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Five years ago, after our first visit, my noble friend and I established the all-party group. Since then we have held numerous witness sessions, where we have heard first-hand accounts from escapees. We initiated what we described as a process of constructive critical engagement, and argued that the six-party talks aimed at resolving security questions also needed simultaneously to engage North Korea on human rights and humanitarian issues. It is a country where, the UN special rapporteur, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, estimates, 400,000 people have been killed by the regime and 200,000 people are currently detained in prison camps, many because of their religious beliefs.

Critical engagement in confronting human rights abuses was the approach used in eastern Europe after the passing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. That led, in turn, to the creation of Andrei Sakharov’s Moscow Helsinki Group. Anatoly Dobrynin said:

“The Helsinki Accords gradually became a manifesto of the dissident and liberal movement ... people who lived under these systems—at least the more courageous—could claim official permission to say what they thought”.

In the report of our most recent visit, Carpe Diem—Seizing the Moment for Change in North Korea, which will be published on Thursday and a copy of which I will place in the Library, my noble friend and I argue that we now need “Helsinki with a Korean face” and that there is an historic opportunity to end the technical state of war that still exists between North Korea and the United States. That, in turn, could usher in an era of more fundamental change, especially the promotion of religious and political freedom.

Our visit was timely because there has been a recent deterioration in relations between South Korea and North Korea. The north has been threatening to launch a new Taepodong-2 missile, which is said to have the ability to reach the coast of the United States. Some

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analysts believe that the north might do this to assess the resolve of President Barack Obama. There are, perhaps, echoes here of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which tested another new American president, John F. Kennedy.

Although Hillary Clinton did not go to North Korea last week, America’s new Secretary of State visited the region to assess the situation for herself. In advance of Mrs Clinton’s regional sweep, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong Nam—whom my noble friend and I met when we first visited North Korea five years ago—said that North Korea is ready to,

This view was confirmed to us throughout our visit by senior officials in the DPRK. The American State Department would do well to recognise the significance of these remarks. A decade ago Her Majesty’s Government established a diplomatic mission in Pyongyang. I pay particular tribute to our ambassador Peter Hughes and his admirable staff, who do a magnificent job. It is time for the Americans to do the same. William Perry, a former US Secretary of State for Defence, said in 2003:

“We should never negotiate from fear, but we should never fear to negotiate”.

I first became interested in North Korea after I met Yoo Sang-joon, a North Korean Christian who had escaped from the DPRK and whom I met here at Westminster. His story was harrowing and disturbing. He described how he had seen his wife and all but one of his children shot dead by Kim Jong-Il’s militia. He subsequently escaped across the border to China with his one remaining son. The boy died en route. Yoo Sang-joon became an Asian Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Yoo Sang-joon bravely re-entered North Korea and helped many people to flee across the border. This led to his arrest in China in 2007. As a result of international pressure, the Chinese, I am glad to say, agreed to repatriate him to Seoul, rather than to the north where he would have been executed.

I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether we raised the continued repatriation of North Koreans in the recent UK-Chinese dialogue on human rights. If we continue to repatriate, we should be clear about the consequences for those who are returned to North Korea. Among the witnesses who have given evidence at our sessions in the Moses Room over the last few years was Jeon Young-Ok, who was aged 40. She said:

“I was put in a camp where I saw and experienced unimaginable things ... The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame ... I didn’t want to live. They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it”.

During our visit to North Korea, my noble friend and I continually raised the case of 26-year-old Shin Dong-Hyok, who spent the first 23 years of his life in North Korea’s political prison camp 14, where he was born. In his Moses Room evidence, he described how he saw his mother and brother executed, and was himself tortured. Twelve days ago, I felt privileged to

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share a platform with him at South Korea’s National Assembly. Cases such as these should be raised at every opportunity and should not be eclipsed by security issues.

Although, as my noble friend has said, we saw some glimmers of hope during our visit, there is still a long way to travel in permitting freedom of expression, belief and worship. What does North Korea lose as a consequence? By denying pastoral access to the Catholic Church—no priest has been allowed in for 55 years—the DPRK is preventing the Korean Church from providing help, development investment, and support for the poor and needy, which has led to phenomenal social provision in the South. Religious freedom leads to voluntary social endeavour on a huge scale. But, of course, dictatorships tend to be fearful of those institutions that they cannot control.

