Wednesday, December 20, 2006

With Rosaline Costa, Hotline Bangladesh

Contemporary forms of slavery

Lord Avebury: My Lords, as always, it is a great privilege to follow in the footsteps of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on a human rights question, particularly one of such tremendous importance as she has raised this evening, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. While Britain’s role in that horrific operation, as the Prime Minister said the other day, was profoundly shameful, we also had our heroes, who have been mentioned in this debate, such as the Clarksons, whose exploits were so well described in Simon Schama’s book, Rough Crossings.

For all their magnificent deeds, neither the abolitionists of two centuries ago nor their successors at the time of Abraham Lincoln were able to eradicate slavery itself, and it still exists, as the noble Baroness has said. The baton has been taken up by the noble Baroness and by Anti-Slavery International, which, by the way, has been going since 1839 in its present form, though its roots go right back to the 1780s and the days of the Clarksons and Wilberforce.

Today, and also in her book, This Immoral Trade, the noble Baroness concentrates on three areas of the world where slavery is alive and well: Sudan, Uganda and Burma, where children are forced to become soldiers or treated as the sex chattels of those who are doing the fighting. The situation the noble Baroness describes in Bahr al Ghazal, which she has visited several times, has something in common with the genocide in Darfur. In both provinces, which are neighbours, the attitude of the Arab masters towards the indigenous blacks is racist and colonialist, and the practice of slavery is part of a systematic attempt to extend the boundaries of Arab Islamic cultural domination. I was pleased to note that the African Union has demanded that the Sudanese Government immediately disarm the Janjaweed under threat of penalties by both the African Union and the UN. I hope this means that the Security Council will now use military force to prevent further acts of violence against civilians, whether Khartoum agrees or not. But we should also warn the Sudanese against continuing to commit crimes against humanity such as the noble Baroness describes in Bahr al Ghazal.

With regard to Myanmar, the ILO mission to Yangon in October to agree on a supplementary understanding on how its liaison officer should deal with complaints about forced labour, which in any case he was already receiving, was a dismal failure. The Minister of Labour raised legal objections to the draft text and referred the ILO special adviser to a working group with a view to ironing out the differences. In these discussions it appeared that agreement had been reached on the ILO’s right to examine complaints with a view to determining whether they concerned forced labour, and that during this process the working group would not seek to identify or approach the complainant. Unfortunately, the Myanmar side then went back on the agreed draft, saying that its own inquiry should take place in parallel with the ILO’s determination of admissibility.

From then on, matters went from bad to worse. The Myanmar side wanted to shorten the trial period for the new procedure, which had been set at 18 months in the draft, to six months, and it refused point blank to accept that the ILO liaison officer might be accompanied by another person, even if, unlike the present incumbent, he spoke no Burmese and therefore needed an interpreter. A new text reflecting the few points that had been agreed was transmitted to the Minister, but the mission had to leave without securing any agreement from him. It was due to report its failure to make progress to the ILO governing council at the end of November. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us what the next moves are as a result of that meeting and how the United Kingdom can participate in them.

Coming nearer to home, there were several references in the debate to human trafficking into Britain. That has been the subject of a number of debates both in your Lordships’ House and in another place. Only last week reference was made in another place to Paladin Child. That study found that over a three-month period, 1,738 unaccompanied minors from non-EU countries sought to enter the UK through Heathrow alone. Thirty-nine of these children had to be referred to the local authority, compared with 25 the previous year—it is a growing problem—and three were found to be at risk of significant harm. But this may have been the tip of the iceberg; Operation Pentameter, which has also been referred to, identified 12 children who were trafficked over a four-month period this year, while ECPAT UK documented 35 children trafficked into London in 2004 alone. There is still a distinct lack of routine statistical information about trafficking in general, though Anti-Slavery International estimates that as many as 5,000 victims, adults and children, may be present in the UK. Other noble Lords have given different estimates that serve only to emphasise the lack of reliable figures.

