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10.25 am

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I shall be brief, so that other hon. Members have a chance to contribute. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), although I will probably damn her future political prospects by saying that I agree with almost every word that she said. I intend to refer briefly to two points--verification and enforcement. As I pointed out in the intervention that the hon. Lady kindly allowed me to make, the value of an International Criminal Court is that it allows not only the possibility of retribution and deterrence, but verification that the atrocities have indeed occurred.

The searing experience of the Nuremberg trials set on record more than 20 volumes of evidence of bestial depravity committed by the Nazi regime. I will never forget seeing a short film, "A Painful Reminder", which I commend to hon. Members, made by Sidney Bernstein and Alfred Hitchcock when the concentration camps were opened. They went to the camps and made a filmed record of what they saw. They even anticipated that, one day, people would deny that those horrors had taken place. Shortly before he died, Lord Bernstein gave an interview in which he explained that they had thought ahead and filmed with the widest angle camera shots they could, to make it as difficult as possible for the people who would one day wish to commit those crimes again to deny that their political allies had committed them in the past. That was before we had the obscenity of neo-Nazi historians such as David Irving in this country,

27 Oct 1999 : Column 941

Ernst Zundel in Canada and Fred Leuchter in the United States of America trying to deny the holocaust. Verification is extremely important.

Enforcement is also important. It may cause some problems, but they should not prevent us from proceeding. The first problem is that of the criminal who is so strong that no one dares try him. It was argued at Nuremberg that the trials were "victors' justice". People still ask today how it was fair that the Soviets could sit in judgment when their regime was responsible for as many deaths and murders as the Nazi regime. We have recently had the visit of the Chinese President. One day, when those people are no longer in power, they may find themselves in the dock. My answer to that point is that being unable to bring everyone to justice does not mean that no one should be brought to justice.

The second problem is if the criminal is protected locally. Walter Rauff lived out his days in south America, even though he invented the vans which served as mobile gas chambers. People knew where he was and he was even interviewed for magazines, but he was never brought to justice. Mladic and Karadzic are still in Bosnia and nobody has yet sought to arrest them, presumably for political reasons rather than issues of justice. Alois Brunner, whom I have mentioned several times in the Chamber with a nil response from the Foreign Secretary on each occasion, was the man who assisted Eichmann in the holocaust in France--and he is still believed to be living in Syria under his pseudonym of Georg Fischer. Nothing is being done.

Finally, there is the problem that a criminal in government may be deterred from standing down if he does not feel he will get an amnesty if he ceases to be in government. My answer to that is simple: he should stay at home. General Pinochet might have found it useful to follow that advice. If this court is going to be made to work--as it can and must be made to work--it must be even-handed in the application of its practice, and dictators of left and right with blood on their hands must be brought to account impartially.

10.29 am

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I shall begin by adding my congratulations to the Minister on his new appointment. I am especially delighted as he is a former constituent of mine, and I like to see my boys doing well.

My main interest in terms of human rights has always been to examine the factors that lead to the abuse of those rights, and to crimes against humanity. My aim is to find ways to prevent abuse occurring in the first place. The task is awesome and involves many factors, such as relief of poverty, conflict prevention and fair trade conditions.

In the past two and a half years, I and other members of the Select Committee on International Development have travelled extensively. There is not time for all the stories that I could tell: suffice it to say that the blood-curdling and heart-rending stories from Rwanda, southern Sudan and Kosovo were enough to make me realise that, as well as trying to find ways to prevent such crimes against humanity, we must ensure justice for the victims and make certain that the aggressors are brought to justice.

That is why we Liberal Democrats were delighted that, after much pushing and prodding--and despite rumours that the United States was trying to stop us--the United Kingdom eventually signed up to the ICC in Rome last

27 Oct 1999 : Column 942

year. The treaty is probably imperfect, as the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) said, but it contains safeguards against malicious prosecution. There is provision for a pre-trial chamber that is independent of the prosecutor, and other safeguards will govern the length of time for which a person can be held. The sooner we ratify the treaty and begin the discussions on how it will work, the sooner we will be able to iron out the problems.

I am reminded very much of the problems that we had with the ratification of the land mine treaty. Many rumours circulated at that time to the effect that the US was trying to prevent us signing. In the end, I suspect that the United Kingdom signed up to that treaty because the French bounced us into it. Perish the thought that that should happen this time.

Must we experience the same delay with the ICC? Many agencies accuse the Government of being influenced by the United States. Other countries are not ratifying the treaty because we have not ratified it. That is a chicken-and-egg problem that we must get to grips with--once Britain ratifies the treaty, other countries will follow.

As the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said, we must be among the first 60 states to ratify the treaty so that we will belong to the assembly of state parties that will draw up the rules of procedure and evidence about which the hon. Member for Tatton is so worried. As the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) said, we must ratify the treaty to set an example to next month's Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Will the Minister tell the House what line the Government intend to take with the United States? That country's refusal to sign the treaties on nuclear test bans and land mines shows that it will not sign any international treaty at present. The cold war is over, but the United States does not know how to behave in the new world. Its excuse in this case is that there would be malicious prosecution of its military personnel, but safeguards against that are built into the treaty. For example, the UN Security Council has the power to halt any prosecution indefinitely. Moreover, if the US prosecuted one of its own nationals, the ICC would have no jurisdiction anyway, so what is the problem?

We have received many assurances from the Foreign Secretary that we will ratify this treaty, but the time for such assurances is over. We must ratify the treaty, and I hope that the Minister will tell the House that proposals to that effect will be included in the Queen's Speech.

10.34 am

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I shall be very brief, as I have only one substantive point to make. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) referred to the dangers of selective justice, and the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) mentioned the dangers of creating scapegoats. I believe that another danger exists, to which the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) alluded. That is that, in any conflict, there is always the risk that those on the winning side will determine the rules of the continuation of the conflict by other means.

I am worried by what the proceedings in the tribunal in The Hague have revealed. Reference was made to an apparent injustice suffered by a Croat who allegedly carried out war crime against Muslims. However,

27 Oct 1999 : Column 943

although leading members of the Bosnian Serb side have been indicted, either in public or in secret, the commander-in-chief of the Croatian forces responsible for atrocities against Serbs and Muslims is lauded around the world.

That commander is Mr. Franjo Tudjman, who visited this country for the VE day celebrations, and other purposes. As far as I know, no country in western Europe has tried to bring a war crimes action against him, even though he is implicated in the atrocities carried out in Bosnia in that period almost as much--or as much--as many of the other senior figures. I am a strong advocate of the International Criminal Court, and I want the Government to ratify the treaty as soon as possible, but we must look with honesty at the way in which the process has been handled over recent years.

It is good that Croatia's courts have now prosecuted Dinko Sadjik, the former commandant of the Jasenovac concentration camp. That came about as a result of international pressure. In order to get into the Council of Europe, among other things, Croatia had to be seen to do something about a man who went back to Croatia and said that it represented the flowering of the Ustasa state that he had supported and worked for in the 1940s.

I believe that we must start asking questions about the atrocities committed by the Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims, as well as by the Bosnian Serbs. We must ask those questions in an even-handed way, or the ICC will be seen--as The Hague tribunal is already seen by some people--to be the plaything of one side in the conflict.

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