HC Deb 14 June 1993 vol 226 cc707-16

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Wood.]

8.37 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

It is an unusually early hour for the House to adjourn, but I am pleased to have the opportunity of raising the issue of human rights abuse in Tibet. I am grateful to the Minister for being present and I know that one of his colleagues hopes to attend the debate and to speak.

I know that the Minister shares the concern of myself and others about the appalling catalogue of torture, imprisonment and killings that have marked China's control of Tibet.

The plight of Tibet has been highlighted in the past few months by the Dalai Lama's visit to Britain and to this place, when many Members of Parliament had the opportunity to meet him, and by the brutal Chinese reaction to the demonstrations that coincided with the European Community mission's visit to Tibet.

I am sure that the Minister will join me in welcoming the lead that the Dalai Lama has given his people. I welcome the Government's recent stance that the main avenue for a peaceful resolution of the problems in Tibet are talks without preconditions between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities.

I hope that the Minister will join me condemning the attempt over the weekend to exclude the Dalai Lama from the world conference on human rights in Vienna. Could the Minister confirm that the call for exclusion came from the Chinese Government? It is an important point that the Dalai Lama was not permitted to take part in that conference, and it would be useful if the Minister could confirm who called for the Dalai Lama's exclusion.

In the light of pressure from some of the world's most tyrannical and brutal regimes to destroy the universality of human rights, could the Minister give the House an unequivocal commitment that the Government will continue to regard all human rights from the universal declaration of human rights as applying to all? Clearly, with the many abuses of human rights throughout the world, it is sometimes easy to be overcome by the sheer scale of problems, whether they are in Somalia, the Sudan or Bosnia. The fact that Tibet is a faraway place to which we have limited access, and that the world's media cannot highlight events there in the same way as they do atrocities that take place elsewhere, is not a reason for us to treat it as out of sight and out of mind.

The Dalai Lama in particular is to be congratulated on his unswerving advocacy of non-violent opposition to Chinese violence, for which he has been honoured by being awarded the Nobel peace prize. My immediate concern is that, following recent events in Lhasa, that strategy is at risk.

The Minister will be aware of the arbitrary arrests, detention without trial and tear-gassing of demonstrators that occurred before and during the visits of 16 to 23 May. He will also be aware of the wholly inadequate response given to the European Community delegation by the Chinese authorities. I want to emphasise in particular, the case of two prisoners whose welfare may well affect the future of Tibet. One is Gendon Rinchen and the other is Lobsang Yonten. They are both being held at an unspecified location, accused of stealing a large amount of state secrets.

Both men were involved in monitoring human rights violations, and may have been engaged in compiling a list of prisoners of conscience to present to the European Community delegation. The most sinister aspect of their case is that they are being held in secret. In the past, those held in that way have been subject to the most brutal torture, and these two men are now clearly in extreme danger. Therefore, it is particularly appropriate that their case should be raised tonight—not least because the European Community delegation had expected to receive information from those two men about human rights abuses.

I would also refer the Minister to the case of a 26-year-old woman, Sonam Dalar, who was tortured over six months at a detention centre in Lhasa in 1990–91. She escaped in 1991 and was able to reveal what the Chinese do to those merely suspected of political dissent. Sonam Dalar was kept naked and incommunicado in a bare underground cell. She was regularly tortured with electric batons, and was beaten and electrocuted until she lost consciousness. After six months, she was vomiting and urinating blood daily. I could mention many other similar cases were the time available. Suffice it to say, however, that among the list of detainees maltreated in Chinese prisons in Tibet for political dissent are a boy of 14 and a girl of 12.

Gendon Rinchen and Lobsang Yonten are well known in Tibet. Their cases are being widely watched and followed closely. I share the concern of groups such as the Tibet Support Group that, if the world cannot apply enough pressure on the Chinese to ensure at least the basic minimum of civilised detention, such as visits from families and details of locations at which prisoners are being held, Tibetans will reconsider their non-violent strategy on the basis that international pressure can have no effect on Communist China's attitudes to Tibet. I ask the Minister to confirm tonight that he will approach the Chinese authorities, both with a view to gaining access for British officials to visit both men and with a view to highlighting those cases.

I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to nine arrests that took place on 4 and 6 June. The latest reported protest incident in Lhasa took place on Sunday 6 June, when three monks wearing civilian clothes were arrested shortly before 2 pm in the south-east corner of Barkor, the pilgrimage route that surrounds Lhasa's main temple. The monks, whose names are not known, were shouting slogans and carrying a white banner, and—according to foreign tourists in the city who were contacted by the Tibetan independence movement—were apparently calling for independence.

