israel does not prohibit our criticism of some Israeli policies, nor our recognition of Israel as a thriving democracy. The UK supports Israel’s right to defend itself and will work alongside anyone in the Middle East who seeks to establish better stability and security for their people.
Israel has a right to self-defence and to defend its citizens from attack. I hope and wish, as we all do, for the cycle of violence in Israel and Palestine to end. Every effort must be made to avoid loss of life, especially the lives of children. Civilian deaths, both in Gaza and Israel, are a tragedy.
I share the concerns raised to me by constituents and I know that Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office ministers do too. Indeed, it is for such reasons including, but not exclusive to, those to which you refer why Colombia remains one of thirty human rights priority countries for the UK.
Befitting its priority status, and as a UN penholder, ministers and officials regularly raise human rights concerns directly with the Colombian Government and via the relevant multilateral fora, including in relation to the right to peaceful protest. The UK's Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, for instance, raised concerns on a virtual visit to Colombia in February.
The UK is forthright in supporting the right to peace protest everywhere, including in Colombia. I join the Minister for the Americas, Wendy Morton, in calling for an end to the violence and for all instances of excessive force used against protestors to be thoroughly investigated by the authorities, and for appropriate action taken against those responsible.
My ministerial colleagues and I share the concerns about the antisemitic actions and speeches in and around the Durban Conference and its various follow-up events. These acts are certainly no cause for celebration.
Following historic concerns of antisemitism, as in 2011, the UK has decided not to attend the UN’s Durban Conference anniversary event later this year. The US, Australia and Canada will also not be attending.
The Government unequivocally condemns, and remains fully committed to tackling, all forms of racism and antisemitism, both domestically and internationally.
Turkish Military Action Against Kurds
I welcome the recent discussions that have taken place between Iraqi and Turkish Defence Ministers regarding Ankara's ongoing military operations against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I know that the UK respects Iraqi sovereignty, and acknowledges Turkey's security concerns regarding the PKK. The UK continues to urge dialogue and cooperation between Iraq and Turkey to tackle terrorism, maintain regional stability and protect civilians.
Regarding Syria, I welcome that the ceasefires in place are broadly holding. Where ceasefires are under pressure, I know that the UK is urging all parties to increase their efforts to adhere to them, and indeed their obligations under international law. The UK firmly believes that the political process established by UN Security Council Resolution 2254 offers the only viable route to a lasting and inclusive peace in Syria. I am assured that the UK will continue to urge all parties to engage seriously with the political process.
The Persecution of Christians in India
The UK champions freedom of religion or belief for everyone, and as a country that is a beacon for freedom and tolerance, I passionately believe the UK should not shirk its responsibilities.
That is why I am glad the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, was published.
The Government has committed to implementing the Bishop’s 22 recommendations in full, and work continues to implement them in a way that will bring real improvements in the lives of those persecuted because of their faith or belief. Of the 22 recommendations, the UK has fully delivered 10, made good progress on a further 8, and I am assured that ministers are confident that all 22 will be delivered by the time of the independent review in 2022.
I also welcome the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Some of the recommendations will take longer to implement and will require an ongoing effort to embed into the working practice of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
The UK engages with India on the full range of human rights matters, working with Union and State Governments, and with non-governmental organisations, to build capacity and share expertise to promote human rights for all. The British High Commission in New Delhi, and our Deputy High Commissions across India, also run projects promoting minority rights and regularly meet with religious representatives, as well as official figures such as the Chair of the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Minorities.
Israel and Palestine
I share the concerns raised to me regarding the violent escalations we have witnessed recently. The UK Government is urging all parties to stop the violence. As the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made clear, this cycle of violence must stop, and every effort must be made to avoid loss of life. My thoughts are with all those affected, especially the families of those civilians killed.
The UK is clear that the violence against peaceful worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque was unacceptable. Attacks against peaceful worshippers of any faith must stop. The status quo in Jerusalem is always important, especially during religious festivals such as Ramadan. We encourage all parties to maintain calm, avoid provocation and uphold the status quo to ensure the safety and the security of the Al Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount and all who worship there. The UK Government urges all sides to refrain from any kind of provocation so that calm is restored as quickly as possible. The restoration of peace and security is in everyone’s interests.
Additionally, evictions of Palestinians from their homes causes unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, calls into question Israel's commitment to a viable two-state solution and, in all but the most exceptional of cases, are contrary to International Humanitarian Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. I join ministers in calling for them to cease with immediate effect. The UK Ambassador in Tel Aviv has raised this issue with the Israeli Authorities, as has the Minister of State, James Cleverly, with the Israeli Ambassador in London. The British Consul General to Jerusalem visited families at risk of eviction in Sheikh Jarrah on 3 May to reiterate the UK's opposition to the practice.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to his Israeli counterpart on 11 May and the Palestinian Prime Minister on 12 May to reiterate the above points, and I know that ministers and British officials will continue to do so in all future representations as part of our longstanding efforts to facilitate peace and stability in the region.
Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem
Ministers from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are very aware of the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. Indeed, the UK regularly makes clear our concerns about the evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem to the Israeli authorities and the Municipality of Jerusalem, both bilaterally and in co-operation with like-minded diplomatic partners.
The UK Ambassador in Tel Aviv has raised this issue with the Israeli Authorities, as has the Minister of State, James Cleverly, with the Israeli Ambassador in London. The British Consul General to Jerusalem visited families at risk of eviction in Sheikh Jarrah on 8 April to reiterate the UK's opposition to the practice, and other officials from the Consulate have continued to make regular visits to at risk areas in question.
The UK is clear that evictions of Palestinians from their homes causes unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, calls into question Israel's commitment to a viable two-state solution and, in all but the most exceptional of cases, are contrary to International Humanitarian Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. I join ministers in calling for them to cease with immediate effect.
I deplore the recent violent unrest that we have seen in Sheikh Jarrah and beyond (including at Al-Aqsa Mosque), and join ministers in calling on Israel to work with local communities to avert further violence and to facilitate a calm and speedy de-escalation.
International Criminal Court Investigation: Occupied Palestinian Territories
The UK was a founding member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which began operating in 2002 when the Rome Statute came into effect, and the UK remains a strong supporter of the ICC and respects the independence of the court and its officials.
Whilst the UK Government does not consider the ICC to have jurisdiction in this particular instance, it respects completely the independence of the ICC and the right of its officials to carry out their work without hinderance. In return, as with any such court, it expects due prosecutorial and judicial discipline.
Respect for human rights underpins the UK's foreign policy, and ministers and officials regularly raise concerns with the Israeli Government for this reason. Indeed, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) is a human rights priority for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I am assured that the UK will continue to support, and partake in, international scrutiny of Israel and the OPTs provided it is proportionate.
The seizing of power by the military in early February and the subsequent violent crackdown on protests in Myanmar is a grave development, and I join the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and international community in condemnation of these events. I also join my ministerial colleagues in calling for the military to hand back power to the democratically elected government, release those arbitrarily detained, protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Myanmar, including their right to peaceful protest, ensure unobstructed humanitarian access, and, most of all, to stop killing its own people.
In addition to decisive unilateral action, the UK has led a strong, coordinated international response to the coup. This includes securing joint statements of the Foreign Ministers of the G7, of which the UK is currently President, on 3 and 23 February, and convening two urgent meetings of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resulting in a statement on 4 February and a Presidential Statement on 10 March. On 12 February, the UK also co-led a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), securing a resolution, agreed by consensus, condemning the coup. On 24 March, the UK secured another UNHRC Resolution, again agreed by consensus, which condemned the military’s actions and enhanced evidence collection on human rights violations.
It is essential that we see an end to the coup and a swift and peaceful restoration of democracy in Myanmar. I am assured that the UK is doing all it can to facilitate this outcome.
Respect for human rights underpins the UK's foreign policy, and therefore the situation in Xinjiang is of deep concern. The evidence that systematic human rights violations are being perpetrated against the Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang is now overwhelming. The reported abuses are extreme, taking place on an industrial scale and beyond the pale. It is the duty of the UK and allies to ensure that this does not go unanswered.
The UK regularly makes representations to China on this issue and has repeatedly called on the Chinese Government to allow UN experts unfettered access to Xinjiang, including by the Foreign Secretary at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 22 February. China has, so far, refused to engage in these efforts, however I know that ministers and UK officials will continue to lead the international effort to facilitate such access and hold China to account.
I welcome the imposition of sanctions on 22 March, in unison with the US, EU and Canada, against four senior Chinese officials and one entity, the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, responsible for systematic violations of the human rights of the Uyghurs.
I share my constituent’s concerns about the death of Ali Abu Alia, and I will ensure that Ministers at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) are aware of the points constituents have raised to me. I urge Israel to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ali's death.
The UK repeatedly calls on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law and the UK has a regular dialogue with Israel on legal issues relating to the occupation, including the treatment of Palestinian children. The UK continues to stress to the Israeli security forces the importance of providing appropriate protection to the Palestinian civilian population and of restraint in the use of live fire.
I am concerned about Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons and I know that the UK Government shares these concerns. Reports of the heavy use of painful restraints and the high number of Palestinian children who are not informed of their legal rights, in contravention of Israel's own regulations, are particularly concerning. Equally, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the continued transfer of Palestinian child and adult detainees to prisons inside Israel is also of great concern.
I am assured that the UK remains committed to working with Israel to secure improvements to the practices surrounding children in detention and that our Embassy in Tel Aviv is in regular dialogue with Israel on this issue. I welcome that the UK also funds projects providing legal aid to minors and capacity building to local lawyers.
The TRIPS Waiver Proposal
The UK does not consider waiving intellectual property (IP) rights to be an appropriate action to boost the manufacturing of safe, effective, and quality vaccines.
