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While the turmoil in the DRC continues to threaten progress, by meeting the major humanitarian challenges of resettling refugees, rebuilding schools and clinics, and by stimulating local markets and the economy, Uganda could well become a bastion of stability in an otherwise turbulent region. The challenge for Her Majesty’s Government is to ensure that the United Kingdom support programme continues to nurture and strengthen the institutions fundamental to democratic development. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are, for example, committed to the Deepening Democracy programme and other parliamentary support programmes in the longer term?

Uganda holds a pivotal role in the United Kingdom’s interests in this region and Ugandan parliamentarians hold the closest ties to Britain. Uganda currently

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holds an African Union seat on the UN Security Council. With the recently confirmed oilfields in Lake Albert expected to enter initial production next year, the Ugandan economy could be transformed.

In the mean time, it is clear from meetings and discussions in Kampala that there is a cross-party determination among Uganda’s parliamentarians to strengthen their Parliament and a multiparty democratic structure to support it. This fact is demonstrated by well over 100 MPs attending the UK-funded two-day workshop organised by our high commission in Kampala. Full credit must be given to our high commissioner, Martin Shearman, to his deputy, Jason Grimes, and to Isabel Turner for their extraordinary efforts in providing a catalyst for Ugandan parliamentarians of all parties to work together in addressing the challenges faced by their region.

2.01 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, especially for his excellent introduction. This is a timely debate because, in his own metaphor, we are riding a new wave of foreign policy and have entered the Obama-Clinton era of international relations.

It seems the spirit of Robin Cook is abroad again and I believe that the Government are rightly rethinking, or have the chance to rethink, their policies in the Middle East and south Asia. I hope that this will include a radical change in the way Britain and NATO have tried to protect reconstruction in Afghanistan. For some time, I have questioned whether military force has become an end in itself rather than a guarantor of national rights and freedoms.

I am also persuaded that through mainly US influence, as in Iraq, the Afghan people have watched massive aid contracts benefiting the contractors more than the intended beneficiaries. The evidence is very strong on this and I warmly endorse what my noble friend Lady D’Souza said about the loss of capacity of centralised government, a deliberate policy mistake on a scale comparable to de-Baathification in Iraq. I hope the Minister will say something about the UK forging a new direction post-Blair in its diplomatic and development policies, with or without the United States. This could be signalled both at NATO and at the forthcoming G20 summit.

I have heard our Armed Forces Ministers talk rather disparagingly about NATO members who prefer to keep away from the front line and I wonder whether anyone has had a chance to study the experience of the Hungarian provincial reconstruction team in Pul-i-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province north of Kabul. There the Hungarians have been deliberately attempting to support local institutions and aid projects away from the front line but, because they were in uniform, their efforts were frustrated at every turn. The aid agencies have been saying for years that armies cannot do development except in emergencies. For this reason, I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will design a new strategy which genuinely puts the Afghan people first. We have an enlarged embassy but I am not sure that we have a new strategy.

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Today I want to give an example of another important post-conflict country in south Asia which receives much less attention but where, on a smaller scale, we have a much better track record. I was in Nepal earlier this month with the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, as members of an IPU delegation led by Sir John Stanley. We met the new Maoist Prime Minister, Prachanda, and several Ministers and MPs of all political parties. We wanted to know how successful they have been in moving from a destructive civil war to a new constitutional democracy. I am glad to say that they are progressing well, though it is still a struggle.

The UK has been in the forefront of the UN-led peace process and has supported the consequent search for change through a new parliamentary system and for a way out of violence and poverty. We have been prepared to talk discreetly to the Maoists for some time, while our US allies still see them as terrorists and keep them on the wanted list. This is still paying dividends; the UK is held in high esteem and, through our embassy, DfID and other channels, has been associated with some of the best practice in power sharing and the drafting of the new constitution before May next year. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and my noble friend Lord Wright—none of whom are in their place—that in this sense much of the DfID budget that they are attacking is diplomacy. I hope I can send that message through the Conservative Front Bench before the wind-up of the debate.

