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Lord McNair: My Lord, if I may intervene briefly, I did not say that Mr. John Garang's misdemeanours let the government off the hook but that we needed a two-sided debate and it was important to realise that these human rights abuses were committed by both sides.
Lord Avebury: My Lord, it is the state which is responsible for the rule of law, not the opposition or some person who sets himself up as an alternative to the government in one part of the country. I should have thought that my noble friend would have read Mr. Gladstone's famous letter to Lord Aberdeen about the Bourbon regime in Naples in which he made this point very clear. But I do not want to be diverted by that because I do not have time to do more than cover the human rights abuses that now occur in Burma about which all of the human rights NGOs and UN agencies that have looked at the matter have reached similar conclusions. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch Asia and particularly the UN special rapporteur, Judge Rajsoomer Lallah, have all published detailed reports on the gross and persistent violations that have been committed ever since the SLORC came to power. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that it does not matter what they call themselves. Unlike the rose, this regime has a nasty smell whatever name it chooses to use.
The SLORC does not allow any investigation by the international bodies that I have mentioned inside the country. The UN rapporteur has just told the UN Third Committee that he has been unable to gain the co-operation of the Government of Myanmar in the two and a half years since his appointment. The special rapporteur says that the absence of democracy is at the root of all the major violations of human rights in the country. There is no accountability and the structure of power rests on the denial and repression of fundamental
The special rapporteur says that there are violations of the right to freedom of movement and residence including the right to leave and re-enter one's own country, some of which are racially based. He says that internal deportations and forced relocations violate freedom of movement and residence and in some cases constitute discriminatory practices based on ethnic considerations. Some of the thematic rapporteurs are also heavily critical of Myanmar, while others simply note the conclusions of the special country rapporteur. There would be no point in a separate investigation by the rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers because the regime does not even pretend that the courts are independent. The special rapporteur on violence against women reports that debt bondage is used to control women and that women and girls from Myanmar typically "serve" six men per day, 25 days a month and earn one dollar a day in the prostitution industry. She says that officials of both Myanmar and Thailand are involved in trafficking women from one country to the other, and she quotes a report which claims that girls are transported into Thailand by policemen in uniform, armed and often in police vehicles. Mrs. Khin Htay Kyu of the Burmese Women's Union says that women suffer under the SLORC as men do, but face additional sexual abuse when imprisoned. She claims that ethnic cleansing has forced women out of some rural areas and into Thailand's sex industry. She reports that the SLORC's soldiers are told to rape women from ethnic minorities in a systematic effort to destroy their people's identity. That has echoes of what we know about Bosnia. Presumably none of the special rapporteurs or working groups have tried to get an invitation to visit Burma, in the light of the country rapporteurs' experience of refusal. Should not they formally ask the SLORC to let them in so that the position would be on the record? Will the Government propose that at the next meeting of the Human Rights Commission?
One of the effects of the human rights disaster in Burma is the pressure, as has been mentioned, of refugees on other countries in the region. Human Rights Watch Asia reported in August about the continuing
I realise that the UNHCR has no presence on the border, as other noble Lords have said, but the Burma Border Consortium might be asked to help with that survey. Speaking of oil, UK-based Premier Oil is negotiating, or may already have completed negotiations, to buy out Texaco's stake in the Yetagun oilfield, which would make it the second largest investor in Burma. That indicates that the advice being given to British companies by the Foreign Office is not strong enough. I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government would consider proposing urgently a mandatory ban on investment by EU companies, to bring Europe into line with the US. Why is it that so often dictatorships receive mixed signals, when part of the democratic world is trying to impose restrictions while others opportunistically try to step in to grab the business?
The Yadana pipeline, which brings gas from the Andaman sea deposits across Burma into Thailand, led to massive attacks on the local people in Tennasserim in which thousands of people were killed, and even more displaced, many of them over the border into Thailand. Total, the main partner in that development, says that the company applies the same standards in Myanmar as in the other parts of the world where it operates, particularly as regards human rights. I am not aware that Total has any general policy on human rights, and its comment upon what it admits are tragic events in that area is that they are merely a continuation of the ethnic insurgency which started before independence. It does not see that petroleum developments tend to bring troops into the area, and thus may be indirectly the cause of human rights abuses in the country.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am sorry about that. I was going to mention the association of the Burmese regime with the drug problem. I shall conclude by saying that we should not have any dialogue with people who are associated with the drug peddling mass murderers in charge of Burma. We should do our utmost
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, human rights are at the centre of the Government's foreign policy. This is not an issue which can be put into a special box to be taken out and examined only when the situation absolutely demands. Human rights are an integral part of our policy formulation, informing all our decisions.
