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5. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with his EU   counterparts on Burma. [23245]

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): Burma continues to be of great concern to the EU. The UK led the way in strengthening the common position last year, and Burma was addressed by the Council of Ministers in June and July this year.

David Taylor: Burma is a brutal regime that persecutes, imprisons and murders its opponents, tyrannises its people by trampling all over their human   rights, and peddles heroin and amphetamines worldwide. Are we working with EU colleagues such as France, Denmark and Greece to force Burma on to the agenda of the UN Security Council so that it can intervene, as it has intervened in equally appalling regimes such as those of Afghanistan and Cambodia? Is that not what an ethical foreign policy is all about?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the massive human rights abuses in Burma. We regularly discuss Burma with our EU partners, and we are also having discussions within the United Nations. We are supporting the United States initiative to seek Security Council consideration of Burma, and we would certainly support any action in the UN—including the Security Council—that would help to promote reform and positive progress in Burma.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Is the Minister as   horrified as I am that the French company Total, through its $400 million investment in Burma, is propping up one of the most brutal and sadistic regimes in the world? Does he agree that the time has now come for robust sanctions to be applied against the oil, gas,
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gems and timber sectors to cut the supply of funds to the military? Is there, moreover, the slightest prospect now of achieving the critical mass necessary for change, or are we to be subject once again to a display of hand-wringing impotence by the European Union, as respect for human rights and democratic values comes a poor second to the reckless pursuit of filthy lucre?

Ian Pearson: As the hon. Gentleman knows, given that we have discussed Burma on a number of occasions, it is the UK's long-standing policy not to encourage trade or investment in Burma. We favour multilateral targeted measures against the Burma regime because we believe that they have greater practical impact and send a stronger political signal. Certainly, we regularly raise our concerns about Burma with our Association of South East Asian Nations partners, who perhaps have greater influence than do we in the west. We should not overestimate the effectiveness of western sanctions on the Burmese regime; they have not had any significant impact that we can see to date. We continue to keep our policy under review, but we need to ensure that it consists not just of sanctions.


6. Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): If he will make a statement on the human rights situation in Turkey. [23246]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The European Council's decision to open accession negotiations was prompted by decisive progress in Turkey's reform programme, notably on human rights. Further progress is required, but we believe that Turkey's EU accession process will continue to be an effective catalyst for improvement in its human rights situation, and that all concerns will be addressed during that process.

Lynne Featherstone: I thank the Minister for his response and we very much welcome the progress made by the Turkish Government in bringing their laws into line with international law. Given, however, that the   UK currently holds the EU presidency, do the Government plan to discuss minority rights in Turkey with the Turkish Government?

Mr. Alexander: It is important to recognise that the negotiating framework itself, which was agreed ahead of the decision on 3 October, makes clear the obligations under which Turkey is operating. It states:

Since 3 October, Olli Rehn, the commissioner for enlargement, has travelled to Ankara and the basis of the discussions that took place was the negotiating framework, of which human rights are an essential part.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): When Turkey received its candidacy status, did the Minister notice that journalists and authors were arrested for drawing attention to the Armenian massacres? What is Her Majesty's Government's reaction to that, given that the
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Turkish Government refuse to acknowledge that the massacres took place, and that they arrest people for arguing that they took place?

Mr. Alexander: Clearly, the European Union and the British Government, which holds the EU presidency, are concerned that charges have been brought against Mr. Pamuk, the individual whom I believe my hon. Friend is referring to. But is it also important that this House take note of, and is respectful of, the views of that author, who said that he did not want the charges brought against him to stand in the way of Turkey's progress toward the European Union. While not in any way diminishing the difficulties that he continues to face, all of us who have a genuine concern for human rights in Turkey see continuing progress toward a European future for Turkey as the best way to secure human rights not just for him, but for other members of the Turkish population.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): But is the Minister aware that the charge against Mr. Pamuk is insulting the country's national character? Bringing such charges against renowned authors undermines the whole judicial system, and without a judicial system in which people can confident it will impossible to make any progress on human rights.

Mr. Alexander: Of course, Turkey will have to make changes to its legal system given that, on its own estimation, it will not enter the EU for 10 to 15 years. However, at this critical stage after 3 October, it is important that we continue to make clear the EU's view on the urgency of the changes that are required. The case of Orhan Pamuk was raised with the Turkish Justice Minister in the margins of a justice and home affairs meeting held on 7 to 9 September. I assure the House that we will follow up that dialogue in the months to come.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): The Minister said that Turkey needs to make more progress on human rights, but noted that it has made considerable progress already. Will he take every opportunity, in this House and in the EU, to use that as a positive example of how the EU's commitment to human rights and democratic principles is the best way to improve human rights and democracy in countries which, like Turkey, wish to become EU members?

Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend is entirely right. It ill   behoves some Opposition Members to argue that the EU's only legitimate role is to be a large free trade area, and at the same time to assert their great concern for the   role of human rights in the future of the EU and its   members. Turkey and the western Balkans offer the   clearest examples of how an enduring concern for   human rights can transform societies. That transformation could not be achieved without the action of the EU, and the Euro-sceptics have no answer to that.

