Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill [HL]

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, as we have heard, having ratified the UN convention against genocide, the UK has a treaty obligation to prevent genocide wherever and whenever it is threatened. However, too often this does not happen. It is worth while examining the reasons why and seeking answers.

As it stands, this admirable Bill has only a faint chance of being adopted by the Government. Here, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for her unceasing efforts to uphold human rights. The Bill asks for considerable resources, and touches on economic and diplomatic interests of states parties to the convention. It puts forward some clear and doable mechanisms to detect, acknowledge and act upon the early indicators of genocide which are, by now, well researched; it is cost effective, certainly in terms of saving human lives.

It is, to say the least, disingenuous to believe that Governments are unaware of the potential for genocide or the early warning signs. Going back to the Rwanda massacres in April 1994 and Srebrenica in July 1995, there were clear indications. For example, in the case of Rwanda, the widely popular Mille Collines radio station virtually spelt out its genocidal plans in lightly coded messages, including references to the Hutus as “cockroaches”. Furthermore, genocidal tribal attacks had occurred with depressing regularity in that region of Africa. In Srebrenica, the rounding up of 750,000 Muslim men and boys and the sudden departure of the UN forces made massacres inevitable, but events leading up to this terrible development were obvious.

The UK, like many other countries, has been deeply reluctant to act. It is said that the US officials in Rwanda were ordered not to use the term “genocide”, precisely because to do so immediately implied the obligation to act. The UK Government have consistently referred any threat of genocide to the courts to determine the application of the genocide convention. More than anything else, Governments are fearful of stepping out alone, or being seen as stepping out alone, in the absence of strong support from allies and member states.

Perhaps the way forward might include the setting up of, or greater co-ordination between, existing early warning mechanisms and units across Europe and North America. The specific task of these networked systems would be to both monitor signs and issue timely alerts to all participating member states, with a view to concerted action. Difficult as it might be to get countries to agree on such vital actions, a scheme such as this might reduce the paralysing reluctance to declare the risk of genocide and to act according to the obligations of the treaty.

The mechanisms and the tasks of a proposed genocide monitoring team set out in the Bill provide an excellent blueprint for other similar units. The UK human rights community, which has steadfastly pursued the prevention of genocide around the world, is well placed to encourage such an international network and achieve its ultimate aim.

India: Democratic Freedoms

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 14th March 2024

(1 month ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reported threats to democratic freedoms in India.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom Government are absolutely committed to standing up for democracy and defending human rights around the world. We have a broad and deep partnership with the Government of India. We discuss all elements of our relationship, including concerns where we have them. I visited India in February and had constructive discussions with government representatives on a wide range of issues.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. The BJP policy of Hindu nationalism is increasingly invading press freedom, political opposition and the civil society space. For example, the use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, sedition law, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, all hint at an electoral autocracy in the world’s largest nominal democracy. There appears to be a departure from India’s secular constitution and its underlying democratic principles. Does the Minister not believe these to be dangerous precedents?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, one area I am very focused on is the importance of the constitutional protections that we have, as well as those that we see abroad. India is a country that provides constitutional protections to communities. I understand the concerns the noble Baroness alludes to. I assure her in every respect that, on every one of the legislative instruments she has mentioned, we have made our views known to India and we will continue to do so. India is a country which is multi-party and elections are coming forward. It is for the people of India to decide on their Government, but it is a country which celebrates a wide diversity of religions as well.

Gender Equality

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right and there are some stark statistics here. But the advantage from the global perspective is that every £1 spent on contraceptive services beyond the current level would save £3 on the cost of maternal, newborn and abortion care by reducing unintended pregnancies. Over 800 women or girls die every day due to pregnancy or childbirth complications and at least 200 million women and girls alive today, living in 31 countries, have undergone female genital mutilation. These are stark statistics and underpin the determination to address this area in our bilateral aid.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, the reality is that in many areas, the Taliban’s policies are deeply antithetical to women. However, there are also persistent efforts on the part of Afghans themselves, with support from external NGOs, to evade some of the most extreme policies. I know that the Minister is sympathetic to the plight of Afghan women and girls, but can he confirm both political and financial support for the cluster education schemes that are now spreading rapidly in Afghanistan?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises an area of human courage that is almost impossible to imagine—people are defying the repulsive acts of this regime by providing education in sometimes very dangerous situations. We will look at anything that helps those groups of people. Of course, she understands the difficulties we face: we cannot take action other than multilaterally and through UN resolutions, but if we can find a way of supporting those groups, we certainly will.

