Speaking up during the Queen’s speech debate on Britain in the World, Nia Griffith MP said,
“As time is so limited, I will just briefly acknowledge the importance of our overseas development work and the need for the UK to take a positive lead in this year’s conferences on climate change and on sustainable development. I will focus instead on arms exports controls, the prevention of the use of sexual violence in conflict, and human rights and religious freedoms.
Whereas under Labour it was Government policy that an
“export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed by…concern that the goods might be used for internal repression”
last year the Committees on Arms Export Controls concluded that the Government were taking a more “relaxed” approach to issuing arms export licences. That is very worrying. Indeed, the Committees identified 12 countries on the FCO’s list of 28 countries of top human rights concern where specific exports were feared to be in breach of one or more of the Government’s arms export criteria. Those 12 countries were: Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Uzbekistan and Yemen. I urge the Government to examine carefully the issue of arms export licences; we should not allow a lax and careless attitude to arms export control.
Furthermore, we need much more transparency about not just which country arms are going to, but who the end-user is—Government, non-governmental organisation, civilian and so on. We also need to trace a lot of arms that are being exported through foreign subsidiaries hidden abroad.
The preventing sexual violence initiative was a priority during the UK’s presidency of the G8 in 2013, but it remains a major task to root out the use of rape as a weapon of war. Even if Governments sign the declaration of commitment to ending sexual violence in conflict, there is much to do to challenge and change the culture of violence against women. The UK has a reputation for providing high-quality military training. As a condition of providing such training, we must challenge those countries that want it to demonstrate a genuine commitment to eradicating from their military ranks the use of rape as a weapon of war.
I am glad the Government drawn back from withdrawing from the European convention on human rights and introducing legislation that would have meant human rights were okay only as long as the Government approved of them—what a slippery slope that would be. However, the very way in which the Prime Minister called into doubt the value of human rights considerably weakens the UK’s position on the world stage when it comes to challenging other countries. How can he challenge repressive regimes when they can retort that he has created newspaper headlines by talking about watering down human rights legislation and pulling out of the European convention on human rights?
With the horrific increase across the world in the persecution of people for their religious beliefs, Britain must champion religious freedom. I hope the Government will consider adopting the Labour manifesto commitment to creating a specific role in the FCO, a Global Envoy for Religious Freedom, reporting directly to the Foreign Secretary, to take forward the religious freedom agenda across the world.”