HL Deb 14 December 1988 vol 502 cc979-1012

5.34 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster rose to call attention to the continuing violation of human rights world-wide and particularly in Uganda, Iran and Chile; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I consider myself particularly fortunate to have achieved this short debate today as last Saturday was Human Rights Day. In fact it was the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris on 10th December 1948.

Perhaps I should first remind your Lordships that the last wide-ranging debate we had on human rights was in the Unstarred Question which I asked on 20th July 1983. Since then, regrettably, there has been very little, if any, overall improvement in the situation, especially in the three countries to which I intend to give special attention; namely, Iran, Uganda and Chile. Indeed, in some ways, as I shall show in a minute, the overall situation has deteriorated.

Much of the information that one has to work on is inadequate and indeed suspect. I must say quite frankly that even the excellent reports of Amnesty International cannot be taken as absolute gospel. But those reports do at least provide a starting point. And what a terrible picture it is that they portray: a picture of terror, torture, senseless slaughter, degredation and despair.

I suppose that it is axiomatic that cruelty is endemic in man and has been ever since Cain slew Abel. But is it not sad in the extreme that, whereas we set out happily to explore the mysteries of the moon and the marvels of Mars, we fail, in the words of the Bible, to live peaceably one with another?

We must not forget the judicial aspect. Instead of the Old Bailey with its timeless traditions of justice, probably unsurpassed throughout the world, we have in many countries today, especially in Africa, the "New Bailey", where impartial justice is virtually unknown, truth is manipulated to suit the whims of unscrupulous dictators and the size of one's sentence depends more than anything else upon the bribe that one is perpared to pay the judge.

But terrible though that picture may be to an outsider, it is even more disturbing to someone like myself who has seen some of these horrible happenings at first hand. I shall give just one example. I was in Kampala in 1970. While I was driving home one evening I saw two people lying by the roadside who had been beaten up by the police for no apparent reason. Moreover, the cause of the attack seemed to concern no one. I played the role of the Good Samaritan, took them to hospital and I was of course accused of being their attacker.

It is impossible in a short debate such as this to give anything approaching an accurate overall picture of human rights violations worldwide. I am sure many of your Lordships may criticise me for having framed the Motion rather too widely. However, you will have gathered enough from recent radio and television reports to gauge the magnitude of the problem in areas such as Kurdistan, where it seems that the Iraqis have been using chemical weapons against defenceless civilians, including young children. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, will be able to say something on the matter, during the course of his speech, to which I greatly look forward.

I return now to the reports of Amnesty International. In its report of October 1982, upon which my Unstarred Question was based, violations of human rights in the form of extra-judicial executions—that is, executions without trial—abduction, imprisonment without trial and torture in prison were reported in 48 out of a total of 53 countries in Africa. The figures were 32 out of 39 in Asia, 19 out of 24 in Latin America and 20 out of 25 in Europe. Those were the 1982 figures.

The latest figures, published in the 1988 report, refer to 1987. These were 49 violations in Africa (that figure is up by one) 39 in Asia (that figure is up by seven) 23 in Latin America (that figure is down by one) and 21 in Europe (which is an increase of one). Those figures represent an overall increase of no fewer than 13 countries violating human rights during those six years. What a dismal and disturbing discovery that is. The figures take no account of the nature of the violations, some of which are comparatively minor.

I shall not attempt to deal with the Soviet Union and other countries well known to your Lordships, except to say that in the Soviet Union there seems to have been some progress in the past year or so. I feel sure that those of your Lordships with wider knowledge of the country than I have will agree with that. For example, the authorities have opened up discussion on some human rights issues which were previously taboo. Many prisoners of conscience have been freed and fewer people are now being arrested on political grounds. Although that general picture may seem encouraging, and it is, there are as yet no laws to protect Soviet citizens who peacefully exercise their rights or to prevent ill treatment in places of punishment and abolish the death penalty. Thousands of so-called patients are still detained in unpleasant conditions in psychiatric hospitals.

I shall deal first with Iran, where the most serious violations are taking place and upon which so much attention has been focused recently. It is in Iran where the bloody and insensate tyranny of the ageing Khomeini continues largely unchecked. First-hand accounts of torture, authenticated by medical reports and testimony from Iranian refugees who have fled from political persecution in that country, suggest that arbitrary detention, unfair trials, torture and summary executions, not perhaps on the same scale as in the early 1980s, continue. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations General Assembly have repeatedly condemned that regime for its flagrant violation of human rights and have called on the Iranian Government to allow a mission to visit Iran to investigate the matter. Khomeini's response has always been in the negative.

Recently attention has been focused on reports of the position of the Mujahedin and their continued executions in that country. According to them, 5,000 people have been executed in the past four months. There is ample evidence from press reports to confirm that fact. For example, the headline in the New York Times of Thursday, 3rd November states UN states human rights abuses are continuing throughout Iran". The report states: A United Nations report said today that serious human rights violations were continuing in Iran. It said the violations included a wave of executions of political prisoners in July, August and September after Teheran accepted a cease-fire in the war with Iraq".

That point is important.

I have another report in the Independent of Wednesday, 30th November 1988. The headline is: Mass executions reported in Iran. It states: The Iranian opposition People's Mujahedin organisation claimed yesterday that 5,000 political prisoners had been executed in Iran".

An interesting report was made to me recently from a body called the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People's Rights. It states: Detailed information makes it clear that prisoners with affiliation to a wide spectrum of political parties are included in the lists of victims. Numbered among the dead are leaders and supporters of the Iranian People's Mujahedin Organization, the Iranian People's Fedaian Majority, the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers, and the Tudeh Party of Iran. Many of those summarily brought from their cells to execution were serving prison sentences passed many years previously".

That is an important point. People have been lying for years in some of those appalling prisons. I do not have time to describe the conditions. I did so last time. They are probably more dead than alive when they are finally taken to the gallows.

Some of your Lordships may have seen the worderful stand of the Iranian opposition Mujahedin who fasted for eight days in Kensington. It was a vigorous fast. I went to see them. I was greatly impressed by what I saw.

I must return now to Uganda. I spent two years (1969–1971) in Her Majesty's High Commission. According to Amnesty International more than 4,000 alleged—that word needs stressing—political opponents of the Government have been detained without trial during 1987. They are mainly in the Northern and Eastern regions where the army has been fighting armed revolutionaries. There have been many reports of extrajudicial killings of prisoners or non-combatant civilians by soldiers. They are continuing. There has been little change in the situation there.

I have recently received a mass of reports from various bodies opposed to the regime. Whereas in Kampala and other areas—the Western and Central regions—the situation seems reasonably peaceful, in the north and east the security situation is bad. Most of the information is repetitive and a good deal of it is tendentious. From that collection of papers various facts seem to emerge. The first is that in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country, Museveni has been taking on the mantle of Obote. He has been more and more involved, it seems, in assassinations. It is difficult to estimate how many people have been killed. There are unconfirmed reports of several thousand. There are photographs, some of which again are suspect; but there can be no doubt, as the body was widely photographed, that a former commander of the Uganda People's Democratic Movement, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Odwar was killed in a horrible fashion by Museveni in January. Indeed, Museveni has several times been quoted as saying: We shall liquidate them. We shall crush them. We shall massacre them. We shall assassinate by terror".

He was referring to his enemies. That is the main fact which emerges from all the papers. Other reports deal with haphazard killings here and there and are perhaps not vital to the main theme of the debate.

I turn to Chile. Why do I bring in Chile, which has not been prominently mentioned in the human rights connection? I do so mainly because, although the fairness of the recent referendum has been referred to in your Lordships' House, there has been no recent reference in the House to human rights violations. The most serious problem relates to those who are known as the disappeared ones: those men, women and children abducted by governmment forces in the 1970s and about whom nothing has been heard since. Their number, according to a fairly reliable report, is now about 700. It may well be more.

The appalling mental suffering of the relations of these pathetic people can scarcely be imagined. However, in addition, I am afraid that intimidation by clandestine groups is now one of the most common methods of political persecution in Chile. The use of death threats, abduction and other types of intimidatory action started to spread in 1983 when opposition demands for a return to democracy and the restoration of human rights began to gain momentum.

Apart from the three countries which I have highlighted, Amnesty International is also particularly concerned about Turkey and Kenya. My time is up and I cannot mention those in detail, but Amnesty is concerned about them.

I must make one brief reference to the better side, that is North and South Yemen. I visited that country last summer and conditions are very much better. It is now off the black list. Security is good throughout the country.

Finally, what are my recommendations? I say to the Minister that we need more and more vigorous protests. We have protested before, but perhaps we have not achieved very much. We need wider reporting from our overseas posts. Further, I should like to recommend a committee of inquiry to look into the situation in Uganda. More and more attention is now being focused worldwide on the terrible problem of human rights. I look forward to the contributions of noble Lords who have so kindly agreed to support me and particularly to those of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who knows so much more about the situation than I. I greatly look forward to an encouraging reply from the Minister. I beg to move for Papers.