A similar incident took place at about midday on Friday 4 June, when six men were arrrested a few minutes after they appeared in the Barkor square carrying Tibetan flags. One report said that the men—described by one foreign witness as about 18 years old—were in three separate groups around the square for the few minutes during which the incident lasted. The tourists, contacted by telephone in Lhasa, claimed that the men had been beaten with sticks during the 4 June arrests. According to one tourist, between 15 and 20 police in riot gear were on duty in the square during the day, which marked an important Buddhist festival. A large number of plain-clothes police were also evident on 4 June, together with security officials who, according to the report, were using "sophisticated equipment".

Individual cases such as those that I have cited tonight emphasise the wider degradation of Tibet at the hands of the Chinese—the mass population transfers of Han Chinese into Tibet and the destruction of Tibetan culture, the environmental rape of Tibet to supply Chinese factories with raw materials and the abuse of aid to Tibet, such as that provided by the World Food Programme, whose aid is administered by Chinese officials to produce food for the Chinese by methods inappropriate to Tibetan culture. That litany describes what has been happening to that small faraway country.

Let me also draw the Minister's attention to the mass abuse of Tibetan women who, along with Chinese women, are being forcibly sterilised and aborted, under laws that clearly breach the right to found a family freely. Accounts of infanticide, mass enforced late abortion and compulsory sterilisation are horrific enough. I was even more surprised to discover that, since its inception, the Chinese population control programme has been financially fuelled by the International Planned Parenthood Federation and by the United Nations Family Planning Association, and that, over the last 10 years for which figures are available, Britain contributed £104 million to that cause by funding those two organisations.

In other words, the British taxpayer contributes £7 million to £9 million a year to programmes administered by UNFPA and IPPF which have been used by Chinese population programmes forcibly to fit IUDs and to sterilise and abort women who do not comply with population targets.

In Tibet in particular, that has been used deliberately to distort the population balance. When he was here recently, the Dalai Lama highlighted that very case elsewhere in the Palace. Indeed, in the declaration that was issued by European parliamentarians who gathered here in Westminster, that was one of the things that were highlighted as running totally contrary to any system of human rights—a fact that we were urged to impress upon the Chinese Government. That is a matter about which we can do something.

I am aware of the persistent denials of forced abortion and sterilisation from the Chinese Government—denials that have been regularly supported by the IPPF and UNFPA. Those denials have about as much validity as the assertion that torture is illegal in China and Tibet and is therefore merely an aberration when it occurs.

It is a scandal that British taxpayers' money is being used by the UNFPA to manufacture IUDs which will be forcibly inserted by law into Chinese and Tibetan women. It is also a scandal that the IPPF, funded by the British Government, passes money to the Chinese family planning association, which works hand in glove with that oppressive Government.

It is absurd to talk about the family planning association in China as though it resembled a British voluntary organisation. Surely we know enough about the Chinese Government following the massacres in Tiananmen square and the recent brutal killing of a Catholic bishop—in which I know the Minister has taken a personal interest—and about the way in which ordinary people in China, especially those who try to express their religious beliefs and to worship as they would wish, have been repressed, to know that it is not possible for a voluntary organisation along the lines of those that exist in the United Kingdom to flourish in China. To be pumping money into those organisations knowing that they are simply groups that work as an adjunct of Government is extraordinarily naive, to put it at its best.

I have raised these matters with Dr. Halfdan Mahler of the IPPF, without receiving the courtesy of a reply. I have sponsored an early-day motion supported by many hon. Members on both sides of the House who are equally appalled by the abuse of human rights. I have raised it in person with the Minister for Overseas Aid. I welcome her determination to oppose and end any oppressive population control. She has been extremely helpful and interested in this matter, and I was very satisfied with the reply that both she and her officials gave me when I went to see her about the matter some months ago.

The Minister will understand that this is an issue to which I intend to continue to return. The more evidence that becomes available, the more I think that the British Government should follow the example of the previous American Administration under George Bush, who withdrew funding from those very programmes because they were convinced of the authenticity of the claims that were being made about the abuses.

Do the British Government intend to continue to fund supporters of that barbaric policy? What evidence, if any, does the Minister have of a Chinese change of heart on population control? Does he have any information about any Chinese official who has been charged, tried or imprisoned for abusing the human rights of women in that way?

It is in the nature of foreign affairs that commentators continually question the motivation of foreign policy. Is policy founded on principle or pragmatism? Do trade concerns and export policy, rather than suffering and need, dictate our overseas aid policy? Does the situation in Hong Kong dictate our response to Tibet?

