Thank you for contacting me about the persecution of Christians.
It is an extraordinary figure that nearly a quarter of a billion people are suffering persecution today because of their Christian faith. In addition, 80 per cent of people who suffer persecution because of their faith are Christian.
As you know, the Foreign Secretary has asked the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen to conduct an independent review into the UK's response to the persecution of Christians abroad. The review aims to map levels of persecution and other discrimination against Christians in key countries around the world. It will provide an objective assessment of the impact and levels of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support, and make recommendations to the Foreign Secretary.
The UK has played an important role in bringing together other countries that share our values and giving a voice to those who don't have one. However, I fully support this review and am hoping that the outcome of this will be that the FCO has a deeper understanding of what it can do better in this arena.
I look forward to reading the reports that will be published as a result of the review, and I understand that the review will have a strong focus on evidence and consultation with a range of factors, including survivors/victims, civil society institutions, the diplomatic community, governmental and multilateral entities.
Gaza - EDM 2161
I am certainly concerned by the deaths and injuries in Gaza - the violence is deeply distressing. Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself, however the number of those killed and injured demonstrates that we desperately need Israel to show greater restraint. I believe there is an urgent need to establish the facts, which is why I would support any independent and transparent investigation into violence at the Israel/Gaza border.
I believe the Palestinian right to protest is important, however these protests must remain peaceful. I am concerned that extremist elements may have used the protests to further their own violent and deplorable aims against the State of Israel. Above all, it is important that this violence is not repeated and that all those involved commit to peaceful protest, restraint and observe international law.
There is a pressing need for all parties to reach a wider agreement that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in Gaza and to take the necessary steps to ensure Gaza's reconstruction and economic recovery. Any agreement should ensure that Hamas and other militant groups permanently end rocket and other attacks against Israel, that the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective governance, and that Israel lifts its restrictions to ease the suffering of ordinary Palestinians.
I firmly believe that the international community must redouble its efforts to support a comprehensive peace agreement that delivers a safe and secure Israel alongside an independent Palestine. A two-state solution brought about through agreement is the most effective way for Palestinian aspirations of statehood to be met. However, I am not yet convinced that signing an Early Day Motion will be effective in bringing both sides together or take us closer to an end to violence in the region.
Human Rights Defenders in Colombia
I share your concern about human rights defenders in Colombia. Over the past year, they have faced increasing levels of threats, intimidation and killings.
I understand that the UK regularly expresses its concerns to the Colombian authorities over the fate of human rights defenders. The UK Embassy in Bogotá funds human rights programmes that help human rights defenders, and the UK works closely with civil society groups to bring individual cases to the Colombian government's attention.
At a Ministerial level, this Spring, the Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN, Lord Ahmad, met with the Colombian High Counsellor for Stabilisation, Emilio Archila, and directly raised the issue of human rights defenders. I am encouraged that the UK has reaffirmed its unwavering support to the Colombian authorities as they seek to ensure sustainable peace in Colombia. The UK has reiterated the importance of pressing ahead with work to implement the peace agreement in order to consolidate peace and build stability.
At the same time, the UK, alongside international partners, has continued to urge a negotiated end to the conflict.
Israel Apartheid Week
I would like to make it clear that I condemn all acts of antisemitism in the strongest possible terms. Any discrimination or hostility based on religion or race is deplorable and there is no place for it in our society. Acts of hatred in any form will not be tolerated, and I am assured that the Government is committed to addressing antisemitism wherever it occurs. Indeed, I am very pleased that the UK became the first country to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism.
All institutions, including universities, have a responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive environment. All higher education institutions have a legal obligation for ensuring that students do not face discrimination, harassment, abuse or violence. Universities are expected to have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, and to investigate and swiftly address any hate crime and anti-Semitic incidents that are reported.
In 2015 Universities UK (UUK) was asked to set up a Harassment Taskforce to consider what more can be done to address harassment on campus, including on the basis of religion and belief. It published a directory of case studies detailing the innovative projects universities have developed to address the taskforce's recommendations. Further to this, the Higher Education Funding Council for England provided £1.8 million for projects to improve responses to hate crime and online harassment on campus.
In addition, I welcome the new partnership between the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education, which is providing nearly over £144,000 of joint funding for a new programme to support universities in tackling antisemitism on campus.
Our universities have a proud history of encouraging freedom of speech and freedom of religion. However, I share your view that there is no place in any education institution for hatred and no student should face discrimination, harassment or racism - including antisemitism.
Palestine - Stop UK Aid funding Palestinian Terrorism
The Government strongly condemns all forms of violence and incitement to violence. Both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Government of Israel need to prepare their populations for peaceful coexistence, including by promoting a more positive portrayal of each other. I know the Government shares your deep concern about the textbook content revealed in the IMPACT-SE report into the PA's new curriculum. A thorough review of textbook content will be carried out this year by international partners including the UK, and the PA has agreed to engage constructively with its findings.
The Government has also been very clear that the UK does not fund Palestinian terrorism and Palestinian terrorists do not receive UK aid money. Our support for the PA is only used to pay the salaries of health and education public sector workers on a vetted list. This enables the delivery basic services and helps around 25,000 young Palestinians go to school each year. The vetting process covers a large number of different risk categories including terrorism financing, and checks that all UK funds reach the intended beneficiaries.
The UK continues to support a two-state solution that would see a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. By building strong institutions to help create a Palestinian government, as well as continuing to help them to educate a generation of young people and provide vital health services, our support for the PA is essential for promoting stability and reducing poverty.
Yemen - Make Yemeni Children's Voices Heard
I share your concerns regarding the crisis in Yemen and the plight of the Yemini people who are caught up in the conflict. I can assure you that the Government fully recognises the severity of the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
The UK has recently announced new UK aid worth £200 million to help millions of people at risk of starvation in Yemen, bringing the total that the UK has committed since the start of the four-year conflict to £770 million. We have also taken the lead in lobbying across the international community for urgent and unobstructed access for humanitarian assistance into Yemen.
My colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continue to hold regular discussions with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, in delivering the agreements made between parties at December's UN peace talks in Stockholm. To help facilitate the agreements made in Stockholm, the UK is funding the secondment of an expert individual to assist the UN on negotiating the exchange of prisoners between parties.
I understand the Foreign Secretary is visiting Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to inject fresh urgency into Yemen's fragile peace process, including meetings with the Government of Yemen and Houthi leaders. This follows the Quad meeting between the UK, US, Saudi Arabia and UAE, which the Foreign Secretary chaired on 13 February.
I know the Foreign Secretary will work tirelessly in his visits to these countries to build on the agreements reached upon in Stockholm, including the acceleration of redeployments and the smooth flow of humanitarian relief. I shall be following the situation with much interest and I hope, as we all do, for a swift resolution.