The existing intellectual property framework has mobilised research and development to deliver a host of new medicines and technologies to detect, treat, and defend against Covid-19. We have not yet seen evidence of how such a waiver of IP rights would improve the current situation, and the UK continues to engage in constructive and evidence-based discussions at the TRIPS Council on the waiver proposal, and to address the multiple factors outside of IP on which access to medicines depends.
The UK is among the biggest global donors of Covid-19, and is committed to supporting rapid, equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. We have pledged over £1 billion of UK aid to counter the health, humanitarian, and economic risks. In addition, to support global vaccine access, the UK Government have funded a range of international organisations with the expertise to deliver an 'end to end' approach from research, development, and clinical trials, through to supporting manufacturing scale-up and delivery.
Military Exports: Saudi Arabia and Israel
I fully understand concerns about military exports to Saudi Arabia and Israel, however I know the Government takes its export control responsibilities extremely seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.
With regard to exports in Saudi Arabia, in accordance with the Court of Appeal's judgement in June 2019, the Secretary of State for International Trade has now retaken licensing decisions regarding military exports to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen on the correct legal basis. Export licences are not granted when there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law, and the protection of civilians is the cornerstone of International Humanitarian Law.
Each application is carefully assessed against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria and a licence will not be granted if to do so would be a breach of the criteria. A range of sources are used when making assessments including NGOs, international organisations and our diplomatic posts overseas. Licences may also be reviewed, suspended and revoked where necessary.
Regarding Yemen, I am deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis and I fully support the efforts of the UN Secretary-General and the UN Special Envoy's call for all parties to engage in urgent political talks and de-escalate the conflict. UK support to Yemen since the beginning of the conflict now totals over £1 billion and I strongly welcome the Government’s announcement that it will provide £87 million of aid funding this year.
The UK’s support for Israel’s right to self-defence does not extend to support for the annexation plans for part of the West Bank, and I strongly welcome the shelving of these annexation plans as part of the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE.
The human rights situation in Tibet, as in many regions of China, is concerning. The restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, and of assembly and association are particularly troubling. Indeed, as detailed in the most recent FCDO Human Rights and Democracy Report, China is one of thirty priority countries of concern for the UK, in part because of its behaviour towards the rights of the people of Tibet.
I believe that meaningful dialogue between the Chinese Government and representatives from Tibet, including the Tibetan Government in Exile, is the best way to resolve underlying tensions.
The UK regularly raises concerns with China, directly and multilaterally via the UN, about human rights in Tibet. Most recently, on 6 October 2020, the UK and 38 other countries joined a statement at the UN Third Committee in New York calling on China to respect human rights, particularly the rights of persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities, in Tibet and elsewhere.
The UK is also funding research and engaging with business and other stakeholders to promote knowledge of China's human rights violations. This ensures supply chains are free from the products of human rights violations and means businesses do not, unwittingly or otherwise, profit from or support human rights abuses, including in Tibet.
Jewish National Fund
I firmly support the UK’s longstanding position on the Middle East Peace Process, that there should be a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a fair and realistic settlement for refugees.
Regarding the Jewish National Fund, I want to highlight that this is not a charity. The Jewish National Fund Charitable Trust, however, is a charity registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales having exclusively charitable purposes. Under Section 34 of the Charities Act 2011, the Commission must remove a charity from the register if it no longer considers the organisation to be a charity or if it ceases to exist or does not operate. At present, I am unaware of any of these criteria applying to this charity.
International Women’s Day: Action Aid and Open Doors
Local women’s rights organisations do vital work across the world, and I am proud that the UK has provided long-term support to many women’s rights organisations, often in dangerous regions.
The past year has put many women’s rights organisations under significant pressure, and I am pleased that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have ensured that the needs and priorities of women and girls are central to every aspect of our global Covid-19 response, while supporting women’s participation and leadership including through women’s rights organisations.
We know that the success of the global Covid-19 recovery will depend on putting women’s rights organisations at the heart of our response. In September 2020, the UK announced an additional £1m to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women on top of our existing £21 million contribution, for the new COVID-19 Crisis Response Window. The UK is also building on the success of our ‘What Works to Prevent Violence’ programme with a successor programme, to systematically scale up proven violence prevention projects across development and humanitarian contexts.
The UK is also proud to support and accelerate the Africa-Led Movement to end FGM through UK aid programmes and our voice on the world stage. Since 2013, programmes have helped over four million girls and women to receive health, social and legal service related to FGM and UK aid helped to build the ‘The Girl Generation’, the largest-ever global movement of over 900 grassroots organisations working together to end FGM.
The success in the fight for gender equality is dependent upon supporting women’s rights organisations, and, as these few examples demonstrate, the UK is steadfast in fulfilling its commitments.
