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House of Lords

Tuesday, 10th March 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

Sierra Leone

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to help restore lasting peace in Sierra Leone.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we warmly welcome the restoration of President Kabbah in Freetown today as the elected president of the legitimate Government of Sierra Leone. We believe that the peaceful future of Sierra Leone can only be assured by a process of reconciliation as envisaged under the Abidjan Peace Accord and the Conakry Agreement. We have urged all parties to work to that end and will play a full part in the UN, EU and Commonwealth to support those efforts. Meanwhile, we are in the lead in helping the democratically elected government to re-establish basic services and to plan for restoring peace and security and rebuilding the shattered economy.

Our High Commissioner returned to Freetown on 5th March to contribute to that process. The UN office in Freetown similarly reopened over the weekend.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will the United Kingdom be concerned with drafting a further resolution to place before the Security Council? If so, will that include the replacement of the Nigerian force in Sierra Leone by a multinational force which will include non-ECOWAS states? If that is the case, will one of the tasks of that force be to disarm and demobilise the ethnic Kamajor militia? That would be fully in accordance with the Conakry Agreement, which called for the disarmament and demobilisation of all armed factions in that country.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the Kamajors. The Conakry Agreement referred to the disarmament of combatants, but it did not make clear whether or not the Kamajors were combatants. That was one of the causes of the failure to implement the agreement. Her Majesty's Government have made clear that in our view all groups should be disarmed. For the future of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone, Her Majesty's Government believe that this should be brought under the auspices of a new Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of UN military liaison officers to assist ECOMOG in the disarmament and demobilisation of all armed groups, including local militias.

Lord Rea: My Lords, can the Minister say on whose orders Nigerian armed forces were allowed to play a

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part in the conflict in Sierra Leone? Was it a unilateral decision by the Nigerians, or a decision of ECOMOG? Do Her Majesty's Government believe that a continued Nigerian presence is contributing to or hindering achievement of the lasting peace referred to in the Question?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it was an ECOMOG decision. Her Majesty's Government welcome the fact that the rule of the military junta in Freetown has been brought to an end, but we do not endorse the ECOMOG action. It was important that in all these circumstances regional organisations act within their mandate from the Security Council. Her Majesty's Government believe that what is essential now is the re-establishment of a democratic autonomous government in Sierra Leone.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, we warmly welcome the Minister's endorsement of the importance to be attached to the restoration of the democratically elected government in Sierra Leone. Does the Minister agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others that Britain has now a special responsibility to help ensure that all are able to participate in the process of democratic reconstruction, national reconciliation and amnesty without discrimination and irrespective of their ethnic origin?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords. I warmly endorse the noble Lord's remarks. Her Majesty's Government are encouraged that, this morning, when he returned to Freetown, President Kabbah urged that there should be national reconciliation. Specifically, the noble Lord asked what Her Majesty's Government are doing. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is planning to send a ministerial delegation to Sierra Leone. My honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Lloyd, will be representing the UK on that delegation.

Lord McNair: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in addition to disarming the combatants and ensuring that all citizens of Sierra Leone take part in the body politic, it is important to ensure that the combatants have something else to do, and that development is very important?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, one of the difficulties presently faced by Sierra Leone, as I hope the noble Lord will agree, is a shattered economy. When the noble Lord talks about disarming people and finding something else for the combatants to do, he is quite right. Her Majesty's Government have donated £2 million to the UN trust fund in relation to Sierra Leone. We are also giving humanitarian relief and technical assistance. Moreover, the Department for International Development is providing humanitarian aid, including a further £1 million for the International Red Cross.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important that the diamond resources, which are the main source of foreign exchange for the country, are exploited for the benefit of all the people there? Will

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she investigate reports which appeared in the Observer, US News and World Report and other places that the future diamond resources of the country have been mortgaged in an illegal arms transaction in which a British company, Sandline International, was involved?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of the newspaper article to which the noble Lord refers. That article was in several respects not entirely accurate, or at least not on all fours with the reports that Her Majesty's Government are receiving. As to the noble Lord's main point regarding the natural resources of Sierra Leone being exploited for the benefit of the whole country, I hope that the whole House will agree with him; and that when President Kabbah talks about national reconciliation, he will also be talking about nation building and about restoring the economy of Sierra Leone for the benefit of all in that country.

Human Rights Convention Complaints and Military Courts

2.45 p.m.

Lord Mottistone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action is intended on the Lord Chancellor's willingness to consider designating military courts as the appropriate forum for the consideration of complaints on convention grounds by Armed Forces personnel as expressed during the Third Reading of the Human Rights Bill [H.L.] (HL Deb, col. 768) on 5th February.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we are considering whether there are any cases which might be brought solely on convention grounds under Clause 7(1)(a) of the Bill which should be dealt with under the military court system. We are also considering what the jurisdiction and powers of any specially designated service court might be. At present, we have reached no conclusions on whether it would be appropriate to designate service courts for this purpose.

Lord Mottistone: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, which is encouraging. I am delighted that the Government are looking into this matter carefully. Perhaps I might draw to the attention of the House the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor just before he made the statement referred to in my Question. He reminded us that when there was a threat of war or other exigency the country would be enabled to take derogations on Article 15 of the convention. It would seem to me that these days when war happens and does not happen and when an emergency is an emergency is much vaguer than it was in earlier times. It might be helpful to have the Ministry of Defence in the sort of role that the noble and learned Lord suggested it might be given, so that people could be sure as to when they could invoke Article 15. Does the noble Lord agree that that matter should be taken into consideration in the studies to which he referred?

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is certainly an aspect that is worthy of consideration. Perhaps I can assist. The Government recognise fully that without the services of the Armed Forces from 1939 to 1945 and thereafter there would have been no opportunity for a European Convention on Human Rights and therefore no opportunity for any government in this country to ratify it. We take this matter seriously.

There are three occasions--I hope I respond in the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, put these serious questions--when convention rights might be relevant. The first is when there is a charge in a court martial and the defendant wishes to assert a full or partial defence on a convention right. That can be dealt with by the court martial system and thereafter on appeal. Secondly, an individual service man or woman might want to seek a declaration of incompatibility, as any other individual might. That can be dealt with quite easily in the High Court. The intermediate stage was referred to by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at col. 768 of Hansard on 5th February--namely, a direct assertion of a convention right against a public authority; namely, the armed services. It is that category that we are presently examining, and the possibility of it being dealt with within the conventional system. That is one solution; but we have not excluded any solution. Careful consideration is being given to these matters with our colleagues at the Ministry of the Defence.

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