HC Deb 12 May 1998 vol 312 cc144-6
9. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

What representations he has received on his recently published annual report on human rights. [40498]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

The report has been generally welcomed by non-governmental organisations and others. I have received no formal representations.

Ann Clwyd

On behalf of the parliamentary human rights group, may I say that we welcome the publication of the report? It is an important innovation in British foreign policy and we hope that it will stimulate discussion of such important issues in Parliament and elsewhere. Will my hon. Friend expand on the section of the report that discusses the setting up of a permanent international criminal court? Will he confirm that people such as Saddam Hussein, who are guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, will never escape justice?

Mr. Lloyd

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments on the human rights report; her welcome very much mirrors that of others. The Government are determined to make progress on the international criminal court at the Rome conference in June. We strongly believe that the crime of genocide and the other crimes against humanity committed by Saddam Hussein cannot escape that international process. We would support a proper judicial process to bring Saddam Hussein to book to show that the world is united in condemnation of the horrors that he has inflicted on his people.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does the Minister agree that the human rights situation in Nigeria should have been highlighted in the report? General Abacha, the leading member of the junta, licensed five political parties to contest the coming presidential election and, lo and behold, he is the only candidate of all five political parties. Surely that is a case of democracy and human rights being denied throughout Nigeria, which should be condemned.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt that the Government are in the forefront of those criticising Nigeria for its continued abuse of the rights of its own people, arbitrary detentions, repression of basic freedoms and erosion of democracy. There is no doubt that the EU got it right when it said that the transition programme to democracy was now fundamentally flawed.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the basic human rights is the right to life, health and basic subsistence, and that millions of people throughout the world, particularly children, are deprived of that basic right because of the burden of international debt? Does he further accept that millions of people throughout Britain, particularly in the Churches, support the Jubilee 2000 demand for debt forgiveness to mark the millennium?

Mr. Lloyd

I well understand my hon. Friend's point. We recognise the strength of feeling in Britain which that campaign demonstrates. The United Kingdom believes that, globally, individuals have the right to development. For example, negotiations on the right to development at the Commission on Human Rights were enhanced by the United Kingdom's presidency of the EU. We strongly believe that we can make progress internationally and that Britain is playing a moral role at home.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

Britain is still training military personnel from Indonesia and sending arms to that country, which is not famous for respecting human rights. When will the Government start practising what they preach?

Mr. Lloyd

The overnment certainly do practise what they preach, in remarkable and stark contrast to the previous Government. The same export licence criteria apply to the Indonesian Government as to any other country. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced a change to the former United Kingdom military training and assistance scheme when he introduced ASSIST, which places an emphasis on human rights training and respect for civilian and democratic government. That is the direction in which this Government are going; that is not the direction in which the previous Government sought to go.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

All hon. Members support the concept of human rights. Surely one of the major challenges facing us is the need to support those who work in difficult circumstances in many parts of the world to achieve basic human rights. Will the Minister, therefore, tell us whether he has any information about the fate of the president of the Turkish human rights association who, I understand, was shot six times today in his office and whose condition is critical?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot help the hon. Lady with the specific details because I do not know them. The House and the world will view that development with alarm and concern. It is incumbent on the Turkish authorities to discover who committed the crime and to ensure that they are brought to justice.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

May I thank my hon. Friend for the publication of the first human rights report in the 19 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, which is a welcome change in respect of the Foreign Office? The Foreign Affairs Select Committee has investigated human rights, and everyone who gave evidence welcomed the fact that we should have an annual report and be able to discuss with the Foreign Office how we could improve this country's ethical foreign and human rights policy.

Mr. Lloyd

A primary purpose of the report is to bring new openness to the way in which the Government conduct their affairs in respect of human rights. It is a matter of recorded fact that Conservative Members have made no pressure for that sort of openness and a matter of practical fact that, for the most part, they have never engaged in debate on human rights. My hon. Friend represents the body of opinion that wants proper and credible debate on the issue, and wants to make sure that the British Government can hold their head up in the world, as the present Government can on those issues.

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