In modern times, we have the scandal of the Chagos islanders, who were forcibly evicted from their homeland so that Britain could allow the US to set up an air base at Diego Garcia. The Government told lies over the years, and there was obfuscation about what had happened. I call on the UK Government to start making proper plans to allow the Chagossians to return home if they wish to, to allocate funding from the aid budget towards that, and to discuss further funding arrangements with

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the US and the European Union. Diego Garcia reminds us of the UK Government’s compliance in US rendition flights, which included the use of Scottish airports such as Prestwick. By turning a blind eye, the UK was party to the US moving prisoners to places where their human rights would be breached.

Domestically, we have a UN investigation into the imposition of the bedroom tax, an ongoing UN investigation into whether welfare cuts impact on the rights of people with disabilities, and the Government’s out-and-out attack on the trade unions. Those matters are a wake-up call for those who say that we do not need a Human Rights Act. That Act must remain for there to be any chance of retaining social justice in this country.

Yesterday, the First Minister of Scotland gave a speech on international human rights, and I commend her comment that the protections offered under human rights should be a “floor not a ceiling”. If the UK is to be, and to remain, the beacon that we have heard it can be on these matters, it must lead by example both domestically and in its overseas territories, and it must talk much tougher on the international stage. Recent events in Paris have shown that there are many who want to take away our freedoms. We must do all we can to protect and enshrine our human rights, and the Government must play a part in that as well.

4.13 pm

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), and I congratulate the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on securing this debate.

The burden of the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) seems to be that universal declarations and standards are of no use without the means of enforcing them—I think that was her argument, broadly speaking. We could turn that on its head and argue that without those principles there is no basis by which to bring about improvement around the world.

Suella Fernandes indicated assent.

Mr Howarth: I am glad the hon. Lady agrees with that. It is important that we have them, even though they are not always enforceable at all times and in all places.

I decided to take part in the debate because a constituent contacted me earlier this week and I wanted to read out what he had written. I will not name him, because I have not asked his permission. He wrote:

“In 2015, thousands of Christians around the world have been victims of unspeakable violence. Over 200 Christians were abducted by self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Some were released, others remained captive, and still others were brutally executed. Iraqi Christian and Yazidi women and girls have been traumatised and brutalised as sex slaves by IS.

Elsewhere, Christians were attacked, jailed, tortured and executed because of their faith. The global persecution of Christians has continued relentlessly and, without a sustained response, it will only get worse.”

That is absolutely true about the persecution of Christians.

Groups such as ISIL in the so-called caliphate, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab carry out atrocities, falsely in the name of Islam, that all too often involve brutality

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and the appalling treatment of women. In a very un-Islamic way, they invoke the great religion of Islam to justify their existence. We have to speak out about that and we have to be prepared to take action. I think in a way that that was what the hon. Lady was saying.

Suella Fernandes: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the aims are laudable but the means by which they have been implemented fall short, thereby undermining the method and the initial aspiration? We should be trusting in our traditional belief in our communal values.

Mr Howarth: I think I did summarise that point of view. That was the argument I understood the hon. Lady was making.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in relying on faith to commit human rights abuses, many faith groups and individuals are turning the fundamental tenets of their beliefs on their head?

Mr Howarth: I think I did make that point. If I did not, let me say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Part of my argument, and why I feel strongly about these issues, is that I spent two years as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. It is fitting that the hon. Member for Strangford opened the debate. It is also fitting that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has been here for most of it. The lesson I took from that period in Northern Ireland is that where there has been division in the past and each community sees a radically different future for the communities they represent, focusing on what can unite people for the future instead of what divided them in the past is probably the best way forward. I do not take any great personal credit for it, but the people of Northern Ireland, having made that decision, were able to move forward. I think that lesson can be applied around the world.

I want to conclude by saying a few words about the Human Rights Act 1998. There are a lot of myths about the Act, as though it came out of the ether and was imposed on the British people. It did not. I was a Minister in the Home Office at the time. The Human Rights Act is modelled very closely on the European convention on human rights, which we have already talked about. It was brought into our domestic law so that it would be more convenient for people to access justice through human rights law in domestic courts, rather having to take their cases off to Europe at great expense. Courts sometimes do misinterpret it, and I understand why the Government get concerned about that, but the way to address it is by dealing with the way the courts operate, not by scrapping the Human Rights Act. I hope that whatever concerns the Government have, some of which may be legitimate, about the Human Rights Act in practice, they do not throw away the principles by scrapping it, or even by the wholesale amendment of it. It is an important statement about the way in which we see ourselves in the world. I really do hope that it remains on the statute book as a strong statement about Britain and where we stand in the world.

4.20 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Ochil and South Perthshire

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(Ms Ahmed-Sheikh), and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), for leading this debate.

We as a nation take pride in our historical championing of liberal democracy and human rights. The two are placed side by side as though living in a democracy means automatically that we should have a strong human rights record, but that is not always the case. Simply celebrating the UK’s efforts is one sided and slightly misleading. We must recognise the contradictions at the heart of our human rights policy and beliefs.

Why do the Government continue to hold Saudi Arabia—a country that routinely commits the gravest violations of human rights—as one of their closest allies in the middle east? Why did we back its bid for the Human Rights Council, despite its systematic discrimination against women and religious minorities, and its awful track record of executions, including of those on peaceful protests?

Our human rights failings occur not only in terms of international complicity but here at home. Our immigration detention system is inhumane and a violation of detainees’ human rights. We are unique in the EU in our policy of detaining people without a time limit—a policy the Government voted to uphold on Third Reading of the Immigration Bill. A recent parliamentary question I asked revealed that the longest a woman without outstanding criminal offences has been held in detention since 2010 is 588 days. This should never happen. The rights and dignity of people in this country should not depend on a piece of paper.

