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Debate on the Queen Speech

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
22 June 2017

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whom I too welcome to his new portfolio, brings with him the beautiful and challenging proclamation of the Ahmadi community, from which he springs, that we should have,

“Love for all, hatred for none”.

It is a proclamation born in suffering. Ahmadis themselves have experienced hateful persecution: recall Mr Shah, the Ahmadi shopkeeper murdered in Glasgow; recall the Ahmadis and Christians fleeing appalling persecution in Pakistan, who make up more than half of the 7,500 refugees and asylum seekers in Bangkok. Many are incarcerated in detention centres, which I and my noble friend Lady Cox have visited, and where Mr Ijaz Paras Masih, a Pakistani Christian asylum seeker, was recently found dead.

To counter such religious hatred, perhaps the Minister could tell us what initiatives DfID is taking to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which insists that freedom of religion and belief should be a fundamental human right, how Article 18 relates to sustainable development goal 16, DfID’s UK aid strategy objectives and the allocation of resources, and whether the Government see Article 18 as a key to combating violent extremism and central to the creation of a tolerant, respectful and peaceful society.

But secular ideologies can promote hatred, too. Take the situation in North Korea, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I should mention that I am co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. The House will recall that, in March, the toxic nerve agent VX was used to assassinate the pro-China and pro-reform half-brother of Kim Jong-un in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Since then, and in the face of United Nations Security Council resolutions and international sanctions, North Korea has continued the relentless, provocative testing of nuclear weapons. Although Chinese oil and coal sanctions are welcome, the Minister might like to confirm that, nevertheless, trade rose in the first six months of this year. Meanwhile, South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, has assumed office; the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile system, THAAD, has partially been put in place; the American student, Otto Warmbier, was returned to the US in a coma and tragically died on Monday last, while other American citizens continue to be incarcerated and held hostage—obscenely, being used as bargaining chips. Closer to home, last weekend security officials suggested that North Korea was behind the cyberattack on the National Health Service computer system. Maybe the Minister will comment on that when he comes to reply.

In 2014, a United Nations report found that the gravity, scale and nature of the human rights violations in North Korea have, in its words, no parallel in any other country in the contemporary world and amount to crimes against humanity. Abuses included enslavement, extermination, murder, rape and other sexual crimes, deliberate starvation, and enforced disappearances,

“pursuant to policies … at the highest level of the state”.

Why, therefore, have they not been referred to the International Criminal Court or a regional tribunal? Why has nobody been held to account? How are we seeking to engage China in all this by meeting its own obligations to North Korean refugees?

China holds all the important cards. It has the experience and resources to bring about internal change to this rogue state, and its model of economic reform is the right one. It is in China’s economic and security interests to do this. North Korea is a millstone around China’s neck; by contrast, South Korea is a vibrant and dynamic partner. In the first four months of 2017, China’s bilateral trade with South Korea surpassed $85 billion, making this phenomenal Asian democracy China’s third-largest trading partner and its number one source of imports. By contrast, trade over the same period with the emasculated North Korea was a mere $1.6 billion. It is entirely in China’s self-interest urgently to help to bring about change. Only a fundamental change will pave the way for the ending of nuclear blackmail, the de-escalation of military provocations, the formal ending of the 1950-53 war and, ultimately, the reunification of the peninsula.

Our argument is not with the people of North Korea but with a cruel ideology. We should encourage South Korea to intensify ways of reaching out to North Korea’s people over the heads of their regime, whose mythology and propaganda must be debunked. Seoul should convene a high-level conference with Russia, China and the United States to demonstrate to the people of the north that the international community’s argument is also not with them but with their rulers. The United Kingdom can play its part in doing more to keep human rights at the forefront and by helping to break the information blockade. Perhaps when the Minister replies, he will tell us when the BBC World Service will begin its promised transmissions to the peninsula.

The failure to bring to justice those responsible for crimes in North Korea is also pertinent to the genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and about which I have secured an Oral Question in your Lordships’ House on Monday next. Genocide, as the United Nations itself has declared, is never a word to be used lightly, but it is what the House of Commons declared in April 2016 has been underway in Iraq and Syria. The scandalous failure to provide justice or even to establish mechanisms for trying those responsible for mass executions, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, torture, mutilation and the enlistment and forced recruitment of children shames us all.

Looking to the future, perhaps the Minister will tell us how he sees the future for Iraq’s minorities. Will they be able to resettle in Mosul and Nineveh? What help will they be given? Will they be provided with security and protection? Will those who have waged genocide against them be brought to justice? What is being done to prosecute those Iraqi officials who have called for Christians and other minorities to be executed?

The UN estimates that some 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 5 million have fled the country since the war began in 2011. Another 6.3 million people are internally displaced. Yet, in the face of all this, too often the United Nations has been missing in action. The international community failed to end the war, failed to protect civilians and failed to bring the perpetrators to justice. What does the agony of Aleppo say about the impotence of the UN and the international community?

Multiple dangers are facing humanity today: resurgent nationalism; Islamist terrorism; refugees and mass migration; globalisation; nuclear proliferation; digital technology and cyberwarfare; varying forms of totalitarianism; ideologies hostile to free societies; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the abject failure to resolve conflicts, whether in Sudan, Syria or Afghanistan; and the blights of famine, poverty and inequality. In facing all these challenges, I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will make better use of the expertise, good will and experience available in all parts of your Lordships’ House.

David Alton
(Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool),
Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords

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