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18 July 2006 : Column 7WH—continued

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The right hon. Lady is giving moving accounts of individual cases. For some countries, there comes a time when they want something. Turkey wants to become a member of the EU, and human rights are critical to that membership. How does the IPU interact with individual Governments
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and with the EU in particular to try to secure the release of people in prison, these separatists who are not allowed to return to Turkey, and others who are still in jail?

Ann Clwyd: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the human rights requirement is one of the conditions of EU membership. The situation is much improved in Turkey. I hope that Turkey will join the EU—indeed, it is imperative that it does. I have many friends in Turkey. I visited Leyla Zana, for example, when she was in prison. I was given special dispensation as an individual to go and visit her and I spent one and a half hours with her discussing her circumstances. Turkey is very sensitive to international criticism. Certainly, when I talked in Nairobi about the situation of those parliamentarians the Turkish representative could not wait to get to the platform. The Turkish delegations and I have had that conversation several times over the past few years.

I know Turkey well and I know when it is making progress. It has made progress since I was a Member of the European Parliament, as was the Minister, and my right hon. Friend knows, too, that the topic of Turkey was often raised. It is incumbent on us all to take every opportunity both to congratulate the Turks on the progress that they have made and to encourage them to make further progress. They must make further progress. The situation in south-east Turkey is still precarious. There are younger political activists now among the Kurds in south-east Turkey who will not put up with the situation. Although progress has been made on language rights, for example, the Kurds are nevertheless a minority in Turkey and deserve much improved treatment from the Turkish Government.

In the case of Eritrea, the committee has gone back to the Eritrean delegation and reaffirmed that, in our view, the human rights of the MPs in jail are being grossly violated and that nothing can justify such a violation. That is also the view of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which concluded in November 2003 that the state of Eritrea had violated those MPs’ right to liberty and security, their right to fair trial and their freedom of expression. It urged the state of Eritrea to order their immediate release and recommended that they should be compensated. The committee has put out an urgent appeal, particularly to our African colleagues, to make every effort to ensure that the recommendations of the African commission are applied and the former parliamentarians released.

We are all aware, unfortunately, of the situation in Zimbabwe. I want to highlight the cases of two members of Parliament: Mr. Job Sikhala and Mr. Abdenico Bhebe. Mr. Sikhala was tortured in January 2003 and gave a detailed statement about it to the court, which had widespread media coverage in Zimbabwe. In his official complaint, he provided names and medical certificates. Although the Zimbabwe police initially spoke of progress being made, more recently they said that there had been no progress owing to Mr. Sikhala’s lack of co-operation. The committee found that hard to understand and has emphasised the duty of the state to investigate the crime with all due diligence and thoroughness. Mr. Bhebe was almost beaten to death in May 2001. He reported that to the police and provided them with the names of those responsible. When the case was to be heard in January 2005, it turned out that the case file had been lost. The committee trusts that the case file will reappear so that justice can take its course.

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Six cases relating to Colombia have been made public. They raise a wide range of human rights issues. The first involves parliamentarians who were assassinated and justice, again, has not been done. The second involves a former parliamentarian who was forced into exile because of death threats. In both cases, the parliamentarians were members of the Patriotic Union party, whose members were and still are the target of what has been termed political genocide. The third case, that of Piedad Cordoba, also raises the question of impunity.

The fourth case is quite different, because it concerns parliamentarians who were kidnapped by FARC, the main guerrilla group in Colombia, and who have been in the hands of the FARC for several years. The likelihood of a humanitarian agreement has recently receded but will, I hope, be a priority of the next Colombian President. The committee has always believed that negotiation is the only way forward and that the Colombian Parliament has an essential role to play in arriving at a national consensus.

The case of Mr. Lozano, a member of Parliament and the victim of fundamentally flawed judicial proceedings, raises questions on fair trial guarantees, and the committee is in contact with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to help address those matters. Lastly, the case of Mr. Petro, who is also an MP, involves a number of death threats made against him by paramilitary groups, and the authorities not taking appropriate action to protect him. As do the other cases, the case demonstrates that impunity can only encourage the continual repetition of such crimes.

