HL Deb 18 November 2003 vol 654 cc1851-2

2.55 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress was made at the Commonwealth meeting on human rights and democracy in the Cameroon Republic on 31st October.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the United Kingdom strongly supports the Commonwealth Secretary-General's approach. The 31st October meeting was a useful step forward. The Government of Cameroon set out proposals to improve human rights and strengthen democracy in Cameroon, including new legislation on the National Election Observatory, the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, decentralisation and criminal procedure. The international community welcomes these proposals, presses for their quick implementation and undertakes to provide assistance.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that positive reply. Is she aware that Britain has a special moral responsibility in this situation, especially for the anglophone minority within the Cameroon Republic, as we gave up the United Nations mandate many years ago without adequate safeguards for that anglophone minority? Will she do everything she can to support the initiative of the Commonwealth and the other countries involved to deal with the human rights inadequacies and to bring about an early general election in the Cameroon Republic?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lord's great experience in these matters as a former Minister. Britain does indeed have a special relationship with Cameroon and with the anglophone community there. We are doing everything we can to bring about reforms as speedily as possible. The noble Lord will know that we have made it clear to Cameroon that, as a member of the Commonwealth, it is bound to adhere to the Harare principles. We welcome the positive role played by the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth's special envoy. We engage with anglophones on issues of human rights abuses, raising them within the EU and the Commonwealth.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, we on these Benches very much share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. In the light of the latest report by the International Federation of Human Rights that torture, arbitrary arrests and other violations of human rights are being carried out with impunity, will the Government ensure that Cameroon is now monitored by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is closely engaged with Cameroon. We are aware of the great concerns about torture. We have not been slow in raising these concerns with Cameroon and we will continue to do so.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, are the undertakings given by Cameroon to the special meeting on 31st October compatible with the closure yesterday of the independent Christian radio, Veritas, and the impounding of Insight magazine, which had the temerity to refer to historical events surrounding the federation that my noble friend was so instrumental in organising 40 years ago? Does not the noble Baroness consider that the Commonwealth should put its requirements in writing and that there should be a timeline which can be monitored not only by the international community, which will fund the reforms she has mentioned, but also by the people of Cameroon who want to be assured that in October 2004 they will have a fair and free election?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we are doing all we can to ensure that fair and free elections take place in late 2004. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the work that he does as chair of the Cameroon Campaign Group. We know of the restrictions on press and media freedom and we are aware of the case raised by the noble Lord. We continue to raise issues of human rights abuses with Cameroon and we will continue to do so.