Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. May I ask how recently the Foreign Secretary has had contact, or the Prime Minister, with General Musharraf to raise that particular issue?
  (Mr Hain) I know that during the Prime Minister's visit to India and Pakistan recently his agenda was largely focused towards calming tensions and encouraging dialogue on this and other issues. That is the most high-level contact. The Foreign Secretary, whose own constituency—possibly even more than yours, I do not know—has been very much focused amongst significant groups of his ethnic minority population, anyway a large proportion of his total constituency, is very close to the issue and very involved in it and wants to help in whatever way. The difficulty at the present time is that much as we sought to encourage dialogue between the two governments, external intervention has not been easy or welcome, nor would it necessarily contribute to the dialogue.

  41. Is there room for the United Nations? I know that Kofi Annan made it clear that he thought there might be?
  (Mr Hain) The key thing is to continue to impress upon both Islamabad and New Delhi that they talk to each other. As we know, prior to that very, very dangerous attack on the Indian Parliament, there was the most fruitful period of dialogue that there had been for some time, since Prime Minister Vaj Pai took the bus to Lahore in 1999, which was a fairly courageous thing for him to do. Then it broke down over the Cargill incident in which General Musharraf, as he then was, was involved and conceivably the architect of. It was good that we got dialogue after that period of long mistrust last year and now it has to be re-awakened.

  Chairman: It may be helpful to hear at first hand from one of the Foreign Secretary's constituents.

Mr Pope

  42. I am not one of his Kashmiri constituents, but I do want to raise the issue of Kashmir. I have the neighbouring constituency and a very large Kashmiri population. It struck me that Musharraf is in a really difficult situation. I am sure he would like nothing better than to be able to round up some of these terror groups and the splinter groups in Kashmir on the Pakistani line of control. Every time the Indians demand volubly that he does so, it makes it more difficult for him to do so in terms of his own domestic audience and I suspect the Indians are turning the screw on Musharraf, although I notice that he has arrested quite a number of militants. What can we do to assist Musharraf diplomatically in the campaign against terror in Kashmir? What can we do also, equally importantly, to make it as clear as possible to the Indian Government that the kind of human rights abuses which are taking place in Indian Kashmir are not only completely unacceptable, but are by their very nature making the situation much, much worse.
  (Mr Hain) I believe that it is important that both India and Pakistan recognise that this cannot continue to fester away and drag on and on and on. It is easy to say that, but what needs to be done? Yes, the Indians need to take the action we have pressed upon them. They also need to be able to do so in conditions where it is secure and safe. One of the problems has been that with the terrorist attacks continuously across the line of control, with people just getting killed by the hundreds, it is incredibly difficult to impose the rule of law and ensure that human rights are respected. We have to do both things and we also have to encourage new thinking. Northern Ireland, as you know well, was moved to its current state of relative peace by a completely new thinking. That is needed in Kashmir as well.

  43. I have had a number of interesting/robust exchanges with the Foreign Secretary about Kashmir. The Government line, as I understand it, is that this is an issue which needs to be resolved bilaterally between Pakistan and India. I have not met anybody from Kashmir who thinks that is the way forward. Certainly the view of all Kashmiris I have met is that they want self-determination, that yes, of course there will need to be talks between India and Pakistan but talks between India and Pakistan are not enough and they very strongly believe that they have a right to self-determination. I do not follow why our Government does not believe that they have a right to self-determination as well.
  (Mr Hain) I do not want to intrude upon the conversations between you and your Member of Parliament. The issue is not what an eventual solution might be in which one could conceive of it resting on devolved power, obviously greater human rights and freedom for Kashmiris, but I do not see—and I think the Foreign Secretary is correct in this—how it is possible to get to that point unless it is founded on the bedrock of dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi. I really do not. External intervention is not going to be welcomed and I do not see how it can move things forward.

Ms Stuart

  44. Can we change country and move a bit further north and look at China? I was quite interested when you said earlier that we have moved from the critical dialogue, and we have had some successes, to a more honest dialogue. How would you respond in the light of that to Amnesty International's comments. They make reference to the absence of really reliable information on the extent of the use of capital punishment within China. They say, "The fact that both the UK and the EU have unsuccessfully sought such statistics for a number of years suggests that one might question whether the dialogue is a vehicle for change". Do you see any progress being made in getting some reliable information out of China?
  (Mr Hain) The death penalty is obviously a really serious problem in China and I think I am right in saying that either last year or the year before, the previous Foreign Secretary was able to get the Death Penalty Panel to visit China.
  (Dr Browne) Yes, it did.
  (Mr Hain) I forget exactly what month the visit was. We have been able to facilitate both dialogue on that and some influence on that as well as a whole range of projects from the rule of law, especially reforms in administrative law, human rights education promotion and children's and women's rights. This critical dialogue is a slow vehicle but important progress has been achieved. The dialogue does not stop us raising human rights abuses in other contexts. We continue to do so at every opportunity in terms of ministerial encounters and at every level, both public and private. In terms of achievements, if I just look at what was produced this year, we have had two rounds of a formal process: the first in Peking took freedom of religion as its main theme; the second in London focused on the role of the media and the administration of the criminal justice system. The next round is due to be held in Peking this spring. There have been numerous ministerial exchanges, the most recent being between the Foreign Secretary and the Chinese Foreign Minister a few weeks ago on 17 January. What it has produced in practical terms is co-operative programmes, including child rights, human rights awareness, the second British law month in Peking and Shanghai in June and July. Other progress has been the first meeting of the Sino-British working group on human rights' covenants and a visit by the Trade Union Congress and also a visit by Audrey Glover, the head of the British delegation at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. This is hard work on both sides and I would not claim any fantastic achievements from it, but there are concrete achievements. The important thing here is that we have a process of honest dialogue and progress which we did not have beforehand and which has not been surpassed by any other country.