Taiwan: Elections

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 18th January 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the implications of the outcome of both the presidential and legislative elections recently held in Taiwan.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the elections on 13 January are a testament to Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary issued a statement following the result congratulating Dr Lai on his victory and calling for both sides of the Taiwan Strait to renew efforts to resolve differences peacefully through constructive dialogue, without the threat to use force or coercion. The UK, of course, has a clear interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his response. The PRC warned Taiwan that voting the wrong way might lead to war, and threatened force. Nevertheless, reunification remains central to President Xi’s China dream. It is reported that President Biden is about to send a high-level delegation in support of Dr Lai’s victory in Taiwan, and the success of this election will allow Taiwan to continue its commitment to human rights and democratic values. But what further support will the UK Government provide for Taiwan’s global integration, including membership of international organisations, as well as protecting safe passage of commercial shipping through the strait, and the semiconductor industry?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly raises important issues of trade. The United Kingdom has a thriving trade relationship with Taiwan, worth about £8 billion, and I assure her that we are focused on key sectors such as trade, education and culture. I have already addressed the issue of stability and security, and it will continue to be stressed in our representations to China directly. Peace in the strait is important in the global world as it stands today.

Taliban Relations and Afghan Refugees

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza
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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs whether he has plans to develop formal relations with the Taliban, and whether he has made representations to the Government of Pakistan about the deportation of Afghan refugees.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton) (Con)
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As the noble Baroness knows, the situation with respect to Afghanistan is very difficult. My officials engage with the regime on priorities, including humanitarian access, without conferring any legitimacy on the Taliban. We are reviewing the recommendations of the UN special co-ordinator’s report to support the Afghan people and improve international relations. Specifically on the question of Pakistan’s deportation of Afghan refugees, we do not support these actions. I met with the Pakistan Foreign Minister on Friday, in Dubai, and raised this question with him. Pakistan has a history of welcoming vulnerable refugees, and we will continue to urge its Government to respect the human rights of all Afghans.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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I thank the Foreign Secretary for his Answer. The lack of recognition of the Taliban authority has inadvertently provided the Taliban and Pakistan with unrestricted freedom and influence over policies in Afghanistan. The current concern, as the noble Lord pointed out, is the enforced resettlement of thousands of refugees from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The Taliban policy of relocating Shia minorities in Sunni areas has dangerous implications. What measures, including further negotiations with the Pakistan Government, can the UK Government take to avert potential religious and other conflicts in the region?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her Question and her deep interest in this subject. I think the reason the Pakistan Government are doing this is that they are concerned about the activities of the Pakistan Taliban within Afghanistan, and this is their way of trying to get the Taliban Government to address that. One of the points I made to them is that that might well be counter- productive and we think this is the wrong move. We will continue to raise this with the Pakistan authorities at every level and on every occasion. Obviously, we have a specific British interest to make sure that any Afghans who worked for our authorities in Afghanistan, and who have a right to come and settle here under either of the two schemes we have, are not inadvertently pushed back into Afghanistan. That is our number one concern.

On the issue of the regime and recognition, I am sure there will be other questions about this, but, fundamentally, as the House knows, the Foreign Office always says that we recognise states and not Governments, which I know is right. However, on this occasion, when you look at this regime and what it is responsible for, you see that it bans women from working for the United Nations; it is the only country in the world to ban girls from secondary school; it restricts women’s access to parks, playgrounds and other public spaces; and it has a complete ban on women attending university. We are some way off moving to recognise this regime. We need to keep the pressure on for it to change its approach.

