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13 Oct 2008 : Column 598

Mike Gapes: There is a chance of that; all I am saying is that there will be other pressures on that presidency. If Mr. Obama appoints people such as Susan Rice, Tony Lake and others, some of whom served in the Clinton Administration and are well known in Europe, we can feel reasonably confident. Even a McCain presidency would be a significant improvement, in many respects, on what we had to deal with under President Bush. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) says that that would not be difficult. I do not want to go into that; I want to discuss the future.

I wish to discuss a concern that has been touched on in the reference to the league of democracies. John McCain has surrounded himself with advisers, including Fred Kagan, who advocate a position of saying, in effect, that the United States, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan, and perhaps some other countries, should set themselves up outside the UN system and just go ahead as a kind of coalition of the willing on a grand scale. That is extremely dangerous, as such an approach would set back the cause of democracy. If the world’s largest democracy, India, would not be part of that—I am sure that it would not be—and if the largest and most diverse country in democratic terms in Africa, South Africa, which, on paper, has the most pluralistic guarantees of human rights and civil liberties of any country in the world, was not part of it either, that would damage the call made so eloquently by Eleanor Roosevelt and the people of the United States when they played such a key role in establishing the United Nations system in the 1940s.

Mr. Oaten: On that point, would not an important step and at least the minimum we should expect from whoever becomes the next President of the USA be that that country signs up to the International Criminal Court?

Mike Gapes: I hope so. I think that there is considerable support in the Democratic party for that approach. I spoke at a seminar in Chicago in 2005, organised by the university of Chicago, for which some people were brought over from Europe to argue for the US to join the ICC; the university of Chicago is, of course, in Barack Obama’s home city. There is a body of opinion for that view and I hope there will be US support for signing up to the ICC. However, in United States politics there remains a view of American exceptionalism, whereby the international rules do not apply to the United States, and we must recognise that we will still have to do a persuasion job to emphasise the importance of this matter. The American support for referring the Sudanese Government to the ICC over Darfur was an important sign, because the Security Council is needed to make such a reference and the move was not blocked. That was a positive sign, even under President Bush. So all is not lost, but we need to maintain the pressure on that issue.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Much as I would like to go down the route of discussing Sudan, because I have significant interest in that matter, I shall stick to talking about the ICC, about which there is a complete contradiction in American policy. The Americans have been implicitly supporting the ICC over the indictment of al-Bashir, but are not willing to see that they must sign up wholesale. It would not be difficult to improve
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on the Bush Administration, but to be fair to the Americans, they have been quite good on their involvement in Africa. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it would be a retrograde step if America were to pull back, became isolationist and lost its influence in Africa.

Mike Gapes: I do not think that that is possible; one thing that we discovered in last week’s Security Council discussions was that 70 per cent. of its agenda is dominated by discussions of Africa. The issues discussed include: the crisis in Sudan; Somalia, which is a failed state, with terrible consequences for the region; Zimbabwe; the Congo; poverty; HIV/AIDS; and malaria. So many issues have an impact, particularly on sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, there is the question of what happens in north Africa and in the Arab world. Many African countries are Arab countries, and that has an enormous impact not only on potential migration resulting from climate change, but on radicalism, extremism and terrorism. There is a huge agenda, but there is also an irony in respect of the African countries, many of which have weak Governments and need the kind of excellent assistance that is given by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), who succeeded me as the chair of the board and is now passing on the baton to somebody else after three years. I know how hard he has worked to build up the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and make it such an effective organisation in a number of countries, and he will be missed.

John Bercow: Of course it is true to say that the United States has been good, in some respects, in denouncing violence in parts of Africa, but it has been conspicuously bad at fostering improved trade in Africa, notably, for example, in west Africa. Given that Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad depend for between 30 and 40 per cent. of their export earnings on cotton, but the US gives $3 billion to $4 billion a year to subsidise 25,000 extremely inefficient American cotton producers, on a scale of one to 10 what does the hon. Gentleman think are the chances of a new American president taking some account of extreme poverty in those African countries getting calculatedly worse as a result of current American policy?

