HL Deb 19 June 1980 vol 410 cc1204-7

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of the continued Russian atrocities in Afghanistan, whether they will confirm that there are no representatives of the International Red Cross in that country.


My Lords, I can confirm that there are now no representatives of the Red Cross in Afghanistan.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask whether he can confirm that they have been there in the past; and can Her Majesty's Government use all their influence to persuade them to publish a full and official report of all the atrocities that have been committed there, so that the rest of the Western world may realise that these things go on? Will he also say whether it is possible to use Her Majesty's Government's influence to ask the Red Cross to go back again and continue doing the same work?


My Lords, the Red Cross of course is a wholly independent international body and I do not think that the Government have any special influence with them, but I can say that there was a Red Cross delegation in Kabul until recently.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question which he may not care to answer? What I want to know is this: are we providing the Afghans with any weapons, any means of resistance against the atrocities committed by the Russian forces, or, alternatively, are we using our economic strength (such as it is) in order to prevent the Russians from obtaining technological know-how and credit in goods in various forms at prices which suit them but do not suit us? What are we doing to help in this matter? We have made our protest. Is it to end there, as in the case of Czechoslovakia?


My Lords, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary announced as far back as January a number of steps that we were taking in respect of the Soviet Union in connection with the granting of credit, the supply of technology and other matters. With regard to the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, I can say that the allegations in the Russian press of Western interference are, so far as this country is concerned, without foundation.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the International Red Cross withdrew voluntarily from Kabul or were they expelled?


My Lords, I am not really in a position to answer for the International Red Cross, but I can say that I understand they were confined to Kabul while they were there, and presume it was for that reason that they withdrew.


My Lords, I understand very clearly that a statement was made some months ago on this question, but can the noble Lord tell us what action is now contemplated to be taken by our Government and the Governments of our European colleagues? There are children being shot in the streets, there are villagers being attacked by Soviet aircraft while they go about their ordinary everyday business. Is it not time that the Western world started to take this matter a great deal more seriously?


My Lords, I am not sure what further action the noble Lord has in mind, but the steps which we have taken are not without their effect, and of course we have made our views very clearly known on the question of the Olympics. I fancy that nothing would have more effect upon the Russian mind in this matter than if we were able to secure the relocation of the Olympics or to persuade the bulk of the athletes not to go.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether there is no power within the British Government to bring some influence to bear on other countries to get the International Red Cross to go back to Afghanistan and carry out some duties there? May I ask him whether he realises, in this connection, as I do, that in the last war the Japanese for nearly four years did not recognise the International Red Cross, and the suffering that people endured in that situation was quite appalling? It was only right at the end that the International Red Cross, under international pressure, was recognised. Can the Government not use their good influences in that direction?


My Lords, I do not think we have the power, or indeed the right, to order the Red Cross to go anywhere, but of course I think it would be a good thing if they could get back into Afghanistan. I imagine that they would not wish to go back unless they could be certain that they could discharge their duties properly, which is clearly not the case at present.


My Lords, would the noble Lord like to confirm that the present delegation that was in Afghanistan, which was an International Committee of the Red Cross delegation, have been recalled to Geneva for consultations, and probably when those consultations are over those delegates will be back again in Afghanistan, doing their very difficult and sometimes rather dangerous job looking after the detainees?


My Lords, the noble Baroness is a great expert in these matters and I have no doubt that what she has said is right. But I also think it is the case that the ICRC will need some co-operation, at least from the authorities in Afghanistan.


My Lords, I was more than happy to defer to the noble Baroness, who is such an expert. Can the noble Lord inform the House whether one really has to take it for granted that the United Nations is powerless in this matter? Is it not somewhat inconsistent that when a small nation perpetrates something which is thought by the United Nations to be contrary to the Charter there can so easily be condemnatory resolutions, whereas in the case of a big power with a veto the United Nations seems powerless?


My Lords, that is quite right, of course. The Soviet Union is a permanent member of the Security Council and therefore has a right of veto of any mandatory action that that council might take. I think other action would require a 60 per cent. majority of the General Assembly, which is unlikely to be achieved.

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