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The second need is to distinguish resistance fighters, who may sometimes use terror methods, from ideological terrorists seeking world revolution and, if possible,
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In the 1970s and 1980s in Northern Ireland I had my first experience of religious factors in conflict. It was not, of course, an old-fashioned war of religion. Politics, identity, culture and religion had, however, become so tightly interwoven that nominal religion served as the identifier in a deeply divided society. To a lesser extent, this is still the case today. Since then, I have made many visits to Israel and Palestine and their neighbours. I believe that it is only religious faith that has given Hezbollah and Hamas the strength to resist oppressive military occupation. Similarly, religious and ideological zeal inspires some Israelis to live in hardship on hilltops in order to colonise someone else's country, to which they claim a kind of divine right. I have already mentioned the Sunni Anbar tribes in Iraq who agreed to fight with the Americans, whom they had previously resisted, because they saw the greater threat posed by al-Qaeda.
The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, in which I have a non-financial interest, has been working for years in Iraq with the most senior religious leaders-Sunni, Shia and Christian-towards national reconciliation. This process has produced joint statements, which are being filtered down so as to reduce the general level of violence. Further mediating work is still needed with the political parties and with other opinion formers.
In Kosovo, I have an indirect interest through the British charity The Soul of Europe. There, it is surprising that UNMIK, EULEX, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union in Brussels had barely attempted to resolve the problems surrounding the UNESCO-listed, enclaved, Serbian Orthodox monasteries. These splendid buildings, with their frescos and living communities, stand surrounded by barbed wire and protected by NATO troops against the potential ill-will of their Albanian neighbours. Fortunately, the charity that I mentioned has been invited to mediate by both parties. The hope is that it will be commissioned to do so by the European Union. This religious and political issue has huge symbolic importance as the monasteries were founded at the height of the medieval Serb kingdom and in its very heartland. The issue has great immediate urgency because the enthronement at Pec in Kosovo of the new patriarch of all Orthodox Serbs is being planned for October in the presence of many bishops from all the Christian Episcopal traditions. Your Lordships can imagine the security worries and the dangers of misperceptions if a good modus vivendi is not quickly established. In the longer term, the resolution of the problems affecting these monasteries could speed up the accession of Kosovo to the EU while also helping tourism and the economy generally.
I will give only one more example of constructive inter-religious work in process. The Nyon process is bringing together in dialogue Sunnis and Shias, together with western secular leaders and American evangelicals.
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From my personal experience and the examples I have given, I urge Her Majesty's Government to treat religious factors with the seriousness that they deserve. This can only benefit our policies in Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Like my noble friend Lord Hannay, I particularly ask this Government to listen to Hamas. Secondly, will they support and encourage unofficial diplomacy and conflict resolution wherever these can improve conflict and post-conflict situations? I was encouraged by what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said in opening this debate about sub-governmental bodies and new global networks. Perhaps the answer is yes.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: It is an honour to participate in this important debate and I pay tribute immediately to the new Ministers on their appointments on foreign affairs, European affairs, international development and defence. Special tribute must be paid to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, whose wise guidance and leadership on many foreign affairs issues I have always studied and often followed. I pay special tribute also to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, whose experience on international development is widely known. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, whose special work on sub-Saharan Africa and development issues in the European Parliament I was often given the opportunity to support.
The electorate have given both Houses a unique and unexpected opportunity. The Conservative election manifesto promised to deliver a "liberal Conservative foreign policy". The accident of coalition government has given the possibility for a Liberal Democrat-Conservative foreign policy to be achieved. I welcome this new and enhanced focus on Britain's foreign policy. The new Government's commitment to fundamental values, democracy and the rule of law in all of the UK's overseas activities is well reflected in the declaration in the gracious Speech of anticipating the building of richer and fuller partnerships with our fellow democracies. A stronger and leading role in the European Union, a more powerful partnership with the Republic of India and a firm and steady continuance of our historic and close partnership with the United States of America are very welcome developments.