Rafiq Hariri

7. Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): What action the Government are
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taking following the report of the UN inquiry into the death of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. [23247]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The UK was co-sponsor of   UN Security Council resolution 1636, which was passed unanimously at a ministerial meeting of the Security Council yesterday. The resolution sets out the   Security Council's profound concerns about Syria's behaviour towards the UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq   Hariri. It places clear obligations on Syria in respect of co-operation with the UN investigation and of non-interference by Syria in Lebanese domestic affairs. The resolution also makes it clear that the   Security Council will consider further action if co-operation by Syria is not forthcoming.

Danny Alexander: I am grateful for that reply. The UN resolution is welcome confirmation of the will of the   international community to identify, and take action against, those who are responsible for that appalling act. However, if the final report proves Syrian involvement beyond doubt, will the Foreign Secretary set out the measures that the Government would be prepared to take to act against those who are responsible?

Mr. Straw: First, I hope very much that the Syrian Government change their ways and co-operate with Detlev Mehlis, the UN prosecutor. As was made clear   in   the Security Council, the history has been one of co-operation on form, at best, and not on substance. Prosecutor Mehlis' interim report is a chilling catalogue of evasion and half-truths by the Syrian Government. I   hope that they get the message: if they do not, the Security Council will take account of operational paragraph 13, which states that a further report would be compiled and that, if necessary, a further meeting would be held to consider further action. It is likely that that further action would be as set out in article 41 of the UN Charter, which includes provision for non-military sanctions.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary recall that the Prime Minister entertained Syria's President Bashir al-Assad to tea in Downing street in December 2002? Does he regret that, on the same day, the Prime Minister wrote in the Financial Times that the president was determined to bring about "real change" in Syria, and that there were "encouraging signs"? Does he recall that, at the time, Syrian military forces were occupying the Lebanon, and that Damascus was playing host to the headquarters of Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah? Does the Foreign Secretary now regret coddling that dictator when he was planning mayhem across the middle east, and will he commit himself to supporting the democratic forces that want to bring about change in Syria, instead of remaining mealy mouthed on the issue?

Mr. Straw: I think that I do recall the tea; I have a feeling I was there.

As to the rightness of our Prime Minister's inviting the President of Syria to the United Kingdom, I say this: it was the correct thing to do, and I have no regrets
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about that decision. It was right to invite him to see whether it was possible to persuade what was then a relatively new regime to change its ways. If we had not sought to co-operate or to put out a hand of friendship to the new regime, it would, on that regime's subsequent behaviour, have been far more difficult to get the consensus that we were able to achieve in the Security Council yesterday.

As to our being mealy mouthed, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads resolution 1636. He will see that its terms are anything but mealy mouthed and impose severe obligations on the Government of Syria in respect of the investigation into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. It spells out, too, the consequences that will follow if they fail to co-operate.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): The Foreign Secretary must regret many of the meetings that he has had with leaders in certain countries around the world.

The Foreign Secretary must surely draw the conclusion that Syria is continuing its reputation for undermining neighbouring countries. What is actually happening between Syria and Iraq? What Syrian insurgency is going on in Iraq? What was the full meaning of the American military operation that took place two days ago on the western border of Iraq, which appears to have been a message to the Syrians?

Mr. Straw: On the latter point, I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy in the Library, because I do not have full details.

On the involvement of Syria in interference in neighbouring countries, the Quartet issued a strong statement last Friday calling on Syria to stop allowing Islamic Jihad and other rejectionist terrorist groups to operate from within Syria. Syria has been denying that that is the case for some years, but everybody in the region knows that it is. The patience of the international community is running out in that respect.

As to Syria's involvement in terrorism in Iraq, we have sent strong, clear messages to the Government of Syria that they must secure their borders and must, for example, introduce a visa regime to Damascus airport so that those who travel by air, if you please, in order to become insurgents or, worse, suicide bombers can be stopped. The Syrian Government said two days ago, at long last, that they intend to introduce such a visa regime. If that is so, it is progress, but only small progress. What Syria must now understand, in the face of unanimous condemnation by the international community, is that its old ways, under both father and son, have to change, and to change both in terms of Syria's own peace and security and for the future of its people.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): Sadly, from what the Foreign Secretary has just said, it is clear that the Syrians have a track record of refusing to comply with either bilateral or international pressure. It is obvious that the Syrians are not going to co-operate fully with the United Nations. Can the Foreign Secretary say why sanctions were not included in the most recent resolution, given that the Syrians appear
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only to move, very slightly, when they face the direct threat of action. Merely warning them again and again seems to produce no result whatsoever.

Mr. Straw: I understand the hon. Gentleman's scepticism about Syrian intentions. I do not think that it is to be taken for granted that Syria will not co-operate. The Syrians were profoundly shocked, I think, by the anger, and the unanimity of that anger, in the Security Council yesterday.

On sanctions, resolutions inevitably depend on our gaining consensus so that the terms cannot be vetoed. What we were seeking, provided the terms were not watered down too much, was unanimity, so that Syria got a tough message from across the international community. Immediate sanctions were never in any of the drafts that the United Kingdom put forward, and I   should be happy to share some of the earlier language with the hon. Gentleman if he is interested. There is, however, a clear undertaking to consider further action—in other words, sanctions—if Syria does not now co-operate, as it has not co-operated in the past.

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