HL Deb 11 March 1998 vol 587 cc249-81

5.33 p.m.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne rose to call attention to the role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and its possible application in other post-conflict zones; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it is a happy juxtaposition that this debate in your Lordships' House coincides with the coming to London of the new High Commissioner from South Africa, Cheryl Carolus. If she is as effective—perhaps even partly as effective—as her predecessor, I feel confident that she will be a great force for good in the development of a greater understanding of South Africa within the Commonwealth. Indeed, her work is matched by that of our own High Commissioner from the United Kingdom to South Africa whose work I saw in Lebanon during the "grapes of wrath" campaign. She, too, is a most remarkable woman.

Today we look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and discuss whether or not its mechanisms can be applicable in various ways in other post-conflict situations. It is a unique and radically new forum because it is not a court and, theoretically, that should allow witnesses to speak more freely. Indeed, the work of the chairperson, Archbishop Tutu, and his warmth and personal attitude, encourage people to come forward and to speak in confidence. The TRC's neutrality makes it a genuine tool of reconciliation. That neutrality is sometimes difficult to accept in South Africa because the pressure of the work on the TRC is so great. It cannot consider every case and every travesty of justice of the past. Indeed, it is due to wind up its work, after several extensions, in July this year. I doubt whether it will have finished by then.

The TRC has the power to grant amnesty and compensation—in other words, only the positive aspects of justice; no punishment and no retribution. It has the power to recommend to the president that he should act. And, as I have said, it has the power to grant amnesty. That is a special, large power.

The TRC is devoid of all the traditional shortcomings of the justice of the victorious, such as the tendency to ignore the crimes of those who won in the aftermath of war. The Allied leaders who turned German and Japanese cities to ashes in a deliberate terror strategy—however necessary that was—never faced Nuremberg, even to be discharged.

The TRC promotes and even demands forgiveness on truthful evidence to move human healing forward. Is that too difficult, is that too high a price to pay for peace? I cannot forget the parents of the dead boy Lobo Sono, Caroline and Nicodemus Sono, or their pain as they faced the person they believed had caused his death, or the pain of Stompie's mother, that small boy who also died before the ending of apartheid.

When we examine the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we must consider first what it needs to have in place in society if it is to work properly. First, it needs peace. Secondly, it needs a civil society in the background with its own tribunals to handle the formal justice work. It also needs a democratic parliament and all the other democratic institutions in place and at work. It also needs actors who can accept the process under subpoena. After all, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela did not refuse to face the TRC although white former leaders were jibbing. I wonder whether those particular conditions are met in any other nation.

The necessity to have peace first means that bodies such as the TRC cannot be used as such in war-torn countries. Therefore, alone, it cannot he considered a conflict resolution tool. It is a swifter-than-normal legal process, but it does not supplant those normal legal processes. Surely it should never replace Nuremberg jurisprudence although I believe that it can reinforce it. Are the key elements which give the TRC its authority and effectiveness present, or likely to be present, in any other country with a recent past that is just as bloody?

Today's triumphs can just as easily, I fear, descend to tomorrow's pain. We celebrate Sierra Leone now. I visited it on 25th May last year as it was falling into the pit of terror. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office should surely be proud of Peter Penfold, our High Commissioner there, whose personal bravery, commitment to saving life and whose further commitment last year to recreating democracy for Sierra Leone's people, shine out. President Kabbah has just returned to power. Sam Norman, his deputy minister of defence, with his Kamajors, has triumphed with Nigerian support. The Organisation for African Unity has played a large role. Now we have the 90-day plan put together with the assistance of the British Council—there was a great conference on that here in London last year—to re-establish democracy. However, democracy was a fragile flower that lasted just 10 months in Sierra Leone, in 1995. Would the mechanism of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have anything to offer here?

I turn to Rwanda. I saw an area there where 20,000 people had lived until March 1994; by November 1994 only 400 survived. There was a mass grave guarded by a traumatised and damaged soldier and further down the road a village for children who were killers themselves.

In Rwanda there is now a whole system of internationally recommended legal tribunals right down to village level, but justice is slow and very difficult. How can the 400 who survived watch those who have killed come back to their village of genocide and take over the property of their victims? Where are retribution and reconciliation?

I cannot but turn to Iraq for half a moment to suggest that we should look further than the dictatorship era. I laud the efforts of the Foreign Secretary last week to put together a new body of NG0s, officials and EU politicians to plan a better way of ensuring that the food for oil reaches the people rather than remains in Baghdad. But I believe that we should look still further, perhaps with a fresh group and a longer vision, at what to do after the dictator has happily disappeared.

In Africa seven years ago I found a South African prisoner in a foreign gaol. That led me to have a personal experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its hearings last November in Johannesburg. A young man called Katiza Cebekhulu had been imprisoned by President Kaunda of Zambia. With great efforts by many kind volunteers and professionals such as partners in Withers, the solicitors in London, Olivia Lichenstein of BBC's "Inside Story", journalist Fred Bridgeland, Nicholas Claxton and others, the trail led me on inexorably to Mrs. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Johannesburg, the then wife and now the former wife of President Nelson Mandela. There I saw the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at work with Chairperson Archbishop Tutu; his deputy, Dr. Alex Boraine; Mr. Dumiza Ntzebesa, the Head of Investigations; its legal advisers, Hanif Vally and Piers Pigou; a pro bono lawyer (whom we were given) Mr. Stephen Joseph, and another lawyer Mr. Charles Abrahams who also briefed me. It was a wonderful group of people within the wider Truth and Reconciliation Commission organisation. The TRC is an extraordinary coming together of people of many disciplines for a short period of time under extreme pressure.

Many witnesses came forward for the hearing last November. Almost no one was deemed to be innocent by the other accusers. How could the TRC handle this and apportion the blame? Who were the greater criminals? Of course, what it sought to do was to find public confession and repentance. This major hearing was an unusual occurrence. It gave me the opportunity to experience the work of the commission from a unique position—I believe that I was the only foreign witness—and I observed at close quarters the complexity of the task that parliament had assigned to this novel organisation created by South Africa's first democratically elected parliament.

I felt a fraction of the pressure on each commissioner. There was enormous daily pressure from the press, the media, society and parliament. The pressure was almost unsustainable and yet the commissioners kept going. The press in the aftermath of apartheid has had a difficult time trying to be a free press. It is distorted and inaccurate, sometimes very badly. Radio and television, particularly the South Africa Broadcasting Commission, make great efforts to be impartial in the best tradition of international television and radio.

I scanned the international newspapers very carefully. The best journalism appeared to me to come from Sam Kiley of the London Times. By the end of my time in Johannesburg—just a few days—I had great sympathy with Nelson Mandela's call for more press objectivity. But the worst aspect was the stench of apartheid which still lingered; it was heavy and almost acrid in the air. I recall the way that people behaved post-apartheid: personal judgments were made on colour alone, sometimes with false deference and barely suppressed and wholly justifiable rage. It was a society struggling with great difficulties. But the light on the horizon was also there, shining from the TRC, stemming from the death of apartheid. As Dr. Boraine, the deputy chairperson, said in a speech in Brussels in 1996, apartheid was a system of minority domination of statutorily-defined colour groups on a territorial, residential, political, social and economic basis". He went on to say that there was a need to consolidate democracy and ensure a peaceful future for all South Africa. The interim constitution stated that, the pursuit of national unity, the well being of all South African citizens and peace require reconciliation between [the] people of South Africa and the reconstruction of society"; in other words, the TRC was given a double mandate: to transform the economic and social life of South Africa's citizens through peace and reconciliation and, at the same time, to restore the moral order which was put in jeopardy by the earlier mis-application of the rule of law and the gross violations of fundamental human rights. While South Africa's commission has of course been shaped by its own history and circumstances and the transition to power, there are many similarities as regards the experiences of which we know in eastern Europe and South America. There is a shift from totalitarianism to a form of democracy; a negotiated settlement, not a revolutionary process; a legacy of oppression and serious violations of human rights; a fragile democracy and a precarious unity; a commitment to the attainment of a culture of human rights and a respect for the rule of law; and a determination that the work of the commission will help to make it impossible for the gross violations of human rights of the past to happen again.

We need to look at the following points. First, how do emerging democracies deal with past violations of human rights? Secondly, how do new democratic governments deal with leaders and individuals who were responsible for disappearances, death squads, psychological and physical torture and other violations of human rights? Thirdly, how does a new democracy deal with the fact that some of the perpetrators remain a part of government and security forces or hold important positions in public life? Although there have been some 19 truth commissions in 16 countries over the past 20 years. I believe that there are some unique features of the South Africa model that can be of relevance and assistance to other countries. The key point is that the establishment of the South African TRC was essentially democratic. I believe that that is the most important point. The process has been open and transparent. The proceedings have been filmed, broadcast on the radio and printed. Everything has been placed before the people. It has been in operation since December 1995. The current cut-off date is July of this year. I hope and believe that it will be extended.

