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11 Oct 2007 : Column 147WH—continued

Several members of the Committee, including myself, were able to go to Afghanistan just over a year ago. We were all struck, yet again, by the number of women who were going out and doing professional jobs, which would have been impossible and unacceptable when the Taliban were in power. We were also struck by the significant number of women MPs in the Afghan Parliament, and we had a meeting with them. We were struck, too, by the number of girls who are now, mercifully, being allowed the education that they were denied by the Taliban. When we saw Education Minister Atmar, we were delighted to hear
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him refer to the way in which the British forces in Helmand province had re-established schools that the Taliban had burned down simply for allowing girls to have an education.

Such developments are very encouraging, and the Government could and should do more to bring home to the British people the fact that we are fighting in Afghanistan not only because we want to prevent the Taliban from coming back, as they most certainly would if we were not there—all the severe security perils that that would involve would take us back to before 9/11—but because Afghanistan is the front line for human rights and particularly for women’s and girls’ rights. Let us keep saying that.

I also want to refer to Zimbabwe. I have been fortunate enough to go to Zimbabwe over a number of years, both before Mr. Mugabe came to power and since. Sadly, Zimbabwe is a mass human tragedy. It is one of the most well-endowed countries in Africa, with tremendous agricultural wealth, mineral wealth and unrivalled tourist opportunities, but it has now been reduced to a wreck, other than for Mr. Mugabe and his cronies. Hundreds of thousands of people have been turned into refugees and millions have been reduced to destitution.

I looked again at the Committee’s report and the Government response, and I have to say that I am not particularly proud of either. Year by year, we have been going through similar motions, uttering words of condemnation and asking the Government to do more at the UN and other international bodies. The Government have replied with similar words of condemnation, saying that they have been having meetings and talks and that they have been doing their best. In the meantime, everything has been getting worse.

We have, however, had one new breakthrough. As I told the Foreign Secretary at the Committee’s meeting yesterday, I warmly applaud the Prime Minister on making it clear that he will not go to the EU-Africa summit to rub shoulders with Mr. Mugabe. However, I was saddened, although not at all surprised, when I asked the Foreign Secretary how many other EU Prime Ministers will be taking the same stand. He had to reply that he was not, sadly, aware of any other Prime Minister who was going to take the same position.

I have a policy point—indeed, a recommendation—for the Minister and the Government. I have been looking back through my files. Two years ago, I had a correspondence with the then Minister for Europe, who is now the Secretary of State for International Development, about the ambit of international criminal law. He noted that, as things stand, unless somebody is guilty of something that falls within the definition of a war crime or crimes against humanity, they are outside the ambit of international criminal law. Should this country and the Government therefore consider whether the ambit of international criminal law ought to be widened somewhat to bring within it those who carry out outrageous, appalling mass human rights violations that, under the present definitions, fall just below the level of crimes against humanity? That is a serious and significant question of policy, which needs to be addressed.

If an individual in this country treated another individual in the way that Mr. Mugabe treats millions of his subjects, it would be a matter for a criminal prosecution,
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as it would under the criminal law of most other countries. If that is the situation for individuals, we must ask whether it does not represent reasonable and necessary grounds for extending the ambit of international criminal law to deal with political leaders who behave in a way that utterly defies and denies human rights and imposes huge suffering on their peoples.

I ask the same question in relation to the military junta in Burma, and the same issue of policy arises in relation to its members. The military junta’s stock in trade is to smash up, jail and torture—even to death—people who have simply indulged in wholly peaceful demonstrations. Such unacceptable conduct makes the case for giving serious consideration to widening the ambit of international criminal law.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South referred to cluster bombs, and I very much applaud the Government for the Defence Secretary’s announcement on 20 March that this country will be the first to announce an immediate ban on the use of dumb cluster bombs by its own armed forces. It would be reasonable to say that that announcement came after a fair degree of vigorous prodding by this Committee and the Quadripartite Committee, but it was none the less a significant step forward on the part of the Government, and I congratulate them on it.

However, the Government’s response to the Committee’s present report and to its report on global security and the middle east raises another point. The Government have acknowledged that, even with our own UK version of the M85, there is a 2.3 per cent. failure rate. We were told—I was there to hear it—by the UN experts engaged in the fantastic cluster bomblet clearance operation in southern Lebanon, when we were there in March, that they were experiencing a failure rate of 10 per cent. I have every reason to think that the failure rate of other countries’ cluster bombs—so-called smart cluster bombs, which in this case were the Israelis’ cluster bombs—may be significantly higher than that of the ones used by the UK’s armed forces.

I reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for Ilford, South: if cluster bombs are used in any great volume, given the large number of bomblets per bomb, even a 2.3 per cent. failure rate means a significant amount of live, undetonated munitions lying around in fields, grass and hedgerows, often with coloured markers on them, so that they are attractive to children, whom they will maim or possibly kill if they come into contact with them. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the Committee’s view that we should see whether we can bring about a total ban, including a ban on smart cluster bombs, unless we can produce technology that makes them not less than 100 per cent. safe—in other words with self-detonation that is guaranteed to work every time.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says about cluster bombs. Did the Committee consider at all the similar residue effect of depleted uranium weapons, with fallout from localised burning that takes place if such a weapon is used, and the consequent health problems, which have certainly occurred in southern Iraq in relation to the war in 1991?

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Sir John Stanley: I do not recall that we considered depleted uranium in the context of the report before us today, but if my memory serves me well we considered it in our reports following the war in Kosovo, when there was acknowledged use of DU munitions, including by the RAF and the United States Air Force.

May I finally turn to one small but not insignificant matter? It is not referred to in our report, so I shall quite understand if the Minister gives a written answer. It is the failure, still, of the EU to ratify the 1996 Hague convention on the international protection of children. That is a child protection convention of enormous importance, with the potential to be of real benefit to children around the world. Although it entered into force in January 2002, it is, well over five years later, still unratified. As the Minister may know, the only reason why it is not ratified—it is appalling to relate it—is that it is tangled up in the spat between Britain and the Spanish Government over how it should be implemented in Gibraltar. It is scandalous that a worldwide convention of prime international importance to children should be held up in ratification as a result of the British and Spanish Governments’ inability to agree its operation in Gibraltar.

Nearly a year ago, on 17 October, I received an answer on that point from the then Minister for Europe, the Secretary to the Treasury. He ended his answer with this sentence:

Almost a year has elapsed and unless the convention has been ratified in the past few days—I am not aware that it has—it scandalously remains unratified. I ask the Minister to give that matter her urgent attention.

In conclusion I want to mention the late Robin Cook, who spoke of his intention to conduct an ethical foreign policy—a phrase that came in for a certain amount of derision, whether fairly or not. As a result of his initiative, the British Government’s Foreign Office began, for the first time, to produce an annual report on human rights. That is a profoundly important initiative. I am delighted that the Foreign Office continues to take it very seriously, as 356 pages of the 2006 report—I think that I counted right—bear witness. We on the Foreign Affairs Committee take it seriously. I hope that it will continue to be the policy of the Government, and I am sure that it will continue to be the policy of the Foreign Affairs Committee, that human rights should continue to be a key focus of our attention.

3.25 pm

Keith Hill (Streatham) (Lab): I am very pleased to speak for the first time in more than nine years as a Back Bencher under your chairmanship, Mr. Chope. I congratulate the Foreign Affairs Committee on their excellent report and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) on his presentation of it. I do not intend to detain the House for long, partly because other hon. Members will be anxious to speak and partly because I want to raise an aspect of human rights in China. China is referred to in the report, but I am well aware that it was only six months ago that the
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House debated the FAC’s report on east Asia in this Chamber and that China was the main focus of that debate.

The issue that I want to raise is the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China and, in particular, the horrendous allegations of the systematic and organised harvesting of their bodily organs. I raise those shocking matters at the instigation of my constituent, Ms Youyan Li, and especially after my meetings with her elderly parents. I may mention their names because they are now safely settled in Australia: Mr. Baoging Li and Mrs. Jinghang Liu. They are both Falun Gong practitioners. Both were arrested several times in China. Mrs. Liu was forcibly subjected to blood tests and other forms of medical examination, which we believe were the preliminary stages of organ harvesting.

The persecution of Falun Gong practitioners is well attested. Amnesty International reported in 2001 that the Chinese Government had adopted three strategies to crush Falun Gong: violence against practitioners who refuse to renounce their beliefs; brainwashing to force all known practitioners to abandon and denounce Falun Gong; and a media campaign to turn public opinion against Falun Gong. Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, reported in 2005 on the alleged ill treatment and torture of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners. The US State Department’s country report on China, for the same year, indicated that the number of Falun Gong practitioners dying in custody was estimated to be between a few hundred and a few thousand.

What is this Falun Gong that attracts such violence from the Chinese authorities? It appears to be a spiritual technique based on traditional Chinese breathing exercises. It includes such exercises, plus meditation and certain moral principles derived from Buddhist and Taoist teachings. Among other things, its practitioners are guided by concepts that translate as truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance. Falun Gong is not an organised movement. It has no members, just adherents. It has no political platform. It seems to attract middle-aged, middle class people rather like my constituent’s parents, both retired and both former award-winning scientists.

Why, then, is the repression of Falun Gong so violent—so particularly virulent? The answer is perhaps twofold. First, there is the scale of the movement. By 1999, when President Jiang Zemin outlawed Falun Gong and set up the notorious “610 office” to lead the repressions, the number of practitioners ran into the millions. In Beijing alone, there were more than 2,000 practice stations. Secondly, its value system—truth, tolerance, forbearance—was presumably seen as a challenge to the corrupt and ideologically bankrupt Chinese Communist party.

