The massive presence of the settlements in the heart of the Occupied Territories and the policies adopted toward them has created a state of institutionalized separation and discrimination as well as a nullification of the principle of equality. In the same territorial area and under the same administration live two populations who are subject to two separate and contrasting legal systems and infrastructure. One population has full civil rights while the other is deprived of those rights. The absolute separation between the populations is purely on the basis of national origin. The settlers' lives, although they live in an area under military rule, are in almost every respect the same as those of Israeli citizens living in Israel. This is in stark contrast with the local population in the same area, the Palestinians, who continue to live under the regime of a military occupation. Thus, for example, a Jew who has committed a crime is entitled to all the rights of an accused under Israeli law, and will be tried before a civil court, whereas a Palestinian who has committed a crimeeven during the same eventis subject to much harsher military law and will be tried under the military court system; Israel has built a modern arterial road system in the West Bank intended in fact only for use by Israeli traffic, whereas the Palestinians are forced to travel for the most part on twisting and dangerous roads; the discriminatory use Israel makes of the planning system in the Occupied Territories restricts building and any possibility of expanding Palestinian towns and villages, in contrast with the generous planning flexibility enjoyed by the settlers; the amount of water allocated to the settlements allows them to grow grass and build swimming pools, whereas there are Palestinians who are forced to buy drinking water from tankers.
How long will the British Government, as well as most of Europe and certainly the US Government, remain so extraordinarily passive and silent about the absolutely unacceptable position of human rights for Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied territories? The
British Government and many others must give an altogether different level of priority to the matter and show a willingness to speak out frankly to the Israeli Government on what they need to do to recover respect in the international community with regard to the treatment of the Palestinian community, while at the same timeI make this absolutely clearsupporting the Israeli Government in trying to deal directly with terrorists or those who are committing atrocities against the state of Israel.
With the Prime Ministers statement today, it is clear that we are coming to the end of our military involvement in Iraq. Quite apart from the call from those on the Opposition Front Bench for a public inquiry on how we came to invade Iraq in the first place, there will be a need for evaluation of the consequences of our invasion and subsequent involvement in that country. I urge the Government to produce, in the course of the next year as our time in Iraq comes to an end, an evaluation of what has been the overall equation with regard to human rights, and to do that evaluation objectively, honestly and impartially.
I was at a NATO Parliamentary Assembly function in Washington at the beginning of this week, and on Monday the hotel where we were staying delivered to me that days edition of USA Today. A report on the front page of President Bushs final visit to Iraq stated:
After the news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush visited Camp Victory, a military base, to greet hundreds of cheering troops. He said...Thanks to you, the Iraq were standing in today is dramatically freer, dramatically safer and dramatically better than the Iraq in 2000.
Let us consider the three yardsticks that President Bush erected. Is Iraq dramatically freer? Yes, there are aspects on which Iraq undoubtedly is substantially freer than it was under Saddam Hussein, which is very welcome. It may be somewhat fragile, but there is a genuine degree of democracy, and there is hugely enhanced freedom of expression and freedom of the media, which is all-important in a free society.
However, with the huge wave of criminality, kidnapping and sectarian violence, I wonder how many ordinary Iraqis feel today that they are dramatically freer in terms of being happy to leave their homes, to walk around in the streets, to be on their ownwomen in particularand to go about their business. I wonder how many of the millions of ordinary Iraqis feel today that their ordinary way of life has been made dramatically freer against the background of some of the factors to which I have referred.
Is Iraq dramatically safer? One group of people cannot answer that question. They are the hundreds of thousandswe do not bother to count themof Iraqi civilians who are dead as a result of what has been unleashed internally in Iraq following our invasion, dead as a result of criminality and dead as a result of sectarian violence. Will the Minister give us her best estimate of how many hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have died as a result of violence in Iraq since we invaded?
