Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 738 - 759)




  738. I think we have to get on straightaway with our discussions this morning because I believe, Minister, you have to leave at 12.15. Is that right?

  (Mr Hain) Chairman, I would not want to prevent you grilling me because of that target but if that were convenient that would be ideal.

  739. We do not wish to grill you; we just wish to know what you are doing. Can I formally welcome you to the Committee and thank you very much for coming this morning. This is a subject of course in which we as the International Development Committee are very interested because of the humanitarian problems with sanctions which have emerged, notably in Iraq but elsewhere, and we want to examine and we have been examining, as your officials will have told you, the policy that the United Kingdom is adopting and how we can focus our sanctions so that they do not affect the poorest people in a country and that those people in particular, and others, do not suffer as a result of actions taken by their leaders.
  (Mr Hain) I appreciate that. Could I first of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you and introduce Tony Faint on my left who is Director of Balkan Affairs within the Department for International Development but also has responsibility for sanctions and its humanitarian consequences; and Ros Marsden who is Head of our United Nations Department at the Foreign Office. I would just mention that my voice might disappear half way through so if you see me reaching for a cough sweet, that is the reason.

  740. I hope it does not. I think we will start straight on into the questions then so that we can cover the ground that we need to. The Government has recently made the full text of your review of sanctions available to the Committee on a confidential basis. We would like to know will this be published in the future. We asked this of your officials and they told us to ask it of Ministers so we are.
  (Mr Hain) It is not our intention to publish it. It contains a great deal of frank information, as you will have had the opportunity to see, about our colleagues in the international arena, their attitudes to things and our assessment of their commitment on sanctions, therefore we do not see any advantage in either accountability or public debate terms in publishing it, certainly not in the form in which it was given to you.

  741. Will you be keeping the sanctions policy under review or was the recent review a one-off process which will not be followed up?
  (Mr Hain) It is my view that it should constantly be kept under review although not necessarily in the full bureaucratic form that it was done so comprehensively in this instance. We would always want to know if a sanctions policy (and in particular the "smarter" sanctions which were recommended by the report that came from the review) was actually working and what its consequences were. I think it is a question of constant review rather than formal, bureaucratic review.

  742. Will future reviews or part reviews be announced so that non-governmental sources could contribute to the review?
  (Mr Hain) The answer to that is yes, if there was a formal review, but as a matter of course we have very close relationships with non-governmental organisations and we welcome constant input from them on our policy on sanctions specifically and on a range of other matters. We have secondees from some NGOs working within the Foreign Office and we also have placements with NGOs to create a dialogue. I meet NGOs regularly in my capacity as a Minister bilaterally or in small groups and in forums that I hold.

  743. We understand that the Government did not invite outside contributions when they were undertaking the review in the first place but perhaps that is the reason why you did not invite views. I suppose non-governmental organisations should be in constant contact with you. Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Hain) Yes, although I would not want them to feel in any way that they had been excluded from the debate. It was necessarily an internal Whitehall matter that we pursued this. We pursued it with that in mind but I am very open and indeed very much welcome NGO input because they often have an expertise and a view from the ground which it is not possible to have here in Whitehall.

  744. To what extent are the commercial considerations taken into account when deciding whether to impose sanctions against a given regime? For example, the impact of proposed sanctions on the United Kingdom manufacturing industry or financial institutions?
  (Mr Hain) Commercial considerations are naturally part of the backdrop but the main issue is whether specific sanctions such as flight bans for example or visa bans on repressive regimes or their officials, are effective, and I think it is a question of effectiveness rather than that a large country, for example, has a particular trading influence with Britain and therefore sanctions are not appropriate, whereas a smaller country may be less important to us economically and therefore sanctions can safely be applied. It is not that kind of choice. It is whether sanctions will be effective in achieving the objective which we have set ourselves.

  745. This brings us to the objective of sanctions and I would like you to answer what you think they are likely to produce or aimed at producing. It seems to me that they are a product of the Western democracies' mindset that if you put sanctions on people it will starve them or make them cold or make their heating extremely expensive and therefore they will blame it on their Government and they will revolt against their Government, but do you set out with that objective and what is the thinking that makes you think that sanctions are an effective instrument?
  (Mr Hain) It depends of course on the particular country in question but the objective of sanctions is to change the regime on questions of policy, as it successfully did in the case of South Africa, as it successfully did in the case of Nigeria more recently, and as it has successfully done (as we have seen only this week) in the case of Libya. Those were three examples where sanctions have been highly effective. There was some, if you like, effect on the indigenous population, collateral damage, if you like to put it that way, but overwhelmingly in those three cases the end objective, which was to change the regime's policy succeeded. In the case of Nigeria of course it had the additional bonus of completely changing the regime or its nature from an unpleasant military dictatorship and an oppressive and brutal one towards a government which now professes to have the interests of its people at heart.

