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I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The situation in Darfur in the western Sudan is equally serious. We know from television pictures and electronic news media the scale of the human rights
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abuses that are taking place in Darfur: aerial bombing, mass shooting, rape as a weapon of war, poisoning of the water supply, destruction of crops, theft of livestock and bestial destruction of villages all on a daily basis.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has given way several times. I anticipated that he would deal with Darfur and that he would be as articulate as he persists in being. Does he agree that, in the light of the rather tepid discussions at the UN last Friday, the situation in Darfur calls for an even greater international focus and that one contribution that we could make hereI do not dismiss the debates in Westminster Hallis to have a full-day debate, whether in Government or Opposition time, to address the terrible atrocities that the hon. Gentleman has described as taking place in Darfur?
Mr. Bercow: I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He may be awareif not, I shall tell him nowthat I have regularly called for a debate in Government time on the situation in Darfur. I have appealed to the Leader of the House to provide time for such a debate, which would be of great interest to Members across the Chamber as well as to many people in the country at large. We should never underestimate the humanitarian instinct of the mass of the British people, who do not like to see their fellow human beings being slaughtered, as is happening in Darfur at present. Something like 200 people are dying there every day and there is an immense need for action.
Frankly, the level of activity to date on the part of the international community has been feeble. Yes, there has been an asset freeze and a trade embargo applied by the US, but what has the UN said? Resolutions 1556 and 1564 were passed respectively in July and September this year, but what did they do and how did they make a difference? In what way did they save lives and how was the human condition made better in that part of the world? The answer is that precious little by way of hope was offered to the people of Darfur. What those resolutions suggested was that the international community was writing an essay in timidity. They gave time for the Government of Sudan to do better. The July resolution spoke about "additional measures" being taken if no improvements were made. The September resolution said that "appropriate action" would be taken, but the term was left gloriously unspecified.
The Under-Secretary of State for Defence is present on the Government Front Bench, and he should be aware that the most recent resolution has caused Amnesty International and other organisations great concern. They say that it is a big step backwards because it focuses overwhelmingly on the north-south peace accord. That accord is important, but the focus on it is not merely to the detriment but nearly to the exclusion of the continuing abuses taking place in Darfur.
A great deal more needs to be done. At the moment the EU has no robust policy on this matter. We need detailed, effective and perhaps even remorseless sanctions to try to bring about a change of behaviour. There is no sign at present of such sanctions being introduced.
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There are some similarities with the situation in North Korea. Just as there are human rights abuses and a big weapons spend in Burma, and just as some $665 million was spent in 2002 on the military in Sudan, so there are terrible human rights abuses in North Korea. Those abuses take the form of idolatry of the Government of the day and of the religious persecution that is also evident in Burma and in parts of Sudan. There is also famine, and the forcible repatriation of refugees.
North Korea is one of the most closed states in the world, and one of the things that is most peculiarly sinister about it is that the Government divide the population into three categories when it comes to determining the distribution of basic services, including food. The three categories of people are core, wavering and hostile.
People who are onside get what the Government think that they should have. People who are unsound or uncertain get a rather rawer deal. People considered to be foes of the regime get nothing by way of the bare essentials on which continued existence depends, and are also likely to find that the full scale of what are truly vicious and unspeakable human rights abuses is visited upon them.
In all the countries to which I have referred, a cocktail of barbarity is evident that has genuinely shocked and disfigured the world. Of course, it is very difficult to engage with North Korea as an issue. For example, 23 per cent. of its budget is spent on defence. We know that the regime has nuclear and chemical weapons and that it is seeking to develop biological weapons as well. It is not easy to deal with what is going on there, but we need some answers because people are suffering grievously, as they have for a long time.
That causes me to ask the important question: what should the international community do? The issues with which we are grappling do not get as much attention as other matters, but that does not mean that they do not require it.
We certainly need action, because examples from the past show the danger of sitting on our hands. In that connection, we should remember what happened in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Indonesia. It must be painfully apparent that cosying up to fundamentally unsavoury regimes in the hope of securing political co-operation or in the pursuit of filthy lucre ends up as a grave disservice to ourselves. We feed the monster and then the monster threatens to devour us.
I am not making any sort of party-political point. We all know that successive Administrations have made significant errors as well as scored foreign policy points successes. If we look back to the experience of dealing with these countries, we should realise that we need changes in policy. First, we need a broader definition of what constitutes national interest. Historically, my party has rightly regarded national interest as the first criterion for the conduct of foreign policy. I do not object to that, but it is time that we broadened the definition of national interest. As Chris Pattensoon to be Lord Pattenobserved as long ago as May 2001, it is "bilge" to regard expedience and morality as being in different corners for the purposes of the long-term conduct of foreign policy. It must surely make sense to realise that those countries that will ultimately prove to
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be good neighbours, with which it is best to do business and in which it is easiest to invest, are also those countries that treat their citizens most decently. In developing a philosophical framework for the conduct of foreign policy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) did in his own way, let us recognise not the error of the definition, but the need for its updating and adaptation to the circumstances of the modern world.
