|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The commission argues that local communities should have a role in managing offenders, and we agree. We introduced community payback, enabling the public to have a say in what unpaid work offenders carry out in the local community. Local agencies must work together to tackle what is a shared problem, to reduce the social and financial costs of offending and to improve life for local communities. The integrated offender management model, local commissioning and the introduction of probation trusts increase the scope for local flexibility and innovation. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships, working within local community justice boards, play a key role in reducing reoffending, bringing together and co-ordinating the actions of housing providers, health services, local authorities and other key players. Restorative justice has the potential to be an important part of community engagement, and we are moving actively towards a culture of more visible justice with a stronger focus on encouraging offenders to be more directly accountable to communities. We have also seen restorative justice being used in a pioneering way in the youth justice system.
If I had time, I would talk about the justice reinvestment programme in the United States. We have the Diamond Initiative programme in London, which we believe shows real promise. I do not have time to go into that today.
Moving on from the use of prison and community sentences to the institutional framework, it will not surprise the Committee that we do not agree that NOMS should be abolished. The recent reorganisation means that the prison and probation services are working together more closely than ever before.
If there are any questions that I have not answered- I am conscious that I have not answered all of them- I will write to noble Lords with answers.
I finish, first, by reminding the Committee that crime has dropped by more than a third and that the chance of being a victim of crime is at an historic low-these are important considerations; and, secondly, by reiterating our thanks to the commission, to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and to all who have contributed to such an important and thought-provoking report and debate.
Asked By Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
To ask Her Majesty's Government what recent assessment they have made of human rights abuses in Iran.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, a week ago today, Mr Mohammad Larijani, the secretary-general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, told a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva:
"Iranian society is a successful model of brotherly and amicable coexistence".
He was almost alone at the meeting in believing this. Here is what others said. The French ambassador, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, said:
"The authorities are waging bloody repression against their own people, who are peacefully claiming their rights ... France recommends that Iran accepts the creation of a credible and independent international inquiry mechanism to shed light on these violations".
The United States and Britain called on Iran to open up visits by the UN investigator into torture, as well as by other human rights experts who have been barred from the country since 2005.
"Grave human rights violations continue to be committed",
said the British ambassador, Peter Gooderham.
Mr Michael Posner, the US assistant secretary for democracy and human rights, said that Washington,
Western nations said collectively at that meeting of the Human Rights Council that they wanted to see a halt in the execution of child offenders, in the disproportionate use of the death penalty against political opponents, in violence against women, in discrimination, and in the clampdown on free speech.
The facts deny Mr Larijani's claim, and the appalling human rights record of the mullahs' regime has been condemned by the United Nations on 57 separate occasions. His country hangs more people than all the other countries put together that still use capital punishment, except China. Since the 1979 revolution, more than 120,000 political prisoners have been executed and 600,000 tortured. Officially allowed torture includes the amputation of limbs without anaesthetic, the gouging out of eyes with a spoon-like instrument, and the stoning to death of both women and men.
A year ago last month, 59 people were hanged, including a 35 year-old woman after 12 years on death row in Rafsanjan prison. In September and October last year, 15 male and four female prisoners were hanged. Iran has also hanged the highest number of children in the world, and now has about 70 awaiting the rope. It is hard to imagine, but human rights abuses have worsened since the stolen presidential elections of June 2009. The anger of millions who protested about that has now turned into demands for an end to absolute clerical rule, and for democracy and human rights.
