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Lord Selsdon: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that he will allow me to correct something. The point I was making was a fairly robust one. First, it is pointless and foolish for anyone to try to support terrorism in Ireland. Secondly, unless you tell these people as robustly and forcefully as you can--and I have had the privilege of doing that personally--you do not get anywhere if Ministers are unable to visit them. I have had the privilege of taking the noble Lord's speeches with me and making the points personally. I hope that he will have that privilege himself soon.
Baroness Hooper: the scope of this debate is very wide. I have listened with considerable interest to the many experts who have spoken on various topics and about various parts of the world. I intend to concentrate my main remarks on Latin America. But the debate so far provokes me to touch on some other issues as well. First, I certainly agree with my noble friend Lady Rawlings--and I take the opportunity to congratulate her on her excellent maiden speech--that enlargement of the European Union will bring considerable benefits not only to the European Union itself but to the region as a whole.
I also believe that in the context of the enlargement of its membership and the widening role of the European Union into areas such as education and culture, we should be also perhaps now considering the role not only of the European Union--I was a member of the European Parliament myself in the past--but also that of the Council of Europe of which I am currently a member of the Parliamentary Assembly. It seems to me
Secondly, I also wish to underline the good news in the gracious Speech, as constituted by what has been happening in South Africa. I welcome the fact that Her Majesty the Queen will be visiting South Africa next year. I well remember the words of Archbishop Tutu at the very moving ceremony held in Westminster Abbey in July of this year to welcome South Africa back into the Commonwealth. He said that it took the courage of a De Klerk and the forgivingness of a Mandela to achieve the transition that has taken place in South Africa. Both those qualities continue to be needed in abundance to consolidate what has been achieved there and to continue down the path of progress. I very much hope that the British Government will continue to show support to South Africa in all those respects.
I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, who first referred to the fact that our empire has fallen away. That reminded me that in the course of the last Session in your Lordships' House we held a debate on the role of the dependent territories. Naturally, we have focused in this House very much on Hong Kong, the Falkland Islands issue and Gibraltar. But that debate also enabled us to think about the Caribbean dependent territories to which my noble friend Lady Young referred today as indeed did my noble friend Lord Selsdon, and to the very tiniest of those dependencies like Anguilla and the Pitcairn Islands. Perhaps that too could be the subject of a further and separate debate at some stage during the Session.
I should like to take this opportunity to record my satisfaction at the fact that the Dependent Territories are themselves forming a voluntary association so that they can work together and share the costs of raising common problems, as well as showing solidarity where there are separate and individual interests at stake. But most importantly, that association of the dependent territories will ensure that they do not run the risk of being the forgotten remnants of the Empire.
Turning to Latin America, my noble friend Lady Young has already referred to Central America, Cuba and the Caribbean, and I know that my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein had also wished to speak on the subject of Latin America but unfortunately he has not been able to stay because of the length of the debate. Like my noble friends, I spoke on Latin America during last year's debate on the Queen's Speech and referred to the fact that pluralistic democracy is in place in virtually each country. I also referred to the curbing of inflation there, to the impressive growth rate of virtually every economy and to the opportunities for trade and investment for the United Kingdom. In the intervening year, there have been changes of presidency in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, with congressional elections in other countries. All those changes and the way in which
On the economic front, it is worth remembering that Latin America's collective GDP exceeds those of Africa, excluding South Africa, the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia combined. It is worth remembering that Brazil and Mexico are among the 10 largest economies in the world. It is worth remembering that the region is the world's leading producer of many raw materials, including copper, lithium and rhenium; that it holds one-third of the world's iron, copper and bauxite, and that it has abundant chemical deposits as well as being rich in oil, coal and gas. It is also worth remembering that the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank are pumping some 5 billion dollars a year into the Latin American countries, creating thousands of new projects. It is worth remembering when we discuss European regional organisations that the North American Free Trade Area, which includes Mexico as well as the other North American countries, and MERCOSUR, which includes the southern countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, are developing as strong, regional free trade areas.
It is small wonder therefore that UK companies, both industrial concerns and those involved in the commercial and other service sectors, are taking an interest and are, I am glad to say, making substantial investment in the region. I am delighted, too, that the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office are making a concerted effort to establish links and to follow up opportunities with ministerial visits and trade visits.