Twenty thousand submissions have been made to the 40 TRC officers across the country of human rights violations. The evidence has created a rich tapestry of oral history from ordinary people. That is also unique. The investigation unit comprising 60 personnel has had in hand an overwhelming task. That is the largest component of the commission. It has subpoena, search and seizure powers but it has just been able to scrape the surface. It has not yet looked at the military or other issues of violence in trains in the early 1990s.

The commission can only make recommendations to the president of the country. The large number of amnesty applications—one of the most important parts of the process—which have been granted, and the details of those involved in assassinations and why, continue to be highlighted on a weekly basis.

The TRC's final report whenever it comes will not please everyone, but it will provide for an official version which for the first time takes into account the experiences of ordinary people. Has the TRC achieved its objectives, and can it be used as a model for other countries? I wait to hear what other noble Lords will have to say about that. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.50 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell

My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships' House, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for providing the opportunity for this debate. In the course of my ministry, the underlying issues which must be considered have challenged me greatly. At its heart, the key question is the relationship between reconciliation and justice. Even in direct personal relationships, genuine reconciliation is hard to achieve. Who should apologise? Who should make the first move? When the issues confront societies and whole communities emerging from the traumas of civil war, genocide or repression, then they become immeasurably more complex and take on a tragic intractability.

A significant part of my ministry—the 17 years between 1963 and 1980—were spent in Argentina. Because of that, I am acquainted with the terrible consequences of the "Dirty War", which led to the disappearance and deaths, during the military dictatorships, of tens of thousands of people—a large number of whom had no connection with any kind of terrorist activity. Two years ago I was able to spend an extended sabbatical in South Africa, studying the situation there.

Much has been written on the subject of reconciliation by Latin Americans. There is a particularly moving poem by the Chilean, Ariel Dorfman, entitled His Eve is on the Sparrow. In it he takes up the profound human and theological question—who looks after and protects those who are tortured and destroyed by brutal forces? Who supports those whose loved ones are swept away by the violence of evil and brutal regimes? The questions do not end there. What about nations torn in two, communities and societies? How can they be restored to tolerable levels of justice after such trauma as was experienced in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, and after apartheid in South Africa? What can and should be done to recompense the victims? How should society respond to those who have committed politically motivated crimes, or been forced by their superiors to violate human rights in the enforcement of an unjust "law and order"?

As is rightly implied by the framing of today's Motion, the experience of the TRC in South Africa is of wider application, but it must also be set in a wider context. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute catalogues about 30 ongoing major armed conflicts which have led to the death of over 1,000 people each year, and those are in mainly forgotten wars such as that in Sudan. In the post-Cold War period, the majority of those have been internal conflict wars, within, not between, nations.

Conflict prevention, mediation of conflicts, and post-conflict reconstruction are thus vital tasks. The contexts are each distinctive, but there is much that can be learned from different models. I should like to suggest that there is a continuum of approaches from which it is possible to learn.

The two poles of the continuum seem to me to be, on the one hand, an emphasis on reconciliation, and, on the other, an emphasis on justice. "Reconciliation" without truth or justice is immoral: "justice" without mercy or any opportunity for forgiveness and rehabilitation is brutal and has in fact within it the seeds of new communal conflict as soon as the defeated become strong. That is surely one of the lessons of the long-standing conflict between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi.

As I have said, each situation is distinctive, and in each case of post-conflict reconstruction, it is vital that the response is culturally relevant to what has gone before. Many elements made the TRC so appropriate for South Africa. Here I wish, together with the noble Baroness, to pay tribute to the remarkable figure of Desmond Tutu, who retired as Archbishop of Capetown to take on that wider pastoral and almost juridical role on behalf of the nation. As a well known, "voice of the voiceless" and critic of apartheid, honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize, and with his known commitment to non-violence, no one could have been more apt to lead the commission in its controversial and agonising work. Some will have seen on film the personal anguish and distress caused to him and those working with him. However, at the same time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was chosen as a representative figure for his community, acceptable to all parties as a person not seeking humiliation or even revenge, but reconciliation.

The commission was, of course, not a court of law, as has already been pointed out, though it did have some juridical status by being able to offer immunity from prosecution in return for a full confession. That raised the issue of what one might call tactical rather than real repentance. That issue was posed in a particularly acute form by the widow of Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko. Mrs. Biko argued that those who had been involved in killing her husband, and the cover-up, had had 20 years to repent, and would only now be doing so to get off. That was a particularly painful incident for Desmond Tutu, as he had preached at the funeral of Steve Biko those many years previously.

Against that, one has to set the experience of the many who merely wanted to know who had killed their loved ones and why. One of the most poignant questions is that put by a relative who said, "I am ready to forgive, but who—and for what?" There is a necessary process in bereavement, which brings a sort of cathartic experience, and part of it is the final leave-taking. In the situation in South Africa, there was also the honouring by the community of those killed unjustly, and seeing those who had perpetrated the crimes in the end having to render account. None of that can be underestimated.

That sense of the need for justice is mirrored by, for instance, the Madres de la Plaza in Buenos Aires, who, every Thursday, continue to make their silent witness, asking the question, "What has happened?". Some of the military in Argentina have been brought to trial, but in other Latin American countries the power of the military has prevented further action. General Pinochet, having retired as commander-in-chief of the army, was signed in yesterday as a senator for life, which assures him of continued immunity. It is an indication of the strength of civil society in South Africa, and the largely non-violent tactics of transition to democracy, which made the TRC possible, and made it successful to the degree that it has been.

At the other end of the spectrum, with the core emphasis on justice, one might take the case of war crimes tribunals. Her Majesty's Government have, I believe, properly taken the issue of an international criminal court seriously, as it is clear that there are serious shortcomings to the approach of establishing ad hoc commissions on a case-by-case basis as has been done with the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

If the guiding inspiration for the TRC in South Africa has been that the two communities in a conflict have to find a way to live together after the conflict is over, the guiding principle for such tribunals is that internationally accepted standards must be observed, and that crimes such as genocide cannot be tolerated. Here, too, there are serious questions which must be addressed concerning actual implementation as opposed to righteous sounding resolution. There will be questions about the resourcing of such a court and the international political will to effect the court's decision.

In the case of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, we have seen that the architects of genocidal policies have not, or rather have not yet, been brought to justice. Both reconciliation and justice are serious imperatives for post-conflict societies. It will depend both on the exact context and the strength of civil society and international political will which approach should be the guiding one in any given situation. I believe that we should warn against hasty conclusions or easy slogans. Prolonged use of armed force within a community does immense harm. Peace processes are hard to keep on track and are susceptible to attempts to derail them by acts of violence from either side. One's thoughts immediately turn to the conflict within our own nation.

However, it is essential that exchanges of experience, not least between human rights groups, movements in civil society and religious organisations committed to justice and reconciliation, should be strongly encouraged. Often, the victims are ready for reconciliation long before the politicians, as citizens are ready for peace long before those who orchestrate violence. President Mandela and Mr. de Klerk showed that peace can be made between enemies. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has demonstrated that truth can help to break the spiral of violence in our world. Ordinary victims of brutality and violence have shown that many have an extraordinary capacity to forgive.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is one of the most important and imaginative social experiments in forgiveness at almost any time in history. We have a duty to learn from it; from its successes, its limitations and its applicability. Most of all, we must recall that it is a home grown experiment with truth, created in a particular setting and climate. And in providing a model for us, we are not thereby absolved of the responsibility of discerning what we must do in loving and forgiving.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for introducing the debate. I join her in welcoming Cheryl Canolus, the new South African High Commissioner to London. She will be a breath of fresh air and is one of the younger generation. The future of South Africa looks good.

I have some direct knowledge and experience of the TRC in South Africa. Early in November 1997, it wrote to the Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives Committee asking it to submit evidence on the human rights abuses of the South African security forces in the UK and Europe. It also asked the committee to submit written evidence on the activities of British and international business in propping up and supporting the apartheid regime over the years. In October last year, I was invited to give evidence to the TRC in Cape Town on the human rights abuse question and to the week-long session in Johannesburg about the activities of business within South Africa and internationally in supporting the apartheid regime.

I am never sure about declarations of interest, but perhaps I should say that as regards finance the sole and valuable contribution of the TRC was three nights' hotel expenses. All other expenses had to be met by the committee. I mention that in passing.

There is no doubt that the reason for the establishment of the TRC is that unless the truth is known about the past, reconciliation now and in the future cannot be fully achieved. The nefarious activities of the state security system have not yet been totally unravelled. Much has been learnt, but there are still huge gaps. For example, we still do not know who assassinated the ANC chief representative in Paris, Dulcie September, in March 1988. We believe that it was the same person who attempted the assassination of the ANC representative, Godrey Motsope, in Brussels in February of the same year. We believe that we know who firebombed the Anti-Apartheid Movement offices in London and set off a bomb at the ANC headquarters in Penton Street, London.

