HC Deb 13 July 2004 vol 423 cc1247-8
7. Mr. Graham Allen(Lab) (Nottingham, North)

What plans he has to take further steps to seek to amend (a) international law and (b) the structures of the UN to deal with tyrannical regimes. [183361]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell)

This Government have led the international debate on improving collective action against tyrannical regimes. International law and the role of UN bodies are continually evolving to meet new challenges. We therefore fully support further reforms that strengthen the capacity of the UN and other bodies to deal with such regimes.

Mr. Allen

Does my hon. Friend accept that progressive opinion both inside and outside this House will judge our tenure in the Foreign Office against the criteria of whether we have been able to tackle tyrannies globally, first by strengthening international law and secondly by boosting global institutions so that we can effectively tackle tyrannies? Will he therefore redouble his efforts to seek humanitarian-based criteria for intervention in tyrannical regimes and report to the House on the current state of play in the high-level panel created by the Secretary-General of the UN to bring these matters to a serious conclusion, hopefully before the next general election in this country?

Mr. Rammell

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and for his interest in this issue, which I know is long standing. We have already taken significant steps, such as through our commitment and support for the International Criminal Court, but much still needs to be done. We need to work on developing an international consensus through the United Nations in terms of the circumstances that should justify intervention in a variety of forms to meet a developing humanitarian crisis. We are very strongly putting that view forward, and I believe that that argument is increasingly gaining ground in the high-level panel.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con)

Does the Minister agree that there are two difficulties with this matter? First, tyrannical regimes do not tend to abide by the provisions of international law. Secondly, the United Nations is itself significantly populated by such regimes, which will define the criteria by which the law might be changed.

Mr. Rammell

In many respects, that is a counsel of despair. Historically, one of the biggest indictments of the whole international community and the United Nations was our failure to act in 1994 when genocide was taking place in Rwanda. I never want us internationally to face that situation again, which is why I believe that it is crucial that we take the agenda forward as positively as we can.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)

I applaud the ministerial team for its efforts in taking this agenda forward quite boldly, especially with the high-level panel, but what hopes does it hold that we can effectively have charter change and accomplish a two-thirds majority, so that we can seek intervention on humanitarian grounds in exceptional circumstances? When I held a panel of sixth-formers on Monday morning, many of them were opposed to intervention in Iraq, but would also support such action and are frustrated when they look at other parts of the world and see the failure of the international community to intervene in exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Rammell

There is a developing consensus and we would be prepared to consider charter change, although given the requirement for a two-thirds majority at the General Assembly, that is a significant hurdle that we would have to overcome. If one looks at the history of the development of the United Nations, one sees that it has often been through a process of evolution. What gives me confidence, however, is that across the board internationally, there is a growing acceptance that we need to move forward on this issue. We are at the forefront of those arguments.

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