Last week, Korean Catholics were mourning the death of their first cardinal, Stephen Kim Sou-hwan. During the 1970s and 1980s, when South Korea was a military dictatorship, Cardinal Kim became known as an outspoken defender of human rights. He literally refused to allow troops to seize pro-democracy students sheltering in his Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul. Former President Kim Dae-jung, a holder of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that Kim’s had been a voice in the wilderness,

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who is a South Korean national, called him,

The Korean Church has been steeped in suffering. Pope John Paul II described it as,

It is unique because the Korean Church was not founded by missionaries. In the eighteenth century, some young Korean intellectuals encountered Christianity in China and brought their faith back to Korea. As the church was planted, between 8,000 and 10,000 martyrs died, so Korean Christians are no strangers to suffering. This story is brilliantly documented by the former Anglican Bishop of Korea, Canon Richard Rutt, in his Catholic Truth Society pamphlet The Martyrs of Korea.

Cardinal Nicholas Cheong, who now leads the Korean Church, told me during talks in Seoul that he remains ready and willing to devote resources and personnel to help the north. I hope that, as a harbinger of the reunification of the Korean peninsula, which must surely come, we will see the silent dioceses of the north given voices once more. What better signal could the north give to the world that it wants peace, security and a prosperous future? It would also be a significant move in the direction of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of belief for all.

As always, all of us in this House remain indebted to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to debate these issues today.



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8.42 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in opening the debate, gave a long list of examples of religious persecution, discrimination and disadvantage, and the list could have been a great deal longer. I was talking to an Israeli diplomat this morning, who reminded me that part of the reason for the rise of Avigdor Lieberman’s party is that there is no such institution as civil marriage in Israel. You can have a Muslim marriage or a Jewish marriage, but if you want to have a civil marriage you must leave Israel and come back with a certificate from another country.

Many of us will remember the battle in Greece only a few years ago about whether you could not have an ID card which listed your religion. We ourselves have a history of discrimination that is not so ancient. Not so long ago, I attended the wedding, in northern Denmark, between a Dane and an Italian, one of whom was one of my former students. The fuss we had over the potential presence of a Roman Catholic priest in a Lutheran church at the beginning of the 21st century showed that there are still many shadows of the past, even in our supposedly tolerant European society. We recognise that we are not talking simply about discrimination by one religion against another, but discrimination by the orthodox against those whom they regard as heretics within each faith; against Ahmadiyya, Alevis and Shias within Islam and against particular forms of Protestantism or Catholicism in different countries.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, emphasised the importance of religious dissent. That is what we should be hanging on to. We support the principle of dissent, religious and political, and I hope we all accept that religious freedom does not exist alone in a society. British history shows that religious freedom is only possible in a political system and a society in which wider freedoms of thought and of expression, political expression in particular, are allowed. I declare an interest as an Anglican brought up in the middle of the Church of England, much influenced by Bishop John Robinson, John Habgood and others, with doubting Thomas as my favourite saint and that wonderful expression from the Epistles:

“For now we see as through a glass darkly”.

I assumed naively as a child that the Anglican principle was that we could none of us be entirely sure what God thought on anything so we had better not insist on laying down the rule too tightly towards others. I have since discovered that there are plenty of people in the Anglican Church who still want to lay down the law on others and who use quite ancient prejudices against women in the chancel, for example, to express their reactionary views through religion.

I was interested and slightly shocked to read William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal two or three years ago and the extent to which it was an aggressive Anglican attempt to convert the Muslims of Delhi that did a great deal to provoke the Indian mutiny in reaction to Christian intolerant evangelism. What should our response be? As a Liberal Christian, I naturally emphasise tolerance and acceptance of dialogue within our shared condition of human uncertainty. We should preach

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tolerance, practise tolerance, expect tolerance from others and oppose fundamentalism in all religions including our own.

We should also recognise how often religion has been used and is still used as a cover for other aims—racial, tribal and political. The Chinese Communist Party has this desperate fear of any autonomous communities, of all forms of free thinking, which thus leads to the persecution, not just of Catholics, Baptists and Buddhists, but also of the Falun Gong—anything which sets up as an autonomous group within the state. Population pressures in Africa, Indonesia and elsewhere also foment what appears to be religious conflict. That is partly what is happening in Nigeria, where the doubling and trebling of populations leads to people choosing which out-group they fight against. Sadly, that has been true in central Africa and there is clearly also an element of it in Sudan. In Indonesia, where there has been Christian violence against Muslims, that has partly been local Christians against Muslim immigrants being settled in their islands.