Another group of people, who most certainly can answer the question, would answer with an emphatic no. Those are the people who have voted with their feetthe people who have felt it necessary to leave their
homes, the people who have become refugees in other parts of Iraq and in neighbouring countries. The figures for thosewe owe a debt in this regard to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugeesare appalling. Some 2.7 million Iraqis have been forced to become refugees in their own country. A further 2.5 million have become refugees in neighbouring countries. More than 5 million Iraqis have been forced to become refugees. Iraq has not proved dramatically safer for them.
There are those who have had to flee because of religious persecution. Whatever the evils of Saddam Husseins regimethere were many of thembecause it was a secular state, it was not into religious persecution. The figures that have been reported in the press regarding the decimation of the centuries-old Christian community in Iraq are that five years ago, there were 800,000 Christians in Iraq; today, that has slumped to 250,000. More than 500,000 Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee the country.
We believe that the deteriorating human rights situation faced by women in many parts of Iraq is unacceptable, and we recommend that the Government should use all its leverage to press the Iraqi Government to ensure women are afforded security.
The Government, in their reply, offer some figures and claim that in the Basra area the extent of violence against women is reducing. I point out to the Ministerperhaps she will comment on thisthat the figures in the Government response are wholly contrary to the report and figures that were produced in The Independent on 30 November. It stated:
Authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have admitted they are powerless to prevent honour killings in the city following a 70 per cent. increase in religious murders during the past year.
There has been no improvement in conviction rates for these killings. So far this year, 81 women in the city have been murdered for allegedly bringing shame on their families. Only five people have been convicted...One lawyer in the city described how police were actively protecting perpetrators and said that a woman in Basra could now be murdered by hired hitmen for as little as $100
The final claim was that Iraq is dramatically better. President Bush did not quantify what he meant by better in that context, but I assume that he was referring to living standards. Living standards for some have improved, but for others they remain grim. There are huge levels of unemployment. There are still poor levels of power supplies. There are worries about public health and there are certainly worries about stability.
I put it to the Minister that although there have certainly been significant human rights pluses, the House of Commons, the public at large and certainly the Foreign Affairs Committee will expect the Government to produce, as we exit from Iraq, a full, objective and independent evaluation of the human rights resultsboth the benefits and the adverse consequencesof our invasion of Iraq.
I turn next to a matter referred to by the hon. Member for Ilford, Souththe key cross-cutting issues of womens rights and childrens rights to which we refer in paragraph 12 of our conclusions. In it, we also
refer to the important roles of free trade unions and a free media. I hope that the Government will take the recommendation seriously and that they will respond fully on those crucial areas of the universal application of human rights. It is important to appreciate just how valuable free trade unions have beenI stress free, and not state-sponsored unionsboth historically and today in safeguarding and upholding individual human rights.
It is a reflection of the effectiveness of free trade unions that they have always been hated by fascist Governments and communist Governments. It is worth recalling that when Hitler came to power in 1933, the first people to be sent to the concentration camps were the trade union activists, not the Jews. As for the communist states, free trade unions were ruthlessly suppressed by Stalin, and they are being ruthlessly suppressed by the Chinese Government today. I hope that the Minister will say clearly that the Government are out to support free trade unionsmost particularly, I suggest, in the Peoples Republic of China.
Jeremy Corbyn: I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, and I agree with him. Is he not concerned also about the situation in Colombia, where there is the largest killing of trade unionists anywhere in the world? That is a serious violation of human rights, and the report draws attention to it.
Sir John Stanley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. Yes, it is a deplorable feature of what is going on in Colombia. Again, I am sure that the Government will focus on that when it comes to this years report on human rights.
Finally, I want to say this about womens and childrens rights. As I go into 2009, one report is seared in my memory. It has recently appeared in many parts of the press, which corroborates the report. It shows just how far we have to travel in order to uphold womens rights and the right to protect children.
