Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
16 NOVEMBER 2005
Q40 Andrew Mackinlay: Human Rights Watch,
in their note to us in respect of Iran, said that it does appear
that sometimes the criticismpresumably that is of Her Majesty's
Government"has not gone beyond mere rhetoric".
I would like to come back to that in a moment and invite Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty to amplify upon that. Before doing so,
however, can I say to Mr Crawshaw that certainly Human Rights
Watch is highly regarded both in this country and internationally
and, rightly, it shapes the opinion of legislators and governments.
I was therefore personally very surprised and disappointed by
the report published earlier this year on the MKO, or what we
know as the People's Mojahedin of Iran. I was surprised by its
contents, which I do not want to debate here now but, inasmuch
as it influences our opinion, can I say that I wrote to the Human
Rights Watch director in New York, talking about the methodology
of the document. Frankly, it did not coincide with my own personal
views. A similar letter, I understand, went from Labour peers
Lord Corbett, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, Lord Russell-Johnston,
Lord Avebury, and David Amess and Lord of Appeal, Lord Slynn.
So far as I am aware, nobody has received a reply from the director
of Human Rights Watch, which I think reflects very badly on the
organisationparticularly as we had challenged the methodology
of this. The report itselfand this is the only reference
I want to make, Chairmansays, "Human Rights Watch
interviewed by telephone 12 former members of MKO". It seems
that, on telephone conversations, this report, which many of us
see as tendentious, was publicised. It does have an effect on
rights because, as you know, there is a battle on as to whether
or not the MKO should be on the list of terrorist organisations.
I think that it is legitimate for me to raise this. As I say,
I respect Human Rights Watch. I hold it in high regard and value
it, as other people do. But here was, on the face of it, a tendentious
report, reasonably challenged by the people I have referred to
and by people in other countries as well, and we do not even have
the courtesy of a reply. I wonder if you could deal with that.
Mr Crawshaw: I am sorry about
that. As you say, it would take too long to talk about the details
of the report. I would only say that Human Rights Watch does absolutely
stand by what it said in that report, which wasyou will
remember from knowing itnot to do with terrorist organisation
or not. It had to do with abuses within the camps; in other words,
very serious abuses within that. I am sorry if you feel that there
has not been an answer and
Q41 Andrew Mackinlay: Well, there has
Mr Crawshaw: I know. I am sorry
if you feel there has been a rudeness in the lack of the answer.
There were threats of legal action being taken, which clearly
we as Human Rights Watch feel quite inappropriate, and we stand
by our stuff absolutely. I think there may have been a caution
until some of that had progressed further; but that does not really
Q42 Andrew Mackinlay: No, it does not.
I am sorry to labour the point, but this report, having read it
and read it again, was based upon telephone conversations.
Mr Crawshaw: In the narrow sense,
Q43 Andrew Mackinlay: The impression
some of us got, right across the political spectrum here in the
United Kingdom, right across other European legislatures, was
that in fact the organisation, on this matter, had been infiltratedwhich
is presumably something which is possible.
Mr Crawshaw: Which we, of course,
believe absolutely not to be the case. I know that we do need
to move on. Those particular interviews were done by telephone;
however, there is a wider background to it. I am sorry, and I
am very happy to
Andrew Mackinlay: You will see that I
get a reply.
Q44 Chairman: Can I suggest that Mr Mackinlay
will get a reply, but also it might be helpful if Human Rights
Watch were to write to the Committee, explaining the report, sending
us a copy of it, referring to your response as well, so that we
have it on the record.
Mr Crawshaw: I am happy to do
and also, given the amount of internal discussion, if that is
a letter which partly is waiting for a fuller letter
Chairman: Thank you very much.
Q45 Andrew Mackinlay: Let us go to the
substance, which I actually have some empathy for: that HMG has
been a bit soft. We have seen, since the report was published,
a change of government in Iran and so on. So, over to you, Mr
Crawshaw and Ms Allenbecause this might be an area on which
we have some agreementI would like you to amplify upon
your concerns on where we are in Iran on human rights.