The cases that I have mentioned represent only a small selection of those that the committee is considering. I have thoroughly enjoyed my five years on the committee. I believe that it is worth while because one day—although I hope not—we could all be in a similar situation to our colleagues all over the world. We are lucky; we have freedom of speech and we can speak out. It is incumbent on us to do so, and I encourage all my colleagues to do so on every occasion. We can use the Floor of the House of Commons and Question Time, and we can make points of order. When we are members of delegations, it is sometimes a bit embarrassing to have to raise issues with our counterparts, particularly if we are meeting one of the countries that are responsible for violations, but it is necessary that we do so on every occasion that presents itself.

Mr. Evans rose—

John Bercow rose—

Ann Clwyd: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and then to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow).

Mr. Evans: I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady. On speaking out on human rights, when it was first mooted that we ought to send a delegation to Iran I was nervous, because I did not want to see any delegation from the UK giving succour to the wretched regime that operates in Iran. Does she believe that talking to parliamentarians there and raising the issues of human rights at every opportunity did some good? It appears to me that the Iranian Government got no succour from it but we have established some relationship with parliamentarians in that country.

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Ann Clwyd: I heard the report from the members of the delegation when they returned from Iran, and it was fascinating to listen to because they obviously had worthwhile discussions with the Iranians. I know that the Secretary-General and others had meetings with the Iranians in Geneva the previous year to try to set up such a visit, and we found that exchange to be useful. It is worth going to listen to some of the reports that people make about their important visits. I again encourage my colleagues to listen to those when they get the opportunity. I thank the hon. Gentleman for agreeing to be a member of that delegation—

Mr. Evans: I was not on that delegation.

Ann Clwyd: Sorry, the hon. Gentleman was not on that delegation. It was very good. Particularly at these more difficult times, that kind of exchange of views with countries that we may feel very annoyed with at various times is worth while and must deflect the aggro which undoubtedly exists. Again, that is an important part of the IPU’s work, and I hope that there will many similar delegations.

John Bercow: I am glad the right hon. Lady has enjoyed her five years’ service on the committee. It would be safe to say that the IPU, which is an admirable organisation, her fellow parliamentarians and, above all, the victims of human rights abuses are very appreciative of the service she has given. There has been no more consistent or passionate champion of human rights over a very long period than she.

Ann Clwyd: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much. It has sometimes got me into trouble, but we must use the opportunities that we have, even if that sometimes means getting into trouble. It is important that we do so because we have a voice and platform, and we should use them. I never understand the view of people who feel negative towards this place; I consider it a great privilege to be here, and if Members do not use the opportunities it gives, they are missing a lot. I encourage my fellow MPs to stand up for the rights of their colleagues. They should do so in our Parliament, in the media and through the IPU. The information contained in the cases that the committee makes public can be used in all kinds of forums, as I said.

The Government, too, should raise the cases when meeting their counterparts abroad. Such lobbying would feed into their work on good governance. I know that we all ask questions of Governments such as, “When you met so and so, did you raise this?”. The answer is usually yes, but all too often I am afraid that such issues are nowhere near the top of the list of subjects that are under discussion.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I wholly endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) about the right hon. Lady; a great tribute should be paid to her. She has been talking about her interaction with the Government. How often does she meet Ministers to discuss these cases? What interaction does she have with other multilateral and supranational agencies, for example the EU? The IPU does a lot of work with the UN, does she meet its senior officials regularly to discuss these cases?

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Ann Clwyd: I shall start with the last question. The IPU has a presence in New York and would like more interaction with the UN than it currently has—that is one of the aims of its reform programme. Obviously, I talk to my Government colleagues on a range of these issues, sometimes with more satisfactory results than on other occasions. Nevertheless, it is important to continue to push certain issues. As my colleagues know, Iraq has preoccupied me quite a bit during the past few years, and I suspect that it will continue to do so. However, it is not for me alone to do that work; it is for everybody in this place. All of us, in our various ways, can make those contributions. We can call Government to account, and, particularly when they are having bilateral meetings with colleagues from other countries, try to push human rights up the agenda.

