78 Afzal Khan debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Israel and Gaza

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(1 day, 7 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The number of trucks getting through is wholly inadequate. That is one reason why we have made 12 air drops—11 by the Royal Air Force—and it is why we now have the maritime corridor. Restrictions on what can be transported by truck into Gaza were a significant problem to begin with. That particular aspect has eased as both sides have understood each other’s position on what is being taken into Gaza, but I am afraid that the amount of humanitarian support getting in by truck is still woefully inadequate.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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New polling by YouGov shows that 73% of the British public support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and 55% support the UK suspending arms sales to Israel for the duration of the conflict. Does the Minister recognise that his Government are elected to represent the people of Britain, and will they finally represent the majority of the people in Britain by calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and suspending all arms sales to Israel?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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On arms sales, the hon. Gentleman knows that it is not for the whim of a politician at the Dispatch Box to decide for or against; there is a proper process to be followed based on legal advice, and he would not expect Ministers to deviate from that entirely proper way of judging these things. We all want a ceasefire, but we want a sustainable ceasefire. That is why the Government have consistently pressed, as endorsed by a United Nations resolution, for a pause in the fighting to get the hostages out and allow aid in. That would be the way to lead to a sustainable ceasefire, as a precursor to a longer-term deal. The British Government will continue, I hope with his support and that of others on the Labour Benches, to prosecute that endeavour.

War in Gaza

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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The UK Government have long warned Israel that an invasion of Rafah must not happen. Civilian lives must be protected and aid must enter Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown once again that he is not listening to his allies or the ICJ, and that he is hellbent on turning the whole of Gaza into a graveyard. Will the UK Government urgently impose a full arms embargo on Israel, which is the only thing the UK can do to try to stop the starvation and potential genocide of those left in Rafah?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The early part of the hon. Gentleman’s question set out what we are all trying to address. On an arms embargo, he will know that the amount of arms that Britain supplies is negligible. Equally, we operate an arms sales regime that is strictly governed by the rules that I have previously set out to the House. We act in line with the legal advice we receive, and we will continue to do so.

Sudan: Government Response

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Monday 22nd April 2024

(4 weeks, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. and learned Lady will know the steps that Britain took a year ago to help those who were seeking to leave, but since then the vast amount of migration has been across the border into Chad and South Sudan, and indeed into Ethiopia. Britain has contributed £15 million to help those whom I saw near Adré, on the border between Sudan and Chad, at the end of last month. In respect of South Sudan, where there is a significant and increased programme of humanitarian support, we have directly contributed nearly £8 million.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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I recently met the community president and secretary general of the Sudanese Community Association of Greater Manchester. We discussed the horrific civil war in Sudan and the desperate need to bring about a peaceful and sustainable end to the conflict. The war may be taking place in Sudan, but it has huge implications for Sudanese communities in Britain, like the one in Manchester. What support is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office providing Sudanese communities in Britain, who are trying to support their loved ones who are fleeing from violence to reach a place of safety?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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There is very little we can do until those people reach a place of safety. As I said, many have fled across the border into Chad and South Sudan. We are actively helping those people in the way that I described.

Humanitarian Situation in Gaza

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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My hon. Friend makes important points, which set out why we are waiting for the final report, as I have said repeatedly, before making a final decision. The underlying situation relating to UNRWA was very challenging, and we need to make sure that aid is used for the appropriate purposes.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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The Government rightly condemn Iran for risking destabilisation in the region, and for demonstrating that it is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard, yet we have had six months of Israel killing civilians, doctors and aid workers; destroying almost all civilian infrastructure in Gaza; cutting off water, fuel and electricity; and severely limiting the supply of aid. That is all in clear violation of international law, has destabilised the region, and has sown chaos in Israel’s own backyard, so will the Minister condemn the action of Israel, too?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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We recognise that Israel has the right to defend itself and, as I have said, we are calling for an immediate pause in order to get aid in and the hostages out. We also recognise the destabilising action of Iran and its acolytes, and we must ensure that we push back and seek to de-escalate the whole situation.