Secondly, we need United Nations reform. I greatly respected what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said on that subject earlier. On 10 December 1948, when the United Nations universal declaration of human rights was issued, reference was made to the pursuit of a common standard of achievement for all peoples in terms of respect for and observance of human rights. I endorse that, but we all know that too often the UN has failed to live up to the standard that it set itself. Article 4 of the UN charter describes the proper behaviour to be expected of peace-loving peoples. Article 6 says that if a state persistently violates the terms of the charter it can, in certain circumstances, be expelled. That has happened far too rarely. It has happened, most notably in the case of South Africa, but it has not happened to Burma, Sudan or North Korea. Far too little attention is paid to the truly grotesque behaviour of many regimes that puff themselves up and take their seats at the table of that reputable body which fails to observe the principles that it set out so rightly and eloquently more than half a century ago.
Thirdly, the same goes for the UN Commission on Human Rights. I hope that I enjoy the support of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde for the observation that it is absurd that in 2001 the United States, whichfor all its faultsis a beacon of freedom, justice and commitment to the rule of law, was effectively kicked out of the commission, coming back only in 2003, while Libya, which is not a noted historical champion of the principles of political pluralism or respect for human rights, became chairman of the commission. I suggest to the Government, for their remaining months in office, to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Oppositionwho I hope will shortly be the Conservative Prime Ministerthat membership of the UNCHR should be determined on the basis of behaviour, not of geography. It is not acceptable to take a geographical approach or adopt the principle of Buggins' turn, which gives the reins to countries irrespective of whether they have shown contempt for the very principles that their membership of the organisation requires them to uphold. Is it any wonder that the councils of the international community are not held in high esteem if that is how we behave? That is the third point and it is an important one.
There is also an important point to make about diplomacy. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in an important speech last week, highlighted, as other hon. Members today have done, the immense opportunity that Britain has to exert influence through our strong economy, the fact that ours is the fourth largest economy in the world, and in particular, the fact that we are members of the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the Security
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Council, the Commonwealth and the G8. Indeed, in 2005 we shall have the presidency of both the European Union and the G8, and that will be a real opportunity to exert diplomatic influence and to seek to persuade other people to behave in an acceptable way. Diplomacy is important.
The use of sanctions could be important, too. They might be targeted against particular sectors in given regimes for the achievement of human rights improvement and political benefit. In some cases, we might adopt a more subtle approach; we could have terms of business agreements with individual countriesa more carrot-and-stick approachwhereby we did business with a nation whose record was historically dodgy, or worse, if it was prepared to commit to, and abide by, strict and proper ethical rules of business engagementthe employment of citizens and so on.
In certain circumstances, the remaining alternative in the field of sanctions is simply to say, "Disinvest". I do not always go along with what The Independent says, but Johann Hari wrote an exceptionally interesting and thought-provoking article in that newspaper last Friday, in which, recalling how apartheid in South Africa was brought down, he asked why there should not be a campaign of disinvestment in relation to Sudan. Just as China behaves appallingly in relation to Burma, so the behaviour of the French Government in relation to policy towards Sudan is nothing to write home about either. Perhaps a disinvestment campaign would be a good thing.
The promotion of democracy is important, certainly through what Chris Patten, I think, described as an "insanely undervalued institution", the British Council, but also through extending the good work of the BBC World Service. I should like radio services to go into North Korea. If my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) thinksalthough I hope that he does notthat that is an attempt to export our cultural values, the answer is that, yes it is. It is an unashamed belief that there is something rather noble about those values, which at least in some formalthough not in absolutely replicated formwe should seek to engender in parts of the world where they would be greatly appreciated and have been too long denied.
An attack on the whole small weapons industry is critical. About 300,000 people a year are killed through small weapons. The Department for International Development supported international small weapons destruction day and I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for International Development for doing so, but much needs to be done. There is an EU code of conduct on small weapons, but it is rather weak and most observers think it needs to be strengthened. Trade in small weapons, and their trafficking and brokering, is taking place and if we are to confront and defeat that phenomenon, in the interests of the greater security of the developing world and beyond, multilateral activity, through the councils of the international community, and with a sense of urgency, is certainly needed.
Finally, let us briefly address the issue of humanitarian intervention. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said that he favoured humanitarian intervention in certain circumstances, but that they would need to be clearly spelled out. I agree with quite a lot, although not all, that he said. There are good arguments for making humanitarian
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commitments, but we need the forces to make them credible so we should not rule out the dispatch of a substantial peacekeeping, as opposed to merely monitoring, force to Darfur, to try to bring to an end, as quickly as possible, the appalling suffering that is taking place there.
A wider argument can be made. If there is a vacuum, ultimately it is filled. Unless the United Nations accepts its responsibility to uphold human rights, to promote democracy and to ensure that national sovereignty cannot be used by totalitarian regimes as a cloak behind which to continue appalling abuse of human rights, someone else will occupy the field. So action must be taken by a reformed and responsible United Nations or, alternatively, a new community of democracies will have to sit down together, determine the criteria and thrash out whether humanitarian intervention is justified. There is a great deal to be said for that, and despite all the mistakes that have been made since, I still support the decision to fight the war in Iraq. We should not neglect other parts of the world. What is happening in Darfur, what is taking place in Burma and what is being done in North Korea should concern every hon. Member.
Of course, we cannot deal with everything militarily. We should use diplomacy; we should apply trade pressure; we should be prepared to impose sanctions; and in certain circumstances, yes, we are justified in intervening. The reality is that too many people around the world have suffered too much for too long with too little being done about it. The challenge to political parties and the international community is to ensure that the defenceless, the discriminated against, the weak, the suffering and the voiceless do not continue to experience their present plight. We need a better policy to help them, to advance their cause and to give them a chance, and we need that policy sooner, rather than later.
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