I am assured that gender equality will be central to our G7 Presidency, and that this work will be framed by the ‘3Es’: Educating girls; Empowering women; and Ending violence for women and girls. The UK is aiming to secure G7 agreement on ambitious targets for girls' education, as well as G7 policy and financial commitments, including a successful replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The UK wants to strengthen the G7's commitment to women's political and economic empowerment and scale up G7 effort’s on preventing violence against women, including a focus on evidence-based approaches.
With regard to the persecution of Christian women, the UK has always championed freedom of religion or belief for everyone, and as a country that has always been a beacon for freedom and tolerance, I passionately believe the UK should not shirk its responsibilities.
That is why I am glad the Government has committed to implementing the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review of UK support for persecuted Christians by 2022. I also welcome the recent appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the PM's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. The UK remains concerned about global levels of intolerance, discrimination and persecution of people because of their religious belief and has rightly stepped up its focus on this issue over the last few years.
Christian women are more likely than men to be victims of discrimination and persecution. I understand that the Government acknowledges this and that human rights policy work already considers the intersectionality of human rights. Last year, the UK joined the International Religious Freedoms Alliance and Ministers have explained that the UK will use our membership to highlight the importance of considering the intersectionality of human rights. I note of the comments in the Open Doors report, and I know that the Government works with a large number of NGOs, including Open Doors, to help protect freedom of religion or belief for everyone.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) continues to work hard to assist British nationals detained in Iran, and my thoughts are with Nazanin and Anoosheh, and their families. Like yourself, I want to see them, and indeed all other dual nationals, released immediately. I am assured that the UK is using every tool in its diplomatic arsenal to secure the immediate and permanent release of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals in Iran. Specific cases, such as Nazanin and Anoosheh's, continue to be raised with the Iranian authorities at every possible level, including the most senior. The UK calls on Iran to rectify its dire human rights record, live up to its responsibilities under international human rights law and the Vienna Convention and release dual nationals.
I am told that the UK Embassy in Tehran continues to request consular access to Mr Ashoori and has been supporting his family. The UK regularly calls on Iran to release all British-Iranian nationals arbitrarily detained, including Mr Ashoori.
It is positive news that Nazanin's ankle tag has been removed, however, the fact that she is still detained is totally unacceptable. I join the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in condemning Iran's cruel and unjustified treatment of Nazanin and in calling for her immediate release.
Israel Apartheid Week
Free speech is vital to the independence and innovation that embodies higher education, but no student should face discrimination, harassment or racism, including antisemitism. I am assured that the Government is committed to addressing antisemitism wherever it occurs and the UK became the first country to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
Ministers will continue to call on all higher education institutions to accept the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, which is a tool to help front-line services better understand and recognise instances of antisemitism. I believe this will send a clear message that antisemitic behaviour will not be tolerated and will be taken seriously by higher education providers.
All universities and higher education institutions have a responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive environment and have a responsibility to ensure students do not face discrimination, harassment, abuse or violence, including online. Universities are expected to have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, and to investigate and swiftly address any hate crime and antisemitic incidents that are reported.
Ministers have provided over £144,000 for a programme to support universities in tackling antisemitism on campus, delivered by the Holocaust Education Trust, in partnership with the Union of Jewish Students. I also welcome that an additional £500,000 of government funding will be provided to allow 200 university students each year to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, to hear from the last Holocaust survivors and to help educate students on the importance of continuing to tackle antisemitism on campuses.
As we mark the ten year anniversary of this conflict, the plight of the Syrian people must not be forgotten.
Unfortunately, progress towards peace in Syria and a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political process, allowing the Syrian people to decide their country's future, has been slow. The UN-facilitated peace process, in line with UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2254, is the only existing means to achieving this end, and the UK consistently upholds this resolution and urges all other parties to do the same.
I have been particularly appalled by human rights violations in Syria, including the treatment of prisoners, and I know that these are issues that the UK continues to raise in international fora as part of its commitment to resolution 2254. This is one of the many reasons as to why Syria remains one of thirty human rights priority countries for the UK, as documented in the most recent Human Rights and Democracy Report last year.
Sadly, if unsurprisingly, the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people are as grave now as they have ever been. An unprecedented 12.4 million people are food insecure, an increase of 4.5 million people in just one year, and children are bearing the brunt of this crisis, with one in eight suffering from malnutrition. The UK is one of the largest donors to the Syrian humanitarian response having committed over £3.3 billion since 2012. FCDO Ministers have assured me that tackling the humanitarian impact of the Syria Crisis remains a priority.
The pandemic has, as in many other parts of the world, significantly worsened the humanitarian situation in Syria. The UK is committed to equitable access to vaccines as demonstrated by our £548 million contribution to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). UK support will help distribute 1.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 92 developing countries in 2021, including Syria, and the UK is lobbying via the UN to ensure that these vaccines are distributed without interference and to those in the greatest need. Efforts via COVAX complement the UK's existing support to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 in Syria, providing water, healthcare, hygiene kits and sanitation support for vulnerable Syrians across the country.
