§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Viscount Buckmaster rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will define their attitude towards the continuing violation of human rights in Asia (less the Soviet Union), Africa and Latin America.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so I am conscious of the immensity of my task and of my own inadequacy in attempting it. Indeed, I feel like a hill-walker who has hitherto tackled nothing more challenging than the Pennine Way, now confronted with the great panoply of the Himalayas.
§ In fact, the Question we are considering tonight is far beyond the scope of most Unstarred Questions. Over the last year—in fact it was exactly a year ago when I tabled a Motion in this sense—I have collected enough material on human rights violations, on the basis of press reports, media reports, reports from Amnesty International and, above all, the testimonies of friends, to cover at least four Unstarred Questions. However, I think your Lordships will agree, in the light of the very interesting and wide-ranging debates we have had recently in your Lordships' House on Communism and world hunger, that these wide-ranging debates are particularly valuable when dealing with the problem of human rights. I feel that this human rights problem is far more terrible and far more tragic than that of hunger, if only because its solution lies wholly within the power of mankind.
§ Somewhat surprisingly, I have discovered that there has been no wide-ranging debate of this kind on human rights either in your Lordships' House or in another place over the past few years. We have of course had numerous debates; there have been Starred Questions, Unstarred Questions and Questions for Written Answer on the legal and other aspects of human rights. But I propose tonight to consider this question in its starkest human terms, clothing the bare bones of the statistics with the flesh of suffering humanity—scars, scabs and all. In doing so, I am quite convinced that my presentation will be inadequate and probably inaccurate; but I hope your Lordships will not accuse me of exaggeration because that would surely be the greatest crime to commit in a speech of this kind.1219
§ One thing that has impressed me as a result of my researches is that, whether the violations of human rights in the areas that we are considering increasing or decreasing—they may be increasing in some areas and decreasing in others—nevertheless, they are continuing and continuing on a vast and terrifying scale. In fact they have been continuing since time immemorial and we can perhaps see a direct link between the massacre of the innocents by Herod and the slaughter of innocent civilians at Mai Lai by Lieutenant Calley in Vietnam—or more terribly the slaughter of 300,000 in Kampuchea by the armed forces between 1975 and 1979, of 500,000 or so in Indonesia between 1965 and 1966 and of many hundreds of thousands slaughtered by Amin in Uganda between 1971 and 1979. And so with torture. The rack and the thumbscrew of the Middle Ages have been replaced by electrodes attached to human genitals, and other diabolical devices.
§ However, I must give a more precise analysis of the situation. According to the latest report published by Amnesty International, in October 1982, which is nearly a year out of date now, violations of human rights which take the form of extra-judicial execution, abduction, imprisonment without trial and torture in prisons, were reported in 48 out of a total of 53 countries in Africa, in 32 out of a total of 39 in Asia and in 19 out of a total of 24 in Latin America which, if my geography and my addition are right—and they may not be infallible—gives us a total of 99 countries which are violating human rights out of a total of 116. If one were to prepare a blacklist of the worst violators, that would include Iran, Uganda, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Pakistan, Kampuchea, Argentina and the Philippines—not necessarily in that order.
§ But these facts do not present the full picture, partly because Amnesty International is not able to obtain material about every country where violations are taking place, partly because there is another and important aspect of this problem which Amnesty International does not cover.
§ I need not remind your Lordships that we are within a very few days of the 150th anniversary of the death of William Wilberforce. A recent report in the press, which some of your Lordships may have seen, came to the astonishing conclusion that slavery is now more widespread even than it was in the days of Wilberforce. I find that hard to accept. Nevertheless, in this so-called civilised world of ours the most terrible things are happening in the sphere of slavery.
§ First, there is the exploitation and abuse of children. We learn from reliable evidence that in India no fewer than 16 million children between the ages of five and 15 are working for up to 12 or more hours a day in appalling conditions. In Iran and Turkey, little girls of five—and I think in some cases even less than five—are employed in the carpet factories: again, working long and tedious hours for a pittance, and they are employed because their nimble little fingers are more adept at stitching.
§ Then we have Morocco, where young boys—and some of your Lordships may have seen this—are employed in the tanneries, their bodies stained with dye in the same way that chimney-sweepers in Britain 1220 had their bodies encrusted with soot. Perhaps I can remind your Lordships that, although we no longer send children up chimneys, the caseload of battered and abused children handled by the NSPCC has increased by no less than 23 per cent, over the past year.
§ Then there is the very important problem of debt bondage which is widely practised in India, Mauritania and elsewhere. For example, in India there are supposed to be something like five million people who are now indebted to moneylenders, and this debt bondage extends in some cases to as many as nine generations. I could also mention the growing rate of female infanticide in China, the widespread practice of female circumcision in Africa and elsewhere, the burning of young brides in India and a recent report to the effect that over the next few years something like 5 million people in the Philippines are likely to die as a result of the Government's policy directed against the tribes.
§ One of the problems that we face—and it is perhaps the most important one of all—is lack of adequate information. Perhaps I may illustrate this by asking your Lordships to imagine a tapestry. somewhat like the Bayeux tapestry, extending from the Table to the Throne. On it one would see a mass of scenes showing the violations of human rights which are going on now, or which have taken place over the past few months. Most of this tapestry is in darkness, but here and there we have a little scene illuminated by the spotlight of a press report or perhaps the testimony of a person who has been there recently.
§ Let me start with Iran, where a bloody and insensate fanaticism still rules, and our first scene is of a secondary school where we see a group of soldiers rushing in and seizing some students, some of them in their early teens, dragging them off, protesting, to serve as cannon fodder in the army. In Iran, too, we see a group of Baha'is who are going to their execution, because they refuse to renounce their faith. As your Lordships may be aware, the persecution of the Baha'is has continued even since the Question in your Lordships' House on 28th June. But this persecution is not limited to Baha'is. It is not limited to Moslems. For example, in the Philippines we find widespread persecution of the Christian Church. Its leaders are being arrested and detained and in some cases tortured.
§ Let me now turn to Uganda. Here I must pause for a moment, because that is the area with which I am most familiar. I served there about 12 years ago and I have been responsible for maintaining certain Ugandans who have had to flee the country as a result of earlier persecution.
§ Your Lordships will be familiar with the situation from press reports, since Uganda has attracted more attention from the media than any other country in Africa or, indeed, in the third world. What has been happening is that the army have been running amok. They have been rampaging around, in most cases unpaid and unfed. They have been menacing and attacking civilians and have been doing so under the guise of eliminating guerrillas. But many of the young people killed and arrested were no more guerrillas than any of your Lordships' teenage sons. I was also told by 1221 a Briton who came back recently from Uganda that there are also what are known as "safe houses" in which rich businessmen are imprisoned and in some cases tortured until they can pay a ransom. Finally, there are, as your Lordships will be aware from recent press reports, something like 100,000 refugees herded into camps: people who have fled from the terror of the villages. To my horror, I heard from this source that the army had even been attacking the refugees in these camps.
