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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I am a little worried that pragmatism--which I realise is rather a dirty word in these debates--seems almost to have been forgotten. For example, the right reverend Prelate referred to the generosity of Canada. I happen to know from visits I have had from Vancouver in connection with educational matters that there is considerable resentment of Chinese people in Vancouver, to the extent that a number of schools are imposing quotas. I was even more alarmed when the noble Earl, Lord Russell, started to extend the provision to almost--dare I say?--every minority in the world. I do not think that anyone in this Chamber, Christian 'though many of us are, envisages this country becoming a refuge for minorities who suffer certain problems.

Lord Avebury: The noble Lord appears to be speaking to an amendment that we discussed earlier which proposed to strike out the words "in general". We are now supposed to be discussing Bulgaria.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I thought that Chechnya was mentioned in the debate. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, knows as well as I, historically

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Bulgaria has had problems. There is a Turkish minority there. In no sense is it envisaged that if a problem arises--such as has arisen in Cyprus--we should admit large numbers of that Turkish minority into this kingdom. If the party opposite were in government, I prophesy that it would not open the frontiers of this country to the Turkish minority in Bulgaria. Please let us not forget pragmatism. Let us talk about morality, but let us mean to implement that. Does the party opposite intend to repeal this legislation? Does it intend to follow the noble Lord's proposal, and, if there is a problem in Bulgaria--or, dare I say, in other parts of the Balkans--to open the frontiers of this country? Would the party opposite stand for election on that platform? These are matters that we must think through before we talk about them.

Lord Avebury: I do not know whether the noble Lord listened carefully to the earlier part of this debate. No one is proposing to open the door to minorities. What we are discussing now is the proposal to delete Bulgaria from the putative list designating certain countries as subject to the fast track procedure which is to be published by the Secretary of State. If I may say so, I thought that it was disingenuous of the Minister to accuse me of not tabling similar amendments on Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan when she knows perfectly well that those are not the countries which the Secretary of State intends to place on the list. The four countries which are the subjects of these amendments are countries in respect of which the Secretary of State has notified his intention of dealing with by means of the list. That was why I thought it wise to allow the Committee the opportunity to at least consider each of them individually to see whether it was our intention that such countries should be placed on the list, or at least to give some warning to the Secretary of State that he should consider these matters a little more carefully.

The Minister is naive as well as disingenuous in thinking that because a country holds elections and has a constitution it necessarily respects human rights, either in a domestic or an international context. I refer her to the United States Department of State report on Bulgaria of 1995. I shall read a couple of sentences from that report. It states,


    "The constitution provides for freedom of religion. However the Government restrict this right in practice. The ability of a number of religious groups to operate freely continues to come under attack both as a result of Government action and because of public intolerance".

As for the measures in the constitution which allow political parties and other groups to function freely, I asked the Minister in an earlier debate whether she would comment on the government's refusal, since 1990, to allow a Macedonian rights group to be registered, as an example of the incompatibility of Bulgaria's actual behaviour with what is stated in the constitution. I can point to examples all over the world where governments have fine constitutions but they do not bother to abide by them. One should take a look at the old Soviet constitution which was full of material about its citizens' human rights but it did not bother to observe those human rights. The Minister and her right

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honourable friend ought to think about this matter carefully, if the principal argument for placing a country on this list is to be that it has a constitution, that it runs elections, or even that it has been allowed to enter the Council of Europe. There are many states in the Council of Europe which I would not have admitted. We discussed Turkey earlier. Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe, and yet no one would conceivably suggest that Turkey should be placed on the list for designation. I think the noble Baroness has said that there is no such intention.

I had rather hoped to receive a better explanation of the reasons why Bulgaria appeared on the list, and that the Minister could have addressed the problems of the religious minorities, which she totally ignored. She mentioned that some measures had been taken to address the matter of the Roma minority. I think that she did not refer to the Turks or the Sinti, let alone the Macedonians. However, the religious minorities are one of the most important subjects as regards the complaints that are made by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, as I said in my earlier speech. I am not at all satisfied with the Minister's remarks. She has not justified placing Bulgaria on the list. However, for the time being, I shall not ask Members of the Committee to accompany me into the Division Lobby because we all need to reflect on what has been said by the Minister and to decide whether we want to pursue this matter at a later stage in the Bill.

