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Burma (Human Rights)

6. Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South): If he will exert pressure on the Burmese regime to respect the human rights of the Burmese people. [112874]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): The whole House is appalled by the human rights violations and the lack of democracy in Burma. That includes killings, rape, torture, forced relocation, forced labour, political detentions and a lack of press freedoms. The Government take every opportunity to condemn those violations and to urge the regime to change the situation.

Ms Southworth: I thank my hon. Friend for taking that position. It is essential that we speak out on behalf of the Burmese people and in defence of human rights internationally. Will the Government use their partnership with the International Labour Organisation to take every opportunity to ensure that the Burmese regimes end forced labour?

Mr. Battle: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Forced labour is one of the large number of human rights

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violations. A 1998 ILO report, which highlighted its use, made clear recommendations for the regime to implement, but they have done absolutely nothing about that. However, we shall raise the matter at the March Governing Body of the ILO, which meets at the end of this week, and continue to put pressure on the regime over the use of direct forced labour.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Is not the despicable catalogue of malpractices of the Burmese regime mirrored across the border in the People's Republic of China? Is it not the case that Burma at least does not threaten its neighbours as China threatens Taiwan and the exercise of Taiwanese democracy? Could not the Government be consistent in their application of an ethical foreign policy? Were they to be so, they might get some praise, and justifiably so.

Mr. Battle: The crucial difference is that the Burmese regime has locked up the democratically elected opposition and will not engage in conversation with them at all. Let me make it clear that at least the Chinese regime is willing to enter into dialogue and discuss human rights. We believe that we should have critical engagement, and have raised with China Tibet, democratisation, freedom of religion, torture, judicial independence, political detainees, Falun Gong and many other issues. Only recently, and as a result of our pressure, we achieved agreement that the all-party group on Tibet can now visit Tibet. The death penalty panel will discuss a strategy for the abolition of capital punishment and we have established a working group of experts on the ratification of the two United Nations human rights covenants. We are making progress to get China to change, but there is no way forward in Burma because the regime will not enter into critical engagement. I hope that the Opposition might at least acknowledge that there is a difference between the two situations.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): On human rights, will my hon. Friend make representations on behalf of Mr. U Aung Khin, who was arrested in 1989 by the military authorities and sent to Insein prison? He appears to have disappeared without trace. I have written twice to the embassy asking for information, but it has declined to reply. We must not allow people to disappear without trace.

Mr. Battle: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I will raise that matter with our embassy staff in Rangoon. We will work with our European Union partners for a resolution even tougher than last year's to be adopted at the forthcoming UN Commission on Human Rights meeting. Individual cases will represent some of the reasons for toughening our approach.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Will the Minister tell the House what plans he has to ban investment in Burma by British companies?

Mr. Battle: In June 1997, the Government announced that they would not encourage UK companies to trade or invest in Burma. We suspended all financial support for trade missions to Burma and for trade promotions activities in Burma. British companies that inquire about trade with Burma are informed of the dire political

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situation, its appalling human rights record and the poor state of the economy. Those are effective sanctions. We did all that as soon as we came into government. It is interesting that the Conservative Government did nothing to raise the issue or to take any action to try to change the situation in Burma.


7. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): If he will make a statement on relations with Mongolia. [112875]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle): Our relations with Mongolia are particularly strong. The Mongolian Prime Minister visited the United Kingdom as a guest of Government from 27 February to 3 March. I understand that the hon. Gentleman visited Mongolia as part of the Inter- Parliamentary Union team. I understand also that it was a successful visit.

Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he join me in welcoming the Mongolian delegation, which is visiting Parliament this week, following the successful visit by the Prime Minister last week?

Will the hon. Gentleman congratulate Mongolia on its determination to remain a beacon of pluralistic, democratic free marketeering--surrounded as it is by China on one side and by Russia on the other? In trying to preserve that beacon to the rest of that part of the world, will the Minister seek ways of encouraging mutual exchanges of students from Mongolia to the UK and, to a lesser extent, from the UK to Mongolia?