On 11 February, when the mullahs organised a rally to mark the anniversary of their 1979 takeover, more than 70,000 security personnel, including the corrupt Revolutionary Guard, stood watch. Some 500 pro-democracy demonstrators were arrested in one district of Tehran alone. They taunted security officers with shouts such as, "The uprising will continue", and, "You can't make the country a garrison forever". The speech of phoney president Ahmadinejad was greeted with shouts of, "Down with the dictator", and "End absolute clerical rule". A crowd of 10,000 marched on
22 Feb 2010 : Column GC218
Doubtless, as evidence of Larijani's claim of brotherly and amicable co-existence, the mullahs have decreed that those demanding democracy and human rights are guilty of waging war on God-"mohareb"-because of their support for the PMOI, the main opposition group inside the coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. On 28 January, two men were executed for waging war on God and at least 10 others have been found guilty on the same charge. The Guardian reported on 4 February that the Foreign Office was urgently seeking information on reports that a 24 year-old with joint British-Iranian nationality was among 16 people on trial. What response, if any, has there been from Iran on this?
A surprising aspect of the demonstrations in December and since has been the regime's acknowledgement that the PMOI has been leading them. For years, the regime has denied the PMOI's existence and derided any support it claimed inside the country. On 29 January, no less a figure than Ahmad Jannati, head of the powerful though unelected Guardian Council, said that,
On 18 January, Mr Salavati, the mullah's prosecutor in Tehran, said that,
"Since the core of the PMOI has not been eradicated, Article 186 of the Islamic Punishment Act would still apply to the PMOI".
In accordance with this article,
"As long as the core of that organisation remains in place, all of its members and supporters ... are mohareb"-
that is, enemies of God. Overall, in the course of the demonstrations following that stolen election, it has been estimated that more than 10,000 people have been arrested with many facing torture in prison.
On 17 February, the UN Human Rights Council said Iran had rejected calls for the release of all political prisoners and refused to accept an international inquiry into the recent violence. It also refused to end the death penalty and said it would not make torture an offence under its laws. It also refused entry to the country to the UN special investigator on torture. Other recommendations by the council included the ending of discrimination against women and stopping the harassment of journalists and bloggers.
We should not seek to interfere in Iran, despite the human rights abuses. It is for Iranians to find their own way to democracy and respect for human rights. Yet we should make clear that we applaud those millions bravely demanding democracy so that they know that they do not stand alone. We need to tighten economic sanctions until the regime ends its nuclear defiance and ceases torture and executions. As former Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Chilcot inquiry on 29 January,
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend on securing this timely debate. We do not have as many opportunities for considering the situation in Iran as that situation deserves, and he is to be very much congratulated on this. My purpose in intervening is not to produce a list of human rights abuses; we have done that time and again, in meetings in this Palace and in debates. It has been done so often that it is almost pointless to repeat it-the repression, the torture, the killing of children and the discrimination against women. As my noble friend said, the situation in Iran has been condemned by human rights bodies of the United Nations 57 times. I find it very difficult to catch up, because every time we have a figure for the number of times that it has been condemned, the figure is already out of date, because it increases again with the next meeting.
Condemnation does not seem to be working. The Revolutionary Guards and the mullahs are indifferent to world opinion and impervious to argument. The question that we might consider is what the international community can do. The charter of the United Nations had much to say about human rights, but did not spell out any specific sanction. It was a different world, so the question of sanctions was felt to be unnecessary. Everyone felt that, once something was put to the test before a tribunal established by the charter, that would be sufficient; it would be respected-as it would be by almost every other regime in the world. However, that does not work here. At that time there was an overwhelming feeling that the governing factor was national sovereignty. It was felt that what went on within the borders of a nation was between the Government and the people: that it was not the business of the rest of us and we should not be interfering. That is all right if the people are not silenced, but when they are not in a position to participate in the discussion and when every attempt to protest meets with brutal repression, it can hardly be said that this is a matter between the Government and the people. We saw on 11 February that the people of Iran are crying out for change, but their protest was brutally repressed.
The question still arises of what the international community can now do, given that Article 2.7 of the charter of the United Nations emphasises that what goes on within the borders of a nation are peculiar to that nation. One thing that we should be doing is revise the charter, because we know now the importance of international opinion in maintaining the almost universal standards incorporated in the charter and the subsequent human rights covenants. But there are two possibilities, of which my noble friend mentioned one.