Ms Allen: Can I say from Amnesty
that we think that the entry this year is a bit more critical
in tone than last year's report, and we agree that the situation
in Iran is difficult and worsening. Our concerns include recent
curtailing of freedom of expression; the arrest of 25 internet
journalists who have received prison sentences; students who have
been imprisoned following demonstrations. We have heard allegations
of torture and ill-treatment, and of course the deaths following
demonstrations in Khuzestan, where 31 people died, and in Kordestan,
where 20 demonstrators were killed. Our other major concern with
the situation in Iran is the extensive and appalling use of the
death penalty. We have seen at least 159 people executed in 2004,
including juveniles and minors. We are also very aware that torture
continues to be routine in many prisons. The use of the death
penalty and the use of it on minors is deeply shocking. We have
intervened in many cases, as Amnesty: some successfully, some
not. Those are the major concerns that we have at the moment about
the human rights in Iran.
Q46 Andrew Mackinlay: What about the
United Kingdom Government's response to those abuses, which I
concur with your assessment of? Are we banging on the door with
a wet sponge, basically?
Mr Hancock: In response to the
individual death penalty cases, it is worth putting on record
our appreciation for the fact that the Government has been willing
to intervene on those, and that has had an effect as wellalongside
some other European countries. I would really like to be clear
in stating that we appreciate that. I would just echo the point
that this report does indicate some of the thinking which goes
on at the Foreign Office, and it is important that they have become
more critical this year. Importantly, it referred to discrimination
in Iran and the people it is obviously aware of is the Baha'i
community. I think it would be worthwhile mentioning that is not
the only religious belief system that is discriminated against.
So there is perhaps a little more detail that the Foreign Office
should be seeking to add in terms of other affected groups.
Q47 Mr Pope: You mentioned concerns earlier
about conditions in some of the former Soviet states in central
Asia. I want to raise the specific issue of Uzbekistan, because
earlier this year there were the terrible events in Andijan where
around 500 people were shot dead by Uzbek troops; widespread arrests
followed, and there were allegations that many of those people
had been tortured. Since then, the EU has suspended its Partnership
and Co-operation Agreement with Uzbekistan. Do you think that
is enough? Has the British response been robust enough? There
are pages on Uzbekistan in the Foreign Office Annual Report, but
my view is that it seemed a little weak on conclusions. It was
detailed on analysis but weak on conclusions, and I wondered if
you could give us your view.
Mr Crawshaw: I would certainly
echo that, especially at the time that this report went to presswhich
was after the Andijan massacre which you have mentioned. It was
really on the scale of Tiananmen Square, in the sense that, as
you say, it was at least 500 and it may well have been much more
than that. We do not know exactly. Human Rights Watch and others
have produced a report called Bullets Were Falling Like Rainwhich
as, you will recall, is a quote from one of the demonstratorsand
a subsequent report, Burying the Truth, which is the torture
people were suffering in order to come up with the government's
versionquite fictional versionof events which claimed
that basically this was a bunch of terrorists that they were confronting.
It was regrettable, especially with the UK holding the EU presidency
from July of this year, that there was not really a momentum to
confront what had happened. You mentioned the suspension of the
Partnership and Co-operation Agreement, which sounds a little
bit over-detailed, if you like, but it is actually the first time
that it had ever happenedso it was quite a significant
moment. This had not happened before. There were other sanctions,
first in October but which now have been strengthened, both with
a visa ban and with an arms embargo. So you have the sense that
some pressures are there. What would be very importantand
I have to say that I do still worry about itis that there
is not the sense that, "We have now taken action that was
needed and now we can move on and forget about this". There
is the visa ban for senior members of the regimethey have
finally put some names to that and there is a list of namesbut
I think that it is very important for it not to stop there, because
Karimov still believes that he is sitting pretty, and he does
need to be under pressure.
Q48 Mr Pope: I got the impression certainly
that Uzbekistan was a useful ally in the war on terror with its
air bases and that there has been a certain amount of soft-pedalling.
Mr Crawshaw: That was of course
absolutely, 150% the case before, when Britain, let alone the
United States, refused to confront what was happening there.
Q49 Mr Pope: There is one area about
Uzbekistan that has been a real concern to me, and I think also
to the Committee. That is the allegations that have been made
that people have been tortured in Uzbekistan and then the information
which has been garnered by the use of torture has been shared
with the Americans but, much more pertinently, with our security
forces. I have tabled a number of Parliamentary Questions on this
very topic and answers came there back none. I wondered if either
of your organisations had any evidence about this. We have had
a letter from our former ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray,
which has made a number of allegations along these lines. If you
have any evidence, I am sure that the Committee would be very
pleased if you could share it with us, either today or in writing.
