Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Monday 7th October 2019

(4 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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First, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments and I very much share the sentiments she expressed. She raised the important issue of the return of Gabriella. I am sure that she will understand that I am not going to go into specific details, but I assure her that we are working directly with the family to ensure that Gabriella can come back to the UK at the earliest opportunity. We will continue to work directly in support of that. On her other questions, of course we are working with other countries. The recent release of the dual British-Australian national was very welcome and we will continue to ensure that we share information in this respect.

The noble Baroness rightly raised the issue of the JCPOA. We are also making it very clear to the Iranians that the British Government, along with our colleagues in Europe, are absolutely committed to keeping the JCPOA alive. I assure her that, in our bilateral exchanges with the Iranian Government, this point is reiterated time and again. The continuing taking of hostages, as we have seen, and the holding of detainees in Iran is not helpful to the situation; it works against Iran and against the Iranian people. I assure the noble Baroness that we will continue to ensure that in every case, not all of which receive the publicity that this case has, we will continue to work directly with the families to ensure that when we can agree consular access, we gain that, and, where we do not, we continue to raise the issues of those detainees directly, bilaterally and internationally.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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My Lords, did I understand the Minister to say that within this there is some sort of technical disagreement about the concept of dual nationals? In the UN system, the world’s system, the Vienna Convention or whatever, is it possible for a country to say, “We do not recognise the concept of a dual national”? Or is it the position that people recognise that there is such a concept but think it does not apply to them? In the case of Iran, does it not recognise that someone is Anglo-American, or something like that? At the bottom of all this, is there some disagreement about the fact that there is an obligation to accept that there is such a thing as a dual national in international conventions? I am not clear what the answer to that is.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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Perhaps I can help. It is very much down to the countries themselves. We in the United Kingdom recognise the basis of dual nationals and react accordingly. However, the Iranians do not recognise it. If someone is Iranian and British, as in the case of Nazanin, they do not recognise her British nationality; they regard her as Iranian and that is why they do not provide us consular access. There is a difference, quite clearly, in how we view dual nationals in this country and how Iran views dual nationals in Iran.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall
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And that is okay?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I am sorry—I did not quite catch that.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall
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Is it perfectly legitimate for a country to say that it does not recognise the same concept of a dual national that we and many other countries do? Is it perfectly legitimate to say that it does not recognise that?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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That is Iran’s position but not ours.

Saudi Arabia: Human Rights

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Wednesday 4th September 2019

(4 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, as my noble friend knows, the Government have condemned Jamal Khashoggi’s killing in the strongest possible terms and we have continued to raise our deepest concerns. As referred to by my noble friend Lady Anelay, at the most recent Human Rights Council, as Human Rights Minister, I asked for the issue to be put into the UPR—universal periodic review—of Saudi Arabia. It was clearly understood that the detention and, as in this case, the murder of journalists is taken very seriously by the United Kingdom Government. As I said earlier, we continue to make representations to attend trials as part of an international observer group. Trial observation demonstrates to host Governments not just our continued interest in but adherence to legal procedures. I assure my noble friend that the United Kingdom has been clear that we need accountability for the horrific murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and we expect Saudi Arabia to take action to ensure that such violations are never repeated.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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Does the Minister not agree that the separation hitherto of arms dealings and human rights is no longer sustainable in light of the example referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay? Should there not be further consideration of the way in which these two issues are handled in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I assure the noble Lord and all noble Lords that our arms export licences are reviewed continually. A specific case is currently on appeal. We respect judicial decisions in this regard. We will await the outcome of the trial, but existing arms controls are rigidly applied to every licence request that we receive.