Mike Gapes: I am tempted to refer the hon. Gentleman to Lord Mandelson of Hartlepool. [Hon. Members: “And Foy.”] And wherever.

There are lessons to be learned from the failure of the Doha round talks. I am thinking not only of the responsibility of the US lobbies. European agricultural producers—tobacco producers and others—have had a serious impact on many developing countries. One issue that we need to assess is the trade consequences, which are very important for the issues of human rights, democracy and governance. If we move to bilateral regional trading blocs, foreign assistance arrangements or treaty arrangements on a bilateral basis, many small countries—many of the poorest countries—which do not have resources and do not have something that bigger countries want, will get missed out in the process and will not get the protections and support that they need.

Although there is a certain amount of optimism in the UN, there are also some worries. In this cataclysmic week or month—or perhaps 17 months—there has
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been a recognition of something that we all knew was coming, although perhaps it is coming far more quickly than we thought. The economic power templates in the world are moving, but will political changes also result? China is already playing a much more engaged role in international institutions. In general, its role in the international community is a positive one, rather than a negative one.

Interestingly, China has not sided with Russia in all issues internationally over recent months and years. Even over Georgia recently, the Russians failed to get support through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on their position regarding the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, there are worries about what might develop out of the embryonic SCO. Some people see it as the precursor to an axis of sovereignty: a group of countries that oppose any concept of the internationalisation of domestic issues. Some people see it as a potential rival to NATO and a bloc that, in time, could become far more important than it is now. Only time will tell, but clearly there is a debate to be had about where the UN system goes and where the universalist values of the 1948 declaration of human rights go in the future.

A very interesting pamphlet has just been published by the European Council on Foreign Relations entitled, “A global force for human rights? An audit of European power at the UN”. I recommend it, because it contains some interesting and pessimistic conclusions. It basically says that the European Union, over the last decade, has lost influence in the UN system and that our values—what the report calls liberal interventionist values—have been weakened. Reference has already been made to the Human Rights Council, but even in General Assembly votes and in the Security Council there has been a weakening of support for those values. Countries that the report describes as “swing states”—democracies such as South Africa and India—have sided with the authoritarians against the democrats on many issues, such as in the case of Burma. I hope that South Africa under its new temporary President and under the President elected next year will be truer to the democratic values of the liberation movement, the freedom charter and the constitution that they established and will bring in a much more engaged foreign policy rather than siding with those countries that are against intervention on foreign affairs.

Reference has been made to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on human rights. This is not the occasion for a big debate on the subject—I hope that we can have such a debate with the Minister in Westminster Hall at some point—but I want to draw attention to some points. The first is the question of trade union rights. The matter has not yet been mentioned, but it is one reason why Colombia is the only country in Latin America to be highlighted in the Foreign Office’s report on these issues. Our Committee is critical of the fact that although we give military aid and support to the counter-narcotics forces and human rights training to the Colombian armed forces, there seems to be an increase in the pressure on and deaths and intimidation of active trade unionists in that country.

President Uribe is one of our allies. He is a supposed partner of the United States and of this country, yet today I received a letter from somebody working for Thompsons, a solicitors firm that does a lot of work
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with trade unionists, pointing out another list of individuals—I will not go through the names—whose lives have been threatened. The Colombian Government are not prepared to provide them with protection when they are engaged in their trade union activities. That is unacceptable and the Government should be doing far more, both collectively through the EU and individually, to raise the issues of human rights, trade union rights and the protection of the brave men and women in the trade unions in Colombia.

Finally, I want to say something about Russia and Georgia. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) might not agree with what I am about to say, because he has had close, warm relations with the nascent democratic movement in Georgia. We need to be very careful that we do not just take the view, which seems to emanate from some people in the United States, that there are no issues in the conflict for which the Georgians should be criticised. Yes, the Russians have behaved deplorably—they overreacted massively and their recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is totally wrong and unacceptable, and it cannot be agreed with or recognised—but Saakashvili, the President of Georgia, was reckless and irresponsible in August and he did what he did despite advice from the United States and from many other countries not to behave in such a way.