Mr Crawshaw: The hard evidence
of what was shared backof course the former ambassador
is in the best position, unless we think that he has invented
it. He has documented clearly what happened, and the British Government
has not denied it really. Therefore one has the philosophical
question, if you like, that the Government seems to believe that,
"If this might save us all from being blown up, then we shouldn't
ask too many questions". I referred to it in our submission,
I think, that Eliza Manningham-Buller in one of her submissions
basically said as much as that: "We're not going to ask,
because that would make things difficult". I really think
that is a most extraordinary way to behave, in terms of keeping
us safethinking, "We don't actually want to know if
this person was tortured". First because of the phrase being
used, "selling our souls for dross"that was the
memorable phrase; the inaccuracy of stuff gained under torture;
but, beyond that, the message being sent. So it is not really
"Has it happened?"; it has happened and it is partly
being defended. It is "Should it be?", and we would
say absolutely not.
Ms Allen: We would support that
and say that we of course see the case in front of the House of
Lords, as to whether evidence extracted under torture elsewhere
in the world should be used in British courts, along with diplomatic
assurances, as the other part of our major concerns about where
the British Government is going on this issue of torture, and
the absolute undermining of the prohibition on torture. As with
Human Rights Watch, we are shocked by these ways of introducing
torture into the way in which cases were taken here in the UK,
and we very much look forward to the conclusion of the House of
Lords' decisions on this.
Mr Crawshaw: The British Government
has said, and it is quite right to say, it has played such a leading
role in the past in confronting the issue of torture. It has already
played a very important role. It is deeply depressing to see what
we have now, which is exactly what Kate has just saidreally
a fourfold betrayal. On the one hand you have what you are addressingthe
use of material for intelligence use; you have the House of Lords
case, of being able to use it in British courts; you have diplomatic
assurances if you were being sent back to the risk of torture;
and then what I flagged earlierthis extraordinary, worse
than a silenceyou have a denial of your closest ally, the
US Government, having what we have called "leadership failure"
in documenting it. So on all of those things the British Government
has simply backed away.
Mr Pope: The worst aspect of this is
that if it is happening, it is happening in secret. They are not
even being up-front about it.
Q50 Mr Purchase: Before we condemn completely,
are there any circumstances, do you think, in which the long-term
bilateral relationships between nations are sometimes best served
by not overtly recognising abuses in either one of those nations?
Ms Allen: The issue of torture
is such an extraordinary human rights abuse, and it is one that
is internationally condemned and legislated against, that I do
not think that we can turn a blind eye to any instance of torture.
I think that it is incumbent upon the British Government to adhere
to that. That is the concern at the moment: that by abandoning
that, it is sending such an appalling message around the world,
and the message that is being heard by those who use torture as
a green light. So this is something that really does have ramifications
well beyond this country. Those are the concerns that we have.
There has never been a country that has used torture in one situation.
Torture is always used again and then again, until it becomes
routine. There is no line that you can draw about torture, except
that it should not take place.
Q51 Mr Purchase: Even if it was a judgment,
a reflective judgment, which says that to draw attention or to
campaign, or to do whatever, may well damage long-term prospects
for the end of torture in a particular country? Philosophical,
I know, and hopefully hypothetical, but I ask you the question.
Ms Allen: I do not think that
you can end torture by turning a blind eye to torture happening,
or condone torture happening. I think that it is one of those
issues that absolutely, categorically, we have to stand against.
The impact of torture is appalling in terms of the individuals
where it is used, but it also has its impact upon those that use
it and the countries that authorise it. I just do not think that
that is a way that we would come to any long-term ending of torture.
Mr Crawshaw: I would echo it absolutely
as regards the turning of a blind eye, but I would emphasise that
here we have more than turning a blind eye; we have an active
statement that the problem has been addressed, when it clearly
Q52 Mr Hamilton: We know that since the
publication of the Annual Human Rights Report the Mugabe regime
has launched what they so charmingly call "Operation Murambatsvina",
which means "Operation Clear the Filth". We saw it on
our TV screens, especially when our colleague Kate Hoey went over
there secretly to film the evictions, and there have been many
more pictures of the houses being burnt down and people living
on the streets in fear and poverty. Conditions in Zimbabwe are
deteriorating every day. They continue to do so. Human rights
abuses continue to be prevalent and multiplying. I wondered what
your comments would be about how we, as the United Kingdom, can
help improve human rights in Zimbabweespecially given that
we are seen as the great enemy, the great colonial imperialist
power. They will not allow us in; they will not allow our diplomats
to do anything; they will not allow journalists from the BBC in.