The UK must aspire-and we have the capacity -to become a more capable, more coherent and more strategically effective international power than we are today. Clear co-ordination of foreign policy with other departments, including the Department for International Development, UKTI as well as the MoD, is surely the key. Your Lordships' House has immense potential to help to achieve the new Government's foreign policy goals. This House contains a deep well of extraordinary
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Your Lordships have, too, a matchless parliamentary record on EU matters through the exceptional work of the EU Select Committee. Continued challenge for the EU Committee lies ahead. EU expenditure is rapidly expanding. The European External Action Service, while I hope that it will bring a more co-ordinated foreign policy, will drive up expenditure. Lisbon, for all its many faults, is offering the European Union a legal identity. That gives immense new horizons to the European Union. Britain should and, I hope, will, play the fullest possible part in all this growth. Will the Government confirm that we will take a very powerful stance on all these issues?
There is widespread corruption in some member states of the European Union. This will soon need European Union intervention, which must be backed strongly by key member states, including Germany, the UK and France, if it is to succeed. I cannot help but wonder whether our new Government would be strengthened by the return of the UK Conservative Party to the group of the European People's Party. I noted with pleasure that a good relationship developed immediately between our new Prime Minister and Mrs Merkel. I had an excellent letter this week from President Buzek, President of the European Parliament. I know how much the European People's Party would welcome the return of British Conservative parliamentary colleagues to their fold.
European enlargement is not over, but is an ongoing process with key European countries such as Turkey or Moldova left outside the Union. I believe strongly that countries such as Turkey and Moldova are very important strategically both for the European Union and for the UK. We should work there to promote the values that this Government have endorsed. I have seen the wonderful work of British embassies here and in other nations and I, too, rue the decrease in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget, which was sharply felt and bitterly regretted in all our embassies around the globe.
I also seek from this Government a more active foreign policy in Iraq. The gains of liberty have now been underpinned by three elections and equally regular changes of government and members of parliament. The gracious Speech gave a firm commitment that Her Majesty's Government will,
The extraordinary and heroic efforts of the UK's Armed Forces in Iraq, which included nation-building
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Surely those gains must now be consolidated by business development and capacity-building. The previous Government overlooked that despite the obvious and free-market imperative of British business and industry's early return to Iraq. I have an honorary position in chairing the Iraq-Britain Business Council. I see there the immense difficulties that businessmen have in gaining visas to come to the UK and the even worse problem that Iraq has not been a priority country for the UK. Yet Iraq is the largest global untapped market. It is a former British protectorate; English is the second language there; and Iraqi businesses and Government, as well as the people, express strong preference for working with UK partners on every level. Iraq remains a high defence and security issue. Her neighbourhood is highly volatile; her stability is keenly linked to our own and to the future stability of our fellow member states in the EU and of the world's democracies. Iraq provides a good example of the need for much closer co-operation between DfID, FCO, MoD and UKTI, with the pre-eminent requirement for the foreign policy of the British Government to be in the lead.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his appointment. I have always valued the great wisdom and sensitivity with which he has approached many of the complex issues with which I am sometimes associated. I also appreciate how those characteristics were similarly demonstrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock.
I shall focus on three countries which I have recently visited: Sudan, Burma and Nigeria. I was in Sudan in February with my small NGO, HART, working with local partners in southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains. We found many causes for concern, including a desperate humanitarian situation. For example, one in seven mothers in southern Sudan dies in pregnancy or childbirth; one in seven children dies before the age of five; and only 17 per cent of the population receives immunisation, leaving people vulnerable to such preventable conditions as tetanus, measles and diphtheria. The situation for the Beja people in eastern Sudan is even worse.
I welcome the significant funding of £250 million that the United Kingdom has provided for Sudan and to which the Minister referred. However, in the areas where we work, there is little sign of it. Many people ask where those resources are going. Could a review therefore be undertaken to ensure that the money
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The recent elections were inevitably plagued by many problems but they are a critical step in the CPA process, leading to the referendum for southern Sudan. They have therefore been generally welcomed. However, the plight of the people in the Nuba Mountains is dire. Although the Nuba Mountains were officially renamed South Kordofan, the local people prefer the traditional name, so I use it. The comprehensive peace agreement put the Nuba Mountains under the administrative control of Khartoum, causing such dire problems that the people there claim:
They are now forced to be primarily dependent on Khartoum for aid and claim that Khartoum manipulates that aid with its Islamist political agenda-in ways resented as much by the local Muslims as by Christians and traditional believers. Attempts by Khartoum to impose Sharia law in Kadugli were met with robust opposition from all the population, Muslim and Christian as well as traditional believers.
