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1 Apr 1996 : Column WA1

Written Answers

Monday, 1st April 1996.

Israeli Counter-Terrorism Measures

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will make representations to the Israeli Government concerning their orders to dynamite the homes of Palestinian terrorists.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): We utterly condemn the recent bombings in Israel, and understand the Israeli government's pressing need for national security. But in the wider interests of peace, we have urged them to adopt a balanced response.

Firearms Control and Human Rights

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether in general discussions and exchanges on human rights it is made clear that the private possession of guns is in no sense a "human right" universally recognised by NATO and whether they will emphasise this to those countries where the United States has already persuaded their government otherwise.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The major UN human rights conventions neither explicitly prohibit nor explicitly permit the private possession of guns. Gun control is a matter for decision by individual countries and does not normally feature on the agenda for human rights discussions with other governments.

Mr. Issa Ahmad Hassan Qambar

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will intercede with the Ruler of Bahrain, His Highness Shaikh 'Issa Bin Salman al-Khalifa, to commute the death sentence of 'Issa Ahmad Hassan Qambar, which was upheld by the Court of Cessation on 17th March, bearing in mind the concern expressed by Amnesty International that the trial did not comply with the 1984 United Nations Safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty (paragraph 5) and their fears that the defendant may have been convicted on the basis of a confession extracted under torture.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: Mr. Qambar was executed on 26th March. He had been convicted by the Bahraini High Criminal Court for the murder of a policeman. Our Embassy in Bahrain followed this case closely and on the basis of the information they obtained, we did not consider that there were any grounds for intervention.

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Crimes against Humanity: Prosecution

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they agree that crimes against humanity, as defined in Article 3 of the Statute of the International Tribunal for Rwanda, and violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II, are crimes of universal jurisdiction, and if so, what arrangements they have made, together with other states, for the collection of witness statements and other evidence, preparatory to bringing charges against Saddam Hussain and his principal lieutenants for these crimes, and in particular for the mass murder by chemical weapons of over 5,000 men, women and children in the town of Halabja on 17th March 1988.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The article of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 providing for the prosecution by all parties or persons alleged to have committed grave breaches of the conventions do not cover breaches of Common Article 3. Additional Protocol 2 to the Geneva Conventions does not contain any provisions for the prosecution of grave breaches. As regards crimes against humanity, there is no international agreement providing for universal jurisdiction over such crimes, though it is proposed that they should form one of the categories of crimes over which the proposed International Criminal Court should have jurisdiction. We are aware that certain organisations are collecting and assessing information relating to events in Halabja in March 1988.

Iraqi Refugees in Saudi Arabia: Assistance

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What support they have provided to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' camp for Iraqi refugees in northern Saudi Arabia; how many refugees from that camp have been resettled in the United Kingdom; and how this number compares with the numbers of those resettled in the United States and in Scandinavia.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The UK has not provided any support for the Iraqi refugees in Saudi Arabia (some 13,080 in total), because the Saudi Government meet all camp costs and have not asked for any outside help. There has been some British Council assistance in the form of self learn English language tapes for the refugees.

According to UNHCR records, some 16,508 refugees have been resettled abroad to date. Among the larger receiving countries are USA (8,057), Sweden (1,734), Iran (2,630), Australia (1,148), Netherlands (895). Denmark has taken 458, Norway 482 and Finland 302, while Canada has received 416 and the UK 56. Other receiving countries include Syria, Pakistan, Switzerland and New Zealand.

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General Affairs Council, 25th March

Lord Mountevans asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the General Affairs Council on 25th March.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The A points listed in document 5975/96, which will be deposited in the Libraries of the House as soon as it is available, were approved. These included a draft mandate for a free trade agreement on South Africa, on which the UK abstained.

The Council took note of the resolutions in Documents 4970/96 (PE-RE 15) and 5126/96 (PE-RE 18). Copies of these documents will be deposited in the Libraries of the House as soon as they are available.

The Council discussed the follow-up to the Barcelona Conference and progress on negotiations and exploratory talks on Euro-Mediterranean Agreements. The Council also discussed the MEDA Regulation, covering financial assistance to Mediterranean countries; and had a brief discussion of EU/Albania relations, noting the Commission's intention to make a proposal for a new EU/Albania agreement.

The Council discussed EU/Turkey relations. The Association Council with Turkey was postponed to allow the Council to consider Prime Minister Yilmaz' statement on 24th March. The Presidency stressed their determination to reinstate the Association Council shortly, in order to register real progress.

The Council gave its formal agreement to the convening of an Intergovernmental Conference. The first meeting will be in Turin on 29th March. The Council also reached agreement in principle on the mechanism for keeping the European Parliament informed about the progress of the Intergovernmental Conference.

The Council discussed Former Yugoslavia and agreed the appointment of a new EU Administrator in Mostar. The Council agreed that compliance by the Bosnian parties with Dayton would be an important condition for the April donors' conference. The Council also adopted a decision on demining in Former Yugoslavia.

The Council discussed the Middle East Peace Process. The Presidency gave a brief report on the follow-up to the recent Foreign Ministers' meeting in Palermo and the Sharm el Sheikh Summit.

The Council discussed the WTO telecoms negotiations and agreed a statement pointing to EU willingness to improve its offer in Geneva.

The Council discussed EU/Canada relations, agreeing that the Presidency and Commission should draw up an EU action plan with Canada.

The Council heard a report from Portugal on the recent all-party talks on East Timor held in Austria under UN auspices.

A Portuguese proposal for an EU-Africa summit and a Commission communication on conflict prevention in Africa were remitted to officials for further consideration.

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A declaration on the latest development in Chechnya was agreed.

In the margins of the Council, the EU/Belarus Interim Agreement was signed. This provides for interim application of the trade provisions of the EU/Belarus Partnership and Co-operation Agreement.

Apart from the UK's abstention on the A point on South Africa, noted above, no other votes were taken at this Council.

The South West: Government Policy

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment has been made of arrangements for co-ordinating government policy towards the South West.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): The Government Office for the South West already plays a valuable role in ensuring close dialogue between government and the people, businesses and local representative bodies of the South West. But this is the largest English region, and it has distinct identities and needs. In recognition of this, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration,Mr. Curry, to act as a central co-ordinator of government policy towards the South West. Working with colleagues in the relevant government departments, Mr. Curry will take a close interest in the broad issues affecting the whole of the South West, but will focus particularly on the concerns and interests of the peninsular counties of Devon and Cornwall.

European Defence: Policy

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of paragraph 10 of their Memorandum on their approach to European defence issues at the 1996 IGC, which are the "wholly European military structures" that they believe it would be "wasteful to develop" separately; whether they consider it would be "wasteful to develop" structures over which the United States retains a veto; and whether these include surveillance capabilities some of the products of which may not be passed to the United Kingdom or other US allies on request.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): The Government's primary concern is to avoid the development of separate, purely European command structures which would duplicate those already available within the Alliance and would damage NATO as well as being wasteful. The Government believe that it is better instead to capitalise on existing structures within NATO, which continues to provide the basis of our common security. These arrangements do not include purely national capabilities, including the surveillance capabilities of the United States.

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