The image we have of Nepal is one of tranquillity, conjured up by the Himalayan peaks and the smile of the honest Gurkha. But that vision contrasts somewhat with the confusion of the political scene, a faltering economy still held up by militants in the labour force and violence in the Terai plain. The world recession has already cut the number of tourists and is now hitting at migrant workers returning from places like Dubai, whose remittances were a significant proportion of national income.

The two armies remain in separate camps. The chances of the Nepal Army merging with the People’s Liberation Army still seem quite remote, although there are moves to integrate the youngest group of Maoist soldiers as a priority. I know that our Government are supporting this. Both armies are jealous of their independence and the human rights agencies have attacked them both for their defence of impunity and for refusing to investigate disappearances and atrocities on both sides.

One potentially brighter spot is the presence of an active media, which still enjoy a degree of independence, although they, too, have suffered from the killing of a prominent journalist and they have to exercise a degree of self-censorship.

One nationwide programme which the UK has supported since the 1990s has been in forestry, which affects the lives of 40 per cent of the population. Specifically, DfID has supported thousands of community groups all over Nepal which are replanting and maintaining the forest while using it to provide fuel and fodder as they always have done. We visited one of these user groups in Baglung province, in the shadow

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of the Annapurna range. We found that they have plenty of ideas for the new constitution and, just like us, they were discussing climate change, alternative energy, more benefits for women and minorities, a healthier lifestyle, better economic opportunities and, of course, support for forestry.

For the moment, these ideas chime in well with the new Maoist philosophy. They are now the mantra of political leaders and those who are drafting the new constitution. But they are still only aspirations and hard to turn into reality. It will be impossible to satisfy all the expectations of the people even in the present interim constitution. And yet Nepal is a good example of a post-conflict society and of which we should take note. It is capable of overcoming the mistakes of the past and also offers a good example of our foreign policy generally. I wish we could support other countries with the same blend of our experience and practical action.

Armed Forces: Detention


2.10 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Private Ryan Wrathall, Marine Darren Smith and Lance Corporal Stephen Kingscott, who were killed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan recently.

With the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on the results of a recent MoD review of records of detention resulting from security operations carried out by UK Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is essential that our Armed Forces are able to detain people who pose a real threat either to our troops, to those of our allies or to the local population we are seeking to protect. These operations are conducted by our forces with courage, integrity and professionalism.

In undertaking these operations, we take fully into account our obligations under international law. In February last year, allegations were made that persons captured by UK forces in Iraq and transferred to US detention facilities were mistreated and removed unlawfully from Iraq. My predecessor rightly launched a review into these matters. Much of the work was led personally by a very senior serving British Army officer. My right honourable friend was right to satisfy himself that appropriate procedures were in place to ensure that persons captured by UK forces and transferred to US detention in Iraq were treated in accordance with UK policy and legal requirements. Separately, he also set in hand work to examine all available documentary material relating to detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to review the parliamentary record. The Ministry of Defence has now completed a detailed review of records of detention in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of each campaign. I am placing in the Library details of all detentions in southern Iraq in each year since 2003.

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In Iraq, we have reviewed the record of detainee numbers, listing all individuals held in UK detention facilities, first at Shaibah logistics base and subsequently at the contingency operating base at Basra. In December 2003, when the facility at Shaibah was first opened, records show that 105 internees captured by UK forces were transferred into it from US custody at Camp Bucca, and a further 19 were released at this stage. After December 2003, an additional 546 individuals were interned in these facilities. The majority, 491, were released once it was judged that they no longer represented an imperative threat to security; 141 were transferred to the Iraqi authorities; a further 12 escaped; six were transferred to US detention facilities; and one sadly died in custody.

In conducting this review, it became apparent that in three parliamentary Answers since February 2007, we overstated by approximately 1,000 the number of detainees held by UK forces in the period since January 2004. Nine further Answers contained minor inaccuracies. I have written separately to honourable Members setting the record straight, and have placed copies in the Library of the House. I apologise unreservedly for these inaccuracies.

