Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-68)|
MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
60. Coming back to the Middle East conflict.
Some commentators are depressingly predicting the cycle of violence
is likely to continue regardless of any peace process until either
side is so sick of the carnage they are creating that they will
be forced back to the table by their respective communities. I
just wonder if you have a comment on that? Secondly, on the future
of Chairman Yasser Arafat, in view of the fact that he now seems
to be squeezed by all sides, the United States, from his own people
and from Hamas, so what future has he got?
(Mr Straw) The situation in the Middle East, in Israel
and in the Occupied Territories, is extremely depressing. The
last year, since intifada began on 28 September of last
year, has been one of increasing despair, occasionally punctuated
by some hope but then the cycle of violence getting worse. We
have to recognise that reality but draw from that strength and
hopefully convey this strength to those in the region to redouble
their efforts for peace but peace is made more difficult on both
sides. The advocates of peace are weakened by this continuing
cycle of violence until a point is reached, on both sides, where
people say "We cannot go on". I am sad to say we have
seen this in other countries, we have seen it in Afghanistan.
61. Does he have a future?
(Mr Straw) I am not going to predict Chairman Arafat's
future. That is a matter for the Palestinian Authority and the
people of the Occupied Territories.
62. Can we turn to human rights and the detention
of terrorist suspects. You are aware, Foreign Secretary, I am
sure, President Bush signed a Military Order to establish a tribunal
in the United States for non-US citizens suspected of international
terrorism. There has been some concern among NGOs, particularly
Amnesty International, that these tribunals would have the power
to pass death sentences without the right of appeal. I think the
New York Times also expressed some concern about what they
described as "troubling moves by the administration"
such as "secret and in some cases prolonged detention of
suspects". My question to you, Foreign Secretary, is are
you concerned about the treatment and proposed means of trial
of terrorist suspects in the United States?
(Mr Straw) We have to ensure that terrorist prisoners
of war are treated in accordance with international law. I have
seen no evidence that they have not been so far and the United
States has been very careful throughout this conflict, following
the atrocities of 11 September, to ensure that it acts within
international law. It was one of the reasons why it sought and
secured the United Nations' Security Council Resolution which
has been achieved. These crimes were committed against citizens
of the United States, as well as others, on the territory of the
United States, so the United States is entitled to take criminal
process against them in and, indeed, it is the duty of the administration
to ensure that such criminal process takes place. I have not followed
the detail of the military tribunals which may be established
on the executive order. What I do know is that the Constitution
of the United States will apply to those courts whether they are
military or not. Indeed, the United States has a very long standing
and well deserved reputation for fair treatment of suspects before
any kind of tribunal. There is a separate issue which we face
here which is how far can you bring intelligence evidence, which
is essential for a conviction, into open court.
63. We recall that, Foreign Secretary.
(Mr Straw) It is a really difficult issue.
64. On that very point, can I ask you therefore
a further point and it is on this deportation of terrorist suspects.
If we had a situation where the United Kingdom did not deport
terrorist suspects for trial in the United States, the death penalty
scenario, what conditions would there be for trial suspects here
in the United Kingdom?
(Mr Straw) It is not going to arise.
65. Is it not?
(Mr Straw) Except for somebody charged with complicity
and then here it is not going to arise in respect of Afghanistan
because I can foresee no circumstances in which somebody who has
been picked up in Afghanistan for a crime committed in the United
States has a stopover in the United Kingdom. I am sorry to appear
obtuse, Mr Chidgey, but you know what is in the Home Secretary's
Bill and why that Bill has been put forward, our concerns about
the fact that Article 3 could lead us in to a situation which
has already happened, it happened to me as Home Secretary, where
people with overwhelming evidence that they are terrorists cannot
be sent back to the requesting country and also cannot be detained
here, a ridiculous situation which we have to deal with. That
is the purpose of this Bill. I hope the Liberal Democrats recognise
the wisdom of it.
Mr Chidgey: Party committee.
66. One final area, Foreign Secretary, and it
is this. You recall that this Committee or its predecessor Committee
produced a report on Central Asia which we thought at the time
was rather a neglected area in terms of British foreign policy.
Since the crisis in Afghanistan the whole area of Central Asia
from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan have achieved some salience.
Are you in the Foreign Office having a relook at the whole interface
between the United Kingdom and the countries of Central Asia?
(Mr Straw) Yes we are.
67. What form is that taking?
(Mr Straw) First of all, it has taken many forms but
it is about raising the importance of these areas. I am sorry,
I know the report was before I was appointed to this job but Mr
Wright has told me it was indeed a very good report.
68. We thought so.
(Mr Straw) And I will read it; I have not done so
yet. Back in July we hosted a conference on Afghanistan for the
United Nations which involved 21 countries including all the "Stans".
I ensured that I had time to meet the foreign ministers of each
of the Stans who attended. Since 11 September we have increased
our diplomatic contact with those countries. I had what I thought
was an important and lengthy meeting with the foreign minister
of Uzbekistan whilst at the United Nations General Assembly three
weeks ago. I had planned to go to three or four of the Stans two
weeks ago and plans were in hand but I then decided that better
use of the immediate time I had available was to go to Iran and
Pakistan because of the needs of the moment and because I could
have a more direct effect on what then became the Bonn process
than if I had gone to the Stans. Meanwhile Geoff Hoon had gone
the previous week to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan so he dealt with
two of them. Why do you not answer, Mr Wright, it is perfectly
obvious where the note has come from!
(Mr Wright) I do not want to interrupt your thought
process, Secretary of State, but I thought it might be useful
to remind the Committee that we had already before the 11 September
had an intention to open an Embassy in Bishkek and we are pressing
ahead with that plan. Since 11 September we are looking again
at the question of whether we should open a small Embassy in Dushanbe,
Tajikistan, where up to now we have not had one, principally for
security reasons. Those security problems remain but, of course,
for the reasons you have said, there are more important reasons
now to look at the other side of the argument.
Chairman: It would be helpful for the Committee
to have a note generally at the start of the year on the whole
issue of Central Asia.
We have covered a very wide area of questions. May I again on
behalf of the Committee thank you and Mr Wright for your help.
2 See Evidence, pp Ev 31-Ev 35. Back