At that time, attempts were made to lay the blame on factional infighting within the liberation movement forces. It was said that dissidents within the ANC were carrying out those activities in London. That proved to be wrong: it was the work of South African state agents.

The climate of the times is perhaps summed up by the activities of an organisation called the Economic League. It was paid for by employers in this country to vet and weed out subversives before they were employed. It is astonishing today to think that being a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement or working against the evil of apartheid was considered to be subversive and people were refused employment on that ground alone. We have come a long way. Now, I can find no one who ever supported the apartheid system and no one who had not spent their lives working for the Anti-Apartheid Movement—and grateful for it.

The scale of what happened in Europe and the UK in terms of human rights violations is of nothing compared with what has been revealed in South Africa. The killings and torture went on for many years. As late as November last year, evidence was being given to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the graves of people killed many years ago. Those who had lost their loved ones were at least able to recover the bodies and discover what had happened to them.

Yet the leaders of the state—those who formulated the policy—still deny complicity. They say that they knew nothing of what happened. They say that the tragedies were perpetrated by over-zealous personnel who misinterpreted the rhetoric of anti-communism which they daily espoused. Until they clearly admit that they designed the system of terror, the whole process of reconciliation will not be fully met.

It is also true that business in South Africa and internationally had a great responsibility for the continuation of apartheid. Representatives of South African business stated that business did not like apartheid. They said that apartheid was bad for business and that, with hindsight, perhaps they should have done more to speed up the process of its ending. Yet some witnesses have been clear; for example, Chris Ball of Barclays said there was no doubt that banking profited from apartheid. He said that there was no doubt that there was a symbiotic relationship between business and government; each needed and used the other. The Federal Reserve Bank admitted that had there not been further international loans and roll-over debt provision, apartheid would have collapsed perhaps 10 years earlier.

What does all that achieve? As regards those who campaigned for many years, perhaps it provides a little self-satisfaction in proving that they were right. But that is not the purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The knowledge gleaned must be used in the future. Reconciliation is not just an admission of guilt; it is not a question of saying sorry; nor is it just a recognition of past wrongs. It must lead to an attempt to work together for a better future. Those who perpetrated the wrongs must be prepared to work and plan for a new and better future in South Africa.

We still do not know what will be the final effect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There are some in South Africa—I believe a significant minority, although it is impossible to quantify the numbers—who believe that TRC should stand for Truth and Retribution Committee. They do not want reconciliation, they want vengeance. We hear many victims in this country saying, "What we want is justice." They do not want justice; they want revenge. That feeling is still there and must be over-turned.

However, I believe that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had a great deal to do with engendering and keeping going the spirit of good race relations. The commissioners of the TRC, under the splendid leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have conducted their hearings in a remarkably constructive way. They are seeking the truth and have not adopted a confrontational approach. Nor are they trying to apportion blame. They would have found that difficult without the leadership of two of the greatest leaders of the South African people.

Of course, the first is President Nelson Mandela. His spirit of magnanimity after all that he went through is almost beyond comprehension. I frankly doubt that I would have been forgiving in the same situation. The other was the acting president in exile of the ANC, the late Oliver Tambo. The true nature of the work of Oliver Tambo is yet to be recognised but I believe that in time, posterity will recognise his contribution to the liberation of South Africa and the basis he laid for a multi-racial and multi-cultural South Africa.

Neither President Mandela nor Oliver Tambo ever preached hatred against the white population of South Africa. Their quarrel was with the system of apartheid. That is what they were against. I believe that that provided a basis for the future. That view of reconciliation is universally—or perhaps one should say in view of one circumstance—virtually universally held throughout the leadership of the ANC and beyond.

If you speak to ordinary black South Africans in the countryside, there is a remarkable lack of bitterness. That is not to say that they are not angry about what happened in the past; nor that they are not anxious for the future; and they do demand change. But we should remember what the pundits and forecasters of doom were saying; that once there was a black majority government in South Africa the country would slide into chaos with massive violence and attacks by blacks on whites. In fact, that has not happened. Old scores are not being settled.

That is undoubtedly due to the ethos of reconciliation and forgiveness which brought forth the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and which has pervaded its work. It cannot be translated into other post-conflict situations. I do not wish to refer to particular situations, especially Northern Ireland where we have a very fragile peace process taking place. I am conscious that even a humble Back Bencher in your Lordships' House could say something which might be used in the difficult times ahead. However, the model of the TRC cannot be imposed from outside. The United Nations cannot impose it from outside, nor can the European Union. It must be driven from within.

The call for truth and reconciliation must come primarily from those who were the victims. Unfortunately, as I look around the world—and I recognise and do not wish to minimise the tragedy of what happened in South Africa and the terror over the years—apart from, perhaps, the butchery in Sharpeville and one or two other places, during the apartheid years there was not the ferocity that one has seen in other countries. In those other countries, I do not see people calling for a truth and reconciliation commission. I hear people calling for a war crimes tribunal. I can understand why people feel like that. But that is why I say that it is dangerous to recommend the South African model for all situations. Presented in the wrong way and in the wrong manner, it can be used as an excuse for doing nothing. It is important that the whole exercise of the TRC does not turn out to be months of taking evidence with nothing to follow; that it stops.

The TRC has been fortunate in its leadership, its ethos and its good relations. However, I wish to conclude on a slightly cautionary note. Unless those who profited from apartheid are prepared to provide redress by way of helping South Africa towards a prosperous future, all the good of the TRC and the leaders of the ANC will be undone. The manner in which the trade negotiations between the European Union and South Africa are proceeding does not bode well. The European mandate is over-protectionist of European countries and people within its ambit. The effects of free trade may be fine for the wealthy countries of the European Union. But they can spell tragedy and chaos for the economies of South Africa and her neighbours within the South African development community. Those are people whose whole future was retarded by the apartheid system.

Therefore, we must look for solutions and we who have the capacity to do so should provide help to make sure that the economy develops. It has been said that man does not live by bread alone. I would simply say that man does not live by the spirit alone either.

6.15 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, for putting down this Motion.

As your Lordships will be aware, the role of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, as laid out in the Act of the South African Parliament of July 1995, was, first, to establish as complete a picture as possible of the past; secondly, to facilitate the granting of amnesty after the full disclosure of relevant facts: thirdly, to establish and make known the whereabouts of victims and restore their human and civil dignity: and, fourthly, to compile a report on the findings and recommend measures to prevent future violations of human rights. Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it more simply when he said: We have to face the past because, if you don't face the past. it may return". All that is in a country where until recently, as the noble Lord has just said, the greatest blood bath ever seen in Africa had been predicted.

The Act limited the investigation to those who had suffered what were termed "gross human rights violations", which were detailed as those who were the victims of murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, rape, severe ill treatment and torture that caused permanent mental or physical harm.

On that basis, the commission—and I am using figures which I obtained today through the good offices of the House of Lords Library—has heard statements from 2,400 victims and amnesty seekers. That may be only a proportion of those who are qualified to make statements, but it has filled every minute of the time of the different committees and their various sub-divisions.

In a talk I have read, Professor Meiring, who is a co-opted member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, discusses some of the experiences of truth commissions that have gone before. He quotes the main conclusion of an expert who has made a study of these, which was that there are three requirements for a truth commission to have a successful process: first, the nation involved must own the process; secondly, the government of the day must have the political will to take the process to its final conclusion; and, thirdly, the process must stop.

As the noble Baroness was saying, in South Africa there is a closing date for the commission, which has been extended once and perhaps will be extended again. However, I hope that it will hold to the idea that the process should be brought to a close.

On the second point, the government seem to be doing all in their power to take the process to a conclusion, but there is certainly a weakness in the South African situation in that the first condition might not be fulfilled because there is resistance among some elements of the nation to accepting as their own the commission and its findings.

An unusual feature of the South African approach, as we have been hearing this afternoon, lies in the stated purpose of some of the major participants, and most notably from the African Nationalist side, that forgiveness should be a major outcome of the disclosures. I should like to illustrate this attitude by giving your Lordships a few examples.

My sister and brother-in-law, during many years in South Africa, got to know the man who is currently the South African ambassador in Washington. During a recent visit to the United States they called in on him and found themselves being entertained to a meal with Archbishop Tutu. My sister tells me that, as the meal wore on, the ambassador said that he wanted to tell them a story about the Archbishop. After President Mandela's release, but before any change of government was in the offing, the women of Cape Town, led by Mrs. Tutu, staged a mass demonstration. The police surrounded the leaders and said, "If you do not stop and disperse we will take our whips to you". The women refused to comply and the police went to work with their sjamboks.