Israel and Gaza

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. The resolution sets out the urgent demand for the unconditional release of all hostages. We welcome the ongoing diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to that end—she will have seen the reports in the media. As I say, we have set out clearly in our explanation of vote our regret that the resolution did not once again condemn the terrorist attack, but she has heard us say repeatedly from the Dispatch Box that we do condemn it.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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Over the past week, we have seen Israel continue to commit atrocities across Gaza, with the Al-Shifa Hospital besieged for several days. Medical staff from inside the hospital reported gun battles, workers being beaten, patients dying on the floor, and even execution-style killings. That is yet another example of Israel’s merciless targeting of civilians. Will the Minister unequivocally condemn Israel for authorising and carrying out such heinous attacks, and make clear that hospitals and places of refuge must not be targeted?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The House will not recognise all of the things that the hon. Gentleman has just said. Let me make it absolutely clear once again: Israel does have the right of self-defence, but she must abide by international humanitarian law.

Israel and Gaza

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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Canada, Australia, Sweden and the European Union have now confirmed that they will restore the funding to UNWRA, refuting Israel’s position that 450 members of the agency’s staff had participated in the 7 October attack. With people dying from the imminent famine in Gaza and Palestinians being killed trying to get flour to feed their families, the international community holds a degree of responsibility for failing to stop this situation. In light of the catastrophic situation in Gaza, will the Minister commit to restarting and increasing this funding to UNRWA as a matter of urgency?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We have already increased funding significantly, including to UNRWA. The hon. Member will know that Britain is not at the moment in the position of having to make that decision, because we have fully funded what we said we would fund and are not due to provide any further money until the end of April. The answer to his question, I hope, will be contained in the report from the Office for Internal Oversight Services and from Catherine Colonna’s interim report, which we are expecting tomorrow. I know that, like me, he will read it with great care in the hope that it shows a suitable way ahead that we can all endorse.

Israel and Gaza

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Tuesday 27th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend is right: there is no acceptable reason. That is why the Government are pressing so hard to get additional humanitarian support into not only the southern part of Gaza, but the northern part.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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The Minister told the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara), that there needs to be some balance, yet the word “accountability” seemed to be missing from his statement. The UK Government recognise the jurisdiction and independence of the ICJ, which is of course investigating the alleged war crimes and genocidal actions of the Israeli Government in Gaza. As a champion of international law and human rights, will the Minister confirm that his Government recognise that Israel has an obligation to comply with the ICJ’s ruling of 26 January, and that the UK will support the Court’s decision to issue an opinion examining the legality of the occupation?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, we are very much in favour of accountability and transparency. That is at the heart of the reason why both our parties have been strong supporters of the International Criminal Court. He will be aware of the legal position on the ICJ’s rulings, which I set out a moment or two ago.

Ceasefire in Gaza

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Wednesday 21st February 2024

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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Well, we have seen the way public opinion is blowing, across the world and here in the UK, with millions taking to the streets, and polls showing 75%-plus support for an immediate ceasefire. The harsh reality is that the Government, having expended so much political and diplomatic capital on defending and justifying Israel’s prosecution of this war, now find themselves stuck on the wrong side of global opinion. [Interruption.] Consequently, the UK’s international reputation has been so diminished that when the process of finding a just, lasting peace in the region begins, the UK will struggle to play a meaningful part in it. [Interruption.] If the Government cannot see the long-term damage that they are doing, it is up to this House to tell them by demanding an immediate ceasefire.

An immediate ceasefire has already been endorsed by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Archbishop of York, Scotland’s Catholic bishops, the Catholic bishops’ conference of England and Wales, the Church of England’s House of Bishops, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Quakers, the leaders of the Methodists and the United Reformed Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the UN Secretary-General, the UN General Assembly President, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation, Save the Children, Amnesty, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, ActionAid, the International Rescue Committee, Action Against Hunger, the Co-operative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Medical Aid for Palestinians, the Council for Arab-British Understanding, the Balfour Project, Islamic Relief, Christian Aid, War on Want, the Carter Centre, War Child, Unite the union, Unison, the King Centre, World Vision, WaterAid, Tearfund, Street Child, Start Network, Peace Direct, Mercy Corps, CIVICUS, and scores and scores more churches, non-governmental organisations, charities and individuals who have seen Israel completely abandon international humanitarian law by imposing collective punishment on a defenceless civilian population. [Interruption.] In just 16 weeks, an estimated 18,000 Palestinian children have been left without a single living relative.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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The only way we can ensure a permanent end to the cycle of violence is by facilitating the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. The main blocker to that is Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has doubled down on his opposition to an independent Palestinian state. Does the hon. Member agree that the UK must show strong opposition to Netanyahu’s plans by unilaterally recognising the state of Palestine as a matter of urgency?

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
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I could not agree more with the hon. Member. The United Kingdom has shown a dereliction of duty towards the Palestinians. The SNP has been very supportive, and will continue to be supportive, of a Palestinian state.