The fundamentalism of the Vatican on the issue of population growth has not helped in this regard. I regard the coalition between the Vatican and fundamentalist Muslim countries at the last UN population conference as one of the more shameful aspects of organised Christian religion that we have seen in recent years and I worry that there is some tendency in the Vatican at present to a retreat towards what can only be described as Christian fundamentalism.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno that political and religious persecution go together, but hatred of outsiders, the persecution of scapegoat minorities, the extent to which we choose to define how everyone else should believe—the “we” being those in power—is clearly something against which we all have to fight. I know this is an extremely sensitive issue at present but there are those such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands who express as religious motivation what seems to many of us to be racial hatred.

If, for a couple of months, I were to pick bits out of the Bible—the Book of Revelations and the Old Testament together—to demonstrate that Christianity is an intolerant religion, I could probably make a 17-minute film which would be fairly persuasive. We can pick and choose but, if we are to promote tolerance, we have to behave responsibly within our own traditions of religion.

I oppose the singling out of religion from other forms of persecution of belief, whether political or secular, and I mistrust the motivation of the Bush Administration, which set up a separate department on religious discrimination within the State Department. I do not support such a proposal. Having spent some years in the United States as a young man, I am conscious of the anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic groups of Protestant fundamentalism in the United States and indeed of the anti-rationalist and the anti-modernist groups of Protestant fundamentalism. I rejoice that that sort of reactionary fundamentalism now appears to be on the decline again within much of the United States.

For similar reasons, I question the appointment of a British special envoy. It is, of course, a paradox in the United States, a state which is secular according to

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its constitution, that such a strongly religious dimension of its foreign policy should have been pursued by the last Republican Administration, whereas Britain, with the established Church, has recently been a good deal more secular. I celebrate our more mature acceptance in this country. We are a nation of religious diversity and of political tolerance. We talk now about Britain's churches and Britain’s faiths.

As a boy, I sang at the Coronation in 1953, which was an extensively and exclusively Protestant affair. The only non-Church of England priest to take part in the service was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. Fifty years later, at the anniversary service, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster read the first lesson and I could see the Orthodox Archbishop standing beside him, alongside a representative of the Salvation Army. Under the lantern, listening to them, were representatives of what the service programme called “Britain’s other faiths”: Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Jain. If noble Lords ask me to define the main tenets of the Jain faith, I am not sure I could do that very well. The British task is to defend and to promote freedom of belief throughout the world, of political and religious belief and of dissent in all its forms.

8.52 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for giving the House the opportunity to debate this important matter. I want to reiterate what my noble friend Lord Bates and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester said about the important, sometimes dangerous work undertaken by the noble Baroness in this area. I include in that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, particularly for the incredible work he has done to try to improve matters for the poor, suffering people living in North Korea.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, the range of religious freedom and freedom of belief is so vast that it is difficult to do justice to them all. Together with other noble Lords she has given some appalling examples which clearly show that the problem of religious persecution is very much in existence. The noble Lord, Lord MacDonald, as a distinguished humanist, gave the House examples of problems faced by those with no religious belief.

Religious persecution can be seen in many different walks of life; it is a long way from a nurse's offer to pray for a patient to the question of how to ensure the safety of the Jewish community in Britain, but both cases are rooted in questions of how faith and daily life should interact. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the individual's right to freedom of religion and religious practice. But there are other articles: protecting the freedom of expression, and the right to be protected from attacks on one's honour and reputation, for example.

Finding a path through the multitude of rights and responsibilities, some conflicting and all liable to a multiplicity of definitions, is not easy, but as hard as it is to lay out a clear set of limits as to how far each right can be taken, it is not hard to see when such limits have been drawn incorrectly. One of the great

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dangers of defining religious rights is inconsistency. It is unsurprising that the feeling that some faiths are more liable to persecution than others, whether justified or not, has grown when the Government have failed to apply their own legislation consistently.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the recent Geert Wilders case. Freedom of religion should not be used as a shield for those wishing to spread hatred and intolerance. We support the denial of entry to those who do so, but what credibility can this Government claim in this matter when a Dutch MP is banned, but those who publicly proclaim anti-Semitism, homophobia and suicide attacks continue to enter or remain in this country? Can the Minister inform the House whether the Government have learnt anything from recent events? It is clear that these decisions are made very much on a case-by-case basis with a great deal of confusion surrounding the criteria on which the final judgment rests.