  746. I thought the military dictator in Nigeria obliged us by dying! I did not think it was anything to do with the sanctions policy.
  (Mr Hain) He did oblige us by dying! That was an additional bonus! The sanctions policy had very effectively put so much pressure on him particularly, and his notorious regime, that I suspect his fall would have been sooner rather than later in any case.

  747. I think we are going to come to some more detail on your claims on those three regimes as sanctions that are successful but we will come on to that later. Can we look briefly at Angola. The Chairman of the Angola Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Fowler, came to see us and gave oral evidence. He told us in evidence how he had sought to establish two expert panels, one examining arms imported into Angola, the other examining the sale of diamonds. The Department of International Development has told us that they have contributed $300,000 US towards these panels. Do you think it is appropriate that this funding is being drawn from the Department of International Development's budget given that there is no direct humanitarian objective for these panels? Would the money not have been better drawn from the budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
  (Mr Hain) First of all, if I can be quite frank with you, the Department for International Development has a lot more money than the Foreign Office.

  748. Yes, we have noted that.
  (Mr Hain) In various respects. To be more serious, Chairman, the humanitarian consequences of the presence of brutal wars in Angola and particularly the role played by UNITA and its leader Jonas Savimbi have enormous humanitarian consequences, some of the most catastrophic humanitarian consequences anywhere in the world, as I have seen for myself; homeless people, starving people in the middle of a country which is agriculture rich and it is for that primary reason that the Department for International Development has found itself able to very generously contribute to Ambassador Fowler's sanctions work.

  749. Have these panels reported yet?
  (Mr Hain) They are in regular operational mode and they make interim reports from time to time but we are still awaiting a fully public report from the panels. I have met him in New York myself and we are in regular contact with him both through DFID and the Foreign Office and in the Foreign Office we have been and will be (in the case of Angola specifically) supplying what information we have been able to glean which I have given an extra priority to since I became a Minister of State at the end of July.

  750. Because if you can stop Savimbi getting money from his diamonds when they are sold in Europe—and it should not be impossible to do that—we might make some progress, might we not?
  (Mr Hain) I agree Chairman and that is why I very much welcome the announcement by De Beers the major international diamond traders that they are no longer buying diamonds from Angola, specifically not from UNITA-controlled areas, although it is very difficult given the cross-trading between UNITA and government-controlled areas, often in exchange for arms which are then turned against the Angolan Government's Army. It is very difficult to distinguish "clean" diamonds from "blood" diamonds, if I can put it that way, in Angola. I very much welcome De Beers decision and I want to see other diamond traders following their lead. We are also in discussions with diamond trading centres especially Antwerp and Tel Aviv about how they can contribute to this process. There are two other in some ways more important aspects to the sanctions which we want to tighten on UNITA and Jonas Savimbi its leader in particular. The first is fuel supplies. There are up to two or three transport planes a day flying into UNITA-controlled areas with barrels of fuel. There are also regular supplies of munitions and small arms coming in mainly by air but sometimes by lorry and we want those stopped because we think he has probably got enough money from alluvial diamond sales, hundreds of millions of dollars of it, to continue to finance the war but his life blood is fuel and munitions and arms.

  751. Just one question on the De Beers undertaking. You distinguished between "blood" diamonds and "clean" diamonds. Obviously I imagine that somebody who knows his diamonds can tell where the diamond comes from, ie somewhere in Angola but presumably the legitimate Government of Angola also sells diamonds, does it not?
  (Mr Hain) It does indeed.

  752. So the problem is how do you tell who is selling what?
  (Mr Hain) That is indeed the case which is one of the reasons why I fully understand why De Beers took a decision simply to block the whole lot.

  753. They have blocked the whole lot, have they?
  (Mr Hain) Indeed and they explained to me that it is possible, I think I am right in saying, to identify the diamond source before they are cut quite narrowly down almost to the particular diamond field in question so it would be possible to distinguish between a UNITA diamond and a government diamond.

