HL Deb 15 May 1995 vol 564 cc293-5

2.53 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are initiating international action to secure compliance by Bahrain with internationally recognised standards of human rights in respect of torture, detention without trial and the use of firearms against peaceful demonstrators.

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

My Lords, the Bahrainis are well aware of the importance of observing human rights, including in the areas identified by the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that Answer, may I ask her whether there is any reason to doubt the reports by Amnesty International of firing on peaceful demonstrators, of withholding medical assistance to the injured, of detention without trial (or without a proper trial), and of the use of torture? More generally, does the Minister agree that there are some governments whose human rights records are so horrifying that they exclude themselves from normal, civilised, international discourse, and, if so, would she include Bahrain?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, while we cannot overlook the allegations that have been made, it is perfectly fair to say that Bahrain has made considerable progress in recent years. However, we remain concerned about the number of deaths and casualties during the recent disturbances. We have seen no evidence that the Bahraini police used excessive force to contain peaceful demonstrations, but there really is a difference when the demonstrations become violent—and that is when the police resorted to the use of tear-gas and rubber bullets. However regrettable we may find it, that was the situation at the time.

I understand what the noble and learned Lord says about torture and about the other allegations that have been made. There is no substantiated evidence of the mistreatment of detainees, but we shall continue to examine any allegations of torture. If the noble and learned Lord knows of any, I hope that he will put them to us. I believe that a visit to Bahrain by Amnesty International would be of great benefit. It would be useful if that organisation could sit down with the Bahraini Government and agree the terms of a visit, because that is the only way in which we can make progress.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, i:5 the Minister aware that Amnesty International has asked to visit Bahrain and to observe the trials, which currently take place in camera? Can the Minister comment on reports from Amnesty International that Bahrain has resorted to the disgraceful practice of detaining children in lieu of relatives wanted by the authorities? Have the Government protested to Bahrain about that or raised the matter in any international forum?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I note what the noble Baroness said about the arrest of children who may be relatives of dissidents. We have no reliable evidence that that is happening, but I shall inquire further because, as the noble Baroness knows, neither the Government nor her own party believe that any detention without trial is right. There is no doubt but that those who have not yet been charged or released should soon be either charged or released.

I am glad to hear that Amnesty International has asked to visit Bahrain. I believe in the great importance of dialogue on such matters with organisations such as Amnesty International. I shall go into the. details of this matter following Questions this afternoon.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, may I suggest to the Minister that when looking at the detention of children as a means of bringing pressure to bear on their parents, she might glance at the case of Miss Afaf Al-Jamri, who was detained in order to bring pressure to bear on her father, the distinguished former MP and judge, Shaikh Al-Jamri, and that of her sister, Mansoora Al-Jamri, who was due to take her final examinations for a BA the week before last but who was detained by the security forces on her way into the examinations and prevented from taking them, again as a means of bringing pressure to bear on Shaikh Al-Jamri? Does the noble Baroness agree with her colleague Mr. Douglas Hogg that dialogue is the way to solve the political problems of Bahrain and that any dialogue has to include the principal signatories of the petition which was signed by 250,000 people and which called on the Amir to restore the 1973 constitution and Parliament, and that without such a dialogue, the disorders are likely to continue indefinitely?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I think that I said in answer to the previous question that we believe that dialogue is necessary and desirable. There is a clear need for us to take a close interest in all these cases—indeed, we are already doing that—including the case of Shaikh Abdul Al-Jamri. We are also aware of the concern about Mansoor Al-Jamri's recent visit to the United States, which was a cause of the disagreement with the Bahraini Government. He is a naturalised UK citizen and holds a UK passport. We shall certainly look into what he is doing.

However, I must say this. However concerned we are about the way in which the Bahraini Government are dealing with opposition groups, those opposition groups must act responsibly and within the law. Although this may seem a hard thing to say, I believe that, unless they do so, they are letting down their own case because this is a matter that will be resolved only by dialogue and by acting within the law. That begs the question of whether the law is yet right, but it is the only way to proceed responsibly.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, in the light of what the Minister has said about the value of a visit to Bahrain by Amnesty, will she make her view known to the Bahraini Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I have no doubt that they read your Lordships' proceedings, but I shall bring it to their attention.