HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc127-8
3. Mr. Gareth Thomas

What steps his Department has taken to reduce conflict and human rights abuses in Algeria. [26429]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett)

We believe that in order to achieve progress in Algeria, we must keep the Algerians engaged in political dialogue, express our points of view to them and discuss their concerns and requirements. I led a European Union troika mission on 19 and 20 January 1998. The mission's report led to the conclusions that my right hon. Friend, the Foreign Secretary announced after the General Affairs Council on 26 January. They have given us a sound base on which to build.

Mr. Thomas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he confirm that when the United Nations Commission on Human Rights meets in Geneva next month, human rights abuses in Algeria will be fully debated?

Mr. Fatchett

It is important that there is a full debate on human rights in Algeria. During the troika mission we took the opportunity time and again to say to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Algeria that we wished for greater openness and transparency on those issues. We urged the Algerians to invite the United Nations special rapporteurs, but unfortunately they declined to do so. We continue to maintain pressure in that direction. We believe that it is important that Algeria invites the special rapporteurs.

Mr. Faber

In view of the Government's ethical foreign policy, has the Minister had a chance to reconsider his views of 19 November, when he said that the situation in Algeria was an internal problem? Is he aware that Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed exactly the opposite view, saying that human rights had no international borders and that the international community should seek to end such violence? Does he now share her views, and if he does, should not the Government propose more concrete action during the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union?

Mr. Fatchett

It is difficult to understand where the hon. Gentleman has been over the past month. The simple fact is that, under Britain's presidency, the European Union has taken action. We sent a troika mission to Algeria. The United Kingdom is the first country to have taken such an initiative. Rather than complaining, it is about time that the hon. Gentleman applauded the Government for the action that they have taken.

Ann Clwyd

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is overwhelming evidence from human rights organisations that Algerian generals use torture as an instrument of rule, and that no one believes that the 80,000 victims of the war have been killed by only one side?

Mr. Fatchett

That is why we urge the Algerian Government to be more open and transparent, and therefore to be more accountable, on human rights issues. That is also why we urge them to invite United Nations special rapporteurs. We think that that is the right way of dealing with all the fears and innuendos that there may be about Algeria's record. We will continue to make that argument to them.

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