It is a great pity that the only group on human rights in this House—the all-party group on human rights—is completely reliant on outside help. We would not have our very good parliamentary researcher were it not for the Barrow Cadbury Trust supporting us. When I consider the other all-party groups in this place and the huge sums that are available for the activities of some of them, which I shall not list because we all know them, I think that it is a disgrace that an important issue such as international human rights is not given more financial support. I shall end with that plea, and I hope that my colleagues will join in the discussion.

10.17 am

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I intend to speak only very briefly, because I know that not much time is left in the debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on raising the issue of the IPU and all the good work that it does. She mentioned the fact that there are a number of inward and outward delegations from the United Kingdom. The dialogue that is established between members of Parliaments is very important. It is not just about us talking to the rest of the world; we listen to what they have to say as well, because we do not have the answers to all the problems in other countries. We can learn by some of the practices operated in those countries.

I recently chaired a luncheon with the Chinese delegation that we had here. We all recognise the importance of China throughout the world now. In 50 years or less, one can only imagine what sort of status it will have in the world. Very different cultures are involved, and there are human rights issues in China as well. The death penalty in China is one such issue; I believe that its use of the death penalty is one of the highest in the world. I have issues with the way that the penalty operates in China, but it would be completely irresponsible for me then to walk away from China and say, “Well, that’s it. We will not have anything more to do with you.” The fact is that we must recognise the influence that China now has throughout the rest of the world and, thanks to some of the IPU visits that I have made, I have seen that influence.

I hope that the Minister will say something about those parts of the world where we have little or no representation. For example, an IPU delegation, of which I was privileged to be a member, recently visited Gabon and we co-chaired that visit from Yaoundé in Cameroon. That it is not the best way to have British representation in that part of the world, but China is
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there big time. There are huge issues in Gabon concerning the environment, as well as democracy, that we need to address—for example, illegal logging and China’s influence. On our visit, we learned that the Chinese are responsible for building not just one but two parliamentary buildings in Gabon. We must question why we have little or no presence when other countries, such as China, are doing well there.

I was at an international conference in Tonga in the summer. We have pulled our flag down there, yet the Chinese are increasing their representation. I hope that the Minister will say something about the representation that we have throughout the world and whether pulling the flag down in a number of countries, as we have done, and lessening our representation in other countries, including Germany and the United States of America, is the best use of money.

In some ways and in some countries, it might be better if we reduced our representation rather than cutting it. I hope that the Foreign Office is looking carefully at something like a Tesco Metro appearance in some of those countries rather than no appearance whatever. With a limited and fixed budget, we shall have at least some influence in those countries, particularly with those with which we have had long relationships over centuries. To walk away after putting in huge investment over a long period is a grave mistake.

I praise Ken Courtenay and his staff in the IPU who give great support to all delegations, both inward and outward. They do a fantastic job, sometimes at incredibly unsocial hours, and must deal with all sorts of problems that arise with inward and outward delegations when huge pressure is put on them by parliamentarians of all countries. I praise their work.

The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley mentioned Colombia, which we visited under the leadership of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) who did a tremendous job. The one thing we learned there was the importance of the Chevening scholarships and the fantastic work of the British Council throughout the world. Being able to visit some of those countries means that we see at first hand what it is doing on the ground. President Uribe was a Chevening scholar and when we visit such countries, we can get privileged access because of the earlier investment.