The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond referred (from his particular experience) to the role played by our ambassadors and embassy personnel in assisting businessmen and industrialists in their efforts to expand their links and contacts all over the world. They are certainly doing an excellent job in Latin America, as are members of our Royal Family. Even now, the Duke of York is in Argentina; Prince Michael of Kent has just returned from Peru, and the Duke of Gloucester has recently been involved in presiding over Latin American events here in London. All that must help to build up confidence that the United Kingdom is interested in that part of the world, as well as in helping to establish contacts and links for the future. I warmly welcome that progress.
Finally, I should like to refer specifically to Argentina, not only because it is a large country and, together with Peru, shows the strongest economic growth in Latin America, but also because of its conflict with this country which still remains in people's minds. I believe that if the average British citizen was asked to name a country in Latin America, Argentina would be the country referred to. That is why I should like to take this opportunity to record the fact that earlier this year, with two other Members of your Lordships' House as well as Members of another place and British industrialists, I attended the fourth Argentine-British conference which was held in Mendoza. We had the opportunity to meet our opposite numbers from the
One very important feature of that conference was that we were accompanied in our discussions by three people from the Falkland Islands--"the islanders" as they were tactfully and generally referred to. That gave us an opportunity to discuss the issue that continues to be a problem between ourselves and Argentina. We had useful and beneficial discussions on which I hope that we can continue to build so that the islanders will continue to be present in future discussions and so that their voices can be heard and listened to with respect. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister about any further UK initiatives in Latin America.
In responding to the gracious Speech, I welcome the Government's unequivocal statement of commitment to promoting respect for human rights. In doing so, I wish to focus on some of the problems that are posed by violations of human rights in conflicts in so many parts of the world today, conflicts which are causing great suffering to those directly involved and posing immense political challenges to the international community.
First, however, because those conflicts often involve the need for humanitarian aid, I should like to express my gratitude to my noble friend Lady Chalker for the support that has been given by the ODA to some of the humanitarian projects with which I am involved. Here I must briefly declare my interests in my work with MERLIN (Medical Emergency Relief International) and CSI (Christian Solidarity International), a human rights organisation which is working for victims of repression, regardless of their creed, colour or nationality. I and my colleagues in those organisations have been enabled to undertake many of our projects, not only by the financial resources of the ODA, but also by the personal help of the staff of the ODA to whom we should like to record our gratitude.
However, as I have said, my overriding concern is with violations of human rights in the myriad conflicts across the globe in which man's inhumanity to man is causing suffering on a massive scale and, in some places, is threatening international security.
In considering those tragedies, I wish to highlight three interrelated issues: first, the problem of access by major aid organisations and by the media to people suffering persecution by repressive regimes; secondly, the clash between the principles of territorial integrity and self-determination, a clash which is the cause of so much bloodshed and which is a hindrance to attempts to achieve peace in many of those conflicts; and, thirdly, the need for more effective conflict prevention and
The first issue is that of access to minority groups suffering at the hands of repressive regimes. If a sovereign government refuse to give permission, major aid organisations such as UNHCR or UNICEF, or human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, often cannot reach those people suffering repression, because they depend upon invitations from the sovereign government. For example, when I first visited the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1992 they were blockaded by Azerbaijan and under constant attack, with many civilian casualties.
I saw patients with injuries such as amputations, burns, glass in eyes, and because of the blockade the doctors had no analgesics or anaesthetics to ease their pain--only vodka. At that time there was no British major aid organisation available to help, and I had to turn to CSI to do what we could. I am pleased to say that since then MERLIN has been established, and has undertaken an excellent programme in Nagorno-Karabakh funded by the ODA. The ICRC and Medecins sans Frontieres are now doing valuable work there.
However, the major UN organisations are still absent, and the people of Nagorno-Karabakh are therefore denied not just their resources and expertise but their advocacy. UNHCR can speak effectively on behalf of the Azeris suffering in that war, but have no direct contact with the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. There are many similarities between the predicament of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Karen and Mon people of Burma. Last week, I and colleagues from CSI, heard disturbing first-hand accounts of atrocities perpetrated by the Burmese Government--the infamous SLORC regime. We met people who had had to flee from their villages because SLORC troops had been committing murder, torture, rape and pillage, and taking hostages for forced labour. We saw the evidence of maltreatment on the bodies of those whom we met.
