Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)


30 APRIL 2008

  Q20  Mr. Hamilton: Thank you, Chairman. I am sure both of you will recall that in September 2006 half the members of the Committee visited Guantanamo Bay as guests of the State Department of the United States Government. We spent one day in Cuba—in Guantanamo and Camp Delta—and shortly afterwards, in early 2007, we published our report.

  One of the things we were told at the time was that President Bush really did want to close Guantanamo as soon as possible, so we were delighted that he agreed with us. Subsequently, he has gone cold on that idea and the impression is that he would prefer to leave it to his successor. Do you think that there is any realistic prospect, first, that President Bush will see Guantanamo closed before the end of his term of office and, secondly, that any successor, whether Republican or Democrat, will close Guantanamo?

  Tom Porteous: Well, you are right that Bush has indicated quite clearly that he is going to bequeath this stain on the reputation of the United States of America to his successor. Of course, we do not yet know who that successor will be, but a lot of people on both sides of the American political system—Republicans and Democrats—have made it clear that they want to see it closed. But it is still there and there are still 275 inmates in Guantanamo Bay. I think there are some real obstacles to closing it.

  The UK and the rest of the EU could play a very helpful role in aiding whoever succeeds President Bush in closing that facility. The question is how they could help with what to do with those who have been cleared for release because there are no serious charges against them—let us remember that a lot of the people in Guantanamo Bay are apparently quite innocent of any crime—but who cannot be sent back to their homes because of fears for their safety in those countries.

  We have already documented how people have been returned from Guantanamo Bay to Russia and to Tunisia, and have been seriously mistreated in both cases, so there is clearly a problem here. There are a number of Chinese Muslims—Uighurs, from Xinjiang province in China. Clearly, they cannot be returned to China because there is a very high risk that they will be mistreated.

  Q21  Mr. Hamilton: But many, I understand, were returned to Albania by agreement.

  Tom Porteous: They were.

  Mr. Hamilton: Not returned, sent.

  Tom Porteous: Sent to Albania. That is a useful way of dealing with the problem.

  We feel that the EU should step forward and offer sanctuary to these people. As for those in Guantanamo Bay who clearly have committed crimes, they should have been charged and put on trial a long time ago. They should be tried in the US federal courts system, and we hope that that is what is going to happen. We still do not have a very clear idea of what the intentions of the various candidates are for closing Guantanamo Bay, but we feel that the EU and the UK in particular can play a useful role in offering to help close it. As I think everybody agrees, this is very damaging to the reputation of the United States, but also damaging to the international efforts to deal with the problem of terrorism.

  Q22  Mr. Hamilton: But do you not think that part of the problem here is something that was made clear to us when we were there: that Guantanamo was brought into existence as a detention camp because the United States Government regarded the people they captured as prisoners of war, to be held under the Geneva Conventions? In Europe, we regard people that we accuse of terrorism as criminals and we put them on trial through our criminal courts system. The Americans have been clear that they do not regard these people as criminals; they regard them as prisoners of war captured on the battle field, because this is a war after all. That is a real problem because, to try them in their court system, they must then decide that they are not prisoners of war, but accused of a specific crime.

  Tom Porteous: In fact, they are not treating them as prisoners of war. They have created a special category for them that effectively will leave them in legal limbo, which means that their status has not really been defined properly or under due process. They do not have the privileges that are normally granted under the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war. That is why many people describe Guantanamo as a legal black hole. If we add to that the abuse that has been suffered by many people in Guantanamo Bay, that is why everyone recognises that Guantanamo Bay has been such a mistake in the global effort to deal with the problem of terrorism.

  Chairman: Ms Allen, do you want to add anything?

  Kate Allen: I want just to add one very small point to the comments of Human Rights Watch with which we completely agree. The UK Government recently changed their position in relation to some of the UK residents in Guantanamo, and four came back to the UK. There are still three UK residents in Guantanamo—Binyam Mohammed, Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha. It is absolutely vital that the UK Government play a role in advocating the return of their residents. There have been discussions about two of them, but certainly not about Ahmed Belbacha. In terms of all three, we think that, as a starting point, the UK Government should make representations about those who have residency here in the UK. I completely agree with the comments of Human Rights Watch on the role of the UK, the European Union and others in assistance to close Guantanamo.

  Q23  Sir Menzies Campbell: I agree with the description that it is a legal black hole. The categorisation of illegal combatant was last used in 1944 about some Japanese prisoners who fell into the hands of the United States Government. Have you derived any encouragement from the fact that the United States Supreme Court has shown a willingness to challenge the Government's categorisation and treatment of people at Guantanamo? Do you think that it is an encouraging sign or is the Administration's position—for the moment, at least—so powerful that not much is likely to change?