However, the concerns of the people of the Nuba Mountains have been exacerbated by the lack of information about the substantive content of the "consultation" which was their lot under the CPA rather than a referendum for self-determination. They are so worried that some of their leaders believe that if the south votes for secession, the people of the Nuba Mountains will be so vulnerable that they may feel that they have to resort to a new war. The particular fears that they have identified again and again are: forced Islamisation, Arabisation and the loss of their precious, historic, rich, African Nuba culture. What measures are being taken by the Assessment and Evaluation Commission set up under the CPA to address these justifiable concerns for the people of the Nuba Mountains and the other marginalised areas of Blue Nile and Abyei?
The recent report by the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan, On the brink: Towards lasting peace in Sudan, highlights many issues, some of them identified by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. It also highlights especially the need to prepare for the post-referendum situation, particularly with capacity-building in many spheres.
I turn briefly to Burma, where the SPDC military junta continues to deny free and fair elections and to pursue its policy of brutal oppression of the democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, of the imprisonment of large numbers of political prisoners, forced labour, use of 70,000 child soldiers, military attacks with a shoot-to-kill policy against the Karen, Karenni and Shan peoples in the east, and of military occupation affecting other peoples such as the Chin, Kachin and Rohingya, with extrajudicial killings, rape, forced labour, theft of land and livestock. The Chin people also suffered when their bamboo crops flowered three years ago, bringing an infestation of rats which devoured the crops and created such a critical shortage of food that many people suffered and died. I take this opportunity to express great appreciation to DfID for the £600,000
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On the SPDC's cynical manipulation of elections, which are a travesty of democracy, will Her Majesty's Government support the resolution passed by the European Parliament on 20 May, calling for the European Commission to reverse cuts in funding to refugees on the Thai-Burma border; immediate release of all political prisoners; the UN to focus on securing genuine tripartite dialogue between all parties, including the ethnic groups; the European Commission to start funding cross-border aid to parts of Burma where the regime blocks aid; the EU to work to build global support for a UN arms embargo on Burma; and Bangladesh to improve its treatment of Rohingya refugees?
I turn briefly to the disturbing situation in northern Nigeria and Plateau state, with reference to a Question that I asked in your Lordships' House on 30 March, highlighting the recent slaughter of up to 500 villagers near Jos. This was just the latest in a series of attacks by Islamist extremists. On a recent visit to Jos, I met both Muslim and Christian leaders who were very interested in an initiative which I had the privilege to help to establish in Indonesia some years ago. It has the long name the International Islamic Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction, which mercifully abbreviates to IICORR. I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, if she was aware that the Foreign Office had funded some years ago a symposium for an interfaith delegation from Indonesia which helped to contain further conflict and was very successful. I asked whether Her Majesty's Government would consider a similar initiative for the Muslim and Christian leaders in Jos. I was very encouraged when the noble Baroness invited me to send her a proposal, which I have sent to the Foreign Office; subsequently, I have had discussions with staff in the Foreign Office. I therefore express the hope that the Minister might be willing to consider this initiative. Any help given to local leaders in that very troubled situation could help to protect their own people and to protect Nigeria from destructive destabilisation, especially at a time when Nigeria is facing many other challenges that could make it very vulnerable.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, I congratulate my colleagues on the new Front Bench, each of whom I respect greatly. I shall concentrate on one country. It is not a large country, with a population of under 20 million, but it stands at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean, and it is a country with which I have been associated for nearly 50 years. I refer to Sri Lanka, and the changes that have taken place there in the past three or four months. Those changes should bring new confidence to relations between the UK and Sri Lanka.
