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10 Dec 1998 : Column WA101

Written Answers

Thursday, 10th December 1998.

China: Human Rights

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their assessment of the human rights situation in China: and what has been the impact of United Kingdom and European Union policy.[HL216]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): We continue to have many serious concerns about human rights in China. During his visit to China earlier this year, the Foreign Secretary raised these concerns with Chinese leaders, as did the Prime Minister. Recently, the Chinese Government has taken some positive steps in this field, which we have welcomed, while repeating our desire to address issues of concern through the continuing bilateral and EU/China Human Rights Dialogues.

Since the commencement of the bilateral UK/China Dialogue, and the resumption of the EU/China Human Rights Dialogue last year, China has taken several positive steps which will bring about its closer integration into the UN human rights system, and should in time help to strengthen protection of human rights in China. It has: signed the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic Social and Cultural Rights; agreed to report to the UN on Hong Kong under these two Covenants; admitted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson, as well as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and welcomed a possible visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. In addition, China has allowed a visit by a delegation of EU Troika Ambassadors to Tibet and accepted the participation in the Dialogue of critical NGOs such as Amnesty International. It is also noteworthy that the Dialogue has allowed us to discuss privately and frankly with the Chinese authorities a range of concerns from Tibet to the death penalty, freedom of association and torture.

Both Britain and the EU have now established substantial co-operation programmes with China, funded respectively by DFID and the Commission, and these seek among other things to promote judicial exchanges and legal reform.

We shall encourage the Chinese Government to ratify the International Human Rights Covenants, with as few reservations as possible, as soon as possible . We want to see further reform in China's capital punishment regime, leading ultimately to abolition, as well as improvements in its systems of detention. At the same time we shall continue to raise the cases of individuals, as we did on 2 December, when we expressed our concern to the Chinese Government at the recent detention of Mr. Xu Wenli, a prominent dissident. We look forward to discussing these and other points with the Chinese Government.

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Argentina: Arms Embargo

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there have been any new exceptions to the arms embargo in Argentina.[HL242]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: A licence has recently been issued to allow the export of nine sets of gun rings and smoke grenade launchers to be mounted on armoured personnel carriers in service with the Argentine contingent of the UN forces in Cyprus. This decision represented an exception but not a change to the arms embargo on Argentina.

State Visits and Extradition Proceedings

Lord Jopling asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are reviewing invitations to foreign nationals who have been invited to make either State or Official Visits to the United Kingdom, concerning the possibility of extradition proceedings being taken against them whilst in the United Kingdom.[HL168]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government have no plans to undertake a special review. All forthcoming State and Official Visits are kept under constant review as part of the normal preparatory process.


Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in the normalisation of diplomatic relations with Sudan.[HL162]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: When the Foreign Secretary ordered the withdrawal of British staff from our Embassy in Khartoum on 27 August 1998, he said it was a temporary withdrawal and he hoped that the necessary conditions for the return of staff would be re-established before too long. That remains our hope.

We are in regular contact with the Sudanese Government through their Embassy in London. British staff from our Embassy in Khartoum, who are currently based in Nairobi, have also made a number of visits to Sudan.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in the attainment of a general cease-fire throughout southern Sudan.[HL164]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Minister of State, Mr. Fatchett, visited Nairobi and Khartoum in July of this year and had talks with the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement. During his visit both sides announced a three-month cease-fire in Bahr al Ghazal. This cease-fire has since been extended for a further three months until mid-January 1999.

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We continue to press for a further extension to both the timescale and the geographical coverage of the cease-fire.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the reports on 10 March (HC Deb, col. 462) that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was unable to validate reports that Sudan had access to chemical weapons capabilities and on 19 March (H.L. Deb., cols. 818-820) that the Ministry of Defence and the United Nations Special Commission had also found no evidence of Iraqi transfers of weapons of mass destruction or of such technology to the Sudan, nor of chemical weapons facilities or production in Sudan, whether they now have independent evidence that this position has changed in the past seven months.[HL165]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government are concerned at allegations of the use/manufacture of chemical weapons by the Government of Sudan. We have raised these concerns with the Sudanese authorities on a number of occasions. We continue to encourage Sudan to answer these allegations by becoming a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the acquisition, development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. It is supported by a verification regime consisting of data declarations and on-site inspections.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are able independently to verify claims of genocide in Bahr al Ghazal in Southern Sudan as reported by the Daily Telegraph on 26 May 1998.[HL166]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government were gravely concerned at the reports of killings in northern Bahr al Ghazal. The situation was very complicated and the picture unclear, making it difficult to verify the facts. For example, we received reports which, while not absolving the Government of Sudan from blame, suggested that these killings should be seen in the context of a long history of tribal conflicts. It would appear from the information available to us that no one side was entirely to blame.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any evidence that any of the three suspects in the attempted assassination of President Mubarak of Egypt in June 1995, whose extradition from Sudan was called for in Security Council Resolution 1044, is at present in Sudan.[HL163]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We are not aware of the whereabouts of the three suspects.

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Iraq: Kurdish Detainees

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will do everything possible to secure the release from detention in Iraq of 429 Kurds, who have been held since the Anfal operations of 1987 and 1988; and whether they will consult the International Committee of the Red Cross on their behalf.[HL74]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Anfal operations inflicted appalling suffering on the Kurdish people in northern Iraq, including summary executions, forced displacement and arbitrary imprisonment. Her Majesty's Government have no information on the specific case raised by the noble Lord, but would pass any information received on the subject to the relevant organisations.

OSCE Summit Conference, Turkey

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will raise with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe the suitability of Turkey as host country for the organisation's summit conference in 1999.[HL105]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: On 2 December, at the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Oslo, OSCE Foreign Ministers agreed by consensus that the next OSCE summit should be held in Istanbul in 1999. The United Kingdom did not oppose this decision.

The Government do not intend to raise within the OSCE Turkey's suitability as host country for the next summit. As stated in my Written Answer to the noble Lord of 20 April 1998 (WA 189), the Government believe that holding the summit there will draw attention to Turkey's human rights record and help advance the OSCE's dialogue with Turkey on human rights.

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