  Tom Porteous: What has pushed the Administration to make the concessions that they have made on military commissions, for example—and we are still waiting to hear about the next Supreme Court judgment on that—has been exactly the pressure from the Supreme Court. Its work has been exemplary and it is an indication of how American democracy works, in spite of the problems that have been raised by Guantanamo Bay and other issues.

  Sir Menzies Campbell: A number of us have been asked to be amicus curiae on the applications that have been made.

  Q24  Sir John Stanley: When we went to Guantanamo, we were surprised to discover that—as I recall—between one quarter and one third of the people detained there were people whom the American Government wanted to release, but the countries from which they came would not have them. That represents a very significant proportion of people who are there. It is perfectly reasonable to say that that bears out that they should not be there in the first place, but the fact is that we had about 130 people—from memory—whom the Americans at that particular point of our visit wanted to release.

  Ms Allen, you referred to the fact quite rightly that the British Government did a U-turn on the issue and were persuaded to take back the particular individuals to whom you referred. Can either or both of you give us any views about what more can be done to enable those people who are simply sitting there—because no other country will take them—to get other countries to change policy as the British Government have?

  Tom Porteous: It is important that the detainees themselves should be consulted about how they feel about going back to their home countries. As I have indicated, many of the detainees come from countries where there is a serious problem with human rights, particularly torture. There is a risk that people who have been detained in Guantanamo Bay, for whatever reason, will be mistreated when they return home. We have documented how that has been the case for a number of people who have been returned from Guantanamo. As for whether countries where there is no risk of torture will accept those detainees back, certainly pressure should be put on them to accept them if there is no risk that they will be mistreated when they return.

  Q25  Andrew Mackinlay: A predecessor Committee did a report on private security companies some years ago and we were also promised some legislation through a Green Paper. A Green Paper was published but nothing has happened. I would like your general views on the issue. One of the things that the Committee has been concerned about in the past is that London seems to be a capital for recruitment and marshalling of such companies, which are unregulated. There is the opportunity for denial if anything goes wrong, no tracking of individuals who might have perpetrated wrongdoing, and seemingly an absence of legislation in the United Kingdom with the territorial extent to prosecute people in private military companies who are either British nationals or in companies organised from the UK. Can you amplify your mutual concerns on those matters?

  Kate Allen: We are very concerned about the situation of private military and security companies. You are absolutely right. In 2002, a Green Paper was published—the same year that this Committee made some very far-reaching recommendations about the way in which private military and security companies should be treated. In 2005, there was the Government review of options. Since then, there has been nothing. It is completely unacceptable. We are seeing increasing use of those companies in various parts of the world, not least in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is also a strong industry in this country, and we estimate that 70% to 85% of the companies are based in the US and the UK. Therefore, there is an absolute imperative for the UK Government to act here.

  There is a situation of complete impunity at the moment. People are not being brought to account for their actions. In Iraq, companies such as Blackwater and DynCorp International have been involved in situations where civilians have been killed, yet not one allegation has been heard in a court. It is completely unacceptable that this situation is allowed to remain. Amnesty would like to see private military and security contractors being brought to justice in the UK for the crimes that they commit abroad and for there to be complete transparency and oversight over the activities of these companies. That was something that you, as a Committee, put forward as long ago as 2002. We wrote to the Foreign Secretary in March, again asking for a timetable for when there would be some moves here. We hope that the Committee will raise the matter with the Minister when you have him before you soon.

  Tom Porteous: The 2002 Green Paper is rather thin on the issue of accountability which, as Kate has just indicated, is the crucial issue. Obviously, these companies tend to operate in places of weak governance and conflict where, if they or their employees commit abuses, they can get away with impunity. In Iraq, you have the additional problem that the Coalition Provisional Authority explicitly gives impunity to private military companies. That is why there has been no investigation since Blackwater, the private military company that Kate Allen just referred to, shot dead 17 civilians in September last year. There is currently no prospect of any kind of prosecution. We are calling on the Iraqi Government to lift that immunity. We think that that is essential in Iraq. We are calling on the US Government to prosecute the crimes under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which enables US courts to prosecute crimes committed overseas. In the UK, we have not done the necessary research to say whether there is any legislation that could be used. If there is not, that gap needs to be filled.