§ We must be balanced and patient. We must accept that President Obote wants to restore order, and we are giving him support. I feel sure that the noble Lord the Minister will be able to enlarge upon this point. But it is perhaps a little difficult for the Ugandan Government to maintain that the terrible excesses of the army are committed without their knowledge when torture is widespread in prisons which are within a few miles of government headquarters.
§ Finally in this survey of our tapestry, we turn to Buenos Aires, where we find a mother grieving over the loss of her son—one of the 90,000 people who, we understand, have disappeared from Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Chitnis will be able to enlarge upon this.
§ One very disturbing aspect of this human rights problem is that so many religious leaders, in particular state leaders, justify their policies on the basis of their religion. President Rios Montt of Guatemala claims to be a "born again" Christian, yet this does not prevent him allowing his army to commit the most terrible excesses. Exactly a year ago there was a report from an American missionary of a group of 89 people in Guatemala who were herded into a camp, shot or beaten to death and then burned; of the babies, tied to their mothers' backs, going, living, into the flames. Again, if this report is to be believed, young children were roped together and dragged into the flames. All of us would agree that the apartheid policy in South Africa is the very antithesis of Christian teaching, yet there are South African leaders who justify their policy on the basis of the Bible.
§ I turn now to Judaism. We find that President Begin justifies his policy of attacking the opponents of his régime—the Palestinian Arabs and so on—on the basis of the tooth for a tooth and the eye for an eye policy. And how often has he taken a whole jawful of teeth for one tooth, a whole fateful of eyes for one eye? But one learns from the Torah: "Who is strong? He who makes of his enemy a friend". Leading Judaistic divines tell me that this policy of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye is now wholly unacceptable.
Thirdly, I turn to Islam, a religion which I have studied in some detail. Some people may say that President Khomeini's policy of executions and mutilations is justified by the Koran. If noble Lords read the Koran, as I have, they will find that the words coming through most forcefully are: "God is merciful, compassionate". They shine like a great beacon through the fog of obscurity which clouds so much of the Koran. What is even more important is that we read:
And the recompense of evil is punishment like it; but whoso forgives and amends his reward is with Allah".
Is not that perhaps the most terrible of all the problems now facing human rights? Throughout most of the
world the element of forgiveness is nowhere to be found.
§ Let me examine, too, the theory that suffering ennobles. In that context, I must speak particularly of the Ugandan martyrs. Forty-six of them went to their deaths in 1885 because they refused to renounce Christianity. They were marched from Kampala to a hill outside the city and given five days in which to collect firewood for their pyres. They died glorifying God. The spirit of those martyrs lives on now. It is found in the death of Archbishop Luwum, whose martyrdom was commemorated by the Pope on his visit to Britain. It is found throughout much of Uganda now. I have found the most moving examples of it. Some of the finest Christians I have met in the world have been Ugandans.
§ A visitor from outer space might indeed be amazed. He might well ask what is the correlation between the suprahuman which we find in this world and the sub-bestial: between our Luwums and our Schweitzers, our Hitlers and Amins. And would this visitor not also say that we have got our priorities wrong? We discover the mysteries of the atom, yet we use atomic energy to produce what Milton would call "great engines of war". We explore the mysteries of the moon and the marvels of Mars and yet we fail to light those little lanterns of love, those humble candles of mercy, tolerance and compassion which, if lit widely enough throughout the world, would surely transform it. Those lights remain unlit. Meanwhile, the violations of human rights continue, week after week, month after month, year after year—the terror, the torture, the senseless slaughter, the degradation and the despair, creating, as it were, a cacophony of sound even more horrendous than the Mars movement in Holst's suite "The Planets".
§ And what do we do? What is our reaction? Most of us, I fear, retreat, unable to bear this horror, eyes tightly closed, hands over ears. But surely, as human beings, we must show understanding and compassion. Having served for 30 years abroad, I feel that the things which unite us are more powerful than those which divide us, that the universal brotherhood of man is not just an empty concept, "like sounding brass or tinkling cymbal". It is something real and meaningful, for which we must all work.
§ I know that our sphere of action is comparatively limited, but perhaps I may briefly put to the noble Lord the Minister four proposals which I feel are worth considering. First, I feel that we must instil in our Foreign Service personnel a greater realisation of human rights problems. During the whole of my service, it was only in the last two years that I was given any directions at all about this matter, although the most terrible violations of human rights were occurring all around me. All too often I fear that the Foreign Office has used the provision in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights against interference in the affairs of foreign states as a convenient hedge under which to shelter from the harshest blasts of cruelty and intolerance.
§ Secondly, stemming from that, I would recommend that we give closer consideration to the human rights records of states with which we are in relationship. This may perhaps involve some modification of our 1223 trade or aid policy, but I cannot go into that now. Thirdly, I would submit that we should complain to the UN Commission on Human Rights, where complaint is justified, in concert with our EEC partners. Fourthly, I would recommend that we give every possible assistance to the promotion of the many organisations, most of them unofficial organisations like Amnesty, and so on, a great many all over the third world, working for human rights. There is now a charter, The African Charter on Human and People's Rights, which has been set up under the Organisation of African Unity which will achieve that. Unfortunately, this charter has so far been ratified by only seven African states. Might we not perhaps consider sowing the idea of such a charter among the Arab League states?
Finally, I would quote from that very lovely poem of Arthur Clough:
And while the tired waves vainly breaking
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.".
Have we not all stood on the shore wondering whether the tide is turning? I feel in my bones that the tide is turning. There are signs that it is, not least in the recent Madrid Conference between East and West. There are signs all over the developing world that the tide is turning, and the day may not be far distant when those waters of mercy and compassion "come silent, flooding in" to fill the creeks and inlets throughout the world to cover the harsh boulders of cruelty, the jagged rocks of intolerance; and we, although of course the movement of tides is outside human control, must surely do all we can to bring about the return of compassion and reason. Our voice can still be a powerful voice, especially if used in conjunction with the voices of our friends in the United States and Europe. It will be listened to, and it must be heard.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I believe we would all agree that the noble Viscount is doing a public service in asking this Question and in initiating this debate tonight. There is only one point in his speech which I would pick up, and that is where he hinted at the powers of darkness which have been mobilised by the developed, industrialised world. It is not simply the anniversary of Wilberforce that we are thinking of today: we are also within a few days of the 38th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. Nothing could be more certain to abolish all human rights than the waging of a nuclear war which was initiated by the developed, not the developing, world.
I want to concentrate on one area tonight, and I want particularly to probe the Government's mind—because that is the purpose of this Question—as to their actions, as distinct from their fair words, in relation to the issue under discussion. I should like to say, first of all, that I hope and trust that nobody will misinterpret anything I say tonight as a justification for the horrors, the cruelty and the barbarous acts which I know of and have witnessed time without number on the continent of Africa; but I believe that it is more important, particularly for the Government and for us as Members of both Houses of Parliament. to understand first, before condemning.