There is also a recent allegation, which I am sure the Minister will take this opportunity to refute, that because the Conservative party has received donations from prominent Chinese communists, that in some way affects the Government's policy towards China. I know that the Minister is totally honourable and I would be grateful if he would place on record the fact that that kind of funding has nothing whatsoever to do with the way in which British Government policy is made.

Tibet is an issue on which the Government can and should display their moral resolve. The Prime Minister is on record as proclaiming that overseas aid is tied to human rights performance. We provide aid to China and Tibet by numerous national and international avenues. Has the Foreign Office pointed out to Chinese officials that aid can be withdrawn if there are not tangible improvements in their human rights record?

Representations have been made to the Chinese on human rights in Tibet since that country was invaded. What success can the Minister claim for his current policy? What benchmarks and targets does he set himself when considering China's abuse of human rights? I suggest that greater determination in pursuing that cause would yield results. For example, I applauded the visit of the delegation led by Lord Howe to China last year to discuss human rights.

I was delighted with the wide consultation that preceded the visit with non-governmental organisations working to improve human rights in that country. We were told that the delegation would hopefully be followed by a similar visit to Tibet. More than eight months after the visit, the delegation's report has still not been published, there has been no report back to NGOs, and all talk of a visit to Tibet has ceased. Can the Minister give assurances tonight that those matters will be speedily resolved?

Mere representations to the Government who perpetrated the Tiananmen square massacre are not enough. The Chinese must be shown that we mean business and that their aid will be threatened if there are not substantial improvements in the way they treat the people under their control in China and Tibet.

I hope that this Government will have the moral courage to make that commitment on behalf of the terrorised, the tortured and the imprisoned in one of the last communist tyrannies in the world. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter in this Adjournment debate.

8.52 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Alastair Goodlad)

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) is well known and widely respected in this House and outside for his interest in Tibet and in human rights issues generally. I am indebted to him for bringing these important matters to the attention of the House.

May I begin by assuring the hon. Gentleman once again that human rights, particularly in Tibet, are of deep concern to the Government and are a central element in our dialogue with the Chinese authorities. The hon. Gentleman has rightly drawn attention to the concern felt by the British public and by the House about the situation in Tibet and especially about the recent events there. He raised the cases of Gendon Rinchen and Lobsang Yonten, and I undertake to follow up what he said and look into the background extremely carefully.

Many hon. Members will have met His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his visit to this country last month, or at least will have heard him speak in the meetings held in the Grand Committee Room on 4 May. As all hon. Members know, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a private meeting with the Dalai Lama on 12 May, during which a number of issues, including human rights issues in Tibet and elsewhere in China, and the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman tonight, were discussed.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary assured the Dalai Lama that we would continue to pursue our dialogue on human rights with the Chinese authorities at every opportunity, and he emphasised that we would continue to urge the Chinese authorities to enter a genuine dialogue, without preconditions, with the Tibetans, including with the Dalai Lama, and so we will.

The hon. Gentleman alluded to the recent visit to Tibet by a group of European Community ambassadors in Peking and senior diplomats based there. That important mission took place on the initiative of the EC embassies. It was arranged with assistance from the Foreign Affairs Office in Lhasa, in consultation with the EC presidency.

An extensive week's programme was organised, including meetings with Vice-Governor Thondrup, in the absence of the Governor who was recovering from illness in Chengdu, and representatives of the Commissions for Foreign Economic Relations and Trade, Planning, Development, Health, Education and Nationalities and Religious Affairs. In addition, a meeting was arranged with the Supreme People's Court and the Public Security and Justice Departments.

The Drapchi prison in Lhasa, and the town of Shigatse, were also visited. During the meeting on 17 May with the Vice-Governor, a list of political prisoners, prepared thanks to assistance from Amnesty International and other NGOs, was handed over and information about them was requested. Members of the group asked a number of penetrating questions, and quite rightly so.

During his meeting with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 12 May, the Dalai Lama also raised the question of population transfer of Han Chinese into Tibet. It is difficult, if not impossible, to confirm the accuracy of reports on the numbers of Han Chinese moving into Tibet. Different sources provide different figures and often refer to different geographical areas. In our view, it is important to distinguish between the Tibet autonomous region and what some Tibetans claim as Greater Tibet, embracing large parts of neighbouring Chinese provinces.

