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A false understanding creates different judgments and breeds mistrust in a way that we do not wish it to. Mutual mistrust kills mutual understanding and culminates in exclusion of dialogue and the other, especially if an established, modern block, such as the European Union, wants to set up dialogue with a society which I might describe as in transition to modernity, and which also has in it confusing elements.
Human rights are common currency today in our dialogue. They and democracy are discussed absolutely everywhere. Elections and election monitoring happen everywhere. Yet in all the countries where I have
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We believe in human rights, but a society in transition, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, may prefer to take our particular analysis of what is a human right in a completely different way. The vital thing now, if we are to avoid an absolute confrontation, is to go back to the table and try to work out some sort of context where dialogue can take place. We are discussing human rights in Iran at a time when mistrust between the Muslim world and the West is probably at its height-I hope it goes no higher. This is a difficult time. It is paramount upon us to open up these blocked channels of communication and start again. Britain has a special position: we are part of the European Union and we have the transatlantic alliance. Far from thinking that the time is now passed for proper dialogue and bridge-building internally and externally, it is never more important than now to try again.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, for initiating this important debate today. Iran is not a country that can be easily caricatured. It is blessed with vast natural resources, the world's fifth largest global oil reserve and an intelligent population with a long and impressive history and now with a thirst for change and development. Yet it has one of the worst human rights records, ranked 145 out of 167 in the Economist Intelligence Unit's democracy index.
It is hard to know where to begin in the seemingly unending human rights abuses, with key issues including a total disregard for the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the rights to freedom of speech, religion and equality, the rights to freedom of assembly and expression and the prohibition of torture, to name but a few. There have been reports of extra-judicial killings, scores of civilian deaths during peaceful protests and of the rape, ill treatment and torture of prisoners in detention, many of whom have been detained without just cause, access to justice, medical care or their families.
All this is set to a backdrop of concern over Iran's nuclear programme, which despite considerable international pressure, including sanctions, continues unabated. Ahmadinejad has said that the Islamic republic will continue to enrich uranium up to the 20 per cent level, which is a significant step on the way to making weapons-grade material. Astonishingly, as the noble
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Furthermore, Iranian officials have ruled out the notion of an external investigation into the state of their domestic human rights. No Human Rights Council official has visited the country since 2005, and numerous requests from special investigators have remained unanswered. As long as this type of woeful behaviour continues, Iran's human rights record should never disappear from our radar.
Finally, I have five questions for the Minister. First, have the Government any evidence that the scale of protests in Iran is diminishing? Secondly, does he feel that recent clashes between opposition supporters and government forces following the deaths of the dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, have further undermined the legitimacy of the Iranian regime? Thirdly, what discussions has the Minister had with his Iranian counterparts to end the on-going persecution of the Baha'is in Iran? Fourthly, what discussions have the Government had with Iran and our allies about reducing Iran's nuclear projects? Finally, what contacts have Her Majesty's Government had with the revolutionary guards?
Lord Brett: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, on securing a debate on this important and worthy subject and in particular for the powerful indictment he gave of the deteriorating human rights record of Iran. It rightly continues to command the attention and concern of this House, the international community, and most importantly the people of Iran.
The determination shown by protestors on Iranian streets since the disputed election last June clearly demonstrates their strength of desire for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Nothing in my brief says whether those are increasing or decreasing but the fact that they continue is very clear. I shall seek to provide more flesh on that skeleton, if I may. The Iranian people have raised genuine concerns, which their Government have a responsibility to address. Sadly, their Government have responded with violence, brutality and oppression, as a number of noble Lords have very succinctly and clearly expressed.
There are two threads running through the debate: one is the Iranian record on human rights and whether sanctions on that issue are appropriate; the second is the separate but important nuclear issue and whether there is a case for sanctions. We are clear that sanctions must lead to a result which, in this case, is to bring Iran to a productive, sensible dialogue on the nuclear issue. For that reason, sanctions under consideration should be targeted, proportionate and reversible should
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On an important point made by my noble friend Lord Corbett, and referred to by a number of other noble Lords, clearly it is not for the British Government to decide who runs Iran; however, we must defend the basic principles of human rights and governance. These are not western principles; they are universal. My noble and learned friend Lord Archer made that point on the desire to investigate further the issue of economic sanctions.
In a very thoughtful contribution, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, talked about cultural differences. The key is that there are cultural differences in Iran. I think the cultural difference is entirely between those who see a modern, democratic country looking forward-I agree with everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, for it is a country with enormous resources and enormously talented people, who want the opportunity to expand-and those who would look backwards. In that sense the cultural differences are not between Iran and the neighbouring countries, Britain, the UN, the EU or any other country, but concern those within the country. We have seen that since the elections of last year. It is not for the British Government to determine the outcome of elections in that country.
My noble friend Lady Gibson made a point about the role of women in Iran. Women have played a prominent and courageous role in the post-election protests, and dozens connected with the campaign for equality and the Mujahedin movement have been sentenced to imprisonment and flogging on charges of acting against national security and propaganda against the system-something which must, in any circumstances, be condemned. Yet Iran signed up to international commitments, which this regime continues to abuse. The treatment of demonstrators, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, said, bodes ill for any improvement in Iran's human rights record in the short term. You only have to look at the detention of people during December's Ashura protests and the February revolutionary commemoration.