Why are the Government trying—although I would say unsuccessfully—to attack the Human Rights Act? We should be proud of what the Human Rights Act has achieved. It has upheld the right to peaceful protest, it has helped to defend journalistic freedom, and it has revealed the extent of racism in prisons. If we want to stand up today for human rights, we need to acknowledge the contradictions separating the Government’s rhetoric from their policy.

Human rights means human rights for everyone. It means standing up for ordinary people subjected to human rights abuses by our diplomatic allies. It means reforming our detention system. Fundamentally, it means saving our Human Rights Act.

4.23 pm

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh)—I am going to train everyone to say the “ch” in “Ochil” at some stage—on securing this important debate.

It is remarkable that out of the bloodshed and destruction of the second world war was forged perhaps the defining guarantee of all that allows democracy and liberty to be defended—the universal declaration of human rights, which we commemorate and reflect on today. What may prove even more remarkable in the long term is that this declaration was endorsed by member states reflecting all of humanity’s philosophies, religions and political systems. That in itself should be a positive and

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timely reminder of the values that we share right across the globe in the face of those who seek to spread division and discord from behind the barrel of a gun or from the top of a soap box. At its heart, the declaration is a recognition and codification of the inherent dignity and rights of all members of the human family. It is not a bestowal of rights by a generous overlord, state or international organisation.

We might wish to reflect on that as we consider the human rights situation in our own jurisdiction. The different parts of the UK have made their own contributions to the recognition of human rights: for English Members, there is the Magna Carta, to which the right hon. Member for East Ham referred, and for Scottish Members, there is the Declaration of Arbroath, which provided a fundamental recognition of the freedom from tyranny, usurpation and subjugation by foreign powers. However, just because these rights are timeless and universal, it does not mean they are always recognised in practice, as many have said today.

My party, my constituents and I are gravely concerned by the direction of travel, rhetoric and philosophy of the Government when it comes to human rights. Two of our finest organisations in this field, Amnesty International and Liberty, share those concerns and are already campaigning stridently to defend our Human Rights Act. While the British Government are moving in the wrong direction, however, let nobody think they are supported by the people of the countries of the UK or civic society at large. We are blessed on these islands to have produced some incredible charities, non-governmental organisations and community groups that provide lifelines for their fellow human beings with very little funding.

I cannot name them all today, but I want to pay tribute to one, because today is the 30th anniversary of the Scottish Refugee Council, one of Scotland’s leading human rights agencies. I am proud to say it is recognised as an example of best practice in the UK, Europe and across the world. The SRC is known for its pioneering, holistic and asset-based approach to integration that recognises the dignity and resilience of refugees and works with them as actors in this through its holistic integration service. I am sure it would appreciate it if hon. Members could sign my early-day motion marking its achievements.

I turn to the international context in which we operate and, in particular, the Saudi Arabians, who, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) said—I congratulate her on standing up again for people stuck in indefinite detention in the UK—are busy killing their own civilians and foreign nationals in the name of justice in the most barbaric ways possible: stoning, beheading and beheading followed by crucifixion. The Government argue that engagement with tyrannical regimes might help bring them back into the fold and towards a recognition of universal rights, and I have some sympathy with that view in principle, but in practice this strategy of engagement with Saudi Arabia is clearly not working. No matter how close our Governments and royals, the butchering of civilians in the name of justice increases.

Amnesty tells us that at least 151 people have been executed this year, with scores more due to be executed in the coming weeks. This is the worst rate of execution for 20 years and it includes many so-called crimes that are in fact the exercising of one’s right to free speech and protest. A Sri Lankan housemaid is about to be

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stoned to death in Saudi Arabia, and I thank the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) for raising the rights of Tamils and pointing out that we cannot yet be confident that a change of regime in Sri Lanka will help the Tamils in that country. We need to keep a watching eye on that.

I had never really thought through what stoning entailed until I read about it recently. This woman will be buried up to her neck in sand, and a bunch of men will hurl bricks at her head. She, of course, will be unable to lift a hand to protect herself. There will be nothing to prevent those bricks from smashing into her eyeballs, bursting her nose open and caving in her skull. It was due to happen towards the end of this week. For all we know, she might be buried up to her neck in sand right now, waiting. It is the very Saudi Arabian regime that the Government have befriended that is doing it to this poor woman.

Trying to bring such as wolf in sheep’s clothing back into the fold is not working. It is not pragmatism; it is veiled indifference. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said, if the Government continue to choose receipts for arms sales over the defence of the declaration, any words they offer today will be empty and meaningless.

Jim Shannon: What comes to mind straight away when we are talking about Saudi Arabia are the 28 Christians —mostly women and children, but a few men—who were having a prayer meeting, but were arrested and then disappeared into the ether of Saudi Arabia. They have not been heard of since. That is another example of why Saudi Arabia needs to be taken to task.

Anne McLaughlin: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. People have disappeared in Saudi Arabia and indeed across the world and nobody seems to know where they are. It seems that we will never find them, yet all they have done is to practise their own religion and their own faith.

The Government were quick to condemn any opposition over the Syria vote last week, but if there is one example of appeasement in the face of tyranny, it is the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. I—and, I am sure, Members of other parties—would welcome a statement from the Government on the role of British-made weapons in the deaths of innocent civilians at the hands of Saudi forces in Yemen. I have received many e-mails from constituents about that very point. Our constituents hear about people, regardless of where they are in the world.

What of human rights here in Britain? Thanks to groups such as Liberty, we have some examples of how human rights, and particularly the Human Rights Act, have made a real-life impact on our constituents. That is important because, as the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) said, there is a lot of confusion about what the Human Rights Act actually means.

Diana Bryant’s daughter Naomi was cruelly murdered by a convicted sex offender. Her daughter’s death was not going to be subject to an inquest because the murderer had already been identified. However, by using the Human Rights Act and article 2 on the right to life, Naomi Bryant’s mother, working with Liberty, managed to secure an inquest. That inquest identified a catalogue of failures by public agencies and other partners that

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allowed a known convicted sex offender to murder Naomi. Without the Human Rights Act, that inquest would not have happened and the victim’s family would have been denied the truth. All our constituents would still have been at risk from the same institutional malpractice that failed Naomi Bryant.