We have also reviewed our records of detentions in the period from March to December 2003, when large numbers of individuals were captured by UK forces during the initial high-intensity combat phase of the operation. Many of them were held for very short periods of time, or were transferred to the US facility at Umm Qasr and then released. This facility was run by the UK from late March to mid-April 2003, and was then transferred to US control. Given the circumstances in which the database was compiled, we cannot be confident that the data we hold are entirely complete. On a small number of occasions, answers or statements provided by my department have included figures relating to the position in 2003 that indicated that we initially held up to 5,000 Iraqi prisoners during this period. However, a significant number of these were held on behalf of other coalition forces. We now believe that UK forces transferred around 3,000 individuals to the detention facility at Umm Qasr between March and December 2003. However, I would ask the House to treat this figure as a best estimate.

In areas outside Multinational Division (South East), UK forces have undertaken operations to capture individuals who were subsequently detained by the US. These individuals do not feature in the data that I set out above, and I do not intend to provide any further details on these detentions today. The review, however, concluded that UK forces have exercised appropriately their responsibilities towards all captured personnel handed to US custody, whether in MND (South East) or elsewhere, and uncovered no evidence of mistreatment.

During the final stages of the review of records of detentions, we found information about one case relating to a security operation conducted in February 2004, a period that saw an increased level of insurgent activity as the transfer to Iraqi sovereignty drew closer. Two individuals were captured by UK forces in Iraq. They were transferred to US detention, in accordance with normal practice, and then moved subsequently to a

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detention facility in Afghanistan. This information was brought to my attention on 1 December 2008. I instructed officials to investigate this case thoroughly and quickly, so that I could bring a full account to Parliament. Following consultations with US authorities, we confirmed that they transferred these two individuals from Iraq to Afghanistan in 2004. They remain in US custody there.

I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my department. I must stress that this was based upon information available to Ministers and those who were briefing them at the time. I have written to the honourable Members concerned correcting the record, and I am placing a copy of these letters in the Library of the House. I want to apologise to the House for these errors.

The individuals transferred to Afghanistan were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a proscribed organisation with links to al-Qaeda. The US Government have explained to us that they were moved to Afghanistan because of a lack of relevant linguists necessary to interrogate them effectively in Iraq. The US has categorised them as unlawful enemy combatants, and continues to review their status on a regular basis. We have been assured that the detainees are held in a humane, safe and secure environment meeting international standards consistent with cultural and religious norms. The ICRC has had regular access to the detainees. A due diligence search by US officials of the list of those individuals captured by UK forces and transferred to US detention facilities in Iraq confirmed that this was the only case in which individuals were subsequently transferred outside Iraq.

This review has established that officials were aware of this transfer in 2004. It has also shown that references to this case were included in lengthy papers that went to the then Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary in April 2006. The particular significance of this case was not individually highlighted, or made sufficiently apparent at that point, to raise concern. My predecessors as Secretary of State for Defence have confirmed to me that they had no knowledge of these events.

In retrospect, it is clear to me that Her Majesty’s Government should have questioned the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals. We have discussed the issues surrounding this case with the US Government. They have reassured us about their treatment, but confirmed that, as they continue to represent significant security concerns, it is neither possible nor desirable to transfer them either to their country of detention or country of origin. The UK has no power to detain suspects in Iraq, and only limited powers of detention in Afghanistan.

For Afghanistan, robust checks have confirmed that we have detailed and precise numbers of all those detained by UK forces since we deployed Task Force Helmand in July 2006. As of 31 December 2008, our database holds the capture details of 479 individuals, including 254 who were subsequently transferred to the authority of the Government of Afghanistan, 217 who were released, and eight who died as a result of injuries sustained on the battlefield.

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We hold capture details relating to a total of seven individuals detained by UK forces between 2001 and April 2006 and I believe that this represents a complete record. I am also placing the complete details of the detainee numbers for Afghanistan in the Library of the House.

Our detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are underpinned by arrangements we have in place with our international partners. We have place a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Afghanistan, signed on 23 April 2006, covering the treatment of individuals detained by UK forces and transferred to Afghan custody. We have an MoU with Iraq, agreed on 8 November 2004, on the treatment of detainees transferred to Iraqi custody. Iraqi Interior, Justice and Defence Ministers have confirmed to us that Iraqi detention procedures remain consistent with the principles set out in that MoU.