The Iranian Government are cynical in their response to the universal periodic review of the Human Rights Council. Its response testifies to a complete state of denial by Iran's leaders, who pretend that there are no significant problems whatever. Yet observers, not only British observers, would say that the human rights situation in Iran is probably the worst that it has been in 20 years. Freedom of expression has been curtailed, and the Iranian Government have sought to crush any form of dissent from their own people. Newspapers
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According to the International Press Institute, Iran now leads the world in jailing journalists. On the weekend preceding the 11 February Revolution commemorations, some 65 were reported detained. Those journalists who are tried often receive lengthy prison sentences for attempting to bring information to their fellow citizens and the outside world-information which in most countries of the world, not just western Europe or North America, would be expected to be available. Two recent examples of this persecution include Bahman Ahmadi Amouie, sentenced to seven years and four months and 32 lashes, and Saeed Laylaz, who was sentenced to nine years for maintaining ties with foreigners and working to overthrow the Government-which means that he had contact with someone outside Iran or outside Iran's leadership.
The 10 days of dawn leading up to the anniversary on 11 February were marked by a chilling campaign of mass arrests, executions and calls for public hangings. This culminated in a heavy security presence on 11 February to deter any opposition protests during the regime's show of defiance. Since June, countless demonstrators have been beaten on the streets by police and plain-clothed government supporters for peacefully exercising their right to assembly. Many were arrested and have subsequently appeared in televised show trials, making what are widely seen as forced confessions and self-denunciations. The Iranian people are all too aware of the means by which such sham confessions are elicited. Widespread allegations of torture and abuse of detainees have emerged widely.
Iran has committed itself to internationally accepted standards of justice, and has signed international protocols to that effect, which should extend to safeguarding the treatment of detainees and the right to a fair trial, but clearly does not. These show trials are deficient in many ways, and it is all the more concerning that a number of death sentences have been handed down during these trials. On 28 January, the Foreign Secretary expressed his appal at the execution of Mohammad Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour, sentenced to death during these grotesque parodies of justice. Rahmanipour was just 19 at the time of his execution, but he is by no means the youngest Iranian to have faced the noose. As my noble friend Lord Corbett emphasised, juveniles are not in any way inviolate. Forty juvenile offenders have been executed in Iran since 1999, and an estimated 130 young offenders await a similar fate on death rows. This is simply wrong. It is also in clear violation of internationally accepted norms and standards. The Iranian Government cannot avoid knowing this, not least because they have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
As my noble friend pointed out, these death penalty issues are of major concern, as Iran is second only to China in the number of people it executes. We know of 388 executions in 2009, at least 100 of which were carried out in the days immediately following the June
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A number of points were made. First, on the point my noble friend made about the Baha'i faith, it has been subject to mounting persecution since the elections. The authorities seek to vilify the faith, deeming it responsible for recent violence on the Tehran streets. The prolonged incarceration and psychological torment of individuals is unacceptable. It provides a strong example of a flawed judicial process.
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, raised the question of a British dual national who was in court in Iran earlier this month. When we saw reports of this, our embassy in Iran immediately sought clarification from the Iranian Foreign Minister, who subsequently informed us that no British citizen had been in court on those dates. We pressed that and the Iranian authorities, based on the understanding that an individual may be a British-Iranian dual national, do not recognise that dual nationality and therefore would not accept any British interest in the case.
On the question of the Human Rights Council, raised by my noble friend Lord Anderson, there are five candidates-as he rightly said. We have received no indication that any of the five candidates wish to withdraw. We encourage contested elections to ensure that the human rights credentials of members running for election are under scrutiny. We encourage all UN states to consider the human rights record of candidates when voting. That is set out in the founding resolutions of the Human Rights Council itself.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Lea asked how we deal with the issue of nuclear sanctions. The position is that the IAEA board in November signalled yet again the international community's concern about Iranian nuclear progress and expressed its regret that Iran refused to meet with the E3+3 countries to discuss its nuclear programme. We are now pushing for multilateral sanctions that will affect decision-makers in the regime, with the aim of bringing Iran to productive and sensible dialogue. We would consider tightening existing sanctions and extending them to other sections targeted in the regime. This probably echoes the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. We are looking for a change of heart, bringing a dialogue to the table.
Even at this late stage, we hope that the external pressures applied-even by debates in a Committee of your Lordships' House-will have some impact and that we will move forward so that that great country can be restored. It has had 100 years of blight in one form or another. It is about time it was able to emerge. The democratic movement within Iran is making it clear that it is determined to emerge.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have considered co-locating public services in under-used church buildings.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall): Before the debate proceeds, I remind the Committee that in the event of a vote in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes from the sound of the Division Bell and 10 minutes will be added to the time allotted to the debate.