Who would not have supported that mother’s right? Who would not support the human rights of the families of our armed forces killed in action? Who would not support the right of Mr V, who successfully used the Human Rights Act to ensure that when his wife, living with Alzheimer’s, had to go into a nursing home, it was not one so far away as to make it impossible for him to visit her? Anyone who supports the repeal of the Human Rights Act, that is who.

Let me close with the words of Thomas Muir of Hunters Hill, educated at Glasgow University, which were subsequently cited on the high street of Glasgow at my constituency’s boundary. Muir was sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay for sedition, simply for exercising his right to free expression as it is now generally known—outside regimes such as Saudi Arabia, of course. Speaking from the dock, Muir said:

“I have devoted myself to the cause of The People. It is a good cause—it shall ultimately prevail—it shall finally triumph.”

Human rights and their international recognition, protection and fulfilment are the modern successor to that fight, protecting the voiceless, defending the vulnerable. Advocates such as the imprisoned Saudi human rights lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, are the modern successors to Thomas Muir. My party will continue to fight with all its power to defend them, whether it be through the universal declaration, the European convention or our own Human Rights Act. To do otherwise would be an abdication of our responsibilities and would render pointless our time in this place.

4.33 pm

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): This has been a thoughtful and measured debated—something that this Chamber does very well. I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for sponsoring the debate and the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in it: the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), the hon. Members for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) and, last but not least, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin). I am sure that they will forgive me, given the time constraints, if I do not draw more on their excellent contributions.

We are here because this is international human rights day. As has been said, we commemorate the day in 1948 when the UN General Assembly adopted the universal declaration of human rights. The UN wishes us to mark the 50th anniversary of two other international covenants on human rights: the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights and the covenant on civil and political

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rights. That is important, because together, the two covenants and the declaration form the international bill of human rights, which sets out the civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights that are the birthright of all human beings. I do not share the pessimism of the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes): I do not think that those international treaties and statements of rights are in any sense a waste of breath or paper. They are the bedrock on which we build, and if we fail to achieve those ambitions, it simply means that we should strive harder to do so.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) mentioned the full-page letter in The Timestoday, sponsored by the British Institute of Human Rights. It is a very short letter, so I shall read it out, because I think that it makes my central point. It states

“Today is Human Rights Day. Across the globe, people are celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This international Magna Carta for all humanity has inspired so much, including our own Human Rights Act.

Today we celebrate the often overlooked everyday differences our Human Rights Act makes for people across the UK. Our examples are many, whether this is supporting children to access education, stopping inhuman treatment of older people, providing refugees with safety, preventing discrimination, or offering justice for victims and families failed by the system, and many more.

Today we celebrate how our Human Rights Act strengthens our democracy, giving everyone a voice, and ensuring the powerful do not go unchecked.

Today we celebrate how our Human Rights Act does more than defend our traditional liberties. It makes the universal human rights we share with people across the world part of our law here at home.

Today the future of human rights in the UK is uncertain. Today we stand with the Human Rights Act recognising it is the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made law here at home. We urge our political leaders to stand with us.”

We should not talk only about international obligations. We should celebrate the effect of those measures domestically, and understand why the Government’s decision to attempt to repeal the Human Rights Act is, at best, misguided. However, as international human rights have featured in the debate, I shall say a little about them.

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a reception given by Amnesty International and hosted by Mr Speaker, who has a long-standing interest in human rights and has campaigned on them in Burma, Sudan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. The reception was also attended by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve)—it was a very ecumenical occasion—and we heard a speech from the Leader of the Opposition, who has a history of upholding human rights around the world for more than 30 years. He mentioned in particular the recent release of Shaker Aamer, who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years without charge or trial. It is shocking that one of our allies, and one of the great democracies of this world, should have treated a British resident in that way.

Many countries around the world have been mentioned, and, sadly, many of them have very poor human rights records. A third of countries still maintain the death penalty, and 141 still practise torture in one way or another. Many eyes are now on the middle east, because human rights abuses are occurring in a number of middle eastern

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countries. We think, obviously, of Syria, where 250,000 people have been killed, a million injured, 4 million made refugees, and 7 million displaced. Today we may think particularly of the family—a mother and seven young children—who drowned while trying to travel the short distance between Turkey and Greece. I ask the Minister to consider whether we are doing all that that we can to ensure that there is an effective search and rescue programme in that area, because the human rights of those people are as important as the human rights of anyone in this country or anywhere else in the world.

Syria is not alone, however. In Egypt, 40,000 political prisoners are detained, 2,500 political opponents have been killed, and 18 journalists are in jail. Palestine, which has been mentioned today, has undergone nearly 50 years of occupation, and there are more than 500,000 settlers, although that is illegal under international law. In Gaza, 1.8 million people have been blockaded, victims of collective punishment. We think, also, of the Gulf. Last night I had the privilege of chairing a meeting in the House on human rights in the United Arab Emirates. There was a live video link—because he is forbidden to leave the country—with Ahmed Mansoor, a very brave man who speaks out despite the risk of imprisonment, which he has already suffered, and indeed torture. I think also of Bahrain, which continues to practise torture, despite it being, the Government tell us, a firm ally, and a place where we are building a naval base.

I should also mention Saudi Arabia; it has been referred to several times, but I mention it particularly because on 27 November, the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Prime Minister about the cases of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, Dawoud Hussain al-Marhoon, and other young men who have been sentenced to some of the cruellest forms of punishment—death by crucifixion or beheading. I am afraid to say that the Leader of the Opposition has not yet received a response to that letter, but we know from the comments made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East that over 50 Saudis are awaiting execution in Saudi, including people who were juveniles at the time of their detention, people detained for taking part in peaceful protests, people who have signed blank sheets of paper which were then rendered as confessions, and people who have been tortured and kept in solitary confinement. I ask the Minister and Government urgently to turn their attention towards that country.