In raising her Question, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has drawn attention to two of the most repressive and authoritarian foreign regimes in the world. I applaud the sustained interest which the noble Baroness and other noble Lords have taken in the appalling human rights situation in Burma and Sudan. I thank her warmly for introducing the debate tonight, even at this late hour.
The Government strongly share the concerns expressed this evening. It may be useful if I outline the situation on the ground in Burma and Sudan and explain how the Government are translating their concern into action for the benefit of the peoples of these two benighted countries. Let me first address the situation in Burma.
The sad fact is that the track record of the Burmese authorities remains deplorable, as the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Avebury, said. Their gross violations of human rights continue. Under their stewardship the Burmese economy has seen the free market exchange rate for the kyat lose over 70 per cent. of its value since April. The ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was formally dissolved on 15th November. But this was no cause for rejoicing: it has been succeeded by an equally unelected and unaccountable body, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). We can all understand why the SLORC wanted to change its name, but regrettably it has not changed its nature. Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy remain tireless champions for democracy in Burma despite the appalling harassment to which they and other pro-democracy groups continue to be subjected collectively and individually, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, illustrated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has rightly drawn particular attention to the plight of Burma's ethnic and religious minorities. I strongly share those concerns. There are widespread reports of forced labour and forced relocations, particularly in Karen and Karenni and Shan states. The brutality of the Burmese authorities is deplorable. Following a Burmese army offensive against the Karen earlier this year, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 refugees fled into Thailand. In response to my noble friend Lord Jenkins, I must say that the Minister
I turn to some of the specific points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The problem of refugees needs to be tackled from both sides of the border. There are now some 110,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand. Her Majesty's ambassador in Bangkok has urged the Thais to provide necessary shelter and protection for refugees. He did so most recently in response to the displacement on 15th November, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, drew particular attention. Since 1992, we have provided £630,000 in humanitarian aid for Burmese refugees.
Access to ethnic and religious minorities in remote areas within Burma remains difficult. We are proud to have developed a close working relationship with non-governmental organisations, particularly those working on the Thai-Burma border. I pay tribute to their dedication and tenacity under very difficult circumstances.
This pooling of knowledge and expertise is invaluable in helping us to take swift action where necessary in support of human rights in Burma. We seize every suitable opportunity to do so. For example, noble Lords may be aware of the instrumental role Her Majesty's Government have played in negotiating with EU partners a package of political measures on Burma. We see strong arguments for adopting still further measures to increase the pressure on the SPDC for change. There is at present, however, no consensus for this among EU partners. Her Majesty's Government have therefore shown a lead within Europe by adopting, unilaterally, a suspension of government financial support to companies for trade missions to Burma and trade promotion activities within Burma. We shall continue to press for EU-wide implementation.
But there is another side to that coin: we want to do more to help relieve the suffering which Burmese government policies cause to ordinary Burmese people. We are encouraging our EU partners to consider drawing up a package of "positive measures" to strengthen civil society in Burma--and to reinforce the excellent humanitarian work which is already being done. We are discussing with our friends in the NGO community how best to take forward this further important British initiative.
There is also a convincing case for keeping Burma high on the agenda for intergovernmental discussions. Ministers regularly compare notes with their counterparts in key foreign and Commonwealth countries and international organisations on the political and human rights situation in Burma. This includes members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which Burma acceded earlier this year, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, reminded us. We firmly believe that governments in Asia have an important role to play, in using their influence with the SPDC to press for reform in Burma. We continue to urge them to do so.
In answer to the points that the noble Baroness made about ASEM 2, there is no automatic link between membership of ASEAN and participation in ASEM. Expansion of ASEM must be agreed by consensus among the existing members and no consensus exists on Burmese participation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, also raised questions about the UN Fair Committee Resolution on human rights in Burma, adopted in committee by consensus. We expect adoption in the plenary session on 12th December. The UK has offered detailed contributions at each stage of the drafting process.
Several noble Lords also raised questions about the major elements and asked what more could be done in UK policy towards Burma. Ministerial statements since 1st May have unequivocally condemned abuses and called for some substantive political dialogue with opposition groups, including the ethnic minorities. There is not any sign of progress at present. The EU common position includes a full-scale arms embargo, a ban on visa issue for members of the regime and their families, a ban on defence links and aid, except, of course, humanitarian aid, and that is being renewed for a further six months at the GAC which took place on 6th October.