The point about the Chevening scholarships is that we tried to recognise people who would have influence at a later stage and bring them to the United Kingdom so that there would be a dialogue because they would already know what the United Kingdom was all about. My goodness, that paid dividends when we visited Colombia and met the President for an hour and a half in private audience. That was tremendous and it was superb to talk to him. He has a great fondness for this country. Again, I hope that the Minister will say something about the Chevening scholarships. I know that they have been overhauled, but I hope that they will not lose the essence of what they were all about. We look at certain countries to work out which people will have influence at a later stage and we bring them to this country so that there will always be dialogue.

Tremendous joint work was done recently at the Africa conference between the IPU and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. A number of parliamentarians came here from Africa. We went to the British Library over a three-day period and there
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was superb dialogue between members of Parliament from Africa and the United Kingdom. Going back to what the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley said, there is a huge advantage in having a private dialogue with them when they are outside their own countries because they feel more comfortable talking to us privately about some of the issues in their own countries. We can talk about those issues in relation to the United Kingdom and the democratic processes in this country, which they can see first hand. They take that back with them to their countries. I cannot overestimate the importance of our recent conference, which was a tremendous success.

Almost finally, I want to talk about the Iran trip. I am a member of the Council of Europe and when I spoke to representatives of the opposition to the Iranian regime, they told me about the public executions that take place. Two young lads were recently executed because they were accused of being gay. The photographs that appeared in our newspapers shocked every decent, thinking person. Women are publicly stoned for adultery. It is incredible that that goes on in the 21st century. When I heard that a delegation was going to Iran, I thought that it was the right thing to do. I was delighted to speak to one of the members of that delegation who said that it spoke privately to members of Parliament from the Majlis and was able to get across human rights issues so that they could better understand where we are coming from. It is not a case of just wagging the finger. The delegation spoke not to the Government but to the members of Parliament, who clearly must operate within the current regime. I take my hat off to those who are opposed to the regime but work within it to try to alter it for the better.

The visits and conferences that I have described all cost money and I understand that the IPU’s budget is under pressure this year and next year. If the budget remains frozen in real terms, there will either be a cut in the number of inward delegations and what we can do when they come here or in the number of outward delegations. That will hit at the group’s work. I hope that the Minister, as well as parliamentarians generally in this country, recognises the hard work that is being done. We have heard what is done in the committee work behind closed doors. Many people do not even know that that goes on. There is work in dialogue and constructive help for parliamentarians throughout the world daily. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the budget for forthcoming years will be maintained to recognise the IPU’s work.

10.26 am

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I shall also try to be brief. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on securing this debate and on her consistent work over many years. She has championed human rights even when it has not been popular to do so and when it has been at great cost to herself.

I want to refer briefly to a visit that I made to central America under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union when I led a delegation. It was a good example of the effective work that the IPU can do on the ground to serve human rights. That visit occurred in the early part of June to two countries in central America: Guatemala
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and El Salvador. Visiting two countries was a useful experience in itself because we could develop a regional perspective and we saw the contrast between two neighbouring countries in central America.

In El Salvador, we found a relatively stable, democratic process. The two parties, the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional and the ARENA party, which had been at war during the 1970s, 1980s and early part of the 1990s, were pursuing a peaceful democratic process and had laid down their arms. The ARENA party was in government and the FMLN was in opposition, and we thought that there was genuine determination across the political spectrum to make the peace accords of the 1990s work effectively. Of course, we saw great problems in the country—land issues, high criminality and widespread poverty—but there was great optimism and that came across clearly from everyone we met.

To be blunt, the situation in Guatemala was quite different. The country was less prosperous with less business confidence, widespread corruption and high criminality, particularly from the “maras” gangs. It was pointed out that more people in Guatemala lose their lives through crime than died during the civil war of the 1980s and 1990s. Before we went to Guatemala, the delegation had graphic briefings from Amnesty International. Its two basic concerns were the ongoing land disputes and the high level of evictions. It was concerned about the human rights abuses and the way in which peasants and rural workers in particular were being treated.

Secondly, Amnesty International was concerned about the violence against women. I would like to read an excerpt from one of its reports that graphically shows the appalling situation in Guatemala. A mother, referring to her daughter, said:

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