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133rd IPU Assembly highlights challenges of current refugee crisis

The 133rd Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly was convened in Geneva, Switzerland from 17 to 21 October bringing together nearly 700 parliamentarians from 135 parliaments, with 47 Speakers and some 220 women MPs. Full details of the Assembly’s agenda and key outcomes are available on the IPU website. With the Parliament of Fiji re-joining the IPU, the Assembly saw the total IPU membership increase to 167 member parliaments.

The UK Delegation, led by the BGIPU Chair, Nigel Evans MP, included members of the BGIPU Executive Committee, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, Mike Gapes MP, Ann Clwyd MP, Mark Pritchard MP, Lisa Cameron MP and Baroness Hooper as well as Lord Judd in his capacity as Chair of the IPU’s Committee on Middle East Questions.

The key theme of the General Debate at the 133rd Assembly was, “The moral and economic imperative for fairer, smarter and more humane migration” which provided an important opportunity for the IPU’s membership to make a declaration following a debate on the difficult challenges facing many governments in addressing the current refugee crisis in Europe stemming from developments in the Middle East and North Africa. In his speech to the Assembly, the BGIPU Chair, Nigel Evans MP, highlighted the need for collective action by the international community to address the current crisis with compassion and effective cooperation, particularly to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable refugees remain central to the concerns and responses of governments.

In a parallel emergency item resolution on the plight of refugees, IPU Members also called upon parliaments and governments to develop special measures to address the specific needs of women, girls and young refugees, and to protect them from human trafficking. In addition, host countries were urged not to deport refugees, expel them to a border with another country or take any action to endanger their lives. The IPU resolution, aimed at mobilizing parliaments and international organizations to ensure protection of and support to an estimated 30 million refugees in the world, calls for the principle of “international relief” for refugees to be fully respected by all countries.

The UK delegation was active in the core standing committee work of the IPU Assembly. The Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights adopted a resolution on “Democracy in the digital era and the threat to privacy and individual freedoms” and the Committee on Peace and International Security convened an expert panel to inform its proposed resolution for the next Assembly on “Terrorism: The need to enhance global cooperation against the threat to democracy and individual rights”. The Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade discussed preparations for its next resolution on “Ensuring lasting protection against destruction and deterioration for the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of humanity” as well as discussing key parliamentary perspectives on climate change in preparation for COP21 in Paris. The IPU’s UN Committee also had detailed discussions on the work of the UN Peacebuilding Commission and an overview of the work of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

In other inter-parliamentary activities, Dr Cameron represented the UK Parliament at the Forum for Young Parliamentarians and both Ms Cameron and Baroness Hooper participated in the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians which facilitated both groups of parliamentarians in provide unique perspectives on the key issues concerning migration and refugees being debated at the Assembly. This also provided opportunities to discuss particular aspects of parliamentary oversight which is to be the subject of the next joint IPU/UNDP Global Parliamentary Report currently under preparation.

Following extensive hearings on cases of concern under Ann Clwyd MP as Chair, the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians has 19 decisions concerning 71 parliamentarians in 14 countries adopted by the Assembly. These decisions concerned cases involving MPs in Africa (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Niger), South America (Colombia and Venezuela), Asia (Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mongolia and Sri Lanka), the Middle East (Iraq, Palestine/Israel) and Europe (Russia). The IPU also launched with UN AIDS a new publication on “Fast-Tracking HIV Treatment: Parliamentary Action and Policy Options”.

In his capacity as the nominee for the continuing UK term on the IPU Executive Committee, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP participated in Executive Committee deliberations throughout the course of the Assembly prior to his formal election to this post on the final day of the meeting. The BGIPU Chair and Mr Liddell-Grainger MP also represented the UK in meetings of the European and others geopolitical Twelve Plus Group chaired by our Belgian counterparts. In addition to the work of the Assembly, the UK delegation also undertook a focused programme of bilateral meetings with parliamentary counterparts from Lebanon, Argentina, Burma, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Iraq, Angola, Georgia and Mauritius. Key themes including global peace and security issues, particularly the threat of terrorism and extremism, European security issues, human rights, trade and development issues and key opportunities for inter-parliamentary cooperation.

Parallel to the IPU Assembly, UK parliamentary officials participated in the meeting of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments which discussed working methods of different Parliaments. The UK delegation were grateful for the support of the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Mark Matthews, and his staff and welcomed the opportunity to meet UK Mission staff to hear more about key UK priorities at the UN in Geneva, particularly with regard to human rights, migration, health and multilateral trade objectives.