International Development White Paper

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 23rd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome very much the repeat of the Statement by the Minister. I return once again to the issue of educating girls in Afghanistan. Circumstances in Afghanistan at the moment require that we seek out unconventional methods of delivering education, and indeed unconventional partners. I wonder whether the Government would be able to commit to funding secret educational cluster classes, which are growing by the day in Afghanistan. At the moment, these exist as the only possible means in most parts of the country for girls above the age of 11 to receive an education which will enable them to go on to tertiary education in Afghanistan at a future date, we hope, or abroad.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise the noble Baroness’s work in this area and I agree with her. The noble Baroness will know directly about my commitment, as the Minister responsible for the very objectives she has outlined. Notwithstanding the takeover by the Taliban, and even in advance of that when we had the Covid pandemic, the United Kingdom sustained important funding to teachers in Afghanistan, particularly those focused on girls’ education. We have also continued to work, albeit at times discreetly, to protect those agencies delivering girls’ education in certain regions of Afghanistan, through both funding and technical support. I agree with the noble Baroness about innovative ways of delivery. Ultimately, whether it is Afghanistan, the United Kingdom or any other country around the world, a country will succeed only when it harnesses the true potential of every one of its citizens. Ignoring 50% of the population is no way to achieve progress.

Afghanistan: Aid for Women

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Monday 11th September 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her kind remarks. As I say, it is about doing your job, but I pay tribute to her and to all other noble Lords who have worked collectively on this important agenda. There is no easy solution, but I assure my noble friend that we are working directly with leaders from various representative groups of women in Afghanistan and more broadly too. We continue to engage with key personnel on the ground in Afghanistan who were previously involved within administration while it was still functioning, but equally we are working with key international partners, notably Indonesia and Qatar among others, to ensure that the issue of Afghanistan is kept on the front burner and that inclusivity—the restoration of women’s rights and all rights, including minority rights—is not forgotten.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the growth of cluster education, or cluster classes, whereby groups of secondary school girls gather in neighbourhood houses and qualified teachers visit them. The scheme with which I am involved is now educating upwards of 1,000 girls in three provinces in Afghanistan. In a very few cases, local Taliban commanders have asked whether their daughters can join those classes. Is this something that the UK Government would support, since it is often difficult for those international aid agencies operating in Afghanistan to do it as it runs right across the policy of the Taliban? Maybe the UK has got a channel for funding this kind of education.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, recognising the important work that the noble Baroness has done, of course we fully support such initiatives. As she will know all too well, we protect the agencies that we work with on the ground to allow them to continue their important work, particularly when it comes to girls’ education. In our general assessment, there are now six to eight regions within Afghanistan where, because of the fragmented structure of the Taliban, there are initiatives which allow health access but also allow women in certain respects to go to work and allow girls to be educated.

Soft Power

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 9th February 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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And I say to my noble friend that I hear him, and I hear him again. I assure him that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is seized of the very points he has just made.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, yesterday some of us from this House attended a meeting on the BBC World Service in Iran. That programme is now severely threatened due to various expenditure cuts and the flat licence fee, yet the BBC World Service is the only voice of democracy and values that Iranians have access to at the moment. Can the Minister guarantee that this programme has special consideration by the FCDO to preserve it and allow it to have sufficient funding?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work in this area. I assure her that we are very much—again—seized of the evolving and changing situation in Iran. We have seen the most appalling and abhorrent suppression of human rights by Iran on its own communities, particularly women and girls. As I understand it, under the current BBC proposals no services will be closed. The issue is one of broadcast services and radio. According to the figures I have, about 1% of the BBC’s total weekly audience of 13.8 million in Iran get BBC news solely by radio. The other 99% use BBC Persian on TV and online. However, I hear what the noble Baroness says. Although the BBC has an independent mandate to work in this respect, the importance of BBC Persian services in Iran is very much a key priority for us as well.

Afghanistan: Girls and Women

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Monday 23rd January 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Johnson of Marylebone Portrait Lord Johnson of Marylebone (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend the Minister mentioned that the Taliban might be open to workarounds—

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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I thank the noble Lord. First, is the Taliban group that undertook negotiations in Doha still intact, does it still have any power, and are the Government in touch with it? Secondly, would the Minister say whether the FCDO is prepared to increase the number and amount of cash transfers to those most in need, given through the various NGOs, local and otherwise?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, I also reflect on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. We must ensure that any money or support we provide, particularly when it comes to cash transfers, gets through to the people who need it. The systems and structures in Afghanistan at the moment are extremely fragile. We must look at innovative ways to ensure that we can get over some of these barriers. Technology provides an example, and perhaps that pre-empts the question of my noble friend Lord Johnson, who was going to come in. We need to look at innovative way of delivering both cash transfers and education as well. I think that may well be the way forward.

