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Baroness Cox: My Lords, since the debate on the previous gracious Speech, there have been significant developments in many of the troubled parts of the world. Some are cause for increasing concern; some offer signs of hope; some are notable achievements.
I will focus on North Korea, Sudan and Indonesia, emphasising the need for constructive critical engagement to promote fundamental freedoms, democracy and civil society appropriate to the history, culture and traditions of each nation. Such engagement needs to be seen in the context of global developments that contribute to the emergence and escalation of many contemporary crises. Presently, the prospects are grim as despair and destitution keep spreading. The problems that now plague the developing world may well continue to escalate.
However, there is a glimmer of hope in the developing world: namely, the universal quest for greater personal freedoms in all aspects of life. I refer to genuine and indigenous freedom, rather than the mere replication of the institutions of Western democracy. Herein lies the key to containing, if not solving, most of the current crises and preventing others yet to develop.
I illustrate my point with reference to an event several years ago, when I was invited to address a large conference convened by the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement in southern Sudan. I was deeply impressed by the commitment of the SPLM leadership, who brought civilian and military leaders in from the front line of war to engage in a serious, even agonising, search to identify the principles of democracy as a basis for the development of civil society in preparation for the day when they would, at last, have freedom.
I argued that the essential core of democracy must be the protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, worship and associationall the freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsbut that, beyond that, it was not necessary to try to develop or impose all of the characteristics of what may be termed Western democracy. For example, electoral systems such as direct election to parliament on a one person, one vote basis may not be most appropriate in some African countries where tribal traditions exert a strong influence.
By implication, it is not necessarily appropriate for Western nations supporting developing countries to insist on Western models of democracy. The essential criterion must be respect for fundamental freedoms and the principles of civil society, including rights for minorities, religious tolerance and respect for cultural diversity. Beyond that, it is up to the people of each nation or region to decide the form of democracy appropriate to their situation.
I therefore suggest that Western governments' foreign policy should and could appropriately adopt a modified type of Helsinki process, which promoted radical changes in the Soviet Union, bringing about a change from totalitarianism to freedom. The essence
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of that approach was conditional constructive engagement, with economic aid and empowerment systematically linked to the enshrining of personal freedoms, respect for human rights and development of civil society.
More specifically, the Western contribution to those processes should be the encouragement of foreign investment in specific, localised economic endeavours, especially the encouragement of small business and agricultural modernisation initiatives. That would help to reduce poverty, empower citizens and give men and women the dignity of providing adequately for their families and using their individual abilities creatively. That in turn would help to ensure that the majority of people in those societies would have a sense of fulfilment instead of deprivation and a commitment to those new freedoms, and the system that promotes them, instead of suffering endemic disaffection and hopelessness. It is hard to maintain freedom for people with empty stomachs, and the concept of democracy can seem vacuous if unemployment and poverty are rifehence their vulnerability to the appeal of radical and violent alternatives, including terrorism.
I shall give some contemporary examples, beginning with North Korea, which my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned. The news is disturbing. The DPRK is developing nuclear weapons, has been preparing for full-scale pre-emptive military offensives and has developed a more hard-line and extremely unhelpful policy towards international aid organisations. Some of those developments are ostensibly in response to the continuing, very hard-line policy adopted by the United States, which is exacerbating the paranoia of the leadership and supporting hardliners in the DPRK military.
I have no illusions about the seriousness of the situation there, but as noble Lords may be aware, my noble friend Lord Alton and I visited North Korea and were convinced that there are those in positions of influence who want to begin to try to climb out of the dark hole into which the regime has dug itself. We believe that the time is right to encourage constructive, critical engagement, without which that leadership will become more entrenched, precarious, volatile and dangerous. We therefore established the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and were very pleased last year when the Inter-Parliamentary Union arranged for members of the North Korean Supreme People's Assembly to visit Britain. They had a very constructive visit, opening up economic and educational links. The visit also provided us with a channel to convey our continuing critical concerns on the dire human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea. We therefore strongly support Her Majesty's Government's policy of constructive critical engagement as a means of helping to open up that sealed totalitarian society and to defuse a very dangerous situation. I hope that the Minister, whom I warmly welcome to his new post, will be able to assure us that the policy of critical constructive engagement with North Korea will continue.
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Sudan is a mixed scenario, with some significant progress in the south, following the peace agreement, but a deeply disturbing condition of genocide, particularly in Darfur, as described so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Alton. Also disturbing are numerous reports of grave violations of human rights by the National Islamic Front regime against its own people in northern Sudan, including arbitrary arrests, torture, executions and threats of the death penalty. I add my plea to that of my noble friend with regard to the extremely serious situation of the threat of imminent execution of Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, chairperson of the Sudan Social Development Organisation. Will the Minister raise that case as a matter of urgency with the Sudanese ambassador? Time may be running out.
Although I strongly support aid and assistance of all kinds for those parts of Sudan now enjoying freedom and the opportunity to begin to develop civil society, I ask the Minister what further measures Her Majesty's Government will take to hold the National Islamic Front regime to account for its continuing genocidal policies in Darfur and how they can continue to trust a regime that continues to kill while it talks peace. That must surely be a situation where there needs to be a much clearer linkage between economic aid and respect for fundamental human rights. How do Her Majesty's Government make that necessary distinction between supporting those working for democracy in the south of Sudan while requiring the ruling regime in Khartoum to cease that genocide and its atrocities against its own civilians in the north?
Finally on Indonesia, following numerous visits to the conflict zones of Maluku and Sulawesi at the height of offensives largely perpetrated by the internationally resourced Lasker Jihad Islamist movement, I had the great privilege of launching an organisation with, I am afraid, an endless namewe could not make it any shorter: the International Islamic-Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction, which mercifully abbreviates to IICORR. We launched it in Jakarta two years ago, with former president Abdurrahman Wahid as our honorary president.
I was therefore very grateful to Her Majesty's Government who last year sponsored an inter-faith delegation from Maluku to the United Kingdom, under the auspices of IICORR, to develop the principles and policies of reconciliation. We were very relieved when, a few months ago, agitators tried to renew conflict in Ambon and it was very quickly contained. It was claimed that that was largely as a result of the work undertaken in Britain, with good faith being established and developed between the communities and policies being put in place to forestall such escalations of conflict.
Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic nation with a population of 220 million. The president, in a closing speech at a conference that I was privileged to attend just a few months ago at the Islamic State University in Jakarta, affirmed his commitment to the principles of the Indonesian Pancasila, which embraces religious tolerance and cultural diversity. He also emphasised his commitment to promoting peace and preventing
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conflict throughout Indonesia. However, there are disturbing reports of continuing militancy in various areas such as Aceh, Sulawesi and Papua New Guinea. There are also senior politicians who are committed to the replacement of the constitution by a Sharia alternative.
Indonesia is at a critical juncture. Those who endeavour to protect fundamental freedoms need strong support. I therefore greatly appreciate the policies of Her Majesty's Government that have helped to support the growth of civil society and to promote good inter-faith relations. I ask the Minister for an assurance that that policy will continue.
In conclusion, deprivation and disaffection caused by perceived injustice provide breeding grounds for militancy and terrorism. As people and peoples can emerge from oppression to freedom, from poverty to plenty, they will have less cause for grievance and more commitment to peace. Thenand only thenwill the world be a safer place for the benefit of all its citizens. It is my hope that the foreign policy of the new Government will be foremost in developing the kind of constructive critical engagement that will achieveto echo the Minister in his opening speecha safer and fairer world for the benefit of all its citizens.
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