1224 It was that notable statesman Lee Kwan Yew who said a few years ago at an international conference in Africa that one of the major failures of British colonial rule was that we had left no structure of security within those states which attained independence, and I believe that to have been proved and proved again, time without number, over the last 25 years. Those of us who have been in close contact with the men and women who have had to deal with the agonising problems of the newly-independent countries can only sympathise with them in the terrible choices with which they have so often been left. I am particularly recalling an evening on which I had to discuss for many hours with a president, who was an old friend of mine, whether or not he should confirm death sentences on a number of men, all of whom had been our friends—friends of both the president and myself. The choice, as he saw it, was between following his own humane instincts and the danger that, if he did so, he would be considered a weak man, opening the way to further disruption and possible civil war. That was a choice which should face no human being.
It is not surprising that in the continent of Africa at this time and in this generation there should be a great deal of violence, a great deal of cruelty and a great many human rights denied to millions of people. It is not surprising if one knows the slightest facts about the history of the continent. That is a history which over the last 500 years has been dominated, first of all, by the slave trade imposed from without, from Europe and Arabia—there was no slave trade in Africa itself as we know it; there was domestic slavery, but not chattel slavery—and by the removal and consequent disruption of whole communities; generations of young men and women taken from their countries.
That was followed by the division of the continent between European states; by the accompanying brutality, such as that in the Congo which shocked the world, and the domination of alien peoples and alien systems; and by the introduction of totally new concepts of political life. Then there were the wars of liberation, such as were to be seen particularly in the French and Portuguese colonies, which concluded with a continent divided totally artificially, divided completely according to European considerations, with profound divisions between ethnic communities, between economic communities and between geographic regions. It is not surprising, I suggest, that the consequence is a great deal of violence, a great deal of chaos and a great deal of terror.
Then, following independence, there was the introduction of the market place; of a consumer society; of the open encouragement to the entrepreneur. There was the large scale destruction of the egalitarian state. These are not excuses and they are not justifications—they are facts. They are facts which could only lead to tragedy.
But Africa is a continent in a state of transition and experiment. All I will add to that which I have said about the continent as a whole is that in those experiments, we must understand much more shrewdly than is common in this country or in Europe that, for example, the single party state—when it is conducted in a democratic fashion. as it is in Tanzania, Zambia and in a number of other countries—may very well fit into the needs of the 1225 people of those countries at this present stage. It is not necessarily undemocratic. In some ways, it is even more deeply democratic than the imposition of a Westminster model on societies which have not developed along the same lines as our society in this country.
I will finish by asking the Government a question concerning their attitude to a country in Africa for which I believe we in this country still have a major responsibility. That country is South Africa. Why "a major responsibility"? Because it was Britain who imposed and devised the original South African constitution in 1909–10. In that constitution, it was the British Parliament which, for the first time, introduced constitutionally the provision that only those with white skin colour should be allowed to legislate. This was the first time in the history of South Africa that this provision had been laid down as a constitutional principle and enshrined in the constitution.
Some of the brave Afrikaners of the time, such as Mr. Schreiner, came and petitioned Parliament to reject the constitution. As they saw it, Britain was devising a constitution for South Africa which could only lead to a denial of basic human rights for the vast majority of the population. Within three years of the acceptance of that constitution, the South Africans had devised land settlement—a settlement which left 13–7 per cent, of the land to nearly 80 per cent, of the African people and the remaining 84.3 per cent, of the land to the white people.
It is ridiculous to talk about apartheid as though it is something new to South Africa. It is the logical conclusion of a trend and process which goes right back into South African history—and certainly right back to the British constitution of 1910. From that time onwards, there has been a struggle in South Africa for human rights. The first basic human right is the right to participate in the government of one's own society. That is a right which we have enshrined in the phrase "No taxation without representation". That right has been denied to nearly 80 per cent, of the population of South Africa since 1910. That right is still denied. It is denied even more firmly today than it was in 1910. Rights have been progressively taken away from the Africans, from the coloureds, and from the Asians in South Africa ever since. Now, the nonwhite population is being still further discriminated against by being expelled from urban life. Literally millions of Africans have been moved from their homes over the past few years—compulsorily moved to settlements in the so-called Bantustans. Those are settlements where they cannot sustain themselves, and where it is estimated by one South African professor that 30,000 children die every year; this, in the richest country in the continent.
I have deliberately given a short précis of this issue because I wish to tackle the question: what can the Government do? It is not enough to say that we are against apartheid. The fact is that under the pressures of apartheid, a resistance movement has inevitably developed. Perhaps I should declare an interest because I have been banned from South Africa for 24 years now. But I was in South Africa when the great congress took place which proclaimed the Freedom 1226 Charter. The preamble to the Freedom Charter stated quite simply:We the people of South Africa declare for all our country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no Government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people".Surely, that is the first human right. In Africa the second—perhaps equal—right is the right to own one's land. That is a right which, as I have shown, has been denied to the vast majority of the people of South Africa for the past 70 years.
As a consequence of the resistance, we find again, inevitably, that there are tortures in the prison cells; that there are deaths in police offices; that there are massive trials; that there are bannings; that there are restrictions. One finds that friends with whom I worked, such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, have been incarcerated for 20 years, and have spent most of their adult lives in gaol. These are deliberate refusals to provide the basic human rights which the African people are demanding.
When one denies human rights to people, they inevitably—as all peoples have done—fight back. In that fight, there are martyrs and there are victims. This is the society which was initiated along those lines by Britain. It is a society which is sustained with the aid of British capital. British trade, and with the support of some leading members, as we saw only last week in the cricket world, of the British establishment.
I should like to ask the Government what they intend to do about the growing, dangerous international repercussions of the situation in southern Africa—a situation in which the fundamental human rights, as the Government I know will admit, are denied to the vast majority of the people. I repeat, it is not enough to say that we disagree with and dislike, or even abhor, apartheid. What are the Government going to do when the international community has constantly demanded action against that regime which is destroying the human rights of the vast majority of the South African people?
May I finish with a quotation, which some of' your Lordships will have heard before, because I think it symbolises the real issue as it is seen through the eyes of the majority of Africans within South Africa, within a South Africa which is the only country in the world that I know of that denies human rights on the grounds of birth, on the grounds of the skin colour that a baby is born with. Again I will quote from my martyred friend Nelson Mandela who, when he was sentenced at the Rivonia trial to life imprisonment because of his opposition to the regime, had this to say—and I believe it is a text for all who fight on behalf of the human rights of the world community. He said:I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and see realised. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.".That is the spirit of the African resistance movement in South Africa. I should like to know where the Government stand in this war which now has been waged certainly over the past 20 years: I should like to know where the British Government stand in the middle of this war for the human rights of the majority of the South African community.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Chitnis
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Viscount for introducing this Question tonight, and particularly because I want to talk specifically about E1 Salvador, congratulate him on its timeliness, because it is at the end of this month that the American Administration has to certify yet again whether there has been an improvement in the human rights situation in E1 Salvador thus to justify continuing sending military aid to that country. President Reagan has just set up his commission on the long-term problems of Central America, and former President Duarte has just visited this country. I would say in parenthesis that I am glad the Government gave him a warm welcome. I do hope that while they did so they reflected that without the ill-conceived and unnecessary election in E1 Salvador last year he would still be the president of that country. Secondly, I should like yet again to echo his request to the Government that a British embassy may again be established in E1 Salvador.
