HC Deb 27 February 2001 vol 363 cc707-8
8. Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

What representations he has made to the Indonesian Government on forced conversions to Islam. [149708]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle)

Our embassy in Indonesia has made representations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta on a number of occasions over the situation in the Moluccas. Recent evidence of forced conversions adds a worrying new dimension to the conflicts there and we shall continue to monitor events closely and make representations.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I understand the Minister's concerns as two letters from constituents, who, like many people throughout the kingdom, are concerned about what is happening in Indonesia, arrived on my desk today. Is he aware that forced conversions include forced circumcision and female genital mutilation, often with blunt instruments and without anaesthetic, and has he drawn the matter to the attention of the Indonesian Government? I understand that such practices are against the laws of Indonesia, so surely the perpetrators should be brought to justice.

Mr. Battle

Yes. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen and persistent interest in the conflicts in the Moluccas and has made regular representations as a result of his excellent Church contacts there. We also receive information from Christian Solidarity and the Barnabas Fund, which have continued to alert the world to those atrocities.

The situation in the Moluccas has calmed down. The reasons for the conflict there are long standing, although communities had lived at peace for hundreds of years until 1999. We have raised those matters with the Indonesian authorities and, most recently, between 20 and 22 February, our ambassador participated in a European Union mission.

We were encouraged by the fact that the situation in north Maluku and in Ambon had calmed down over Christmas and over the Idul Fitri holidays and we can draw encouragement from the action taken by Ambon's governor, who has initiated three inter-faith missions to Kesui and Tioor islands, offering to evacuate Christians who are in fear of forced conversion. That is not an answer, however, so we shall continue to press the Indonesians, as I myself have done.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) for raising this terrible matter. Has not the time come to point out to Governments who engage in such activities that, as they expect their people to have complete civil and religious liberty when they come to the United Kingdom, so we expect those Governments to practise that on their own citizens?

Mr. Battle

The hon. Gentleman should read the laws of the new Indonesia, which has moved to democracy only in the past 18 months. The laws are in position, but sometimes we fail to understand the largeness and complexity of Indonesia, which has 218 million people, some 700 ethnic minorities and about 500 different languages scattered across 3,000 islands.

I think that the Indonesians are trying their best to get to grips with the situation. Obviously, it is up to their authorities to implement law and order; we shall exhort them to do so and assist them as best we can, but in the meantime we can contribute, and have contributed in small ways, to conflict resolution by negotiating to bring Christians and Muslims together at local level.

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