HL Deb 06 March 2001 vol 623 cc129-32

2.58 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpoolasked Her Majesty's Government:

How they are helping the development of a civil society in Indonesia.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are supporting the growth of a responsible and effective civil society in Indonesia through a number of programmes; for example, through good governance, poverty reduction and the development of trades unions. DfID consulted widely with civil society groups in Indonesia during the preparation of their country strategy paper.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, I strongly welcome what the Minister has said to the House and, through her, thank her honourable friend Mr John Battle for the initiatives that he has taken in trying to develop civil institutions in Indonesia. Does she agree that the deepening economic crisis in that country is inevitably having a knock-on effect in damaging civil institutions and creating further communal strife? Does she agree that one useful thing that the Government might do would be to release some of the assets which were confiscated from the previous Indonesian regime and held in this country and elsewhere, and release them to the Indonesian Government? Will she also say what Her Majesty's Government have been able to do to help the people in Ambon and the Moluccas who have been suffering so grievously?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whom I believe attended the meeting in February on Indonesia with my honourable friend John Battle, that we are concerned about the complexity of the situation in that country and about the violence on several islands. We have tried to facilitate the peace talks in Ambon, although we recognise that a difficult process is involved and we continue to watch matters very closely.

On the question of the assets of the Suharto family, we have provided the Indonesian Government with the information that they need to begin the process of negotiating a mutual assistance treaty with the UK. Once in place, that treaty will allow the Indonesian Government to work through the English criminal legal system to pursue assets that are held in the UK, should they wish to do so.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I acknowledge the important contribution that the Government have made to various organisations in Indonesia, such as Komnas HAM, which is a human rights organisation, and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation; I also acknowledge the initiative taken recently by John Battle, which the Minister mentioned—it involved consulting Members of both Houses and NGOs on the programme for aiding civil society. However, could the Minister look particularly at the situation in Aceh, where NGOs are subject to violence? For example, the torture aid organisation RATA recently lost three of its members—they were murdered—and the organisation Kontrast is constantly harassed by the police. Would not the best contribution to the development of civil society be to persuade the Indonesian Government to protect the NGOs that are trying so hard in difficult circumstances and to stop police harassment?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the whole House knows that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, knows far more about human rights issues in Indonesia than many other noble Lords because he has campaigned about such issues for many years.

The situation in Aceh is currently up in the air, as the noble Lord will be aware. There have been no recent reports of serious atrocities. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, we are continuing to press the Indonesian Government on these matters. We have been pleased by the way in which the Indonesian Government and civil society have come together to work on governance projects. Of course it is important for NGOs to be protected and to feel able to work in a constructive way in terms of conflict prevention and conflict resolution and in relation to the other social and economic issues with which they are concerned.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, will the Minister look into the possibility of giving additional funding to the Henri Dunant Centre in Geneva, which has done valuable work in reconciliation and in further conflict prevention in Indonesia? Will she also consider what work her department might do to help the development of small business initiatives in Indonesia? The plight of many people could be much relieved if some small business initiatives, particularly in the outlying areas, were given a boost.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, that there has been some movement with respect to small business initiatives in Indonesia although of course there are problems with some of the more outlying and remote areas. I shall consider those concerns and examine what we can do.

On funding the centre in Geneva, I am aware that that centre has played a significant role in some of the conflict resolution talks. I shall examine the funding issue that the noble Baroness raised.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the prospect of that huge country beginning to crumble at the edges—I refer to the growing violence in Aceh, the Moluccas, west Irian and now in Kalimantan—is deeply worrying? That would threaten the stability of the whole region and this country's interests there. Does she agree that now is the time to engage the interests of regional powers to prevent the collapse of civil power and the imposition of military solutions of a sinister kind? What discussions have there been between Her Majesty's Government and, for example, the Australian and New Zealand Governments, the Singapore authorities—who are right next door to these horrors—the Malaysian Government and others? They might be able to provide the support that the United Nations and the IMF have not so far been able to mobilise.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that of course we want a democratic, prosperous and united Indonesia. However, he and we recognise that that will be difficult to achieve. The noble Lord mentioned some of the worrying conflicts that have occurred in many parts of Indonesia. I take his point about working with regional powers. That has to be done collectively and collaboratively and we shall continue to work with neighbouring countries to seek to come up with a solution that will involve the Indonesian Government.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, can my noble friend say what the Government are doing to support the independent trade unions of Indonesia, which are also part of civil society?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I say to my noble friend Lady Whitaker that it is only very recently that independent trade unions have been allowed to exist in Indonesia. During the past three years, the number of trade unions has increased dramatically. We are supporting a programme that is being implemented by the International Labour Organisation to train trade union officials in basic union management and organisational development skills—we are contributing £1 million over three years to that programme.