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House of Lords

Thursday, 11th December 1997.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

The Kalahari Bushmen

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the article by Mr. Fred Bridgland in the Sunday Telegraph of 9th November entitled "Ordeal of the Kalahari Bushmen--forced march into oblivion", they are still satisfied that the culture of the Bushmen of the Kalahari is being adequately protected by the Government of Botswana.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Tony Lloyd, raised the issue of the Bushmen of the Kalahari when he met the Botswanan Foreign Minister on 26th October. The Government of Botswana have undertaken to give the Bushmen a genuine choice about whether to continue to live in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve or move to settlements outside the reserve. Their way of life has already changed substantially, even inside the reserve. We shall continue to press the Botswana Government to keep their promises.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply which, however, unfortunately does not coincide with a long conversation that I had this morning with Mrs. Bridgland, Sue Armstrong, who returned from the Kalahari only a month ago. In those circumstances, will the Minister find time herself to talk to Mrs. Bridgland, who can explain to her why the visit of the British High Commissioner last summer was unacceptably superficial and how these unfortunate people are having their development thrust upon them without their involvement or consent?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is not solely the British High Commissioner who has sent back a report about the Bushmen in the Kalahari. Indeed, the EU Heads of Mission accredited to Botswana meet every month and the Bushmen are a frequent topic of their discussions. As the noble Lord indicated, the British High Commissioner visited the Ghanzi and Xade areas on 22nd and 23rd May, but he was one member of a delegation which included the American and Swedish ambassadors, the Norwegian charge d'affaires and an EU official, as well as a British senior social development adviser. He was not alone in the views that he put forward. But of course the noble

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Lord has asked me to see those whom he believes to be well informed on the subject and I shall be happy to do so.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I certainly found my noble friend's Answer quite encouraging. But will she confirm that this matter arises out of a European Union reserve management plan which insists that the Bushmen are removed? If that is so, is that not a form of species cleansing which I hope we should all wish to oppose? Will the Minister use the new Government's people's ethical foreign policy to ensure that the Bushmen are not removed? Will they use their six-month presidency of the European Union to ensure that they are not removed and that they can continue their way of life as they have done since the British set up the reserves 70 years ago?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I must deal with some fundamental misconceptions here. The fact is that the Bushmen no longer maintain their traditional way of life. Some of them choose to leave the settlements and to live elsewhere, outside their usual grounds. They have more access to clean water, clinics and schools outside the reserves and many of them choose to go. But I hope that I have indicated that, not only Her Majesty's Government, but the governments of the other European Union countries are taking a constant interest in the issue; they raise it with the Botswanan Government; and we shall continue to do so during the period of our presidency.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that visits by heads of mission are not the best way to investigate possible violations of human rights because the people seeing those big-wigs descending from helicopters are not going to be exactly frank with them, particularly if they are in the presence of the host community? Does the Minister agree that, although the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples is still winding its way through the UN machinery, it provides the only yardstick by which we can judge the conduct of states towards their indigenous peoples? Therefore, will she implore the Botswanan authorities to apply that declaration in deciding on the future status and position of the Kalahari Bushmen within the community?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I have already given assurances that we shall continue to raise this matter with the Botswanan Government and to monitor closely the situation. But it is worth saying that the Botswanan Government have a good human rights record and they have provided us with clear assurances about the Bushmen, although we are still looking into their welfare on the ongoing basis that I have already described. When our High Commissioner visited the Kalahari in May, he and the others on the visit were allowed to go to the areas that they wished to go to and they met Bushmen leaders and had discussions with them. I take the point that there is

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more than one opinion on this matter. That is why I have agreed, at the request of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, to see those who have other opinions.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, can the Minister explain why, on the same day as the Department for International Development informed the House that it was aware of and concerned about the resettlement programme for Bushmen living in the central Kalahari game reserve, the Foreign Office reported no evidence that Bushmen had been forced away from the reserve? Does that not indicate a lack of liaison and co-operation between the FCO and the Department for International Development which has worrying ramifications for the presentation of a coherent British foreign policy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords; I do not accept that view. There is a world of difference between what the noble Lord suggests and having hard evidence about allegations that have been made. We have not found such hard evidence. However, on behalf of Foreign and Commonwealth Ministers and, indeed, Ministers from the Department for International Development, I have already expressed ongoing concern in the way that I answered the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and other noble Lords about our continuing vigilance on the issue. There is no hard evidence, but there certainly is a reason to continue being vigilant.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, will the Minister accept my gratitude for agreeing to meet Mrs. Armstrong?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords.

Lome Negotiations: Conflict Prevention

3.15 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are advocating for the future of Lome arrangements between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states to assist in conflict prevention.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are committed to the promotion of conflict prevention in a number of fora, including the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth. The development White Paper stresses that conflict prevention and political stability are essential for eradicating poverty.

In negotiations on an EU mandate for a future convention of Lome, we will reflect these underlying principles. We shall seek to improve political dialogue between the EU and the ACP countries. We will support an increased emphasis on policies which promote the prevention and resolution of violent conflict, such as good governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratisation.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that most helpful and encouraging reply.

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However, does she agree that it is disturbing that of 30 armed conflicts raging in the world today 13 are in Lome countries? Does my noble friend also agree that there is considerable evidence that, during the grim events of 1994 in Rwanda, the collapsing commodity prices and insensitive restructuring imposed by the international financial institutions aggravated the situation? In view of that fact, will my noble friend accept that, as the negotiations go forward, she will have all possible support from the House in ensuring that all the provisions of the agreement are examined to see how they enhance the prospect of peace and stability rather than aggravating potentially explosive situations? Further, is my noble friend aware that, during the negotiations, we will be looking to how the EU, through Lome and in other ways, can play its part in a wider international setting in getting the financial and trade arrangements right--arrangements which are essential for peace and stability?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is indeed regrettable that so much conflict exists at present in the Lome countries. I am afraid that the nature of war and violent conflict is rapidly changing. Indeed, the majority of current wars are between different parties within a single state as opposed to being between different states. I thank my noble friend for his encouragement as regards our negotiations on Lome. I can assure him that, in those negotiations, we shall be testing the proposals against one of the major strands identified by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development; namely, the issue of conflict prevention. That will certainly be in the forefront of our minds.

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