I start with an aside. Sri Lanka has had a presidential and a general election and in both cases the turn-out level was one we would welcome enormously in this country. There were hardly any troubles at all, except in one polling area where the election commissioner was brave enough to say that the vote was null and void and it was re-polled. One only hopes that a returning officer in the United Kingdom in future might be brave enough to make a similar judgment.
What was really interesting was the comment from a greatly respected Indian publication, the Hindu, which congratulated Sri Lanka on its free and fair elections and said that a decisive mandate had been given in Sri Lanka for President Rajapaksa, whose party got more than 60 per cent of the vote.
What has been happening over the past three or four months? First, there has been a total relaxation of the emergency regulations, which is an absolutely vital step forward. In particular, they have been relaxed for the media, which was a bone of contention, as well as for meetings of people, for the restriction on the rights of the security forces and on curfews. Not only has there been a statement to that effect, but the journalist called Tissainayagam has been released, and I am happy to say that he has been released totally unharmed. Secondly, there is a new commission on the lessons learnt in reconciliation, which is based very much on the South African framework. In the north, there are 45 humanitarian agencies working like absolute beavers, and there is an enormous amount of good work happening there, based around the Jaffna area. I put on record my compliments to my right honourable friend in another place, Dr Fox, who has had the initiative to establish a Sri Lanka development fund to focus on the Tamil-speaking areas.
De-mining is such an important part. Colleagues may recall that after the war there were nearly 300,000 refugees who had fled from the Tamil Tigers and who had to have somewhere to live and were in camps. Those figures are now down to 60,000, but they cannot reduce any further until the mines are removed from the area around Kilinochi, which is roughly in the north-central part of the island, across to the sea. I congratulate all those who are actively removing mines. Obviously, the burden falls largely on the Sri Lankan and Indian armies, but there is additional help from Holland and the UK, with the HALO Trust, and that work is moving forward. My only wish is to put a tiny bit of pressure on my noble friend on the Front Bench, given that we are sticking at 0.7 per cent, to find the odd extra £1 million to get some more machinery in there to get those mines removed so that those remaining 60,000 can return to their homes. Despite the banners outside on Parliament Square, they are not concentration camps; people can come and go as they wish. All the NGOs are working there; in particular, the Red Cross has helped enormously with its work on hospitals and on the medical side. Schools have been set up there. Nobody wishes more than the Sri Lankans for those 60,000 to return to their homes.
So what of the future? The last British Government had four major concerns about the country-on elections, media freedom, independent judiciary and the equality
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That leaves the equality of rights. There is more work to be done, but some encouragement is needed to go further. I put it to my friends in the coalition Government that the UK now has to think again about the punishment of suspending GSP Plus, which is an incentive to help Sri Lanka to trade with the EU. If that is to continue as a punishment, it will hit well over 1 million civilians-mainly women, and a substantial number of them Tamils. There are wider issues, and my noble friend on the Front Bench has rightly mentioned India, which wants a strong democratic Sri Lanka and must be worried by the increasing influence of China on the country, although that is mainly caused by the fact that over the past two or three years we have turned our back on it. Whatever we say or think about it, the war against the Tamil Tigers is over and the leaders are dead. They did kill two presidents, including President Gandhi, and they recruited child soldiers. When I read the International Crisis Group report, which calls for an extensive war crimes investigation, it seems illogical when, as it is said, quite rightly, the main perpetrators are the Tamil Tigers, and they are gone now, so it would be rather a one-sided investigation.
In my judgment the UK must be vigilant in helping Sri Lanka return to being a proper, normal, democratic country, which it basically is and wishes to continue to be. That means some vigilance over the diaspora here in the United Kingdom, particularly the new Global Tamil Forum and, underneath that, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. None of us can want a Northern Ireland or Cyprus in that part of the world. India does not want that and nor do any of the other south Asia countries. It cannot be in our interests, so we have to be very vigilant. Sri Lanka has a new foreign Minister, Professor Peiris, who many of us know. We should welcome him when he comes to London and look for a means of going forward to rebuild our relationships.
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