I turn now to the position in Sudan. Increased respect for human rights in Sudan is a centre-piece of our policy towards that country. As I explained to noble Lords recently, we have made it clear to the Government of Sudan that an improvement in relations is dependent on an improvement in the human rights situation. We want to see a peaceful, democratic Sudan where the human rights of all citizens are equally respected.
I spoke, I hope reasonably informatively, on 1st December, about the civil war in Sudan. It is clear that many of the human rights abuses reported in Sudan are linked to the civil war. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has briefed us tonight on her experiences in the war zones and the terrible sights she has seen there. Her accounts are the more compelling because she is not giving us second-hand accounts. She is telling us dispassionately but very clearly what she has seen for herself. She has not been where only the Sudanese Government sent her. She has been where she felt she had to go in order to get that clear, first-hand account. I am sure we all respect her for her courage in doing so.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan, Dr. Gaspar Biro, for whose work the Government are grateful, has also reported terrible abuses. Not only Christians suffer: all southerners not allied to the government are targeted, Moslems and Animists as well as Christians. Such unacceptable abuses take place not only in the south of the country, but also in the Nuba Mountains and eastern Sudan. Allegations have also been made against opposition forces. The displaced people living in camps around Khartoum also suffer maltreatment and the destruction of their churches and schools.
We do not accept that human rights problems in Sudan are just an unfortunate by-product of the civil war which can be ignored. Human rights must be respected even in war zones by all sides to the conflict.
Moreover, it is clear that those who raise their voice against the government, in Khartoum as elsewhere, are subject to maltreatment. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, told us and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has written to me about the beating with sticks and rubber hoses of women demonstrating against the conscription of high school graduates; and the subsequent detention of 30 of them. The UN complained to the Sudanese Government about that brutality and the British ambassador in Khartoum has also done so.
Human rights work constitutes a major part of the work of the British Embassy in Khartoum. It raises specific cases with the Sudanese authorities as well as making use of its contacts to urge greater respect for human rights and progress towards democracy in general. It stays in close touch with opposition and human rights activists in Khartoum and is supporting work to reunite families split up by abductions, about which we have heard.
We play our part in international pressure: we were a co-sponsor of the recent successful resolution in the UNGA's 3rd Committee expressing concern about the continued human rights abuses in Sudan. There is already an EU arms embargo on Sudan. A UN arms embargo is a possibility, but such measures need to gain sufficient support in the UN Security Council. It is not clear, as yet, that such a measure would gain sufficient support.
We remain very concerned about the continued refusal of the governments of both Burma and Sudan to allow access to a number of locations in their countries to relief aid and monitors. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminds us about that situation both rightly and often. We continue to press for access to all areas of Burma and Sudan, not only by aid organisations to deliver humanitarian assistance, but also by human rights monitors. We are in touch with the Commission for Human Rights in Geneva about the expected appeal for UN human rights monitors. We are also in touch with human rights NGOs about monitoring activities in the Sudan.
We continue to take the view that the best way to ensure such assistance is through operations, in the case of Sudan under the umbrella of the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan. But where there is urgent need the Department for
In answer to a specific question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we are not attracted by the example of unilateral US economic measures against the Government of Sudan. It is not the Government's policy to use such measures as tools of foreign policy. There are serious legal difficulties involved and the effect on target countries is very small.
A number of other detailed questions were raised this evening. However, in view of the lateness of the hour, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I respond to some of those points by way of correspondence. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, raised questions about the debate that we had on the Sudan on lst December. I raised those points with my officials, who are the same ones who were present on that occasion. They assure me that there was no interference whatever; indeed, I would have been extraordinarily concerned, shocked and surprised had there been any interference in the official record in Hansard on that occasion.
I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, will recognise that I have written to him concerning the points on Kenya and the Kakuma camp. I should point out to him that if he has not yet received that letter he will do so very shortly.
I believe that all of us in this House are agreed that human rights abuses in Burma and in the Sudan are truly unacceptable. The British Government have not turned a blind eye to those abuses. We have responded to the widespread concern in the country, in this House and among NGOs, about the situation in Sudan and that in Burma. In doing so, we sometimes have to act through different channels from those of NGOs: the arena of international relations involves both advantages and restrictions. But we will continue to press our concerns about human rights and related issues; and we will continue to keep under consideration other initiatives to help the human rights situations in both those countries.
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