  Q26  Andrew Mackinlay: Just following on from that point, we need to do our homework. Perhaps you can contribute to that to see if that lacuna does exist. In any event, even before you can make a conscious decision to make a prosecution, you must have an investigation. It seems to me that there is a void here. The Royal Military Police, for instance, would have no jurisdiction in such a case. What law enforcement agency is there in the UK to investigate a crime perpetrated by such a company or misconduct by individuals? It seems to me that there is no mechanism for such an investigation.

  Tom Porteous: We are beginning to do some research on the activities of PMCs in Iraq and hopefully we will be able to get back to you with the results of that.

  Q27  Sir John Stanley: It is not difficult to point to material that can be discussed in human rights terms following our invasion of Iraq. Equally, it is quite clear that there have been some very significant and disturbing human rights losses. I suggest that the biggest losers have been women. We have seen recently the utterly appalling murder by her father of a 17-year-old young lady who fell in love with a British serviceman. The father was arrested for two hours and released without charge because it was a so-called "honour killing". It has been reported that over a hundred women have been murdered in the Basra area, for which we have had responsibility, because they were not covering their hair in compliance with the Islamic dress code. We have seen any number of illustrations of the employment and educational rights of women being curtailed.

  Iraq has moved from a vicious Ba'athist secular state to a sort of democracy in which sharia law appears to be holding an ever greater sway. What is your assessment of the rate at which women's rights are deteriorating outside the Kurdish areas in Iraq and what do you think the British Government should try to do about it?

  Kate Allen: I think that you have very eloquently described the situation for women in Iraq. Some promises were made to women in Iraq at the time of the US and UK intervention. Those promises have not been kept and the situation for women has deteriorated dramatically and violence has increased. You are absolutely right that provision exists in the Iraqi penal code for lenient punishment for honour killings. I think that the UK Government could take up that issue with the Iraqi Government and demand that they uphold women's rights.

  The problem is not just outside Kurdistan. There are increased numbers of so-called honour killings in that part of Iraq. Women and girls are also now at greater risk of rape by armed groups and members of the Iraqi security forces. The ability of women to be economically independent and to move about the country and their own villages or towns is very restricted. The situation for women has deteriorated massively and the UK Government need to take that seriously and address it with the Iraqi Government.

  Sir John Stanley: Human Rights Watch, would you like to comment on that?

  Tom Porteous: Only to say that if you go into a country as a matter of choice, dismantle its Government and create a civil war, women will be among the first to suffer: the most vulnerable in any society suffer in times of chaos. I would not like to think that the discussion on Iraq is only focused on the particular suffering of women without looking at the responsibility of the United States of America and the UK for creating the conditions in which women are suffering.

  Another very vulnerable group—one that we consider to be probably the most serious consequence of the war—is the 4 million men, women and children who have been displaced from their homes as a result of the situation in Iraq. About half of those are displaced within Iraq and the other half are refugees in neighbouring countries. The United Kingdom has spent about £1 billion a year on the Iraq war, but has spent just a few million on addressing the problem of refugees. It has not given any bilateral support to Jordan or Syria, which are bearing the brunt of this crisis. In addition, that sends a message to Jordan and Syria that it is effectively okay just to send Iraqi refugees back to Iraq and close the door on them, because the British Government do exactly the same by forcibly returning failed Iraqi asylum seekers to Iraq.

  Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and the Refugee Council started a campaign last year to get the British Government to do more about refugees. One of the issues that we focused on was the treatment of former Iraqi employees of the British Army. As a result of our efforts and those of our colleagues in the media to put the spotlight on that issue, the Government—until then they had been totally negligent in their duty of care to those people—announced a chance to the policy last autumn. However, that policy has not been properly implemented, and a lot of former employees of the British Army who have put their lives on the line on behalf of the British in Iraq are still falling between the cracks and at great risk, both inside Iraq and in neighbouring countries.

  We urge the Committee to put pressure on the Government to speed up the process of implementing the new policy of providing aid to those people and to do more to address the general crisis of refugees in Iraqi. That is for not only moral reasons, but good, sound, practical strategic ones, because refugees spread conflict, radicalisation and instability. The last refugee crisis in the Middle East was the Palestinian refugee crisis, which is obviously still unresolved. A recent article in The Independent, which surveyed suicide bombing in Iraq, identified the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon as one of the chief sources of suicide bombers operating in Iraq.

  Q28  Mr. Purchase: I want to move on to a similar matter in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch has pointed out that the sins against women, if I may put it that way, such as violence, forced marriage and setting fire to people, in fact got worse during 2007. It is an incredibly difficult situation, and many abuses have been pointed out by Foreign Office reports, such as the execution of 15 people in Kabul by firing squad and the amnesty agreed by the President for Afghans involved in war crimes over the past 25 years. It seems to me that all of that is creating a position in which violence against women in particular is just an everyday thing that people accept.

