HL Deb 02 November 2000 vol 618 cc1116-8

3.22 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will now press for those war criminals in the former republic of Yugoslavia, whose whereabouts are known, to be arrested and brought before the International War Crimes Tribunal.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, we have made it clear to the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that we expect them to meet their international obligations in a spirit of partnership with the international community. This includes co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. We call on all states in the former Yugoslavia to arrest and transfer tribunal indictees in the territory.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of a publication this morning by the International Crisis Group listing all those responsible, or alleged to be responsible, for war crimes, including some indicted by the tribunal. First, will the whole House congratulate the UK forces in their section of the SFOR project in the south-west on having to their credit by far the highest number of arrests of alleged war criminals? Can representations be made to the governments of the United States and France to follow their excellent example?

Secondly, will the United Kingdom Government make representations to the OSCE to the effect that people should not be appointed to responsible positions as police officers or to other significant public posts if they have been indicted for war crimes by the criminal tribunal?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I warmly agree with the noble Baroness in her expression of congratulations. I thank her for those sentiments. It is obviously of great importance for all our partners to do what they can to catch war criminals and we exhort them to do so.

I reassure the noble Baroness that it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that there is no place for indicted war criminals in public life in either Bosnia or Herzegovina. For that reason, the OSCE election regulations bar all those who are known to have been indicted by the ICTY from public office. It is for the provisional election commission to scrutinise candidates. We expect the commission to take into account any serious allegation concerning a candidate. I am more flan happy to say that we support that view and shall do all that we can to encourage it.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the newly elected government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia wish to ensure that war criminals are prosecuted where there is sufficient evidence, but that they wish to set up their own independent judicial system and are anxious to receive and consider applications for extradition? At the same, is it correct that they are against what they would term NATO's "snatch squads" in what they now regard as an independent democratic republic?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that that is what the newly elected government have said. We sincerely hope that they can be relied on to deliver on that aspiration. Obviously, the preferable course would be for the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to discharge their obligations to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I hear what is said about "snatch squads". We recognise that the new government in Belgrade will find it difficult to do this swiftly; however, we expect them to tackle the issue in the way the new government of Croatia have done since January 2000. It is all part of their progress towards meeting the normal European standards of behaviour. We certainly wish them the best of luck in carrying out that task, and we hope that we can rely on them to do so vigorously.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, in the estimation of the Minister and her department, if international pressure forces the new government of the Republic of Serbia to hand over war criminals to the international tribunal, might not that have a destabilising influence, for patriotic or chauvinistic reasons, on the new government in Yugoslavia? If so, would the strictures suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, do more harm than good?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have been encouraged by the statements made by Mr Kostunica. He has said that he recognises that offences have been committed and that he also recognises the need to bring to book those who are responsible. Those are encouraging signs. However, we recognise the sensitivity of his position. It is necessary to exhort him to deliver on his commitment while understanding that there may need to be a little time to enable him to do so.

Lord Brookman

My Lords, following on the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, will my noble friend indicate specifically the assistance that the Government have given to the war crimes tribunal in the former Republic of Yugoslavia?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am happy to assist the House in relation to that matter. We have given significant voluntary assistance to the tribunal. Our support has included having a British scene-of-crime team in Kosovo for the second year running to gather evidence for the tribunal and for the courts being established by the UN mission in Kosovo. We have also supplied substantial amounts of information, including intelligence, to help the tribunal in its work. United Kingdom troops in Bosnia have been involved in 13 out of 24 successful detentions by the NATO-led peacekeeping mission of persons indicted by the tribunal. I say respectfully that we are giving the highest quality of assistance. Once again, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in praising all those who have participated so successfully in that effort.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, now that Yugoslavia has regained its position in the United Nations, and now that Mr Kostunica is releasing political detainees—the so-called terrorists who were detained under the previous regime—is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House totally associate ourselves with all efforts to bring to justice in the way that is supported by the Government those who have committed atrocities?

Does the Minister accept that, in this whole process of war indictments and branding war criminals, the approach should be one of great care and caution if the agonies of some of these divided societies—I am speaking more generally—are not to be prolonged? There is a danger that rushing this process of indictment could actually delay the process of reconciliation, which must be the basis for peace in the Balkans.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords., I thank the noble Lord for his kind comments in relation to the unity of view on these issues. I also understand the comments he made as regards the need for caution and care. I hope that all that I have said from this Dispatch Box about the position of Her Majesty's Government reflects the need for the caution and care of which the noble Lord speaks. Taking that factor into account, it is still necessary to say that the ICTY has a very profound job to do. In order for justice to be seen to be done, those who have been responsible for really quite atrocious war crimes need to be brought to book so that that reconciliation can be complete.