BBC World Service

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 1st December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to congratulate the noble Lord on a heartfelt, informative and inspiring maiden speech. I am honoured to be able to say a few words, but I have to confess there is precious little information publicly available on our new colleague. We know his full name is John Humphrey Arnott Pakington, 7th Baron Hampton, that he is a photographer and that he was born under the sign of Capricorn. Beyond that, we know almost nothing. I was fortunate enough to have a brief meeting with him yesterday. His conversion from photography to teaching followed a visit to Venice with his wife, during which he saw the light. Seriously, his story is a wonderful one. He clearly loves his job as a teacher in design and technology and as head of department at an academy in east London. Even a short conversation with him revealed his real commitment to young people, and to the role of education and the creative sector in empowering them and driving our economy forward. We are truly fortunate to have him as a colleague on our Benches. I hope he will forgive me for concluding with a word of advice. If at any time he finds himself assailed with shouts of “Order! Order!”, all he has to do is just sit down. In fact, in this House, when in doubt it is always best to sit down.

I begin by stating the obvious again about the vital role that access to information plays. In its absence, Governments cannot be held to account and citizens are demeaned with false information. This in turn can promote hatred, damage people’s health and undermine democracy. Bad information thrives in an information vacuum. The opposite can also be demonstrated. Countries with an independent media thrive better and prove to be more resilient in the face of attacks on democracy and civil liberties. We live in a world where disinformation is flourishing through social media channels.

I would like to give one or two examples of this dilatory impact. The NGO Full Fact is a growing organisation that focuses on tracking down the origins and impact of false information. Recent studies have included the worldwide circulation of untruths about Covid-19. Working with sister organisations in Europe, Full Fact established that the false belief that Muslim communities were somehow receiving preferential treatment was common to all certain European countries. In Spain, there were widespread claims that users’ WhatsApp activity would be monitored or censored. In the UK, people attempted to burn 5G towers in the mistaken belief that the network was somehow involved in the spread of depleted immunity to Covid. On a more political level, we know that whole nations can be persuaded to adopt dangerous attitudes towards minorities and enemy nations, entirely without foundation. Currently, this is seen in Russia, and the exponential rise in Russian subscribers to BBC World Service is testament to the yearning for clear, fact-based, impartial journalism in the face of systemic propaganda. During the first five days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were 77 million unique visitors to the BBC English online and almost 200 million views of the live page on Ukraine. Russian visitors to BBC.com increased by 252% in early March. The BBC World Service output was and is perhaps the most effective bulwark against the Kremlin’s disinformation, and may yet prove to be a factor in bringing the war to an end.

This is really at the heart of our debate today. The UK boasts a service of incomparable journalistic standards and reach. It is the jewel in the crown of overseas influence, knowledge and trust. As we know, the UK has suffered a crisis of political trust in recent times, which thankfully did not extend to BBC World Service. It is sobering to note that the BBC has a global weekly outreach of 492 million individuals. If ever a nation sought to increase its soft power role, it could do worse than attempt to create a broadcast service along the lines of the BBC, and yet in the past few years the Government have gradually limited the resources needed to maintain this service in its broadest spread and highest standards. The reliance on the licence fee, frozen until 2024 and in the midst of rising costs, created a serious emergency. The recent agreement of additional funds to meet the demands of the Ukrainian war, although hugely welcome, does not begin to restore services in some local languages, such as Chinese, Hindi, Farsi and Arabic.

It has taken many decades for the BBC to build the trust of its listenership, yet one or two relatively minor government actions can undermine that trust in minutes. Given the extraordinary influence of the BBC, this should be at the front of the Government’s mind when undertaking the difficult task of balancing a budget in times of deep scarcity. A final point has been made by William Moy, the chief executive of Full Fact, that the data show that where information sources are growing, there is different content for different consumers. Where information sources are shrinking, the opposite is true, resulting in the fragmentation of societies in terms of the information received. Since democracy relies to a very large extent on a shared reality, the Government, in their deliberations on further cuts, should note this trend.