What can we do?
Ms Allen: We very much agree with
the sentiments that you are putting forward. What we are seeing
at Amnesty is fewer cases of torture but a clearer and a different
change of strategy, which has moved towards the manipulation of
food, which only goes to those who support the Mugabe regime;
and, as you say, the removal now of 700,000 people in Operation
Restore Order. We do see a humanitarian disaster unfolding in
Zimbabwe. I think that the British Government has used its pressure
very extensively. What we would think is necessary is for the
UK and the EU to use their pressure through dialogue with African
states. As you have said, the pressure from the UK is portrayed
as colonial by Mugabe; that is the way in which it is seen and
talked about. I think the more that the UK Government and the
EU can do to encourage African states, and in particular South
Africa who have been such a disappointment on this issue, to raise
their concerns, so that it is seen as something that is led from
within Africa, the better. Those would be the ways that we would
want to see the UK Government use its influence.
Q53 Sandra Osborne: Could I ask you about
Colombia? The FCO report describes Colombia as a country of concern,
particularly in relation to human rights, while having a fairly
positive attitude towards President Uribe, saying that there is
no evidence that it is government policy that the military collude
with the paramilitary in Colombiaalthough it is widely
believed by NGOs that that remains to be proven. Do you have any
knowledge of how the UK Government ensures that the military aid
to Colombia is not misused and abused? What mechanisms do you
feel could be put into place to monitor the situation?
Ms Allen: We very much share those
concerns. We think that the UK should cease to provide military
aid until the Colombian Government has implemented the recommendations
from the UN around human rights. We are very much concerned that
the military support given by the UK Government could be misused
by the army. It does have close links to the paramilitaries. Those
links have not been cut. Those are the recommendations that the
UN is pursuing. So we would like to see that. On the arms issue
generally, out of 19 of the 20 countries which are of concern
to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the Human Rights Report,
there are arms exports to those countries. What we would like
to see in this Human Rights Report for the future is an explanation
of why that is, so that we can have a conversation about that
with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The only country of
concern that is not receiving arms exports from the UK is North
Korea. We would like to see the reasoning why those exports have
been agreed. Having said that, we are very pleased by the Foreign
Secretary's support for an arms trade treaty. I think that the
support of the UK Government is absolutely brilliant and very
essential to see the potential for that treaty, and we would very
much want to congratulate the Foreign Secretary and the British
Government on that support.
Q54 Chairman: In two weeks' time, this
Committee is visiting the Middle East, Israel and the Occupied
Territories, and we will also go to Saudi Arabia and the United
Arab Emirates. Very brieflybecause we will obviously be
getting lots of other evidence on those areaswhat do you
think the UK can do to improve human rights in Israel and the
Mr Crawshaw: One thing I would
flag above all othersthere are obviously a number of concerns,
including after the pull-outsomething which is still insufficiently
addressed is this question of impunity, which underlies so much
else in terms of the message that is being sent. The language
of the Human Rights Report, as I remember it, was quite soft.
It praised the fact that there was some kind of justice in connection
with the Britons who had been killed. Those are such extraordinary,
exceptional examples that it is really most inappropriate to use
those as though they were an indication that things are getting
substantially better. They are not. Again, we would be very happy
to send to members of the Committee a report which we did recently
called Promoting Impunity. If Committee Members have not
seen it, it does contain quite shocking material in the sense
of that patternthe absolute refusal to confront. I think
that Britain could play an important role in saying, "This
is what needs to be done". There is of course a pattern of
different abuses that are to be seen there, but I think that is
one thing which needs to be heard loud and clear.
Q55 Chairman: What about on the Palestinian
Mr Crawshaw: On the one hand you
have the continuance of suicide bombers, which are a crime against
humanity obviously; taking strong action against thosewhich
is something which needs to happen; and a number of abuses, including
physical abuse. That is the important message to send. I think
that one which can and should be heard is certainly that one toothe
Israeli Government and impunity.
Q56 Chairman: What about Saudi Arabia?
Do you think that we are providing sufficient support to deal
with human rights abuses there? Also, the UK nationals who allege
that they were ill-treated in Saudi Arabiado you have any
view on that?