All the organisations, individuals and churches that I listed will not ignore the evidence of their own eyes. Nor will they turn a deaf ear to the cries of suffering Palestinians. Neither should we. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once wrote that

“in silence we become accomplices, but…when we speak every word has the power to change the world.”

As I bring my remarks to a close, I want to share with the House the words of those being forced to live through this hell every single day. Thirty-year-old Islam Harb lost three of his four children, along with his mother, two of his sisters and both his brothers when a missile hit their home. Islam said:

“my family spent days trying to dig the remains of the dead out of the rubble. The body of my brother Khalil was found 200m away from the house due to the power of the strike, in pieces. My children’s small bodies were torn to pieces.”

His surviving sister, Ahlam, added:

“My brother Mohammed…was only recognized by his hair; nothing was left of my brother Khalil except his hand”.

Thirty-year-old Ahmad Nasman, a physiotherapist in Gaza, lost his wife and their three children, aged five, four, and just three months, along with both of his parents and his sister when a missile hit their home. He said it took him four days to retrieve the body of his baby daughter Ayla from the rubble; she was only recognised by the clothes she was wearing. The same blast decapitated his five-year-old daughter, Arwa. He said:

“When the war started, I had only one mission in my life, to protect my children. I wish I were with them when the house was hit…My body survived but my spirit died with my children, it was crushed under the rubble with them.”

That is why tonight really matters. That is why it will be times like these for which we are all remembered. We will be remembered for what we did, or for what we chose not to do. Decades hence, people will say to us, “You were there,” and they will ask us, “What did you do?” Some will have to say that they chose to engage in a debate on semantics over “sustainable” or “humanitarian” pauses, while others will say that they chose to give Netanyahu both the weapons and the political cover that he required to prosecute his relentless war. But some of us in this House will be able to say that when we saw 30,000 innocent people killed, when we saw almost 100,000 innocent people injured, when we saw tens of thousands of traumatised children with physical and mental damage that will last for the rest of their lives, when we saw 2 million people displaced from their homes, when we saw refugee camps bombed, when we saw hundreds of journalists killed, when we saw hospitals reduced to rubble, when we saw places of worship and the people sheltering in them attacked, and when we saw ambulances that had been sent to rescue children being hit by missiles, with those rescued children still inside—at that point, we will say that we chose to do everything that we possibly could to make it stop.

We will also say that we chose to listen. We listened to the International Court of Justice when it determined that there were plausible grounds that Israel is in the process of committing genocide. We listened to the anguished pleas of innocent Palestinians begging for our help to make it stop. We listened to the anger of millions of people from across these islands. And then we used our immensely privileged position as Members of this House to demand an immediate ceasefire.

By supporting the SNP’s motion calling for that immediate ceasefire, this House can put itself on the side of peace, it can put itself on the side of justice, it can put itself on the side of the people, and it can put itself on the right side of history. [Applause.]

--- Later in debate ---
Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
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I welcome the opportunity for parliamentarians to have their say on finding an end to this horrific conflict, which has cost so many thousands of innocent lives, both Israeli and Palestinian. I recall coming to this House in October, when the Prime Minister made his first statement. I said that we had seen Hamas commit horrific terrorist acts on 7 October, and those horrific terrorist acts took the lives of innocent people, which is unacceptable.

The backdrop to today’s debate is the terrible loss of innocent lives. The Library’s briefing outlines the number of innocent lives lost: 29,000 Palestinians, with 69,000-plus injured; 1,200 innocent Israelis, with 5,431 injured; and 88 journalists.

I wrote to the Prime Minister on 1 November calling for humanitarian pauses to get aid in and hostages out. All hostages have to be released. It is now February, and we have not been able to achieve the objectives of peace or the release of those hostages. Eight days of confidence-building measures, with the release of hostages, has not happened.

What is my position today? I will be voting for motions that call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, or that call for an immediate ceasefire, because the time has come. If not now, when? The United Kingdom is a member of the Security Council, and the Prime Minister said at Mansion House that the United Kingdom will lead and not be led. If that is the case, we need the United Kingdom to stand up.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan
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Prime Minister Netanyahu has confirmed that restrictions will be imposed against Palestinian Muslims wishing to visit the al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, during Ramadan. As per international law, Israel has no sovereignty over East Jerusalem or al-Aqsa, so does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a deliberate provocation of Palestinians? Will he join me in condemning that dangerous and discriminatory move?