  The one thing that I do want to say is that when I was there with Sir John Stanley we heard many heroic stories of NATO personnel, particularly British soldiers, moving heaven and earth to ensure that girls went to school. But in a way, that was an indication of just how badly women and girls are treated in countries that carry the Muslim religion to such ludicrous extremes. We have an amazingly difficult position in Afghanistan, which is not getting any better. What steps should the international community—I do not regard this as a British problem—take to marginalise the warlords, who exert so much pressure and influence in Afghanistan? How can we marginalise their position?

  Kate Allen: I agree that it is a bleak situation, and you have described it for women. In terms of the warlords, there is a major problem. There are moves around amnesties, which we at Amnesty would absolutely oppose. It is vital that those warlords who have been involved in human rights abuses are brought to account. In Afghanistan, after 25 years of war, there needs to be a bringing to account and long-term solutions. We would like to see increased pressure in terms of building up the police, prison and court systems. That is vital, and we fear that it is not getting the degree of investment and support that is needed.

  In addition, the Government of Pakistan have a role in terms of how warlords can be marginalised. They have a role in condemning the abuses by the Taliban, by preventing their territory being used by anybody who has provided military assistance in that way and by bringing to account anybody who they suspect has been involved in human rights abuses. There is also a role for the religious and community leaders, both within Afghanistan and in the wider diaspora, in terms of their influence with the Taliban and the warlords. There are those ways of helping to end the impunity.

  In terms of marginalising the warlords, earlier this month we at Amnesty were at a NATO summit in Bucharest, where we drew attention to the fact that 409,000 more small arms had been imported into Afghanistan since 2002. This is a country that is already completely saturated with arms. That amount of arms going into the country is disturbing. It is interesting that there are only 182,000 members of the Afghan security forces—that covers the military, police and security forces—and there are over 400,000 additional arms going into the country. Getting control over that trade would also help to marginalise the warlords. While those arms continue to flow into the country and into those hands, life is impossible for ordinary people and civilians in Afghanistan.

  Tom Porteous: There is a quite straightforward answer to the question of how to deal with impunity. There is already a road map to deal with impunity called the peace, reconciliation and justice action plan. It was initiated in December 2005 and is a three-year plan. I believe that it is in five stages; we are not even at stage one. There has been no pressure from the international community on the Afghan Government to implement the plan. The Committee should ask the Foreign Office whether the issue of impunity has simply dropped off the agenda. There is an important meeting on Afghanistan on 12 June. We think it absolutely vital that the issue of impunity is put right back at the front of the agenda. We hope that it will figure prominently in whatever document emerges from that June meeting in Paris. The problem in Afghanistan is not just a problem of terrorism but a problem of impunity. Unless both problems are addressed, there is not going to be a solution. It is absolutely essential, therefore, as a matter of really winning this war, that the problem of impunity is addressed. The problem is that many of the international community's strategies in Afghanistan up until now, far from marginalising the warlords, have actually empowered them.

  Q29  Sir John Stanley: My colleague Ken Purchase rightly pointed out that as far as women's and girls' rights in Afghanistan are concerned, we have a long way to go. Would you agree that the comparison that needs to be made is the situation today with the situation when we invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban regime? We must make a comparison with when there was a Taliban regime bent on the total extinguishing of the rights of girls and women to education or to any form of employment, making them effective captives in their own home for the overwhelming proportion of their time. Against that benchmark, we have made a significant advance in women's and girls' rights since we invaded Afghanistan.

  Kate Allen: It is absolutely important that women and girls have access to education. That is, and was, one of the advances for women after the removal of the Taliban. One of the difficulties now, in terms of the climate that exists in Afghanistan and the nature of the security issues that affect that country—in similar ways to what we have talked about in Iraq—is how women come under huge pressure when there is such instability in the country. One of the issues is that schools that teach girls and have women teachers are being targeted. It is increasingly unsafe for students to go to school and for teachers to teach girls, so it is not a gain that has remained: it is under massive pressure as the security situation becomes very difficult and as the human rights climate becomes bleaker—it is bleaker than it has been for many years. These things do not stay still. They do not exist in isolation from the context of what is happening in the rest of the country. They make it extremely difficult for women to exert their independence, even with the opportunity of education, or when the disbarment from education is removed.