Israel: Military Courts
I am assured that Ministers and British officials continuously urge the Israeli Government to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), of which the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is a fervent champion everywhere. The UK has also raised concerns with the Palestinian Authority (PA) about the treatment of HRDs in the West Bank. The UK has concerns about reports of ill-treatment of those in Israeli military detention. In terms of prosecution, it is also crucial that in circumstances such as these that there is adequate legal due process to make sure that people's rights can be fairly heard. I am assured that the UK continues to raise these points with the Israeli authorities.
The UK has been clear that we remain concerned about Israel’s extensive use of administrative detention which, according to international law, should be used only when security makes this absolutely necessary, rather than as routine practice and as a preventive rather than a punitive measure. Detainees should either be charged or released. UK officials have also made clear our concern over the continued transfer of Palestinian detainees to prisons inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The UK will continue to call on the Israeli authorities to comply with their obligations under international law.
The UK funds projects providing legal aid to those, especially minors, detained and prosecuted in this manner and capacity building to local lawyers.
It is for reasons such as the above that Israel and the OPTs remain a human rights priority for the FCDO, as documented in the most recent Human Rights and Democracy Report last year. I am confident that the UK will continue to monitor these issues closely and raise them with the relevant authorities where effective.
Respect for human rights is a sentiment which underpins the UK's foreign policy, which is why the situation in Xinjiang is of deep concern. The evidence that systematic human rights violations are being perpetrated against the Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang is now overwhelming. The reported abuses are extreme, taking place on an industrial scale, and beyond the pale. It is the duty of the UK and allies to ensure that this does not go unanswered.
The UK regularly makes representations to China on this issue, and has repeatedly called on the Chinese Government to allow UN experts unfettered access to Xinjiang, most recently by the Foreign Secretary at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 22 February. China has so far refused to engage in these efforts, but Ministers and UK officials will continue to lead the international effort to bring about such access and hold China to account.
I welcome that in July 2020, the UK Government established the Global Human Rights sanctions regime. I am told that the Government keeps all evidence and potential listings under close review, Ministers are aware of the suggestion of sanctioning Chen Quanguo. It is not, however, appropriate for me to speculate on who may be designated in the future, as to do so could reduce the impact of the designations.
Jagtar Singh Johal
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) staff have been working hard to provide assistance to Mr. Johal and his family, and representations are regularly made on behalf of Mr. Johal to the Government of India.
I am told that the Foreign Secretary raised Mr. Johal's case with the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on 15 December 2020. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, last raised Mr. Johal's case with the Indian High Commissioner on 28 January 2021, and with the Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, on 3 November 2020. Lord Ahmad has also met with Mr. Johal's family on a number of occasions, most recently on 27 January 2021.
Mr. Johal's welfare is a priority, as is ensuring his ongoing access to legal representatives. The UK's consular staff continue to visit Mr. Johal regularly. I appreciate that this is a desperately difficult and distressing time for Mr. Johal, his family and, many in the Sikh community, and I will continue to follow this case closely.
Human Rights Defenders
Regrettably, Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) face unprecedented attacks in many parts of the world. The UK is a proud champion of human rights and a strong supporter of those around the world who dedicate their lives to defending them. British officials and Ministers regularly assess how we can enhance our ability to assist HRDs to carry out their work safely and without fear, including in the context of the increased risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
I am assured that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) puts human rights and their defenders at the heart of its work. The UK recognises the essential role HRDs play and published a report in July 2019 titled ‘UK Support for Human Rights Defenders’, which publicly underlined the UK’s commitment to protecting them.
Support is provided to HRDs through the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, most of which is allocated to projects by HRDs and civil society organisations. The FCDO also monitors repression of HRDs in its Annual Human Rights Report, the most recent of which was published last July. The report paid tribute to the courageous work of HRDs and listed support for them as a UK international policy priority.
The upcoming Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Affairs will inform the strategy of the UK's international policy in the decade ahead, including those of the FCDO. Given that the Review is yet to conclude, I would not wish to speculate on its findings before they are published.
I am proud of the UK’s role in the birth of the state of Israel, with whom the UK shares a deep and meaningful relationship. I welcome the UK Government’s deep commitment to promoting trade and business ties with Israel and its strong opposition to the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. I also have every confidence that the UK’s trading relationship with Israel will continue to go from strength to strength in the years to come.
Our close friendship with Israel does not prohibit our criticism of some Israeli policies, or our recognition of Israel as a thriving democracy and an example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity. Nor does it stand in the way of the UK acting in honest accordance with our clear and long standing position, that is the commitment to a two-state solution, where two equal and sovereign states live side by side in peace and mutual respect. The UK regularly calls upon all sides to desist from engaging in activities that undermine this end, and this is reflected in the UK's voting record at the UN and diplomatic activity in general.