Hong Kong: Pro-democracy Activists

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Wednesday 10th April 2019

(5 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with immense expertise and experience in this regard. I can assure him on all three of those statements in terms of the autonomy and independence of the judiciary. Since this agreement has been in place over the past 30 years, there has been only one occasion, in 2016, when we had formally to call out a lack of adherence to the principles of the treaty. He asked about the right of appeal. The people who have been convicted are currently out on bail. Sentencing is due on 24 April and they will have 28 days thereafter to lodge a formal appeal.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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My Lords, on the status of the original agreement, co-signed by our Government and the party which has contact with Peking, how is a dispute about the interpretation of that agreement settled? Do such agreements have some sort of implicit or explicit arbitration or other clause about how to enforce the agreement if there is a dispute about its enforceability?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord heard me say in response to the previous question that there has been only one occasion in the past 30 years when we have had to call in a contravention with regard to the treaty and its obligations. In terms of its implications and application in international law, as was raised by the noble Lord earlier, the joint declaration is lodged directly with the United Nations. Therefore, the obligations on both the British Government and the Chinese Government are clear.

Yemen

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Wednesday 19th December 2018

(5 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, in answer to the second question I can assure the noble Lord that we are working tirelessly on this, in particular Karen Pierce, our permanent representative to the UN. I pay tribute to her efforts; anyone who knows her will know that she is a formidable ambassador and an experienced diplomat. As I speak, she continues to work to ensure the kind of support that is required for such a resolution, and we are working with partners in this respect.

On the first question on Iran, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has engaged directly with Foreign Minister Zarif, and we continue to work with Iran on important issues. As I also said in the Statement, after the Foreign Secretary had visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia, he paid a visit to Iran.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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Will the Minister cast any further light on a point arising from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay? As the Minister said, in Stockholm it was clear that there were questions about the command structure, communications and the delivery mechanism between what was agreed at Stockholm and on whose authority, and what happens on the ground. To take this a step further from what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, in other examples like this—Bosnia springs to mind, but there are many others—I assume that there needs to be monitoring by UN personnel, but not wearing blue berets. The Minister mentioned the delicacy of the situation, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned China. To what extent is there an issue about making sure that the UN has some ability to be in the chain of command in the context of implementation, or is there a blockage in the area?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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If I understand the noble Lord correctly, I have already alluded to the fact that China is an important partner, not just on this issue but as a P5 member of the Security Council, and as I said, we are working tirelessly through our team in New York to ensure full support for the resolution. That is why I said that this will be tabled and voted on within the next 48 hours. As I said in the Statement, we have circulated the resolution, and China and other members of the Security Council have been cited. We look towards what I believe will be successful support by all members of the Security Council of a first step in resolving a conflict that we all recognise has gone on for far too long.

Palestinian Territories

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Thursday 7th June 2018

(5 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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My Lords, I am inclined to welcome the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, but my question is: how far would Mr Netanyahu’s Government support that initiative? The problem seems to me to be that there are two camps in Israeli politics and one is moving further away from a serious two-state solution. We hear from time to time, indeed increasingly, that that there is a God-given right—as with the whole territory of Gaza—for the settlements on the West Bank, which are growing apace, to be a permanent part of the state of Israel.

That sort of view is growing in Israel; I hope the noble Lord, Lord Polak, is right that an opposite or different view is also growing. I have to mention President Trump and, perhaps, Moscow here. We have to find out who can be party to this initiative. As has been mentioned, it obviously cannot be just Saudi Arabia. If we are not careful, with any such initiative, people will ask who is behind it—we all know the name of that game.

Let us consider the views of the man on the moon: the middle ground in Israel should reflect on whether he would say that Israel is being over-confident and paranoid at the same time. What would be the advice of the man on the moon? I have special contact with him, so I think the answer might be that this is an opportunity we must take to ensure there are some credible players who will go along with such pressure. I hope the Minister can respond to that, even though this may not be precisely what is in his brief at the moment.

I was very taken with the comment by my noble friend Lord Hain—who knows a thing or two about the Northern Ireland question—that some very interesting lessons can be learned, not least from the policy of “we never talk to the IRA” and other such analogies. Some big players, including the President of the United States, were heavily involved on the ground in the peace process there. Does the Minister think the European Union—which I believe in this sphere we should continue to be part of or, in the modern argot, closely aligned with—should take part in that strategic pressure?