  45. Having unsuccessfully worked with the Chinese some 20 years ago trying to get them to sign up to the International Convention on Copyright and knowing how difficult it is when you deal with cultures which simply do not recognise certain concepts and find them quite alien, I think what I am really questioning is whether a process by which we simply ask for precise information, which then puts on the table just how often the death sentence is used in China, and something which is easily verified, may be more productive than having discussions. I am assuming that the Foreign Secretary, when he met the Chinese Foreign Minister, did raise human rights as such. It is just so easy for people to talk at each other and there is no real understanding, whereas trying to get real facts out may be more productive in the long run.
  (Mr Hain) Obviously we shall look at that point. We do ask for specific information as part of the critical dialogue and as part of our ministerial and other encounters. I do not want to claim more than we are delivering, because that would be neither honest nor politically sensible, but the fact that we have a relationship which enables us to raise these issues is a step forward, perhaps a modest one, too modest some people might say. The only point I would make—and certainly I should be interested in any recommendations from the Committee on how we can improve things—is that I have not seen a better alternative. I have seen no other country nor any other group manage to exert greater influence on improving human rights in China.

  46. Will the British Government actually promote the tabling of a draft resolution on China by the EU at the UN Commission on Human Rights for 2002? As I understand it, this was prepared by the Americans but they are no longer a member and cannot table it.
  (Mr Hain) This is quite a long-running saga. We will do what we think is likely to prove the most successful in influencing China. What has happened in the past few years, and I was involved in it for a period, is a constant saga of a resolution tabled by the US, a common position by the EU and then a no-vote resolution tabled by the Chinese Government. The no-vote resolution always tended to get carried and it became a fruitless stand-off which we did not think was getting anywhere. That is why we initiated this process of critical dialogue, which has proved to be far more practical and far more effective.

  47. The real answer in that is "Not at the moment because you do not think it is the right way forward".
  (Mr Hain) The real answer is that we are stalled deciding with our European Union colleagues what to do in late March. We will do whatever we think is the right way forward. May I say that it is not because we lack courage, or because we lack determination on this matter? It is what we think will be effective. There is no point tabling resolutions which are continually voted down and which do not get anywhere, it is counter productive.


  48. On that test of effectiveness and prudence, we know that the Chinese feel very strongly and very sensitively about criticisms on the Falun Gong. Has that figured at all in the bilateral dialogue?
  (Mr Hain) Yes, it has and there are credible reports of many thousands of Falun Gong supporters being detained without trial for so-called re-education, which I find very ominous. It is something we continuously raised at every opportunity with the Chinese; I must confess to not great effect.

  49. The legal exchanges which followed Lord Howe's human rights mission in 1991 have been proceeding for perhaps 10 years, the exchanges, the dialogue. Are we able to pronounce at all on the effectiveness of the legal initiatives in terms of Chinese lawyers coming here, hopefully not just in the commercial sphere but in the field of human rights?
  (Mr Hain) There have been improvements, but there is now a new opportunity for the whole relationship in China. China has been discussing with us how we can assist with the training of key public officials following the 11 September attack. China stood steadfast with the international coalition which was not something one could have predicted, given their past record. Just as Russia is moving into a closer relationship with the European Union, so China is and specifically with Britain. I would anticipate that would include both legal exchanges of lawyers, not just on the commercial side but elsewhere as well.

  50. Have we brought Hong Kong, the special administrative region, into play in terms of the ease with which those from the mainland will be able to go and find a fully functioning legal system still based on safeguarding human rights?
  (Mr Hain) I do not know the answer to that question. I know I am supposed to know the answer to all questions, but I do not know the answer to that one.
  (Dr Browne) Nor do I.
  (Mr Hain) There you have it. Not even a doctorate can triumph over a Master of Philosophy. I shall come back to you on that and provide you with information[3].