The UK has been a major contributor to the United Nations (UN) since its inception 75 years ago, occupying a prominent role within it, and defends wholeheartedly its role as a place where issues of international concern can be discussed productively and respectfully. To be clear, none of the above should be construed as resulting from a bias against Israel. On the contrary, the UK regularly raises issues of concern in a wide range of countries, via the UN and bilaterally, including with our closest and most longstanding allies, of which Israel is one.
I understand that the Indian Government has recently passed a series of Bills which introduce reforms to farming in India, which have been described as a watershed moment by Prime Minister Modi. While this is of course an internal matter for the Indian Government, I appreciate the concerns you have about the impact these reforms will have, particularly on the livelihoods of farmers in India, and I will ensure that Ministers are aware of them.
The Government is conscious of concerns in India, and from communities in the UK about the agricultural reforms and I am encouraged that the Foreign Secretary discussed protests on this issue with his counterpart, Minister of Exterior Affairs, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, during his visit to India in December. The UK supports marginalised farmers through technical assistance programmes which strengthen the quality and productivity of local natural resource infrastructure, and by building state and local government capabilities to deliver improved social protection.
I appreciate your particular concerns about what you consider to be shortfalls of the Infrastructure Technical Co-operation Facility (ITCF) and I would be happy to relay this and the issue of UK pesticide exports to India to Ministers at the FCDO.
It is because of the UK’s close relationship with the Government of India that difficult issues can be discussed, and concerns raised, where they exist. I will be following developments closely.
The freedom of religion or belief for everyone is a core value of the UK, and, as a country that has always been a beacon for freedom and tolerance, I passionately believe the UK should be on the frontline in battling discrimination and persecution in all forms.
It is for this reason I am glad that the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, has been published. The UK Government is committed to implementing the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro's Review by July 2022.
The recommendations have been divided into short, medium and longer term priorities and Ministers have already implemented a good number of them, including the recent appointment of a Director General level champion for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the marking of Red Wednesday in support of persecuted Christians and members of other minority groups. I also welcome the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the new Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Some of the recommendations will take longer to implement and many will require an ongoing effort to embed into the working practice of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and other Departments.
Helping the World’s Most Vulnerable Girls
The UK works with a wide range of international partners to ensure the best results for girls across the world. I am proud of the leadership that the UK has shown, supporting the UN and national governments to keep girls safe. This includes the largest ever single investment to help end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the world: the UK is providing an extra £50 million to support the Africa-led movement to end FGM by 2030 and provide better protection for vulnerable girls.
Moreover, educating girls is the tool that can address a whole host of the world’s economic and social problems and, alongside all 53 members of the Commonwealth, the UK is working to help provide 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030. I welcome the appointment of Baroness Sugg as the Special Envoy for Girls' Education, a new role which will help accelerate progress towards this target.
Girls’ Education is one of the five foundations of the UK's wider development work on gender equality, and between 2015 and 2019, the UK supported 5.8 million girls to gain a decent education. In 2018, the Prime Minister, as Foreign Secretary, launched the Leave No Girl Behind campaign. The campaign gets girls learning, builds international political commitment and boosts global investment. Our Girls Education Challenge is the world’s largest fund dedicated to girls’ education and is supporting up to 1.5 million marginalised girls in 17 countries around the world.
I am told that the Integrated Review of Foreign Policy, Defence, Security and International Development, expected to conclude later in the year, will define the Government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world and its outcomes will shape the objectives for the new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, including on International Aid. DFID and the FCO have worked closely together in the past on gender equality and the FCDO will continue to draw on the skills and expertise of everyone in the new department to champion gender equality in international development and humanitarian crises.
Normalisation of relations between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates
“The normalisation of these relations, between countries that are great friends of the UK, is a historic and welcome step. It was encouraging to see that the normalisation between Israel and UAE in August also resulted in the suspension of Israel's plans to annex the West Bank. The UK has consistently opposed these plans, which would have been counterproductive to securing peace in the region.
I pay tribute to the work of the US in brokering these agreements, which are a much needed boost for peace in the region. Ultimately, however, there is no substitute for direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel, which is the only way to a reach a two state solution and a lasting peace. I encourage both sides to resume direct talks and I will continue to follow developments closely.”
I know that there is a great deal of concern amongst many of my constituents about Mr Nawajaa's arrest and I will ensure that Ministers are made aware of this. I will be following developments in Mr Nawajaa's case closely.
The UK repeatedly calls on the Israeli authorities to comply with their obligations under international law and either charge or release detainees. The UK also remains concerned about Israel's extensive use of administrative detention which, according to international law, should be used only when security makes this absolutely necessary, rather than as routine practice and as a preventive measure.
More broadly, I am assured that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) puts human rights and human rights defenders at the heart of its work. The UK recognises the essential role human rights defenders play and in July 2019 published the “UK Support for Rights Defenders” document to publicly underline the UK’s commitment to protecting them.
Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa
I am deeply concerned about the cases of Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa. The UK has raised and will continue to raise both cases at senior levels with the Government of Bahrain.