We are concerned by all reports of threats to the Tibetans' ethnic and cultural identity, and we will continue to urge the Chinese authorities to respect and protect traditional Tibetan values, culture and way of life. We have also drawn the attention of our European Community partners to those issues, so they can pursue them at the European level as well as bilaterally.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the recent reports of rioting in Lhasa and of the police action against demonstrators there. I understand that some tension remains. We are watching developments closely. In consultation with our European Community partners, we will continue to urge the Chinese authorities to conform to international standards of behaviour.

I began by reassuring the hon. Gentleman that human rights in Tibet and elsewhere in China are a central element in our bilateral and wider European Community relations with the Chinese authorities. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of abuses of human rights. There are many other examples, in addition to those which he mentioned.

The hon. Gentleman is particularly concerned about enforced abortion and the funding programme provided by the international agencies which are assisting the Chinese authorities in that population control programme. We are also aware of, and deeply concerned about, reports of enforced abortion in China. The British Government are opposed to any population activities in which there is any element of coercion of individuals to practice family planning or to accept any particular type of contraception, and so too—the hon. Gentleman acknowledged this—are the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.

Indeed, at the UNFPA governing council in New York on 2 June, Dr. Nafis Sadik, the UNFPA executive director, once more categorically stated that the UNFPA condemns coercion of population programmes. She emphasised: Coercion has no part in population and family planning, it is morally wrong and ultimately it will not be effective. This has always been UNFPA's position and it will never change. At the governing council, the Chinese Government reiterated that they have been consistently opposed to coercive practice in whatever form while implementing their family planning policy. The British Government, the IPPF and the UNFPA do not advocate or condone induced abortion as a method of family planning. The IPPF and the UNFPA do not provide support for abortions or abortion-related activities in Tibet or elsewhere in China.

The IPPF and the UNFPA are the leading international agencies in population activities, and are important channels for the United Kingdom's population assistance. They are committed to supporting programmes which enable men and women to choose whether to have children and provide them with information and services to enable them to do so.

We believe that our most effective strategy in seeking to minimise abuses of reproductive rights in China and bring about a change in that country's population policy is to work through those two agencies. Their involvement in China has ensured that country's exposure to international values and practices which would not otherwise have occurred and is helping to promote a more humane population policy. The technical assistance they provide is essential if China is further to improve the health and welfare of its women and children.

Mr. Alton

The Minister will recall that I pointed out that the previous American Administration withdrew funding from the UNFPA and the IPPF because they had sufficient evidence of forced abortions, forced sterilisation and the forced fitting of inter-uterine devices.

Has he taken any steps to try to obtain the reports which the American Administration acted upon before arriving at that decision under the presidency of George Bush? If such information were to come to the right hon. Gentleman—I have heard first-hand accounts of women who had been able to leave Tibet and China and have been forcibly aborted—would he then abandon funding of those programmes?

Mr. Goodlad

I will inquire, because I do not know offhand whether the reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers were taken into account by the Overseas Development Administration when it renewed the subscription of those organisations. I will find out whether that is the case and communicate with the hon. Gentleman. I will also make sure that the evidence that he has brought to the attention of the House and his bilateral discussions with Lady Chalker are taken into account in the future formulation of policy. I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for bringing those matters to the attention of the House.

We believe that the involvement of the agencies in China has ensured that country's exposure to international values and practices that would not otherwise have been brought to bear on what happens there, and that they are helping to promote a more humane population policy. The technical assistance that they provide is essential if China is further to improve the health and welfare of its women and children.

As the world's most populous nation, China must obviously be a priority country, both for the IPPF and the UNFPA. Both agencies are making a significant contribution to changing attitudes in China.

The ODA is in regular contact with the IPPF and the UNFPA about their activities in China, and of course it will continue to impress upon them the need for careful monitoring of China' population programme and the promotion of greater freedom of reproductive choice.

As I said, I will ensure that everything that the hon. Gentleman has brought to the attention of the House tonight is taken into account in future decisions. I can give an assurance that none of the extraneous factors that he mentioned has affected the way in which the policy of Her Majesty's Government has been geared to do that—he was gracious enough to anticipate that that is what I would say.

Mr. Alton

I ask the Minister to respond to my question about the Vienna conference, which is currently under way. At present, 180 Governments are discussing the question of the universality of human rights. Is that principle being resisted by the Chinese Government? Is it true that attempts were made to exclude the Dalai Lama from the conference? Is it the case that officials of Her Majesty's Government resisted those attempts?

Mr. Goodlad

I shall come to that point in a moment.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of Lord Howe's mission to China. We are awaiting the details of his formal report on his visit to China with interest. I understand that it is nearly finalised. Copies will be made available in the Library of the House and more generally to the public in due course.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the second world conference on human rights that is taking place in Vienna from 14 to 25 June. The United Kingdom, together with our European Community partners, has played an active role in the preparatory process and will be active at the conference. As the House may know, the world conference will be addressing overall thematic rather than country-specific issues.

