HL Deb 11 December 1997 vol 584 cc233-5

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the article by Mr. Fred Bridgland in the Sunday Telegraph of 9th November entitled "Ordeal of the Kalahari Bushmen—forced march into oblivion", they are still satisfied that the culture of the Bushmen of the Kalahari is being adequately protected by the Government of Botswana.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Tony Lloyd, raised the issue of the Bushmen of the Kalahari when he met the Botswanan Foreign Minister on 26th October. The Government of Botswana have undertaken to give the Bushmen a genuine choice about whether to continue to live in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve or move to settlements outside the reserve. Their way of life has already changed substantially, even inside the reserve. We shall continue to press the Botswana Government to keep their promises.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply which, however, unfortunately does not coincide with a long conversation that I had this morning with Mrs. Bridgland, Sue Armstrong, who returned from the Kalahari only a month ago. In those circumstances, will the Minister find time herself to talk to Mrs. Bridgland, who can explain to her why the visit of the British High Commissioner last summer was unacceptably superficial and how these unfortunate people are having their development thrust upon them without their involvement or consent?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it is not solely the British High Commissioner who has sent back a report about the Bushmen in the Kalahari. Indeed, the EU Heads of Mission accredited to Botswana meet every month and the Bushmen are a frequent topic of their discussions. As the noble Lord indicated, the British High Commissioner visited the Ghanzi and Xade areas on 22nd and 23rd May, but he was one member of a delegation which included the American and Swedish ambassadors, the Norwegian chargé d' affaires and an EU official, as well as a British senior social development adviser. He was not alone in the views that he put forward. But of course the noble Lord has asked me to see those whom he believes to be well informed on the subject and I shall be happy to do so.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I certainly found my noble friend's Answer quite encouraging. But will she confirm that this matter arises out of a European Union reserve management plan which insists that the Bushmen are removed? If that is so, is that not a form of species cleansing which I hope we should all wish to oppose? Will the Minister use the new Government's people's ethical foreign policy to ensure that the Bushmen are not removed? Will they use their six-month presidency of the European Union to ensure that they are not removed and that they can continue their way of life as they have done since the British set up the reserves 70 years ago?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I must deal with some fundamental misconceptions here. The fact is that the Bushmen no longer maintain their traditional way of life. Some of them choose to leave the settlements and to live elsewhere, outside their usual grounds. They have more access to clean water, clinics and schools outside the reserves and many of them choose to go. But I hope that I have indicated that, not only Her Majesty's Government, but the governments of the other European Union countries are taking a constant interest in the issue; they raise it with the Botswanan Government; and we shall continue to do so during the period of our presidency.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that visits by heads of mission are not the best way to investigate possible violations of human rights because the people seeing those big-wigs descending from helicopters are not going to be exactly frank with them, particularly if they are in the presence of the host community? Does the Minister agree that, although the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples is still winding its way through the UN machinery, it provides the only yardstick by which we can judge the conduct of states towards their indigenous peoples? Therefore, will she implore the Botswanan authorities to apply that declaration in deciding on the future status and position of the Kalahari Bushmen within the community?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope that I have already given assurances that we shall continue to raise this matter with the Botswanan Government and to monitor closely the situation. But it is worth saying that the Botswanan Government have a good human rights record and they have provided us with clear assurances about the Bushmen, although we are still looking into their welfare on the ongoing basis that I have already described. When our High Commissioner visited the Kalahari in May, he and the others on the visit were allowed to go to the areas that they wished to go to and they met Bushmen leaders and had discussions with them. I take the point that there is more than one opinion on this matter. That is why I have agreed, at the request of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, to see those who have other opinions.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, can the Minister explain why, on the same day as the Department for International Development informed the House that it was aware of and concerned about the resettlement programme for Bushmen living in the central Kalahari game reserve, the Foreign Office reported no evidence that Bushmen had been forced away from the reserve? Does that not indicate a lack of liaison and co-operation between the FCO and the Department for International Development which has worrying ramifications for the presentation of a coherent British foreign policy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

No, my Lords; I do not accept that view. There is a world of difference between what the noble Lord suggests and having hard evidence about allegations that have been made. We have not found such hard evidence. However, on behalf of Foreign and Commonwealth Ministers and, indeed, Ministers from the Department for International Development, I have already expressed ongoing concern in the way that I answered the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and other noble Lords about our continuing vigilance on the issue. There is no hard evidence, but there certainly is a reason to continue being vigilant.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, will the Minister accept my gratitude for agreeing to meet Mrs. Armstrong?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Yes, my Lords.

Back to