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14 Sept 2004 : Column 1545W—continued

Iraq

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will list the political parties registered for elections in Iraq; and if he will break them down by (a) religious and (b) ethnic affiliations. [187616]

Mr. Rammell: The timetable for the organisation of the elections has not yet reached the stage of registration. The Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq timetable foresees registration taking place in November. We anticipate that a broad range of political forces and independent candidates will take part in the elections.

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what support his Department is giving to the preparation of women candidates for parliamentary elections in Iraq. [187619]

Mr. Rammell: This Government will make every effort to assist the holding of representative elections in Iraq in January next year, including helping implement the provision in the Transitional Administrative Law that calls for a target of 25 per cent. representation in the Transitional National Assembly by women. The
 
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stipulation in the electoral law that every third candidate on election lists should be female bodes well in this regard.

The Department for International Development, through its Political Participation Programme which is being administered by the British Council, is spending £5 million on helping Iraqi women's organisations participate in the elections.

Laos

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what representations he has made to the Government of Laos concerning the arrest of four Christians in Kasy District in Vientiane province on 2 August; [187838]

(2) what representations he has made to the Government of Laos concerning the intimidation of Christians by the authorities in parts of Laos in recent months, including in Nam Thuam village, Vieng Samay village and Hua Muang village; and if he will make a statement; [187839]

(3) by what methods the British Government monitor abuses of religious freedom in Laos; and if he will make a statement. [187840]

Mr. Alexander: We are aware of reports of the mistreatment of Christians in Laos. Our embassy in Bangkok (which is accredited to Laos) monitors the situation. Although Lao people are officially free to worship, they may not preach in public. The Lao authorities themselves acknowledge incidents where officials have not permitted freedom of worship for Christians. We understand, however, there has been some limited progress, with a number of churches being allowed to re-open and an overall drop in the number of believers detained.

Our contacts with the Laos authorities are very limited. We are not therefore able to confirm individual reports, nor to raise individual cases on a regular basis. Ministers and officials have, however, raised our concerns over freedom of religion on a number of occasions, both in bilateral contacts and through the European Union. Most recently, on 18 June, our ambassador to Thailand raised the persecution of Christians with Deputy Foreign Minister Phongsavath Boupha.

We will continue to raise our concerns with the Lao Government when opportunities arise; and to encourage it to implement recent reforms on religious freedom.

Maldives

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the treatment of political prisoners in the Maldives. [188340]

Mr. Alexander: We remain concerned about prisoners detained without charge in the Maldives, and raise this regularly with the Maldivian authorities. Our Acting High Commissioner recently discussed this issue with
 
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the Maldivian Attorney General, and on 6 September was part of an EU delegation which met the Maldivian Minister of Foreign Affairs. The EU delegation called upon the Maldivian government to immediately repeal the state of emergency and restore all fundamental rights to the detainees. We welcome the steps taken by the Maldivian Government to enter into an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross on prison monitoring, and look forward to the early conclusion of such an agreement.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the human rights situation in the Maldives. [188341]

Mr. Alexander: In December 2003, the Maldives established a Human Rights Commission (HRC) to protect, promote and preserve human rights. However the bill that would give the HRC the necessary legal power has not been passed, and we continue to have concerns, including about freedom of expression and association, and detention without charge. Following the arrests of nearly 200 people, including Special Majlis MPs, during and after the demonstrations of 12 and 13 August, we and EU partners called on the Maldivian authorities to repeal the state of emergency and restore fundamental rights to those detained. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Rammell) reiterated our support for the President's reform proposals, and stressed the importance of ensuring that the Special Majlis, and the people of the Maldives are free to discuss constitutional change, during a meeting on 25 August with the Maldivian Special Envoy.

NATO Russia Council

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps his Department is taking to develop the NATO-Russia Council as a tool in the war against terrorism. [188367]

Mr. MacShane: The struggle against terrorism was one of the drivers behind the foundation of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002. On 7 September the NATO-Russia Council issued a statement condemning the recent atrocities in Russia and undertaking to intensify common efforts against this shared threat, including working on measures to allow Russian naval forces to join allied units in NATO's maritime interdiction force in the Mediterranean.

Nicholas Baker

Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 12 February 2004, Official Report, column 1656W, on Nicholas Baker, what progress has been made in the case of Mr. Nicholas Baker; what discussions on the case the Department has had with the Japanese Government over the last four months; and what further steps have been taken. [188337]

Mr. Mullin: Mr. Baker's appeal is currently ongoing in the Japanese Courts.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has discussed Mr. Baker's case with the Japanese authorities on a number of occasions over the last four months, at both ministerial and official level, most recently in August.
 
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We will continue to raise Mr. Baker's case with the Japanese authorities at every appropriate opportunity. We remain in touch with Mr. Baker and his family about his case and will inform them immediately of any developments.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make it his policy to publish annually the number of interceptions of communications he approves under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. [188052]

Mr. Straw: No. The Annual Reports of the independent Interception of Communications Commissioner publish the numbers of interception warrants issued by my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the First Minister in Scotland. In line with longstanding policy, endorsed by successive Interception Commissioners, the figures for warrants issued by the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are not published. The reasons are explained in the latest Annual Report published on 22 July 2004 (HC883).

Sudan

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he first received reports of Janjaweed activity in Darfur; when he first raised the question of Janjaweed activities in Darfur with his counterpart in Khartoum; what assurances were then sought; and if he will make a statement. [187273]

Mr. Mullin: Attempts by the Government of Sudan to recruit militias, as part of their response to the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) uprising, was first reported on 12 May 2003. The term "Janjaweed" was first used by the British Government on 8 September 2003, following its use at negotiations in Abeche. However, different groups use the term rather loosely to mean different things. The Government of Sudan understand it to mean "bandits"; whereas displaced persons will use it for almost any armed Arab on horseback.

We have been raising with the Government of Sudan their response to the SLA since May 2003. In May of this year the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs visited London. During his visit my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development and I all raised the need for the Sudanese Government to disarm the militias and protect their civilians from the human rights atrocities that have been taking place. When the Foreign Secretary travelled to Khartoum and Darfur at the end of August he re-iterated this need to both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Sudanese President.

Mr. Ancram: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions concerning the situation in Darfur his Department has had with officials from (a) the Sudanese embassy in London and (b) Sudanese Government officials in Khartoum between 22 July and 7 September; and on what dates, and where, these discussions took place. [188486]


 
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Mr. Straw: We are in regular touch with the Sudanese authorities, both through our embassy in Khartoum and the joint Department for International Development/Foreign and Commonwealth Office Sudan Unit in London. During the period specified, the main contacts included:

Ann Clwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on (a) the Government's assessment of whether the atrocities committed in Darfur constitute genocide and (b) the implications of Secretary of State Powell's comments on genocide in Darfur to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 9 September. [188995]

Mr. Mullin: There is no doubt that grave crimes against humanity have been committed in Darfur. These may amount to genocide. What Colin Powell said to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee underlines the need for all the evidence to be examined by an international commission of inquiry, which we would like the Security Council to set up.

The evidence currently available further underlines the need for sustained international action to press the Government of Sudan to carry out its responsibilities. That is what we are seeking through the Security Council.
 
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During my own visit to Sudan this week, I will also be making clear to the Government of Sudan its prime responsibility to protect its own citizens and to bring to justice all those responsible for human rights abuses.


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