  Q30  Mr. Purchase: I have a point of clarification. I agree with what John Stanley said, and that the comparison should be with what existed before. I do not wish to cast aspersions on the motives, or interests, of Britain, NATO or America in trying to liberate women and girls from the Taliban's appalling practices. The point that I was putting to you—and this is from your own report—it appears that after initial gains, matters are getting worse again for women and girls. I want to reiterate that we heard about the work in Afghanistan of, particularly, the British troops, which was quite heroic, as they were trying to get girls into school. However, it is clearly not enough and it appears that matters are getting worse.

  Q31  Chairman: We have to move on, as we have a number of countries that we would like to focus on. Can I take you to Burma? Last year there was a huge, international media focus on the repression there, the protests by the monks and the demands for the restoration of democracy. Yet now there is almost no media coverage at all of the repression, the arrests and the clampdown that is going on. As for the international observers and representatives, as far as I know Mr. Gambari has little prospect of making any progress, and the EU special envoy, Mr. Fassino, was not even allowed to go to Burma. What is your assessment of the current human rights situation in Burma?

  Kate Allen: You have described some of that assessment. The FCO's human rights report is a good one, and we recognise the work of the British Government with regard to the situation in Burma, and the strong terms in which the Prime Minister condemned the abuses taking place there. You are right about international media attention, but that reflects the fact that international pressure is not at the same level, and that it has not been maintained on the Burmese authorities. We would like to see that pressure increased.

  At least 700 people who were arrested during those demonstrations still remain in prison. That is in addition to over 1,150 people who were already imprisoned as political prisoners prior to the protests, and 80 people who have disappeared—that is what our research shows. We would like the British Government to continue to press the Burmese Government to allow the access that you talk about. We want to see the UN special rapporteur and others allowed into the country. We want to see the release of those monks who are confined to their temples, and obviously we want the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and a separate timetable for that to happen. We would also like to see the EU embargo on arms to Burma become a UN Security Council embargo, and we want the UK Government to do what they can to ensure that. We need a refocusing of international attention on the situation. The Burmese Government have, very astutely, managed some of this, and the pressure needs to be maintained.

  Q32  Chairman: May I throw in another point, and then I will bring you in? Is not the real problem, given that you are Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, that the international community is not an international community with regard to pressure in this case? I have met Association of South East Asian Nations parliamentarians from the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia who are extremely frustrated about the fact that some of the neighbours of the Burmese military regime are complicit in its behaviour, and others are not prepared to speak out publicly. There is pressure in western Europe, people in north America are concerned, as they are in other parts of the world, but the real people who can make a difference are the neighbouring countries which, for their own reasons, choose not to do so.

  Tom Porteous: In fact, ASEAN came out with quite a strong statement at the time of the repression of the protests last autumn, and we were pleased with that. Human Rights Watch has been doing a lot of advocacy in east Asia on Burma, as well as on other Asian issues. There is no doubt that the key players in Burma are China, India and the other neighbouring states. Any effort by the rest of the world to get China to put pressure on Burma is now off the table, because of what has happened in Tibet and the Olympics. That is not going to happen, and we must accept that.

  The UK has been right out in front in calling for targeted, financial sanctions against members of the Burmese regime, and that is really good. The problem is that it is now having difficulty getting some of its traditional partners in the EU, or even the US, to get behind that in an effective way. Our feeling is that the UK should go with its gut feeling. It is going in the right direction, and it should not wait for a lowest common denominator position from the EU. It should stay out in front, push—and push hard.

  The other point that I want to make is about the referendum. Human Rights Watch has a report about that coming out tomorrow. The British Government recognise, I believe, that this referendum is a total sham and should not be given any credibility whatever. Obviously, the Burmese are going to try to get a little bit of credibility for this referendum, and they will probably succeed in doing that. The British should be right out in front in undermining any credibility that the Burmese are trying to win for this referendum, because it is a complete sham and should be exposed as such in the eyes of the world. We hope that our report, which will come out tomorrow, will go some way towards doing that.

  Chairman: You mentioned China. Sir John Stanley?

  Q33  Sir John Stanley: Could you tell us whether you believe that China, as part of its Olympic bid, gave undertakings to improve the human rights situation if the games were awarded to it?

  Kate Allen: It absolutely gave those undertakings, and it has absolutely failed to meet them. I think that we are now in a position in which we at Amnesty would say that the human rights situation in China has become worse because of the Olympics and that the way in which the Chinese regime is behaving has hardened. More people are being rounded up, and the human rights situation has become more difficult for people. There are cases that we could talk about of people who have been arrested and sentenced to five years or more for talking about human rights at the same time as the Olympics.