I read the article by the Foreign Secretary in The Independent today, and I have to say that it filled me with dismay. The Foreign Secretary talks about

“Quiet and continued engagement behind the scenes”,

and says:

“Just because the British Government isn’t shouting about an issue from the rooftops, doesn’t mean we aren’t assiduously pursuing a case in private.”

Of course one uses all means to attempt to engage with human rights in countries abroad. He rightly mentioned that Karl Andree, a British citizen, has been released from the threat of being lashed many times in Saudi Arabia, but what about the cases the Leader of the Opposition raises? What about Raif Badawi and the others? We cannot rest on our laurels, we cannot be complacent about these matters, and we do have to speak up. I am afraid that the Foreign Secretary going to Saudi Arabia to apologise, as it were, for the Government

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not going ahead with the disgraceful prison contract, and saying that it was business as usual, does not set the right tone on human rights.

Let me return to domestic matters. It is right to say that this country, since Magna Carta, has a proud tradition of human rights under English common law, but the incorporation of the European convention through the Human Rights Act since 2000 has indeed been a sea change and a step forward, and it is shameful that repeal is being suggested. Who benefits from the Human Rights Act? Our armed forces, victims of crime, journalists, those engaged in peaceful protest, victims of homophobia and racism, those with mental health problems, those with disabilities, and those subject to unlawful or intrusive surveillance by the state. Those are the people who have been able to bring rights home, as the Government would put it—who are able to uphold their rights in UK law.

I wonder whether the Government even know what they are doing on this. In Justice questions earlier this week, several Members raised questions that the Government are frankly unable to answer at the moment. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) asked about the Sewel convention, and pointed out that the answers given by the Secretary of State for Justice to the House of Lords Constitution Committee show that he does not know whether this is a matter for the devolved Administrations or not. That is a key point that has to be answered.

Another key point is what rights will be excluded. I took part in a small act of civil disobedience earlier today, when, with Liberty, we unveiled a banner in Westminster Hall pointing out what rights were protected by the Human Rights Act, which the Government wished to repeal. I am glad to say that the House authorities treated us with their usual tolerance and politeness. This is a serious matter, however. Earlier this week, I raised with the Secretary of State the case of Andrew Waters, a person with Down’s syndrome who had a “Do not resuscitate” notice placed on his bed without the consent of his family, or indeed himself. That is the third of three cases, the others being those of Carl Winspear and Janet Tracey, involving unlawful acts under the Human Rights Act, as has now been determined by the courts.

Those article 8 rights are exactly the rights that the Government have complained about. The Secretary of State was perfectly right in saying that he would not expect such behaviour to be countenanced in law, whatever is in the Government’s proposals, but how do they square the circle? How can they say that article 8 rights—the ones particularly attacked by Conservative Back Benchers and Front Benchers—will be preserved if the rights of people such as Andrew Waters are not respected?

What is the answer? The Government have no answer on how to deal with the issue of supremacy—they do not seem to understand it. They have no answer to questions on devolution, and they do not have an answer on whether they will pick and choose which rights to implement. This week, the Duma—the Russian Parliament —decided to introduce a law allowing Russia to pick and choose which of the convention rights it implemented. I would not want to be part of a Parliament that endorsed that approach; I do not want to follow Mr Putin in deciding which rights set down in international law

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we decide to implement at home. I hope that the Minister and the Government will think again about their entire approach to the Human Rights Act.

4.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (James Duddridge): On international human rights day, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for bringing us this debate and to other hon. Members for giving me the opportunity to emphasise the importance that not only this House but the Government place on the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.

Hon. Members have made many valuable contributions today, and we have heard how everyday rights and freedoms that we take for granted are often denied or limited in far too many countries. The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) described human rights work as the David to the Goliath of power, which puts it eloquently. There has been talk of the Human Rights Act, and I gently say to hon. Members that human rights existed before 1997, when the Bill that became that Act was put through, without proper consultation. Other hon. Members dated human rights back to the Magna Carta, but reference to more recent legislation and documents, such as the 1948 universal declaration, is perhaps the touchstone we all look towards.

I wish to set out this Government’s approach to human rights and then address as many of the individual issues raised by hon. Members today as possible. The Conservative manifesto contained a firm and clear commitment to support universal human rights. Members have noted that in many ways we are able to do that with our support for international human rights day. Only yesterday, Baroness Anelay hosted a meeting at the Foreign Office where she set out the UK’s pledge for our re-election to the UN Human Rights Council. Today I have published a blog, as have other Foreign Office Ministers. My blog is about the human rights situation in Burundi. Members who are interested in Burundi may wish to stay to hear the Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), which I am sure will be interesting. I am proud to raise lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues whenever I can. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) urged me to do that, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes). I urge those two to get together to discuss this, as they may find that they agree on a lot more and the world would be a better place if more people agreed with my hon. Friend. Our entire network of embassies and high commissions is holding events or issuing communications today to highlight the importance of human rights issues.

Most importantly, the Foreign Secretary today published an article which, although not fully satisfying the Opposition Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), aimed to set out our approach to human rights: how we raise difficult issues with international partners; how we work with partners whose values, histories and cultures are different from our own; and, crucially, how we enable our diplomatic network to flex its muscles where it can have most impact on the human rights of individuals. Many people implore us to speak out more critically and more often, and there are times

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when this is the right approach. But there are times when, if our goal is to promote the creation of conditions for the protection and promotion of universal rights, we need to balance the immediate instinct to react at all times, everywhere and in every case, with the potential gains of a more valued approach. It is not about building on foundations of sand, but more about building on foundations that enable us to have irreversible change. When states take actions that wilfully disregard human rights—as we have seen in Syria—we must speak out critically and clearly. However, where there is scope for working with international partners to improve human rights, we undermine ourselves and our position as a force for good if we alienate other countries through megaphone diplomacy.