Finally, on the point about Jerusalem, the UN co-ordinator says:

“Given its importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Jerusalem is a highly sensitive and charged issue for millions of believers around the world. Therefore, upholding the status quo at the holy sites remains critical for peace and stability.”


The Archbishop of Canterbury made the point, during an interesting debate recently about the position of Christianity in the Middle East, that we have to recognise there are three religions in Jerusalem—there have been for quite a few years now—and this should be a factor when we look at the future of Jerusalem. We have to have a balance of equals. At the moment, the question is: can we get the balance of forces from outside to recognise the need for that equality of recognition?

UK and the Western Balkans (IRC Report)

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Thursday 24th May 2018

(5 years, 12 months ago)

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Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con)
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My Lords, it is an honour to speak in a debate on this subject in which the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, will take part. I pay tribute to his work and legacy as high representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. His tenure represents the high-water mark of international engagement in the western Balkans and, indeed, elsewhere in the world. It is no exaggeration to say that had he not left in 2006 the situation in Bosnia would be vastly better than it is today, and I hope that the Government will heed his advice when he speaks today. I declare an interest as stated in the report, and I thank the International Relations Committee and its clerks, advisers and staff for their role in our inquiry. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for his invaluable insights during the proceedings and the work of the committee.

The subject we debate today is not only the future of the western Balkans, but the future of stability in Europe as a continent as a whole and ultimately our own security in the United Kingdom. Twenty-five years ago, the wars in the former Yugoslavia claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, created millions of refugees and came to an end only after a decisive investment of diplomacy, military intervention and humanitarian aid. I pay particular tribute to members of the British Armed Forces who gave their lives to bring peace to the Balkans. Our country can be proud of what it has contributed in stabilising that region.

As someone who has worked in foreign policy for many years, who was born in what used to be former Yugoslavia, who has friends in most countries in the region and who visits it frequently, I wish I could be more optimistic about its future. Our inquiry’s report is effectively a warning about the consequences of years of neglect and misguided thinking in EU policy towards the western Balkans, and dangerous trends in the region that could have a significant impact on the long-term interests and security of the UK and the transatlantic alliance. It is a call for urgent and sustained preventive diplomacy from our country and our allies. I believe the Government share many of the committee’s assessments, but I am not convinced that our commitment and engagement yet reflect the full gravity of the situation or that the EU as a whole has a united view, understanding and clear plan of action. I hope this will change and that our country will play a decisive role in that.

As things stand, since 2008 we, the EU and our allies the United States have progressively withdrawn our forces and our attention from the western Balkans, not because we have completed the task of stabilising the region—far from it—but because of the belief, justified in certain cases, that other issues demanded more attention from us: first Afghanistan, then Iraq, then the spread of international terrorism, and perhaps now Brexit. These competing priorities have driven the western Balkans down the agenda of the international community at a time when other negative trends and influences are on the rise in the region. The EU policy in particular has been grounded in hope, not reality, and in wishful thinking rather than coherent strategy.

I do not wish to overlook the progress that has been made in the region. Croatia is a member of the EU and NATO, Serbia is an EU accession country, Montenegro and Albania are NATO member states and Brussels is committed, at least on paper, to EU accession for other countries in the region. However, that is a narrative impeded by unresolved issues in a region that is being captured by nationalists in suits who have swapped the guns of the 1990s for the iPads of 2018 and public relations companies, in an environment where corruption is eating societies and democratic institutions from within. To be specific, the frozen conflict between Kosovo and Serbia has not been resolved and remains a political flashpoint. I hope the Minister will give a clear assurance today that Britain will not agree to the changing of Kosovo’s borders or indeed any revision of borders in the Balkans. The issue of Macedonia’s name has also yet to be resolved and, as a result, Macedonia’s future remains hostage to Greek and Macedonian nationalists. In Bosnia and Herzegovina secessionists remain committed to the dismembering of the country, which, I deeply regret to say, continues with tacit political support and sometimes even encouragement from some leaders in Belgrade and Zagreb—one reason, I regret, why Croatia was not a focus of our committee’s inquiry.