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti
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As the former UK special envoy for international religious freedom, I say that all places of worship must be protected. What we saw about three and a half years ago, when the al-Aqsa mosque was stormed on the night of Laylat al-Qadr, was absolutely unacceptable. We are now coming into the period of not only Ramadan, but Easter and Passover, which is why I said earlier, “If not now, when?”. Of course, I accept that we need hard-edged diplomacy to deliver on a two-state solution, an immediate ceasefire, the release of hostages and immediate humanitarian assistance going into Gaza. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister about this, but the UK can have an international donors’ conference for Palestine—we did this for friends of Syria. We are looking at creative ways to move forward and save all innocent lives. Yes, the UK needs to put its position firmly out there on what we see as a two-state solution and a Palestinian state. That has to be in line with the 1967 borders and our position at the UN—resolution 242. We drafted that resolution and therefore we need to ensure that we deliver on it. Today is the time to ensure that we deliver a ceasefire, a lasting peace in the region.

International Human Rights Abuses: UK Response

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen
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I wholeheartedly agree. I just wish that we had a Foreign Secretary who could actually be questioned by Members of Parliament face to face, rather than what we have currently, particularly in the volatile situation that the world is in.

To follow on from my questions to the Minister, aid routes were being blocked, hospitals were running out of fuel to treat victims, including babies, and requests to open the Rafah crossing were denied—all actions that were in direct contravention of international law. I would be interested to hear what corrections the Government would make to their approach, because it is not too late to learn from their mistakes. I strongly urge the Department to do so. As we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, we deserve answers to these serious questions.

What does the Minister have to say about the horrific ITV News footage that shows a man who was waving a white flag in a supposed safe zone being shot and killed? Will Ministers be taking this up with their Israeli counterparts? When?

The human rights of Palestinians have been systematically violated for decades, from the creeping annexations on the west bank, and settler violence, to the 15-year-long blockade, which shows no signs of weakening, but 2023 saw a deadly escalation in violence and a deterioration in the standard of human rights in the region. The latest figures from Amnesty International tell us that some 24,000 Palestinians have now been killed in Gaza. Given that half of Gaza’s population are children, we can therefore estimate that well over 10,000 children have been victims of this conflict. This is a gravely conservative estimate.

Much debate has taken place about whether the Israeli Defence Forces’ actions have amounted to war crimes. I have made my views clear. We have seen collective punishment and arbitrary arrests. Amnesty reports evidence of illegal airstrikes against churches and refugee camps. UN human rights experts warned in November of signs of genocide. As we speak, South Africa is mounting a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice, which must be heard without prejudice and taken extremely seriously.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech in this very important debate. I find it shocking that when we look at all the facts of what has happened on the ground in Gaza, it seems that almost every rule of international relations and humanitarianism has been broken. A genocide case is being heard at the ICJ, yet our Government cannot even call for a ceasefire. Is that acceptable?

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen
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My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. I asked the Minister whether he had regrets about his Department’s approach in the earlier stages of the most recent conflict. How long will it take for contrition to set in over the Government’s stubborn refusal to call for a ceasefire on all sides? How long can this Government ignore all the warning signs of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians? When will the self-reflection begin regarding our continued supply of arms to Israel? There is far more within our power to influence Netanyahu’s Government than Ministers are currently doing. We must also do what we can to encourage the release of hostages on both sides of this conflict and to lessen the number of Palestinian and Israeli civilian casualties.

Our approach to Israel must be in line with how we treat other countries. If a Government say that they are committed to human rights, they cannot pick and choose which humans’ rights we stand up for and which ones we do not. We should not overlook breaches of international law by holding some countries to a lower standard. We have imposed sanctions on Russia and China to address their abuses of human rights, and our Government have also rightly sanctioned suppliers of arms to the Myanmar military; I would appreciate it if the Minister could divulge whether consideration has been given to similar action for the Israeli Government. Consistency should be key in our foreign policy, but consistency is what we are lacking.

I will move on to some other areas that I am sure colleagues agree deserve scrutiny. The people of Jammu and Kashmir continue their painful struggle for statehood. This is another area of international human rights that is close to the hearts of constituents in Luton North.

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What happens in Kashmir is felt on the streets of Slough, on the streets of Luton and in all our constituencies.