At that point, the men decided that they had to do something. So three of them, the Archbishop, Jakes Gerwel (now Mandela's Chef de Cabinet) and the ambassador called for an even bigger demonstration. The police then arrested all three of them, and the Archbishop's wife into the bargain, and took them off for intensive interrogation. The interrogation went on for several hours. Meanwhile, outside the station the demonstrating women became anxious about them, so they went to buy some Kentucky fried chicken and sent it in for them to eat. When it was handed to the Archbishop, he held up his hands and asked, "Has food also been bought for the police guards outside? Unless it is I will not touch it". The ambassador said that his mouth dropped open at this, but Tutu was adamant. So after much debate, the women also brought food for the guards.

When the police officers finally decided to release them, Tutu said, "Before I go, I want to see the commissioner". The Commissioner of Police finally appeared, very defensive and expecting some legalistic challenge. The Archbishop said to him, "You had a job to do. You have done it well. Thank you". That was all. It was a lesson that neither the ambassador nor the commissioner will ever forget. Shortly afterwards an even bigger demonstration took place in Cape Town on what had, by that time, become a legal basis. That was an example of how the actions that went towards the achievement of a new government in South Africa took place.

Another remarkable event was the statement in April 1993 by President de Klerk, as President of the Nationalist Party, of his regret for the misery of apartheid. This produced a two-inch headline in the Cape Times, "I am sorry". These attitudes triggered what I have heard termed, "The forgiveness factor". This seems to have been for these men grounded in their religious faith. Without it, it is hard to see that injustices, on the scale that so many are perceived to have suffered, could ever be resolved.

However, looking at this and other evidence, it would seem to me that to be effective a truth and reconciliation commission has to be more than a ready-made technique for conflict resolution. Indeed, that is something that previous speakers have already mentioned. The mere Act of Parliament which brought it into being could never bear fruit on its own. It requires a deeper understanding of the processes required for reconciliation.

Frequently nowadays diplomacy seems to mean the mediation of a third party. In a great many recent cases this has been the United Nations, sometimes with success and sometimes not. There has been a growing recognition in international circles that, where problems do not yield to conventional diplomats and diplomacy, it is sometimes possible for some non-official individual or body to bring about a solution. This has been referred to under the title of, Track Two Diplomacy. A recent example was the involvement of several Norwegians in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process; indeed, noble Lords could probably think of many more.

Efforts are being made to obtain a better understanding of that approach and it has become the subject of studies in various countries and universities. A surprising number of these initiatives has been taken by people whose advocacy of reconciliation stems from their religious convictions. A public policy research body in the United States, called the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, recently published a report entitled, Religion the Missing Dimension of Statecraft. In that report, the centre readily recognises the areas where religion has polarised conflicts and aggravated them, but it also traces the reaction in western civilisation to the control exerted by religious institutions over philosophy and historiography from early to medieval times. This was then broken through by the Renaissance and finally by the 18th century Enlightenment. But, even so, the latter contained attitudes which promoted its owns constraints and fashions and produced what is now appearing to be the mistaken prediction that the progress of knowledge and the influence of religion were mutually exclusive.

That view would appear to have had a major influence on our western way of thinking and on our diplomacy to where, not so long ago, an attempt within the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States to consider the religious dimension in Iranian affairs was dismissed as mere "sociology" and deemed politically irrelevant. The study goes on to investigate a series of conflicts resolved in recent times, documenting the influence of various bodies or individuals from various religious backgrounds—the reconciliation of France and Germany, apartheid in South Africa, Biafra, the Rhodesian/Zimbabwe transition, and so on.

In the introduction to the study an interesting line is drawn where it describes the classical tools of diplomacy as the exchange of information, the often manipulative signalling of positions and several forms of negotiation; measures which are quite suitable for dealing with conflicts related to power politics and tangible material resources, because these are inherently divisible and subject to compromise. But, today, in our post-Cold War world, there appears to be an increase in potential conflicts which are non-material and identity based and which are within, as well as between, nations, where past injustices are as much the driving force as present day interests.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission provides some useful ideas on how to tackle reconciliation within nations. It provides an element of recompense. It also provides a lightening conductor to defuse bitterness and hatred. But, if we are looking for lessons from the South African reconciliation process, it seems to me that its kernel is a novel and perhaps uncomfortable challenge to those who approach problems from a religious or even from a non-religious standpoint. This is that in any area of tension it can be important to identify where the "forgiveness factor" is necessary and, if they are participants, be prepared to admit where they themselves have been wrong.

I, for one, earnestly hope that what is being done will he a sufficient foundation for future peace in South Africa, though the process itself would have to be continued on many levels.

6.28 p.m.

Lord Sempill

My Lords, I have to admit that I had serious reservations about contributing to this most interesting debate. The reason that I have such reservations is quite simply that, while I am in a position to tell your Lordships quite a bit about South Africa, it is difficult for me to be able to give any real advice as to whether the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has possible applications in other areas of conflict.

What I thought I might do is to describe the experience I had in South Africa and to say why I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been successful in that country to date. I lived in South Africa between 1980 and 1992. During that period—as noble Lords will be well aware—South Africa experienced international isolation, an escalation of civic unrest and the outbreak of the power struggle between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party. Throughout this time the government were dominated by what can be best described as the more conservative wing of the National Party. They clearly saw themselves as involved in a rearguard action against the onslaught of communism. I, and nearly all of my friends, lived in comfortable, white only suburbs. We worked in liberal, English-speaking corporations. In short we had a wonderful lifestyle. I would probably still be there today if it were not for family commitments that brought me back to Scotland.

My reservations, mentioned earlier, stem from the mixed feelings I have regarding the extent to which I and my friends and colleagues were, or are, guilty of failing to address the iniquities of apartheid which we so clearly saw. Should we agree with the premise in an article written by John Battersby, editor of the Sunday Independent in Johannesburg that we, that is, the whites who were living there at the time, should acknowledge our collective role in a system that murdered, gaoled, detained without trial, tortured and maimed tens of thousands of innocent South Africans"? In trying to answer that I hope to clarify why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been a useful tool in the transition of power in South Africa from a small minority government into what seems now to be growing into a fully fledged democracy.

I start by dismissing the impression that the South African government were a brutally repressive regime. As another respected academic, Heribert Adam, professor of sociology at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, observed: Afrikaner/white minority rule fits neither into the category of criminal regimes nor regimes of criminals, a distinction that has been made between Eastern Europe and Latin American military dictatorships". Most of your Lordships who have spoken, or who will speak, in this debate will probably have been given the same information that I received from the Library. I read it with great interest.

The cases that have been mentioned did not come to light as a result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They have been known in South Africa from the moment they happened. The press were actively involved in trying to expose the instigators. Unfortunately, they were often misled, especially with the often quoted ANC/Inkatha power struggle. These events were an endless source of discussion both at work and at the dinner table. I recall quite clearly that the hand of the government was often suspected.

Against this background it is important to understand that on an average weekend in Soweto there could be upwards of 25 murders and countless rape cases. There was, to most whites, a culture of violence inherent in the townships. The difference between urban as opposed to political violence became blurred. Furthermore, atrocities north of the Limpopo had been well documented for years—Uganda under Amin, Sierra Leone under Sam Doe, Ghana under Rawlings, the corruption of Nigeria and Kenya and finally the "communist onslaught" in Angola and Mozambique. That is how many whites in South Africa saw the situation in the mid-80s. It seemed to many of us that the strong hand of government was essential for the long-term stability of the country. During this time I—unlike most of my friends—visited the townships on a regular basis. I did so in my role as a marketing manager for South Africa's leading brewery. I had many conversations with "shebeeners", who are illicit publicans, and other local entrepreneurs and individuals drinking in those shebeens. I admit that I was nearly always apprehensive but the one thing that staggered me time and time again was that I was always greeted with what I perceived to be genuine warmth. By 1988 the mood had changed and visits were no longer advised. The point I wish to make here is that there existed an extraordinary level of goodwill, much of which seems to have survived through to today. As I believe was said earlier, this is one of the reasons why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made the progress it has.

More importantly, these visits highlighted the real crime of apartheid, that of poverty and the absolutely glaring lack of opportunity for anyone who happened to be brought up in those townships. This was well captured in a recent newspaper article I obtained from the Library. It was written by Rick de Satg, who is a trainer at a local development group. The article refers to human rights violations and to, Detention, dirty tricks, deaths, disappearances … there is another D …'separate development'—and all that went with it: forced labour tenancy, forced removals, the establishment of bantustans… migrant labour, segregated towns and cities and the hostel system … 'this list of human rights violations which has had the greatest impact on the lives of the majority of South Africans … the toll is not human lives lost in violent political confrontation, but withered away in the but de sacs of enforced poverty'". Apartheid, the policy of separate development, is undoubtedly the biggest single cause of the conflict. If it teaches us anything, it is to be wary of political philosophies that create inequality within a society, whether that is between races, religions or between—dare I say it?—genders.

