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Foreign Office Questions

2nd April 2019

Harriett Baldwin answers MPs’ questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)

1. What discussions he has had with his French counterpart on the reported increase in violence in Cameroon. [910160]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

The UK regularly discusses the violence in Cameroon with international partners, including France and the United States, and I welcome French support for the recent UK-Austria joint UN Human Rights Council statement about the deteriorating situation in Cameroon.

Tonia Antoniazzi

Southern Cameroons voted to join French Cameroon on the basis that they would be federated states equal in status, but this is clearly not what has happened. It is treated as a region made up of second-class citizens. The UK has a duty to Southern Cameroons to use all available instruments to find a solution to the growing crisis that takes into account the wishes of the people. Will the Secretary of State meet me and a delegation of Southern Cameroons to discuss possible solutions?

Harriett Baldwin

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the first question on the Order Paper, because this is a worsening crisis. The UK has been strongly engaged with our international partners to find a way forward. Of course, the UK respects the territorial integrity of Cameroon, but we also believe that, where there are calls for more autonomy in the south-west and north-west, the Government of Cameroon need to engage in an inclusive political dialogue, because the violence from both sides is creating a serious situation for civilians on the ground.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

In her discussions with her US counterparts about the worrying situation in Cameroon, has the Minister asked them about suggestions made that resources they have given to help the Cameroonian Government in the fight against terror and Boko Haram are being diverted, misused and used in attacks on some of the communities in Cameroon?

Harriett Baldwin

As I often find myself saying during questions, I am happy to be accountable for what the UK Government have been doing, and I can confirm that we have extensive discussions with the Government of Cameroon, who, as my right hon. Friend will know, are a partner with the international community in the fight against Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa in the north of the country. We also have discussions with international partners to find a way forward on the views expressed with increasing violence by those of a separatist tendency in the south-west and north-west provinces.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

One of my constituents is a member of the South Cameroonian diaspora and is deeply concerned about what is going on. A recent Amnesty report noted the presence of arbitrary arrest, torture in detention and the existence of secret and illegal detention facilities in Cameroon. Does the Minister agree that such activities are in stark violation of the Commonwealth Charter, and if so what efforts has she made to engage with Cameroon through the Commonwealth?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the range of different human rights violations and abuses noted in the statement which we were pleased to see 39 countries sign at the most recent UN Human Rights Council. Specifically on the Commonwealth, I can tell the House that Lord Ahmad, the Minister for the Commonwealth, wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary-General recently to share UK concerns about Cameroon and press for further Commonwealth engagement on the matter.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)

The UK’s aim is to be the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022. Will any of that investment be going to Cameroon?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend states the UK’s policy aim to be an ambitious investor in African economies, and I can confirm that there are UK companies that invest in Cameroon; businesses are absolutely free to choose to do. In terms of the political track, though, we are trying to engage with the Government of Cameroon—I spoke to the Prime Minister there recently—to encourage them to find a way forward in a political and inclusive dialogue that can address some of the concerns being raised.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

I spent time in Cameroon in 2013 as a political volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas, and it breaks my heart to see what is happening to that beautiful country today. It seems to me that there is a potent mix of contemporary challenges and the long tail of our own and, indeed, French colonial history. Can we take a two-pronged approach? Will our colleagues in the Department for International Development tackle the urgent crises involving displaced peoples and conflict, and will the Minister’s own office make a proper effort to secure a diplomatic solution?

Harriett Baldwin

As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Earlier this year I authorised work by us, through UNICEF, to provide immediate humanitarian assistance. More than ​400,000 people have been displaced in the crisis, and more than 30,000 have fled to Nigeria. DFID is doing programming work, and we are urging the Cameroon Government to allow humanitarian actors access to all parts of the country.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)

Last week, Human Rights Watch said:

“Government forces in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have killed scores of civilians…and torched hundreds of homes over the past six months.”

How many more innocent victims need to be slaughtered for Cameroon to be suspended by the Commonwealth?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Lady is right: there have been human rights abuses and human rights violations on all sides in the conflict. Hospitals have been burnt and villages torched. We drew attention to a range of issues in a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the UK sponsored. Obviously the UK is a member of the Commonwealth, and our Commonwealth Minister has written to the Commonwealth Secretariat suggesting that it encourage discussions on this topic in future meetings.



Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab)

12. If he will make an assessment of the level of democratic governance in Lesotho. [910172]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

Lesotho continues to experience political fragility and democratic and development challenges. Together with the Southern African Development Community, we are working to support the implementation of governance reforms.

Ian C. Lucas

Prime Minister Tom Thabane and Minister John Maseribane both admitted to Channel 4 News that they had received payments into their personal bank accounts from Mr Arron Banks. Will the Minister meet me to discuss governance in Lesotho, its current position in the Commonwealth and the advice that she is giving to British companies operating in Lesotho about the Bribery Act 2010?

Harriett Baldwin

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question, and the strong links that exist between people in Wales and people in Lesotho. Of course, I am always delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. Regarding the allegations made on Channel 4, we urge anyone with evidence to give it to the appropriate authorities.


Topical Questions

James  Cleverly  (Braintree)  (Con)

T2.   What assessment has the Department made of the validity or otherwise of accusations of vote rigging in the recent Nigerian elections? Further to that, what support will be given to ensure the integrity and independence of the judiciary in Nigeria and the upholding of the rule of law? [910186]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

The UK was one of the funders of what is known as a parallel voter tabulation exercise, which is like an extensive BBC exit poll. It gave a result that was consistent with the officially declared results, and our Prime Minister called President Buhari to congratulate him on his re-election. However, we are aware of various reports from both our observers and others, and a strong stance against election-related violence was taken yesterday in my meetings with Nigerian opposition leaders, where I emphasised that concerns must be taken through the judicial process and that the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria is incredibly important.


Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

T4. Newly elected President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe is not restoring good governance and human rights or rooting out corruption in the country. What more can we do as a soft power superpower to ensure that the Zimbabwean Government root out corruption, recognise human rights and bring in inward investment, to return prosperity to that great country? [910189]

Harriett Baldwin

I welcome my hon. Friend’s question and reassure him that we are doing everything we can. We summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to the UK to register our concerns about the human rights violations and abuses that were noted in the January fuel protests. I travelled to southern Africa and met a range of neighbours to encourage them to send the same message as Commonwealth countries to the Government of Zimbabwe. If the Government of Zimbabwe would only follow through with the things they have said they will do, we would not be in this situation.


Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)

What steps is the Foreign Office taking to guarantee the human rights of people in Sudan, especially since the President declared a year-long crisis in Sudan?

Harriett Baldwin

I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to raise this, because it is a very serious situation, and we are engaging strongly with the Government of Sudan on the issues he raises. Most recently, I had a phone call with the Foreign Minister of Sudan in which I particularly drew attention to the women who were due to be flogged. I am very pleased to hear that they have subsequently been released.


Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

This Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the terrible genocide that took place in Rwanda, a country my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary knows well. The hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the noble Lord Popat and I will be at the ceremonies on Sunday in Kigali, representing our Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend think that the UN doctrine of the responsibility to protect—R2P—which has been so well developed by Gareth Evans, is yet sufficient to ensure that such terrible events could never take place again?

Mr Speaker

I hope the greatness of Gareth can be properly celebrated in the Chamber today.

Harriett Baldwin

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I hope to join him in Kigali this Sunday as the UK Government representative. The world can never forget the events in Rwanda 25 years ago. The world has made progress in vowing to say never again to genocide, but we must remain alert and engaged in order to prevent such incidents from happening ever again.


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