HL Deb 08 March 1983 vol 440 cc79-80
Lord Whaddon

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 whether they have recently made representations, either on their own account or in concert with other Governments, to the Government of Iran concerning the continued persecution of Baha'is.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, on 27th December 1982, the Danish Ambassador in Tehran, acting on behalf of the Ten, made a démarche to the Iranian Foreign Ministry to draw their attention to the level of international concern at reports of persecution of the Baha'is. Following reports that sentences of death on 22 members of the Baha'i community in Shiraz had been confirmed, the Ten decided to make a further approach to the Iranian authorities to express their deep concern.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, while I express thanks to the noble Lord for that reply, can he tell the House whether the Shiraz 22 are still alive, and, if they are, does not this show some effect of protest from the West? Is the noble Lord aware that under the Iranian constitution Article 13 treats the Baha'is as non-people and allows only Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians to be recognised as religious minorities? Will he press the Secretary-General of the United Nations to make representations that this article of the constitution be altered to recognise the existence of this legitimate independent religion?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, to the best of my knowledge the Shiraz 22 to whom the noble Lord has just referred are still alive. With regard to the Baha'is not being recognised as a religious grouping in Iran, of course the Government are well aware of this. I would like to refer the noble Lord to the speech that my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross made the other day during the human rights debate of the United Nations, in which he pressed the very points to which the noble Lord has alluded.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, on the point of the United Nations, is it not the case that the Iranian Government has now agreed to accept an envoy from the United Nations to investigate these alleged appalling violations of human rights? Can the noble Lord confirm that, and also confirm that the Government would support such a move?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I was not aware of that fact, but if it is so, most certainly the Government would support just such a move. I should point out that Iran has subscribed to United Nations Covenants on Human Rights, and I would say that it is only reasonable for the world community to encourage countries to observe the undertakings which they sign.

Lord McNair

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that no Iranian Baha'i shall be repatriated against his or her will from this country to Iran?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, an Iranian who is a member of the Baha'i faith would qualify for recognition as a refugee in this country and would therefore be protected from return to Iran. So the answer to the noble Lord's question is, yes.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is not Iran plainly in breach of those conventions which the noble Lord has said its Government ratified in 1976? Has any complaint been made to the United Nations Commission of Human Rights, which has some sort of supervision over breaches of this kind? If that has not been done, can Her Majesty's Government take some initiative in that regard?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. The speech of my noble friend Lord Colville to which I referred earlier included these points. It is exactly for the reason that the noble and learned Lord has adduced that this international pressure is being put on the Iranian Government at the moment.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is it not a fact that our own country has an impeccable record of religious tolerance, and should not that strengthen the hands of Her Majesty's Government in these matters?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, absolutely, but in this respect we are acting, as I said in my original Answer, through the good offices of the Ten.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, are the Government equally concerned about persecution by the Iranians of the Kurdish people and other minorities?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, human rights are human rights, wherever they occur.

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