Recently, we have hosted leaders from China, Kazakhstan and Egypt. Some commentators said that we pulled our punches, but they are wrong. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed human rights with each and every one of them, and I think the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) would approve of what he said in private.

The issue of Saudi Arabia has been raised by a number of Members, including the hon. Members for Glasgow East (Natalie McGarry), for Hammersmith and for Strangford. Despite what was said, we do have a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, and it is in our national interest to do so. Our collaboration with the Saudis has foiled terrorist attacks, directly saving British lives.

There is a massive number of problems, including that of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, but on that issue the Saudis are making gradual reforms. The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country, including Saudi Arabia. As for the Saudi Arabia’s membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council, there was no election, so the UK’s position was immaterial; Saudi Arabia was elected as part of the Asia-Pacific group’s block of votes.

Human rights remain an integral part of our work and a normal part of our dialogue with all countries. Without the “golden thread” of democracy, the rule of law and accountable institutions, we cannot have the dependable and stable partners on which our own security and prosperity depend. That is why, this year alone, with the co-operation of civil society partners, we have delivered 75 Foreign and Commonwealth Office-funded human rights projects in more than 40 countries. This year, within the UN Human Rights Council, we have used our influence to shine a light on human rights violations in many parts of the world, including Syria, South Sudan, Iran and North Korea. I am sure that this House will be unanimous in its support for the UK’s continued presence on the UN Human Rights Council and our re-election bid for a second term.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary stated at the UN General Assembly that

“the stability we seek in relations between nations is best realised through the framework of laws, norms and institutions that together constitute the rules-based international system”.

The national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review, which were published last month, underscore how important that and our human rights work are in the UK’s national interest. We make the

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point to our international partners that human rights are not just universal but vital to the success of any society. The Prime Minister has called that insight the “golden thread” of democracy, the rule of law and accountable institutions. I am proud that British advocacy has helped put those principles at the heart of the UN sustainable development goals.

I support this idea of a civil society, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). In different ways, that term encompasses exactly what the Prime Minister meant by the “golden thread”.

To support the rules-based international system and the golden thread, we have reconfigured our foreign policy work on human rights around three broad themes: democratic values and the rule of law; strengthening the rules-based international order, for example through our membership of the UN Human Rights Council; and human rights for a stable world, which ensures that human rights are central to the global effort to prevent and resolve conflict, and to deal with terrorism and extremism.

The hon. Member for Strangford and a number of others mentioned freedom of religion and beliefs. There is far too much persecution, particularly of Christians, around the world and in the middle east and this is a profound concern of Her Majesty’s Government. At a senior level, we regularly urge Governments to uphold the rights of all minorities and religious beliefs and to support practical projects that support community dialogue and civil society.

We should also give praise when there are good examples. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford praised Tanzania, a largely stable country where different religions peacefully co-exist. Our full-spectrum response to extremism contains at its heart support for freedom of religious beliefs. The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) spoke about the international work he has done, as has the hon. Member for Strangford, in chairing the group here in the United Kingdom.

At the heart of this is opposition to religious intolerance, following the school of understanding, not of hatred, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) put it. The right hon. Member for East Ham raised a specific Iranian case. Human rights in Iran are dire and I would be more than happy, if he wants to write to me about that specific case, to follow up in detail. We are working on a Muslim-led counter-extremism narrative to deal with all extremists. I would love Muslims around the world to follow the lead of the passenger at Leytonstone station last week, who so memorably remarked, “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv.” That was absolutely perfect and encapsulated the moment and what all British people think, regardless of their religion.

Religious tolerance is crucial in defeating extremists and we will not be divided by terrorists. We are under no illusion about the size of the task, but, equally, extremists and terrorists should be under no illusion about the strength of our resolve to dismantle the hatred. That is what our Prime Minister has called the struggle of a generation. It is an enormous threat, but we are up to sorting it out. The UN is committed to resolution 1618, which went through unanimously. We also need to consider a number of other issues.

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I am conscious that I am running out of time, but I would like to address the point made by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) about the Ahmadiyya people in Pakistan. DFID and the Foreign Office constantly raise the rights of minorities at the highest level in Pakistan, advocating greater tolerance and action against abuses when they occur. In fact, in August the Foreign Secretary discussed with the Interior Minister, Mr Chaudhry Nisar, the importance the UK attaches to the protection of religious minorities. The hon. Lady also mentioned Sri Lanka, and we regularly raise matters of concern with the Sri Lankan Government, although I disagree with a lot of what she said. I am happy to write to her in more detail about the points with which I disagree and exactly why I disagree, but given the time remaining it is important to establish on the record that Her Majesty’s Government does not take as fact everything presented as fact.

In conclusion, human rights are the responsibility not just of each and every state but of all states, and, by extension, of parliamentarians and civil society. We all have a responsibility to hold one another to account domestically and internationally. The House has today shown the key role that it plays in upholding human rights promotion and protection worldwide. I commend the motion to the House.

4.58 pm

Jim Shannon: It is only right that we should thank the 17 right hon. and hon. Members who contributed to the debate. It was fitting that a range of Members from all parties made speeches. I thank the Minister for his detailed and positive response setting out how he will personally address those issues. This House and this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland excel on occasions such as this, which bring all the themes and thoughts together. Some of the speeches today were compassionate, inspirational and valuable. They are the sorts of speeches for which this House will be renowned and remembered.

If we focus on why we are here—international human rights day—we can see it as a catalyst for change. The aspirations that we have all expressed today are admirable and should be our goal. The Minister referred to the “golden thread”, which was the theme of his speech and of what the Prime Minister has said. The golden thread of human rights went through all the speeches we heard today. Our job, as I said at the beginning, is to be the voice for the voiceless. Today’s debate managed that, so I thank all right hon. and hon. Member for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered International Human Rights Day.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

5 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a great honour to raise the subject of the political situation in Burundi under your chairmanship, particularly on international human rights day.