Will Hutton, in “The Writing on the Wall”, his new and rather good book on China, writes:

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Nevertheless, the case remains that Falun Gong is just a value system and a way of living. Its persecution by the Chinese authorities is quite indefensible, as is the entire record of Chinese human rights abuse against Tibetans, Christians, Uighurs, democracy activists and human rights defenders. However, the charge against the Chinese Government of the mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners is more serious still. It is the charge of harvesting healthy organs to supply a transplant industry that has expanded greatly in China in recent years and been enormously lucrative for the hospitals and surgeons practising in it.

I wish to acknowledge the work of two Canadians, David Matas and David Kilgour, whose reports on allegations of the organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China, published in July 2006 and January 2007, will form the main source material of most of my subsequent remarks. In May 2006, David Kilgour interviewed a woman using the pseudonym Annie, who said that her surgeon husband had told her that he had personally removed the corneas of approximately 2,000 anaesthetised Falun Gong prisoners in Sujiatun hospital in Shenyang City, in north-east China, during the two years before October 2003, at which point he refused to continue. The surgeon made it clear to his wife that none of the cornea “donors” survived, because other surgeons removed other vital organs and all the bodies were then cremated.

Annie, it should be emphasised, is not a Falun Gong practitioner. Indeed, it has been put to me that for many, if not most, Falun Gong practitioners, the most direct evidence of the practice of organ harvesting comes from a non-Falun Gong source. For obvious reasons, there is a veil of silence over the practice: the dead cannot speak and neither can their families, because it appears that large numbers of Falun Gong prisoners decline to identify themselves in order to protect their families. Members of that population of unidentified prisoners can therefore simply disappear without anyone outside the prison system being any the wiser. And who, among the surgeons and medical staff, would admit participation in the transplants of organs from the living bodies of Falun Gong prisoners, particularly considering that many operations are carried out in military hospitals by surgeons wearing military uniforms, their silence reinforced by military discipline?

According to public reports, in the six years before the ban on Falun Gong in 1999, the number of transplants in China averaged 3,000 a year. In the six years from 2000 to 2005, they averaged 10,000 a year. Where did the increase come from? Not from family donors—there appears to be a deep cultural aversion in China to organ donation. It is estimated that at least 98 per cent. of organs for transplants come from non-family sources. Nor did the increase come from executed criminals. China, of course, executes more criminals than the rest of the world put together. There are still more than 90 capital offences, including political and economic crimes in which there has been no violence. The Chinese Government have themselves acknowledged the use of prisoners sentenced to death as a source of organs for transplants.

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The use of capital punishment and the harvesting of the organs of executed criminals—obviously without their consent—are both to be condemned wholeheartedly, but they do not explain the increase in the number of transplant operations since 1999. According to tabulations based on Amnesty International reports, the average number of executed criminals in each of the six years to 1999 was 1,680; in the six years from 2000 to 2005 it was 1,616. There has to be another source. The increase cannot be explained by improvements in technology, because the Chinese were perfectly able to do transplants in the 1990s. It is true that there has been a big new investment in transplant centres. There were only 22 liver transplant centres operating in China before 1999, and there were 500 in mid-April 2006. That investment expanded capacity, but it did not expand the source, nor does it explain why the websites of Chinese hospitals have been able to advertise waiting times for kidney transplants of one, two or at most four weeks. By contrast, the average waiting time is 27 months in the UK and just over three years in the United States.

The Canadian investigators, Matas and Kilgour, were unable to visit China. However, they used Mandarin speakers to call hospitals and transplant doctors and ask about transplants. Sometimes the callers were referred to prisons or courts. I wish to quote a passage from the report. It states:

There are only two kinds of witnesses of organ harvesting, but the victims die and what remains of their bodies is burned, and the perpetrators are unlikely to confess. However, I am convinced that there is sufficient evidence to establish a strong case that organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners exists.

I conclude by referring to the experiences of my constituent’s mother, Mrs. Jinghang Liu. She is 66 years of age and was arrested six times and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. She is now an Australian citizen. In August this year, she wrote to Prime Minister Howard to ask him to raise the issue of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners when he met President Hu Jintao at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit. Mrs Liu wrote:

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She wrote that they

In July 2006, a law banning the sale of organs in China came into effect. Since the publication of the Matas and Kilgour reports last year and this, it appears that the number of transplants has come down significantly. However, we have reason to believe that the practice of organ harvesting continues; if it does not, it is for the Chinese authorities to prove that that is the case. They should allow independent, third-party investigations in China and I very much hope that the British Government will press for that in their discussions with the Chinese authorities. Let us be clear: harvesting the organs of unwilling donors is a crime against humanity and it is for the Chinese to take action to end this evil. The repression, imprisonment and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners should also cease. I hope that, in their dialogue with the Chinese on human rights, Ministers will press for an end to that persecution.

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