Ms Allen: The Foreign and Commonwealth
Office says in this year's report that there have been "small
but significant improvements" in the reform process in Saudi
Arabia. As the Committee knows, we have been very critical over
the last few years of the UK Government's approach to the Saudi
Government. We would recognise that there have been small steps.
We are not yet sure whether those are significant or not. The
human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is still absolutely dire
in very many ways that we have documented, including appalling
use of the death penalty and the use of torture. In terms of the
British nationals, very recently I met Dr Bill Sampson and Les
Walker, two of the British nationals who were tortured by the
Saudis within the last couple of years. They talk about the most
appalling forms of torture that they both suffered, including
sexual abuse and threats to Mr Walker's wife as well. So appalling
accounts of torture, and I think the UK Government needs to make
sure that it gives full support to those men as they try to get
redress from the Saudi Government.
Q57 Sir John Stanley: Can I turn to Afghanistan?
Whatever the shortcomingsand there certainly are plenty
at the momentwould you agree that, in human rights terms,
the Afghanistan President Karzai is a significant improvement
on the Afghanistan of the Taliban?
Mr Crawshaw: Yes. That is not
a difficult question to answer. The follow-up to that is not to
say, "Let's not look at the seriousness of the problem".
What I thought you were going to saywhich I would also
be happy to send to you from Human Rights Watch's point of viewwas
has the British Government played an important role, which it
has done, in terms of confronting the power of the warlords? Again,
the United States, with enormous short-sightednessand I
perhaps use this word repeatedly, but I do think it is extraordinary
that they believed in Washington that somehow supporting people
who had well-known track records for brutality, continued to be
brutal in their rule, were "allies in the war on . . ."in
this case not just terror but on the Talibancould be useful
allies. That is not the way you get a stable country and it did
President Karzai no favours to bolster those warlordsincluding
arming them, which has contributed greatly to the continued climate
of instability in Afghanistan at this time. We would have wished
Britain in the past to take a stronger role, but broadly I think
Britain has understood that much better than its close ally in
Washington. Clearly the need to support the international force
there is strong.
Q58 Sir John Stanley: Do you think that
we are holding on to the gains, in particular women's rights,
in Afghanistan or is the situation now going back into reverse,
as is being reported in some quarters?
Ms Allen: I think that when you
are in a situation as in Afghanistan at the moment, where security
is such an issue and it is absolutely the overwhelming issue,
particularly outside of Kabul, the situation for women does become
quite bad. It is very much our experience that the levels of violence,
discrimination and humiliation of women remain high within the
country; that for safety's sake women are retreating back into
the home; that it is very difficult for women and young girls,
particularly in rural areas; and that we do need to see support
to women in Afghanistan, to some very brilliant women's organisations
and some very courageous women who have stood in the recent elections.
That really does need, in this situation, to be the kind of support
that needs to take place over many years. That has to be there
over the next decades, not just in the next year or so, to ensure
that there is significant change which is seen through, to see
that women's position in Afghanistan really does improve.
Q59 Sir John Stanley: Can I turn to China?
The overall view and it is very difficult to escape from
is that we are making virtually no progress at all as far as human
rights in China are concerned. We have a country with an absolutely
massive use of capital punishment; a country which is continuing,
totally ruthlessly and systematically, to suppress all forms of
what would be regarded by the regime as contentious political
expression; the suppression of free trade unionism; the suppression
of a lot which we would regard as perfectly normal religious expression.
Would you take the view that we are making no progress whatever
on human rights in China, or do you hold out any areas in which
we are making progress?
Ms Allen: We do not see any areas
where progress is being made. You talk of the death penalty. We
heard a Chinese national legislator announce last year that 10,000
people are executed each year, many of those after very summary
trials and after the use of torture. What we have seen is the
UK-China Human Rights Dialogue in June this year, which is now
in its thirteenth round. Our view at Amnesty is that we would
like to hear from the British Government about what progress it
thinks is being made in these dialogues. From our perspective
as Amnesty, it would be extremely helpful to have some clarity
about what the British Government is setting out to achieve. We
have no criticism of quiet diplomacy, if it is having an effect;
but, after the thirteenth round, we do question that and we would
like to know what the British Government sees as the progress
to be made there. It is clear that the Chinese Government is very
much wanting to be involved in that dialogue. It would be ironic
though if what the dialogue itself achieves is simply the UK being
quiet publicly and in various international fora about the appalling
record of the Chinese regime, which you have outlined so clearly.
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