  754. Like vintage Bordeaux or something like that?
  (Mr Hain) Well yes, but once they are cut they are then mixed up.

  755. Then you cannot.
  (Mr Hain) Which is why the international certification regime which we are exploring is an objective we want to see but it is quite a difficult one to achieve. Can I add briefly one other point, that we have evidence that UNITA trades its diamonds across the frontline to members of the Angolan Army also involving corrupt officials within the public administration and that is compromising not just the Government of Angola in this respect but it is compromising any attempt to isolate UNITA's blood diamonds from the rest which is why I think De Beers' position is the only one and I think all diamond traders and all countries should put a very strict embargo on all diamonds coming from Angola because you cannot distinguish in the end between good and bad diamonds in the end for this reason.

  Chairman: Tony Worthington wants to come in on this.

Mr Worthington

  756. Do you not find it extraordinary how under-resourced the Sanctions Committees are? Here we have Ambassador Fowler who has set up two expert panels and this was very much an innovation but how on earth can the UN enforce sanctions unless it has got a brain and a research capacity and an ability to target sanctions in a much better way than previously?
  (Mr Hain) I think, Chairman, that is a very, very good question and I know from my own personal discussions with Ambassador Fowler whom I rate very highly—his commitment and dedication on this matter are without question—that he is extremely frustrated not just with the question of UN resources behind him but more with the lethargy there has been internationally on behalf of the very same governments who vote for Security Council resolutions empowering him, amongst others, to take action against UNITA actually to come forward with the intelligence, the action to stop the supplies coming in and the diamonds going out. I do not want to detain the Committee but until I actually asked in the Foreign Office for a real priority to be given to this I think there was a sense that life is moving along, we are getting what we can and I know Ambassador Fowler felt that he had not had the co-operation of neighbouring African governments who I think on the one hand vote for resolutions and on the other hand some of their officials and their businesses and their transport operators are meanwhile providing the very fuel and munitions which Savimbi depends upon.

  757. We can all understand the difficulties controlling the movement of diamonds in Angola and the difficulties as well about small arms that they are very accessible to people, but we hear about 50-tonne tanks being flown in and this not being held up to international scrutiny and international blame. We would know where they came from. Is this an example of which you are talking really that this whole area needs much more energy and much more attack by the international community?
  (Mr Hain) I very much agree with that point by my honourable friend that the international community has not given sanctions the teeth that they need and yet the most frustrating thing for me about this is that it can easily be done. We know of Ukrainian pilots often on Ukrainian registered planes that fly the fuel and munitions in and ships from Eastern Europe often from the Ukraine coming in through Dar es Salaam and perhaps Mombasa, consignments which, as it were, have a destination for perhaps Zambia that then seem to find their way through to UNITA. We know of transport planes that take off, Ilyushins some of them, with Ukrainian and South African pilots, and others which change their flight schedules mysteriously and land at an airstrip in UNITA-controlled Angola. This is not acceptable and the UN's reputation and the reputation of all of the countries that have signed up to the resolution both in the region and internationally are being called into question by the lack of effective action.

  758. Can I turn to another very difficult area which is about exit strategies with sanctions where there is this tension between isolating a regime and at the same time maintaining contact with a regime in order to work a way to normalise relationships. Can you talk about exit strategies and particularly exit strategies in Iraq?
  (Mr Hain) We saw a clear exit strategy in the case of Libya. Sanctions, apart from an arms embargo, which were applied and which were very effective were suspended when Libya complied with the international community's objectives in respect of Lockerbie and the compensation, as we saw announced this week, for WPC Fletcher's family but in respect of Iraq we are at the present time actively promoting a new UN Security Council resolution and we have been doing so for months now in order to provide on the one hand extra humanitarian relief which is desperately needed and on the other hand the ability to have sanctions suspended on a specific ring-fenced basis in response to compliance with arms inspection and destruction of weapons of mass destruction by the regime. If that resolution is adopted, and it really needs to be adopted by the end of next week, I will come back to that if you wish, Chairman, it does provide for Iraq to comply with the international community's wishes and for sanctions then to be suspended and, who knows, in the future ultimately lifted provided that Saddam Hussein's regime is in full compliance with United Nations' policy.

  759. Can you come back to the point you were going to come back to?
  (Mr Hain) Yes, with your indulgence, Chairman. We have worked incredibly patiently (and Foreign Office officials have been outstanding both based in New York and based here) with our colleagues in the Permanent Five to get a unanimously backed resolution. We are very, very close to it, and have been tantalisingly close to it for periods over the last few months but I think the time has come when that has to be put to the UN Security Council within the next ten days or so or else the whole effort is going to run into the sand. I think it is up to all of the Permanent Five countries now to realise that their individual concerns have been met and they need in the interests of progress and peace and humanitarian relief in Iraq to sign up to it and let's get the whole thing moving.

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