5.51 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, not only on his good fortune in winning the ballot and choosing such an interesting subject but on the telling way in which he has presented the question to the House, based on his tremendous knowledge.

I realise that in the terms of our debate we shall be concentrating mostly on violations and not on the happier side of things. However, if we want to cheer ourselves up, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, pointed out, matters are encouraging in the Soviet Union compared with a few years ago. I think the noble Viscount is quite right to be extremely cautious even though we can draw some encouragement there. After all, it is only 10 years since Spain returned to democracy, which was a tremendous event in the history of Europe. We now have the triumph of Benazir Bhutto and the return of democracy in Pakistan. I twice debated against that lady—once in the Oxford and once in the Cambridge Union—and was defeated on each occasion. I formed the opinion that she was a natural winner and I hope that she will be in power at the head of a democracy in Pakistan for many years.

I mean to spend these few minutes nearer home. We all know of the instruction of Jesus Christ given in the Bible, St. Matthew, Chapter 7. I quote from one translation of that gospel: God will apply to you the same rules as you apply to others. Why do we look at the mote in our brother's eye and pay no attention to the beam in our own? You hypocrite. First take the beam out of your own eye and then you will be able to see clearly to take the mote out of your brother's eye. We have been discussing the beams in the eyes of some countries. I am not saying that there are beams of such magnitude in our own eyes but I am at least asking the House to consider whether, in talking about the violation of human rights, there are not one or more motes which we might perhaps attend to. After all, there is no rule which exempts us, in this country, the one we know most about, from close scrutiny.

I have seldom spoken on Irish matters in this House and, having possessed an Irish and a British passport when I was a British Minister and wearing an Irish Rugby Union tie—given to me, I hasten to say, by an Ulster Protestant—I feel that my views might be discounted. However, just occasionally one feels the need to discuss matters affecting this country and Ireland.

I prepared these remarks before the result of the so-called Ryan case was known, although I knew that a decision was pending. I shall not inflame opinion further but just quote what the article in the Guardian has to say this morning: Whatever the temptations, the Prime Minister ought to sheath her megaphone"— rather a curious metaphor— which has done too much damage already". That is the view of the Guardian, and I suppose the view of English liberalism quite authoritatively. Incidentally, I hope that the word "liberal" can now be used without some sort of pejorative implication. During the American elections apparently one only had to call someone a liberal to drive him off the platform. I use the word in the complimentary sense and I am saying that much English liberal opinion would share the view of the Guardian.

I do not wish to give the impression that I am an unqualified critic of our Prime Minister.

A noble Lord

Why not?

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, there is a great deal of force in that liberal contention, but the answer I give in this connection anyway is that the Prime Minister played a major part in the establishment of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The great thing, it seems to me, in being infallible or in thinking you are infallible is that, whatever the circumstances, you stick to your guns. If by any chance you are in the right, then that is of enormous benefit. I shall not discuss the even more numerous cases where that helpful circumstance might not be present.

At any rate, I admire the Anglo-Irish Agreement and think that we need a really stubborn champion of it, as we all agree we have. I am not unaware that countries have to ensure their own survival and, when they are dealing with any form of terrorism and certainly with civil war, they adopt extra-legal methods. In Ireland in 1922, at the outbreak of civil war, some Irish leaders who seized the Four Courts in Dublin were taken out and shot. The justification was salus populi suprema lex. For those who were on the modern side at school, perhaps I may translate that in the words of Bethmann Hollweg, the German Chancellor in 1914. He addressed the German Reichstag when Germany was invading Belgium with the words, "Gentlemen, we are in a state of necessity, and necessity knows no law". I agree that countries which either are or think they are in a state of necessity pass outside the law. I hope we shall be told tonight that that is not the attitude of the present Government and that they are not just saying that anything goes and that, when dealing with terrorists. one must adopt the same methods. I hope that we shall be told something very different.

I shall raise quite briefly three matters which will be familiar to noble Lords. Let us look at an article which appeared in The Times of 30th November headed "Justice and the Guildford Four". I shall quote one extract from the article, which was signed by two Law Lords, both extremely eminent Members of this House, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Seaman and Lord Devlin. The attitude of these Law Lords was shared by a deputation which included two former Home Secretaries and it was later supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury. I should have mentioned also that the view was shared by Cardinal Hume, so there could hardly have been a stronger deputation, enjoying as it did the additional support of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I shall quote one extract from the article written by the two noble and learned Lords: Justice for the Guildford Four is now in the forefront of a larger issue. Their fate has shattered our belief that there is no-one in any English prison serving a sentence of more than a year who has not been found guilty by a jury which has heard substantially all the relevant evidence. I now come to the punch line. The article continues: our constitutional law on which our freedoms depend has been disordered. People might dismiss that if it had been stated by a lawyer of ordinary rank. But that article was signed by two Law Lords. Therefore it must be taken very seriously. I need hardly say that it will be very carefully studied in Ireland when people discuss whether Irishmen get a fair trial in this country.

I now come to another issue that moves outside Ireland, although Ireland is involved in it. I wish to refer briefly to the British record before the European Commission of Human Rights. The United Kingdom has been brought before the European Court of Human Rights on 31 occasions since becoming a signatory in 1950, and has now been found in violation of the convention 21 times, including two rulings this year. We have yet to learn what attitude our Government are taking up as regards the latest condemnation by the European Court.

Finally, I come to what I will call, and what all will recognise as the Stalker Case. I shall not go into the details of that, but it was brought before the 44th session of the Commission of Human Rights by the international federation which includes our own much respected National Council for Civil Liberties. I shall quote from the statement of the international federation. The statement said: Last month the Attorney General announced to the House of Commons that there would be no further prosecutions in respect of the six shootings. He also announced that, although evidence had been found which would have justified the prosecution of RUC officers for perverting the course of justice, the DPP had decided not to prosecute for reasons of 'public interest' and 'national security'. It would seem that on that occasion public interest and national security took precedence over legal considerations. The statement continued: These events have severely undermined public confidence in the police and the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. The maintenance of the rule of law requires that all those who pervert the course of justice be prosecuted. National security should not take precedence over the rule of law. Those are just three examples, but others could be produced to show why there is no confidence in Ireland— in the 26 counties at any rate—in the kind of justice that is meted out to any Irishman who is accused of any kind of terrorist offence in this country.

Many years ago Sir Winston Churchill stated in one of his books: Integral communities like human beings are dominated by the instinct of self-preservation. No doubt there is a great deal of truth in that. But this country is great for more than one reason. It is great because of its heroic survival in the face of great odds in various wars. It is great also when we are at our best—and we are not always so—in showing an equal desire to preserve the rights of others.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I hope I shall be permitted to start by paying tribute to Paul Sieghart, who is probably the most distinguished human rights lawyer of his generation. He was a great friend of many of us here and a legal adviser to the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, of which I have the honour to be chairman. He died less than 48 hours ago, and the best tribute I can pay to him is to base what I have to say on two remarks he made in his distinguished contributions to the literature of human rights.

He wrote in The Lawful Rights of Mankind that human rights exist for the benefit of the weak, and generally that weakness derives from some difference which distinguishes them from the dominant group. He further stated: In that sense all human rights exist for the protection of minorities". In another of his great works, The International Law of Human Rights, he pointed out that, until after the Second World War, how a state treated its own citizens was a matter exclusively for its own determination. That, today, is no longer the case. He stated in that work: for the first time in the history of mankind . . . such matters are now the subject of the legitimate concern of all mankind". We are very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for giving us the opportunity of debating human rights today, and for the effective way in which he presented his case. I am not sure that I take quite such a gloomy view as he did in saying that we had lost ground over recent years. It would be naive to expect that enormous strides would have been made in the observance of human rights, merely because of the agreement of the world community to the Universal Declaration of 40 years ago. As we have been reminded by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, some of the principles on which the Universal Declaration was based were enunciated by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago. Indeed, one could go back 500 years earlier still to the Buddha. But, nevertheless, human nature is still the same. Perhaps the wonder is that we have advanced as far as we have in the space of a single generation.

The United Nations has at least evolved standards, particularly in the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights respectively, which command the support of the whole world. There are rules for applying the right of self-determination, conventions on the abolition of slavery, the abolition of torture, racial discrimination, discrimination against women, the status of refugees and religious intolerance.

However, what has been lacking is any really effective machinery for enforcing those magnificent undertakings. It is easy to see why that is. In a civilised community, the majority of citizens are not criminals, so they have no difficulty agreeing to legal procedures which may lead to the humiliation and the punishment of offenders. But since, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has pointed out, the majority of states violate human rights continually and flagrantly, the organisation which is composed of those states is not going to agree lightly to the arraignment of individual members before a tribunal with effective powers to impose penalties, or to compensate the victims.

I think there is one other important consequence that we should note of the rearguard action to defend the concept of absolute national sovereignty. We do not have any mechanism for examining and trying to alleviate the stresses which arise from conflicts between the aspirations of national, linguistic, ethnic or religious minorities and the perceived threat to the integrity of a state. The only way a new state can come into existence is by armed force, as the right of self-determination is limited to former colonial territories. Territories which have been annexed are treated in practice as having forfeited the right of self-determination, as we see from the examples of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Tibet, West Papua, East Timor, Eritrea and western Sahara.