The first possibility that springs to mind is military intervention, although that is not something that I would seek to recommend, as it would do more harm than good to those who are already the victims of the infringements, and would probably not achieve anything at the end of the day, because what would be left would be a wilderness.
My noble friend suggests economic sanctions. I hope to see our Government recommending economic sanctions at the Security Council, but they would have
22 Feb 2010 : Column GC220
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Colwyn): I know there seems to be plenty of time, but those speaking in the gap should keep their remarks to under four minutes, if possible.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am most grateful. There is the possibility of oil sanctions, which would impinge on the mullahs but would not necessarily make worse the poverty of the people. It would be an enormous benefit to the morale of the people of Iran to know that the world is on their side. We have tended to be mealy-mouthed on this subject. I would like to see something much more forthright from our Government.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, the regime in Iran is as evil as any regime can be. It is of the most obnoxious kind. Next month, we celebrate International Women's Day. The brave women and girls of Iran, who face up to the mullahs day by day, are a shining example to us all. I hope that they will be remembered on International Women's Day. Our Government must bravely oppose this regime. It is obvious that it is anathema to the majority of the Iranian people.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on a timely debate. I wish to raise the relationship of Iran and the United Nations Human Rights Council. We are now in a somewhat surreal situation, but we should remind ourselves that human rights abuses did not start with the mullahs and the Islamic Republic. The last days of the shah were also pretty grisly, and when two opposition activists were executed a few weeks ago, it was a reminder of what happened then.
It is possible that Iran may soon be elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council because the Islamic Republic is a candidate as part of the Asian regional group. That council is, among other things, charged with making recommendations about human rights violations. As my noble friend said, on 15 February Iran was subject to a periodic review of its human rights record and showed the importance it attaches to that body by sending a large delegation headed by Mohammad Larijani, the brother of the Speaker of the Majlis. If Iran were to be elected in May, it would have serious implications for the credibility of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is already, and quite properly, assailed from a number of directions. I understand that there are currently five candidates for the four places on the Asian regional group: Qatar, Malaysia, Thailand, the Maldives and Iran. There is, as yet, no indication that any one of the other four will withdraw but, if one were to withdraw, Iran would be elected automatically. It is clearly an important objective of the Islamic Republic to be so, and it is said that it is bringing pressure on at least one of those countries to withdraw
22 Feb 2010 : Column GC221
Fairly recently, about three years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize. She is now calling for the creation of a UN special rapporteur for Iran. Finally, would my noble friend, when he responds for the Government, indicate the current situation in respect of Iran's candidature and the prospects of Iran succeeding and therefore becoming a member of the UN Human Rights Council?
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, will my noble friend say how the Government see the connection-
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord should have put his name down in the gap. We have another gap speaker to go who has signified that he will speak.
Lord Lea of Crondall: I made some inquiries earlier and did not know that I had to put my name down.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: It should be signified to the speakers in the debate and to the Chair. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord King of West Bromwich, could say his few words-I remind him to keep to three minutes-before the noble Lord.
Lord King of West Bromwich: My Lords, I thank you for allowing me some time. There is no doubt about what is happening in Iran. It has been going on for so many years, with so many people suffering, that the catalogue is endless. The recent report of 17 February by the Human Rights Council clearly said that Iran rejects all calls to release all political prisoners or to accept an international inquiry into the recent violence. It also refused to end the death penalty and said that it will not make torture an offence, so personally I cannot see what else people would want to see to condemn this regime without any conditions at all. We have already seen what is happening in Afghanistan when people have gone in there to help a democratic system. Iran is going even further than that in making life difficult for all Iranians who live there.