The Minister, Vernon Coaker, said in the Westminster Hall debate last week that visa regulations in respect of children had been tightened up and that there had to be an identified adult travelling with them. He said that if the child was in distress, immigration officers would interview that child separately from an adult to try to determine whether there was a particular problem. Can the Minister say what criteria are now applied to visas for unaccompanied children, and how the credentials of accompanying adults are checked, bearing in mind that little Victoria Climbié was travelling with her aunt, who had not ill-treated her until after they arrived in the UK?

Paladin Child did not uncover, I understand, any direct evidence of children trafficking, so the extension of the process to all ports of entry, as recommended by the JCHR, may not be the most effective answer. Can the Minister say how many children are being admitted in the care of a person other than a parent and whether there has been any change in the numbers since the amendment of the visa regulations?

Finally on this subject, my noble friend referred to the opening of the UK Human Trafficking Centre in October, to move the UK, we are told, to a leading position in relation to the prevention and investigation of trafficking. That is good news and we are pleased to note that it will adopt a victim-centred approach, mentioned by a number of noble Lords, in accordance with the conclusions of the JCHR in its excellent report on trafficking. How will this be reflected in the Immigration Rules, which must allow both children and women the space to recover from the ordeal of being trafficked, particularly if they are to give evidence against the traffickers? How are the Government planning,

“to extend and develop the support that we give to victims of this vile trade”,

as the Minister said last week?

The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, mentioned paragraph 198 of the JCHR report, which outlines in detail a victim-centred policy. What is the Government’s reaction, as I have not had the benefit of seeing their reply to the report? One would also like to know what they have said about the Council of Europe convention, mentioned by practically every noble Lord who has spoken. If they still hesitate to sign that convention, will they at least ensure that the national action plan to combat trafficking, of which we have also heard this evening, provides for specialist counselling and care of trafficked children, and automatic rights of residence, whether or not the is child prepared to give evidence in criminal proceedings?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Seminar on Bahrain today

The theme of today’s seminar is Bahrain: Elections without democracy or human rights, and we have to say first that democracy isn’t simply a matter of graciously allowing people to cast votes for a national parliament every few years. Hitler came to power through a vote in the Reichstag in 1933; Mugabe is the elected head of state in Zimbabwe and is backed by a Zanu-PF majority in his Parliament, and even the North Koreans have a Supreme People's Assembly elected by popular vote. I was interested to see that the President of that Assembly sent a message to King Hamad on Bahrain’s National Day expressing his belief that the relations between North Korea and Bahrain would grow stronger in their mutual interests.

No doubt people would say it is unfair to compare North Korea with Bahrain, but they share more than one feature of their political systems. Both have hereditary executive heads of state, who are above criticism and are generally surrounded by sycophants, and in both, the people have no say in choosing their governments. For Bahrain, this was underlined again when King Hamad appointed his cabinet just after the elections, perhaps to insinuate that there was some connection between the two events. The new Prime Minister – if one can use the adjective to describe a man who has held the post for the last 36 years – is Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa. The first deputy Prime Minister is Shaikh Ali bin Khalifa al-Khalifa. The Court Minister is Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa. The Defence Minister is Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. The Minister of State for Defence is Dr Shaikh Mohammed bin Abdulla and so on. Altogether 11 of the 23 cabinet ministers are members of the royal family, and they hold most of the important jobs. So the election has made no difference whatsoever to the government, and the US State Department list this as one of 13 major human rights problems in Bahrain in their latest report of March 2006.

In spite of the marginal role played by the parliament, however, the al-Khalifa realise that it is important for several reasons. First, it enables them to masquerade as a constitutional democracy on the world stage. Second, it is hoped to deflect popular opinion away from genuinely democratic reforms, which would mean that the king would be reduced to a figurehead role, as in democratic monarchies such as Thailand, the Netherlands and Nepal, at least until the new constitution comes into force, under which the king becomes a non-person, constitutionally speaking. Third, it could act as a channel through which some lesser grievances might be aired harmlessly and thereby dispersed. The trouble with that is that in the absence of internal self-determination, all other human rights and freedoms are conditional on the will of the ruler.

