HL Deb 22 February 1989 vol 504 cc647-9

2.47 p.m.

Lord Grimond asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they have taken in regard to infringement of human rights in Ethiopia.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we take every opportunity to raise our concerns about human rights with the Ethiopian authorities. We intend to refer to the issue at the current meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging Answer. Does it mean that he now accepts the evidence that the most appalling atrocities have been perpetrated by the Ethiopian Government? Does he also accept that because we and our allies in Europe give a large amount of aid to Ethiopia we are in a position to bring weight to bear upon that country? Finally, has any approach been made to Russia in respect of this issue?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we have considerable concerns about the level of the observance of human rights in Ethiopia. For that reason we intend to raise the matter at the forthcoming meeting in Geneva.

As regards linking the granting of aid to the question of human rights, the noble Lord will understand that we do not believe that is necessarily a good idea. The aid that we give to Ethiopia is quite small but is specifically designed to help those in greatest need, particularly those short of food or medical supplies. I do not believe that such people would benefit if we adopted the policy suggested by the noble Lord.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we warmly welcome the information which the noble Lord has given about the intention of the Government at the forthcoming meeting in Geneva and hope that some good will come of it. Can he say whether other representations have been made—for example, to the President of Ethiopia—on a bilateral or Community level? I refer not only to the alleged abuse of human rights but also to the fact that prisoners of conscience are held in Ethiopia—some of them since 1974. Are the Government proposing to take any other action about the dreadful atrocities in Ethiopia?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, it is the case that some people, including some members of the former royal family, have been kept in prison in Ethiopia since as long ago as 1974. We take every opportunity to represent our concerns on that matter to the Ethiopian authorities, including representations through our ambassador in Addis Ababa. We very much hope that the authorities will see their way clear to releasing those people at the earliest possible moment.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether the Government are quite satisfied that the aid which we send to Ethiopia goes to the right sources?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. We go to great lengths to see that the aid which we give ends up in the hands of the right people. In fact it is aid issued not direct to the Ethiopian Government but more relevantly to the agencies on the ground in Ethiopia who we believe are best placed to see that the aid arrives at the right place.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, despite what my noble friend said, is it not a possibility that the aid which we and our EC partners give is used by the Ethiopian Government to live on, so to speak, and enables them to use their own resources to buy armaments with which to harry the people in the North?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I said, generally speaking our aid is in the form of food and similar humanitarian supplies. I suspect that if aid donors did not provide those things it would not be the case that the Ethiopian Government would provide that aid as an alternative. I am not sure that they see their priorities in the same way as we do. Therefore, if we were to stop providing aid for the purposes which we do, I am not clear that the Ethiopian Government would step in our place.

Lord McNair

My Lords, can the noble Lord answer my noble friend's supplementary question as to whether there has been any communication with the Soviet Union on this matter?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not aware of any specific communication with the Soviet Union on this matter but I suspect that it sees the situation in very much the same light as we do.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, can the Minister say a little about the powers of the Commission on Human Rights to which this matter has been referred? Apart from investigation, does it have any other authority or power?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Genevan human rights body to which I referred, and where we intend to raise this matter at its forthcoming session, is of the nature, as the noble and learned Lord will be aware, of a standing body which meets on regular occasions more or less every year. It is a sub-organ of the United Nations and therefore has the authority of the United Nations. 1 believe I am right in saying that it reports back to the General Assembly on a regular basis.