HL Deb 30 October 1995 vol 566 cc1271-4

2.51 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to alert the international community to the continued suffering of Kuwaiti prisoners in Iraq.

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

My Lords, we take every opportunity at the UN to raise the subject of Kuwaiti missing persons. In June we were instrumental in obtaining a progress report from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Iraq must produce substantive information on the fate of all missing persons and prisoners of war. We shall keep up the pressure on Iraq.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. I am sure she is aware that the people and the Government of Kuwait are grateful to our country and government and the United States who did so much to enable them to have their country back. The problem they are now facing is that those who were taken back to Iraq by the Iraqi forces—men, women and children—are now suffering abominably. Information is being leaked out describing the terrible things that are happening to them. Would it not be possible, please, for the United Nations to press further so that the people of Kuwait will know that mankind is on their side, and Iraq should receive a proper warning that if it does not return these men, women and children and prisoners of war but continues to punish them, it will pay a heavy penalty?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is absolutely right. I think he understands that the ICRC is the key organisation for dealing with the prisoners of war and the 600 or so missing persons. One of the matters which concerns us is a tendency on the part of the Iraqi authorities not to work with the technical sub-committee which has been set up by the tripartite commission to speed up the review of the ICRC case files. It is making slow progress and part of that is undoubtedly down to the Iraqis. The message to Iraq is simple. We expect full compliance with all the United Nations Security Council resolutions and that means getting on with this job. The situation as regards prisoners of war and detained missing persons is a matter to which the whole world gives much attention and it is one that it wishes to resolve. I would simply add that the only way that this matter will be resolved is by the Iraqis producing the evidence which will allow the ICRC to resolve the matter.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister know whether any inquiries have been made of the defectors from the Iraqi regime—I refer in particular to Hussein Kamil—about the fate of the 600 missing persons? If that is not the case, can inquiries be made of him via the Jordanian authorities not only as regards those persons but also those who were held hostage at the beginning of the Gulf War when about 1 million people were expelled to Iran by Saddam, some of their relatives being detained to prevent them making a fuss?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raises an interesting point. Certainly the defection of Hussein Kamil was a serious blow to Saddam Hussein. I do not know the details of the information he has given but we have found that the Iraqis are still not giving us the information that they must give under Security Council resolutions. Therefore I am certain that the discussion with Hussein Kamil will continue. We know that following his defection the Iraqis provided much more information. Let us see whether we can obtain more information of the kind that the noble Lord described.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, although I support the thrust of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, on Iraq, is it not the case also that the people of Kuwait are trying to obtain the privileges that accompany living in a democratic country, such as the right to vote? Has there been any more progress as regards that matter despite the fact that the family which is ruling that country is running it as a private company?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am not sure that I entirely follow the noble Lord, Lord Dean, but I shall read his question and if I have not understood it correctly I shall write to him. I should add that much progress is being made in Kuwait. As regards the franchised vote, about which the noble Lord is concerned, there have been recent moves to extend the franchise further in Kuwait and we fully support any measures designed to broaden consultation.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, my noble friend asked about Kuwaiti prisoners held in Iraq. Is the Minister aware that according to Amnesty International there are substantial numbers of prisoners in Iraq from other nations? Will the Minister indicate how many there are and what representations have been made on their behalf, particularly on behalf of the many Palestinians who are apparently being held?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe the noble Baroness will know that there has been continuing discussion with the Iraqis as regards the position of all types of prisoner of war who are being held. As regards Iranians and some Palestinians, I believe this is now the subject of active discussion with the Government of Iraq. However, unless Security Council Resolution 598—the resolution which called for an exchange of PoWs after the Iran/Iraq war—is complied with in full, there will not be much progress. The same is true as regards Palestinians who were caught up at the time of the invasion of Kuwait and as regards some other nationals. However, we shall continue to press this matter.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there are people in Iraq who welcome all the pressures that are being put on Saddam Hussein because they want to see progress being made towards a free society and towards the holding of free elections in Iraq? The pressure enables us to help the people of one country who have suffered and also the people in the country which has imposed its evil will on another country who believe in freedom and the political right to elect their own government.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is perfectly true that the rights of ordinary Iraqis are disregarded. We know full well that the Iraqi National Council is making a big effort to form a united opposition to the regime of Saddam. However, the people of Iraq must be allowed to have a proper say in their future. The farcical attempt by Saddam Hussein in the referendum on 15th October—in which he claimed a democratic legitimacy—will not work. The Iraqi people must one day, and soon, be able freely to decide their own future.