There are also subject peoples who were denied a separate existence because it did not suit the great powers at the time, such as the Kurds, the Armenians and the Palestinians, and minorities which aspire to greater autonomy within some kind of federalism, such as the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Tigrayans and Oromo of Ethiopia, the minority nationalities in Burma, the Chakma of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, the Sikhs in the Punjab, and the non-Moslem southerners of Sudan.

Then there are minorities which might prefer to be transferred to a neighbouring sovereignty, such as the Albanians of Yugoslavia, the Hungarians of Romania and the Tswana-speaking people of South Africa. There are five examples one can think of where a state is actually ruled by one of its minority ethnic groups. There is South Africa itself, Burundi, Ethiopia, Guyana and Fiji. That was not meant to be a rigorous taxonomy of the right of self- determination, but to cite those examples is to highlight the causes of some of the most horrible violations of human rights we see across the world today. We justly condemn the mass executions which have been perpetrated by the psychopathic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in what one hopes are its death spasms. But how much more frightful is the mass murder of Kurdish civilians by the Iraqis, using chemical weapons.

Incidentally, the United Nations has no mechanisms for dealing with the threatened use of chemical weapons. The Secretary General has yet to reply to a telex which I sent him concerning eye witness reports of nerve gases which were supplied by Libya to Somalia on 7th October. I suggest that there is a need for a special rapporteur to deal with allegations of the use or threatened use of chemical weapons so that, for example, patients can be examined properly and where possible scientists can test soil and other samples, so that there might be some form of deterrent to those evil men who contemplate the use of such evil weapons.

Somalia is another country where the regime is engaged in a viciously destructive conflict against a section of its own population. The whole of the North-West of that country has been reduced to rubble and the army and the air force are now attacking the 420,000 refugees huddled in the region's refugee camps. Is it not a crime against humanity to attack refuges, and why has that matter not engaged the attention of the Security Council?

I mentioned East Timor. In that case the United Nations originally condemned the annexation of the territory 13 years ago, but since 1982 the question has not appeared on the agenda of the Security Council. Responsibility for developing a solution in consultation with all the parties concerned was given to the Secretary General in November 1982. Since then we in the Parliamentary Human Rights Group have asked him on a number of occasions what steps he intends to take to consult the people of East Timor themselves, who after all are the most important of the parties concerned. We have had no reply to that question.

The 12 EC countries, I was glad to note, agreed at least on a joint statement to the UN Third Commission condemning human rights' violations in East Timor, but their message omitted any mention of the need to involve the people themselves in decisions on their future political status. Unfortunately there are many people in the outside world who are ready to listen to Indonesian propaganda. They accept the argument that more development aid and the granting of limited access to the territory somehow cancel out the extermination of a third of the population in the years following the invasion. They ignore the evidence that the people of East Timor are not reconciled to foreign occupation after 11 years, as was shown yet again by the need of the regime to arrest 3,000 people during the visit of President Suharto to the territory on 1st November.

The Australian Government, to their eternal shame, have recognised Indonesia's sovereignty over the territory, thus, in my opinion, encouraging potential aggressors to think that violations of Chapter IV of the United Nations Charter, which expressly prohibits the transfer of territory by means of force, can be purged by the mere lapse of time.

Jan Martensen of the United Nations Human Rights Centre in Geneva complained the other day that he had only 18 staff to deal with the many tens of thousands of cases that are brought to his attention over the course of any year. We shall never be able to have a world police force with the resources to carry out on-the-spot investigations of individual human rights violations, and the non-governmental organisations themselves can only scratch at the surface of the problem.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, pointed out, every year hundreds of thousands of people are murdered, abducted, tortured or imprisoned without trial by their governments. Millions more are deprived of some of the other rights in the international convenant such as the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, the right to emigrate, and the right to practise and teach their religion. The scale of the violations is so vast that we cannot expect to get very far by treating the problem on a case-by-case basis. That is not to say that the work of organisations such as Amnesty International is not useful or indeed essential. They highlight the abuses and create some public demand for actions by governments.

I think that after 40 years we should be considering new initiatives which tackle the root causes of human rights problems. If one takes, for example, the case of Sri Lanka, the government there killed thousands of Tamils in the North and East until the Indian peace-keeping force took over the job of maintaining law and order in those areas. The atrocities were then stepped up, spreading terror indiscriminately among the civilian population. Incidentally, that is the bottom of the slippery slope on which our own Prime Minister set foot when she remarked that civil liberties had to take second place to winning the battle against terrorism. In that sense I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that we have to be very careful not to be excessively critical of others when we do not always seek to put our own house in order. If the grievances of the Tamil community had been addressed vigorously and in time, I do not believe that Sri Lanka would ever have come to such a pass. But it was perhaps too much to expect that a Colombo government, dependent on the support of the majority Sinhalese community, could have made the necessary concessions.

What is needed is a new international agreement setting out the rights of ethnic, linguistic or religious groups which are not themselves in control of a state. Where the groups in question live in a definable geographical area those rights might include a measure of internal self-government, including control of the police force and appointments to the judiciary. There would also have to be a tribunal to which a group could appeal if they considered that their group rights had been violated. States would be unlikely to agree that decisions of the tribunal should be binding, but they could be crucial in at least persuading a majority community to accept generous solutions.

Meanwhile, I am sorry to say that attention is focused on human rights violations selectively, according to the political orientation of the offenders. At the United Nations, Chile and South Africa are seen as the worst culprits, because they have no friends in either the Soviet or US power blocs.

Conversely, nations which cultivate good relations with the big powers escape serious criticism. When I drew the attention of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to a report by Jonathan Mirsky in the Observer of 8th May about the massacre of 33 monks in Lhasa during the disturbances of 7th March, he replied that we had no direct sources of information about the atrocity. My own inquiries since then reveal that eyewitnesses saw 16 bodies of named individuals, both monks and laymen in the vicinity of the Jokhang temple after it was attacked by the Chinese police, and that a number of people were taken away by the police after the assault, some of whom were unconscious. We do not know whether they survived. There are many first hand accounts available of the torture of monks and nuns as well as lay people, and only a few days ago, on the fortieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration itself, the Chinese police fired on peaceful demonstrators, killing at least two, including a monk, and injuring a number of people including foreign tourists. The Foreign Secretary assures me that we do remind the Chinese authorities of the concern of the British people for the Tibetan people, but our voice is hardly raised above a whisper.

Take the case of Ethiopia, a bankrupt and incompetent military dictatorship which receives massive arms and military advice from the Soviet Union, and economic assistance from the West. The Foreign Secretary told me that when he stopped in Addis Ababa during his August tour of East Africa, he took the opportunity of making clear to the Ethopian Foreign Minister, Berhane Bayih, our own Government's serious concern about the wars being waged by the Dergue against the people of Eritrea and Tigray, particularly the use of napalm against the civilian populations.

But he also remarked that those people would do well to look seriously at the proposals for regional autonomy contained in the 1987 constitution at the behest of the Soviet Union. Those proposals dismember Eritrea, and their purpose is to make sure that the instructions of the central party are carried out in the regions. What we ought to be doing is to persuade the Soviet Union to disengage totally from Ethiopia, and there is surely reason to hope for a positive response from the Soviet's following their disengagement from Afghanistan, Angola and indirectly from Cambodia. At the same time, we should be calling for a suspension of aid under Lomè IV, which serves to enhance the capacity of the regime to conduct military operations. The fact that the aid agencies have been kicked out of Eritrea shows that the Dergue wants to hide something, and we know that in the past they have had no scruples about diverting humanitarian aid to the armed forces.

When it comes to the Soviet Union itself, and to the satellites of eastern Europe, the Government have never hesitated to speak out and to go into detail about individual cases. It is claimed that different methods are appropriate with different countries, but how is it that open criticism is thought to be more useful with Warsaw Pact countries, while "quiet diplomacy" is reserved for others? Is it not a fact that we use "quiet diplomacy" whenever there is a danger that we may lose business if we are more frank?

No discussion of human rights could fail to note the tremendous changes which, as has been said, are occurring within the Soviet Union itself. A year ago I wrote to a Soviet Exile, Lyudmila Yevsukova, who had recently arrived in the West, saying that at that time I was impressed by the release of political prisoners, greater freedom to emigrate and the emergence of some freedom of expression. This process seemed to have momentum, I thought, and the events of the past 12 months have confirmed my hopes.

I only regret that the liberalisation has not spread from the Soviet Union itself to the rest of eastern Europe. Romania is still a personal dictatorship of ramshackle corruption and nepotism. The GDR has explicitly rejected glasnost; and Czchechoslovakia, which I visited recently, severely restricts freedom of expression and of assembly, and continues to imprison people for what they say or even for what they might say. Yet the idea of the reforms being promoted by Mr. Gorbachev has caught the imagination of the people in those countries and, in the case of Czechoslovakia at any rate, there is a lot of discussion and the formation of new groups, such as the Independent Peace Association, prompting new political thinking outside the rigid framework of the communist establishment.

