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Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 116, line 35, leave out paragraph 9.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the hour is late--it is almost 20 minutes to 1 o'clock--and I do not wish to detain the House longer than necessary. However,

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having been in this place for some time I realise that opportunities arise and one must take them, however late, though I intend to be as brief as possible.

Amendment No. 69 seeks to delete paragraph 9 of Schedule 4, Part I. I realise that that is an enormous request, but it is a peg upon which to hang and to speak briefly about a special circumstance; that is, the plight of women who come into this country--both black and white--who, besides the trauma of seeking asylum, have a special circumstance. I speak having been briefed by the Black Women's Rape Project and Women against Rape.

Rape victims seeking asylum are disadvantaged. Rape and some other sexual violence is not recognised as persecution. I ask the Minister to confirm that the Home Office is seized of the special circumstance and is seeking to bring it into the nexus of consideration for asylum.

In addition, it is widely recognised that women suffering from rape trauma syndrome--a post-traumatic stress disorder--may be even less likely than other torture victims to be able to speak about what happened to them. All rape victims need a safe environment, time and sensitive support before they can speak about their ordeal. The interview with immigration officials forms a vital part of every asylum claim. Yet asylum seekers are expected, on arrival in the UK, to give personal and intensely painful details about the rape and persecution they have suffered.

Interviews with rape victims about matters on which their future safety depends, are often conducted with no privacy; usually by male officials who may be disbelieving and even hostile, and who are reminiscent of the police or military who raped the victim. The women may be speaking in English, which is not their first language, or through interpreters who may also be hostile, and/or careless, or even inadequate.

Such interviews take place when women have arrived exhausted after long, and sometimes dangerous, journeys, often accompanied by their young children. They may have suffered a brutal attack, often in detention, just days before arriving here. Sometimes women have been interviewed with their children and, understandably, have been unable to talk in front of them about what happened. Many have never told anybody about what happened. In those circumstances it is hardly surprising that the full details of the persecution they have suffered do not emerge at the initial interview. That makes their claims even more likely to be certified--that is, fast tracked. The Bill's proposal to remove support from those seeking judicial review, which provides the only avenue of appeal against certification, is likely to result in more women being deported back to rape, torture and even death.

I conclude by referring to the case of Miss A from Lithuania, who was raped by pimps who attempted to force her into prostitution. The Home Office fast tracked her claim and rejected it--ignoring evidence of police collusion with the rapists and reports of widespread police corruption in Lithuania. Without

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last-minute help, Miss A's hearing would have gone ahead with no representation or translation. She was granted full refugee status when the adjudicator accepted that young women constitute a social group vulnerable to rape and other violence to force them to work in the sex industry.

I am well aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has tabled Amendment No. 82 to ask for special consideration to be given to the plight of women and children. I plead the case for not just women but women who have been violated and raped and are in a dreadful state. I would like my noble friend the Minister to give the House and others outside some assurance that those special circumstances can be taken into account. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Ampthill): My Lords, I remind the House that, if this amendment is agreed, I shall be unable to call Amendments Nos. 70 to 72.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I will briefly address the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who has touched on an issue that has not until recently been adequately recognised. At this late hour, the best thing to do will be to give the House two first-hand experiences of the situation to which the noble Lord has referred.

When I was in Bosnia in 1993, one of the issues that I pursued was the so-called Warburton report. Some Ministers and noble Lords may recall that Dame Anne Warburton was appointed to make a special study of whether at that time rape was being used as a method and weapon of war. She uncovered information which clearly indicated that rape had been adopted as a deliberate policy by the then government of the former Yugoslavia as a way of terrifying women and demoralising the Bosnian people that that government was attempting to repress.

Dame Anne pointed out that little information was available at first because most inquiries were made by men. In that particular culture, few women were willing to talk about their experiences for fear that they would be disgraced in the eyes of their families. Noble Lords who are familiar with the culture to which I am referring will be aware that women who are the victims of rape often feel that they are responsible for their plight and their families often condemn them for it.