We need to be very clear that even though a country is a democracy, that does not mean that every action it takes will automatically be supported. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) said that democracy is no guarantee of human rights, and she referred to the United States. That point also applies to Georgia. There was a worrying article in The New York Times last week about crackdowns on opposition to Saakashvili in Georgia. The point also applies in Sri Lanka. That island has a democratic Government, but the most appalling human rights abuses are also going on. Many are carried out by the Tamil Tigers, but many others are carried out by the Sri Lankan armed forces. At the same time, the United Arab Emirates is an example of a country that is not a democracy where there is the rule of law, a civil society and respect, within parameters. One of the two—democracy and human rights—does not necessarily lead to the other.

People such as President Bush who have the naive belief that if we get everywhere to have free and fair elections there will be no conflicts and no problems have a very dangerous world view. Unless the ethnic, tribal, religious and cultural differences in a society are resolved, and unless political structures and political space are created, even if there have been formal elections and changes of Government, the situation can end up like that in Georgia. Mr. Gamsakhurdia was followed by Mr. Shevardnadze, who was followed by Mr. Saakashvili, and none of them had total respect for the different minorities.

In Sri Lanka, a significant minority of people on the island feel discriminated against. Extremist groups feed on that and make the situation far worse. We need to be cautious when we talk about democracy and human rights. We need to be more sophisticated about it. One does not automatically follow the other. Human rights can exist in societies that are not necessarily entirely
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democratic, while there can be democracies that do not respect the human rights of either people in their society or of their neighbours.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am very disturbed that the hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has said that Georgia could in any way be culpable for what has happened. It is a tiny country trying to defend its sovereignty. Many European leaders went to Tbilisi to show solidarity with the leadership there, and I am astounded that he could be an apologist for the aggressive action of Russia.

Mike Gapes: I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that comment, as it is absolutely outrageous. I am not apologising for anybody. I am simply saying that the behaviour of the Georgian Government in August, when they were advised not to take the action that they did, played into the hands of Putin and allowed the pre-planned package of rapidly moving forces to annex those two areas in Georgia. We can go into the long history of the situation, but interestingly South Ossetia and Abkhazia had autonomy when the Soviet Union broke up. In 1991, the first President of Georgia, Gamsakhurdia, cancelled that autonomy. Since then, it has been a so-called frozen conflict. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers—some Russian, some Georgian—were there but made no real efforts to resolve the conflict, so it festered.

There are other frozen conflicts: Transnistria; the conflict between Nakichevan, Armenia and Azerbaijan; and, of course, Nagorno-Karabakh. Many conflicts, which could explode at any time, are consequences of the break-up of the former Soviet Union. We need to be aware of them, and as Europeans we need to be more active in doing something about them, especially as they border our continent or form part of it. The Russians need to be condemned and criticised and we ought not to pull our punches. If small countries decide to poke the bear and it lashes out, they should be told to be a little calmer, otherwise there will be consequences that are dangerous for the rest of the world and for the people in those countries.

We can have that discussion another time, but those of us in NATO and in the European Union should be cautious about taking simplistic positions and saying, “Once you’re a democracy, you are automatically part of our family and regardless of what you do, or how you behave, there is an article 5 guarantee. We will sign up to defend you whatever you do.” That is extremely dangerous and as Europeans on the western side of the continent we need to tell some of our fellow Europeans on the other side of the continent that although we understand their situation and are concerned about it, they should not behave in a short-sighted and dangerous way.

7.10 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): I very much agree with the final remarks of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), but when he deplores Russian recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia he should remember that the road to South Ossetia and Abkhazia began in Kosovo. There is a clear connection between those events, to which I shall return in a few moments.

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May I say in what I hope is a non-partisan way that I think that there is a basic confusion at present in the Government’s whole approach to the promotion of democracy and human rights? If there was one defining feature of the first 10 years of this Labour Government, especially under Tony Blair and the late Robin Cook, it was the belief not only that there should be ethical foreign policy but that there would be occasions—perhaps more than in the past—when the west had to show, not simply by soft power and diplomatic means, but by the use of military power, its willingness and determination to change the political situation in other countries: to use military power to intervene not simply to prevent aggression, but to advance human rights or ensure regime change.

