Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-69)|
16 NOVEMBER 2005
Q60 Sir John Stanley: Does Amnesty have
a view on this? Are you saying to us that the dialogue is a convenient
receptacle for the Chinese Government, basically, to buy off the
British Government in making only very modest adverse criticism
of China on human rights?
Ms Allen: I think that it is time
for the British Government to be absolutely, publicly clear about
what it sees as the advantages of the dialogue, what progress
it wants to see, and to pursue that in a public arena. We were
quite disappointed, during the recent visit of Premier Hu, that
those opportunities were not sought and that the debatethe
public debate at any ratewas simply one about trade, important
though that is.
Mr Crawshaw: Clearly the list
of concerns is long and it is clear to all of us here. You are
asking are there any signs of hope. One sign of potential hope
is that civil society is there and wants to go in one direction.
It is not that, "Oh, in China they do things differently";
it could go in one direction, of people being suppressed in many
ways. In those circumstances it is particularly disappointing
when a British Prime Minister, for exampleas flagged in
our written submissionis asked by a Chinese journalist
about issues and the words "human rights" are not even
mentioned. To me, given that list of concerns, it is a very odd
sense of politeness not even to flag that upbecause trade
is so important. It does not seem to take us forward.
Q61 Sir John Stanley: I turn specifically
to the situation in Tibet. Is that a situation in human rights
terms which you consider to be stable, or is it one which is deteriorating?
Conceivably you may think it is improving. Please tell us.
Ms Allen: We do not think that
it is improving. We continue to document abuses taking place in
Tibet, particularly of monks and nuns and of other religious minorities.
So we have nothing to say about improvement in Tibet. It is one
of our major concerns in terms of the Chinese regime.
Q62 Sir John Stanley: What do you consider
to be the objectives of the Chinese regime in terms of Tibetan
culture and Tibetan identity?
Ms Allen: There are very clearly
moves by the Chinese Government in terms of tradeits economic
powerthat involve moving people into Tibet. Those issues
do cause us great concern about Tibetan culture and its survival.
Mr Crawshaw: I echo of all what
you have just heard. Clearly the attempt to suppress the identity
is visible at every level.
Q63 Chairman: Can I ask you about the
position in Indonesia? Do you think our government is doing enough
to support human rights there? There is also the West Papua question.
Would you like to comment on that?
Mr Crawshaw: What we at Human
Rights Watch have done a lot of work on has been on Aceh, and
sometimes one could have wished for a stronger voice on that from
the UK Government; but broadly it has, at least to some extent,
been addressed by the UK Government in the meantime. On West Papua,
it is problematic that we are being blocked from going there.
We hope that we will nonetheless, but there is the great reluctance
on behalf of the government to allow the kind of scrutiny and
the kind of openness which will allow, frankly, the abuses which
we know to be going on to be fully documented and therefore to
be addressed. I think that a strong voice on that from the UK
Government would undoubtedly be helpful. Too often there is the
belief that if a government is broadly better than it was, therefore
very serious remaining problems should not be addressed. I think
that the opposite is in fact the case.
Q64 Chairman: Can I take you on to Nepal,
where clearly we have much closer historic relationships than
we do with Indonesia and close military relationships. We continue
to provide military support to the King's Government and army,
despite the current political situation there. Do you think that
that military aid should be suspended until there are elections?
Mr Crawshaw: Amnesty may have
different information on this, but it is something which I have
been discussing recently with colleagues in our Asian division
looking at this. Our understanding has been that that military
aid had been suspended earlierunless you had information
to the contrary. That was our clear understanding, and of course
we welcome that because it would be most inappropriate.
Ms Allen: Absolutely, and that
is our understanding too.
Q65 Chairman: And you would hope that
that would be maintained until such a point as there is a restoration
of a democratically elected government?
Ms Allen: Absolutely. We see a
situation of 200,000 people displaced. We know of 400 people,
named people, who have disappeared. There is an absolute climate
of fear. It would be intolerable to think that the UK Government
would be exporting arms.
Q66 Chairman: Can I try to pick up a
couple of other questions that I have jumped across? What is your
assessment of the position in Russia? The Annual Report does talk
about it, but clearly the British Government is keen to have good
relations with Russia. There are a number of concerns that a number
of organisations raise there. How do you feel about our position
with regard to Russia?