But if the elections were genuinely free and fair, it is possible that the elected chamber might have been ready to flex its muscles on some of the major issues of the day: the impunity enjoyed by the torturers of the previous régime including the notorious Scot Ian Henderson, who dares not return to Britain to enjoy his ill-gotten estate in Devon in case the British police arrest him; the rampant corruption which means that while some people get very rich in Bahrain, the poor remain poor; the discrimination against the Shi’a in employment rights, and particularly in the public service; the demographic engineering of the population by the illegal award of citizenship to large numbers of foreigners including Saudi Arabians and Syrians; the restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, documented by international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as, of course, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, whose website is blocked in Bahrain.

The opposition Islamic National Accord Association might raise some of these issues, though they have already said they won’t talk about consitutional matters such as the powers of the nominated upper house, the Shura Council, which has an effective veto against anything the elected members decide, or about the discrimination against the Shi’a, which could be dealt with effectively by equality legislation if there was the political will. But the opposition would at least have been able to pass resolutions, for instance on the appointment of a parliamentary human rights committee, if the elections hadn’t been gerrymandered to ensure that Sunni loyalists won. Meanwhile the Shura decided to get their oar in first and establish their own human rights committee. According to Mahmood’s Den, described by the FCO as ‘a respected blogger’ they were told to do this to counter the prospect of a Human Rights committee in the elected Council of Representatives.

Unfortunately, no foreign observers were allowed to monitor the elections, but the constituencies were so blatantly distorted that it was impossible for there to be free and fair elections, however good the polling day arrangements may have been. The Hawar Islands, awarded to Bahrain by the International Court of Justice in its judgement on the territorial dispute between Qatar and Bahrain, were uninhabited, but the authorities created a rotten borough by posting a few naturalised Sunni foreigners there to ensure that a government sympathiser was elected. At the other end of the scale, Sitra, with a population of 30,000 Shi’as, elected one member. The southern province, a Sunni area with a population of 15,000, elected 6 members. These and other gross anomalies meant that although according to the ‘respected blogger’, the Shi’a made up 62% of the electorate, they only gained 17 seats to the Sunnis’ 23. But to be absolutely sure of getting this result, the authorities also allegedly bussed the naturalised foreigners and military personnel into constituencies where their votes could have the greatest effect. We shall conduct an analysis of the gerrymandering and election malpractices and publish the results.

We also need to look at the connections between the Bandargate operations and the manipulation of the election results. Money flowed from the taxpayers via the secret organisation run by Shaikh Ahmed bin Atiyattallah al-Khalifa – another royal, head of the Civil Informatics Organisation, a government intelligence outfit, and brother of a notorious torturer - into the pockets of Sunni election candidates, a variety of front organisations, a pro-government newspaper, and websites that foment sectarian hatred. Obviously, Shaikh Ahmed couldn’t have conducted such an extensive operation without authority at the highest level, and the al-Khalifas have closed ranks.
The Bahrain government’s response to these allegations was to expel Dr al-Bander, to refuse popular demands for a thorough independent investigation, and now to reappoint Shaikh Ahmed as a Cabinet Minister.

Meanwhile, there are signs of a return to the bad old days of the nineties, and as we commemorate the martyrs of December 17, 1994, the start of a dreadful era for Bahrain when thousands were imprisoned without trial, and many were tortured, some to death, history seems to be repeating itself. Two activists, Dr Mohammad Saeed Matar and Hussain Abdul Aziz Al Habshi were snatched off the street just over a month ago without a judicial warrant and were denied access to lawyers during interrogation. Apparently their ‘crime’ was to print and distribute leaflets calling for a boycott of the fraudulent elections, and when a demonstration against this violation of the right to freedom of expression was planned last week, heavily armed forces were rushed to the spot to threaten the protesters and stop their meeting,

When I met the king nearly two years ago I said to him that the essence of democracy was that it never reached finality, but continued to broaden out to meet the needs of all the people, and he appeared to agree with me. The process got stuck, however, and only the king has the power to ensure that it moves on. Unless there is the political will at the top to ensure that elections are fair, that demographic engineering of citizenship is halted; that genuine freedom of expression is advanced, and that there are mechanisms not only for hearing grievances but actively remedying them, Bahrain’s fledging democracy will perish in its infancy.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Discussion with Hasan Mushaima and other Bahraini friends

Asylum and Immigration

2.45 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has a distinguished record as a staunch advocate of the rights of refugees and his timely advice is more relevant than ever as the Government tighten the screws, making it ever harder for genuine refugees to get through the system, and try to starve those who are unsuccessful into going back where they came from, however atrocious the conditions there may be.