The House will be aware of events over the weekend, when steps were taken to restrict participation at the conference. We and our European Community partners profoundly regret that steps were taken to prevent the Dalai Lama from attending the opening ceremony, while welcoming the invitation to him from the chairman of the governmental conference to attend the remainder of the conference. We understand that he will be participating in the NGO conference being held in parallel, which will be discussing thematic rather than country-specific issues.

We hope that both conferences will examine methods of improving the implementation of human rights instruments and seek ways to improve United Nations mechanisms in the protection and promotion of human rights. As the House will understand, the overall aim is that all participating countries will benefit from an exchange of views on their respective practices and provisions in this area.

The specific rights and freedoms codified in the universal declaration of human rights and the two international covenants transcend national, religious, cultural and ideological frontiers. We believe that those specific rights and freedoms are equally applicable to all persons in all circumstances. Whatever some people may think, human rights are no longer, and will never again be, exempt from external pressure on grounds of state sovereignty. The United Nations Security Council endorses that by recognising that gross violations may endanger international peace and security. United Nations peacekeeping efforts now incorporate human rights verification.

Human rights issues in Tibet are frequently associated with aspirations for independence. As I told the hon. Gentleman and the House, we regularly speak to the Chinese about the need for better protection of human rights in Tibet and more autonomy there. But the fact is that Tibet has never been an internationally recognised independent country. We have consistently encouraged the Chinese to enter into a dialogue with Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, without preconditions. We will continue to do so, because we believe that that is the most promising, indeed the only promising, way forward.

The Chinese can be and are in no doubt about the strength of feeling of Her Majesty's Government, of this House and, more widely, this country about their behaviour in Tibet. There have been changes in the Chinese economy in recent years. We welcome that, and China's so-called open door policy. It is our hope, and that of our Community partners, that, as standards of economic prosperity rise, so will standards of democratic accountability.

The House recognises, because it has heard it before, that the Chinese view is that human rights are not universal, but vary with each society's specific historical conditions. China is one of those developing countries that is trying to introduce that definition of human rights into the final statement of the world conference in Vienna. The Chinese place emphasis on rights to shelter, clothing and nutrition, in contrast to the wider view of human rights which the House and the hon. Member for Mossley Hill have quite rightly put forward.

We and our Community partners are holding firm, and I hope, doing our bit to help human rights in China by, for example, training Chinese lawyers, accountants and administrators—some of the essential human resources that, in practical terms, will make good government and the reality of an extension of human rights practicable and possible.

We hope that the Chinese authorities will agree to talk to the Dalai Lama without preconditions. For his part, he emphasised during his recent visit to this country his readiness to enter such negotiations, and hinted at a compromise based upon the one country, two systems, formula.

We will continue to urge those concerned to enter into real dialogue and to encourage the Chinese to allow ethnic Tibetans a greater and proper say in running their own affairs. We will continue to urge the Chinese authorities to adhere to international standards of behaviour, to abide by their obligations under the United Nation's charter and to respect the values enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights.

I reiterate my gratitude and that of the House to the hon. Gentleman for raising the specific matters that have been put before the House. I also reiterate my undertaking to follow up those specific points.


Mr. Alton

I thank the Minister for the thorough way in which he dealt with the debate, and the assurances that he has given.

We will all be concerned to know of the Chinese Government's wish to see the universality of human rights destroyed and replaced by other criteria. The fact that that idea comes from a regime that has been notorious for its brutality and tyrannical methods must surely be something that we and other Community countries must resist.

The violation of women in Tibet and China is an issue that all hon. Members will want to come back to again and again. We will continue to monitor it. It is a scandal that the IPPF and the UNFPA are funding the construction of factories in China for the manufacture of IUDs, which will be forcibly inserted into Chinese and Tibetan women.

We can only imagine the misery and the pain that is caused to women who try to remove those devices, which have been placed within them to control their fertility. We can only imagine the sheer loneliness and desperation that many women must experience after they have been forcibly sterilised or forcibly aborted. It is to the eternal shame of western Governments that the money that funds those operations comes from our taxpayers.

I commend to the Minister a book by Mary Craig which was published recently and which highlights the fate of the Tibetan people.

I only hope that it will not be long before the Minister, after he has had a chance to ponder these questions, will come to the House of Commons to announce the end of funding for such barbaric and wholly unacceptable practices.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes past Nine o'clock.