  What needs to happen now is a look at how our Government will decide to confront some of these issues with the Chinese Government. Over the past 10 years, there have been 16 rounds of a human rights dialogue that we at Amnesty cannot see the results of. To us, it almost feels as though the ironic result of that dialogue—all that it has achieved— is to silence public criticism of the record of the Chinese Government. We are in a situation now where events are rapidly overtaking the entry in the human rights report, and the UK Government need to toughen their stance.

  It feels to us at Amnesty that the UK Government are more interested at the moment in the legacy of the Olympics for the London Olympics than in their legacy for the human rights situation of the Chinese people. We absolutely want to see that changed. We are not calling for a boycott of the Olympics—we have never called for that. What we want is to see our Government speaking out really loudly, really clearly and very publicly about their expectations of human rights in the period of the Olympics.

  Now is a moment when there is the potential not for massive, earth-shattering change but for incremental change and for people in China—who are very proud of the fact that they have the Olympics, but many of whom are also fighting for human rights in their country—to see that the international community and our own Government are not standing by and watching a sporting event while executions, re-educations through labour, forced abortions and all the abuses that I could talk about for some time take place in China. It would be intolerable if this were treated as a sporting event and the British Government did not make clear their view on the human rights situation in China.

  Sir John Stanley: Mr. Porteous, do you want to add to what Ms Allen has said?

  Tom Porteous: I agree with it entirely. On the point about the UK Government's approach to the Olympics, we have been told for several years by human rights activists working under immense pressure in China, in Tibet or Xinjiang, or by Chinese activists in the rest of China, that they want to use the games to draw the world's attention to the human rights situation in China, which is pretty dismal. We think that that is a very good plan and have been trying to help them to do it. We think that the Olympics represent a brilliant opportunity to draw attention to the human rights situation in China.

  The British Government are using the Olympic games as a means of promoting the London Olympics, which we think is an incoherent strategy. The protests in London against the torch relay ceremony showed the depth of feeling among Londoners over the situation in Tibet. We think that it will backfire on the Government if they insist on trying to use the Beijing games to promote the London games. On the contrary, the Beijing games risk tainting the London games, unless the British Government dissociate the two. We think that it is very important that the UK stands up at this point and makes it very clear that Gordon Brown, in particular, should not go to the ceremonies—neither the opening nor the closing ceremonies—unless the Chinese Government honour, or go some way to honouring, the pledges that they made on human rights when bidding for the Olympic games.

  In addition, because of Tibet, we also think it important that another condition should be that the Chinese Government allow an independent, international inquiry into the recent events in Tibet. That should be another condition on Gordon Brown going to the opening ceremony. Given that there is virtually nil chance of the Chinese Government agreeing to such a thing, we are basically saying that he should not go.

  Q34  Sir John Stanley: May I ask a specific question about Tibet? As you will have seen from a recent Committee press release, we will shortly be taking public oral evidence from the Dalai Lama, who has made it very clear publicly that he is not seeking independence for Tibet. He has also made it absolutely clear publicly that he is a man of peace and does not in any way favour, advocate or support violence. He is simply seeking to open up a sensible, peaceful dialogue with the Chinese Government. What do you think that the British Government should do to try to support and endorse that entirely reasonable request from the Dalai Lama and to get the Chinese Government to comply with it?

  Tom Porteous: First, congratulations on getting the Dalai Lama to come to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I think that that is a very good initiative. I shall be very interested to see what he says in response to your questions.

  On the question of what the British Government should be doing, all Human Rights Watch can say is that we think that the answer to the problem of the human rights situation in Tibet is an independent international inquiry. The British Government should be pushing for that, even though it is very unlikely to come about. On the political negotiations between China and the Tibetan activists, it is beyond our mandate to comment.

  Kate Allen: We would recommend that the UK Government press the Chinese authorities to allow immediate access to Tibet by UN investigators and independent observers, because we need that scrutiny of what has been happening, and what could continue to happen, during this extremely tense time.

  Q35  Mr. Hamilton: Before moving on to Zimbabwe, given what you have already said about whether the Beijing games should be boycotted, do you agree with what the Dalia Lama: that the games should not be boycotted? I am looking for simple answers.

  Kate Allen: Amnesty is not suggesting that the games should be boycotted. We think that they provide a focus for international attention and effort to improve the human rights situation in China. Unlike Human Rights Watch, we are not calling on Gordon Brown not to attend. We are calling on him, wherever he is—London or Beijing—to very clearly and publicly make clear his and the UK Government's view of the human rights situation in China and the kind of change that we would like to see.

