|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Renton: My Lords, I did not regard that as part of waging war but as an abuse of the circumstances which the war had created. It was not a method of waging war; indeed, it was counterproductive. The energies of those who waged war would have been much better spent in fighting the war in the ordinary way.
There are serious doubts about the amendment. Rape and sexual assault take place frequently in the world. Assume that the systematic use of rape as a means of waging war or exercising control applies to a large part of the world. Theoretically, enormous numbers of women can come here and remain for those reasons. I find that totally unrealistic. I very much hope that the Government will resist the amendment.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I make two brief comments. I support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The evidence which emerged from the tragic war in the former Yugoslavia is that many Bosnian Moslem women were raped by Serb soldiers or Serb military personnel as a way of terrifying the Moslem population so that it would leave the area and ethnic cleansing could be achieved. When I worked at the Refugee Council that body helped to provide accommodation under a Home Office scheme for Bosnians who had fled from that territory and had been accepted by this country. I had the opportunity to speak to a number of Bosnian women who in a dramatic,
Lord Hylton: My Lords, Bosnia has been mentioned in this context. I believe I am right in saying that there were some cases from adjoining areas of Croatia as well. Much of the documentation of the facts was carried out by a distinguished Englishwoman, whose name I do not have with me and who was, I believe, the head of an Oxford college. Much of the rehabilitation of such victims has been carried out in this country. Training has been provided to citizens of the former Yugoslavia so that they may carry out rehabilitation on the spot in that country. I welcome the amendment and support it.
It may be helpful if I begin by setting out the Government's general approach to claims based on rape. There is no doubt that assaults of this kind are by their nature so serious that, like torture, they are likely to amount to persecution if inflicted for a convention reason. As with torture, whether the applicant meets the criteria of the 1951 Convention in order to qualify for asylum, will depend on the circumstances. Rape or serious sexual assault imposed by agents of the state, or in circumstances where the state is unwilling or unable to afford protection, is likely to constitute grounds for asylum provided it has been inflicted because of the applicant's race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group.
In other cases rape may be inflicted as a random act of violence in a country undergoing civil war. In cases of this kind, which are not systematic, the applicant may not qualify for asylum. But it is our policy to grant exceptional leave to applicants where there are strong compassionate circumstances, and these typically include cases where the state of conflict in a country is such that it would not be safe or humane to return people to it for the time being. For example, there is strong evidence that rape has been inflicted systematically during the war in Bosnia as a means of suppressing and driving out opposing ethnic communities. It has been the case for some time now that we invariably grant asylum or exceptional leave to applicants from Bosnia.
The first part would provide an exemption for victims of rape and serious sexual assault, similar to the exemption which the Bill will provide for victims of torture. I do not favour this proposal. In some cases, torture may indeed take the form of rape or sexual assault. To that extent, rape victims will qualify for the exemption we are already providing. But I do not believe that it is sensible to attempt to itemise in primary legislation all the many different forms of man's inhumanity to man. What about people who have had their families shot in front of them? What about asylum applicants who arrive here after incarceration for years on end in horrendous conditions? I regret that many other examples of torture and persecution can be cited. To single out any one on the face of the Bill would, I believe, be undesirable.
We are all concerned to ensure that our procedures safeguard genuine refugees and victims of inhumanity. The way to achieve that is through ensuring the quality and fairness of our procedures and our staff. To itemise special cases in primary legislation is not the answer. The second part of the amendment would provide an exemption based on conditions in the country of origin. We have already discussed this concept fully in the context of the provision on torture. The arguments against this approach which I have set out in that context apply in the same way to Amendment No. 7A. I assume that the noble Earl is not linking this amendment to Amendment No. 20, as I was originally informed might be the case. I hope that for the reasons I have given this amendment will not be accepted.
Finally, the noble Earl referred to the position of Zairians in Belgium. We do not consider that the judgment of the High Court in the case of Bostam and others establishes that Belgium is unsafe as a third country. In that case the judge was concerned with the way that the adjudicators in those cases had considered evidence of the Belgian eight-day rule. The Belgian interior ministry has explained to us how the eight-day rule operates in practice, and I do not believe that it poses a barrier to asylum seekers who wish to claim asylum when they return to Belgium. I emphasise that the eight-day rule will no longer be an issue for most Belgian cases once appeals in third country cases cease to have a suspensive effect. The majority of applicants who transit Belgium do so in less than three days. We anticipate that most applicants will be returned within eight days of originally entering Belgium.
With regard to the allegations of malpractice in respect of Belgium's removals to Zaire, we are not aware of any substantial evidence to the effect that Belgium is failing to comply with its obligations under the convention in respect of asylum seekers from Zaire, or indeed of any other nationality. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
Earl Russell: My Lords, before I say anything else, I reassure the noble Baroness that I do not intend to press this amendment, if for no other reason because of the defect in the wording to which I have already drawn attention.
I should like to dispose of one point which is a little extraneous to the main thrust of the amendment. I refer to the debate about Belgium as a third country. It is my contention--I have explained it to the House before and will not waste words on it--that there is no such thing as a country that is safe for everybody. The safety of a country can be judged only in relation to a particular applicant.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, was dissatisfied with the words "reasonable likelihood". But the standard of proof, in accordance with the ruling of the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House in Sivakumaran, is not beyond reasonable doubt; it is a matter of probability. The wording of the amendment was aimed at achieving the same standard of proof as laid down in Sivakumaran. If the noble Lord suggests that we have failed to do this perhaps we ought to go away and try harder. If we are in line with the standard of proof that the law at present accepts, that, I should have thought, is all right.
Male rape does happen. I regret to say--I think it was about 18 months ago--there was a case reported on the London Underground, of all improbable places. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for confirming that. I am not aware of any case where it has yet been used as a systematic weapon of war, but I always hesitate to say that abuses of power cannot possibly happen. If male rape exists, its use as a weapon of war might exist. It would be foolish not to cover it in the amendment.
As for the use of rape as a systematic weapon of war on Bosnia, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said almost everything that needs to be said. I shall just add the name for which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was reaching. It is Dame Anne Warburton who has since become a distinguished member of the Nolan Committee and head of a Cambridge College.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said also that the effect of the amendment would be that people would remain here. I thought that I had explained that that was not the effect of the amendment. It is only that they should follow the ordinary, rather slower procedure for hearings instead of going on to the fast track. The argument here is not about remaining--that is a matter of justice and to be established in individual cases; it is a matter of how the cases are heard.
The Minister said, and I agree with her, that a random act of violence does not enable you to claim asylum because you are a rape victim. The reason for that is good and obvious. If you have been a victim of a random act, it does not make you less safe in your country than you would be anywhere else.
The key issue here, which is why the state of the country is vital, is the issue of the credibility of the person who alleges that rape has been used against her or, as it might be, him. That is where the question of the country assessment is vital. I beg the Minister's pardon for saying it, but the main other country where there is suspicion, and at present I would not put it any higher, that rape is being used by the armed forces as a systematic weapon of terrorising opposition is Zaire. I have about a dozen cases in my files. That is not
The amendment links the attempt to procure a proper assessment of the country with the issue of the credibility of the individual applicant. That I think is right. Again, I agree with what the Minister said about the dangers of itemising everything in primary legislation. I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I have read his report. I have seen the point made in other academic contexts. I accept it fully. I should have greatly preferred the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Williams. If that had been carried, I would not have moved this one. Since it has not been carried, I am left with very little option, but I do not intend to push it to a vote. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.