Mr. Battle: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The delegation of 10 Mongolian MPs who are here now is most welcome. I hope perhaps to meet them tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) has established an all-party group on UK-Mongolia relations. The sixth UK-Mongolia round table is scheduled for 8 to 10 May, when there will be discussions on commerce, the environment and education. We support Chevening scholarships to allow the exchange to take place. I think that the scholarships have been extended to a further two. The spirit of the hon. Gentleman's question is welcome.

We also support, through the EU TACIS programme with Mongolia, funds to help the country's move towards democracy and the opening up of its economy--I think some 30 million euros are now in that programme. We shall continue that positive support.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): My hon. Friend will know that every one of the Mongolian MPs who is visiting the UK has said that the prime objective is to learn from this country about democracy while they are here. Will he make sure that every support is given to that objective? Will he ensure also, through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, that the UK does everything possible to ensure that the steps towards democracy are not hindered by the tragedy of the appalling weather conditions which have led to the death of so much livestock in Mongolia?

Mr. Battle: As I said, my hon. Friend has been active in establishing an all-party group. He led the delegation

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to Mongolia, and I was grateful for his report-back. The answer is yes. We want to do all that we can to encourage understanding of democracy. The Mongolian MPs have a full programme and I understand that they are visiting the House tomorrow. They are meeting a range of people who have views on our system of democracy. I shall pass on my hon. Friend's message to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, to ascertain whether we can continue our efforts.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I am sure that the Minister is well aware that the Mongolian economy was much affected by the collapse of the Russian economy. The fact that Russia took troops home from Mongolia also took quite a lot out of the economy. Will the hon. Gentleman consider what we can do in this country to develop trade links to help Mongolia with its mining industry--I understand that it has considerable mineral deposits? Will he have conversations about how the economy, being improved, will back up the excellent democracy that Mongolia now has?

Mr. Battle: I remind the hon. Gentleman that a trade and economic agreement has been in place between Mongolia and the European Union since 1997. It has granted Mongolia most-favoured status for most of its products. The sixth UK-Mongolia round table--it was originally intended as a bi-annual event--which was postponed owing to Mongolia's internal political troubles in 1998-99, is now back up and running, and is scheduled for 8 to 10 May. It will cover themes of bilateral interest, especially commerce and trade, and I think it will be a productive meeting.


8. Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): If he will make a statement on his recent talks with the Foreign Minister of Iran. [112876]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Dr. Kharrazi's visit in January was the first official visit to Britain by a Foreign Minister of Iran since the revolution 20 years ago. His visit enabled us to take forward our co-operation in areas of mutual concern such as the drugs trade. We are now contributing more than £1 million to assist Iran in combating the drugs trade. I impressed on Dr. Kharrazi the importance that we attach to Iran's commitment concerning Salman Rushdie, and our concern about a number of issues, including the continuing detention without trial of members of the Jewish community and others.

The subsequent elections in Iran produced an impressive majority for reform. The clear mandate of the people of Iran for modernisation justifies our strategy of critical dialogue with those in Iran who want to engage with the modern world.

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful for that answer, but will my right hon. Friend think carefully before agreeing to visit Iran? Will he bear in mind that the Government of Iran continue to provide funding, weapons and training for terrorist groups opposed to the middle east peace process? Will he also consider the case of the 13 Jews in

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Shiraz, who were arrested on apparently dubious charges of espionage? Are they not entitled to proper legal representation and to a fair trial that is open to international observers?

Mr. Cook: I assure my hon. Friend that I share his anxiety. I impressed on Dr. Kharrazi the importance that we attach to the middle east peace process and the severe damage that would be done not only to the peace process, but to relations between Iran and the rest of the world if anything were done to disrupt that peace process.

I pressed Dr. Kharrazi on the question of the remaining Jewish detainees. I am pleased that three were subsequently released on bail and that a trial date has now been set. We shall do everything possible to ensure that the trial is fair and open.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): Did Iran's Foreign Minister say that his Government support the middle east peace process? If they do, should not the Government of Iran recognise the state of Israel?

Mr. Cook: I very much hope that the Government of Iran will eventually recognise the state of Israel; that would plainly be expected as Iran engages with the outside the world. However, I have to admit that, no, I did not get a statement of Iran's support for the peace process. I hope that the new mandate will ensure that the Government of Iran listen to those of us who urge restraint on them so that they do not disrupt the peace process.

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