  Tom Porteous: We also do not support a boycott of the games. We think not only that they are a good way of drawing attention to the human rights problems in China, but that such action would be counter-productive, because the games are very popular in China and we do not want to create any sort of backlash against human rights among the Chinese population.

  Q36  Mr. Hamilton: It is important that people understand that the Dalai Lama is not calling for a boycott either.

  May I move us on to Zimbabwe, which has been much in the news recently? I think that it saddens all of us that Zimbabwe, after South Africa, was one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, because of its natural resources and the fertility of its land, but we now know that Zimbabwe currently has the lowest life expectancy in the world and the highest rate of orphans. Some 3,000 people or more die of AIDS-related illnesses each week. Those are shocking statistics. In a statement on 21 April, the Foreign Secretary said that "President Mugabe persists in his ambition to steal the election." The results of that election have still have not been announced, and it is quite easy to guess why.

  Following a meeting with President Mugabe, President Mbeki of South Africa stated that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe. All that adds up to the most appalling abuse of democracy, of the rule of law and of human rights. We know about the destruction of people's property, the arbitrary arrests and murders of opponents of the regime. What can be done? I am not just talking about the United Kingdom, which is in a difficult position. How do we persuade regional states, such as South African and Zambia, that they must put pressure on Mugabe to at least publish the results of the election—if we can believe those results—and preferably to step down?

  Kate Allen: It is extraordinary to think that it is four and a half weeks since the election and we still do not know the results. It is deeply disappointing that the UN Security Council was divided last night and early this morning over a resolution to send an envoy to Zimbabwe. It is hugely disappointing that that resolution was opposed by China and South Africa. It was supported by the UK and the US. It is hugely disappointing to see the approach of the South African Government, who have relied on quiet diplomacy. After seven years of that, Amnesty cannot see that it has achieved any progress. Such a policy is completely inappropriate for the current situation. South Africa is not the only silent African country; many others are silent at this stage.

  Amnesty would suggest that it is important that the UK works through Tanzania, as Chair of the African Union, and continues to put pressure on South Africa. It must find as many ways as possible to put pressure on South Africa as the regional powerhouse in Africa. The UK should work through Zambia, which is already doing some good work, trying to create a regional consensus. I think that the UK Government worry that their speaking out is counter-productive. The moment for such thinking has gone. This is such an appalling situation, and it has been good to hear the Prime Minister make clear the Government's view of the election. It is important that all that happens. Those are the suggestions from Amnesty.

  Tom Porteous: Zimbabwe shows what little leverage the international community can have in some situations. The international community has been relying on the Southern Africa Development Community to put pressure on Mugabe to resolve the problem. Four and a half weeks ago, SADC endorsed the elections as free and fair, even though there was nothing to warrant that. Since then, Thabo Mbeki has said, "Crisis? What crisis?" There are now some signs that SADC's unity of cowardice is beginning to fracture, and Zambia is coming out with rather stronger statements. We think that the AU should be playing a greater role. It should unite and tell Mugabe that the game is up, and that he must go. If he does not, it must think about imposing serious economic and political sanctions on him to go.

  Q37  Chairman: Another country in Africa where there has been lack of progress is Sudan, and I would be interested in your assessment. We have waited a long time for the so-called hybrid force to be fully deployed. It is still not fully deployed—far from it—and the AU again is either not willing or not able to do what needs to be done. What can we do, and how can we deal these obstacles, so that we have effective peacekeeping forces, and what should the British Government be doing in the current situation with regard to Darfur and the wider question of dealing with Sudan? Clearly, there is a potential, perhaps some way down the road, in relation to unresolved issues, such as the referendum, southern Sudan and all those questions.

  Tom Porteous: On Darfur, there are three main obstacles to the full deployment of the UNAMID hybrid peacekeeping force. One is the obstructionism of the Sudanese Government; another is lack of support from the international community to provide the equipment that the peacekeeping force needs, especially helicopters, and the third thing is that this is a hostile environment and there is not much of a peace to keep at the moment. Earlier this year, there were further attacks by Janjaweed militia, supported by the Sudanese Government, in parts of Darfur. The humanitarian situation and human rights situation remain appalling, which is why it is necessary to get the force deployed properly.

  Clearly, one obstacle is within the reach of the international community to do something about—namely, to provide the peacekeeping force with the equipment that it needs to deploy fully. The international community must do more. There are obviously other concerns in the world and other priorities, but this is a serious humanitarian crisis that certainly needs to be addressed.  The UK has played a largely constructive role politically, but it has not stepped up to the plate with regard to equipment. It says that it has its own military problems elsewhere and therefore does not have the necessary equipment.