There has been little progress in changing Zagreb’s and Belgrade’s goals in Bosnia since the Milošević and Tuđman days. Even now, Croatian politicians and their proxies in Bosnia in particular use the EU to drive through their destructive policies, while Serbia uses proxies in Bosnia in support of Russia to do its own work.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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I thank the noble Baroness for allowing me a short intervention to ask her a short question about the federation. Is she saying that the people running Republika Srpska really are not playing ball with the federation and that the Bosniaks still have the fears that they did on that point?

Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic
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The evidence that we have seen over the last 15 years points to the fact that certain leaders of small entities in Republika Srpska are hell-bent on breaking the country and seceding. Certain changes in their internal laws and steps that have been taken over the last decade point in that direction.

I am not arguing that the UK is responsible for everything that happens in these countries—far from it—but it has a fundamental national interest in preventing, with our allies, any part of the western Balkans from becoming a source of future conflict or instability. In our report we also document that, where the EU and the US have stepped back, other actors have stepped in, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned: Turkey, China, the Gulf states and, above all, Russia.

In January this year, the Guardian reported, and it was confirmed, that:

“Russian-trained mercenaries are helping to establish a paramilitary unit serving the Serb separatist leader in Bosnia”.


This comes a year after Russian intelligence was implicated in an attempted coup in Montenegro, in which mercenaries planned to storm the parliament, assassinate the President and prevent the country joining NATO. Luckily, they failed, the plot was discovered and Montenegro became a NATO member in June 2017.

Russia is also one of the major drivers for the rise of the far-right in Serbia. A few weeks ago, Radio Free Europe reported that 30 Serbian minors were sent to an “international military patriotic camp”, where they were taught to,

“navigate their way through woodland, handle weapons and prepare for war”,

by instructors from a Russian ultranationalist group. We should be under no illusion but that Russia’s aim is to roll back what progress has been made in the Balkans and block any further EU or NATO engagement in or enlargement to the country.

In short, the western Balkans have become a playground for some of the least welcome influences, whether measured in terms of illegally imported weapons, the spread of fake news and disinformation, an injection of Chinese cash that feeds corruption, or the recent introduction of religious teachings that are entirely alien to the Balkan Muslim tradition—courtesy of Gulf money. These are the most corrosive possible influences for a fragile region and its young and untested democratic institutions, and only the European Union, NATO and our allies acting together can counteract that.

I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has been clear about the threat posed by these destabilising influences in Europe and the Balkans. I also welcome her visit to Macedonia—the first by a UK Prime Minister since 1999—the increase in UK ODA spend in the region and our commitment to the over-the-horizon reserve force.

I hope that, as we leave the EU, the UK ODA-eligible funds currently committed to the western Balkans through the EU will remain committed to the region. I should be grateful if my noble friend can give that assurance. I also hope that he will assure the House that our military commitment will be sustained to underpin the diplomatic and political investment made in the region as an important element of deterrence.

Of course, I greatly welcome the Government’s commitment to the July summit here in London and its stated goals, but I put it to my noble friend that we have not yet galvanised our EU partners to respond to the full scale of the challenges emanating from the region. Sadly, we will lose some of our ability to directly influence EU policies towards the western Balkans after our exit from the Union, so the summit is our big opportunity to inject the urgency and direction that has been lacking for many years. As our excellent diplomats at the FCO work on preparing the summit, I urge my noble friend to do everything he can to make this a course-changing moment. In particular, I call on the Government to use the UK’s soft-power tools to break the news disinformation that has been unleashed by Sputnik and Russia Today in the region. We need more, not less, BBC News in the western Balkans, amplified through the linear service.

I also welcome the work done by the UK on Bosnia’s map, and I encourage the Foreign Office to persevere. There are some among our NATO allies who are, sadly, more concerned about Russia’s reaction than the right of a sovereign country to apply for membership and the right of the alliance to objectively assess it. This is misguided. Russia has never been a Balkan power. While there are understandable Orthodox Christian links between Serbia and Russia, religion has been used as a convenient justification and excuse to undermine stability and what progress has been made there.