Although it is seven months since I was last in that country. I have had recent first-hand contact with it in a long conversation I had two or three weeks ago with Ana Margarita Gasteazoro. She is a prominent member of the Salvadorian Labour Party, the MNR, who was detained two years ago. She was tortured at the National Guard headquarters there, and has been in prison since then until she was suddenly released on 23rd May this year. I would like to say two things about her. The first is to thank those people in this country who worked so hard for her release. When she was first detained, I, together with a Labour and a Conservative Member of another place, wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who was then Foreign Secretary, and asked him if he could do anything to help in this situation. He did say that he would make enquiries and I believe that a British diplomat did visit her when she was in prison. I am glad, though a little bit surprised, to see that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is answering the debate tonight. I am glad because he was a Minister for about half the time that she was in detention, and on the assumption that there must have been considerable efforts made by the Foreign Office to secure her release, I think that appreciation should be expressed.
Nonetheless, one should remember, as she herself said, that she may have been released and others may have been released with her, but those who were released were quite arbitrarily chosen. Many prisoners still remain in political detention, and many of them have been detained longer than she had been. The other thing she made very clear was the deep fear of those who have been released but who, unlike her, have been unable to leave the country. They are marked, they are living in an atmosphere of the death squads and they are obviously very frightened people indeed. In fact, in a sense those who are in prison in E1 Salvador are the lucky ones, because outside the prison the picture continues to be dreadful.
In the last period of seven days for which I have detailed information—and this is about five or six weeks ago—there were 37 civilian killings and 18 disappearances. Do remember, with regard to these figures, that we are talking about a country with a 1228 population one-twelfth the size of the United Kingdom. Among the dead was a man called Pablo Torres. The significant thing about him was that he was a beneficiary of a previous amnesty. It gives point to the fears of those who have recently been released that at any moment the same thing may happen to them. Among the other dead or disappeared within these few days was a former promoter of the Agrarian Reform Agency, a doctor who was a former MNR (socialist) activist, a professor from San Salvador and the secretary of the Catholic University of the West. In case anyone harbours the unworthy thought that it is only the Left that gets damaged in E1 Salvador, the Christian Democrat headquarters—that is, the Salvadorian equivalent of Central Office—was sprayed with machine gun fire, and Ray Prendes, who is a distinguished Christian Democrat politician in E1 Salvador, who is trying to work within the system and could not by any stroke of imagination be called a Left-wing guerrilla, blamed the extreme Right. I do emphasise that those are events that happened in just one week in El Salvador.
In these circumstances it seems to me that to certify that there has been an improvement of human rights in that country is impossible. But of course it will be done. President Reagan is determined on his policy of military aid to the E1 Salvadorian Government and he will simply tailor the facts to suit his case. While I wish the commission he has set up success, the negative terms in which it was announced do not seem to me to augur very well. In other words, I consider American policy in E1 Salvador to be both blinkered and inadequate. I hope that the Minister tonight, and the British Government in future, will at best dissociate themselves from that policy, but at least express some reservations about American policy in E1 Salvador, because what is happening there is so damaging to the cause of human rights the world over.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Lord Whaddon
My Lords, we have heard an appalling catalogue tonight of the abuse of basic human rights, on the grounds of colour, very forcibly put by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, and I would certainly like to associate myself with the feelings that he expressed, on the grounds of politics, as expressed, by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis. The noble Viscount also drew our attention to abuses of human rights on grounds of religious belief in various parts of the world. I should like to associate myself with that and to reinforce what he said.
It seems almost beyond belief in this century that people can be oppressed because of simple religious belief, and yet it is happening. Possibly the prime example at the present time is the continuing appalling suppression of the Baha'is in Iran, in spite of so very many protests. One has only to meet a few of the Baha'is to realise what peaceful, tolerant, co-operative people they are. Their attitude to their fellow men is always most impressive. One cannot mix with them for more than a few minutes without feeling that here is a touch of godliness. whether it is our religion or not. Speaking for myself, and for everyone else I know who has had anything to do with them, there is a feeling of sickness and disbelief that the persecution of these 1229 people can be tolerated in this world, but it is happening.
The Iranian constitution is most extraordinary. It lays down an Islamic state as being fundamental in Iran. But it tolerates certain nominated groups as well. It names Christians as a tolerated minority. It also names Jews as a tolerated minority. However, unless a group is mentioned in the constitution, its members are simply non-people with no rights whatever as human beings. This is an astonishingly blinkered attitude. The Baha'is are not mentioned although there are about 300,000 who live in Iran, and have done so for many generations. They do not exist legally because their religion is not mentioned in the constitution. Because of this they are denied every decent human right. Their marriages are not recognised and because they are not recognised any Baha'is who marry under the Baha'i rites are regarded as living in immorality and are liable to all sorts of penalties. They are subjected to deprivation of educational opportunities. They have no property rights. Their property is liable to confiscation at any time. This has been going on for year after year.
A number of recent incidents have particularly stuck in my mind. In the city of Shiraz, 80 Baha'is were recently arrested simply for being Baha'is. They were subjected to enormous pressure to convert to Islam and to recant their own faith, but they refused to do so. Out of the 80 who were arrested 22 were condemned to death. The astonishing cruelty of that persecution is shown by the fact that the authorities, although having condemned 22, did not name which 22 were to be executed. So far 19 have been executed. Presumably another three of the survivors remain under sentence of death, but they do not know who they will be. What greater cat and mouse game can one imagine—and this is done in the name of God!
In the village of Ival recently 130 Baha'is were rounded up and driven into a walled field. They were left there without food or water under the blazing sun. They were told they would be let out only when they were converted. They refused to be converted. After three days and nights of exposure they were eventually let out, but they were abused, stoned and chased into the woods. Of course, they still refused to be converted.
An incident which possibly more than any of these touched me recently was when a Baha'i husband and wife were subjected to extreme pressure to renounce their religion. Understandably, the husband changed his religion and was pardoned. The wife refused and was executed. It is believed that the husband has since developed an extreme psychological disturbance, which is not surprising. What ghastly, impossible pressure that is to put on families—again, in the name of God! It is absolutely right that we should express our revulsion at such abuses.
President Reagan appealed to the Government of Iran to pardon the Shiraz Baha'is who were condemned to death. In spite of his appeal, many of the sentences have been carried out. What a pity it is that the rest of the leaders of nations in the world did not associate themselves with President Reagan's demand.
