Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-68)



Mr Illsley

  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.

Mr Chidgey

  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.[2] 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

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 20 June 2002