Baroness Blatch: Before the amendment is withdrawn, if that is the intention of the noble Lord, I should say that I responded to this amendment. The noble Lord wishes to put on the face of this Bill, which is primary legislation, the names of four countries which should not be considered for designation. I am simply saying that there are better candidates, if one were going to do that. We do not believe that this is the place for that provision because we have said what procedure we intend to put in place for considering designated countries. However, if we thought that there were four countries that were of such concern to the Committee that it wished to state on the face of the Bill that those countries should never be considered for designation, we should not have chosen those particular four countries. I have named other countries that I believe would rank rather higher.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about the UNHCR. The UNHCR has made clear that it does not regard designation as inherently incompatible with the 1951 convention provided that claims are still considered on their merits. I have said many times today that claims will be considered on their merits. We are satisfied that there is no inconsistency with Article 3 which is concerned with the treatment of persons who have been granted refugee status. In the particular case to which I have referred, certification applies only after a refusal has been given to an asylum seeker. That means that we are entirely consistent with our obligations under the convention.

Lord Avebury: I do not know whether the Minister is being deliberately obtuse, but I have just explained why I put these amendments down, and not amendments

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concerning Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. It is because the Home Secretary intends to designate these countries; and there is no question of him doing so as regards the other three countries to which she referred.

I am at a loss to know how the Minister suggests that the Committee would have had an opportunity to discuss the matter if I had not put down these specific amendments, although technically primary legislation may not be the right way to deal with the matter. I am giving the Committee an opportunity to say whether we consider that these specific countries should be included in the list to which the Home Secretary has already referred.

The explanation given by the Minister as to why Bulgaria should be included in that list falls well short of what I would expect. She did not once refer to the religious minorities who were at the centre of the remarks that I made on an earlier occasion.

With that expression of dissatisfaction, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 6, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 7:


Line 16, at end insert (", but no such order shall include Ghana").

The noble Lord said: I hope that we shall have a better explanation of the reasons why Ghana was included in the list than we had as regards Bulgaria.

In Ghana there is no question of the discrimination or the persecution being particular, although there are, of course, ethnic minorities in Ghana. I shall come to those later. Ghana is a state which has been ruled by President Jerry Rawlings for 15 years. He took power, unelected, as head of state. That was a position that he occupied for 11 years, until he finally allowed the people to vote him back into power in an election which was denounced as fraudulent by four opposition parties. Those parties then withdrew from the parliamentary elections of December 1992 giving Rawlings' coalition a walkover. It is, in effect, still a one party state, despite the elections to which the Minister attaches so much importance.

According to the US State Department, the Government dominate the print and electronic media, and control the radio and television stations and the two daily newspapers. The media never criticise President Rawlings or government policies. Although independent broadcasting is allowed in theory, bureaucratic delays in processing applications are used to prevent it in practice. When the Independent Media Corporation of Ghana started broadcasting without a licence, having waited for a year to obtain one, the police seized the transmission equipment and hung on to it in defiance of a High Court ruling that they had acted illegally.

There is an independent newspaper sector, but the circulations are small and confined to the major cities. The papers do criticise, but are vulnerable to the law on criminal libel--it is applied with particular severity in Ghana--under which a person may be prosecuted for

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publishing a false report which injures or damages the credit or reputation of the state. One victim of that legislation at present is my friend Mr. Kwesi Pratt, editor of the Weekly Insight and General Secretary of the Popular Party for Democracy and Development. He has been charged and faces either a prison sentence or a huge fine which could bankrupt him.

In May 1995 the Minister of Youth and Sports organised a gang of thugs who killed four people taking part in a peaceful demonstration against the new value added tax. The Government refused to commission an independent inquiry into the deaths, but in September they announced that a police committee had been unable to identify the murderers. The committee's report was not published.

It is reported that ethnic violence, which resulted in 20,000 deaths in the northern region in 1994, continued into 1995, though in the latter year only 150 people died. One reason for that lower death toll was that the Konkomba people--they were the principal victims of the ethnic conflict--were no longer going into the larger towns and cities where the conflicts had occurred, and had fled into Togo. According to the UNHCR's report, The State of the World's Refugees 1995, there were 97,700 refugees from Ghana in Togo and another 15,900 elsewhere in the region. Some of those people were victims of ethnic violence, but many others are conscientious objectors and political dissidents, as well as people from the Eze tribe of the Volta region which straddles the frontier between Ghana and Togo. Many of the refugees do not bother to register--there are probably far more than the official figure of 113,000 given by the UNHCR--as happens elsewhere in Africa. So how can it be said that Ghana is a country where there is in general no serious risk of persecution if at least 113,000 people are officially classified as refugees by the UNHCR?