We also received disturbing and, we believe, strong circumstantial evidence suggesting the possibility of the use of germ warfare by the SLORC regime against the Karen people, evidence which raises many questions which need to be answered. But the SLORC regime denies access to human rights authorities and to the media which wish to check the authenticity of the accounts of such atrocities. Similarly, the Sudanese people who live in the SPLA-administered areas of the Nuba Mountains have been subjected to sustained military offences by the regime in Khartoum, and are totally bereft of medical supplies or other necessities; and access to them by humanitarian aid organisations and by the media is denied consistently by that government.
Perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister what progress is being made to reconcile the differences between the CSCE and the Russian peace proposals--peace proposals which are needed urgently if war is to be prevented. That is a war that could turn into a regional war with possibly incalculable repercussions in that volatile area.
Of course I understand the arguments of commercial interest, but I do not believe that it is in the long-term interests of any country to allow those commercial interests to dominate to such an extent that they override concerns for human rights. Nor do I believe that it is the wish of most of the citizens of this country that British money should be used to bolster regimes which systematically perpetrate atrocities against vulnerable minorities.
That leads into the second and third issues that I wish to raise, which are interrelated: the need for greater priority to be given to the principles and practices of conflict prevention and conflict resolution. At present the cost in human terms of man-made conflict is enormous. Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia dominate our television screen; but they are a fraction only of the whole story. The war in Sudan, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, has seen over 1 million dead, 5 million displaced, and many thousands still dying from starvation or treatable diseases. The Kurds and the Armenians face another bitter winter behind their blockades; and the ethnic minorities in Burma remain trapped in the jungle--stateless people fighting for survival. There are many other conflicts elsewhere throughout the world, largely unreported.
In addition to the cost in human suffering, there is the huge economic cost of humanitarian aid, but that is only first aid. So the real priority must be political solutions which will bring peace and justice. That is where we so often run into the impasse created by the conflict between the principles of territorial integrity and basic human rights. The international community seems to be putting a premium on the principle of territorial integrity at the expense of human rights; and in many cases that concept of territorial integrity has no integrity--for example, many of the borders within the former Soviet
I illustrate that point briefly with reference to the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. For decades, they consistently suffered severe harassment at the hands of Azerbaijan; then, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan threatened to dissolve even the limited autonomous status given to Nagorno-Karabakh by the Soviet constitution and to rename its capital city with a Turkish name; in a desperate measure for survival, the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities resorted to the legal procedures of the Soviet constitution and received a mandate for independence. That was the only legal framework available in which they could operate, and it has of course now become an anachronism. They are thus trapped within the borders of a regime whose rulers have frequently made explicit statements of intention to carry out ethnic cleansing--indeed, that term was first recorded officially in relation to Azeri policies for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Similarly, the people of Southern Sudan and the SPLA-administered areas of the Nuba mountains are suffering from the policy of jihad, waged against them by the government in Khartoum. Last year, flying into the region, I saw painted in huge letters in the mountains above Kadugli in the northern Nuba Mountains the spine-chilling words, "Jihad Kadugli". Therefore it is not surprising that the Sudanese people of the South and the Nuba mountains hope earnestly for the opportunity to decide, in a democratic way, the best future for themselves.
It cannot be reasonable to expect the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh or the Sudanese of the Southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains to trust regimes which have subjected them, respectively, to attempts at ethnic cleansing or to a jihad. Therefore urgent consideration must be given to a creative alternative; to a new way forward out of the impasse between the self-determination necessary for survival and the international community's commitment to territorial integrity where regimes have used that principle to perpetrate gross violations of human rights against minorities within their territorial boundaries.
There must also be urgent consideration given to finding more effective solutions to the problems caused by repressive regimes which choose to shelter behind the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. I return by way of example to the problems of the Karen and other ethnic minorities in Burma. They are not asking for a change in the territorial boundaries of Myanmar. All they request is some form of democratic federation, with freedom to enjoy fundamental human rights. Instead, they are subjected to the kind of atrocities to which I have already referred, and remain stateless, trapped and helpless. They feel especially saddened by Britain's lack of initiative on their behalf--referring to our role in their history and the way in which many of their soldiers, especially the Karen, fought with great courage alongside British troops.
Many people whom I have been privileged to be with in their dark and difficult days--in Sudan, in Burma, in Armenia and in Nagorno-Karabakh--still look to Britain with a special hope. They believe that we not only have a particular responsibility, stemming from our historic involvement in their nation's development, but that we have a particular understanding of their predicament and consequently we can make a uniquely sensitive and appropriate contribution to the search for peace and justice. I hope that we will not disappoint them in their hour of need.
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