The report was about a 13-year-old girl in Somalia who had been gang-raped. She went to the authorities for protection and found herself accused of adultery. When her final day came, she was taken to a stadium where a crowd of about 1,000 people had been assembled. She was dragged off a truck, terrified and screaming, and put into the hole that had been dug for her, with just her head and shoulders exposed. Then the men began to stone her. They stoned her for 10 minutes. At the end of that 10 minutes, they pronounced her not quite dead. They resumed the stoning until she was properly dead.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): It is a bit of a busmans holiday for me to speak in this debate, as I am Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We obviously concentrate on human rights in the United Kingdom, but it can sometimes be frustrating for the Committee to see so many problems around the world that we are not allowed to investigate.
I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) on his speech and on the work of his Committee. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the Governments report on human rights. It is a pity that we should be debating the 2007 report at
the end of 2008, because much of it is out of date. However, the debate has shown how we can bring some of that material up to the present.
I refer to the 2009 Durban review conference. The UN world conference against racism was held in Durban in September 2001. It was a groundbreaking achievement. For the first time, the international community came together to create a declaration and a programme of action to tackle racism, discrimination and xenophobia. However, the conference was plagued with problems, and was hijacked by anti-Israel and anti-Zionist groups. They led a well organised and well funded high-level campaign, backed by Islamic and Arab Governments, to exclude anti-Semitism from the anti-racism agenda, to label Israel as an apartheid state responsible for genocide, and to revisit the equation that Zionism equals racism.
Despite the efforts of Islamic and Arab states to include that extreme negative test, the final Government level declaration at Durban 1 contained positive text on anti-Semitism and holocaust commemoration. The problem, however, was that the language has somehow become legitimised as extreme rhetoric, and is now often widely accepted in mainstream attacks on Israel. Durban began a trend to exclude terrorism against Israel and anti-Semitism from the entire global human rights agenda.
In April 2009, a Durban review conference will be held in Geneva. The final conference will produce a declaration, which is meant to be a review of the extent to which the Durban 1 declaration has been implemented, and it will make recommendations for further action. The April conference will be the final part of a longer review process.
Although the proposed text before the conference has not been agreed, it is of great concern. It includes suggestions that Israel is an apartheid state, that Israels occupation is racist, that Zionism is racism and that Israel is committing genocide. It questions Jerusalem being the capital of the Jewish state, excludes Jews as victims of racism and excludes holocaust denial from victims of the racist agenda. It creates a hierarchy of categories of racism, whereby Islamophobia is considered to be more important than any form of racism. It also wishes to curtail freedom of expression to include criticism and blasphemy of religion. Although the document is not final, and it is subject to high-level government negotiation, at present it is the only text available.
The Israeli and Canadian Governments have already formally withdrawn from the process; and the United States withdrew from Durban 1. Some states have noted that they might withdraw if the draft document crosses their red linesfor example, Denmark and France. I am pleased to say that I have received good assurances from my hon. Friend the Minister, to which I shall refer in a moment. The red lines are appropriate and fair. They are that there should be no singling out of any one state; no clause relating to defamation of religion; the retention of the anti-Semitism condemnation; the retention of holocaust commemoration; and, in particular, no hierarchy of racisms.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met the United Nations commissioner for human rights in November. He informed the commissioner that the United Kingdom was dissatisfied with preparations for the conference, including the drafting of the document
and challenges in it to the right of freedom of expression, singling out Israel and the fight against anti-Semitism.
I understand that a further round of negotiations will take place next month, after which the Government will assess their position. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would give us a clear assurance that if those red lines are not met, if the text stays as it is, the Government will consider it to be unacceptable and will withdraw from the conference. Ultimately, it is a contradiction in terms: a conference against racism cannot proceed with a text that excludes anti-Semitism and that has a hierarchy which considers some forms of racism to be more serious than others. I hope that my hon. Friend will give us those assurances. I am pleased to say that early-day motion 83 has attracted a significant number of signatures in support of that contention.
I refer next to Cyprus. We do not often hear about Cyprus in the context of human rights, but we should. I shall not speak today about the Cyprus problem; I have secured an Adjournment debate on the subject on 16 January. I want to speak about some of the specific human rights issues that arise there. In that context, I declare an interest. I have just returned from a visit to Cyprus, and some of my expenses were met by the House of Representatives.