So although progress has been painfully slow over the 40 years since the universal declaration, there is some room for hope. The era of glasnost has vast implications for human rights, not only within the Soviet orbit but throughout the rest of the world. The diversion of resources from armaments to peaceful development and the possibilities of co-operation ultimately between socialist and capitalist nations for the promotion of human rights are wonderfully exciting in my opinion.

The Soviet Union may have a particular role to play in developing the mechanisms for resolving conflicts to which I have referred between subject nationalities and the state. If they can produce formulae which reconcile the needs of Armenians and Azerbaijanis, together with all the other national and linguistic minorities within their polity, they will have made a huge contribution to the future survival of mankind.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for having initiated this debate. I am not going to try to match the tour d'horizon of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; nor am I going to follow my noble friend Lord Longford into Ireland, though I am a citizen of that country, beyond saying that I agree with what he said.

Instead, as the noble Viscount indicated, I am going to turn once again to the Kurdish people of Iraq because, in my opinion, they have suffered far more serious denials of human rights there than in any of the countries named by the noble Viscount or by any other speaker in this or the preceding debate.

There are now some 20 million Kurds in the area of Kurdistan, a large and rather amorphous area that stretches across the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, with enclaves in Syria and the Soviet Union. The other day the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, had a pungent remark to make about the plight of the Kurds in each of those countries in which they have been a subject people for decades after the allies reneged on their plan for an independent Kurdistan in the Treaty of Sevres immediately after the First World War.

However, in Iraq their sufferings have been greater than anywhere else. In Iraq they have for decades been a thorn in the side of the Baghdad Government because of their armed struggle for a greater degree of human rights, including autonomy and self-determination. The Baghdad Government took the decision, when the Iraq-Iran Gulf War ended and their army was no longer required in the battle against Iran, to move with all their force against the Kurdish people and to eliminate them. That programme has been carried out since, with devasting effect, and is still going on.

Some of your Lordships may have seen a letter in the Independent on 9th December from Jalal Talabani. He is one of the two joint leaders of the nationalist resistance in Iraq. He used to be leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; now there is an alliance between the various nationalist groups. He is a personal friend of mine. I have complete confidence in what he says, and as a matter of fact he is not a million miles from your Lordships' Chamber at this moment.

Mr. Talabani's letter was on the 14th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration. He lists just a few of the denials of rights that there have been. He points out that the Iraqi Government have destroyed more than 4,000 Kurdish villages in the past 10 years and have deported tens of thousands—I should myself have said hundreds of thousands—of Kurds into what are known as protected villages or internal exile. In addition, there has been the use of chemical weapons as a means of exterminating entire Kurdish communities. Mr. Talabani uses these words: Iraq has been waging a systematic campaign . . . aimed at uprooting the Kurdish identity and transforming the national characteristics of the Kurdish homeland". This programme has been going on throughout Iraqi Kurdistan: the complete devastation of the countryside, the deportation to other parts of the country (if you can deport to other parts of a country) of almost entire rural populations to the cities and the towns and to new concentration camps which have been built. There has also been the arrest of thousands of young men who are potential guerrillas and their subsequent disappearance. For instance, two or three thousand Barzanis have gone, and no one knows where they are.

Of course what has most caught the attention of the public here has been the devastating use of chemical weapons against civilians in Kurdistan. Baghdad still appears to be denying that chemical weapons have been used; yet on the 8th of last month the Iraqi Vice-President, Taha Mohieddine Maarouf, admitted, and was reported in Le Monde as having admitted, that the Iraqi Air Force had been responsible for devastating attacks on the town of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan on 16th and 17th March, in which at least 4,000 people—almost all women and children—died. Some shots of that tragedy may have been seen by your Lordships in the course of the television documentary by Gwynne Roberts recently.

Mr. Maarouf is said in Le Monde to have justified this operation by affirming that at the time Iraq was facing a war of aggression. He said: Every state that faces an aggression has the right to use all the means at its disposal to put an end to that aggression". He believes that is enough reason to poison and kill 4,000 to 5,000 civilians with poison gas in Halabja. The use of poison gas would be justified in many war situations if one accepted arguments like that.

I maintain that actions of this kind—not only chemical warfare but mass executions and deportations—amount in the case of Iraq to genocide. I do not use the word lightly. It is a word that we hear used rather loosely. It means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary: Deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic or national group". The definition that matters for us is that contained in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which is very much wider. It is: In the present Convention genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group", and so on. Under the UN definition, therefore, you are guilty of genocide if you kill a part—not a substantial part but a part—of a particular race. I would go a lot further than that and say that it should possibly be a substantial part. If it were a substantial part, in the present agony of the Kurds I would say that state action against the state's own people would qualify as genocide.

What is being done by the Western world in the face of genocide by a member of the United Nations? Practically nothing is being done—a few vague undertakings. But instead of taking positive action, the British Government are not talking about sanctions. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, had some very telling words in the previous debate on how effective sanctions can be and should be. There are no proposals of sanctions against Iraq, there are no proposals of any action under the convention of 1948, about which I have just spoken, but instead the Government send a Minister to Baghdad vastly to increase the credits that Iraq can have in order that Britain can sell more material and expertise to Iraq in the reconstruction of that country. We should he stopping the dispatch of British-made goods to Iraq, not doubling the capacity of Iraq to import them.

I think that it is scandalous that this country should do business on these terms with war criminals, because war criminals is what they are. What the Iraqis have done in Kurdistan is no better—Give them a chance, they have a little bit further to go—than Hitler did in the Holocaust in Germany before the war.

I call upon the Government to take action to initiate sanctions against Iraq over its behaviour in this case. I maintain that President Saddam should be brought to the international court and tried on charges of genocide.

6.35 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for giving us this opportunity to discuss the subject in a wide way. I do not object to that at all because I think that some general principles are involved here affecting all the countries of the world.

It is of course the 40th anniversary of the United Nations declaration of human rights. We may well ask ourselves what exactly has happened over 40 years. My noble friend Lord Avebury touched on that. I think we may say that attitudes have changed towards different perceptions of human rights, but perhaps there has been no formula generally or by any accepted agency in the world of how to monitor and to endorse the right action against those countries or those individuals—but I think that countries and governments are the most important—that contravene what is an accepted level of human rights in their countries.

Being given this excellent chance, I should like to move to another part of the world about which I and, I think, other noble Lords feel passionately. It is a very different part of the world, the Western Sahara. The difference in the Western Sahara—this is one of the reasons why I value the opportunity to bring it up tonight—is that it is an extraordinary case of continued violations of human rights over a long period which has been virtually ignored.

Most people—certainly noble Lords, I am sure—know where the Western Sahara is. For the benefit of those who may pick up Hansard, I should like to explain that the Western Sahara was formerly known as the Spanish Sahara. It exists on the western coast of Africa below Morocco, north of Mauritania, roughly on a latitude similar to the Canary Islands. It is an area of some 900 x 500 miles, by our standards a considerable area. It became a colony of Spain in that rush for colonial possessions in the 19th century, and remained a colony of Spain until the mid-1970s when the area was ceded by Spain with promises of a referendum among the indigenous people of that part—albeit a nomad people mainly—on which would depend the future of the people in that area. This has failed to happen.

The Spanish withdrew. They failed to press for the implementation of the undertakings that they had given to the inhabitants of that part of the world. Encouraged by France and Morocco they entered into a tripartite agreement, which resulted in the 1970s in a very vigorous attack, an invasion of the area by both Morocco and Mauritania. We may forget Mauritania because it was ill-equipped to perform the invasion. Morocco was well equipped by major Western powers in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has described in regard to another part of the world.

Between 1975 and now there has been the most extraordinary oppression of a people in the Western Sahara who have been forced to flee their country in the face of the military power of Morocco, an ally of the United Kingdom. Those who failed to move to that area made available to them by Algeria, a newly independent country, remained in the South Western Sahara, where there has been an increasing settlement of Moroccans. There has been a long and tragic history of violation of human rights, torture, imprisonment without trial and disappearances on a scale one might expect in a South American country, which gets much more publicity.

Of those who managed to flee across a very dangerous, barren part of Africa to that area made available to them by Algeria many were women and children who not only suffered the privations of a long journey through a barren area—one of the most barren and difficult areas in the world—but during their flight to Algeria were harried by the Moroccan air force. It used against those women, children and adult men napalm, phosphorous and cluster bombs in exactly the same way as they have been used in other parts of the world but where more publicity has been levelled against their use.

Various international agencies have been concerned about the persecution of those people who were fleeing from oppression in their country. Many of the agencies have proof which cannot be disputed that the horrifying weapons, particularly napalm and phosphorous bombs, originated in the United States. Thankfully, my information is that the British have not had levelled against them the accusation of having supplied such weapons. I should be interested to know of the use that has been made by the Moroccan Government of British credits and whether they have been used for peaceful purposes. The United States was given undertakings by the Moroccan Government that weapons that it purchased from the United States would be used only internally. As usual, those undertakings were broken.

