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20 Jul 2005 : Column 1778W—continued

People Trafficking

Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he has taken to tackle the trafficking of young women from Eastern Europe since the enlargement of the EU in 2004; and if he will make a statement. [13460]

Dr. Howells: Trafficking in human beings, for any purpose, is a particularly abhorrent crime and the UK is committed to taking firm action to combat it.

Since accession, all nationals of the new EU member states have rights of free movement throughout the EU. The UK also provides full access to its labour market to workers from the new member states through the worker registration scheme. A national from a new member state can therefore move to and work legally in the United Kingdom. But there is self-evidently a very clear distinction between voluntary movement of this sort and trafficking.

Trafficking is a priority issue for the UK's presidency of the EU. We aim to bring a particular focus on raising best practice, by improving the exchange of law enforcement information and supporting the development of intelligence-led policing. As presidency we will also work closely with other EU member states and the Commission on developing an EU plan to combat human trafficking, which provides a balanced and coherent framework that will support the efforts of
 
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law enforcement and protect the victims of trafficking. We will also continue to work closely with the relevant international organisations, UN agencies and NGOs.

Nationally, as part of the UK's work to tackle organised immigration crime, the UK has established, under a multi-agency taskforce known as Reflex, a network of immigration liaison officers covering 23 key source and transit countries in Europe. One of Reflex's three key objectives is to target human trafficking and recent successful operations have specifically targeted the trafficking of women from Eastern Europe.

From the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we have funded a number of projects to help combat the trafficking of young women from Eastern Europe, including through providing advisors to the Bulgarian and Macedonian Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling Units, support for Polish-Ukrainian cross-border co-operation and a project which raises awareness in Lithuania about the dangers of bogus employment agencies and facilitators and provides assistance to victims of trafficking.

Sudan

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made on the introduction of no-fly zones in Darfur. [12438]

Ian Pearson: The Government of Sudan (GoS) signed the Abuja Security Protocol on 9 November 2004, which commits them to refrain from all hostile military overflights over Darfur. Under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1591, the African Union (AU) is requested to monitor compliance by GoS with this commitment. We continue to make clear to both the GoS and the rebels that they must abide fully by the commitments they have made, and the UN Security-Council Resolution.

In early February the GoS announced that they would remove their Antonov aircraft from Darfur and refrain from hostile use of aircraft there. The Antonovs appear to have been withdrawn. Although helicopter gunships remain in Darfur, the AU and the UN Secretary-General report that the Government have not conducted any air attacks since January. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn) raised this issue during his visit to Sudan on 12–14 June, where all sides agreed with this assessment.

Uzbekistan

Mr. Hands: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 29 June 2005, Official Report, column 1583W, on Uzbekistan, what response the Uzbek Government made to the General Affairs and External Relations Council's call on 13 June 2005 on the Government of Uzbekistan to convene a parliamentary committee to investigate the unrest in that country; and what the policy of the UK Government is on the partnership and co-operation agreement. [10946]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: On 13 June 2005, the EU's General Affairs External Relations Council (GAERC) called on the Uzbek Government to allow an international independent inquiry into the events of
 
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12–13 May 2005 in Andizhan. The Uzbek President, Islam Karimov, responded to the repeated calls of the international community to allow such an investigation by creating a parliamentary committee, and inviting diplomats from the US, France, Russia, China and Uzbekistan's regional neighbours to observe its work. We and our EU partners, however, considered this an inadequate response, on the grounds that the enquiry needed to be external and independent.

The partnership and co-operation agreement (PCA) enshrines the basis of EU-Uzbekistan relations: mutual respect for the principles of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. There is growing evidence, such as the recent Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report, which draws on the testimony of eyewitnesses now in Kyrgyzstan, that the Uzbek authorities used disproportionate and indiscriminate force in Andizhan. As presidency of the EU, we and our partners have condemned the Uzbek leadership for breaching these principles.

The EU is currently reviewing certain trade-related elements of the PCA, and cancelled the sub-committee on Trade and Investment meeting scheduled for 13 July 2005. We have also delayed consideration of President Karimov's March 2005 proposals for a further deepening of EU-Uzbek relations under the PCA.

On 18 July 2005, the GAERC invited Mr. Jan Kubis, the EU's newly appointed special representative for Central Asia, to visit the region as soon as possible. The EU will consider further appropriate action in the light of Mr. Kubis' report. The GAERC will, in particular, keep under review the case for suspension of further elements of the PCA, the introduction of an embargo on exports to Uzbekistan of arms, military equipment which might be used for internal repression, as well as other targeted measures.

Voting Rights

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which (a) Commonwealth and (b) other countries have reciprocal measures in place with the United Kingdom to allow British nationals, when resident in that country, to vote in the (a) local and (b) national elections. [13502]

Mr. Douglas Alexander [holding answer 19 July 2005]: The Representation of the People Act 1983 provides that all Commonwealth citizens who are lawfully resident in the UK are entitled to vote in parliamentary and local elections. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has no information on the voting rights of British nationals in other Commonwealth or third countries. The voting rights of overseas nationals in Commonwealth countries are a matter for the country concerned. We are not aware of any formal reciprocal arrangements with any country.

According to Article 19 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (TEC) British nationals resident in another EU member state have the right to vote in local but not in national elections; they can also vote in elections for the European Parliament.
 
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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether it is his policy to support the creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East. [13021]

Dr. Howells: I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) on 12 July 2005, Official Report, column 878W.

Zimbabwe

Kate Hoey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on which non-governmental and voluntary organisations the British Embassy in Harare relies for monitoring and intelligence on the ground when assessing the individual circumstances relating to claims by Zimbabwean nationals for asylum in the UK. [12491]

Ian Pearson: The British embassy in Harare liaises with a variety of well-respected and well-established NGOs in order to assess the overall human rights situation in Zimbabwe and individual cases of Zimbabweans seeking asylum in the UK. However, given the environment in which NGOs have to operate, and the hostile attitude of the Government of Zimbabwe towards those NGOs in the human rights sector, we judge that it would be detrimental to their work to identify the specific groups involved.


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