Mr Pope

  51. I want to raise the subject of human rights in Turkey. This is raised in the annual report. Turkey's secular political system is guaranteed by its constitution but the effect of that seems to be that Islamic political parties are routinely closed down, the Kurdish language is effectively prohibited. I was concerned and amazed to read that criminal charges have been brought against 19 individuals accused of insulting the Turkish state simply by attending a conference on the occurrence of rape in custody. This is an appalling litany of human rights abuses. What are the points of leverage which we and the European Union have to see some prospect of genuine improvement in human rights in Turkey over the coming 12 months to two years?
  (Mr Hain) The principal point of influence is through Turkey's application to join the European Union. As a candidate for EU membership, Turkey must meet the Copenhagen criteria before accession negotiations can begin, which includes stability of institutions which guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. I thought it was quite significant that Turkey responded by publishing an action plan and made some progress in a number of areas in September 2001. It passed a series of constitutional amendments in these areas. There is a basis for influence and a basis for progress. The constitutional amendments included rights such as freedom of association and expression. I agree with you, however, that there is an awful long way to go. We want to see Turkey in the European Union but Turkey will have to change its human rights and good governance record dramatically to meet the Copenhagen criteria.

  52. Obviously there are other obstacles to Turkey's application anyway, not least Cyprus. Leaving those other obstacles aside, can I take it that there is a degree of consensus between us and our EU partners that Turkey's human rights record must get dramatically better before we consider an active application?
  (Mr Hain) No question about that.

  53. What measures are the Foreign Office taking to promote the new Turkish translation of the Handbook on Prevention of Torture? This seemed to be a really worthwhile initiative. I was very pleased to learn about it but I should be interested to know what can be done to promote it.
  (Mr Hain) I think I am right in saying, that it is in train and it will be published as soon as we can and we shall obviously notify you about that[4].

Mr Illsley

  54. Have the Government made any representations in relation to the deaths of hunger strikers in Turkey?
  (Mr Hain) I think we have, because we have been very concerned about both that instance and other areas of concern in Turkey. It is a very difficult situation. Being a NATO ally, being an applicant for the European Union, enables us to have a dialogue which is not always easy going but in which we can honestly project our views. On this matter I would just say, without wishing to exaggerate our influence, that I am always struck, and I have been struck whether visiting the Middle East or visiting African countries, that we are one of the very few countries, perhaps alongside the Scandinavian ones, who do stick out our necks in post and on the ground. It is not always the easiest thing to do, given the range of bilateral interests including commercial ones where British jobs are at stake. We do do it and it wins us respect even if it is not welcomed at the time.


  55. Turkey sees Mr Öcalan, the now captured PKK leader as a terrorist, a man of blood and many in Turkey believe that the death penalty is appropriate. What dialogue have we had with the Turks, either bilaterally or with our EU colleagues in respect of the fate of Mr Öcalan.
  (Mr Hain) We are very concerned about it. He is a key figure and that is something we have raised continuously and the European Union has as well. The death penalty has been a subject of continuous dialogue with Turkey and both the European Union and ourselves have encouraged Turkey to reform the penal code so that it can be brought into the kind of circumstances which we would acknowledge as defending human rights. May I also add something I did not mention? On the death fasts we are concerned that more than 40 people have died during hunger fasts. We pressed the Turkish authorities to implement prison reform in a way which respects international human rights standards. It is not a good record, in fact it is a pretty sorry record.

Mr Hamilton

  56. One of the last acts of the last Parliament was my friend and colleague John Battle when he was Foreign Office Minister guiding through the International Criminal Court Bill which is now an Act. As of 31 December last year I was delighted to see that 48 countries had now ratified the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Sixty are required to set the court up. When do you expect the International Criminal Court to be set up?
  (Mr Hain) So far 45 countries have ratified[5] and we are hoping that it will be set up later this year. It is a matter of priority for us and we want to see it established as soon as possible.

  57. I understand the number 48 comes from the International Criminal Court website; 48, 45, we are not sure. Not many more to go. Do you think there is any evidence that external pressure is being applied to countries not to ratify the Statute to set up the court?
  (Mr Hain) I know that the US have been recalcitrant on this.

  58. I did not want to mention names.
  (Mr Hain) It is something we regret. There is an international tide of opinion and pressure behind it and it will happen sooner rather than later.

  59. One of the recommendations, as I recall from memory, in the second report of this Committee into Anglo-US relations post-September 11 was that we asked the Government, if not to apply pressure, at least to try to cajole the United States Government, given our very close relationship with that Government into looking at their support for the International Criminal Court. Do you think there is any chance they will listen to us?
  (Mr Hain) It has been a topic for constant dialogue with them and pressure on our part. We continue to raise it. In that respect, I have not seen any evidence that they have pressured other countries not to ratify it. Their attitude seems to be that it is fine for the rest of the world, but we will opt out thank you.

3   See evidence, p Ev 14. Back

4   See evidence, p Ev 14. Back

5   Note by witness: 52 countries had in fact ratified. Back

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