I speak in the debate in place of my noble friend Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham. He has previously spoken in your Lordships' House about the forgotten and horrifying episode on the western side of Africa. My noble friend was very moved when he visited the camps where the refugees have found a resting place. They have developed an encouraging community with equal rights for women and they have a constitution which specifically outlaws the use of violent terrorism.

It is an interesting part of the world because there are people who have been dispossessed. They have written into their constitution the fact that they will try to regain their homeland but will not resort to violence and terrorism. If one is cynical about the matter one may say that perhaps that is the reason why the country and the area of horror has been ignored internationally.

It gives a greater reason for major countries such as ours, the United States and others to pay particular attention to the plight of those who are deprived of their human rights. That is regardless of whether the issues are connected with our alliances with various countries. Morocco is a country which many people, including noble Lords in this House, have enjoyed as a place to go for holidays and they have also enjoyed the importation of citrus fruits from that country. Nevertheless, it has a level of human rights well below that which we would expect of a country which enjoys such friendly relations with Britain. It is in a strategically important location in the event of conflict in the area. It has access to the important minerals available in the western Sahara. That may explain why there is such energy in pursuing an annexation of a country with total disregard for its indigenous population.

My noble friend Lord Winchilsea was so moved by what he saw that when he returned he formed a charity. It has been most successful over a short time because people have been horrified. Perhaps they felt guilty because they had totally ignored the situation or because they felt outraged by the fact that the international press had not given them information.

In a short time my noble friend raised an enormous amount of support from worldwide organisations. In February a number of vehicles which have been bought by the money secured by his efforts will leave from outside your Lordships' House. They will be driven through Europe by volunteers. They will pick up Members of Parliament, Euro MPs and personalities in show business and the record industry. Various organisations have been most supportive, including the Metropolitan Police. Some of the vehicles are fitted as ambulances and dental clinics, and some will carry educational equipment and medicines for children. Algeria is a country in exile and it has little access to products which are vital, particularly to the health of children.

Fifteen vehicles will travel down to Algeria. I hope that their journey will focus attention on that ignored part of the world where people have suffered terrible oppression. It is important to note that they have endured such hardships. A quarter of a million people have set up a state within a state in Algeria and have made the best of the little that they have. They have provided education for their children in a rudimentary form. Wherever possible they have secured health assistance in the form of volunteers. They have established a democratic society with equal rights for women and a peaceful formula for reasserting their rights to return to their homeland.

I have followed the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, whose passionate speech I admired. I hope that I have caught some of his passion for the subject. It is an example of a country and of people who have been ignored because the major powers found their case not particularly interesting. They found it troubling to involve themselves. Unparalleled hardship has been involved. Perhaps it stands alongside that suffered by the boat people and many others who have had the attention of the world brought upon them.

I hope that in the next 40 years we talk less of individuals. Society will always produce people like Klaus Barbie, Lieutenant Calley and Eichmann. I suggest that they exist in our society but are probably doing mild things in the Home Counties and are unable to use their twisted talents. What matters is the environment in which people live. If a government and a country take seriously their responsibilities towards human rights, such people will not flourish. In this country we are lucky in that any breach of human rights is immediately sat upon and publicised. Many countries which are close to us and are our allies do not have such safeguards. Without fear or favour, regardless of whether they are our allies or our foes, wherever we see human rights being flagrantly denied we should treat them equally.

I hope that in February noble Lords will go out to see the column of vehicles leave. They are painted in the bright colours of the rainbow, so they cannot he missed. I see two noble Lords in the Chamber tonight who will be there. I believe that it will be a most informative journey.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, the quest for human rights is an endless crusade. Oppression has existed throughout human history and I am afraid that it is likely to continue as long as mankind exists. However, those of us who would prefer to see it otherwise must show eternal vigilance and be prepared to voice our opposition when we see it.

Over the past few decades Members of your Lordships' House have shown a great deal of vigilance. The House has an excellent record for providing time and opportunity for the discussion of abuses in many countries. It has also allowed the development of some noble proponents of human rights, not least among whom is the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, to whom we owe today's opportunity.

Many reasons have been advanced for oppressing opponents. However, one is particularly piquant to me. It has a special hypocrisy. It is religious extremism. It seems so inexpressibly bad and evil to use the will of God to burn people alive and oppress them in one's search for power. Goodness knows, our own country has enough blots on its record. We used to burn people alive to save their souls. There are still parts of these islands where extremism for religious matters still exists and causes great suffering and death.

However, I wish to draw attention to the position of the Baha'is in Iran. Your Lordships have considered the position of these poor people several times. Any noble Lords who have met the Baha'is cannot have failed to gain the same impression as I have done: that here are gentle and godly people. In spite of their sufferings, I have never heard a single word of malice from them towards their oppressors, nor any tendency to call for revenge in the future, no matter what they or their relatives have suffered. It does not seem to save them from further suffering.

The position in Iran is quite bizarre. The constitution of that country says that Iran is an Islamic republic. That is understandable. The vast majority of people are Moslems. However, a very liberal feature of the constitution is that it recognises the right of various minorities to their own religious persuasions. Jews and Christians are therefore welcome to practise their religions. However, only those groups that are specifically mentioned are so free and those that are not do not have that freedom. It is one of the tragedies of our world today that these gentle people, the Baha'is, do not exist according to the constitution of Iran. Because they do not exist, they are thought to be heretics and they suffer from seizure of property and destruction of their places of worship. The marriages of Baha'is by Baha'i rites are not recognised. Those who marry in the high churches are considered to be living in adultery and are therefore subject to all the penalties of a Moslem country for that sin. Their children are denied education and their adults are subject to arbitrary imprisonment. Over the first eight years or so of the regime they have been subject to most appallingly cruel executions for their religious beliefs.

These happenings have given rise to a flood of protest in the world. Noble Lords have expressed their disgust in this House, and the press has contained many examples. The United Nations has given considerable attention to the problem. The special representative of the UN has recently published yet another report concluding that oppression of the Baha'is continues to this day. On 8th December—only six days ago—yet another resolution of the UN condemned the oppression still existing in Iran.

Is the picture hopeless? I hardly dare to breathe the words, but there could conceivably be the first hint of a pre-dawn light. Perhaps I may quote from a letter by a Baha'i to myself. It states: The Iranian government …appears to have concluded that their efforts to improve relations with the community of nations could he assisted by a reduction in the persecution to which the Baha'i minority in Iran has been subject over the past nine years". Various people whom I know, who have access to information which appears to be reliable, for the first time have the feeling that over the past 12 months or so the pressure has very slightly eased. The numbers in prison have gone down slightly. There are now believed to be 129 still in gaol on religious grounds. The Baha'i children have begun to be readmitted to the schools. Perhaps there is the first hint of light.

It gives me therefore great pleasure to pass on to Her Majesty's Government, as I have been asked to do, the thanks of the Baha'is of the United Kingdom. Their words are: The United Kingdom can be said to have played a strong positive role in the adoption of the resolution"— passed on 8th December in the United Nations— and we would be grateful if you would express on our behalf our genuine appreciation for the supportive position taken by our government. We know of the complexities that surround such issues and are all the more grateful for our government's resolute support in this matter". To that I am happy to add my own support. I hope that this gratitude will encourage Her Majesty's Government to maintain pressure of representations in any way they can for a full restitution of civil rights to the Baha'is in Iran.

I understand that we are shortly to have a new ambassador in Iran. Perhaps he will take the opportunity to continue to press the Government's view on the freedom of the Baha'is. He might also take the opportunity to point out that the strength of a regime is never shown by its arbitrary severity. It has been very common in human history that when a revolutionary movement takes power it tends to use strong-arm tactics to show how "macho" it is. However, that does not show real strength. We should express to the regime in Iran that if it wishes to be respected as having strength and maturity, then the real hallmark of maturity, strength, civilisation and confidence in a government is the tolerance and compassion which it shows to the least of its own minorities.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, there cannot possibly be any reason for persecuting the Baha'is. I hope that noble Lords are now disabused of the idea that they are a remote Middle Eastern sect. There are small, flourishing communities of the Baha'i in both Orkney and Shetland. They play a very valuable part in that they are attempting to synthesise the religions of the world and not to create difficulties between them.

We are indeed grateful to the noble Viscount for initiating this debate. Let no one say that these matters that are taking place all over the world are no concern of ours. In this sphere, no man is an island. Just as we feel for the Armenians and their troubles, so we should feel for the millions of people who at this moment are suffering the horrors of persecution—persecution on a scale worse than that of Armenia and in some cases persecution which has gone on far longer. From a more, if one likes, selfish view, the persecution of Jews has haunted this century ever since Hitler. We are all involved in the troubles which stem from attacks on human beings all over the world.

For some years I was chairman of the Minority Rights Group. We amassed a considerable amount of information about minorities in different countries. The difficulty is to get anyone to act on the information. I should first like to ask whether the Government have any proposals to put before the United Nations or other international bodies for monitoring and acting upon the wrongs of minorities.