The Home Secretary said that the immigration and asylum system was unfit for purpose when it emerged that 1,000 foreign national prisoners had been released without consideration of whether they should be deported, yet the Chief Inspector of Prisons had expressed concerns to Ministers in a number of reports going back several years about the absence of a strategy for managing foreign prisoners. Dr Reid's reaction to the tabloid hysteria was to divert resources into detaining all the foreigners who had been released at the end of a

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sentence, including EU citizens who were not deportable, such as an Irish citizen with health problems and a history of self-harm who had lived here for many years with a British partner and child.

The combustible mix of foreign prisoners, fast-track detainees and young single men in the last few days prior to removal was the probable cause of the disturbance at Harmondsworth which led to the loss of 500 places in the detention system and knock-on effects in all the establishments to which the detainees were transferred. Many, perhaps hundreds, had to be accommodated in prisons, so that the numbers there reached an all-time record of nearly 80,000. When half of Yarl's Wood was destroyed in a previous riot, there was an inquiry by Stephen Shaw, some of the lessons of which obviously have not been learnt. Should there not be a full public inquiry into what happened at Harmondsworth and its causes, considering the damning verdict that it was not performing satisfactorily against any of the tests of a healthy custodial establishment?

The chief inspector reported in July that the average length of detention at Harmondsworth had increased from two to six weeks. At her previous inspection, the longest period anybody had been detained was five weeks, but this time it was two years, with 22 people held for more than six months. No doubt the Minister will explain the reason for the discrepancies between the facts and the story shetold the House a week ago. One reason for the deterioration is that experienced immigration officers had been replaced by basic administrative grade personnel with no direct involvement in casework, their only function being to relay messages between detainees and externally based case-holding officers. One detainee, who had been in Harmondsworth for more than 19 months following a short custodial sentence, could not be removed because his consulate refused to issue a travel document. Your Lordships’ Select Committee on the European Union reported eight months ago that there were only four EU readmission agreements with countries of origin, and those were not with countries that generated many asylum seekers. The committee said that more effort should be made to negotiate those agreements, and to promote acceptance of EU travel letters as a substitute for official passports. What progress has been made on these issues?

Last week, the Minister said that she was not aware of problems arising from the merits test and the reduction of legal aid funding in 2005. BID, in its evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, says that the test, which requires a supplier to assess the chances of success to be greater than 50 per cent in any one case, and to achieve a 40 per cent success rate overall, is a major deterrent. Practitioners are bound to err on the side of caution, because if they take on cases that fail, they risk having their contracts withdrawn. What happens when a practitioner goes out of business? Where a firm was shut down because the LSC thought that it had committed some irregularities, hundreds of clients were left in the lurch. No attempt was made to ensure that their cases were dealt with properly by someone else. I was

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approached one Saturday in February on behalf of one client, a 22 year-old Eritrean who had been detained in Yarl's Wood since 15 September—a period of five months. Removal directions had been given for the following Monday. After numerous telephone calls, e-mails and faxes to MODCU, and to the Minister, her removal was deferred, and competent solicitors came to her rescue. They submitted a fresh application on the basis of new evidence, which was successful. The person concerned is now doing an access course with a view to entering nurse training. Like most Eritreans, she will be an asset to our country and its economy. How many others had just as good a case as this particular individual and failed, because they were not able to get competent advice?

With detainees, the LSC proposes the extension of the exclusive contract model which has been tried out on fast-track detainees, citing it as a successful model of service provision. This is in the absence of any evaluation and despite growing concern about the quality of the fast-track suppliers. Some 55 per cent of the fast-track appellants at Harmondsworth had no representation, because of the merits test, and this together with the speed of the process leads to a very small proportion of successes. At the time of the incident last month, there were 15 Darfurians there, all fast-tracked, who had been abandoned by their representatives from several firms and lost appeals that they had to conduct themselves. Another solicitor picked them up in the nick of time, and one has been granted permission to lodge a fresh application. Two are before the High Court, 11 are awaiting IND approval of their fresh applications, and one, who said that he was a member of the Janjaweed, has I hope by now been deported. Will the Minister issue instructions that people escaping from genocide should not be fast-tracked and should have representation on their appeals?