1230 Her Majesty's Government have a good record on the admission of Baha'i refugees. I pay tribute to the Government for having taken that attitude, and I appeal to them to continue with that attitude because I have a strong feeling that the flow of refugees will continue and increase. Perhaps we can also press the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at its meeting beginning in August to renew its appeal to Iran to take a more civilised attitude. We should renew the pressure on the Secretary General of the United Nations to send his envoy to Iran in order to make representations on the spot.
Possibly the best pressure that could be exerted on the Government of Iran would be from the Moslem nations. There are a number of Moslem nations in the Commonwealth with whom we should have a special influence. The Moslem religion is one of the world's major religions and the overwhelming majority of Moslems are godfearing and good living people for whom one must have the deepest respect. But surely every Moslem should realise that the events in Iran and the outrages being committed against the Baha'is in the name of Islam are besmirching the reputation of the whole religion, whether or not they themselves are associated with it. Therefore, it is very much in the interests of the whole of Islam that all Moslems should condemn the abuses in Iran for the sake of their own religion. Her Majesty's Government should perhaps press this point of view with Moslem members of the Commonwealth.
In saying that I am certainly not taking a holier-than-thou attitude. The Christian religion in its time has committed some appalling abuses. We do not forget the Inquisition. But possibly we have had time and the benefit of history to learn the lesson that the martyrdom of one's opponents is not only wrong but it is absolutely counter-productive and reinforces the will of the people that one is trying to suppress. At present the suppression of the Baha'is is drawing sympathetic attention to that religion throughout the world. In Iran there is no doubt that it is inserting steel into the very souls of the people who are being persecuted. History shows us that persecution cannot and will not succeed. The question remains: how many innocent lives will be sacrificed before the persecutors realise that their efforts are simply digging a grave for their own beliefs?
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for initiating this debate on a subject of the highest importance. I believe we have had a wide-ranging debate, which, albeit short, has been one of considerable significance. Surely one of the saddest aspects of a world in which remarkable advances are constantly being made in science and technology is man's continuing inhumanity to his neighbour in so many parts of the globe. Man has gone to the moon and is exploring the mysteries of space, yet he does not recognise that other men have basic rights to freedom, justice and a peaceful existence.
People are imprisoned without trial in the most appalling conditions. They are starved, beaten, tortured and killed without compunction. In some cases medical science is used to inflict torture, and in 1231 others trials in court are rigged to try to put a cloak of respectability over a monstrous travesty of justice. These things are done in the name of the state or, even more odious, as the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, has just said, in defence, or in the name, of religion or to advance some tyrant's ambition. They are done in the name of freedom as well! The noble Viscount has given us examples of these crimes against humanity in some parts of the world. I shall refer briefly to some examples which cause grave concern.
Perhaps I may start with Latin America, not only because of our long association with many parts of the sub-continent but also because of the inevitable involvement of the United States there. I listened with great interest and respect to the short but important speech of the noble Lord. Lord Chitnis. We recognise the concern of the United States about all political developments in Latin America and especially in those countries which are, so to speak, on her doorstep: nor do we forget that the United States is a close friend and ally. This is why aspects of American intervention in E1 Salvador and Nicaragua are distressing. Human rights are not a conspicuous element there.
In the war in E1 Salvador between the guerrillas and the Right-wing Government, it is the defenceless population which is suffering at the hands of the security forces, which are amply supplied with arms from the United States. The Church there estimates that about 40,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict. A human rights commission was set up by President Mangana last December, but the killing still goes on. As we know, elections were held in E1 Salvador and were said by Government representatives to be fair, although again we must take account of what the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, said in his report. He took a very different view of those elections, which, if I recall his words, he described as "fundamentally flawed".
The European Council which met at Stuttgart on 17th June made it clear that:the problems of Central America cannot be solved by military means but only by a political solution springing from the region itself and respecting the principles of non-interference and inviolability of frontiers".The Council supported the initiative of the Contadora Group. We shall be glad to have the Minister's comments on any progress being made by that group.
The bipartisan national commission set up by President Reagan to advise on the problems of Central America must be warmly welcomed. Dr. Kissinger, with his great experience, will be an ideal chairman. We hope that he and his colleagues will be able to start their work soon. Doubtless they will consult with the Contadora Group. We have noted that the four presidents in the Contadora Group have also issued a statement in the last few days listing specific proposals for peace in the area. They reiterated the two elements in the conflict, as they see it. The first was that foreign intervention must come to an end and the second that the crisis in the region has its origins in deep-rooted social injustice. These are matters to which we have drawn attention before in the House.
As the House is aware, the situation in Nicaragua is equally disturbing. Here again, human rights have 1232 been trampled underfoot and thousands of innocent people have been killed. I read a note from a number of British nationals who are working in Nicaragua and who appeal to the British Government to come down clearly in favour of peace in the region, and join those countries which are working for a negotiated settlement advanced by Mexico and supported by France, among other countries. The danger is that the United States. whose historic concern for human rights has been a shining light to so many, and who fought a bitter civil war in defence of human rights, should now be seen to be unnecessarily involved in a cruel war.
The British Government must take care not to get themselves into an impossible position of condemning the violation of human rights on the one hand but rigidly adhering to the foreign policy line of the United States on the other. We must seek to be independent and objective in these matters. Furthermore,those who come to equity must come with clean hands.It certainly weakens the attacks made by the United States when they condemn human rights violations in Poland while at the same time actively supporting Right-wing dictatorships which are guilty of massive crimes in certain Latin American countries.
There is of course a lively awareness of this in the United States. The House Foreign Affairs Committee of Congress has expressed its anxiety on several occasions, especially about human rights conditions in Chile, Guatemala, the Argentine and El Salvador. But the anomalies in Government attitudes both in the United States and in this country are confusing, to say the least. Let me give some examples.
First, the Government assert officially that things in E1 Salvador are improving: other witnesses, including Amnesty International, to which I pay the highest tribute, take a different view. Quite apart from our relations with the Argentine, the Argentine still regard themselves as being in a state of war with us. They have a grim human rights record, with 15.000 people missing there. Yet British banks contributed £100 million towards the international loan to that country. Again, in Nicaragua, Mr. Arana, a spokesman of the FDN guerrilla movement, said that they had had informal talks with the British Government. This I read in the Guardian on 13th July. I should like the Minister to confirm whether that is true. If it is, what is the object of talking to Mr. Arana and his colleagues?
The point must also be made that the attitude of the United Kingdom to Chile over the last few years, and especially since the Falklands conflict, has been questionable. The flavour of the Government's developing policy can be obtained in the statement made by Mr. Peter Rees during his visit to Santiago in September last year. when he said:the Pinochet regime is a moderating and stabilising force in Latin America".with which Britain is:interested in deepening and strengthening political relations".I must say that that would be a curious relationship for us to be fostering.
