HC Deb 13 April 1983 vol 40 cc792-3
9. Mr. Lawrence

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will raise at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation the issue of the violation of religious, cultural and educational rights in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Mr. Rifkind

We have raised Soviet human rights violations both at the recent meeting of the United Nations human rights commission in Geneva and at the CSCE review meeting at Madrid. We have no present intention of raising these issues at UNESCO, but we shall be alert for any suitable opportunities to make known our concerns.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my hon. Friend aware that UNESCO is one international organisation that should be doing something to prevent the destruction of cultural rights in the Soviet Union and the destruction of the religion, schools and language of Jews in Soviet Russia? Is he aware that UNESCO appears to have done nothing over the years, that it has remained silent about the arrest of Yosif Begun for championing those rights, and that it has utterly ignored the petition which the all-party group in the House presented on behalf of 120 academics three years ago? Will my hon. Friend do everything that he can to make sure that UNESCO faces its international responsibilities for the defence of human rights?

Mr. Rifkind

UNESCO's main responsibility in cultural matters is in the sphere of international collaboration rather than in the circumstances of an individual country. But I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that an improvement in cultural freedom in the Soviet Union would be of assistance in promoting international collaboration on cultural matters.

Mr. George Robertson

When the Minister is considering this important issue, will he accept from me that there is genuine pleasure in this country this week that Lida Vashchenko, one of the seven Pentecostalists, who has been given refuge for the past four years in the American embassy in Moscow, has now been able to leave the Soviet Union for Israel? Will he express to the Soviet authorities our pleasure at this decision and also express to them our hope and expectation that the rest of the members of these two very brave families will soon be allowed to join Lida Vashchenko in Israel?

Mr. Rifkind

We are of course delighted that Mr. Vashchenko has been allowed to leave the Soviet Union. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the other families who were resident at the American embassy have now left it and returned to Siberia. We hope that the Soviet Union will give them similar freedom to leave the Soviet Union if that is their wish.