|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I wish to address one issue only: Foreign and Commonwealth Office policy on the promotion and protection of human rights. If anyone had doubted that human rights are not an abstract minority interest of liberal-minded but unrealistic people with bleeding heartsthe preserve of what is sometimes called, with a resonance not intended to signify approval, "the human rights lobby"the past few weeks could not have made it clearer. Human rights abuses are real. They happen to real men, women and children all the time, and not just in places like Uzbekistanwhere we have reason to be grateful to the Government that the British representative there speaks out and is allowed to continue to do so. Human rights abuses can happen anywhere and can be perpetrated by the citizens of anywhere.
I am thinking in particular of the horrible pictures we have seen from Iraq, showing prisoners being ill-treated in Abu Ghraib prison. We have no pictures of Guantanamo Bay, but we have stories. Some of these pictures undoubtedly meet the definition of torture as set out in the 1984 convention against torture:
Those pictures will indeed become, in the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, earlier in the debate, "dragons' teeth" and prime elements in the battle of ideas. Those pictures are, of course, standard pictures of torture and human rights abuses the world over for those who have the misfortune to have to look at them over time. The commission of such acts is not always so newsworthy. Nor do such acts always have such serious consequences for the reputation of the states whose citizens have carried them out as did those committed in the pictures from Abu Ghraib.
The point about these standards is that they are universal. They are not western, northern or southern; they are not Christian, Islamic or Jewish; they are agreed by the United Nations and therefore by all states.
In my view, this inclusion of human rights in the FCO's priorities is not cosmetic, nor is it a sop to those who still think that foreign policy should have an
26 May 2004 : Column 1367
ethical dimension, when the realists have already moved on. Supporting human rights is not idealistic. It is a prime ingredient in the construction of a safer world. So I welcome the support for human rights work that is part of FCO policy; I congratulate the Minister on the publication of the FCO annual human rights report; and I welcome the statement by the Foreign Secretary at the beginning of the report where he says:
Those subject to the death penalty in the United States are often such victims, and the Government have made many representations on behalf of death row prisoners in that country. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, was quite right to say in this debate that treatment similar to that in Abu Ghraib occurs in the prisons of many of the individual states of the United States. Perhaps the Government will wish to take up those abuses with the United States Government.
The annual human rights report does not just comment on other countries' failures to respect human rights; it mainly describes the practical and dedicated work undertaken by this Government to promote and protect human rights. The initiative taken by the then Foreign Secretary in February 1998 to set up the Human Rights Project Fund has had many practical outcomes. The fund has supported projects combating torture in Russia and discrimination against Roma children in Bulgaria, promoting religious freedom in Egypt, training senior police in China, supporting the human rights commission in Rwanda, and many more. It has achieved huge coverage with very small expenditure and has made a difference to the lives of many people.
Will the Minister tell us the trend in FCO Human Rights Project Fund spending? I hope that she will be able to tell the House that there are plans for it to increase substantially. In particular, can she tell us what the UK is doing to combat torture around the world?
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, two Sundays ago, on that important day, 8 May, invited by the mayor of a small hill village, I stood before the war memorial and the church listening to splendid music in the presence of the heads of the pompiers, the police and the gendarmerie and of a British vicar. Unknown to me beforehand, it was Armistice Day. One of the youngest people in the village and one of the oldest came and laid a wreath. After the prayers, the national anthem came through the loudspeakers, then the anthem of the United States, then that of Canada, and then that of France. As I looked out over the Mediterranean, I realised that that was where the Moorish invasions had come from and it was from there, on 15 August 1945, that 1,000 ships or more had come for the liberation of France. I had forgotten that Armistice Day was on 8 May 1945.
26 May 2004 : Column 1368
I wondered why the French, British and American flags were all red, white and blue. I have no idea. Why did the French give the United States the Statue of Libertyliberté, égalité et fraternité? Why was it that on the White House lawn on 16 April President Bush turned to Tony Blair and said, "We stood together during the past century when liberty was assaulted"? I thought, hang about, did we really stand together? What actually happened? Of course, the United States came into the First World War in March 1917, but I think only because three of its ships were sunk by submarines with extensive loss of life. Of course, it came into the Second World War in December 1941, but I think that was only because of Pearl Harbour when it declared war on the Japanese, and subsequently Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
I wondered about 11 September. Was it also a knee-jerk reaction that led to the war in Iraq, or was there something deeper and more sinister? I rememberedI once thought that he was in your Lordships' Housethat the American Chief of Justice, Earl Warren, said that in civilised life law floats in a sea of ethics. That takes me immediately to ethical foreign policy. The founder of ethical foreign policythe chief ethicist, if that is the wordresigned because foreign policy was no longer moral or ethical. I wondered what our foreign policy was.
In the world in which I work, I find that more and more the same question is being askedobviously, it is about Iraq. But the following question is being asked more now; namely, what have the British been doing? I tell people, "Don't worry about Iraq. It is the duty or the responsibility of everyone in the United Kingdom to support the Prime Minister because he has the right to go to war". People say, "What about that wonderful man, Lord Robertson? He is in NATO; can't he do something about it? Why isn't he involved?" The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, should know, and would understand, the respect in which he has been held throughout the world during the past few years. I thank him for his excellent speech today.
On the other hand there is the growth of anti-American feeling. I have spoken about this before and I have already declared my American relative and military relationships in the United States. I wonder why the United States has not understood that it is becoming the enemy of the world. Many peopleTheodore Roosevelt, Franklin Rooseveltwarned that those who do evil must be very careful. Was the war in Iraq evil? In my view it was simply a punitive mission, possibly the greatest punitive mission that has ever taken place. However, I am not quite sure what the motives and reasons behind it were, and where the future lies.
As I listen to your Lordships, I find that again and again we are in danger of repeating ourselves. We have to look forward and ask what are the priorities of the United Kingdom. Inevitably, self-interests are involved. Regrettably, the ultimate weapon of diplomacy is war, and war is a matter of life and death.
In the wars of the past century we lost the British Empire, as it was then, comprising 7.2 million people. The United States lost 300,000 people in each of the
26 May 2004 : Column 1369
world wars and another 100,000 in Vietnam. I wonder how many lives have been lost in recent events and how many more will be lost. War, unfortunately, is a matter of life and death. We go to war in general to save life and to restore peace, but where there is war in any one country there may well be a threat everywhere else in the world, as we were reminded by Mr Roosevelt at the start of the 1939 war. Diplomacy should be about peace. Let us hope that we may find a peaceful way forward.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|