Furthermore, the Government's ambivalent—and I choose the word with some care—and hypocritical 1233 conduct in the United Nations deserves rather more attention than it has thus far received. Last December the United Kingdom Government supported a United Nation's resolution condemning the Pinochet regime's human rights record, while on the other hand downgrading the human rights issue by proposing the removal of the special rapporteur, thus relieving the Chilean Government of constant international embarrassment. On the one hand we make the right noises about human rights; on the other we hold out a helpful hand to a dictatorial Government in Chile.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, also dealt with a number of countries in Africa. Two things may be said about that great continent in the context of this debate. First, human rights, as we understand them in this country, or indeed as they are defined in the United Nations Charter, are completely disregarded in South Africa. The doctrine of apartheid operates against human rights. The doctrine of apartheid, or something like it, has been practised in many countries over the centuries, and it has always brought disaster in its wake. It is wicked, unchristian and indefensible. The evidence of the cruelty and torture which it sets in train is incontrovertible.
I have before me a document, Torture in South Africa, published by the Catholic Institute for International Relations, the British Council of Churches and the International Commission of Jurists, and it makes grim and sad reading. It gives details of the way in which prisoners and political detainees are treated by the South African Government, the manner in which the security police there behave and the general attitude of South African Ministers. The document refers to:the widespread and systematic use made by Security Police of assault and torture during the interrogation of detainees".The Detainees' Parents Support Committee have assembled the evidence in a report containing 70 affidavits. On 27th April of last year they met the South African Minister of Law and Order, presented the evidence to him and made a very modest request—namely, that there should be a code of conduct for interrogators and an independent system of monitoring the behaviour of interrogators. The Government's response was to reject the evidence, and the South African CID told the committee that they might even be prosecuted if the allegations were not proved.
The physical and psychological abuse to which detainees are subjected is carefully documented in the report itself, and it makes grim reading. Page 11 of the report refers to:Deprivation of sleep in at least 20 cases, some for periods of many days and nights. In one case involving lengthy sleep deprivation the police made payment of substantial damages arising out of their treatment of the detainee culminating in her being found in a comatose condition by the district surgeon".The report also refers to:Deprivation of food and drink whilst being interrogated.Deprivation of toilet facilities … Enforced standing and arduous physical exercises in over 28 cases for long periods, sometimes days and nights…Exposure to cold in 25 cases by being kept naked for long periods …Enforced suspension is reported in 11 cases …In 54 cases, including six women, hitting with fists, slapping, kicking, beating with sticks, batons, hosepipes, gun butts and other 1234 objects, crushing of toes with chairs or bricks, dragging by hair, banging head on wall or table …and so on. The report goes on to state:Suffocation is reported in 25 cases, mostly by hooding with a hag made of canvas or plastic…Electric shock is alleged in 22 cases…Attacks on genitals are reported in 14 cases"—and so the evidence goes on. It is a deplorable record, and one that must be condemned in the severest possible terms.
The committee has made a request for minimum rights, and it seems to me to be reasonable. It is asking for simple things which we take for granted in this country: access to a lawyer, access to relatives, access to a doctor of choice, access to reading material. Furthermore, there should be an enforceable code setting out standards of interrogation. This is what it is asking for—simple rights, which have been granted in civilised countries for very many years past.
What is the Government's reaction to apartheid and to South Africa generally? Here again, the Government have used words of condemnation, but they have not always matched them in their relations with the South African Government. For example, they have turned away from any action when South Africa has attacked her neighbours, some of whom are members of the Commonwealth. They voted in favour of a 622 million dollar loan to South Africa by the IMF. They have allowed British radar equipment with a clear military potential to be supplied to South Africa, and they have given permission for British officers to resign their commissions to join the South African Army. It is not easy to reconcile protestations of abhorrence of apartheid on the one hand and these supportive measures on the other hand.
My second point on Africa is that there are black African governments which practise measures which are in total contravention of decent, civilised conduct. Because they were at one time colonies, because they are black, there is a tendency to be somewhat less critical of them. That is a dangerous attitude. Tyranny is tyranny wherever it occurs. Imprisonment without trial and torture are as wicked in a black country as they are in a white country. We are often told that a move away from democratic practice with free elections and free opposition parties is something natural, and even desirable, in African countries, and that a one-party state is a development to be expected and even defended.
I listened with care to what my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby said in his speech, and I agreed with most of what he said. But on this particular question I must disagree with him fundamentally. Let me not mince words about these developments. We are not talking about Westminster Government, or European Government. We are talking about the essentials of democracy, and a move away from a democratic government to a one-party state is a retrograde step towards an unpredictable future. They destroy—
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Will he not agree that, provided you have a choice of candidates for the electorate, you have democracy without having a multi-party state?
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I cannot agree with my noble friend. I do not believe that you can have democracy if you deny opposition parties the opportunity to stand for elections, to be elected, and to make their point of view clear.I recognise the struggle of many of the presidents to whom my noble friend has referrred. They are friends of his, as they are friends of mine. I am thinking in particular of President Kaunda and President Nyerere. I have a great admiration for them. They are benevolent men, they are good men, and they are doing a remarkable job in difficult circumstances. But what I am saying is that, so far as I am concerned, they do not operate democratic procedures as I understand them. That is all that I am saying. These men are, of course, benevolent men; these countries are fortunate.
But movements in that direction tend to destroy freedom. They elevate the state, or some ambitious individual in the state, and within a measurable time the prisons are full, the newspapers are controlled, and people walk in fear. I recall that a good deal of tolerance was shown to Idi Amin when he took power in Uganda. That former British Army sergeant was a cold-blooded megalomaniac, if ever there was one.
I believe that when we give aid to countries where we know human rights to be at risk, we should wherever possible use the occasion to ameliorate the lot of those who are in peril, and I warmly welcome the EEC initiative linking aid to human rights.
Finally, I should like to follow the noble Viscount to the Middle East and two other Asian countries. First, Turkey, a member of NATO and the European Council, is showing a frightening disregard for human rights. General Evren has gaoled dissenting politicians such as the former Prime Minister. Mr. Suleiman Demirel. Since the 1980 coup all political parties are barred and hundreds of political leaders are barred from political office. The present Government are an improvement on their predecessors, but repression and even political killings continue there. I read in The Times on 16th June that the Government had been officially held responsible for the death under torture of a person detained by the police. It was reassuring to note that it was Turkey's highest administrative court, the Council of State, which gave this verdict and described the case as an infringement of human rights. What view do the Government take of any action that the EEC might take in relation to aid to Turkey? NATO exists to defend human rights and personal freedom, and its members should not themselves traduce them.
Perhaps the Minister will also comment on the position in Bangladesh and that country's record on human rights. It is a military dictatorship, and I hope that the Government are satisfied that funds given to Bangladesh for civilian purposes are not diverted to military use. Will the Minister be good enough to confirm that the Government are satisfied on that point?
Mention was also made by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, of the Philippines, and attention has also been focused on those islands in recent weeks. There is substantial evidence that human rights are violated on an increasing scale in the Philippines, and what is disturbing is the information that the Commonwealth 1236 Development Corporation is spending large sums on a project in Mindanao. Is this expenditure of £6 million justified in the light of what is happening there in relation to human rights?