If one considers the mainstream politics of Ghana as opposed to the ethnic conflict, the UNHCR noted in November 1995 that although it was asserted that the achievement of a "controlled" transition to a democracy had been extensive, it was less clear whether the transition would continue in view of the precarious political and social foundation on which it was based. Ghanakwambo, the Refugees and Migrants Community Action Group in the UK, points out that,


    "Rawlings' change from chairman of the coup d'etat provisional council to constitutional President of the Fourth Republic had not stopped the intimidation and violence against political opponents".
On the date that the group published a memorandum about the inclusion of Ghana in the list, two journalists and a publisher were on trial for "bringing the state into disrepute". According to the Ghanaian Chronicle of 26th February, when the three appeared at a circuit court on 23rd February, there was a display of thuggery in the precincts of the court, with armed men hurling insults and abuse at anybody they perceived as being anti-NDC (the governing party). Miss Ruby Ofori, a BBC correspondent, had to be rescued by the police and Ms. Adwoa Yeboah-Afari, another BBC correspondent, was also chased by the same thugs.

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Mr. Rawlings himself can be aggressive and violent. I spoke to a man this morning who has been in the UK since 1989 waiting for a decision on his asylum application. He told me that in November 1992, when he was at the house of the then Minister of Youth and Sports, Rawlings arrived in a helicopter with a group of men armed with AK47s. There had been an attempted coup the previous day. Perhaps Mr. Rawlings thought that a plot against his rule was being hatched in that building. He came in shouting and screaming at the inmates of the house. My informant says that Mr. Rawlings threatened them all, making them kneel down at gunpoint, shouting "On your fucking knees". That is the conduct of the head of state of Ghana. Members of the Committee may have some difficulty in believing that a person in that position could behave in such a crude and vicious manner. But there are many similar stories about his irrational conduct, and the unceremonious treatment of anyone who gets in his way.

The most recent event of that kind about which I know personally was Rawlings' attack on his own vice-president, Dr. K.N. Arkaah, at a cabinet meeting on 28th December 1995. Dr. Arkaah telephoned me on 1st January this year to give me details of what had happened. He said that the president was angry because Dr. Arkaah's National Convention Party had held a very successful meeting at Kumasi two weeks earlier at which it was decided to bring the alliance between his party and the Government to an end. At that cabinet meeting, everyone was in his place at 10.20 waiting for the president to arrive. They stood as the president came in at 10.30. He went to the chair next to Vice-President Arkaah and started speaking from behind his chair. Suddenly Dr. Arkaah felt a tremendous blow from behind which knocked him to the ground. The president started to kick him as he lay there, screaming epithets at him such as, "You bastard". Dr. Arkaah did not reply or retaliate in any way. He is a much smaller man than the president.

According to Amnesty International, five Ghanaians who had recently returned to Ghana from the UK were arrested on 2nd September 1994 and charged with plotting a coup. I wrote to the Minister about this case. The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said that in deciding to refuse those people bail after they had been 17 months in custody the authorities would no doubt have taken into account the seriousness of the charges. But the Minister seems to have accepted that it was normal that evidence was still being collected after such a length of time. Relatives trying to visit two of the people in the Usher Fort, where they had been detained previously, were told that they had been transferred to Mwasam maximum security prison. When they went there, the authorities said that they had never heard of the detainees. So we must assume that they are missing. The brother of one of them was taken into custody and interrogated in connection with the plot. When he was released, the family saw that he had been tortured: all his teeth were missing, he had bruises all over his face and he was bleeding from his mouth. They took him to hospital and he died there two days later.

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The atmosphere of paranoia in Ghana is indicated by the fact that two other groups of people are also in custody for alleged coup plots. One was a group of soldiers and a Captain Mumuni Seidu; the other a group of five farmers who had been living in exile in Togo. According to the Refugee Council, the farmers had been beaten and tortured.

Ghana has been described by the Home Office as a fledgling democracy. If its research is as slipshod and selective on Ghana as it was on Nigeria, it is no wonder that it misses so much of what is going on there. Sometimes, when we raise concerns over human rights with Foreign Office Ministers, we are told that it does not have the resources to investigate most of the allegations received. That may be part of the problem. We are getting an inadequate and incomplete picture of human rights in many of the countries which allows us to say that no risk arises in a particular country. In the case of Ghana, that is manifestly untrue and the Secretary of State should indicate that he does not intend to place that country on the list. I beg to move.


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