Last week we spent 10 and a half hours discussing Syria, the subject of United Nations resolution 2249, but I shall refer to United Nations resolution 2248, which relates to Burundi. Perhaps we in this House ought to pay more attention to resolutions of the Security Council, of which the United Kingdom is a permanent member, because they often highlight crises around the world.

Everyone I have met who has been to Burundi has returned with a love for the country and its people. I had the privilege of going there for the first time in 2011 with the International Development Committee and have returned several times since. I declare an interest in that I help to lead the Conservative party’s social action project Umubano in Burundi with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), whom I am glad to see in her place. We worked in Burundi in 2013 and 2014. We had planned to go this year, but unfortunately the political situation there made that impossible.

All those who care deeply about Burundi have been greatly concerned by the violence of the past few months, which started before the presidential and parliamentary elections. We all long for it to come to an end and for stability to prevail. We also wish to see a return to the greater freedom of expression for which Burundi has rightly been commended in recent years, following the turbulent first 40 years after independence.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I asked his permission earlier to intervene. I understand that the UN says that since April this year 240 people have been killed. Just yesterday five people were taken away, beaten, shot and disappeared. Their only crime, if it is a crime, was that they spoke out against the president. It is clear to me that the vigilantes think they can do what they like. Does the hon. Gentleman think it is time the vigilantes were restricted and the Government took control?

Jeremy Lefroy: I totally agree. There are still killings almost every day in Burundi. I will come to that later.

I was talking about the first 40 years after independence, which saw several ethnically based mass killings, in particular during 1972, when between 150,000 and 300,000 people were murdered, mainly by Government or Government-inspired forces, including the elimination of almost the entire Hutu elite. I shall spend a little time going through history because it is so relevant to what is happening today. Whereas April 1994 is remembered as the beginning of Rwanda’s terrible genocide, it is often forgotten that the shooting down of the presidential plane that killed the Rwandan president Habyarimana and marked the start of the genocide also brought about the death of Burundi’s president, Cyprien Ntaryamira. He was the second Burundian leader to meet a violent

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end within six months, as the democratically elected Melchior Ndadaye had been murdered the previous September.

Violence escalated in 1995 and 1996 and there followed several years of civil conflict. A series of peace talks took place, sponsored by the regional peace initiative in Burundi, mediated by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and held in Arusha, but not much progress was made. Some of the main political parties, including CNDD-FDD—the current governing party—were not involved at this point. In August 2000 a peace agreement, known as the Arusha accord, was signed by the Government, the National Assembly and a range of Hutu and Tutsi groups. This provided for the establishment of a transitional Government for three years, the creation for the first time of a genuinely mixed army, and a return to political power sharing. Neither the CNDD-FDD, nor the FNL—an armed wing of another political party—was involved in the agreement and military activity increased in 2001.

The CNDD-FDD eventually agreed to a ceasefire in December 2002, which came properly into effect in October 2003, when final agreement was reached on the terms of power sharing. The soldiers of the CNDD-FDD, led by Pierre Nkurunziza, the current President, were to be integrated into the national armed forces and given 40% of army officer posts. Negotiations in South Africa to agree a new constitution met with success in November 2004. It provided for a 60/40 power-sharing agreement and both Hutu and Tutsi Vice-Presidents. A minimum of 30% of the Government had to be women.

In 2005 elections were held under the new constitution, resulting in a decisive win for the CNDD-FDD, led by Nkurunziza. He was elected President indirectly, as the new Constitution provided, by the National Assembly and Senate. The indirect election is the source of the controversy surrounding the 2015 elections.

This still left the FNL. Rwasa, its leader, announced in March 2006 that he would enter unconditional negotiations to end hostilities and a ceasefire agreement was signed in September 2006. However, talks on points of disagreement broke down and a formal end to the conflict did not come about until 2009. We can see how long the people of Burundi have suffered under various forms of civil conflict.

The presidential election in 2010 saw Nkurunziza returned with 91.6% of the votes cast. International observers believed that the election met international standards, but they expressed concern at the worsening political climate. Between the 2010 election and 2015, low-intensity violence—if there can ever be such a thing—continued. Rwasa had fled in June 2010 and was reported to have moved into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he was recruiting fighters. There were killings by rebels and by Government forces. In December 2011 UN Security Council resolution 2027 called on the Government to halt extrajudicial killings.

Amid all this there was real progress. The integration of the Burundian army was generally a great success. It began to take part in many peacekeeping operations, where its skills and discipline were respected. Most notably, it has played a huge role in AMISOM—the African Union Mission to Somalia—alongside the Ugandan and Sierra Leonean armies, and latterly the Kenyan

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army, in bringing stability to Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. That cost the lives of more than 450 Burundian soldiers, and great credit and honour must be paid to them. Burundian press and civil society were generally free and active for some of that time. A national human rights commission was established, although the Government delayed setting up the truth and reconciliation commission and the special tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed during the civil war.

With elections due in 2015, the question of President Nkurunziza’s eligibility for another term came sharply into focus. His supporters claimed that, due to an ambiguity in the constitution, his election in 2005 was by Parliament and not by the people, and therefore his election in 2010 marked the beginning of his first term, not his second. Opponents said that the Arusha agreement, on which the constitution was based, stipulated a maximum of two presidential terms, which he has completed this year.

The National Assembly narrowly defeated a proposal to revise the constitution in 2014. However, President Nkurunziza was officially announced as a candidate in April 2015 and the constitutional court validated that on 4 May. The vice-president of the court fled to Rwanda, maintaining that the decision had been made under duress and intimidation. Mass protests followed the decision and were met with very strong force by the police, which was condemned by regional and international figures. Election aid was suspended by the EU and Belgium.

On 13 May there was an attempted coup while President Nkurunziza was in Tanzania to discuss the crisis. It was led by the former head of Burundi’s army and, more recently, its intelligence service, who had been sacked earlier in the year. He specifically cited the President’s candidacy at the forthcoming election, which he blamed for instability. The coup attempt was unsuccessful.

