HL Deb 28 January 1998 vol 585 cc226-8

2.46 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy concerning the full investigation of the alleged mass graves at Srebrenica, where the majority of the Moslem population disappeared between 10th and 19th July 1995, after the capture of the town by Serb forces; and what means they propose for implementing their policy.

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

My Lords, we support full and proper investigation of mass graves, including around Srebrenica, and call on the local Bosnian authorities to meet their responsibilities in this area, as required under the Dayton peace agreement and reinforced by the Bonn peace implementation council last December. We have contributed £3 million in 1997 to the International Committee of the Red Cross's programme for the former Yugoslavia, which includes tracing and exhumation work. We also support the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, which investigates grave sites.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply on this most serious matter. Is this not the worst example of genocide in Europe since 1945? Will the Government demand a full inquiry to establish the truth of what happened in 1995? Meanwhile, even before that inquiry starts, will they ask the United States forces stationed nearby to supervise the exhumation of the graves?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I turn first to the noble Lord's final point regarding the role that American troops might have in exhumation work. Such a role is not in the SFOR mandate. The mandate is to secure an environment against which the exhumations can take place. British troops are not engaged in the Srebrenica area. However, we understand that the American troops and others have indeed helped with escort duties in relation to the exhumation teams.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is quite right. The massacre at Srebrenica was a tragedy. Her Majesty's Government believe that the way to prevent a recurrence lies in the full implementation of the Dayton peace agreement, to which Her Majesty's Government are firmly committed. We are supporting all the work of the International Red Cross and trying to establish what happened to the missing people, and to provide useful evidence in bringing the perpetrators of these dreadful war crimes to justice.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister say whether Ms. Louise Arbour, the prosecutor, has resolved the difficulties that she had with the French authorities in getting French servicemen to give evidence before the tribunal?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I regret to say that I do not have detailed information about the French servicemen giving evidence before the tribunal. It is, of course, an important question. I regret that I am unable to answer in detail. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that no inquiry into this matter is complete without an answer to the question regarding the Dutch troops on site, who appealed for an air strike but never got it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sorry, I did not quite catch what the noble Earl said. Would he mind repeating it?

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that any inquiries into the matter must involve specifically what happened when the Dutch troops on the spot appealed for an air strike and never got it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that all aspects must be fully investigated. It is our intention during the period of our EU presidency to do everything we can to find out what happened in order to ensure that such dreadful events do not happen again. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, we wish to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice as quickly as possible.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Resolution 827, which was embodied in the Dayton accord, has not been fully carried out? It concerned the apprehension and arrest of war criminals. Does she recognise that, in particular, in view of the recent election in the Republika Srpska of Mr. Dodik as prime minister, there is now a real chance of getting strong help and support from that part of Republika Srpska which he represents, and to which Mrs. Plavsic appointed him, to achieve a successful effort to find and arrest war criminals? Without that, Bosnia's peace will always be much in doubt.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, all parties must agree that peace in Bosnia will depend ultimately on the full implementation of the Dayton peace agreement, as the noble Baroness implied. She is quite right, Her Majesty's Government welcome the recent appointment of the new Republika Srpska government led by Mr. Milorad Dodik. We welcome his stated commitment to the Dayton agreement. On 26th January, the GAC agreed to provide an initial 6 million ecu in financial assistance to the new moderate and pro-Dayton Republika Srpska Government.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, will the Government confirm whether the additional aid which has been requested by the International Criminal Tribunal for the exhumation of the mass graves at Srebrenica will be provided?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we have these matters under constant review. At the moment, there are four sites which are being excavated and I understand that the International Red Cross has said that there are a number of other sites, another six to eight further sites around Srebrenica, that it wishes to investigate over the course of this year. Through the EU we have already this week committed a further 6 million ecu. I am sure that if more money is needed for this important work it will be considered during the course of the presidency.