Another important reality in apartheid South Africa was the role of Christianity. The country has always had a high level of religious tolerance. I shall always remember the Zionist Church, so visible among most of the black labour force that we employed who wore small green flashes with silver stars. Every Easter Sunday or Easter weekend over a million of them congregated in Petersburg in Northern Transvaal for a total day's worship in the veld. It was said that the bishop of the Zionist Church had by far and away the strongest following in the country. I maintain that the deeply engrained Christian values of much of South African society made it easier for it to understand and to get on with the role of forgiveness.

World opinion has also played a critical part in the making of the new South Africa. The media have maintained a continual focus on the country, whether on political aspects, economic aspects, or, in many instances, aspects related to tourism. But the focus nevertheless is there. The South Africans are determined to create the fairer and more equitable society that so many of us in this Chamber wish. Let us not forget that the South Africans have benefited substantially from the charismatic leadership that all the previous speakers have mentioned. Both Mandela and Tutu are exceptional people in anyone's society in any country in the world. The South Africans have benefited from the strongest economy in Africa which, it must he said, has been influential in paying for the transition.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has exposed some of the worst abuses of apartheid and has played a key role in moving the country forward. But I have to conclude that many of the conditions found in South Africa in 1992 seem to be missing from most of the other areas of conflicts which we in this Chamber would wish to resolve.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, we are fortunate indeed in the presence in our House of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, because into our plush surroundings she brings echoes of horrible affairs in more than one part of the world; and today she has raised with us the question of the current attempt in South Africa to overcome its past. We have been assisted in our consideration by three other noble Lords who from different points of view have also been able to bring some first-hand account of what has been going on or what the situation bodes for the rest of the world.

I cannot add to that. My own acquaintance with South Africa is almost 40 years old, perhaps longer. As I remember—it was just at the beginning of the transition towards complete apartheid—it was already evident, as the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, said, that the situation in the end would depend on whether it was possible to find an economic future; and that that in turn would depend upon whether the majority would receive an education. I was taken by the late Sir Robert Birley to see schools in Soweto. It was illegal, but he was not very concerned with South African legality. Under such conditions it was remarkable to see that some teachers were able to try to bring hope to their charges.

My conclusion from listening to the speeches is that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is almost certainly a one-off. The conditions which make it possible in South Africa are for a variety of reasons unlikely to be replicated in any other of what the noble Baroness calls post-conflict situations. One element which has been mentioned again and again is that there is and has been an unusual degree of religious belief in all sections of the people of that country in terms which make dialogue possible. Archbishop Tutu is the obvious symbol of that.

On the other hand, it is difficult to know—I do not think anyone who has spoken is willing to prognosticate the future—whether in a changing society where elements of secularisation and materialism may come from abroad, as they have in many other communities, a particular cement will be strong enough to bring about the conclusion for which one hopes.

We must take care to note to what extent this is a particular situation. For example, if we take note of what the right reverend Prelate said about South America, where there are comparable evils but no comparable set of attitudes, we can understand that it is not easy to translate one experience to another. However, my real worry—it is the only reason that I venture to address your Lordships with so little background on the subject—is that I should like to see the prospect of more post-conflict situations.

I am more worried by the fact that, as we are reminded by frequent Statements from the Minister, events are taking place at present in different parts of the world, the breaking of which we seem to find extraordinarily difficult. What seems present in President Mandela and others who have taken this course in South Africa is a set of convictions that they are right. They think that reconciliation is right; they think amnesty is right; and they think that bringing a community together is right. But what does one do in the case of groups or regimes which do not hold that view? I regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is not present. What does one do, for instance, about the Sudan? At the moment one is concerned to stop people being massacred rather than how they should be reconciled at some future date with those who massacred them.

In so many parts of the world we find it difficult to steel ourselves to undertake the necessary unpleasant actions to prevent or bring to an end the conflict without worrying too much about the distant future when the pressing concern will be the need for those communities to live together.

It is not that there are not elements in many countries which seek to bring about what the right reverend Prelate called justice. We see an attempt—it was mentioned by the noble Baroness—in Rwanda and Burundi. We see attempts, not altogether effective, in West Africa. But even there our hopes have been dashed to some extent. There is still no resolution to the hardships inflicted by the Government of Nigeria, the largest African country, upon an important section of its people. It is then a question of whether what is rather flatteringly called the world community has lost a willingness to bring about justice—a justice which involves the curtailing of the activities of such people, and, perhaps as a measure of deterrence, some form of punishment.

Most noble Lords present are too young to remember what we thought about the future of the world community in 1946 and 1947, with the founding of the United Nations, and the belief that this would place behind justice the full weight of the most important and powerful societies. There was, too, the belief that those societies would be willing to go a very long way in order to bring about the kind of world for which they hoped. We can see that over the past half century our world community has not thrived in the pursuit of justice. Not only the forces of evil, which were in conflict at that time, but even older forces of disunion and antipathy are coming to light. Let us take the Kosovo situation, which we discussed in vain, necessarily, yesterday. There are people worrying about the result of a battle in the 14th century. We live in a world in which the growth of literacy may in fact have made matters worse by making people more conscious of their differences with others.

The lesson I draw—and I doubt whether the noble Baroness would disagree—is that the important thing is not to say, "Here we have an admirable effort which we all hope will succeed", but that our business is to see and study each individual case of conflict in its own terms, to try to understand what it is that moves people to behave in this way and to see in each case what those who live in more fortunate circumstances can contribute in trying to bring such conflicts to an end.

6.51 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, this is not a very crowded debate; however, I have found it a remarkable one. I feel privileged to have heard some of the speeches—based as they were on so much, and such deep, personal experience. Perhaps I may return to them in the course of my remarks. I should like to begin by adding my thanks to my noble friend Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne for having inaugurated the debate. She is a person of the most far-ranging experience. Her work in international organisations for children and others has taken her to some of the remotest and most dangerous parts of the earth. She speaks from a depth of understanding and knowledge of what she has seen— those who were described long ago in a great book as "the wretched of the earth". She has not forgotten them, and she bears witness to them in this House. I also wish to pay tribute to the noble Baroness's courage. She is never intimidated in any way in seeking the truth in areas such as the southern parts of Iraq, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Indeed, it can be said of the noble Baroness that no door will keep her out and no window will exclude her. For that, I pay her the tribute that she deserves.

I shall return to the remarkable speeches that we have heard, but turn first to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. The noble Lord quite properly reminded us that there are many strands in the strange and chaotic world that we are now entering, and that we must examine all of those strands to weave together a world of law and order. The noble Lord mentioned that not all conciliation can take the benign form of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and in some cases peace-making or peacekeeping, or even military action, may be required by the situation.

As the noble Lord spoke, I was reminded, for example, of the way in which peace was, frankly, imposed upon the peoples of Bosnia by the Dayton Agreement—because there was very little chance of getting the sort of citizenship response that was possible in South Africa or may be possible in some other parts of the world. So there are many strands to our debate, ranging from conflict resolution, through peace-making, through peacekeeping, through the use of the powers of the great powers, and finally to the more benign forms that we are discussing today.

The right reverend Prelate drew to our attention the extent to which in other parts of the world as well as South Africa, there have been attempts to deal with the terrible outrages of the past, to reconcile people to them and to put them back into their shared and common history. I shall return briefly to those matters. Before I do so, perhaps I may say a word about law, and then about the issue raised by in particular the noble Lord, Lord Sempill; namely, the question as to whether South Africa is in some ways different from other countries.

The law can take many forms. It can take the form of the law of the victors, which is the form that it took at Nuremberg. We know that the crimes of the Axis were dealt with at Nuremberg and the outrageous behaviour of the leaders was prosecuted there. But nobody at Nuremberg raised the issue of the treatment of displaced persons and refugees following the Yalta settlement. Nobody looked at the pathetic people driven back to the Communist sector although they had sought refuge among us. Nobody raised such issues as saturation bombing, which killed thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians as part of the waging of an outright and total war. Only very recently have we begun to see some willingness on the part of those who were among the powerful to accept their responsibility to those who were among the powerless. I understand very well how it comes to be the case that the Queen is asked to apologise for Amritsar and that the Prime Minister is asked to apologise for Bloody Sunday. I understand very well, too, the reasons why we have seen, for instance, in the United States—and I pay that country tribute for this—the provision of the highest medal in the land for actions that are conducted outside the battlefield, the Soldier's Medal, to the three United States soldiers who intervened at My Lai to stop the massacre of civilians. Slowly, we are learning to be more self-critical, more understanding, more capable of forgiving others, and even ourselves.

