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House of Lords

Wednesday, 23rd June 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Kosovo: Sexual Violence Report

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take following the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) Report on sexual violence in Kosovo.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the report of the United Nations Population Fund recommends a programme of comprehensive support for victims of sexual violence in Kosovo, both in the medium and the long term. The Government recognise the importance of this issue. To that end, the Department for International Development is funding programmes of activities in Macedonian and Albania for Kosovo refugees, implemented in co-ordination with a range of organisations, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Children's Fund, the World Food Programme and NGOs. The programmes aim to provide a comprehensive range of reproductive healthcare services and psychosocial support for Kosovar refugee women. The Government will consider the case for funding further programmes within Kosovo, based on an assessment of need.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Does she agree with me that young women and girls are vulnerable in the very best of circumstances, but that, in the aftermath of a bitter and vicious conflict, they are particularly at risk? Therefore, can she assure me that high priority will be given to safeguarding these young women and girls from further atrocities? Can my noble friend also assure me that adequate medical and counselling services will be available? When I say "medical services", I include such services as emergency contraception and facilities for termination where pregnancy results.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that young girls and women are particularly vulnerable in a post-conflict situation. It is for that reason that the Department for International Development has given a very high priority to ensuring that health services are restored in Kosovo. In the long term, we are looking to ensure that adequate services are provided in all areas of Kosovo, both in the cities and in the rural areas. However, in the short term, I am sure that my noble friend will understand that although we are trying to make sure that structures are put in place, it may not be possible to provide medical and counselling services in the range and of the quality that

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we should like to see. But that is certainly part of our long-term aim. As I said in my original Answer, we have provided specific services in Macedonia and Albania.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the inquiry carried out by Dame Anne Warburton in Bosnia in, I believe, 1993 to 1994 is being drawn upon in this matter? Those conducting the inquiry gained a great deal of experience of the very particular problems of young Moslem women who have been raped and who can never face that fact.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are considering how the experience of Bosnia and some of the reports that emerged from that situation can be applied in the case of Kosovo. Some of the reports that I have read in relation to these issues are extremely distressing, but certainly some of the early comparisons show that, although women in Kosovo were held captive, they were held for shorter periods than was the case for women in Bosnia. However, that does mean that the trauma suffered by those women was in any way less.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell me whether it is correct that the provision of emergency reproductive health supplies currently being supplied by IPPF and UNFPA will dry up in about five months' time? If that is true, can she give the House any details about how funding will be provided in the future and about the distribution of such items?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, we are ensuring that adequate health services, including reproductive health services, are put in place. That is a funding priority. The Government recently announced an additional £50 million for Kosovo. We shall keep that amount under continual review. We realise that as refugees return and as we become more aware of ways of supporting refugee women and girls, we shall need to reconsider the projects that we are funding and the support that we are giving to NGOs in this area. As I say, we shall keep the question of supplies under review.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the report is horrific. As the Minister knows, there are several training programmes--one is under the auspices of the Council of Europe--to help to rehabilitate these unfortunate traumatised victims. Have the Government considered consulting the fine expertise of, for example, the Institute of Psychiatry in Denmark Hill, which is probably the finest institution of its kind in the world?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have funded the WHO which has in turn funded a mobile medical team which is considering mental health in this context. It is drawing on expertise from a number of different countries. I am not sure whether it has drawn on the expertise of the Institute of Psychiatry, but I shall be happy to find out about that and write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that the United Nations and other agencies

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involved will bear in mind the marked cultural differences and the strength of the Kosovar family and clan system which may be helpful in avoiding unnecessary abortions?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we always try to ensure that we take on board the circumstances of the countries in which we work. The UN organisations have taken that point on board. One of our concerns is that despite strong family ties, women who have been raped have been reluctant to come forward because of the impact that that would have on their families. We need to work with both the families and individual women. Sometimes the culture and the family system make it difficult for such women to return. However, this is something that we are taking on board.

UNHCR: Former Yugoslavia

2.45 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is receiving adequate support and recognition for its humanitarian work in the former Yugoslavia.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is the internationally designated lead agency responsible for co-ordinating the humanitarian response in the current crisis. We have worked since the beginning to try to support and improve its efforts. This support includes airlifts, truck convoys and provision of key personnel. The Government recognise that UNHCR will need more resources to carry out the tasks required of it. We are exploring with UNHCR what further help we can provide.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that encouraging statement of confidence in UNHCR which, apart from its work in Kosovo, has to support 22 million people around the world. Can the noble Baroness explain why British contributions to UNHCR seem to have fallen rather drastically from 1996 to 1998, from 53 million down to 28 million? Why do Her Majesty's Government prefer to make contributions in Kosovo in kind rather than in cash? Is this because they agree with the rather harsh verdict of the Select Committee on International Development that UNHCR failed to provide effective co-ordination or to prepare adequately for the present crisis in Kosovo?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I listened carefully to the figures which the noble Earl mentioned. The figures that I have show a fall from about 36 million to 25 million. I shall check those figures with the noble Earl. We have allocated £5.37 million to UNHCR in the form of in-kind contributions to deal with the immediate Kosovo crisis. There have been criticisms of UNHCR, particularly by the Select Committee but also by Oxfam.

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UNHCR recognises that it did not perform well, particularly in the early stages of the crisis. The UK Government's position has always been clear; namely, that UNHCR is the lead agency in charge and we have offered it whatever support we can to ensure that it works effectively in the region. We want to work with UNHCR to improve and increase its effectiveness. That is one of the matters we have considered in the context of our strategy to examine UN institutions overall. In the longer term, clearly we shall be able to learn from the way in which UNHCR has managed the current crisis, but it is our view that with support it can take this matter forward. We intend to give it every support.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, can the noble Baroness advise the House to what extent the UNHCR is responsible for medical aid and medical services in Kosovo? I declare an interest in that my wife's daughter, my stepdaughter, is a qualified British GP, presently serving as a volunteer with an organisation called MERLIN, Medical Emergency Relief International, in Albania. She has just been either "hijacked" or seconded to the UNHCR, which is desperately short of qualified doctors. Can the Minister comment on the general situation?

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