The Government of Bahrain is fully aware that the UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty, in all circumstances. The former Minister for the Middle East and North Africa publicly stated in January the UK's deep concern that death sentences were handed out. Following the Court of Cessation’s decision on the 13th July, the UK will continue to monitor the situation.
I reviewed the contributions made during the Urgent Question on this issue, and I am satisfied that the Government are doing everything they can.
Parliamentary Scrutiny of Arms Exports Controls
My understanding is that it would be a matter for the House of Commons to decide on any plans to change the status of the Committee on Arms Exports Controls from a joint meeting of members of the Foreign Affairs, Defence, International Trade and International Development Committees, to a standalone committee on Arms Export Controls. I do not sign Early Day Motions (EDMs) because they do not have any practical effect, and I prefer to make my views known by speaking directly with Ministers.
I do want to reassure you that the Government itself takes its defence export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. Indeed, export licence applications are rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. Consideration is given to the prevailing circumstances at the time of application and includes human rights and international humanitarian law considerations. The Government will not issue export licences where there is a clear risk that the goods might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
Merging of the Foreign Office and Department for International Development
“As you know, the Prime Minister has announced that the FCO and DFID will merge to create a new overseas department. The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will place UK Aid at the heart of what it does, leveraging the development expertise of DFID through the reach of the FCO’s global network. The merger is set to be completed by September and the new department will be led by the Foreign Secretary.
I am proud that the UK has been at the heart of the international effort to tackle Covid-19, which shows the good that this country can do through our international engagement. The current crisis shows just how important it is that development and diplomatic efforts are fused together more closely, in order to maximise our international impact and make the biggest difference to people’s lives.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s reassurance that this is not about rolling back commitments on international development, but about pursuing them more effectively, and that reducing poverty will remain central to the UK’s international work. The UK remains committed to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on international development, being the only G7 country to have enshrined this in legislation.”
“I share your concerns regarding the crisis in Yemen and the plight of the Yemeni people who are caught up in the conflict. That is why I am proud that the UK is leading the international community to do more to respond to the crisis in Yemen. Since the conflict began, the UK has committed £970 million of funding, which has helped meet the immediate food needs of millions of Yemenis, treated thousands of children for malnutrition and provided over one million people with improved water supply and basic sanitation.
The UK’s long-standing position on Yemen is that there is no military solution to this conflict, and only a political settlement can bring long-term stability to Yemen and tackle the worsening humanitarian crisis. The UK is not a party to the military conflict as part of the Saudi-led coalition. Until the Government retakes export license decisions in line with the Court of Appeal’s judgment, or a successful appeal against the judgment concludes, the Government is under an obligation not to grant any new licences to export items to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen.
The UK has been at the forefront of international efforts to bring a peaceful solution to the appalling conflict in Yemen, fully supporting the efforts of the UN Secretary-General and the UN Special Envoy’s peace plan. I welcome the unilateral ceasefire announced by Saudi Arabia on 8 April, which has been extended, and it is more important than ever that all parties seize this opportunity for progress in Yemen. I will of course follow developments closely, and hope for a positive resolution.”
Drop the Debt
“I share your concerns about the debt vulnerabilities in developing countries, which has been amplified by coronavirus, and welcome that the UK has made available up to £150 million to the International Monetary Fund's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to help developing countries meet their debt repayments.
Responding to this crisis requires international cooperation. The UK, alongside G20 and the Paris Club of official creditors has committed to a historic suspension of debt repayment from the world's poorest countries. This will see official creditors provide up to $12 billion of cash-flow relief, which, importantly, will enable countries to focus available resources on tackling coronavirus and ensure they can direct greater resources to vital healthcare efforts, rather than interest payments.
The Chancellor and G20 Finance Ministers have publicly called for the private sector to voluntarily participate in this initiative as well and, if it did so to the full extent, that would provide another $10 billion of breathing space for these countries. The agreement also provides time to assess what further assistance these countries may need as the full economic impact becomes clearer, for example if future restructuring of debt may be needed. I am glad that the Government is keeping all options under review.
I am proud that the UK is at the forefront of the global response to Covid-19. There has never been a more important time for us to deliver our 0.7% of GDP spent on international aid commitment, and helping the most vulnerable in the world’s poorest countries.”
The UK has always championed freedom of religion or belief for everyone and the Government has an unwavering commitment to defending freedom of religion or belief as a universal human right. This includes the right to have no religious conviction or belief. As a country that has always been a beacon for freedom and tolerance, I firmly believe the UK should not shirk its responsibilities in this area and I welcome that defending freedom of religion or belief for all remains a UK policy priority.
I am told that the UK Government, along with international partners, is monitoring the arrest of Mubarak Bala closely. The Minister for Africa raised Mr Bala's case with the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs on 21 May and the UK’s High Commission in Abuja has also discussed the case with the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Police. The UK will continue to stress the importance of a transparent investigation that respects Mr Bala's human rights, the rule of law, and the Nigerian constitutional right to freedom of religion or belief.