The second form that law may take—the first being the law of the victors, as we saw at Nuremberg—is simply the forgiving and forgetting of all that has been. That may be a very benign outcome, but in some cases what has happened is so outrageous, so burning in its effects, so arousing of resentment, that one cannot simply wave away the past. I believe that to have been the case in South Africa. The third form is the way in which South Africa has tried to show us the path of reconciliation.

Let me take up two speeches in that context. The first was a remarkable speech of self-examination—not only of himself but of his whole community—by the noble Lord, Lord Sempill. It is the case that, not only in the past but in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself, there has been a reluctance on the part of some communities to take part in that procedure. The Inkatha Freedom Party and the far right of the Nationalist Party led by the former president, President Botha, have been unwilling to take any co-operative part in the proceedings.

I remember, in 1990, visiting a township outside Durban which had been in part burnt down the previous night. I was taken by the assistant to the Archbishop of Durban to a small church in the township which was full to the limit with terrified families, some of them still hearing the wounds that they had received from assegais and other weapons. The priest told me that he had called repeatedly upon the South African police the night before to come and save his parishioners, but nobody had responded. Finally, he had rung up a parishioner, a regular communicant who was a senior officer in the South African defence forces—the army, not the police—and ordered him, literally on pain of excommunication, to come and save his parishioners. Reluctantly, the senior officer appeared, and shot randomly at the opposite hill from which gunshots were coming.

Later that night, the priest went up to the top of the hill because men were dying or were already dead on the hill. He found that at least half those who had been shot at and killed from the place from which the gunfire against the parishioners had come had turned out to be members of the KwaZulu police bearing the badges of their office. It is not therefore altogether surprising that the Inkatha Freedom Party has been so reluctant to take part in a procedure which might well reveal its own share in some of the actions and the extreme behaviour that occurred during the apartheid years.

Perhaps I may say one word to the noble Lord, Lord Sempill. I suppose the obvious comment on what he said about the behaviour of the majority of white English and Afrikaner citizens, citizens of South Africa, is the famous remark of Edmund Burke: "For injustice to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing". It is a cruel remark to make, for not one of us in this House or anywhere else knows how we would behave in similar circumstances. Yet Edmund Burke's great remark remains as a constant reminder to us all of what is demanded from us when evil is to be seen in such a way as it was in South Africa. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who has had a most distinguished role in having headed the anti-apartheid movement over many years, knows precisely of what I speak.

I come lastly to a part of the debate that we have discussed perhaps only a little. I refer to that remarkable characteristic of South Africans—mainly South African Africans, it must be said, but shared by some remarkable other white citizens of South Africa—namely, the capacity for forgiveness and courage beyond what is normally asked of human beings. That courage was exemplified alongside the extraordinary forgiveness that South Africans have shown to those who have exploited them and brutalised them over many years. I had exactly the same experience as many other noble Lords and it was referred to in a marvellous speech by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. It is the experience of coming across men and women who had emerged from seven, 10 or 15 years in prison and bore no resentment, no anger and no hatred against the very people who had imprisoned them.

I am glad that there was one white South African woman who spoke to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She was wheeled into the court. She could no longer walk since she had suffered so much shrapnel injury from a bomb that had exploded, set by freedom fighters or guerrillas—you use the word you choose—in her back garden. She said: "Of course I forgive them". Then she paused and said: "And I hope they can forgive me". That was a remark of astonishing spiritual insight.

It is because of people like Alan Paton, Donald Woods, Trevor Huddlestone and Archbishop Hurley that we can say that we ourselves are associated to some extent with a miracle that has happened in South Africa.

In conclusion, discussion about politics in our time has become dominated by economic, administrative and technological considerations. We almost define politics today in those terms. If we cannot speak the language of economics, the language of science or the language of technology, we are increasingly regarded as unfit to be democratic representatives in the modern age.

But South Africa has taught us something and, to a lesser extent, so has Argentina, if I may refer to the speech of the right reverend Prelate. Undoubtedly Raoul Alfonsin helped to bring his country back from the extreme attitudes of totalitarian injustice to something resembling a civilised community. The world owes him a great debt for doing that. There are other countries who have done so too.

What we should remember and what is to me the central lesson of the debate inaugurated by my noble friend Lady Nicholson is that there is a spiritual dimension to politics of the greatest importance. An understanding capacity for mercy, forgiveness and imagination may bring peace to our troubled world, from Bosnia to Northern Ireland, to Somalia and the outer edges of the earth in a way that sometimes the technologists, economists and scientists fail to imagine. That. I believe, is one of the crucial messages of the debate.

7.4 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I am pleased to be in a position to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, on securing the debate and to follow the perceptive and moving speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. The debate has enabled us to have a valuable opportunity to hear reflections from all sides of the House, not only on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and South Africa itself—a country in which many of your Lordships have shown a deep and abiding interest—but also on the broad and far-reaching question of the merits of the wider application of such a body within the context of the need for a nation emerging from a post-conflict situation to confront and exorcise the ghosts of its past.

I join your Lordships in paying tribute to the work of Archbishop Tutu, Dr. Alex Boraine and their fellow commissioners in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Their task has been a harrowing and exhausting one. It has involved treading a delicate balance to defuse the tensions of the post-apartheid era. It has required immense resources of understanding, wisdom and compassion.

As we have heard, the search for truth and reconciliation in South Africa has often involved navigating in uncharted waters. I believe that if the final verdict on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a successful one, South Africa will owe a great debt to its skill, insight and dignity.

The challenge of how to deal with its past within the framework of the negotiated end to apartheid has been one of the most contentious issues in South Africa. The government's response—the creation of the impermanent Truth and Reconciliation Commission—has been a bold and controversial experiment on the precarious road to a democratic and peaceful South Africa, a South Africa that in the future will finally deliver on its promise of development opportunities for all.

South Africa is now a non-racial, multi-party democracy. As they framed the new constitution the government sought a means to exorcise the past, to prevent the prospect of a future repeatedly overshadowed by the incessant rattling of skeletons in the cupboard of the country's apartheid years and thereby to close a dark chapter in the life of the nation.

But the government were confronted with a question familiar to many governments this century: how do a country's people forgive but not forget their pain and suffering; and how do they build a future from the ashes of the past, based on new respect for human rights?

It seems an impossible task, but this is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, provided for by the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, was set up to achieve. Rather than follow the Nuremberg model of criminal trials which the negotiated end to apartheid precluded, or the South American practice of giving blanket amnesties, the commission was to he a third way, between the formal justice system and prosecution on the one hand and amnesia on the other.

The South African Minister of Justice, Mr. Dullah Omar, explained that, a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation". In its simplest terms then, for a limited period of time, the commission has been empowered to trade confessions for amnesties on the basis that South Africans needed reconciliation and that true reconciliation requires forgiveness and that forgiveness requires knowledge. In all its work the commission has been guided by two principles: that you cannot forgive when you do not know what or whom to forgive; and that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

In order to rescue the country from the future perils of continued deceit and denial about its past, the aim of the commission has been to slice cleanly through a thicket of lies about the preceding 30 years and to catalogue its horrors as fully as possible, to give victims and their families the chance to tell their stories and to be compensated for their years of suffering and so to regain their dignity and honour; to publish its findings so that no one in the future can claim to be ignorant of the past in the hope of restoring South Africa's moral order and preventing a repetition in the future; and, most controversially, to force the murderers, the torturers, the rapists, the terrorists and the bombers—all those who grossly violated human rights for a political goal, be it in defence of apartheid or in resistance to it—to confront the human cost of what they had done before being granted amnesty.

At the end of its term of office the commission will report in full to the president with its recommendations, guided by the watchwords of restoration and reconstruction rather than ruin and wreckage; reparation and restitution rather than retaliation and revenge; and reconciliation and rehabilitation rather than reprisal and retribution.

The work of the commission has been mainly undertaken by its three committees. Through its Human Rights Committee, victims or their families have been given the opportunity to relate the violations that they suffered and the committee has attempted to establish how and why such violations were committed and who was responsible. Through its Amnesty Committee it has provided a mechanism for a selective and temporary amnesty, provided three criteria were satisfied; that is, that the offence took place between March 1960—the date of the Sharpeville massacre—and December 1993 when the first post-apartheid constitution was agreed: that the offence was politically motivated or consistent with the policies of either the then state or liberation movement; and provided that full disclosure of the offence for which amnesty is being sought has been made. Through its Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee it has made proposals to deal with compensation of victims as fairly and as fast as possible, including a measure for urgent, interim reparations aimed at restoring the human and civil dignities of victims of human rights violations.

And now, as the work of the commission nears completion, though it is perhaps unsurprising that Archbishop Tutu recommended that the lifetime of the Amnesty Committee be extended, the time is approaching to assess the achievement of the commission. It has been a traumatic and distressing two years of grief, tears, and tales of torture, of beatings, burnings and murders. Nearly 20,000 statements from victims have been heard, 10 to 15 per cent. of them in public and over 7,000 amnesty applications have been made at a cost of over 29 million dollars.