Sixteen countries are now on the NSA list under Section 94 of the NIA Act, which means that people from those countries have no in-country rights of appeal at all; but while a country may be safe for the population in general, it may still be dangerous for particular groups.

On 24 November last year, an order was passed designating Nigeria and Ghana, but for men only. I asked whether the Government would consider a similar partial designation for countries where rabid prejudice exists against LGBT people, the outstanding example being Jamaica. The Minister, whom I am glad to see in his place, said that he would look into the matter. It was not until a year later and after two reminders, in August and October, that Joan Ryan MP wrote to me saying that she would suggest that the country information on Jamaica be reviewed at the next meeting of the advisory panel in March 2007. That is an inadequate response to the evidence that gays are at risk of persecution and physical harm in Jamaica, and the Home Office should act to remove them from the NSA list.

On Report of the IAN Bill in February, we moved an amendment with government support arising out of a discussion that we had with the Minister at the end of Grand Committee allowing for repeal by order

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of Section 9 and connected bits of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, which provided for the withdrawal of support from the class of failed asylum seeker with family. If those persons did not take reasonable steps to leave the UK, the Secretary of State could certify them, which would mean that support was withdrawn from adult members of the family, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has described. We said that it was an inhumane way in which to coerce vulnerable families but welcomed the increased grants for those prepared to return voluntarily in appropriate cases. The pilots of Section 9, which were then being evaluated, had caused enormous distress and terrible destitution, according to the Refugee Council and others, and had drawn attention to the human rights violations caused by depriving families of support. The JCHR will almost certainly recommend that the Government exercise the power to repeal Section 9. Have the Government published a report on the pilots and will they not act on this before being pushed into it?

When the Home Office launched its new asylum model in January it claimed that by December genuine refugees would be granted asylum quickly and those who failed would be quickly removed. Instead, in the latest Home Office statistics, the number of cases awaiting initial decision is up and 1,200 have been in the queue for longer thansix months. The proportion dealt with in less than two months was down and lower than in either of the two previous years. The number removed was down by26 per cent and lower than any of the previous five quarters. The Home Secretary has been in his job for eight months and it is time for him to take the rap instead of blaming his officials.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Medhin Teklezghi

We had a very happy celebration of Medhin's successful asylum claim, after many vicissitudes. Her brother from Leeds, and her sister from Australia were there, as well as Puck de Raadt. We heard about Medhin's case at the 11th hour, from Emma Ginn of NCADC, when she was about to be taken from Yarl's Wood to be deported to Ethiopia (she's eritrea, and its a long and complicated story). Her previous solicitors had been 'intervened' but we managed to brief the wonderful Lisa Gibbs of Glazer Delmar in the nick of time, Medhin was due to be removed on February 13 and at first the Minister, Tony McNulty, rejected my requests for it to be deferred so that the new solicitors could pick up the reins. After a blizzard of faxes, emails and letters to the Minister and the Management of Detained Cases Unit the removal was deferred, and the Home Office relented, allowing time for a new case to be presented. Medhi was released from Yarl's Wood Detention Centre in March, and won the new appeal on the basis of fresh evidence. This shows that it is all too likely that where an asylum-seeker isn't properly represented, and there is nobody to take up her case with the Minister, she will be wrongfully deported.

Tea with Medhin Teklezghi

In the House this week


Meeting to discuss draft outline report of SubCommittee F of the EU Select Committee, on SIS II, a proposed European database on immigration and crime

Supplementary question on speech and language therapy in schools:


Meeting to hear Francesc Vendrell, EU Representative in Kabul, on the current situation in Afghanistan

Meeting to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of Armenian Independence, at which I spoke about our attempts to engage Members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly in a dialogue about the authenticity of the testimonies published in the Blue Book of 1916, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire


Supplementary question on the report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons on Harmondsworth Detention Centre


Supplementary question on the treatment of ethnic minorities in Burma

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

SCMP - British citizenship

We are writing to tell your readers about two little-known entitlements to British citizenship held by members of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities. Many of these people do not know they are actually British nationals already.