It is quite clear that appeasement is not going to work. I was listening to the television yesterday and I think that Mrs Thatcher, when Argentina was invading, said that dictators like those in Argentina never understand the word "appeasement". She was totally right, and the same applies in this particular case. We should really try to put some sanctions in-not sanctions in name, but in a proper format-so that they can do something to help the Iranians. Obviously, we have also learnt, to our cost, that any military intervention in other countries seldom works. In the case of Iran, the opposition party and the people of Iran are really struggling to make their viewpoint known and are
22 Feb 2010 : Column GC222
Lord Lea of Crondall: I congratulate my noble friend on his sustained campaign on human rights, but we are now drifting into a more and more intolerable relationship between internal human rights and the nuclear enrichment problem, with the American military more or less saying, "We will not intervene militarily, but we do not know what Israel will do", and so on. It is very obvious that there is a vicious circle in which the regime can play the external threat alongside more and more internal repression. How does my noble friend the Minister-along with Russia, America, France and China, et cetera-see the relationship between nuclear non-proliferation, and all those other questions, and the need not to find ourselves in the worst of all possible worlds, where there is more and more internal repression? If there could be a revolution without other consequences, that would be one thing, but could my noble friend put the jigsaw together in some way, however difficult that might be?
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, has most wonderfully provided us with an opportunity to discuss human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran today. We are all grateful to him for that.
I am absolutely sure that the situation worries anyone who has any knowledge of the region, and, for those of us who have many friends there, the situation is particularly poignant. Indeed, we in the United Kingdom have very high expectations of Iran to follow the ways of living, the cultural modalities and the diplomatic and civil society rights to which Iran has so successfully signed up over so many years. Iran is one of the most ancient of civilisations, and the UK has a magnificent history of co-operation in all aspects of life. Many citizens of the United Kingdom come from the Islamic Republic of Iran or from the Shah's regime before then. Indeed, we have a large number of Persian-British citizens who talk about these issues almost daily whenever we meet them.
I must immediately put my cards on the table and say that I do not share the pessimism of the noble Lord, Lord King, about the possibilities of dialogue. Today, the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union, under the chairmanship of the European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, is discussing both the nuclear issue and political and human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Our position as a key member of the European Union must be this: that the EU must be willing to consider new restrictive measures against Iran unless it responds favourably to the international community's offer of engagement on the nuclear issue, and at the same time be willing to seek a negotiated solution with Tehran. In other words, this is not the either/or situation to which the noble Lord, Lord King, has perhaps
22 Feb 2010 : Column GC223
Only a week or so ago, on 11 February, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who is also Vice-President of the Commission, declared:
"On the anniversary of the Islamic revolution, which for many in Iran should symbolise progress in fundamental freedoms and rights, the European Union notes with great concern that a large number of Iranians have been prevented from expressing their views".
Earlier, under the Swedish presidency following the elections, the EU perhaps put on record our complete position:
"The EU reiterates its commitment to human rights and democratic values, not least freedom of expression and association. These are universal human rights, and the EU recalls that Iran has committed itself to these rights as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The EU deplores the violations of freedom of expression and freedom of the press-national as well as international-in connection with the events following elections day. Restrictions remain at an even higher level than before the elections".
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, has already made these points.
I also recall the statement by Robert Cooper, the General-Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Council, which is also how I see the situation:
"We urge Iran to reconsider the opportunity offered by this agreement to meet the humanitarian needs of its people and to engage seriously with us in dialogue and negotiations. This remains our consistent objective".
These are sad times when we think about human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Condemnation will not necessarily provide us with enough progress to resolve these issues. We need to remember when we talk about and contextualise common values that different points of reference arise in the thinking of those on the other side of the dialogue which bring in connotations quite different to those we intend. Perhaps background knowledge or bitter historical memories may arise. I recall briefing both the Islamic Council of Iran representative, Dr Larijani, when he first came to Brussels, and Javier Solana, the predecessor of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. I felt concerned before they went into their dialogue that they were talking completely different languages. One great problem is that the Islamic Republic has been so isolated for so long and so far away in every single way. Eurospeak is not easy anyway, but even the language of human rights as we interpret them does not somehow bring in the same connotations and values that we identify.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|