But what has the exercise achieved? Has it fulfilled its objectives, confounded its critics and brought South Africa nearer to the goals of truth and ensuing reconciliation? I will first address the complaints of the critics of the commission, who have been vociferous and strong, comprising an ironic alliance of those who have most to lose and those who have lost most; those who complain of a biased "victor's justice" and those who complain of no justice at all.

From the perspective of the latter group of critics, perhaps the task of the commission was always impossible. How could it hope to reconcile the victims' raw need for justice in its most conventional sense of trial and imprisonment provided for by the formal court system when it was fettered by the negotiated nature of apartheid's demise and the indemnity which was a concession for securing its peaceful collapse? For the families of Steve Biko and Chris Hani and many more like them, who have seen and will see those who have committed terrible crimes walk free, while they, the victims, lose their right to seek civil redress, it is a bitter pill to swallow.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked those people to accept that the moral equilibrium that human nature demands, that those who have done harm must pay for what they have done, has temporarily been not only suspended, but inverted; they have been asked to sacrifice the trappings of individual justice as the price that must be paid for a greater good—a peaceful and democratic South Africa.

The charge of the second group of critics is perhaps easier to answer. Those on the right wing feared the double standards of a "victor's justice" combined with a witch hunt of the state security forces who killed, tortured and maimed, while the terrorist offences committed by the ANC were ignored which, far from being cathartic, would wreck the fragile harmony of the post-election period. Indeed, those fears seemed as if they might be realised in the early days when the ANC apparently recommended that its leaders should be granted automatic amnesty on the grounds that there is no moral equivalence between those who resisted apartheid and those who defended it; and when, in its first months, it seemed as if the commission would be submerged by the weight of the legal and political dilemmas which faced it as it tried to balance the conflicting interests of truth, reconciliation and justice, culminating in the fiasco of the Dirk Coetzee case.

Accusations of a partisan witch hunt more concerned with revenge than with the truth have now subsided, but there are still lingering suspicions that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, despite its efforts to reflect South Africa's political spectrum, remains the creature of the ANC and is biased accordingly. For the remaining duration of its life, if this is not to besmirch its reputation and achievement, the commission must—and I hope will—confound the critics who speak of double standards, and be seen to be totally independent and autonomous.

It will have ample opportunity to do so in the major hearings yet to come, which not only include high profile amnesty applicants who served the former government, as in the Hani and Biko cases, but also those who perpetrated the human rights violations in ANC camps in Angola, Botswana, and Zambia, and those who were responsible for the terrorist Church Street bombing, the Wimpy Bar bombings, the Johannesburg magistrates' court bombings, attacks on policemen and police stations; and the Inkatha Freedom Party hit squad killings.

Furthermore, there are key decisions to be made in three important cases. I mention first that of Winnie Mandela. Secondly, there is the blanket amnesty granted to 37 ANC leaders by the Amnesty Committee, even though it is clearly stated that each amnesty must face in detail the crimes for which indemnity is sought. That decision has rightly, but regrettably, called the commission's political impartiality into question and Archbishop Tutu sought High Court clarification on the validity of the ruling. Should it be upheld, the reputation of the commission would be tarnished by the slur of double standards. Thirdly, there is the need for the political impartiality of the commission to be fully tested in the case of Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Yet, setting those specific cases aside, what truth and reconciliation has the commission achieved or has the exercise simply resulted in a performance by a theatre of puppets, as some of its critics maintained? Certainly, in its pursuit of truth, its quasi-judicial status has not helped to dispel that perception. Although it is not a court of law, it does have the right to subpoena witnesses, yet their unwilling testimony has not always been compelling or satisfactory.

The commission has relied to a great extent on voluntary participation and, as a result, the number of heavyweight political leaders who have chosen to come forward remains derisory. Of the more than 7,000 applications for amnesty, some two dozen came from ANC leaders. Only two former National Party Cabinet Ministers came forward and no one from the Inkatha Freedom Party. That has left the commission wide open to the criticism that, as is so often the case, the foot soldiers, the middle management of the security forces, those who executed the orders, have emerged while their superiors who devised the policies they implemented have kept quiet, still unwilling to accept accountability for the past.

Indeed, so long as the generals and politicians, the state sponsors of apartheid and the perpetrators of terror in protest against it, stay silent, the commission can only hope to uncover a partial truth. Yet that partial truth is not without value. In these two years of hearings, we know now what happened in many officially unsolved cases, both famous, such as that of Steve Biko, and less well known. We have learnt now that Steve Biko's death was no accident but that, as many already believed, it was indeed murder. Later on this month we will hear more of the details surrounding his death. For the many who have long suspected a cover-up, this comes as confirmation rather than revelation. But from such confirmations month after month, week after week, hearing after hearing in the narrative of victim and perpetrator alike, it is hoped that some measure of national social catharsis, itself so necessary to the process of healing, is being achieved.

Finally, and briefly, I turn to the important debating point raised by my noble friend Lord Beloff and to the possible application of the concepts underpinning the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to other post-conflict zones. In this century, we have seen and continue to see nations strive to come to terms with a violent and bloodstained immediate past. I have already mentioned two of the traditional routes; the criminal prosecutions of the Nuremberg war trials at one end of the spectrum and the amnesia approach of blanket indemnities, such as those granted to fallen military regimes in South America, at the other.

South Africa has chosen to follow a different route and to acknowledge that its body politic was unwell, that it had wounds in need of healing, and unless those wounds were opened and cleansed, they would fester until the condition became critical and ultimately the country would pay a high price for any attempts to erase or evade this chapter of its history. Its decision to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was based on the belief that the irreducible minimum for lasting reconciliation and unity was the quest for the truth, agreed, accepted and acknowledged by all South Africans.

South Africa's experience, although not without controversy and not without flaws, might just prove to be an example that other countries, from Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia, can use, suitably tailored and adapted, in the process of trying to unite a divided people, reconcile a dysfunctional society and rebuild a shattered nation. For the divisions and violence in South Africa were deep, enduring and institutionalised and are not yet fully conquered. So if this experiment is successful and it benefits South Africa, then its potential relevance and value elsewhere in the world cannot lightly be dismissed.

A watching, waiting and supportive world with bated breath prays that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is indeed a bridge in the transition from a deeply divided society. In South Africa, they quote a Russian proverb: "injustice is like having an eye gouged out; looking away is losing both eyes." From these Benches, we extend our support to South Africa in hoping that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proves to be that country's clear-sighted and wise eye.

7.22 p.m.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, for initiating this debate. It has shown your Lordships' House at its very best. Our Benches have not been full but the speeches we have heard have been based not only on personal experience but on real thoughtfulness about the issues.

The debate is also a timely opportunity to pay tribute, as so many noble Lords have done, to South Africa's remarkable success since 1994. South Africans have managed the transfer of political power more peacefully than once seemed likely or possible, and without serious economic disruption. President Mandela has made an enormous and courageous personal contribution to the process of reconciliation. He has given a personal lead in bringing together former enemies to work for the future of their country. He offered not only courage and leadership but integrity, magnanimity and commitment when they were really needed.

As the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, pointed out, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was given a most ambitious remit: to uncover the full truth about apartheid era atrocities; to provide a forum for individuals on all sides publicly to acknowledge their guilt; and individually and collectively, through national catharsis, to achieve national reconciliation. Many would say that the commission has been a fundamental component in the building of the new South Africa.

As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, reminded us in what was a powerful and compelling speech, the commission has also attracted criticism. Some have said that it concentrates on the misdeeds of the previous regime and goes easy on those committed by the freedom movements. Some have protested at the granting of amnesty to self-confessed criminals. No such exercise, delving as it does into such painful events, could ever have been free of controversy.

The truth and reconciliation process in South Africa is an internal matter for that country. It is not for us to pass judgment on the specific details of that process. But I suggest that there has been a broad consensus in your Lordships' House; one of admiration for the work carried out by the commission and for the spirit in which it has been done. In particular, the efforts of Archbishop Tutu, in the face of controversy and despite health problems, have been remarkable. The commission's final report to the President is due at the end of June this year. I am sure that we all wish them well with the great amount of work that remains to be completed.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, reminded us of some of the cases that have been looked at by the commission. The noble Baroness herself had been intimately involved in one of those cases. I do not propose to comment on those individual cases. The hearings are an internal matter in South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has heard a great amount of evidence and its final report may well make recommendations about specific cases as well as about general principles. The allegations made against individuals are a matter for the commission and the South African Government.