I am encouraged that, in Nigeria, the UK is calling on the Nigerian Government to do more to reduce conflict and improve social cohesion, including hosting a conference on fostering cohesion back in February 2020. I understand that a process of identifying solutions to meet the needs of all communities has begun. However, there is a long way to go yet.
Demolitions and Evictions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, call into question Israel's commitment to a viable two-state solution, and, in all but the most exceptional of cases, are contrary to International Humanitarian Law.
I am glad the UK Government has allocated funding towards supporting around 124 Palestinian communities in Area C and East Jerusalem through needs-based and emergency services. This helps provide pre-fabricated residential, livelihood and agricultural structures. Funding has also been used to provide off grid energy to 50 households in Area C through the installation of 30 renewable energy systems.
I welcome that officials from the UK Embassy in Tel Aviv have repeatedly raised concerns with the Israeli authorities about the increase in evictions and demolitions of Palestinian properties in Area C of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. It has called on them to cease the policy of demolitions and provide a clear, transparent route to construction for Palestinians in Area C. I understand concerns about the Sumarin family, and the Jewish National Fund, and I know that my colleagues at the Foreign Office are aware of this case.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
“A number of constituents have raised their concerns about the UNRWA, and I can assure you that I have raised them with the responsible Ministers.
The UNWRA has a unique mandate to support Palestinian refugees until a lasting political settlement is reached, and until then, the UK is clear it will continue to meet humanitarian need and promote regional security by supporting the 5.6 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
The UK's contribution to the UNRWA last year helped provide education to more than 533,000 children, half of whom were girls and health services for around 3.1 million Palestinian refugees. While I appreciate concerns around the UNRWA, I believe that we cannot afford to lose the progress made, or risk young people, especially girls, losing the opportunity to have an education at all.
I am, however, very concerned about the allegations of incitement in the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) school textbooks. Both the PA and the Government of Israel need to prepare their populations for peaceful coexistence, including by promoting a more positive portrayal of each other. I welcome that the UK lobbied, and funded work to develop the methodology, for an in-depth review of school textbooks, and this review is now underway. More broadly, UK officials are in regular contact with the UNRWA to ensure high quality aid delivery. They currently judge that UNRWA is effective in allocating resources on the basis of need, however I appreciate your concerns about the performance of the UNRWA and have raised these with Ministers.”
Middle East Peace Process
I firmly support the UK’s longstanding position on the Middle East Peace Process.
There should be a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a fair and realistic settlement for refugees. The UK Government consistently calls for an immediate end to all actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution.
The UK’s position has not changed, including towards the West Bank and the 1967 borders. I am glad that the UK repeatedly reaffirms this commitment, including most recently at the UN Security Council, and will continue to do so. I am concerned by reports of possible Israeli moves towards annexation and believe that any such unilateral moves would be damaging to the renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations, and contrary to international law. No changes to the status quo can be made without an agreement negotiated by the parties themselves and I join my colleagues in Government in calling for a meaningful return to negotiations by all concerned parties.
As the United Kingdom looks to open up markets and trade post-Brexit, I certainly am a supporter of much closer trade links between the CANZUK nations.
Additionally, as we have such close cultural and family ties, I would also like to see the Government look at making travel to and from CANZUK nations easier.
Ending early and forced marriage of children must remain a high priority: it is shocking that more than 700 million girls and women alive today were married as children. While the practice of child marriage has slowly been declining, particularly for girls under 15, continued global action is essential if it is to be eliminated. The UK is leading international efforts in this area. Indeed, UK pressure helped ensure a separate target on ending child marriage was included within the Global Goals.
The UK’s £39 million programme to end child, early and forced marriage is helping thousands of girls take back control and choice over their bodies and their futures. Support for the UN’s ‘Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage’ programme plays an important role. It is working to strengthen legal and policy frameworks, scale up access to services for girls at risk of child marriage, and tackle harmful social norms underlying child marriage. The £39 million programme also supports AmplifyChange, a multi-donor fund working for universal sexual and reproductive health and rights, including for grassroots organisations with the local knowledge and expertise working to address child, early and forced marriage.
Women should be able to live free from violence in all its forms in all settings. The UK is providing the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women with up to £12 million funding over the three years to 2020. The Fund supports organisations across the world to tackle gender-based violence, improve access to services such as legal assistance and healthcare, and strengthen laws and policies that protect women and girls. In 2017, the Fund managed projects in 80 countries and territories. This is expected to benefit 750,000 women.
The UK has always championed freedom of religion or belief for everyone. As a country that has always been a beacon for freedom and tolerance, the UK must not shirk its responsibilities. The Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mountstephen, has been published. The UK Government is committed to implementing the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro’s Review.
Unfortunately I was not able to attend the Open Doors 2020 World Watch List launch as it conflicted with a number of other diary commitments in what has been a very busy week. However, I assure you that I will follow this issue closely and ensure the Government deal with it seriously.