As has been said this evening, one of the most appalling wrongs which minorities have suffered is what is being done to the Kurds in Iraq. I hope that we shall have a clear explanation, withdrawal and apology, if necessary, from the Government if it is true that we are supplying Iraq with the means, credit and so forth, to carry on that persecution, because that is what it amounts to.

There is a good deal which wealthy nations can do to help minorities. In my youth it was the traders in arms, particularly Sir Basil Zaharoff, who were condemned for creating war and persecution in different countries. I am afraid to say that it is now very often governments who stand behind the arms trade and who are frightened to take what action they can for fear of losing trade. Surely there are some matters in the world which are more important than trade, although in this country one might think that trade is by far the most important matter with which the Government have to deal.

We should like to know what the Government have done, as regards Tibet. They appear to have contacted the Chinese. What progress have they made in stopping the persecution in Tibet? Hungarians are being persecuted in Rumania and one could also mention that in speaking to the leading Russians.

The particular matter with which I am currently concerned is Ethiopia as I am a vice-president of the British Horn of Africa Council. As your Lordships will know, Ethiopia has been under a Marxist government for some time. Tyranny and cruelty of all sorts have been perpetrated. Lately a particularly horrible event has been reported. It is said that 80,000 people have been forced to leave their homes around She'eb. As has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, those are people from Eritrea who at present are forcibly incorporated into Ethiopia. Four hundred of them were rounded up and crushed to death with tanks. Old men were locked in huts and the huts burnt. Children were driven out and thrown over precipices.

That is a country to which the western nations send aid. One thing which we could do would be to represent to our European friends that long-term aid to Ethiopia should stop unless it shows some attention to human rights, which, after all, is stipulated, as I understand it, within the recital of the Lomé Convention. Further, the 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission will soon meet. I should like to know whether the Government will raise the question of Ethiopia at that session.

Further, Russia is the main supporter of Ethiopia. As we are on good terms with Russia, we should raise the question as to what Russia will do with its new-found enthusiasm for human rights in order to use its influence to stop the atrocities in Ethiopia, which is very much under its protection and to a great extent is economically supported by it.

As I say, all over the world those atrocities continue and we have heard about them this evening; and yet the western nations seem unable to do anything about it. There are great difficulties about minorities, and I speak as someone who was chairman of the Minority Rights Group. It is not as impossible as governments like to think, because they are really terrified of losing trade. That is the basis of many of their attitudes to this.

If one wants to see the disastrous results of internal western politics on this matter, perhaps we should consider the banning of Arafat from appearing in America before the United Nations. That is a matter where our Government come out with no credit whatever. Their excuses were lame to say the least of it and dishonest into the bargain. That Arafat should be denied entry to the United Nations purely for internal reasons of the United States political scene is a scandal not only to the United States but also to the West. I hope that at the end of this debate the Government will not spend time wringing their hands or telling us what they have done—and I fully accept that they have taken some action. I hope they will tell us what they are now going to do in the the face of these appalling events about which we have been told from all over the House tonight.

7.8 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for his initiative in bringing to the forefront of our minds the great issue of human rights. Perhaps I may say that it has led to a notable debate in this House in which the wings of noble Lords have been spread over a great deal of the world in the cause of pleading for something to be done to rescue and relieve those suffering from breaches of human rights.

I congratulate the noble Viscount on his foresight in enabling the great theme of human rights to be discussed in the House so near the celebration on 10th December of Human Rights Day—the day on which in 1948 members of the United Nations declared that every human being, wherever he or she may be, is entitled to basic human and inalienable rights and when the governments of the world then pledged themselves not only to respect those rights in their own countries but to protect and promote them in all countries.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was followed by two covenants on human rights, one covering economic, social and cultural rights and the other covering civil and political rights—both in terms binding on ratifying states. Regional human rights conventions have followed in different parts of the world.

The significance of those measures in international law was brilliantly expounded by Paul Sieghart in his book The International Law of Human Rights. He called it a revolution in human affairs comparable with those of 1789, 1848 and 1917; namely, the birth of international human rights law. It was a cause to which he gave and dedicated much of his life. Sadly, he died on Monday, championing human rights and justice to the very end in a speech which I heard him make a few hours before he died. I am deeply grateful, as is the House, to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his tribute to Paul who was a friend of so many of us.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, what was agreed and accomplished 40 years ago was in legal terms, as Paul wrote, indeed revolutionary. The accepted article of faith and legal doctrine until then was that the way in which a sovereign state treated its own citizens was a matter only and exclusively for its own sovereign determination.

Following the various treaties and conventions solemnly entered into by governments, including our own, when the war ended that was no longer the case. How governments treated their own subjects was, from then on, rightly the legitimate concern of all mankind and of international law itself. What is more, the actions of governments are now capable of being judged by the test of common standards of internationally agreed and legally binding rules, known now as international human rights law. If I may say so, it was good to hear the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with his wide and distinguished record in human rights, speaking on these matters. The individual, wherever he or she may be, is no longer a mere object of compassion but a subject of rights. International law now reaches down to individual men, women and children.

The crucial question remains: what actual practical difference has this law made to the behaviour of governments? Alas, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and others in their eloquent speeches have indicated, very little. We have heard that violations of human rights' law are taking place all over the world in varying degrees of gravity.

A major difficulty is that there are few, if any, executive bodies at international level capable of enforcing this human rights' law against governments which are in breach of the law. The separate states into which the world is still divided boast of their sovereignty and still, alas, have the monopoly over the means of coercion of the offenders and enforcement of the law against them.

The question that has been asked, and upon which I wish to dwell, is: what steps are being taken by the United Nations and its agencies to create and operate mechanisms of enforcement against the offenders? Has it any emergency machinery? I know of none, but there ought to be.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights is the central human rights body at the United Nations. For how long do its annual sessions last? I have the impression that they are not anything like long enough. In its 44th session at the beginning of this year the commission, which is composed of 43 governments who are elected by the Economic and Social Council, adopted without a vote a resolution calling for the release of those it termed "political prisoners". I am happy to say that the resolution was introduced by the United Kingdom Government. Political prisoners were defined as those people detained in many parts of the world for, seeking peacefully to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including not only the right to freedom of expression but also freedom of assembly, association and participation in public affairs. As it is formulated, that resolution covers many of the prisoners of conscience who are of particular concern to Amnesty International, which has done notable work in this field.

Has any working group been set up to examine progress in this field? Perhaps the Minister can answer that question for us. Has a special rapporteur been appointed to investigate and report upon the matter? Is there any prospect that that will be done in any future sessions of the commission? If not, the resolution may be merely a statement of pious intent and nothing else.

Since 1980 the United Nations working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances has acted on more than 15,000 "disappearances" in over 40 countries. Can the Minister say—not in any detail, of course, but broadly speaking—what success was achieved? In 1987 the United Nations working group intervened in more than 1,000 new cases in 14 countries. Again, I wonder what the result was.

The special rapporteur on summary and arbitrary executions has approached 60 governments to try to prevent threatened executions. Were any of those approaches successful? I hope they were. I shall await to hear what the Minister says. I thought it right to give him notice of some of these questions because to shoot them out without warning would not be helpful to the House.

The special rapporteur on torture has tried to stop torture in more than 30 countries. Alas, the wicked evil of torture continues. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, which to my surprise I learned functions in a Hampstead hospital, reports that although torture is banned in international law, it is practised in over one-third of the countries of the world. It is not simply the exercise of sadism by individual torturers, bad enough though that is, but it is often used deliberately by governments to suppress dissent through coercion and terror.

That foundation reports, "Torture knows no frontiers." It lists 32 countries, widely varied in their political and ideological affiliations, from which patients who attend that hospital come for treatment. The Dutch have a rehabilitation centre attached to the University College Hospital of Copenhagen where torture survivors are treated after an appeal from Amnesty International to doctors around the world.

I was happy to learn today—I missed it in the press, I am sorry to say—that the Government have ratified the United Nations convention against torture, and did so on 8th December. However, why was no declaration made by the Government under Article 22 of the convention, which I believe allows for the right of petition? For some reason they have not included that in their ratification of the convention. I submit that that should have been done in order to recognise the competence of the Committee against Torture.

Another matter of grave concern mentioned by one or two noble Lords is the number of reports that slavery continues to be practised in certain African countries. The House would like to know what steps the Government are taking in that respect. For example, have reports of enslavement of members of the African Dinka ethnic group in Southern Sudan been made to the United Nations or our Foreign Office.

As it has been reported by Amnesty International, is it the case that slaves are selling for £30 a head in the Sudan? Noble Lords have raised their own particular concerns and interests about other territories and other peoples. We would like an assurance as to the actual concern and involvement by the Foreign Office in and about the United Nations itself and particularly by communication and protest and whatever action is possible against the offending governments.

Persecution and the killing off of minority groups tragically still occurs. My noble friend Lord Kilbracken and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others, have spoken of that and in particular of the suffering of the Iraqi Kurds and the appalling fact of aerial gas attacks. That takes us back to the evils of Mussolini in Ethiopia itself which has left a terrible mark upon the outlook and the fate of the unfortunate Ethiopian people. They are a splendid, lovely people. I had the pleasure of doing a case there many years ago. They are a delightful people suffering hell.

