HL Deb 28 June 1983 vol 443 cc120-3

2.55 p.m.

Lord McNair

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will protest in the strongest possible terms and in every available forum against the execution of twelve more Baha'is in Shiraz, Iran, this month.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government view with abhorrence recent reports that 16 Baha'is from Shiraz have been executed in Iran. The United Kingdom has on many occasions made clear to the Iranian Government its deep concern at continuing reports of persecution of the Baha'is for their religious beliefs. We are in touch with our partners in the Ten to determine how best to register our strong views with the Iranian authorities and what course of action might best help the considerable Baha'i community in Iran.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that clear and forthright Answer, which is only what one would expect of her and from any British Government. May I ask the noble Baroness, further, whether she recalls the very striking speech made in this House by the late Bishop of Guildford shortly before his untimely and much lamented death—a speech in which he showed that it is only by a very dubious, debatable interpretation of the holy Koran that the Iranian theocracy attempts to justify its behaviour? As the Koran is one of the texts which the Baha'is themselves regard as sacred, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she will consider getting in touch with some of the Islamic members of the Commonwealth to see whether they, too, could perhaps make representations in Tehran?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I cannot in honesty say that I recall the particular speech to which the noble Lord has drawn attention. I take note of the suggestion which the noble Lord has made on this matter, but I believe that it would be unwise of me to say more than that at this juncture because we wish to proceed in the best possible way to further the ends of helping the Baha'is but at the same time we must be very careful not to make their position more difficult.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while joining the noble Baroness in a total condemnation of these monstrous atrocities, may I ask her whether she does not recall the newspaper reports which stated that United Nations had been invited by the Government of Iran to send an envoy to investigate violations of human rights in Iran? Can she confirm whether that was in fact the case, and what has developed from that invitation if it was issued?

Baroness Young

My Lords, there have at times been suggestions that there should be an envoy sent to investigate these matters; but the view of our Government is that the best way we can proceed is that which I set out in my Answer to the Question. We believe that that way is in the best interests of the Baha'is in Iran.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Ayatollah's regime is not a Government but a barbaric organistion deserving of the utmost condemnation? Is she further aware that the last group of Baha'is to be shot in Iran were all young women—two of them teenagers—who were not guilty of any offence other than a belief in their faith? In these circumstances, is it not time that the Government considered whether it is proper for us to continue to have relations with such a regime.

Baroness Young

My Lords, we do of course utterly condemn what has happened to the Baha'is, and other executions, in Iran. At the present time we are represented in Iran by a Head of Mission, who looks after our interests—and, of course, there is the opportunity for him, too, on appropriate occasions, to make protests about what is going on.

Lord Monson

My Lords, would the noble Baroness say whether in her opinion the systematic extermination of men and women for refusing to renounce their religion constitutes in international law the crime of genocide?

Baroness Young

My Lords, without notice I could not say whether that is the case; but, of course, all the civilised world condemns what has been happening by these executions.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is it not an unhappy fact that there is no tribunal before which these men can be indicted?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords; but your Lordships may know that on 1st March my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, our delegate at the Commission of Human Rights, made a statement in which he expressed his Government's deep concern at reports of the continuing persecution of Baha'is, and on 3rd March our delegation co-sponsored a draft resolution at the commission which urged the Iranian Government to respect the human rights of all individuals under its jurisdiction.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that over 50 years ago this was a crucial question and in some ways a very easy one, except that no one would do anything about it? Is it not time that we now took this matter really seriously and tried to do something about it? There would be many on this side who would help to do this, and I am one of them.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has said. The Government have considered very carefully all the options open to them on this matter, and we believe that the best way to help the Baha'is is as I have set out in the Answer to the Question.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she and the Government feel equal concern about the plight of the Kurdish people in the same country, in view of the fact that they are being subjected to even greater persecution and subjection, and particularly in view of the major military offensive against them which was launched on Friday?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord will appreciate that that is another question, but if he cares to put down a Question on that subject I will do my best to answer it.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Commission of Human Rights urged the Secretary-General of the United Nations to send an envoy to Iran on this matter? Did I hear the noble Baroness aright as saying that she was not totally in favour of sending such an envoy? Is she aware that the vast majority of those of us who are deeply concerned about this matter would welcome such a visit, and will the Government press the Secretary-General to send an envoy?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have already indicated what has happened at the Commission of Human Rights. At the session of the United Nations Commission of Human Rights in March 1982 the United Kingdom co-sponsored a draft resolution which urged the Iranians to respect the human rights of all individuals under their jurisdiction. The resolution also called for the United Nations Secretary-General to continue his efforts to ensure that the Baha'is were allowed to enjoy their full human rights and fundamental freedoms, and at the same time to prepare a draft report on the human rights situation in Iran.