HC Deb 20 March 1985 vol 75 cc856-8
8. Mr. Moynihan

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the United Nations report drawn up by Mr. Felix Ermacora on the subject of human rights in Afghanistan.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We entirely endorse the report's conclusion that gross violations of human rights are occurring in Afghanistan. We continue to urge Soviet leaders to end the immense human suffering inflicted on the Afghan people—which is detailed in the report—by withdrawing their forces.

Mr. Moynihan

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is the Government's duty to make strong representations over alleged human rights violations in Afghanistan, especially in view of the Ermacora report, which states that there are an estimated 50,000 prisoners being held in Afghanistan, alleged torture in gaols, a deliberate policy of bombing villages and summary execution of captured guerrillas?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Afghan people have been denied the fundamental human right of self-determination. There is massive suffering in Afghanistan as a result of continuing Soviet occupation, including loss of life and the destruction of villages and crops. The tactics adopted last year were even more brutal than before. They included high-level indiscriminate bombing and the depopulation of some areas. The world must never forget that it is the presence of more than 100,000 Soviet troops that is maintaining a regime that is unacceptable to the Afghan people. We do not miss any opportunity of drawing that to the attention of Soviet leaders.

Mr. Skinner

What kind of hypocrisy do we have to listen to from the Government over Russia and Afghanistan? In 1980, the Government, led, of course, by the Prime Minister, were demanding that British athletes should not go anywhere near—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about human rights in Afghanistan.

Mr. Skinner

My supplementary question is on that subject, Mr. Speaker. The Government were demanding that British athletes should not go anywhere near Moscow because of the invasion of Afghanistan. Within 12 months the great and grand boycott had been called off by the Iron Lady. Over the past two years both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, as well as almost every other Minister, have trotted across to Moscow whenever there has been a chance to do so. How can they adopt these double standards?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman's lack of comprehension of this subject surpasses that which we have come to expect even from him. The Government are acting and speaking on behalf of the House and the nation in seeking to promote better relations between East and West, between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the course of doing that we should not allow the world to forget the continuing Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in a war that has continued for longer than did the war between the Soviet Union and Germany. The invasion still persists and I raised this subject with Mr. Gorbachev at Christmas. It has been raised with the Soviet Union on other occasions. It is regrettable that there has been no change so far in the Soviet position.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

As the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary seem to be finding the new Soviet leadership somewhat affable, could it not again be put to them that East-West relations could be transformed if they would end what one might call their Vietnam in Afghanistan?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is underlining the very point that I have made. It is important not to allow our approach to policy towards the Soviet Union to fall out of balance. We want to achieve, and we are seeking to achieve, improved relations with the Soviet Union and its allies. We must not allow that to lead us to overlook continuing important issues of the sort that my hon. Friend has raised. We have taken every opportunity to draw this to the attention of the Soviet Union and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. Anderson

Does the report give the answer to those in the United States and elsewhere who claim that the United Nations is selective in its human rights considerations?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think that there are always bound to be views about the selectivity of almost any organisation. On this point, the hon. Gentleman is right to remind the House that the voting in the General Assembly of the United Nations last year was 119 in favour of a motion condemning the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with only 20 against, a record majority. It is quite right that that should have been recorded and that we should remind the House of that fact.