That approach was very much associated with Tony Blair, but the point has been repeated by the current Foreign Secretary. He does not spend much time on it, but in some of his speeches he has emphasised the point that military intervention must be part of the Government’s armoury as they seek to advance democracy and human rights. It was significant that the Minister for Europe, who opened the debate, said not a word about that. Indeed, even when I asked her views she had nothing to say of any significance as to whether that was the Government’s position. I hope that we shall have a view about it.

I declare my position in a simple and straightforward fashion: I have always believed that almost without exception it is a gross and foolish mistake to intervene in a military way in the internal affairs of another state. I argue that case not on some theoretical ground of national sovereignty—it is often alleged that people who take the view that I take have an objection to breaching national sovereignty even when there is the most serious abuse of human rights. That is not my position. It is the position of the Russian Government and of the Chinese Government, but it is not my view, which is simple: almost without exception, intervention in the internal affairs of another country, using military might, creates more harm than good. It ends up creating more problems than it solves and people will live to regret that fact.

The issue is not about humanitarian intervention. When the Conservative Government were in power, I was responsible as Defence Secretary for the humanitarian intervention in Bosnia. We sent many thousands of British troops to help to provide food supplies and aid for people who would otherwise have starved. What we refused to do was intervene on one side or another, in a military sense, in the war being conducted at the time. We were criticised for that, but in light of the present Government’s experience, both in Kosovo and in Bosnia, the arguments are profound.

Simon Hughes: I do not want to engage with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the lessons of the ’90s in southern Europe, but does he accept that whatever his view about military intervention there is no excuse for a country to deny an international agency of reputation the right and duty to be present and observe what is going on and report back? For example, I understand that the Sri Lankan Government still do not allow the UN into Sri Lanka so that there can be objective reports from international observers about what is happening on the ground.

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Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I do not doubt that what the hon. Gentleman says is correct. I entirely agree, but I want to concentrate my comments on one specific aspect: the use of military power to deal with human rights abuse.

The two major areas where the British Government, the United States Government and a number of other countries have sought to implement such a policy are Iraq and Kosovo. The road to Baghdad began in Belgrade. Serious consequences arose from the situation in Kosovo that were never part of the Government’s policy. They achieved two things by their intervention: they were able to take action that ultimately led to the downfall of Milosevic—indirectly—and they were able to reverse the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. However, when we look at the whole picture we find that although the Kosovar Albanians were repatriated, the Kosovar Serbs were ethnically cleansed and to this day remain exiles from their country. The Government have made no significant attempt to draw attention to that fact, yet it is part of the overall balance in the consequences of their policy. The ethnic cleansing of a minority is no more or less reprehensible than the ethnic cleansing of a majority.

The Government choose to ignore the fact that it was never part of their policy to advocate the independence of Kosovo—quite the opposite. Not only the British Government but all western Governments, as well as NATO itself, made it clear that the purpose of the intervention—or rather the war; it was not an intervention—was to ensure that Kosovo achieved autonomy. They said that they were against independence because of the fragmentation of the Balkans and the terrible example it would set for other parts of the world, including the Caucasus. That idea has had to be dropped and it is no longer part of British policy or that of the west as a whole.

When the NATO bombing of Belgrade began, NATO expected it to be only for several days. It was not; the bombing lasted for almost two and a half months and, in essence, involved a war on Serbia fought from the air. I have no time for the Serb Government of Milosevic—that is not the point at issue—but when people start wars, they lead to consequences far different from those that were intended. Those consequences can be serious both domestically and geopolitically.

Mike Gapes: We are where we are, so given the history, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that after eight or nine years of fruitless negotiation and the rejection of the Ahtisaari plan by the Government of Serbia, there was little alternative but to go ahead and try to create a situation whereby Kosovo could have investment from abroad and try to normalise its situation? Whatever the history, the reality is that Belgrade’s writ could never run in Pristina. We have to deal with reality.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: But the reality is that the human rights abuse in Kosovo, serious though it was, was no more serious than in many other parts of the world where we have not contemplated going to war. The reasons for military action in Kosovo had more to do with the role of NATO, and the importance of showing that it had a role, and with demonstrating western resolve than with the specific situation in Kosovo.

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