The noble Viscount referred to the continuing misery of debt bondage in India, and to Iran, and Uganda, and we heard the moving appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, about the Baha'is, with which I am sure the whole House sympathises.
The sad fact is that one could go on to other countries, to Vietnam, to Korea (North and South). to Indonesia, and Cambodia—the list is a long one—where men and women are suffering untold cruelties, and where death is often a happy release. The noble Viscount gave us some of the terrible statistics. The report of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, states that 2 million people have been executed without proper trial over the last 15 years. Independent observers think that the list must be headed by Uganda and Kampuchea, with an estimated 300,000 people killed in each of those countries during the 1970s.
What can we do about it? We talk about it. We hold out our hands up in horror, and sometimes we forget about it. But we all hope that somehow, some day, it will come to an end. There is some evidence that almost all governments now recognise the validity of a growing body of international law that spells out the basic rights and obligations they owe their citizens. World public opinion is developing very slowly. Like individuals, countries want to be respected. Governments such as our own must do all that they can, through aid, through diplomatic action, through honest dealing, through our own conduct of affairs, to influence the course of events, and to help those who do not enjoy the freedom which we prize above everything else.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for reminding your Lordships of the appalling violations of basic human rights which are widespread in so many parts of the world. The noble Viscount's Question referred to Asia, Africa and Latin America. and some of the tragic abuses of human rights are indeed to be found in these continents. But it remains a sad truth that grave abuses are to be found in Europe also. They can occur whenever those in authority harbour the delusion that they somehow have a right, in the name of some dogma or straightforward self-interest, to override the basic freedoms which we cherish so highly. They can occur when authorities fail to control the excesses of their officials. The Government deplore all such abuses regardless of the reasons with which their perpetrators attempt to justify them.
We have repeatedly made clear our concern about human rights and, like our predecessors and other Western Governments, we have insisted that violations of basic rights are a legitimate matter of international concern, debate and action. Some countries still take the view that any such expression of concern is an unwarranted interference in their internal domestic affairs. But one of the more heartening developments in recent years is that this argument is now widely seen as hollow special 1237 pleading when it relates to abuses which clearly contravene the fundamental standards of decency expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The practice of the United Nations, particularly over the past 10 years or so, has endorsed this view and the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies, notably the Commission on Human Rights, have increasingly expressed concern and tried to take action where there is evidence of gross violations of human rights. The United Kingdom has been in the forefront of these developments and the international community can be in no doubt of our unequivocal position on these matters.
The difficult question of course which faces all Governments which share our concern, is how best to act on this concern in the interests of those we are trying to help. The test which we try to apply has to be a practical one and is simply stated. Are our efforts likely to help reduce human misery and repression or do they simply give us the satisfaction of having done something, when in fact they may have made the sufferers' position worse? It is easy, indeed understandable, and in many ways admirable, for people to call on the Government to make strong condemnations of human rights violations in particular countries, or even to apply sanctions against those countries. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, was suggesting that we do not go far enough in this direction, and I would not want to claim that we always get it exactly right. But I would warn that one can often exaggerate the effectiveness of scoldings from afar. Very often, a public condemnation of the abuse will harden attitudes, not only damaging our relations and the hope of further influence, but causing a Government to react even more harshly against those we were attempting to help. There is, unfortunately, no shortage of evidence that this does happen.
We have to judge in each case the right way to make known our concern in a way that will achieve improvements. There is no one answer on how to do this, as the problems and attitudes differ from country to country, as do our relationships with those countries. In some cases, direct pressure in public may indeed be useful; in others, it may be counter-productive. In many cases, where we do judge it helpful to make direct representations, these are best made privately. I can assure your Lordships that we do this quite frequently. The results are inevitably varied, but there have been some successes. This sort of action can often be the more effective when it is concerted with our partners in the Ten and a great deal of effort goes on behind the scenes on this.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, suggested that we should do more to foster the activities of human rights groups in countries where abuses occur. This is an area where your Lordships may agree that we should move with great caution. Many Governments are prone to see opposition, subversion and dissidence at work when their citizens appeal for an end to persecution and for the local application of universal rights. Further, some Governments want to persuade themselves that such activities do not reflect authentic national feelings but are, rather, orchestrated by hostile powers abroad. Such accusations can have serious consequences for those involved.
1238 As I have said, the United Kingdom has played a substantial part in bringing human rights to the fore in the United Nations and in drawing attention to particular abuses. I should like to pay tribute at this point to the outstanding work of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, who has represented the United Kingdom at the Commission on Human Rights for the past four years. He has not only maintained and enhanced the standing of the United Kingdom in the field of human rights but his tireless work has undoubtedly made a real contribution to the relief of suffering. For example, in 1980, largely as a result of a United Kingdom initiative, a working group was set up to investigate the question of "disappearances". Since it began work, this group, under the chairmanship of my noble friend, has successfully convinced the Governments concerned that it is not moved by a desire to score political points. Although difficult to quantify, it is likely that some lives have actually been saved by the intervention of this group, and Governments can no longer behave in the belief that no one will notice or act.
My noble friend has also recently been appointed special rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights on Guatemala. We, and the international community, look forward to his report on that unhappy country, a country to whose human rights record we have often drawn attention in United Nations debates. At the most recent meeting of the commission, the United Kingdom expressed its concern about huge increases in the number of refugees and other grave reports of continuing violations of human rights. We hope that my noble friend's report will give the international community the facts on which it can judge the record of the new Guatemalan Government.
I do not think that I can hope to cover all the countries to which reference has been made in my speech but it is more than pleasing to be able to report that the situation in Bolivia has greatly improved since the establishment of the democratic Government of President Siles Zuazo. The United Kingdom accordingly had no hesitation in co-sponsoring a resolution endorsing the recommendation of the special rapporteur that consideration of Bolivia at the Human Rights Commission be terminated.
In another part of the world however we remain deeply concerned about reports from Afghanistan. Under the Soviet-backed puppet regime of Babrak Karmal, the Afghan people are deprived of even their most fundamental rights. Freedom of speech and assembly are non-existent. There have been numerous reports of tortures, detentions and summary executions. It has been estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 political prisoners are held in Kabul's main prison alone. We are appalled by the massive and flagrant violations of human rights which have been inflicted on the Afghan people during the three and a half years of Soviet military occupation. In short, the Karmal régime's record on human rights is deplorable. In excess of 100,000 Soviet troops continue to prop up a puppet régime, depriving the Afghan people of the fundamental human right of self-determination. The increasingly brutal attacks by Soviet and Karmal regime troops against civilian targets deserve the strongest condemnation.
