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Members raised the issue of asylum cases. The Governments policy is that individual cases are exactly that, and that each case should be considered on its individual merits. I have been assured by the Home Secretary that nobody has been deported to Burma in the past two months.
I shall move on to speak briefly about Zimbabwe. We remain deeply concerned by the rapid deterioration of human rights there. The Government of Zimbabwe continue their campaign of violence and intimidation against opposition figures, human rights activists and ordinary Zimbabweans. I am not optimistic about elections in 2008. There is a process taking place through the Southern African Development Community to seek free and fair elections in 2008, but the actions of President Mugabe to date do not give us confidence for that.
Hon. Members mentioned the EU-African summit. The Prime Minister made it clear that neither he nor any senior Government Minister will be attending. As to other representation and who will attend from the Zimbabwean side if President Mugabe does not, we are not at that stage. We shall consider the appropriate representation as we get nearer to the summit.
As I said on Tuesday, we are keeping President Mugabes knighthood under review. We agree that it is not appropriate that he has a knighthood, but it is not the most important or pressing issue on Zimbabwe.
The International Criminal Court was mentioned, and we believe that the matter is one for the court and for the Zimbabwean people. Zimbabwe has not ratified the Rome statute, so action by the International Criminal Court would require a UN Security Council resolution.
Sudan remains a top international priority for the UK. Respect for human rights in Sudan, and not just Darfur, is an integral part of our policy and we shall continue to work hard to improve the situation there. I was asked what support was being given in Darfur. The UK provides military and technical assistance in support of the north-south comprehensive peace agreement. We are focusing on the joint integrated units, which we want to create confidence between the armies of the north and south and secure the south, the transitional areas and Khartoum. Our training supports key peace-building activities including humanitarian work, de-mining, peacekeeping and English language training.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the situation in the Palestinian occupied territories. The Governments view is that Israel should not respond to actions by violent extremists by causing suffering to innocent Palestinians. Israel has expressed its commitment to avoiding a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and we call on it to ensure that any response is in accordance with international law.
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) said that we are perhaps not saying enough about the humanitarian successes in Afghanistan. It remains a difficult environment. I have had the opportunity to meet one of its female MPs and
noted that, while that is progress, those MPs face incredible danger at times and are incredibly brave. The right hon. Gentleman was right to identify the fact that more than 5.4 million children are in school, over a third of whom are girls, and that enrolment in higher education has increased from 4,000 in 2001 to more than 40,000 today, of whom 19 per cent. are women.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) raised the issue of Falun Gong. We are concerned about the harassment, detention and reported torture of Falun Gong practitioners, and continue to raise the matter with the Chinese Government.
On China in general, we commit considerable time and resources to our work on human rights there. We take a multi-layered approach, including high-level messaging to encourage progress at the top and project work to deliver more immediate results on the ground. We use the regular UK-China human rights dialogue to discuss in detail issues that are often difficult, including individual cases. My noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown visited China in August and emphasised the positive effect that ratification of the international covenant on civil and political rights would have on Chinas international relations. It would reassure the international community that China is serious about improving human rights, and we have made representations to the Chinese Government both bilaterally and through the EU on a number of issues of concern, including individual cases.
Hon. Members raised the issue of meeting the Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss our engagement on human rights, and we regret that that has not been possible before now. I understand that in May, when he was a Foreign Office Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield met my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South and the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling to discuss Tibet, and we shall invite the Committee to a meeting shortly. That will provide an opportunity to discuss specific objectives and the time frames for them.
We continue to value the EU-China human rights dialogue and are working closely with our EU partners to make it more effective. Hon. Members mentioned freedom of expression. We have made strong representations to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs about a number of incidents and we believe that China should lift its restrictions on freedom of expression both before and after the Olympics, to protect the rights of its domestic media.
Guantanamo Bay was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope). The British Government believe that the circumstances in which detainees are currently held indefinitely are unacceptable and that the detention facility should be closed.
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling raised the important issue of The Hague convention. We are disappointed that that issue remains unresolved, but, unfortunately, negotiations proved to
be more complex and lengthy than was originally anticipated. We are keen for the convention to come into force as quickly as possible, and we are working closely with the Spanish to find a solution that is acceptable to all parties. We will notify Parliament about that as soon as it is possible to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) talked about Russia. We have consistently voiced our concerns about restrictions on the legitimate work of NGOs in Russia, most recently raising our concerns at the EU-Russia human rights consultations on 23 May. Along with EU partners, we are actively monitoring implementation of the NGO law, and we repeatedly call on the Russian authorities to implement the NGO law in line with their international commitments.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of Iran, whose poor human rights record is deteriorating. We are especially concerned about the increasing use of the death penalty, including its continued use against juvenile offenders, and about the growing restrictions that he outlined on freedom of expression and the rights of minorities. It is a long-standing policy of the UK and the EU to support reform in Iran and to stand up for the international human rights standards to which many Iranians aspire, and we have repeatedly called on Iran to abolish the death penalty. Most basic standards surrounding the use of capital punishment are absent, as my hon. Friend described graphically. Executions are often carried out in public and we have doubts as to whether all death sentences are the result of a fair trial.
My hon. Friend also discussed same-sex relationships. We are concerned about that issue and are monitoring it carefully. I note his concerns about the wording in the report and will look into that in more detail. I will also look into the issue of the Ahwazi Arabs.
I am quickly getting through a feast of paper here, which is probably just as well. Hon. Members also talked about India. The UK is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. On 7 November 2006, the EU made representations to the Indian Government against the death penalty. I note the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North raised about the Dalits and exploitation in work.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to take part in this debate, and I thank the Foreign Affairs Committee for its constructive and challenging engagement on human rights policy. We look forward to continuing and furthering that relationship as we move towards the next annual human rights report cycle. The universal declaration on human rights and the UN treaties to which we are party set out agreed standards and reflect our shared values. We will continue to promote and protect those values not only in pursuit of our international strategic priorities, but because it is the right thing to do.