HL Deb 23 May 1984 vol 452 cc228-31

3.1 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

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 what action they have taken on the nullification by the South African Government of the court action to free 37 SWAPO detainees held in a Namibian internment camp.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, the Government have consistently made clear to the South African authorities our concern for human rights in Namibia. We welcome the announcement that 54 of the detainees held at Mariental camp are to be released. We look forward to the early release of the remainder.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness for that Answer, may I ask her two quite separate questions? First, can she elucidate for the House exactly what action the South African Minister of Defence took in the court case, which was, I believe, brought in the Supreme Court in Windhoek by a number of churches in order to get the release of the detainees, who they held were being detained illegally? Secondly, does she agree that this country has a special responsibility towards detainees in Namibia in view of the fact that it was Her Majesty's Government of the time which passed over the mandate of what was then South-West Africa to the Government of South Africa?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, on 27th April the South African Minister of Justice nullified an application brought by 23 persons, including three bishops, for an inquiry into their detention, and Minister Coetzee declared that that would not be in the national interest. On the second point, about detainees, the South African Government are well aware of our concern on human rights. We have recently made specific representations about the Cassinga detainees.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is something inconsistent about asking Her Majesty's Government to make representations to the Government of South Africa and doing one's best to prevent the Prime Minister of South Africa coming to this country to receive those representations?

Baroness Young

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Beloff makes a good point. But I am sure that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will make clear our concern to see early progress towards an internationally recognised settlement of this area on the basis of Security Council Resolution No. 435.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that the continued detention of those unhappy people is in contravention of the Geneva Convention and of the ruling in 1970 by the International Court of Justice? Further, is it true that there is evidence of brutality and torture in the treatment of those people? In view of the fact that it seems that Mr. Botha is to come to this country, will the Prime Minister take advantage of the opportunity, whether or not it is justified, to bring those serious matters to his notice?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the last point in the noble Lord's supplementary question, I cannot of course give a commitment on specific issues that will be raised. As I have already indicated to my noble friend Lord Beloff, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will make clear our concern to see early progress on Namibia. On the noble Lord's other point, as I have indicated, the South African Government are well aware of our concern about the prisoners captured at Cassinga. We raised the problem with them on 15th May. In the third part of his supplementary question the noble Lord referred to reported violations of human rights. I do not know whether he is making a reference to the BBC2 programme, "Third Eye", but we are of course concerned by all reports of human rights violations, wherever they occur. As to that particular programme, we cannot take a view on all the claims made.

Lord Brockway

My Lord, will the noble Baroness agree that it is an extraordinary situation, when practically the whole world and the Security Council of the United Nations regard South African occupation of Namibia as illegal, that it should have continued for so many years, even to the point of interference with the courts? In view of the failure of the talks in Zambia last week, will the Government again raise that issue in the Security Council with a view to ending that impossible situation?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we remain in close touch with all parties in order to try to achieve a settlement. We shall make our views plain to Mr. Botha when he comes. We believe that the main hope of progress is in regional negotiations and in the dialogue that is continuing between the United States and Angola.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the first Answer she gave to my noble friend Lord Hatch is very welcome indeed? It gives us all heart to think that our Government are taking their responsibilities in this matter very seriously. Is she further aware that, as we are a member of the contact group, and as Great Britain is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the endeavours to cut out the vile brutality that goes on in this part of South-West Africa will never cease? When Mr. Botha comes here, will the Prime Minister tell him plainly and bluntly, as Winston Churchill probably would have done, that everything that his Government seem to do is reminiscent of the behaviour of the Nazis, who tried to crush this island?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government have made it plain that they do not support the policy of apartheid. We do believe that it will be useful to have talks with Mr. Botha with a view to making progress on issues of the kind that have been discussed in your Lordships' House today.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm, as is implied in her answers, that the detainees in the Mariental camp came from the raid on Cassinga, and therefore they were taken from a foreign country, as Cassinga is in Angola and not in Namibia? Can she tell the House whether a specific protest has been made by Her Majesty's Government, or representations, about the interference of the Minister of Defence in South Africa with the actions of the courts?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have made it clear on more than one occasion in answering questions that we have made our concern about this matter clear to the South African Government.

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