Since having their independent status revoked by India in 2019, the population of Jammu and Kashmir have experienced an intensive crackdown on their rights. I have heard countless shocking first-hand testimonies of arrests, of abuses and of violence against women and girls. Kashmiris deserve the freedom, safety and self-determination that was promised to them over 75 years ago, as set out in UN resolution 47. Instead, they have been deprived of their rights of expression, their internet access is tightly controlled, they are arbitrarily detained, the Indian police force kills without accountability, and Amnesty reports that it looks likely that there will be demolitions of homes in Jammu and Kashmir. The people of Jammu and Kashmir live in one of the most heavily militarised areas on the planet. Will the Minister please tell us what dialogue, if any, is happening with the Indian authorities to address the abuses of Kashmiris? Why have this Government decided to include Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir on their safe list?

Last year’s Supreme Court decision, which recommended the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, was welcomed by charities and NGOs in the human rights space, and rightly so. I am sure the Minister agrees that such an initiative could be powerful in bringing peace as well as oversight to the region. Will he commit to promoting it to Ministers’ Indian counterparts?

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan
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My hon. Friend mentioned the horrific human rights abuses that have taken place in Palestine; she talked about Kashmir as well. There is also the brutal genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar and the abuses against the Uyghurs by the Chinese Government. The one thing that all those examples have in common is that the abuses have largely been committed against Muslims for their Muslimness. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is the worst manifestation of Islamophobia and a prime example of what happens when Governments are not held to account for their demonisation of Muslims?

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen
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I thank my hon. Friend not just for his intervention, but for the work he does in this space to champion and fight for recognition of a definition of Islamophobia in this country. This is not just about holding our country and our Government to a standard, but about fighting against and tackling state-sanctioned Islamophobia across the world.

Last week, along with many colleagues, I attended an event held by Open Doors UK to highlight areas around the world where Christians are persecuted for their faith. One of the top 10 countries was Nigeria. Last year, the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief published a report warning that treatment of Christians was near-genocidal. Sadly, other minority groups are also at risk of torture and death. One of my own constituents was forced to flee Nigeria after months of being on the run because of his sexuality. After he managed to escape, the Nigerian authorities killed his brother for assisting him, and then they killed another family member when they would not reveal where he was. One would have hoped that his arrival to the UK would bring an end this trauma, but sadly, following his substantive interview, he had to wait more than a year for his asylum claim to be granted.

Another country on the Open Doors watchlist for the persecution of Christians was China. I welcome our country’s leading voice in condemning the horrors that the Chinese Government have imposed on the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. We have been persistent in our opposition to the slave labour of the Uyghurs, alongside other atrocities amounting to ethnic cleansing. It was unfortunate that the UK’s resolution at the Human Rights Council narrowly failed, but I ask the Minister and his Department to continue their efforts to pursue independent mechanisms to investigate human rights crimes through the HRC.

Jimmy Lai, a British citizen currently on trial under Beijing’s national security law, could face life imprisonment for distributing a pro-democracy newspaper. Hong Kong Watch advises that his trial is partly based on the testimony of a witness who underwent torture while imprisoned in mainland China. I join Hong Kong Watch in calling on the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to raise Mr Lai’s case and call for his immediate release.

Hongkongers are not safe from the oppressive regime of the Chinese Communist party either at home or abroad. We have Hongkongers seeking safety in the UK, with bounties on their head, who Ministers were reluctant to even meet. Here in the UK, we know of interference in our universities, violence outside embassies and intimidation of Hongkongers who speak out against Chinese state policies. I know that the Minister will share my view that any infiltration from Chinese state agents in our public institutions and political establishment must be dealt with robustly, but we have a responsibility to protect the safety and rights of private Hongkongers who have made our country their home.

We also have a duty to ensure that proposed changes to our domestic law do not negatively impact our levers of influence. I am deeply concerned that the Government are failing to hear the Uyghur groups’ warnings that the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill will limit their own campaigns for justice.

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Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Maria. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) on her absolutely superb speech, which was so broad ranging. It really was fantastic.

I want to focus on human rights abuses in Palestine and Kashmir. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group, and vice-chair of the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group. My focus in both groups has been on human rights and our common dignity and humanity. We are all born free and equal in dignity and rights.

I visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories back in 2014, when I was a relatively new MP. Quite frankly, I was absolutely horrified by what I saw and heard: healthcare being withheld from Palestinians, the destruction of Palestinian homes and schools on the west bank, the physical exclusion of Palestinians from their own farmland and the arbitrary application of law. By that, I mean that children who were picked up for throwing stones at cars and soldiers had the full force of an adult criminal justice system thrown at them, and were often detained without trial. It really was quite horrendous and draconian. All those actions are clear contraventions of rights associated with articles of the universal declaration of human rights.