The parliamentary elections were eventually held on 29 June and the presidential election on 21 July. Both were largely boycotted by the opposition parties and both resulted in the CNDD-FDD receiving just under 75% of the vote. According to the United Nations electoral mission, this time the elections were not free or fair. The electoral commission declared a victory for President Nkurunziza.

Since the election, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has pointed out, violence has continued, with killings of unarmed civilians as well as armed opposition and Government security forces. This has sometimes been accompanied by rhetoric from political leaders that can only inflame the situation. In one speech on 29 October, a senior politician is reported to have said in respect of action against armed opposition members—this is translated from the Kirundi—

“you tell those who want to execute mission: on this issue, you have to pulverize, you have to exterminate—these people are only good for dying. I give you this order, go!”

The United Nations is rightly alarmed. In its resolution 2248, to which I have referred and which was adopted on 12 November, the Security Council expressed its

“deep concern about the ongoing escalation of insecurity and the continued rise in violence in Burundi, as well as the persisting political impasse in the country, marked by the lack of dialogue among Burundian stakeholders.”

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Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is making a powerful speech and I know that the concern he is expressing today has endured for several years. Does he agree that addressing the issue is vital, because the political instability in what is already a very poor country is impacting on the poorest the most and in a devastating way?

If Members will bear with me, I would just like to refer to a report that I received this week relating to the children in an orphanage with which Project Umubano members who volunteer in Burundi have a relationship. It says that the children are so desperate for food and medicine that they are

“malnourished and often ill…can’t obtain medicines.. and there is a real risk that one or more may die.”

Jeremy Lefroy: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who has done a huge amount of work with Project Umubano. I have received the same report.

The Security Council resolution also strongly condemned

“the increased cases of human rights violations and abuses, including those involving extra-judicial killings, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and/or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests”.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Security Council resolution refers to the escalation of violence in Burundi. Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about reports this week—they not made it into the press, but they are none the less coming out of Burundi—that armed murder gangs are again making their way across the border from the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the behest of those who would ensure that violence serves political ends in Burundi? Does he, like me, look forward to hearing what the Minister is doing about that?

Jeremy Lefroy: I am most grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who has a very close interest in these matters. I am, indeed, very concerned. The people of Burundi have suffered too much over the past 50 years.

The Security Council resolution also condemns abuses,

“including those involving extra-judicial killings, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and/or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists, and all violations and abuses of human rights committed in Burundi both by security forces and by militias and other illegal armed groups”.

In particular, it strongly condemns

“all public statements, coming from in or outside of the country, that appear aimed at inciting violence or hatred towards different groups in Burundian society”.

That last point is very significant, given the history of Burundi and the wider region.

I have gone into considerable detail on the history of Burundi as an independent nation, as it is vital to understand the current crisis in its context. This is not something that has happened over the past year or two. I am most grateful to the Minister and, indeed, to his officials for their close attention to this crisis. I know that he and they take it very seriously, and I will now ask a number of questions.

First, can the Minister reassure me that the Government understand how important it is to solve the crisis in Burundi? The mediation efforts led by the East African Community and the African Union through President Museveni should be given the fullest possible support. The Burundian Government, and the opposition, need

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to co-operate fully with that process. The UN Secretary-General suggested looking at a peacekeeping force, and I urge for that process to be continued. As I have said, the people of Burundi have suffered enough. They are not interested in power struggles between elites who think it their right to rule; they want stability and the ability to live their lives free from fear. I urge President Nkurunziza, whom I have met on two occasions, to engage fully with such mediation. I understand that the Minister is considering a visit to the country. I welcome that: it is a very long time since a British Minister was there.

Secondly, will the Minister consider establishing in due course a full diplomatic mission in Burundi, which I know would be welcomed by many Burundians? They have appreciated UK support over the years. When the International Development Committee was in Liberia last year, we saw the great benefit that a small, cost-effective and influential mission, newly established by the FCO, can bring.

Thirdly, will the Minister encourage our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who has responsibility for Africa, to consider restoring bilateral aid to Burundi when a political settlement has been reached? It has the second lowest income per head on earth, and it is both fragile and conflict-affected, so it comes into every conceivable category that DFID treats as a priority. I appreciate that DFID works indirectly in Burundi through TradeMark East Africa and multilaterals, but that is not enough. We are often told, rightly, the respect in which DFID’s work is held and how much its involvement is appreciated. Nowhere would that be more the case than in Burundi. When we look at the map of east and central Africa, we can see that among the countries with which DFID works bilaterally are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Only Burundi is missing; yet I would argue that Burundi needs assistance the most.

Fourthly, will the Minister ensure that the innocent refugees from this conflict and their host countries are properly supported through the UN institutions? It was estimated in August that 180,000 people had fled since April—75,000 to Rwanda, 89,000 to Tanzania, and the remainder to Uganda and the DRC. We should express our thanks to those host countries for taking them in. At a time when all eyes are on the Syrian refugee crisis, the world cannot forget such crises elsewhere.

Finally, will the Minister recognise that instability in Burundi, and indeed other countries, has had devastating effects on the people of the region, particularly in the DRC? Up to 6 million people are estimated to have died as a result of the conflicts, some of which had their source in this region, in the DRC during the past 20 years. With elections in the DRC due next year, it is all the more important for Burundi to be at peace.

Burundi is a beautiful county with some of the most hospitable people it has ever been my pleasure to meet. They simply want to live in peace, throw off the shackles of poverty and give their children the chance that all of us would wish to give to ours. What we need now is determination—from the East African Community, the African Union, the international community and, indeed, the United Kingdom—to ensure that the Government

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and opposition groups break the cycle of violence and breaches of human rights that has scarred Burundian politics and life for far too long.

5.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (James Duddridge): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) on securing this debate, and I commend him for his outstanding and tireless work on both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the International Development Committee.

