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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, along with the Minister with responsibility for Africa, my noble Friend Baroness Amos, hold regular meetings with leaders of the African Union, and the Government are active in supporting the New Partnership for Africa's Development in all its contacts with those leaders.
Mr. Griffiths: We have just discussed the tragic example of Zimbabwe, where Africa's democracy and human rights are being flouted in an almost unprecedented way. However, there have been successful elections in countries such as Sierra Leone, and others such as Angola and Sudan are emerging from terrible civil wars. In the light of those examples, will my hon. Friend ensure that our Government and the EU will provide the fullest support to strengthen democratic structures, and to ensure that human rights are observed as part of the package for improving the economies of those countries?
Mr. MacShane: The answer is yes, but let us welcome the African Union itself. The union's declaration on the principles governing democratic elections in Africa includes free and fair elections, free association and impartial electoral institutions. If only those principles had been observed in Zimbabwe, the tragedy that we have just discussed would not have taken place. It is for Africa to shape its own future; it is not for the west to impose any particular values or ideas. We welcome what the African Union is doing.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): Does the Minister agree that the New Partnership for Africa's Development would stand a greater chance of success if the Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria, among others, wholeheartedly condemned the abuses of democracy and human rights, and not least the current sheer theft of assets in Zimbabwe?
Mr. MacShane: I rather think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did just that. However, the African Union would have had a much greater chance of success if the Leader of the Opposition had made even just one
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Given the terrible situation in Africa in relation to HIV/AIDS, what role does my hon. Friend believe that the partnership can play in tackling the spread of this dreadful disease?
Mr. MacShane: That is undoubtedly the biggest single challenge facing Africa, and it is one to which this Governmentalong with partners around the world and in Africa itselfhave pledged real material resources. The issue will of course be raised at the forthcoming Johannesburg summit on sustainable development. I can think of no greater current challenge to humanity than ridding Africa, in particular, of the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): What encouragement can the hon. Gentleman give the people of southern Africa, where there is now so much suffering, that the worthy objectives of the African Unionto promote peace, security and stability on the continentwill be translated into concrete commitment by member nations? What actions does he foresee the international community taking through NEPAD to ensure that those objectives are met?
Mr. MacShane: At the G8 summit in Kananaskis, there were commitments to a serious development partnership. I think it is fair to say that the Government have been working more seriously than any western or northern Government in supporting the world summit in Johannesburg on sustainable development. We are trying to break down the trade barriers against African goods in both the European Union and north America. Our commitment is to trade and economic growth, providing the material basis for a more secure and peaceful future for all the peoples of Africa.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Government of Saudi Arabia are well aware of her Majesty's Government's complete condemnation of terrorism, including suicide bombings. The Government of Saudi Arabia have made clear their rejection of terrorism, including in relation to the middle east peace process.
Dr. Lewis: I agree with everything that the Foreign Secretary said, but given that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is so sensitive and important, is he not gravely concerned that on 13 April the Saudi ambassador, Ghazi Algosaibi stated:
There's no need for a referendum or a 'Fatwa'.
The Day of Jihad is the Day of Blood.";
"far more severe than anything the Germans did when they occupied Europe in World War Two";
Mr. Straw: As I made clear, we disagree profoundly with the Saudi ambassador and we believe that terrorism, including suicide bombing, is to be condemned and that there is no comparison between what happened during the Nazi occupation of the whole of Europe and what is happening in Israel and the occupied territories.
Mr. Straw: As I indicated in my opening statement, the Government of Saudi Arabia have made clear their rejection of terrorism, and the quotation that my hon. Friend has just read out is confirmation of that.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): In condemning terrorist atrocities in the middle east, will my right hon. Friend condemn the two terrorist acts against Israeli Jews last week, which resulted in the loss of innocent life, and, equally, the terrorist act carried out by Israeli forces in Gaza yesterday, which resulted in the death of eight innocent children as part of a state-targeted assassination? Will my right hon. Friend ascertain that no British equipment was involved in an action that was organised, to his shame, by the Israeli Minister of Defence and leader of the Labour party?
Mr. Straw: As I made clear, we condemn all terrorist acts, including those to which my right hon. Friend has just referred. I issued a statement in which I said that I regard the action taken by the Israeli defence force as wholly unjustifiable and unacceptable. It is not acceptable that innocent people, especially innocent children, should be killed as a result of military operations of that kind.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has no plans to visit Bahrain at present. However, my right
Mr. Clapham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, and am pleased to hear that he and the Prime Minister are meeting the King of Bahrain tomorrow. My hon. Friend will be aware that, since 1999, Sheikh Hamad has introduced widespread democratic reforms, including greater transparency, greater accountability, equality between the sexes and respect for human rights, particularly rights for women. Women can now stand as candidates in local and general elections as well as voting in them. Does my hon. Friend agree that our close relationship with Bahrain gives us the opportunity of extending the influence of democratic development and combating the conflicts in the middle east and the Gulf area in particular, without having to enter into ill-considered meddling in other people's affairs?
Mr. O'Brien: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we continue to support development of human rights and democratic values in the middle east. Indeed, in respect of Bahrain, we have offered advice and expertise, particularly on citizenship education. Our embassy held a conference, aimed at promoting citizenship education, which was open to the media, NGOs, Government Ministries and other bodies. We have sponsored visits to the United Kingdom for leading Bahrainis to learn about UK democracy and issues such as human rights and freedom of the press. We have provided the Bahraini Government with information on electoral boundaries, systems of government and trade unions. We welcome steps taken by the Bahraini Government to progress towards a constitutional monarchy and a democratic state. In the context of the middle east, those are very welcome developments.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): When my hon. Friend meets the King of Bahrain, will he congratulate the Government and people of Bahrain on showing that the Arabian peninsula does not have to be dominated by 14th century attitudes to women, repression of minorities and apologists for terrorism, but can be a beacon for democracy and human rights throughout the Arab world?
Mr. O'Brien: Human rights have indeed improved dramatically in Bahrain in recent years. There are now no political prisoners and exiles have been allowed to return. We maintain a constructive dialogue on a number of issues with the Bahrainis. Bahrain is in many ways providing a lead to show that it is possible to create a more democratic state in the middle east that can participate in the international community with its head held high.