I have campaigned for a two-state solution ever since, including by supporting the work of the Saddleworth Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund, which has funded Palestinian women in Gaza and the west bank through education. We had a presentation from somebody from the fund who visited Gaza in the summer to see how the women we had been supporting were doing. Back in November, she reported that, unfortunately, a number of the students we had supported had been killed in attacks. I cannot describe the sense of loss.

Since the heinous attacks of 7 October and the abduction of the hostages, there have been attacks on Gazan civilians by Israeli forces, with over 25,000 deaths, three quarters of which were women and children, over 60,000 injured, and many thousands missing. That seems to me to be disproportionate and collective punishment of innocent people. Human rights and the rule of law must apply to all, and at all times, not just when it is convenient, whether for the UK or its allies. Those deaths must be investigated by the International Criminal Court. Similarly, I await the judgment from the International Court of Justice on the potential genocide of Palestinian people.

The international community must do better, and we must do better. I have been working with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on both Kashmir and, more recently, Gaza. I am also involved with the Global Compassion Coalition, trying to spread the message of the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace. We all collectively want to see actions to support a ceasefire. Once again, I call for an immediate ceasefire, the safe return of each and every hostage, the delivery of unrestricted humanitarian aid, and the end of the total siege on the Gaza strip. As I mentioned to the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister yesterday, the partner of one of my constituents is still awaiting evacuation from southern Gaza. If the Minister has any news, I would be very grateful. I mentioned yesterday that he was attacked over the weekend, suffered a broken leg and has not received any healthcare.

I turn to Kashmir. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has done some excellent work. Many Members here will be familiar with the reports it produced in 2018 and 2019 on human rights abuses in both Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The UN reports raised concerns about women’s rights in particular, and reported the use of gender-based violence in Jammu and Kashmir in Indian-administered Kashmir. There are also considerable concerns about the detention without trial of Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist—we still have not had any news about his release—and the unsafe conviction of Yasin Malik. Those are just two examples about which a range of human rights agencies—Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and, as I mentioned, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—have raised concerns. They have advocated for the repeal of the public safety act and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which contravene international humanitarian law. As the UN has stated:

“There are deep inter-connections between ending such blatant violations of those rights, providing freedom from fear, and the right to security, dignity, equality and justice.”

I want to talk about the case of Yasin Malik in more detail. The Supreme Court of India is awaiting a decision on whether his life sentence will be changed to a death penalty. That is imminent. It seems absolutely at odds with the fact that India is a signatory to the UN convention. I would very much appreciate a response from the Minister on that point.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan
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I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent work on the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group, of which I am a vice-chair. She makes a powerful point about Mohammad Yasin Malik, who has the threat of a death sentence hanging over him. However, there are many other political people in prison in Kashmir. Political life has been stifled in Kashmir. As we approach 5 February, which is Kashmir Solidarity Day, it is important to make progress on this. Our Government have many reasons for being more engaged, and not complacent about getting the issue resolved. Remember that three nuclear powers are involved in this dispute, and the risk they pose to world peace is incredible.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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I totally agree. As we have seen, we were asleep at the wheel on Israel and Gaza. A few years ago when we visited Pakistan, we were warned by the high commissioner that Kashmir, at a geopolitical level, is the most significant concern for stability and safety. We cannot go on ignoring Kashmir; as my hon. Friend mentioned earlier, we must get resolution, together with the Kashmiri people, who are right at the heart of this.

I will not try your patience any more, Dame Maria. Human rights apply to every single one of us, wherever we are and at all times. We cannot dip in and out of them when it suits our purpose.

Israel and Palestine

Afzal Khan Excerpts
Monday 8th January 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I can tell my right hon. Friend that his first point, about the importance of these matters, is well understood by the Government. On his second point, that is not the policy of the Government. He will be aware that we are opposed to boycotts, divestments and sanctions—that is the position of the Government.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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Senior representatives of Israel continue to use language endorsing genocide against Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the IDF would turn Gaza into rubble, and a senior leader in the Israeli army has said that, in Gaza:

“There will be no electricity and no water…there will only be destruction”

On LBC radio last week, the Israeli ambassador advocated the full destruction of Gaza and said that there was “no alternative”. Last week, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary to ask him to condemn her genocidal words, but he refused. Will the Minister now condemn her remarks and commit to taking the strongest possible action against her?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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No, but I can tell the hon. Member that, in respect of the humanitarian difficulties that he has identified, we are doing everything we can to try to secure unhindered humanitarian access, and we will continue to do so.