Help our local partners realise their vision of hope for their communities
On Thursday 3rd October 2019, Baroness Cox urged the British Government to ensure that human rights are considered when deciding future trade deals with other countries.
Watch the video on youtube here and see below for the full transcript:
My Lords, I also warmly welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, to her post and wish her every success in the fulfilment of a very important remit. I also congratulate my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries on securing this important debate and on his powerful opening speech.
As your Lordships may be aware, I spend much of my time with my small NGO—Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, or HART—supporting our partners in remote locations which are generally unreached by major aid organisations for political or security reasons. In seeking to reflect their priorities, I am sorry that mine will not be a happy speech. Often, Her Majesty’s Government have elected to prioritise trade and economic interests over human rights.
Time only permits four examples. First, there was the war fought by Azerbaijan to achieve ethnic cleansing of the Armenians in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh—part of historic Armenia relocated by Stalin into Azerbaijan. I was there many times during the war which occurred between 1990 and 1994. I used to count 400 Grad missiles a day, fired by Azerbaijan on to the small city of Stepanakert, together with the low-flying aerial bombardment of civilian targets with massive, 500-kilogram bombs. On one visit I took photographs of children shredded by cluster bombs. I showed these photos to a very important senior person in the Foreign Office. When I asked if Her Majesty’s Government would make representations to the Government of Azerbaijan to stop dropping cluster bombs on civilians, in contravention of international law, I received this reply:
“No one has an interest in other countries; only interests. We have oil interests in Azerbaijan. Good morning”.
Secondly, the present Government refuse to recognise as genocide the ongoing and widespread attacks on Christians in Nigeria’s northern and central-belt states. The Nigerian House of Representatives has declared recent killings to be genocide and the statistics are certainly compatible with this definition. The refusal of Her Majesty’s Government to recognise this absolves them of the duties to respond appropriately. In recent years, several thousand Christian civilians have been slaughtered and more than two million displaced, following Boko Haram and Fulani insurgencies. Yet our Government have not responded with appropriate political or humanitarian support for victims of Fulani attacks and land grabs.
In Anguldi IDP camp in the central belt, we were told:
“In more than 20 years of crisis in Jos, local people observed a connivance of militants with the military on many occasions. For example, the Government sent in a helicopter with military, and Fulani met them. The Fulani herdsmen now go about with AK47s”.
Last year, Nigeria’s former Army chief of staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Theophilus Danjuma, said that the armed forces were, “not neutral; they collude” in the,
“ethnic cleansing in … riverine states”, by Fulani militia. He insisted that villagers must defend themselves because,
“depending on the armed forces”, it will result in them dying “one by one”. The ethnic cleansing must stop. In this context, can the Minister reassure the Nigerian people as to how the United Kingdom will engage with the Nigerian Government and balance conflicting priorities between human rights and other priorities, notably trade?
Thirdly, in Sudan, the regime of the notorious ICC-indicted President al-Bashir, who was in power from 1989 until this year, was responsible for three million deaths, five million displaced and tens of thousands of women and children abducted into slavery. Yet, last year, the Foreign Office declared that it was changing its relationship with Sudan from “sticks” to “carrots”, apparently in order to co-operate with Khartoum to promote its own interests in the region.
Such a change of approach warrants serious scrutiny, not least because it bestowed credibility on the now deposed President without yielding any tangible results for the United Kingdom or for the Sudanese people. I have raised this issue in your Lordships’ House, claiming that the regime was enjoying munching the carrots, but asking what the conditions were. Can the Minister say what Her Majesty’s Government’s position was regarding the policy of carrots? Presumably, it was partly associated with the promotion of trade with Sudan and its allies, but it happened in the context of continuing offences against civilians. To date, I have received no satisfactory reply.
Finally, during my visits to Syria, local people have consistently emphasised their profound concerns over the devastating impact of British foreign policy, including the horrendous effects of sanctions. These greatly harm civilians for whom it is very difficult to obtain adequate supplies of food, medicines, medical equipment or employment.
The situation has worsened devastatingly since the crisis was highlighted in the medical journal, the Lancet, in May 2015:
“The economic losses of the country at the end of 2014 stood at US $143.8 billion, with more than 80% of the population living in poverty, of whom a third … were in abject poverty, unable to obtain even basic food items. Life expectancy has been reduced from 75.9 years in 2010 … to 55.7 years in 2014—a loss of 20 years … The cost of basic food items has risen six-fold since 2010, although it varies regionally. With the exception of drugs for cancer and diabetes, Syria was 95% self-sufficient in terms of drug production before the war. This has virtually collapsed as have many hospitals and primary health-care centres. Economic sanctions have not removed the President … Sanctions are among the biggest causes of suffering for the people of Syria”.
Given that sanctions are central to the question of trade, can the Minister clarify their impact, since their imposition in 2012, on the Government of Syria and on the economic well-being of Syrian civilians? Does she appreciate that using human rights to justify the imposition of sanctions on weak countries whose Governments our Government wish to remove is as bad as subordinating human rights to economic interests?
In conclusion, we in HART often feel that in our work, we suffer what I call the double twist of the knife. We return from being with people and witnessing their excruciating pain to raise these tragedies with our Government, who do not want to respond with any assistance. It is the local, innocent civilians in these and other countries who suffer the harsh effects of Her Majesty’s Government’s interests when trade overrides humanitarian aid. I very much hope that this debate will highlight some of those issues for future trade deals and promote policy changes to bring desperately needed help to civilians now in dire need, who are currently left to suffer as political pawns.