The general issues are well known the deprivation and expropriation of property whereby Greek Cypriots have, since 1974, been expelled from the north; the refusal to allow people to return to their own homes; un-investigated deaths from both 1963 and 1974 and many other similar, serious generic human rights problems. However, I want to focus first on the enclaved people in the Karpas peninsula in the north, which I visited for the second time a few weeks ago. Their lot is not much improved. They are effectively living in a police state, in fear and without the benefit of the rule of law. They are oppressed, and there are now only 200 or 300 of them left out of an original population of tens of thousands at the time of the Turkish invasion in 1974.
If somebody left Karpas to seek an education in the south they would not be allowed to return. Families are not allowed to return. They do not have the right to run their own businessesthose that they had in 1974 were expropriated. Houses are in poor condition, and have not been modernised because they are not allowed to repair them. Indeed, some houses were demolished while the residents were away receiving medical treatment. They live in extreme poverty and destitution. Their lot is appalling. Last year I wrote to the secretary-general of the Council of Europe about the matter, and I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could say what efforts the Government are making to support and raise those concerns in the Council of Europe and to make representations to Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot authorities.
I would like to talk about the Maronite enclaved people, who are hardly ever referred to. Northern Cyprus contains four Maronite villages, one of which, Agia Marina, has been entirely expropriated for use as an army camp, and its people are not allowed to return even to visit the church. I went with them to the gate of the army camp. The soldiers were perfectly politeI have no complaint about the way in which they responded to usbut made it clear that we were going no further than the road barrier.
Maronites are allowed to return to the village of Asomatos only for a couple of hours on Sundays to visit the church, but they are not allowed to ring the church bellin fact the rope has been taken away to ensure that that does not happen. Only a couple of old ladies now live in Asomatos, and they are completely isolated on the fringes of another army camp where properties have been requisitioned by the Turkish army. The Maronites are frightened that their whole culture is dying out. They are worried that their language is dying and that Maronites living in the south are being assimilated into the wider Greek Cypriot community. That is a serious human rights issue about which we hear very little indeed. In fact, I think that this is the first time that their lot has been debated in the Chamber.
There are wider issues about freedom of religion in the north. When I visited, a few weeks ago, I saw increased mosque building, mainly on Greek Cypriot land. This year the people of Morphou were not allowed to Agia Mama on 2 Septemberthe saints day. The day before St. Andrews day, I visited Apostolos Andreas, the church at the very end of the Karpas peninsular. It is in poor condition. People were there for a religious festival, but when they tried to ring the bell, the police stopped them. That is inappropriate behaviour in a part of the European Unionalbeit, there is a derogation in relation to the inability of the Cyprus Government to govern matters in the north.
The north Cypriot economy is in a real state. It relies on income from casinos and increasingly from night clubs that are nothing more than brothels in which far too many trafficked women are forced to work, whose cause we have done nothing to raise. What attitude will the Government take to deal with that problem when making representations to Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot authorities?
We have heard a lot in this House about the restrictions in Turkey on freedom of speech and expression and about what happens to journalists, such as Dink, who was murdered, but we hear little about what goes on in northern Cyprus, which is subjected to a very similar regime. Just over a week ago two young Turkish Cypriots, aged 19 and 21, were arrested, taken to court in the north and remanded in custody for seven days, for insulting Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat on a personal Facebook group. They had used pretty childish and abusive language to criticise Talat along the lines of, So youre President now, you think youre a big ass, among other things. Apparently, a journalist from Yeni Duzen, which owes its patronage to the Republican Turkish Partythe CTPgot wind of the Facebook group and reported it to the Turkish Cypriot police, who arrested and detained the two boys and are now trying to track down the other 160 group members. Last Friday, the boys were remanded for another seven days so that the police could complete their so-called ongoing investigation. I understand that there is a strong risk that they will be formally charged probably based on criminal defamation laws. That comes after four youths were beaten, arrested and had their passports confiscated a few months ago in the north, for writing, Turkish troops out of Cyprus, on a wall.