Religious persecution, of course, goes beyond high-profile banning orders. It is sadly part of the day-to-day life of many and, according to the Home Secretary, is set to affect many more as the recession starts to bite. Certain communities are already suffering from disproportionate economic disadvantages, which can only get worse as unemployment figures rise. As economic isolation grows, so too does cultural isolation, further increasing the possibility of religiously motivated attacks as links between different communities break down. The isolation of many communities in this country is a problem that can and should be addressed but, instead, the Government's refusal to address long-running social and cultural problems for fear of causing offence has exacerbated it. To allow divisive and harmful cultural practices to continue because of claims that they are somehow fundamental to a religion is to misapply Article 18 in the most dangerous way. Religious freedoms should never be allowed to be used as an excuse to perpetuate the inequality of women or the practice of democracy; the Government should instead be seeking to encourage social cohesion and a broad acceptance of the civic values that underlie this country.

In the mean time, more must be done to protect those particularly at threat from religiously motivated attacks. Recent events in Israel and Gaza have led to a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents. I look forward to hearing from the Minister the Government's response to the recommendations made in the report to the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism.

Contributions to this debate have accepted that there is a problem with religious persecution that is not fading away. The Government must do more not only to ensure that their actions do not spark resentment of unfair treatment but to protect the public from those who encourage religious hatred.

8.59 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, let me join those of your Lordships who have spoken this evening in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, not just for bringing this subject before us, but for her lifetime commitment as an advocate of these issues—and a frequent traveller of astonishing proportions in directly

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going to bear personal witness to issues of religious discrimination and the oppression of religious freedom around the world. In doing that, she is very much part of a British tradition with that great concern for religious freedom that has, for many centuries, preoccupied us as a country here and abroad.

During the Lambeth Conference organised last year by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, I recall being privileged to lunch with an extraordinary group of religious leaders—including the Archbishop of Sudan, the Bishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and bishops covering north and southern Africa—and to hear their extraordinary stories of maintaining the freedom of all their congregations against threats that were political, economic and social in character. They were convinced of the need not just to protect the freedoms of their own congregations but those of other religions, understanding that only when all religions are free is any religion free.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I must identify myself as a liberal Anglican, and in that sense I, too, perhaps put the greatest value on that ultimate sense of Britain as a nation of dissenters. I suppose that that also allows me to identify with the Methodists and others here. In that sense, we cannot be entirely blind to problems in our own society. This, after all, is an old issue: I said to my 12 year-old son today that I would be debating religious freedom tonight. He is at the Oratory, a Catholic boys’ school in London where, he immediately told me, they were all signing a petition at present on why a Catholic could not marry a monarch.

We all still have traces in our societies of such issues to address. However, there has been a bipartisan commitment over many years that this Government seek to pursue the promotion of religious freedom and belief—or the right not to believe, as we heard earlier—with all the tools that we have. This includes both our bilateral activities and our efforts to ensure that religion and belief remain high on multilateral agendas. As Ministers, we raise the issue when we travel to countries of concern and with visitors from those countries when they see us here. That includes, for example, the many countries which still penalise blasphemy and use that offence to harass religious minorities; in some jurisdictions, the punishment for it still involves corporal punishment or even the death penalty. That can never be condoned. The Foreign Office is producing guidelines for our posts on how to promote freedom of religion or belief, and to combat violations of it. Those will be published in March.

Multilaterally—and I stress that it is so often multilateral channels that offer us a much more forceful way to make our case—we, together with our EU partners, are making full use of the new universal periodic review mechanism at the Human Rights Council in Geneva to raise the issues of religious freedom. That is one of the few public fora where we can engage with countries that otherwise are reluctant to engage. So, when the DPRK is examined in December, we will raise those issues. In that case, we have concerning evidence about the persecution of believers in those Potemkin-like churches in Pyongyang. We also maintain regular dialogue with representatives of religious groups whose members frequently suffer violations of their rights, such as the Baha’is, the Ahmadiyyas, the Jehovah’s

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Witnesses and other Christian groups. We encourage NGOs and others to draw violations to our attention, and we have a stakeholder group on freedom of religion that meets FCO officials to enhance co-operation in this work.


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