Lord Mawson: My Lords, there are nearly 50,000 church buildings in England; 16,200 of them belong to the Church of England, and the rest are mostly owned by the Catholic Church, the free churches and other denominations. Many sit on prime sites at the centre of their communities, yet they are often large and underused. There is a growing trend to return church buildings to their original function not just as places of worship, but places of assembly, service and celebration for the whole of their community. This ancient tradition, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London reminds us in the report Churches and Faith Buildings: Realising the Potential, has in more recent times been overlaid by distaste for mixing sacred and secular, but this dichotomy is increasingly being challenged. This underused asset base is considerable and, because of shortness of time, I want to focus my words today on church buildings, not on properties owned by other faith communities. As socio-economic conditions get tough and public finances are inevitably reduced, we need to relook at this property portfolio.
I know from many years of experience working with churches across the country, today as a non-stipendiary minister in the United Reformed Church, that the users of these buildings can often be small elderly congregations who find it very difficult to maintain or use effectively the asset that history has bequeathed to them. As many noble Lords will know, the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, which I founded in East London, began in such unpromising circumstances. Twenty-six years ago, I arrived as the minister to be greeted by 12 elderly people, all over 70, in a 200-seater church, sitting where they had always sat. It looked as though the dead had been carried out and no one had noticed.
By applying more entrepreneurial business principles and developing partnerships with the business, public and voluntary sectors, today we own a three-acre site that is run by 177 staff. The centre manages over 125 different activities each week, and on site there is a polyclinic, which brings together not just the biomedical model of healthcare but a wider range of other public services through an integrated approach. Two thousand people each week pass through the site, and with our partners, the housing company Poplar HARCA and Leaside Regeneration Ltd, we are putting together a £1 billion regeneration programme on an area of land the same size as the Olympic park on the other side of the road. Today, this church-based project has demonstrated new ways of delivering public services that are breaking new ground and challenging the traditional silos of government whose old-fashioned, expensive, bureaucratic approaches have so often failed to engage effectively with local residents and raise their quality of life.
Three years ago, I was approached by the then general secretary of my small denomination, the United Reformed Church. The church was becoming increasingly concerned about the scale of the problems it was facing with the condition and efficient use of its 1,700 buildings. I was told that many of them were listed and were a drain on limited resources. It was a serious problem that called for a new solution. Three and a half years later, my colleagues and I have created a new property agency for the United Reformed Church, called One Church, 100 Uses, and here I must declare an interest as a director of the company. This community interest company, a social enterprise, is now actively involved in the redevelopment of more than 30 church sites across England. Working with the Church of Scotland, we find that it shares similar problems. Yet underneath the apparent difficulties, we are discovering opportunities. We have discovered the rich rewards that appear when local communities begin to provide services for themselves. Not only does it save money, it creates healthier, more responsible people and stimulates an enterprise economy, which in turn encourages social cohesion. That is not a bad win-win scenario.
The church is fundamental to this outcome. Indeed, it has always played a central role in the care and service of local communities. The idea of the servant church goes back 2,000 years. The successful recent amendments to the Equality Bill illustrate that there is still a stomach in the Christian churches for us to play this important role. In past times, the church was coming to this caring/provider agenda from a position of authority and power. Today, it comes to it from a position of weakness and vulnerability. Perhaps that in itself is an opportunity.
If the church stops hiding behind committees and archdeacons, and instead shows strong business-like leadership, it can play an important neutral role in bringing partners to the table and in opening up conversations with the health provider, the local authority, the school, the housing provider and the shop. We are doing that on a number of sites across the country.
The church, the local school and the health centre are often the only long-term stable players in a local community, as governments change and countless new
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Politicians on all sides have been talking the language of joined-up thinking for some time now, but often it is not happening where it is most needed. Building partnerships is a complicated business, especially given the contradictory and disconnected commissioning processes that are in place. The connections and partnerships that could bring these buildings to life, deepen community cohesion and use limited funds far more efficiently, are just not happening. I could illustrate this in Glasgow, Bradford, Oldham, Gainsborough and Poole in Dorset, but there is not time. Believe me, it is a serious issue.
After 60 years of the state promising and often failing to provide, let us encourage choice and diversity. Let us not assume that the public sector will deliver it all. It will not. In hard economic times people have to huddle together for warmth. In rural communities, the pub, church, post office and village hall are often not sustainable on their own, which is why there are now 12 post offices in Anglican church buildings and in one of our developments we are looking at a police base in the church.
Perhaps I may describe just one example of a working partnership on the ground where we hope to develop some of these themes; namely, Harmans Water, Bracknell. The community centre across the square from the church closed due to health and safety concerns. A small library next to the church is open only 16 hours a week. A new housing development brings some Section 106 funding and a whole new community. The church, which is home to both the United Reformed Church and Anglican congregations, already hosts a range of community services and has insufficient space. With the support of the local authority and Bracknell Forest Homes-the local housing association-our plan is to build a new centre for the community with a wide range of community facilities, services and a new library. There will still be a librarian for probably only 16 hours a week, but it is hoped that the library, which perhaps will be next to a new cafe, will be accessible for more hours with self-service and will be joined by many other information providers. The police want a help point and the local children's centre, the primary school and the college need a kitchen where families can learn about healthy living, et cetera.
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