I am grateful to other hon. Members, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), who asked some specific questions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who has certainly proved the point that one does not have to speak in the House of Commons to have an enormous influence. Her private lobbying, as well as the private and public lobbying of hon. Members in the Chamber, has been instrumental in my reaching the position I hold on Burundi and the actions I will take over the next month.

I first visited Burundi in 2006, and I have since followed the situation there closely. I was there with Christian Aid, along with another hon. Member. I can tell the House that, later this month, I intend to be in Burundi to discuss the situation there, but also in Uganda and Rwanda to discuss both domestic matters and the regional situation.

Before I respond to the specific points that have been raised, I will set out the Government’s position more generally. It is clear that there is a deepening political, humanitarian and security crisis in Burundi. The Burundian Government have refused to engage in substantive political dialogue. That, along with the inflammatory remarks made by senior members of the Burundian Government, has led to an increased risk of civil strife and a deepening refugee crisis, which is unacceptable. More than 200 people have been killed since April, including five people who have reportedly been killed in the past 48 hours or so, either in protests against President Nkurunziza’s third term or in targeted political assassinations. The killings continue daily, so we need a genuine and inclusive dialogue, based on respect for the Arusha accords. Such a dialogue would enable Burundian stakeholders to find a consensual solution to the crisis facing their country, preserve peace and consolidate democracy and the rule of law.

Clearly, the ongoing violence and insecurity is having an impact on the Burundian economy and the humanitarian situation. The Government have little income and livelihoods are being threatened. About 220,000 people have fled the country and are living in neighbouring Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Burundi has been blocking the flight of some refugees. The number of internally displaced people is therefore high in Burundi, although we do not have precise numbers. There is a risk of contagion. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford is right to highlight the effect of the situation in Burundi on neighbouring countries, particularly the DRC.

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The UK has played a leading role in building a single, consistent response from the international community. In January, we set up a group of international partners with interests in Burundi, which have since worked together to develop a common strategy. Collectively, we lobbied President Nkurunziza to engage with the international community and, crucially, accept the principles of the Arusha agreement. In June, I appointed a special envoy to the great lakes, Danae Dholakia. She is actively involved in delivering our messages in Burundi. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s communications with the Foreign Office, in which he has provided an insight into what is happening on the ground.

Jeremy Lefroy: May I express my thanks to the envoy, who has been assiduous in her work and incredibly helpful to me and, I believe, the people of Burundi?

James Duddridge: I am sure that those comments will be appreciated. They are certainly appreciated by me.

My hon. Friend spoke about the African Union and the EU, and the engagement between the two is incredibly important. We have supported the East African Community in trying to deliver a regional solution. I hope to meet President Museveni and to co-operate with his efforts to effect a regional solution to the crisis in Burundi. We will do everything we can to support him in those endeavours.

We encourage the whole region and the African Union to play a strong role in urging Burundi to take part in an inclusive dialogue outside Burundi. That would do much to pave the way for a substantive solution to the crisis. Peacekeeping will be part of that. I will also be discussing the possibility of a stand-by rapid reaction force with the region.

It was under the UK’s presidency of the UN Security Council that resolution 2248 was agreed. That resolution demonstrates the unity of the international community in its approach to the crisis. We continue to work with the African Union to mobilise financial and political resources to support the mediation process. We will continue to work with our colleagues around the world on contingency options in case things go wrong. We plan to make things go right, but we are also planning contingencies in case they do not.

The Department for International Development is providing nearly £15 million to support the international relief effort for refugees fleeing to countries like Tanzania. That will be channelled through the United Nations refugee agency and the World Food Programme. The Department for International Development is providing close to a further £4 million for the refugee response in Rwanda through the United Nations and non-governmental organisations. That has been used to fund refugee transport, medical care, shelters and food rations.

Perhaps this is a good point to respond to my hon. Friend’s plea for us to do more. I am sure that the Foreign Office would not want me to over-promise, but I think that now is the time to review this situation across the Foreign Office and across the Department for International Development. I am happy to pledge to have a meeting with the Minister in DFID to see whether our response is appropriate, proportionate and co-ordinated. We have made efforts to ensure that it is all of those things, but I am sure we could do more. I do not think that anyone who sat in my office before the Rwandan genocide would have regretted spending more time on that issue rather than less.

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The UK strongly supports a sanctions regime for Burundi. Four individuals have been listed so far, and the European Union and the African Union are giving consideration to further sanctions against individuals. I personally have made a number of calls to the Burundian Foreign Minister, Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, following the inflammatory comments made by the President and the president of the Senate, some of which my hon. Friend read out. They were truly distressing and hauntingly similar to words that were uttered in Rwanda before the genocide.

Our work in the region, in the European Union and with the United Nations has undoubtedly had an impact. The Burundian Government have already shown increased restraint in their deployment of the police and security forces, and they have finally accepted the notion of inclusive dialogue through article 96 consultations with the European Union, for which the UK pushed very hard. Under those consultations, the European Union will press Burundi on a range of issues related to the current crisis, including press freedom, human rights defenders and the proper functioning of the judiciary.

Looking ahead, I will visit Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi this month. I will be looking at a broad range of issues, but the main reason for my going is the situation in Burundi and its regional implications. I will meet members of each Government and members of

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the Burundian opposition, humanitarian organisations and UN agencies. I will listen to regional views on the situation and discuss how the UK and the international community could further support steps towards political dialogue. I will emphasise that the eyes of the world are on Burundi. I will call for urgent action to prevent the country from descending into civil war. And I will give a strong message that the security and safety of the people of Burundi are ultimately the responsibility of the Burundian Government.

To conclude, the UK is doing everything possible to ensure peace and prosperity for the Burundian people, but to achieve that, Burundi must step up and engage with the international community. To that end, we will continue to work with international partners, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the East African Community. I again thank my hon. Friend for giving us the opportunity to debate these important issues in the House, and for his lobbying, which is in large part what is leading me to go to those countries later this month to advocate Her Majesty’s Government’s, and his, cause.

Question put and agreed to.

5.28 pm

House adjourned.