UK aid programme must support religious freedom

Lord Alton and Fiona Bruce MP write on Conservative Home that “it is not unreasonable to expect, where aid is being distributed, certain behaviour in terms of treatment of minorities, as well as the need for pluralism, tolerance and diversity. Such an approach can yield both a pragmatic harvest as well as chiming with the very best of “British values”.

“Where these values flourish, extremism can be confounded; where these values wilt, we see the catastrophic driving out of millions of people from their homes. Gross violations of Article 18 conflict with some of the key values our country stands for. However, UK Aid is sadly going to some countries in which violations of Article 18 occur. It is important to understand and challenge this where appropriate, for the very reasons expressed above. Where freedom of thought, belief, or speech are restricted, other human rights violations can follow in their wake – discrimination, persecution, crimes against humanity and even genocide.”

“Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for International Development, says that taxpayers’ money should be spent to promote peace, jobs and justice: “leaving no one behind.” Committing to the SDGs, as the UK and 192 other countries did this autumn at the United Nations, means a radical review of how we ‘do aid’. This is therefore a timely opportunity for a fresh consideration of the application of Article 18 in terms of aid provision.”

Snapshot: Pakistan

“So how do we measure the success of such an approach in places like Pakistan? What would we regard as success or failure? How can it be ensured, for example, that funding for education is not being spent on promoting a curriculum that fuels intolerance, or to extremist madrassas that preach hatred?

“This year, our aid programme to Pakistan is £405 million – £1.17 billion since 2011. This is a country where a mob of 1,200 people recently forced two children to watch as their Christian parents were burned alive. Pakistan has imposed a death penalty on a mother of five, Asia Bibi, for so-called blasphemy; it has still to bring to justice the murderers of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Minister for Minorities; and it is a country where churchgoers have been murdered in their pews. This week, as we took evidence from the minorities who have suffered in Pakistan, we heard the story of that country’s one remaining self-professing Jew – from a community which was once numbered in its thousands. Minorities groups —Shias, Ahmadis and Christians—have experienced discrimination and outright persecution. While Pakistan has been receiving vast sums of money, the response from Pakistan, to these concerning issues and incidents, has been indifference, at best,”

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