For the initial stages of the campaign in Iraq, we had in place an MoU with the US and Australia covering arrangements for the treatment and transfer of detainees. We worked on the mutual understanding that the key provisions of this MoU continued to apply until it was replaced last year by a further MoU with the US. We have also confirmed with the US that the provisions on arrangements for the treatment and transfer of captured persons remain under the new legal framework in Iraq, and that no person captured with assistance from UK forces will be removed from the territory of Iraq without prior consultation with the UK.

I finish with this final observation. We ask our Armed Forces to operate in highly dangerous environments, where there is often a limit to the capacity of local agencies to enforce security and the rule of law. In those circumstances, it is essential that we provide our forces with the authority and capabilities to deal effectively with individuals who represent a serious threat to our troops or those they are there to protect; these two detainees fall into that category.

We recognise the sensitivity of detention operations. We have put in place rigorous safeguards to ensure that detainees are treated properly. We will continue to carry out detention operations in accordance with our legal and policy obligations, in concert with the US and other allies. This is, and will remain, absolutely central to the way our Armed Forces conduct these vitally necessary operations”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

2.23 pm

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I join the Government in sending condolences from this House to the family and friends of those who have died in the service of their country.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We on these Benches share the view that in the absence of local agencies with the capacity to enforce security and the rule of law, we must provide our Armed Forces with the authority and the capabilities to deal effectively with individuals who represent a serious threat to our troops and law-abiding citizens.

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Detention operations undertaken by our forces must, as the Minister made clear, be in accordance with our legal obligations and policy objectives. The Statement notes that we have various Memoranda of Understanding with international partners that underpin detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. What legal authority and force do the MoUs have? In 2005, the Intelligence and Security Committee published a report on the handling of detainees. One of the committee’s recommendations was, in our view, important; it said that,

Are the Government satisfied that the MoUs that are now in place meet that recommendation?

The Government’s Statement corrects the parliamentary records relating to detention operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some serious errors in data capture were made by the Ministry of Defence, and I note the Government’s apology for that. Why were the mistakes made? What procedural changes—this is the more important point—have been made to ensure that the MoD’s future records of detention are accurate?

Much of the Statement concerns the transfer of two members of Lashkar-e-Taiba to Afghanistan in 2004, following their capture by British forces and subsequent transfer to US forces. The account given to us today contradicts assurances given by the then Foreign Secretary in February 2006, that he was unaware of any transfers to US forces. We now know that officials were aware of these cases in 2004, and that they were referenced in papers sent to the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary in 2006 before he delivered his assurances. It would be helpful to know why officials did not make Ministers aware of the error they had made in 2004 and why it has taken so long for the Government to correct themselves. What changes have been made to ensure that, in future cases where the Government should question the transfer of detainees, Ministers are made aware of the situation immediately?

Although the Government have corrected mistakes in information already given to Parliament over the MoD’s records of detention, I am concerned that the Government have not provided your Lordships’ House with details on those individuals captured by UK forces in areas outside Multinational Division (South East) in Iraq. These were people who were subsequently detained by the United States. The Statement says that the Government,

on the individuals who were captured outside that area and transferred to the US. Surely, though, that is to gloss over the main issue.

Many in your Lordships’ House will, I am sure, be aware of allegations by a former member of the SAS, Ben Griffin, that British forces were involved in operations to seize terror suspects to be handed over to American forces for extraordinary rendition. These alleged operations would have taken place outside Multinational Division (South East). Ben Griffin made a significant charge against the UK. Before he was injuncted by the Government, he said:

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“Throughout my time in Iraq I was in no doubt that individuals detained by UKSF”—

UK special forces—

He made allegations that they had witnessed brutal interrogations that involved the use of torture by such methods as drowning and the use of an electric cattle prod. These are serious allegations which the Government must be prepared to answer. Detail about official and ministerial oversight about two specific men is fine, but the Government must now complete the story. We do not have the necessary context and background information to put these allegations to rest. I am sure I speak for your Lordships’ House when I say that we do not want Statement after Statement. The Government must make a clean breast of it rather than dribbling out the truth.

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