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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. There are many questions that it is not appropriate to put in a delicate operation of this kind at present. We wish to assure the noble Lord that we support the action. We acknowledge the acute difficulties under which British troops operate in fulfilling the mandate; and we fully support the principle that all war criminals should be apprehended in the course of returning this divided area to a full civil society.
As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, peacekeeping is a difficult process. It is deeply regrettable that British soldiers should suffer casualties even if, frankly, it appears on this occasion a minor casualty. But we have gone into Bosnia to attempt to resolve the conflict and to restore and rebuild a peaceful society in that area. This is a long-term process. We, on these Benches, supported the sending of a substantial British force at an early stage. We support equally the maintenance of that force until we are confident that the situation has again become stabilised. We accept that the apprehension of other war criminals must continue to be part of SFOR's mandate.
We welcome the British contribution to SFOR. We hope that its mandate will not be ended prematurely. I wish the Minister to know that there are many questions we would like to pose but we shall refrain from so doing.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl and to the noble Lord for their discretion in the questions that they have put to me this afternoon. It is a great reassurance to Defence Ministers to have the expressions of support from both parties on the other side of the House. I will see that they are conveyed not only to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence but that they are also conveyed to the commander of British Forces in Bosnia.
The noble Earl asked me when a decision would be taken as to whether it would be necessary to extend the existing deadline for the SFOR presence in Bosnia. The answer I have to give him is that I am afraid it is too early to say. At present we are concentrating on what we need to do in the immediate future.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked me whether or not the mandate was being changed in the way in which it was being implemented. I have no knowledge of any change in the way in which the mandate is being implemented.
As regards pressure on the authorities out there, we try to make it as unrelenting as possible. But, frankly, their performance, to put it mildly, has been disappointing--and one could use much stronger language than that. Those authorities voluntarily accepted their responsibilities under the Dayton agreements and they have been seriously negligent in fulfilling them, or even in attempting to fulfil them.
In answer to the question regarding the number of indictments, my information is that up to now 75 have been issued. I am quite sure that the noble Earl is right that there is a possibility that the local populations may develop a less benign attitude, to use his phrase, towards British troops in the immediate future, and there is also a possibility of retaliation on our forces out there. I can assure him that the British commanders on the ground are well aware of that possibility and will of course be taking the necessary precautions. He is absolutely right that peacekeeping is an extremely dangerous matter unless one has well trained troops and very good equipment; and I am glad to say that thanks to the efforts of the previous Government and of this Government that is the position in which our forces find themselves in Bosnia.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that we need to try to apprehend all the war criminals because I do not think that we shall bring peace and stability to that wretched part of the world until we have succeeded in doing so.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a short question for clarification, but only if the noble Lord finds it convenient to answer. The power to arrest, to detain, indicted war criminals if one comes across them could have two meanings. Is it the power to do so if by chance one comes across them; or is it the power to seek them out to try and find them and then, coming across them, to arrest them? I am indebted to the noble Lord's statement that they must all be arrested and brought to trial. The question is marginally relevant to that consideration.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I am sure that all those of us who support the Government would wish to put on record our wholehearted endorsement of what the Secretary of State said on our behalf. We have nothing but the utmost admiration for the calibre and professionalism of our servicemen in this extremely difficult and sensitive area.
In the light of that situation, does my noble friend accept that the Government and indeed the services will have all possible support and good will in any action they find necessary to ensure that those responsible for the most appalling crimes against humanity should be brought to justice? Of course we understand that the local authorities have theoretically accepted responsibility but are doing precious little. In that situation, if it becomes necessary for us to become proactive, there will be good will from these Benches.
Perhaps I may also ask my noble friend to accept that, at a time when we are making human rights central to our foreign policy and when we are engaged in strengthening and extending NATO, the credibility of both those policies is related to the effectiveness with which we pursue our objective within Bosnia.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, not for the first time, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks. I believe it will be helpful to him if I emphasise once again that this was a NATO operation and to that extent NATO deserves the credit for it. Earlier today in another place my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence detailed some of the appalling atrocities which took place in the areas for which these men held responsibility. I will neither shock the sensibilities of this House nor detain it by repeating them, but they are to be seen in the record of the proceedings of the other place.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether it is true that one of the problems is that Karadzic, for instance, one of the chief criminals, is to be found not in our sector but in, I believe, the French sector? Does that cause problems? Presumably it is the country in whose sector these people are that would be expected by NATO to make the arrest. Is that one of the difficulties?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot answer the noble Baroness's question, for the simple reason that I do not know exactly where the gentleman concerned is, and nor am I privy to the contents of warrants that may have been issued other than those in the hands of our forces.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, I am afraid I was not here when the Minister opened the Statement, but did he not say that the local authorities were bound by the Dayton agreement? They were not represented at Dayton. Surely they were represented by Mr. Milosevic, which is another story altogether?
Are we being even-handed in this matter as between Serbs, Moslems and Croats? The Croat leader, Mr. Tudjman, was at Dayton. There have been many suspicions that the Americans have been heavily biased in favour of the Moslems.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I have to repeat what I said in my previous answer. I am not privy to the contents of the other warrants that have been issued. All I know about are the warrants that have been in the hands of Her Majesty's Forces. Obviously there are people who have been engaged in extremely unpleasant activities on behalf of each of the ethnic groups to be found in that part of the world. Beyond that, I am afraid I cannot give an answer to the noble Earl.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, first, can my noble friend confirm or deny a report in the Evening Standard today that a person not guilty of any war crime was killed during that operation? It is important that we have that information.
Secondly, can I go further than the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, on the question of how far this writ will run? Is it not a fact that there are indicted war criminals in Croatia, in Moslem Bosnia and in Greater Serbia itself? It is important that we know whether it is the policy of NATO to go into all these areas, including Serbia, to arrest indicted war criminals.
Further, may I ask the Minister what a "blind" indictment is, which we heard about on the one o'clock news? A blind indictment, as I understand it, is an indictment that nobody, including the person indicted, knows anything about.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I think he is referring to a "sealed" indictment. A sealed indictment is precisely as he describes it: it does not name publicly the person to whom it is attached. Its purpose is very simple: it is not to give them warning that someone is going to try to arrest them. As I understand it, a very small number of such indictments have been issued at the moment.
As far as my noble friend's other comments are concerned, he is absolutely right. There are people in Greater Serbia, as well as in parts of Bosnia, whom we should all like to see standing trial for these matters in front of the International Court of Justice as soon as possible.
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