  It is crucial that the UK and others do more to put pressure on the Sudanese Government to co-operate with the work of the International Criminal Court on Darfur. That is the way to address the problem of impunity. The Sudanese Government have been wholly unco-operative with the Court's work. The Court has issued two arrest warrants, but the Sudanese Government are not only protecting both the individuals against whom the arrest warrants have been issued, but have promoted one of them, who is a Minister in the Sudanese Government.

  There is also the issue, which complicates matters, of the comprehensive peace agreement between north and south. If you remember, one reason why the Darfur crisis was not initially dealt with with the urgency it required in 2003 when the conflict broke out was concern that it would undermine the peace process between north and south. There is now a peace agreement between north and south, but that is coming under pressure in turn, partly because of the situation in Darfur. There have been worrying signs recently about implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement, and we think that it is important that the British Government get behind an international effort to ensure that that peace process stays on track.

  Kate Allen: The only thing that I would add is that the conflict has spread to Chad and the Central African Republic. We have had two missions to those areas recently, and we have seen and heard about the cross-border attacks by the Janjaweed militia and other armed groups. It is hugely concerning that the conflict has spread.

  Amnesty would also welcome assistance from the UK Government in gaining access to Sudan. We have been refused access. The last time that we were in Sudan, as opposed to on the borders, was in 2004. The then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, assisted us in gaining that access from the Sudanese Government. Any support that the Government could give us would be gratefully received.

  Chairman: I am conscious of the time. I warn my colleagues that I do not intend to go on for longer than 10 minutes. We would like to touch briefly on a number of other countries.

  Q38  Mr. Hamilton: Okay, I will be as quick as possible. The report of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not include Somalia as a country of major concern. Only three paragraphs are dedicated to it in the section on conflict prevention, yet we know that Somalia is a state that has collapsed almost completely. We know that the Union of Islamic Courts has taken control of Mogadishu. The most that members of the public tend to know about Somalia is learnt from the film "Black Hawk Down", if they have seen it. And yet, massive human rights abuses are going on, particularly in the Ogaden region, which Human Rights Watch has drawn our attention to. There is a massive crisis following the civil war, with 2.5 million people needing assistance or food. My question is quite an easy one. Do you think that the Government have not fully appreciated the scale of the crisis and the danger to human beings in Somalia?

  Tom Porteous: Indeed, that is our conclusion. Allow me to correct you on a couple of points. The Ogaden region, in which there are serious problems at the moment, is in Ethiopia. The Union of Islamic Courts was in control of Mogadishu but was dislodged by the Ethiopian forces in early 2007.

  Q39  Mr. Hamilton: And your accusation is that the Ethiopians are perpetrating human rights violations?

  Tom Porteous: All sides in the conflict have perpetrated very serious abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, in our opinion amounting to war crimes. We therefore think it extraordinary that, in the section on the conflict in Somalia of the report by the Foreign Office on human rights, there is no mention of the Ethiopian presence in Somalia, let alone the conduct of its forces. We think that that is very serious. The Government are now a little more seized of the matter than they were. In our interactions with him, Lord Malloch-Brown has been more sympathetic to our views about Somalia than his predecessor.

  The fact remains that the UK, the US and the EU got it wrong on Somalia when they came down in support of the Ethiopian intervention. The Union of Islamic Courts was dislodged, but there was no consideration of the humanitarian consequences of the conflict that was bound to break out. The consequences are now very clear. The humanitarian situation has been described by the UN as the worst in the world. We regard the human rights situation there as absolutely terrible.

  Politically, the abuses that have been perpetrated in the course of the military operation have provided a propaganda coup to Islamist extremists in the region. Militarily, the situation is probably deteriorating. The Ethiopians are unable to get on top of the situation and withdraw, which is what they need to do, because there is no real strategy in Somalia as far as we can see.

  We are calling for a commission of inquiry to look into the abuses that have taken place in Somalia. We would also like to see a mapping of the abuses that have taken place over the last decade or so. As in Afghanistan, part of the problem is terrorism, but a major part of the problem is years of impunity. That problem must be tackled. We are not saying that it will be easy to do so in the current security atmosphere. It will be very difficult, but unless that problem is tackled, the crisis in Somalia will continue to fester and to breed regional instability. So we think that the Foreign Office needs to address Somalia with a great deal of urgency and not just to see it through the prism of counter-terrorism, but to see it through a prism of accountability and human rights.

  Kate Allen: Briefly, there have been 1 million dead since 1991, more than a million people displaced internally, no rule of law, and again, for women rape is just a common occurrence. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to your question as to why it is not a country of concern.

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