I conclude with a historical reflection. The western Balkans summit will take place on the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. In July 1995, Bosnian Serb army units attacked the eastern Bosnian town and murdered more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks—mainly boys and men. Twenty-three years later, as we prepare for the western Balkans summit, I ask my noble friend to urge all its participants to demonstrate that events like Srebrenica are truly behind us; that those on whose behalf those crimes were committed will disown them; and that those who have suffered will be able to forgive them. Above all, I hope that we will all resolve not to allow the repetition of any such crimes and violence in Bosnia, in the region or elsewhere.

Yemen: Humanitarian and Political Situation

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Monday 20th November 2017

(6 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness. We are all at one on the issue that needs to be resolved first, which is that of ensuring not just immediate but consistent access to those who need humanitarian and acute medical assistance on the ground. The Government’s Statement that I repeated earlier is clear. I assure noble Lords that we are working to ensure that the first priority is that humanitarian access. Of course, I listen carefully to the representations which are made in this House and I will certainly consider them further.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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My Lords, not many questions on this dreadful situation have a yes or no answer—but one question certainly does, and it has been alluded to by almost every speaker. I refer to arms sales. A month or so ago the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, answered a question from me on why we have a dog in this fight. She said that we do not and that we are even-handed—or words to that effect. If that is the case, can the Minister confirm or deny the reports, which are very persistent, that British arms are going to one side and not to the other? That is not even-handed. So my question is: is that true—yes or no?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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The noble Lord asked for a yes or no answer. If you are supporting Saudi Arabia as an ally of the United Kingdom, you are supporting an ally, and you do not resolve a conflict by providing arms to AN Other. We provide arms exports to Saudi Arabia, which we acknowledge. At all times we impress on it the need to respect international humanitarian law. However, I repeat what I said earlier. A judgment on 10 July dismissed a claim brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade concerning arms exports to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen. The judgment recognised Her Majesty’s Government’s rigorous and robust processes to ensure that UK defence exports are licensed consistent with the consolidated EU and national arms exports licensing criteria. We are very particular about ensuring that that basis is retained and we continue our review quite robustly in that regard. The noble Lord said that this was a complex situation, and I agree. However, as I said, if you supply arms to an ally, a resolution is not to be found by ensuring that you supply to the other side as well.

West Papua

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Wednesday 15th November 2017

(6 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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The noble Lord speaks with great experience of the region and the country. I can assure him that, as I alluded to in an earlier response on this Question, President Jokowi has granted many more open rights. He has granted an equalisation of rights of access for journalists reporting on West Papua. Of course, the situation continues to be monitored on the ground. To answer the noble Lord’s question directly, there certainly is reporting. That is why we raised in the UPR that the free access to which the President has certainly committed is not translating itself on the ground. I assure the noble Lord, and your Lordships’ House more generally, that we will continue to raise not just the freedom of journalists within the region but all issues of human rights in West Papua.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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My Lords, with Indonesia being the fourth-largest country in the world by population, and by far the largest in ASEAN, the trend towards a degree of autocracy in ASEAN is worrying. Have the Government had discussions with our friends in Australia about their experience of being a close neighbour? Have they suggested that we in Europe can be of more assistance in getting the balance right in Indonesia—as the Indonesians are our friends—between human rights and all the economic development, religious and other questions that face a very complicated country such as Indonesia?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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There are many parts of the world, including our own, where the challenges and complications of any population are a priority for any Government. Let us not forget that Indonesia is, first and foremost, a democracy and that the current President was elected on a mandate of pluralism. We welcomed his election and, from his statements and the actions he has taken, are encouraged by what has been done centrally. There are of course worrying issues of human rights; we can talk in terms of the journalist fraternity or about minority rights, including minority religious rights, in Indonesia. Those remain of deep concern to Her Majesty’s Government and we continue to raise them bilaterally and in international fora, as appropriate.