In its report, Amnesty International has indicated that in scores of countries governments pursue their goals by kidnapping and murdering their own citizens. In very many countries large numbers of their inhabitants are locked away for speaking their mind, often after sham trials. Mercifully, the struggle to enjoy human rights is not always lost. As has been said, there is room for good cheer in the Soviet Union but not, alas, in the territories of Iran, Uganda and possibly Turkey as well. The Prime Minister registered a remarkable vote of confidence in the Prime Minister after her return from Turkey when the information that one receives from there is by no means reassuring.

Apart from the actions of the United Nations, public opinion is a vital factor in this field. Dictators fear it and do their best to control it. One noble Lord has spoken of the manipulation of facts. Experience has shown that even the most repressive governments are sensitive to international pressure. Here the world-wide human rights movement is playing a vital part. Amnesty International has groups of volunteers working in almost all countries. There are more than 8,000 other human rights organisations in different parts of the world campaigning for human rights.

The exposure of offending governments to the glare of international publicity is a valuable weapon against the oppressor. It is good that the human race is to that extent very alert to what is happening. A large number of non-governmental human rights organisations, as I have said, are ready to expose human rights violations. To indicate the extent of it, 113 such organisations from all over the world attended this year's meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

There is much more that needs to be done. One noble Lord has referred to the need for a proper system of monitoring by the United Nations and its agencies of these infringements and of enforcement of the law of human rights. Is there a particular machinery that has responsibility for that? As Ben Whitaker, the United Kingdom expert and member of the United Nations human rights sub-committee, has mentioned, do we not need to emphasise the individual responsibility of the torturers? They do not like at all the idea of being named. One day the law may catch up with them if we have the machinery. Ben Whitaker has suggested a world-wide United Nations inspectorate of prisons and police interrogation centres set up perhaps initially through the International Red Cross. Is that a practical possibility? It sounds a very dramatic and splendid concept to my mind. Perhaps something may be done in that field.

Reliable information is essential for the campaign for human rights to work. For instance, at present there is no independent press or source of information to report on situations in several of the states that are mentoned. I identify North Korea or Albania as enjoying the benefit of the lack of publicity as regards what goes on in the field of human rights. Peoples of the world still look anxiously for signs that the time for the world enjoyment of human rights has come. It has not come yet.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, would have found it impossible, I believe, to find a more opportune moment to initiate this debate. Many of your Lordships have referred to the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which we celebrated on 10th December. I too should like to pay tribute to this declaration, particularly in the context of this debate, since for the past four decades the declaration has been of fundamental importance to the international community's efforts to promote respect for human rights.

I should also like to be associated with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, among others, about the death of Mr. Paul Sieghart. His death is indeed a sad affair. I gladly acknowledge the work that he has done in this most important field. He will be much missed.

The Universal Declaration was first a symbol of the determination of governments to protect human rights world-wide. It reflected the aspirations of the founders of the United Nations itself. Secondly, it elaborated a vital and new principle: that the international community has a shared responsibility to promote respect for human rights. It removed from governments the excuse that external comment on internal repression in other countries is interference, though sadly we still hear versions of that phrase far too often today. For the first time, on 10th December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set standards which were recognised universally, and against which all nations are judged.

To demonstrate the importance which we attach to the Universal Declaration, we have marked the occasion of its 40th anniversary in a number of ways to which I should like briefly to refer. Most important, we introduced agreed amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill earlier this year which allowed us to ratify the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs himself deposited the instrument of ratification with the United Nations Secretary General on 8th December shortly before addressing the special session of the United Nations General Assembly which met in New York on that day to celebrate the anniversary. We will play our part in helping to ensure that the committee against torture works effectively to eliminate torture globally.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, for giving me notice that he intended to ask a number of questions. I shall cover as many of them as I can. He asked in particular about the effectiveness of the United Nations in this regard. I entirely agree with him that what matters is the implementation of international human rights standards. We believe that the United Nations plays an increasingly effective role in promoting respect for human rights. The United Nations focuses attention on governments, making it harder for those who abuse the rights of their own citizens to escape the glare of international publicity and condemnation.

The Commission on Human Rights is particularly useful in this respect not least because it provides a most useful focus for non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International. The commission may meet for only a few weeks a year but it has evolved increasingly effective machinery which operates all year round. That is important. We strongly support the system of thematic and country rapporteurs and believe that they have been of practical assistance in promoting the implementation of existing standards.

The noble and learned Lord referred to two particular rapporteurs—for torture and for disappearances. The special rapporteur for torture was appointed in 1985 by the commission to investigate allegations of this particularly horrific abuse. We have strongly supported his reappointment each year and will continue to do so. The entry into force of the convention against torture has not removed the need for such a rapporteur. The committee against torture can only monitor the performance of states party to that convention—presently 38 in number. The rapporteur has a mandate from the United Nations to investigate allegations of torture wherever they might arise. We believe that his appeals to governments, like those of other rapporteurs and the working group on disappearances, have on occasion brought practical results. We shall continue to urge all governments to co-operate with the United Nations mechanism.

The resolution on political prisoners which we introduced at this year's commission was adopted by consensus. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary made clear in his statement to the commission that we wish to see set up an appropriate mechanism, such as another special rapporteur, to focus on the problems of political prisoners throughout the world. Perhaps at this moment I may also refer to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord about slavery. We deplore the practice of slavery in all its forms and wherever in the world it is alleged to be going on. Although slavery is illegal throughout the world we are concerned to hear that slavery and the slave trade still exist in some places. The United Kingdom co-sponsored a resolution at this year's Commission on Human Rights which addressed the problems of slavery, including contemporary forms of slavery. The resolution recommended the appointment of a special rapporteur to look into ways of preventing and suppressing slave-like practices.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the subject of special rapporteurs, will he comment on the notion that a special rapporteur might be appointed to look at the use or the threatened use of chemical weapons against civilian populations?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, perhaps I may come back to that point in a moment when I deal specifically with the Kurds and the alleged Iraqi use of chemical weapons. I shall endeavour to do that.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was and remains a remarkable achievement. The British Government described it on its adoption as "a milestone on the road to human progress". I think that assessment has stood the test of time. And yet the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals continue to be violated all over the world—a sad reality. We are firmly committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and seek universal observance of the standards which have been agreed internationally for that purpose. We are concerned about human rights abuses wherever they occur and whatever form they take and regularly raise such problems in our bilateral contacts with other governments, in joint demarches with our European Community partners and in international fora such as the United Nations. Our position was set out clearly in the statement agreed by Foreign Ministers of the Twelve on 21st July 1986.

We will continue to take a clear stand with other governments on human rights issues, in public and in private. Our objective is always to secure actual improvements for the victims of human rights abuses. We believe that discreet and confidential approaches are sometimes more likely to achieve this objective than public statements. We must also be ready to recognise improvements where they are established and to encourage further progress. If we are not prepared to do so we cannot expect the blame we hand out to be taken seriously.

I should like to turn now to the situation in the three countries referred to in the Motion and then come on to some others. I listened with care to the comments of the noble Viscount about the position in Uganda and noted his suggestion that a commission of inquiry be established. We have all very much welcomed the considerable improvement in Uganda's human rights record since the present Government took power in January 1986. In view of Uganda's tragic recent history, we are encouraged to see the priority now given to the re-establishment and maintenance of respect for human rights.

We have welcomed President Museveni's regular public statements of his commitment to this goal. He has shown his commitment in practical ways, such as the establishment of human rights commission, an amnesty for rebels, the release from Luzira and other prisons earlier this year of nearly 2,000 detainees, and the severe punishment of human rights offenders when detected. Under him, Uganda has become a party to most of the main international instruments on human rights.

At the same time we recognise that the Ugandan Government continue to face serious security problems in the north and east. There is continued armed insurgency there. It is naturally very difficult to be sure what exactly is happening in these areas on the ground. We are, however, aware that allegations have been made about human rights abuses committed by both government and rebel forces.

We of course treat these reports with serious concern. The Ugandan Government know this; we enjoy a good dialogue with them on these matters. My right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs had the opportunity to discuss this very issue with President Museveni during his visit to Uganda in September.

We are also seeking to help in practical ways. We are giving Uganda considerable assistance in training its police force to resume responsibility for civil security. We have provided a large amount of equipment to help them do so. We are also giving help to the Ugandan judiciary by providing a supreme court judge and by contributing to the reprinting of Ugandan laws.

All these things are designed to help ensure that the improvement I spoke about earlier will be consolidated. And, where necessary, we shall not hesitate to continue to let the Ugandan Government know that we expect them to uphold their public commitments to the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Recent reports of executions in Iran are a matter of considerable concern to the Government. We have consistently condemned violations of human rights in Iran, bilaterally, in concert with our European partners and as members of the wider international community.