When I went to Kosovo last year with my right honourable friend Paddy Ashdown, almost everyone that we met in the villages around Pristina and south towards Prizren were young men carrying rifles who appeared to be village vigilantes or members of the KLA. It was only when I asked as a woman to meet women refugees that I was introduced to them. In many cases, we had been specifically told by our colleagues that no women and children were in the village, only men.

That turned out to be untrue. I was led to rooms hidden at the back of farms, most of them ruined, that harboured up to 50 women and children who had been tucked away out of sight of the Serbian army and of

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any male who entered the village who was not a member of their family. Even many journalists were quite unaware of the scale of the situation.

When I spoke to those women through a female interpreter, I discovered that many had been raped. They had not admitted that even to their husbands, certainly not to their families--and they were extremely reluctant to talk about the matter except to another woman. I bear out strongly what the noble Lord said. This matter must be handled with extreme sensitivity. The issue is difficult for women to discuss. Women in our country, thank goodness, are much more ready to bring charges of rape and to talk about the situation in which they found themselves. But in many countries from which refugees come rape cannot be spoken about. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that it is extremely important that the issue is dealt with by appropriately trained people of the same sex.

12.45 a.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I, too, should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Graham. I should also like to remind your Lordships that, as a result of these horrendous experiences that have taken place in recent years, rape is now fully recognised as a specific war crime, as distinct from other forms of violence against civilians. Indeed, it is a specific offence which is included in the statute of the International Criminal Court. Therefore, it has to be taken into account when applications for asylum are being considered, and that has to be done in a very sensitive manner for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and by my noble friend.

I also heard from the organisation, Black Women Against Rape, which has written to the noble Lord. In Committee, I asked whether the Government would consult that organisation in developing the gender guidelines which are to be used under this Bill. The answer I received from the noble and learned Lord, although he was not “learned" at that time, was that the guidelines were being developed by the Home Office and that it did not see any need for the consultations that I suggested. Nevertheless, I believe he said that the Home Office would take into consideration the representations that had been made. I am speaking here from memory because I could not find the relevant passage in Hansard.

I wonder whether the Minister who is to reply can tell me and the House what has happened about those gender guidelines. Have they been finalised? If so, can we see them; for example, could a copy be placed in the Library of the House? Further, have the Government reached the position where they can send copies of the gender guidelines to organisations, such as Black Women Against Rape, which have made representations in this respect?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, perhaps I may reply, first, to my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton. I state the obvious because I think it is worth stating: there is no doubt that rape, or other

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serious sexual violence, can amount to a human rights violation that could, in turn, amount to persecution, thereby founding a basis for asylum. Of course, rape or sexual violence will not in every case constitute persecution, but it is worth re-emphasising that it can found the basis of an asylum claim. That is stated in our instructions to staff dealing with asylum claims. These are publicly disclosable and have been placed on the Internet.

Perhaps I may also tell my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton that the Home Office and the Immigration Service are well aware of the peculiar sensitivities of dealing with such cases. In answer to him and also in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I can confirm that we have agreed to incorporate into instructions given to asylum case workers an element of gender guidelines. I can also confirm that we have been discussing with the refugee women's legal group how best that can be done. The group has produced a 33-page booklet on gender guidelines for the determination of asylum claims in the United Kingdom. We have borne that in mind, but I cannot say that we have taken all of it into account.

In reply to the other point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I can say that our guidelines for staff are publicly disclosable and are available on the Internet. Therefore, they can be seen there. However, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord with a copy of the guidelines and to place a copy in the Library of the House.

The pivot of this short debate has been how we deal with rape victims and the victims of various other sorts of sexual violence. In fact, the form of my noble friend's amendment would delete the certification procedure, but I do not think that this is the moment to go into that in detail. However, the purpose of the certification procedure is to deal with the extremely straightforward claim which raises no complexity and which is hopeless.

My noble friend's amendment would have the effect of preventing there being such a certification procedure, which would in effect clog up the system yet more with claims which, after proper safeguards had been met, had been certified as, in effect, hopeless. I hope that I have dealt with the points raised by my noble friend.

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