Mr Crawshaw: I certainly think,
and Human Rights Watch believe, that the situation is extremely
serious there, and is getting worse as the years go on. It has
been deeply regrettable, and again I find it, to use a polite
word, puzzling that the British Government, most particularly
the Prime Ministerwe have seen some very accurate criticisms
within the Human Rights Reportrepeatedly fails to confront
this. I assume that he feels that it would be impolite somehow
to address it. I think I have flagged it in our submission that,
when a Parliamentary Question asked whether he had raised the
question of disappearancesas we all know, a synonym for
murder in effect, and those people being taken from their beds
in the middle of the night and never seen againa very serious
problem in Chechnya todayit was not addressed, even in
those private conversations it seems. We also have very strong
pressure on NGOs which is growing, including stuff which might
even theoretically make it impossible for international NGOs such
as Human Rights Watch, which has a Moscow office, to continue
to work there. These things need to be addressed absolutely head-on.
There is no politeness in the world which can believe that, somehow,
because trade is now doing well, because of a range of other things,
these things ought not to be addressed. These are crimes against
humanity. The United Nations recently agreed a new convention
on disappearances; a new treaty against disappearances has been
agreed. It is already a crime against humanity. So I think that
the British Government, beyond the absolutely accurate criticism
in this report, needs to confront that head-on and not believe
that Putin is some friend inand again, it comes back to
the same storythe war on terror. There are undoubtedly
terrorist attacks in Russia. We have seen that. There have been
horrific attacks in Beslan and elsewhere. But the way to move
forward from those is not to soft-pedal on the crimes being committed
by the state.
Ms Allen: This Committee last
year was critical of the report concentrating on Chechnya, to
the detriment of reporting on other areas within Russia. I think
that the report has put that right this year; that it does cover
human rights across the country, in particular in Chechnya and
the concerns that we share there. Again, we would want to see,
like Human Rights Watch, some clear statements by the British
Government of what improvements it would want to see and the way
in which it would raise those with the Russian Government.
Q67 Chairman: Finally, we have had the
Africa Commission report this year, which talks amongst other
things about governance and human rights in Africa, yet one of
the key members of that commission is Mr Zenawi from Ethiopia.
We have seen recent tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Do
you think the FCO Annual Report refers sufficiently to human rights
abuses in both those countries? How do you feel we should take
forward concerns about human rights in some African countries?
Ms Allen: We do have concerns
on human rights in both Eritrea and in Ethiopia that are not covered
fully in the FCO's report. We have concerns in Eritrea about religious
minorities; over 1,000 members of one minority church in prison;
again, the use of torture. In Ethiopia our concerns are around
some of the recent demonstrations that have taken place in Addis
Ababa and the security forces shooting and killing many civilians.
We are also deeply concerned by the tensions on the border. We
saw all too appallingly in 1998 to 2000 the impact of that border
dispute then. So I think that we would welcome greater attention
from the UK Government on those issues.
Q68 Chairman: There is one other country
in Africa where Britain at least, through some of our oil companies,
has major interests and that is Angola. There are clearly outstanding
issues from the civil war there. Do you think that the Annual
Report gives sufficient coverage to Angola?
Ms Allen: There is very little
mention in the report of Angola. We do, from Amnesty, have some
very clear concerns. There are, and there continue to be, clashes
between the MPLA and UNITA. We see a country where one million
civilians were estimated to hold firearms illegally, with all
the effect of that. We are aware of some improvement in police
behaviour, but there are still very many reports of the police
committing human rights abuses. We again have seen literally thousands
of families evicted from informal urban settlements in Rwanda.
So we have some very serious concerns about human rights and,
as you say, Chairman, they are not covered in the FCO's report.
Q69 Chairman: We have covered an enormous
area of territoryprobably most member states of the UN
in one way and another! I would like to thank all three of youMr
Crawshaw, Ms Allen and Mr Hancockfor coming along. We are
very grateful. No doubt you can follow up, if you feel that there
is anything that you want to send us. We will be very pleased
to receive it. Thank you for your time.
Ms Allen: Thank you for giving
us the opportunity.