We believe that the commissioners have done an important and extraordinarily difficult job conscientiously and with a high level of integrity. The commission's achievements will no doubt be judged by the extent to which it is seen to have treated people equally, to have been fair and objective and to have met its aims of discovering the truth and assisting national reconciliation. Its report will be, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, reminded us, an important building block in the process of national healing in South Africa.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, drew our attention to the role of Archbishop Tutu and to the role which faith has played in this process. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, concentrated many of his remarks on the role of religion and of the Churches. The example of the South African Council of Churches, and in particular that of Desmond Tutu, has been an extremely important component in this process, as it was in the struggle against the injustice of apartheid. The theme of reconciliation has been central to the message of the Church. But it is also worth noting the role of many denominations and indeed of faiths other than Christianity. In particular, I should mention the statement made by the Dutch Reformed Church to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission last year in which it frankly acknowledged some of the mistakes it had made in support of the apartheid regime.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, has drawn our attention to the possible use of the South African model in other post-conflict situations. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, doubted that such a model would necessarily work in other situations. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, reminded us, the ways in which societies and states manage such periods of transition will always depend on their individual circumstances. There are precedents—for example, in Latin America—for seeking to establish truth through non-judicial commissions rather than pursuing justice through the courts. Indeed, South Africans drew in particular on the Chilean example.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell said, societies have to strike balances between seeking justice against the perpetrators of abuses and turning the page on past events to allow the wounds to heal themselves. The bold approach taken by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission suggests a third route that allows a country to confront its past and identify what happened, but to do so in a context of forgiveness, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out. I understand that after the commission has been wound up there are proposals to create a new institute to carry out further research and education and to consider wider applicability of the South African experience. I believe that that is to be welcomed. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, sometimes other solutions are necessary.

The approach of the tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda is clearly different to that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Those accused are tried and, if found guilty, are sentenced to punishment. But the aim is similar. We hope that bringing to justice those who have committed atrocities will help their victims towards real reconciliation. The link between justice and reconciliation was made clearly by the women of Srebrenica when they met my honourable friend, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Tony Lloyd, last November.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, commitments are needed not only from societies but from international communities. Sometimes they need mechanisms to enable them to act against those who have committed the most serious crimes of international concern. The aim is to deter the perpetrators as well as to promote reconciliation between them and the victims. That is why we strongly support the creation of a permanent international criminal court, as the right reverend Prelate indicated. We are all doing what we can to ensure that the convention providing for the creation of such a court will be ready for signature by the end of the diplomatic conference in Rome this summer.

In debating the questions raised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we should not ignore the material and practical issues facing South Africa, as the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, reminded us. Huge investment is needed to extend basic services to previously marginalised communities, to tackle the enormous challenges in the education sector and to foster growth in the economy that will make a real impact on unemployment.

Britain has an excellent record in its development co-operation with South Africa, with major projects in education, water supply, local government and other sectors contributing to tackling poverty and the problems of transition. As South Africa's biggest trading partner and foreign investor, we have an important role to play in the development of the South African economy. Britain has also made a significant contribution in helping with the integration of the armed forces from both sides into a new non-racial defence force. I make these points not merely to show the close involvement of the United Kingdom with South Africa but to emphasise that the challenges of South Africa's transition go wider than the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, raised questions about our trading arrangements with South Africa. We have agreed to work for an early and favourable conclusion to negotiations between the EU and South Africa for a trade and co-operation agreement. I agree with the noble Lord that the trade terms offered need to be liberal. We are using our presidency of the EU to support these negotiations as far as we are able. We hope that significant progress will be made before the end of our presidency. We are in close touch with the South African Government, with our EU partners and with the commission about this issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, reminded us in a remarkably frank and brave speech about the various sections of the population who have very different perceptions about the changes in South Africa and very different personal experiences of them. There is no easy solution. The South African Government face a balancing act, seeking to achieve high levels of growth while at the same time redressing the economic inequalities created by apartheid, the apartheid so eloquently described to us by the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, raised rather broader issues about the economy. It is important to remember that the South African economy is in better balance now than it has been for many years, especially on the monetary side. The rand is probably stable against most of the major currencies and so far it has weathered the Asian financial turbulence. Inflation is in decline and resources are strengthening; foreign debt exposure is low, public finances are under control and manufactured exports are doing well. This is all a great tribute to the way in which South Africa has managed its economy since 1994.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, reminded us of areas of conflict in other parts of the world when she was describing how, if at all, it was possible to look at the South African model when talking about conflict resolution elsewhere. She spoke about Sierra Leone. I thank her for the very warm words of tribute which she paid to our High Commissioner, Mr. Penfold, for his courage last year when Sierra Leone was in such trouble.

Her Majesty's Government have warmly welcomed the restoration of President Kabbah in Freetown yesterday as the elected president of the legitimate government of Sierra Leone. Her Majesty's Government in particular welcome the fact that President Kabbah, when he returned to Freetown yesterday, urged national reconciliation. It is also worth noting that Moslem Imams, Christian Bishops and traditional leaders offered their blessings for his safe return.

The noble Baroness also spoke about the slow progress that is being made in Rwanda. She is right. But recent reports by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services point to improvements in various aspects of the tribunal operations in Rwanda. Of course, there is still a great way to go. The United Kingdom Government continue to play a major part in international efforts to improve the Rwandan judicial system. We have welcomed recent improvements in the trial process and we continue to urge the Government of Rwanda fully to respect internationally agreed standards in their conduct.

The noble Baroness also brought to our attention again the very difficult situation in Iraq. We have discussed that on a number of occasions recently. But I point out to the House that Her Majesty's Government are now planning a meeting, which will be hosted by the United Kingdom in its presidency of the European Union, to work out with the European Union and others how we can help the UN in the implementation of the expanded oil-for-food programme to meet the most pressing needs of the Iraqi people.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, pointed out in an extremely thoughtful speech the enormous difficulties in translating the South African experience to other parts of the world. He is quite right. All too often in this House I have the sad task of making statements about the gravest possible conflicts in many different parts of the world. But central to the United Kingdom's international policies, it is the Government's aim to build the will and the capacity of countries and civil societies to resolve their disputes non-violently.

Within the United Kingdom development co-operation programmes the Government aim to prevent conflicts through contributing to the longer-term goals of democratisation, the promotion of the rule of law, good government, social cohesion and respect for human rights. We do this in a number of different ways and in many different countries. It is always important to look at those countries as individual countries and to work with the people in those countries who wish to go ahead on conflict resolution.

I am extremely glad that we have had the opportunity today to debate the achievements of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although at times controversial, the commission has played an important role in South Africa's transition. We have sought as a government to give human rights a greater prominence. Within that context, we welcome the contribution of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to developing a human rights culture. We will continue to support the South African Government's efforts to meet the political, economic and social challenges which face them.

As the right reverend Prelate reminded us, the efforts of Archbishop Tutu, his colleagues and all those who have co-operated with the commission have made it easier for South Africans to turn the page of history and look to their common future. Whether other countries which are torn apart by conflict are able also to turn that page will be a matter of leadership, integrity, forgiveness and courage. The means will owe much to the individual customs and cultures of those countries, but like the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, I agree that the lessons of the South African experience may well have a resonance and a relevance to many other peoples and many other countries around the world.

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, when I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of placing this Motion before your Lordships, I was in no doubt that noble Lords would make speeches of depth and quality, displaying lifetimes of personal experience around the world. I have not been disappointed. I have listened today to some of the finest speeches I have heard for many years.

Noble Lords have given me conclusions. The TRC is unique. As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, it rests on a unique concatenation of attitudes, beliefs and circumstances, but with other extraordinary dimensions which noble Lords have outlined. As the Minister said, there is also a broad consensus that its resonance may reflect positively in other areas throughout the world. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, mentioned South America, where, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, there have been blanket amnesties. Of course, they have been anonymous—perhaps a very different matter from the way in which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa works, with complete transparency.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell referred to one point that was not highlighted throughout the debate in the way in which almost every other matter was fully explored. He quoted the Chilean poet who asked: Who looks after the victims of torture? Who protects the victims?

Of course, the answer comes from Archbishop Tutu in his statement of 24th November, which I heard. Speaking of the Act which enshrined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he said: The Act enjoins that we should be victim friendly … As always, we are here concerned primarily for the victims and survivors … We seek the truth, not for the purposes of prosecution … but for the purpose of seeking to re-integrate people into our society". That work is very painful personally for Archbishop Tutu and for the commissioners. I wrote my first letter to Archbishop Tutu in 1996 and, after a delay, his secretary, Lavinia Brown, wrote back saying that he and the other commissioners were in the first round of hearing of the violations of human rights and they were in such personal pain that they could barely articulate on other matters. Perhaps the pursuit of justice (which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, reminded us, is the overarching goal) has to be matched with the implementation by each and every one of us of every United Nations human right for human beings with all the humility we can create in daily life.

Indeed, a member of the human rights violation committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Pumla Gobodo Mandikizela, commented: interpersonal contacts … ultimately are the best way to break down stereotypes and antagonisms … The issue of reconciliation should at least be addressed in every home and every boardroom and hall of power". I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.