HC Deb 10 February 1993 vol 218 cc978-80
16. Mr. Jon Owen Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will visit Indonesia to make representations about human rights violations in East Timor.

Mr. Goodlad

No. the Indonesian authorities are well aware of our views on the human rights situation in East Timor. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs raised the subject when he met the Indonesian Foreign Minister in Manila in October, as did I—and as I also did when I visited Indonesia in October. As appropriate, we will take suitable opportunities to do so again in future.

Mr. Jones

Indonesia is not a country at the centre of the world stage and world interest. Does the Minister agree, however, that human rights violations carried out in Indonesia are as important as those carried out in countries that attract more international interest? Does he agree that such violations are more severe in Indonesia than in many other areas? In East Timor, the Government have killed an even larger proportion of the population than were killed by Pol Pot in Cambodia. When will the Government be prepared to act against Indonesia? When will they stop selling goods to the country and stop dealing with its Government?

Mr. Goodlad

The hon. Gentleman is right: Indonesia is an important country. It is an important member of ASEAN—the Association of South-East Asian Nations —and is now chairman of the non-aligned movement.

We and our European partners continue to be concerned about the human rights situation in Indonesia and East Timor and we have made our views known to the Indonesians on numerous occasions. We remain profoundly concerned about reports of large numbers of deaths over the years, but we believe that some of the figures have been exaggerated. We believe that constructive dialogue is the most effective way of influencing attitudes and encouraging improvement; we do not think that cutting off trade, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, would help the people whom he presumably wishes to help.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that, far from being unimportant, Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world and the world's biggest Muslim nation? Is he aware that after the deaths in East Timor —which clearly inspired the question—the Indonesian regime set up a commission of inquiry, as a result of which some army officers were disciplined and others removed from the armed services? Should not regimes such as Indonesia's, which is trying to improve its human rights record, receive due praise for the steps that it has taken, rather than being denigrated by ignorant Opposition Members?

Mr. Goodlad

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Indonesian authorities behaved in an unprecedented manner after the Dili atrocities in bringing those responsible to trial. My hon. Friend is also right in saying that continuing bilateral relations with what is, after all, a very important country, and continuing to provide that country with trade and aid, is the most likely way of bringing about an improvement in human rights, as we all wish to do.

Mr. Tony Banks

May I say that I am quite surprised that the Minister, for whom I have some regard, is prepared to be such a snivelling apologist for the Indonesian regime? Where is the morality in British foreign policy nowadays? Is it not outrageous that the British Government should be prepared to supply arms to the Indonesian regime, in view of the human rights abuses in East Timor? Will the Minister make representations to Helmut Kohl, who, I understand, is at this moment preparing to sell large amounts of the old East German navy to the regime?

Mr. Goodlad

As I have said, we and our European partners are deeply concerned about human rights in East Timor and have pulled no punches in making our views known. The expression employed by the hon. Gentleman is entirely inappropriate in this context. No one has been firmer than we have.

As for the hon. Gentleman's question about defence sales, all sovereign states enjoy the right to defend themselves, under article 51 of the United Nations charter. Applications to export British defence equipment are carefully scrutinised. We do not allow the export of arms or equipment likely to be used primarily for repressive purposes against civilian populations. In the case of Indonesia, this criterion extends to the possible use against the civil population of East Timor. We do not believe that an embargo on defence sales to Indonesia would be an appropriate or effective way of influencing the Indonesians to engage in better behaviour in the field of human rights.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Irrespective of the regional importance of Indonesia, will my right hon. Friend confirm that originally—after colonial rule—Indonesia occupied East Timor by force and that throughout the past 15 years its record on human rights, regardless of Dili, has been quite deplorable? Will my right hon. Friend do all he can, through the United Nations and the European Communities, to ensure that the voice of East Timor is heard—either directly or, as has been offered, indirectly through the Vatican—in negotiations towards a constitutional solution to this very difficult problem?

Mr. Goodlad

My hon. Friend is quite right. Unlike a very large number of other countries, this country did not recognise Indonesia's annexation of East Timor. We continue to believe that the question of East Timor's status and future is best addressed through the auspices of the United Nation's Secretary-General and through contacts between Portugal and Indonesia, and we continue to encourage those concerned to pursue the dialogue in which they are engaging.

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