The Government is still not doing enough to protect the human rights overseas or challenge the regimes responsible for abuses – by Lord Alton

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 75th anniversary of the Genocide Convention. Today is World Press Freedom Day. It makes this debate particularly timely.


I will concentrate on China, including Hong Kong; North Korea; and Iran.


A week ago the Foreign Secretary delivered a speech at the City of London Corporation. It was trailed in advance as his major China policy address.


Given the scale and breadth of the challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party regime – not, I emphasise, the people of China, but by the regime currently led by Xi Jinping – I could see no coherent strategy – exactly the criticism levelled in two House of Lords Select Committee Reports. The tone suggested that rekindling friendship with Beijing in pursuit of something resembling the discredited “golden era” trade and investment opportunities is now a government’s priority.


The Foreign Secretary argued that isolating China would be counter-productive.

But I know of nobody – including our own ParliamentarySelect Committees – have suggested that the UK disengage from China. The question surely is not whether to talk to China, but how, about what, with what objectives and on whose terms, we should engage?


So, by way of example, I invite the Minister to tell us what the Foreign Secretary will be talking about with the Vice-President of China, Han Zheng, during his Coronation visit to London.


Will he be raising the trashing by Han Zheng of the 1984 Sino-British Declaration, or his role in the imprisonment of 1400 political prisoners in Hong Kong; specifically, the imprisonment of British citizen, Jimmy Lai, and other breaches of Article 19 of the UDHR relating to media freedom in Hong Kong. Will he be raising as a breach the Sino-British Joint Declaration this week’s announced decision to reduce the direct election of District Councillors to just 20% – in a further emasculation of Hong Kong’s freedoms?


Will the Government be raising the motion passed in the House of Commons on 22 April that declared events in Xinjiang against Uyghur Muslims to be a genocide; or the UK prohibitions on the purchase of goods made in China by slave labour or reports that Uyghur Muslims were banned from offering Eid prayers at mosques or in their homes during Eid al-Fitar, as well as  the reported persecution of people with religious beliefs, including Buddhists and Christians in China, and other Article 18 Violations; or the continued imprisonment of Zhang Zhan for reporting on the origins of Covid in Wuhan?


Will they be raising the forced organ harvesting and the persecution of Falun Gong, the crackdown on civil society, lawyers, bloggers and dissidents across China and the alarming threats to Taiwan whose 23,938, 272 people facesincreasingly dangerous and existential threats to their vibrant democracy and self-determination.


Perhaps the Minister could also explain why Han Zheng is being welcomed at the Coronation at all instead of being sanctioned?


I also have questions about the recent visit to London of Hong Kong’s Secretary for Financial Services, Christopher Hui.


Will the Minister tell the House whether the three government ministers who met Mr Hui raised with him the case of Jimmy Lai, the seizure by the Hong Kong government of more than £2.2 billion of Hong Kong BNO pension savings as reported by Hong Kong Watch – of which I am a Patron –  the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy, the breach of the Joint Declaration, the genocide of the Uyghurs and the threats to Taiwan, and if not, why not?


Perhaps that is not the sort of engagement the Foreign Secretary had in mind?


Given that the CCP regime consistently breaks its promises and obligations under international treaties and as the CCP under Xi Jinping is part of so many of these problems do we seriously – and rather naively – believe that red carpets, teaand golden era trade deals is the correct response to genocide and egregious violations of human rights.


Last week, as Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, I spoke at the launch of the APPG’s report on the crackdown on media freedom in Hong Kong – which on this World Media Freedom Day- I hope the Minister will refer to – and specifically the case of Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily.


I also spent time with Jimmy Lai’s son, Sebastien Lai. My Lords, Jimmy Lai is a 75 year-old British citizen, and yet he has spent the past two-and-a-half years in prison in Hong Kong serving multiple trumped up charges, and faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail. I know Jimmy and his wife and in happier times they were visitors here to your Lordships House.


Later this year Jimmy Lai’s trial under Hong Kong’s draconian National Security Law will begin.


He has already been denied his choice of defence counsel, and it is likely that he will receive a severe prison sentence with little hope of a fair trial.


Will the Minister please look at the statements made by Mr.Lai’s international legal team – led by Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC who has received rape and death threats – but also raise with the Parliamentary authorities the absurd and ridiculous decision to force attendees at last week’s press freedom event to hand over leaflets on press freedom in Hong Kong. Officials said “political slogans and materials are on our list of restricted items.”


I mistakenly thought that politics was the whole point of Parliament. But beyond the absurd, Sebastien has specifically and repeatedly requested to meet the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.


Like his father, Sebastien is a British national.


Regrettably the ministers have been either unable or unwilling to explain why this request has so far gone unanswered. So I ask the question now, publicly, will the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary commit to meeting Sebastien at the earliest opportunity to discuss his father’s case and become more proactive and more public in speaking up for the rights of this British citizen in the future?


Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, recently wrote to the Chinese government, stating that the draconian National Security Law has interfered with the rule of law in Hong Kong, undermining the independence of the judiciary and removing safeguards to protect fair trial.


Yet the Government has so far failed to provide a detailed assessment of the current state of the rule of law in Hong Kong to Parliament.


Turning briefly to North Korea: this year marks the tenth anniversary since the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity, chaired by the Australian judge Justice Michael Kirby. Will the Minister tell us what steps the government is taking to follow up and implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry report- particularly its call that its findings of crimes against humanity to be referred to the ICC?


On Iran, will the Minister please explain why the Iranian National Guard has not been proscribed as a terrorist organisation, whether we can expect action on this soon; and tell us about the plight of Iranian journalists held in prison and the gender apartheid faced by Iran’s women and girls?


And finally, I have spoken repeatedly in the House about the short-sighted decision to cut BBC Persian Radio Services and attacked the decision to abolish the Arabic Service.  Yesterday the BBC said the crisis in Sudan had led them to open a new – guess what – radio service in Arabic on short wave. Q.E.D.


It is essential that we continue to broadcast the values of democracy, freedom, the rule of law, human rights and an open society.


Is the Government re-examining the funding models for BBC World services – to ensure that vital language broadcasts to closed societies can continue?


I hope that our values will always be at the very heart of foreign policy as we face the challenges of a changing and increasingly divided and unstable world.


Lord David Alton

David Patrick Paul Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, KCSG, KCMCO is a British politician. He is a former Liberal Party and later Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament who has sat as a crossbench member of the House of Lords since 1997 when he was made a life peer.