On 8th December, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on human rights in Iran which, among other points, urged the Government of Iran to respect the international covenant on civil and political rights, to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a party. The United Kingdom was a co-sponsor of this resolution and played an active part in its drafting and negotiation. We shall continue to make clear our concern at human rights violations in Iran for as long as they occur. At the same time, we welcomed the expressed commitment of the Government of Iran at the United Nations to co-operate fully with the UN special representative to enable him to investigate and report upon allegations of human rights abuse in Iran. We hope that this commitment will be fulfilled.

The noble Lord, Lord Whaddon, asked about the Baha'is in Iran. The persecution of Baha'is is a continuing cause of concern. We shall continue to urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that human rights of all minorities are respected. I am glad that the Baha'i community is pleased with the action we have taken and will continue to take.

We very much welcome the progress which is being made in Chile to return that country to its former democratic tradition. We and our partners in the Twelve have been encouraged by the exemplary conduct of the 5th October presidential plebiscite, by the Chilean Government's speedy acceptance of the result, by the lifting of the state of emergency and by the end of the prohibition on the return of exiles.

Those are all positive steps and we have admired the great sense of responsibility shown by all the Chilean people in recent months. It would be wrong not to recognise this process. The armed forces have now more recently begun the process of withdrawing from government. This, we all hope, will culminate in orderly and peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections in December next year and the installation of an elected civilian president and government in March 1990.

We regard the restoration of democracy in Chile as the best guarantee of full respect for human rights in that country. Some progress in human rights has been made in Chile over the past few years, but so much more needs to be done. We remain seriously concerned about continuing violations, allegations of torture, the harsh system of military justice, the lack of full independence of the judiciary, the prolonged periods some prisoners are held, sometimes many years, without trial, and intimidation—particularly of people who are working to promote respect for human rights. We condemn these abuses.

I can assure your Lordships that the British Government are not slow to draw their concern directly to the attention of the Chilean authorities. We do so frequently, in the hope of encouraging change, and will continue to do so as long as violations persist. It is, for example, a matter of deep regret to the British Government that Señora Ledy Castro Urra, a Chilean lady whose husband and son reside in the United Kingdom, is now serving her fifth year in detention without any trial whatsoever. It is of concern to Her Majesty's Government that the Chilean authorities have so far failed to respond to representations on this matter.

But it would be wrong for any of us to be blind to the destructive terrorism which continues in the face of the advances which have been made towards a restoration of democracy in that country. As the United Nations special rapporteur, Senor Volio, has pointed out in his most recent report: Terrorism remains a formidable obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights in Chile". The British Government fully agree with him and roundly condemn terrorism in all its ugly forms in Chile as elsewhere. It invites repression and does nothing to advance the cause of the vast majority of Chileans who want peaceful change.

In this debate we have not covered all the countries in which human rights abuses occur, though, judging by the amount of paper which I have here, I feel that we have gone a very long way towards that point. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, gave a masterly and all too depressing review of human rights abuses worldwide. Perhaps I may concentrate on one particular aspect, because I have some recent personal experience in the matter.

The noble Lord referred briefly to the Chittagong hill tracts in Bangladesh. I visited them only last week. While there I took the opportunity to make clear to the Bangladesh authorities the level of concern in this country about alleged abuses of rights of the tribal population there. I must say to the noble Lord that I was encouraged to find that those to whom I spoke were sensitive to this concern and were aware of the need to find a political solution to the current problems. Indeed, I was impressed by the activities which they are undertaking in order to bring this about. I thought that I should mention that fact to the noble Lord because, having been there only last Tuesday, it seemed to me that it was specially germane to the issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also touched on Tibet. Let me begin by saying how saddened I was to hear reports of new disturbances and loss of life in Lhasa. Her Majesty's Government have made clear to the Chinese Government the concern of people in this country, and in your Lordships' House, about Tibet. Both my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister raised the subject of Tibet with the then Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr. Wu Xueqian, when he was here in March this year. Moreover, I have taken up the subject with Chinese Ministers in Peking.

It is difficult, because of the remoteness and isolation, to know precisely what is going on in that country. Indeed, there may be some exaggeration on both sides. Nevertheless, the noble Lord has made a point and I can assure him that we shall continue to raise the matter as and when appropriate. It is important for the Government of China to work constructively with the Tibetan people, including the Dalai Lama, in the search for a political settlement.

The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, said that he would not mention the Soviet Union and then promptly did so. I shall be brief on the matter and say that the human rights situation in that country has improved in the past year. I think that that is very much in tune with President Gorbachev's long-term attempts to civilise Soviet society. However, not all problems have disappeared. For example, the KGB remains largely untouched by glasnost and perestroika. Few arrests on political grounds have taken place but other abuses, such as violent assaults on activists, have continued. Glasnost itself continues to be selectively applied. We are looking for fundamental and lasting change in the Soviet Union to allow all Soviet citizens to enjoy the full range of human rights and freedoms.

The noble Earl, Long Longford, referred especially to the Irish situation and human rights. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks about the Ryan affair. I shall simply say to him that it is important that a balance is struck—it always has to be in such cases, as the European Commission on Human Rights has recognised—between the protection of individual rights and the need to defend democratic societies against the threats posed by organised terrorism. I do not believe that those matters will ever be very easy to reconcile, and individual cases will crop up. Indeed we can all think of cases where we might feel that the balance had tilted one way rather than the other. However that balance is an important one to strike and I hope that the noble Earl will agree that that is what we strive to achieve.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot just sit here and allow that to be said. I do not agree for a moment with that.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Earl may not agree but the fact is that a balance must be struck in such matters; that is what we try to achieve. I do not believe for one minute that the noble Earl can claim that in our attempts to meet the horrifying effects of terrorism, of which the noble Earl is fully aware, that we have in any sense denied human rights to the extent which he indicated in his speech this evening.

I turn now to the issue of the minorities which was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Grimond. Both noble Lords are quite right to draw our attention to the plight of minorities, whether they be Kurds in Iraq or whatever. I note the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that a special rapporteur might be established to examine allegations of CW (chemical warfare) use. We took the matter to the UN and pressed for an independent investigation. However, I regret to say that the proposal received insufficient support.

As regards proposals which might be put before the UN to protect the rights of minorities—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond—there is no shortage of rights on the international statute book. The problem, as I think we all agree, is actually enforcing them. We fully support the work of the sub-commission of the Human Rights Commission which is tasked to investigate abuses of such rights. Moreover, I am glad to say that a highly qualified independent British member was elected to that body last year.

So far as Ethiopia is concerned, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that we shall be raising the matter of the situation in that country—about which we share his concerns—at the next meeting of the Commission on Human Rights in February next year.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the noble Lord may recall that he wrote to me saying that it was not a good idea to have this put on the agenda of the 45th meeting of the Human Rights Commission, because when the United States attempted to do so in 1986, with UK support, it was voted down. He said that he did not think it was a good idea for such a Motion to be defeated on two successive occasions because he thought that that might lead the Ethiopians to be able to claim that their human rights record had been vindicated. Therefore I am not sure that he is right in saying that the 45th meeting of the Human Rights Commission provides us with the opportunity of exposing the record of the Ethiopians.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, perhaps I may look at my last letter to the noble Lord and reply to him in the light of his remarks and what I have just said about my understanding that we can raise the situation again next time. Of course I shall place a copy of the letter in the Library.

I turn now to the important matter of Iraq and the Kurds raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbacken. I can assure him that we are deeply concerned at Iraqi actions against the Kurdish people. I have referred to the issue on more than one occasion in your Lordships' House. Reports of chemical use are one, but sadly not the only, major humanitarian problem there.

My right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary stressed our concern to the Iraqi Minister of State and described the use of chemical warfare as uniquely barbaric. However, I cannot accept the noble Lord's view that to isolate Iraq or to impose sanctions would encourage it to improve its behaviour any more than it would do on a number of other occasions, because it is important that we maintain our contacts and use them to impress upon the Iraqi Government the unacceptability of their behaviour.

We shall ensure that that issue is kept permanently on the international agenda. I shall make it absolutely clear that we do not allow the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned Western Sahara. I can assure him that that conflict is far from forgotten. We fully support the efforts of the UN Secretary General to mediate in that long dispute. We have welcomed the encouraging indications of progress in recent months.

It would be impossible to cover every country and wrong of me to do so in the time available for a short debate. I hope that what I have been able to say has reassured your Lordships that we remain deeply concerned about human rights abuses wherever they occur and we take a firm stand with governments on human rights issues. We recognise this to be a responsibility handed down to us by those who, 40 years ago, set out the Universal Declaration.

It is not a matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, suggested, of Her Majesty's Government wringing their hands on such an issue. It is a responsibility which we try to fulfil as impartially as possible and we believe that our approach to human rights is coherent, consistent and constructive. We shall continue to play an active part in multilateral human rights fora and to work towards our objective, which is to secure the maximum improvements for the victims of abuse.

7.53 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this interesting and wide-ranging debate. I am especially grateful to the Minister for his encouraging reply. I did state in my little note that I should refer briefly to the Soviet Union. I am glad that he picked up that point. It was especially interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and other noble Lords who have first-hand experience, as I have, of that horrible problem. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at six minutes before eight o'clock.