1239 We have given full support to the successive United Nations resolutions on Afghanistan, both at the General Assembly and at the Commission on Human Rights, calling for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops, the restoration of Afghanistan's independence and non-aligned status, self-determination for the Afghan people and the return of the refugees in safety and honour. At the recent meeting of the commission, the United Kingdom drew particular attention to the massacre of 105 Afghan civilians by Soviet troops in Logar province in September 1982. Soviet attacks on the Shomali region, north of Kabul, and the city of Herat in the spring were condemned by Ministers of the Ten in a statement by the West German Foreign Minister, Herr Genscher, on 15th May. We shall continue to call on the Soviet Union to honour its obligations under the United Nations charter and withdraw its forces from Afghanistan immediately.
I now turn to Iran, where the position of the Baha'is is particularly serious. This was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Whaddon. My noble friend Lady Young has already expressed our abhorrence at the execution of 16 Baha'is, including 10 women, to your Lordships on 28th June. Following reports of the execution of Baha'is in Shiraz, our representative in Tehran has made known to the Iranian Government our concern at renewed persecution of the Baha'is in Iran. We have also sought the views of our partners in the European Community on the possibility of joint action in relation to the Iranian Government in Tehran. We shall, of course, bear in mind the importance of using other bodies, particularly the United Nations and its specialist human rights machinery, to bring home to the Iranian Government concern outside Iran at the degrading and inhuman treatment meted out to the leading Baha'is. We are, of course, in close touch with representatives of the Baha'i community in Britain.
Many of the peoples of Africa also suffer from violations of human rights in various forms. The system of apartheid in South Africa is an abhorrent form of institutionalised discrimination, and the Government have made clear their objections to it and the repressive measures used to enforce it. I can perhaps do no better than refer to the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, speaking in the other place a year or so ago, when she said:The policy of apartheid, with its emphasis on separating peoples rather than bringing them together, and all the harshness required to impose it on the South African population is wholly unacceptable".—[0ffical Report, Commons, 25/7/79; col. 629.]That remains the Government's view. But it is no use exaggerating what Her Majesty's Government can do in that situation. We clearly cannot declare war on them. We do not believe that sanctions are effective because they tend to hurt black Africans inside South Africa much more than they do the white people. We know from our own experience that, in any event, these sanctions are often not effective. But we do express our condemnation; we do try to encourage peaceful changes and we do take direct action when we can—for example, with the European code of conduct for transnational companies operating in South Africa.
1240 The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, was particularly concerned about the position in Uganda. We are, of course, concerned about allegations of human rights abuse in that country. We take every opportunity to make clear to President Obote and representatives of his Government, both in London and in Kampala, the importance we attach to the observance of human rights. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs raised the matter with the Ugandan Prime Minister on 6th July, and my honourable friend Mr. Rifkind also put our concern to the Ugandan High Commissioner here on 6th June and emphasised our concern during his recent visit to Uganda in July.
The Ugandan Government are therefore aware of our concern and of international concern, and have recently implemented some corrective measures. These include the gazetting of all detainees, the establishment of a review tribunal and the provision of stricter punishments for army and police personnel, found guilty of violations of human rights.
I turn now to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, in particular with regard to E1 Salvador. At the recent meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, to which I have already referred, we drew attention to disturbing reports of violations in E1 Salvador. We recognise the difficulties of the Government in that country in their task of imposing a reasonable rule of law in a country where factional violence is widespread and where opposition to the Government is expressed through violence and murder. We wholeheartedly condemn these violations, by whomsoever they are committed. We urge the Government to continue their efforts to restore civil peace and protect the population from human rights violations. They have recently set up a peace commission and a human rights corn mission to investigate the situation. This, and the amnesty law which resulted in the release of some 300 political prisoners, are steps in the right direction, but only steps.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, also referred in his speech to the position and the problems of Central America. I should say that Her Majesty's Government support the efforts of the Contadora group of countries to bring about peace in the region, and we are of course aware of those proposals. But it is too early to say what progress they will be able to make.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, also referred to the position with regard to Chile. Her Majesty's Government have consistently made clear their concern about the human rights situation in that country. We have never left the Chilean Government in any doubt about our condemnation of the continued violation of human rights there. Our position was amply demonstrated by our support at the United Nations Human Rights Commission for the resolution on Chile which expressed international concern and renewed the mandate of the special rapporteur. I think the noble Lord thought we had opposed that, but that is not the case: we supported the reappointment. When my honourable friend the Member for Woking, then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, visited Chile in April, he made clear the Government's concern to the Chilean Government and called on Cardinal Silva and 1241 the acting chairman of the Chilean Commission for Human Rights.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, also referred to the position in Bangladesh, and I should like to touch on that matter. Under martial law, the constitution has been suspended and open political activity is banned at present. Several leading politicians were arrested briefly during student disturbances in March. General Ershad, the head of the military Government, has said that he will hold free elections as soon as possible. Some laws controlling political activity have recently been relaxed, and indoor political meetings are now allowed. The Government of Bangladesh are aware of our hope that democracy can be restored as soon as possible and that human rights will be respected.
The United Kingdom has also played a full and constructive part at the CSCE meeting in Madrid. I am sure your Lordships will join me in welcoming the provisional agreement that has been reached among 34 of the 35 participants on the text of a concluding document. We hope that consensus may soon be reached on the text so that the meeting may be brought to a conclusion, at which point we shall be able to give a final assessment. Meanwhile, it records useful if modest advances on the Final Act, including proposals to hold meetings on human rights and human contacts.
I am afraid that I have not had time in this short debate to survey the whole of the area covered by the noble Viscount's Question, nor indeed to consider in detail the depressing range of violations of human rights that occur. I hope, however, that I have said enough to assure your Lordships that this Government, like their predecessors—and this is the last area where there are party points to be made—deplore these violations wherever they occur. The action we take is sometimes highly visible, sometimes not; but on occasion it is successful.
Before concluding, and again in thanking the noble Viscount for having given us this opportunity for a debate, I must pick up one further point from his speech. He suggested that our representatives overseas should be given clearer instructions on what and how to report on human rights in the countries they cover. There are in fact standing instructions for all posts overseas on the need for and the importance of including the situation of human rights in their countries of accreditation in their normal round of reporting. Because the situation varies so widely from country to country, officials inevitably have to exercise their judgment on how and what to report. Although reliable information is sometimes difficult to obtain, the need to report it is well understood. We do not see this as a problem, but I can undertake that the reporting instructions will be kept under review.
The sheer scale of human rights' abuses in the world presents us with appalling evidence of what man is capable of doing to his fellows, and individual cases forcibly remind us that cruelty and torture are continuing evils and not aberrations of the past. At the same time the bravery of those who are prepared to suffer rather than compromise their freedoms and their beliefs must inspire us to keep faith with them and never to condone by our indifference the actions of their oppressors and tormentors.
1242 Faced with these enormities, it would be easy to become disheartened and the Government remain convinced that the power of continued persuasion is the best weapon we have in this field. Our aim is to contribute to a climate of opinion in which all those in authority will come to see that they have much to lose and nothing worth while to gain by disregarding or violating basic human rights.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past nine o'clock.