There have been no recent changes to British law but, following clarifications received this year from the Indian and Nepalese authorities, it has become clear that some people born in Hong Kong - who must to date have never held a British National (Overseas) passport - can register as British citizens.

Solely Nepalese passport holders born in Hong Kong before June 30, 1976, who have never held a BN(O) passport may qualify for a British Overseas citizenship passport if they did not formally renounce their British nationality upon turning 21. Solely Indian passport holders born in Hong Kong before the same date [note: SCMP editorial error, the date should be 30 June 1979 for those of Indian origin] who have never held a BN(O) passport may qualify if they did not formally renounce British nationality upon turning 18.

In most cases, applicants will be able to obtain a British Overseas citizen passport on application at the British consulate. To acquire the right of abode in Britain, they will need to make a separate application to the consulate for British citizenship, to be forwarded to the Home Office.

LORD AVEBURY, House of Lords, and TAMEEM A. EBRAHIM, London

Correction published in SCMP - Wednesday, 29 November, 2006

The letter "British citizenship", published on Monday advised that solely Indian passport holders born in Hong Kong before June 30, 1976, who have never held British National (Overseas) passports may qualify for British Overseas citizen passports and can register as British citizens if they did not formally renounce British nationality upon turning 18. In fact, the cut-off date was June 30, 1979.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Opening remarks at Peru Support Group Conference today

Its a great pleasure to welcome you all to this 2006 Annual Conference of the Peru Support Group, the theme of which as you know is Peru under Garcia, Democracy and Civil Rights.

May I particularly welcome our distinguished speakers Susana Villarán, Romy Garcia of DEMUS and Karim Flores of Asociacion Aurora Vivar who have come here all the way from Peru.

There are some themes which emerge naturally from the events of the past year, and first and foremost is the implications for democracy and civil rights of the elections in which President Garcia came to power following a run-off in June. We are extremely fortunate in having Susana Villarán, who was a candidate in the Presidential elections, to speak in our first session, about the likely scenarios for Garcia’s term of office over the next 4 ½ years.

The record of his first Presidency is always described as ‘controversial’, a rather mild description for the mismanagement of the economy which led to Peru’s default on its international debt, and hyperinflation which reached 8,000%, to say nothing of ushering in the decomposition of the political parties and facilitating the Fujimori coup of 1992. They say he is a reformed character, and The Economist refers to him as ‘New-model Alan’, saying that he is bending over backwards to appear moderate. Unlike other recently elected heads of state in Latin America, he is doing his best to please the Americans, in the hope that the US Congress will sign a free trade agreement with Peru. But his narrow victory, particularly in the July run-off, may have been more to do with negative voting against other parties, rather than the popularity of what APRA had to offer.

That conclusion seems to have been reinforced by the local elections a fortnight ago, and I particularly look forward to hearing Jon Crabtree’s take on this in the first workshop session after lunch, in which he is dealing with The balance of power since the 2006 general election. My only regret is that it coincides with the presentation by Paul Trawick on The moral economy of water in Peru, a subject which is likely to rise up the agenda in Peru as elsewhere, as the terrifying consequences of global warming start to bite. Peru is particularly vulnerable to climate change because some 70% of its electricity comes from hydroelectric plants, supplied mainly by meltwater from Andean glaciers which are likely to disappear altogether over the next 50 years. The meltwater is also used for agriculture and industry and to supply Peru's desert coast, home to more than half the country's population.

We also have a difficult choice to make in the second session this morning. when the workshop on The non-negotiable rights of Peruvian women run by Romy Garcia Karim Flores clashes with Tom Pegram’s parallel workshop on The politics of human rights in Peru. Peru has a good record of gender parity in both primary and secondary education, the keys to women’s empowerment in the medium term future, but for the time being there are still some major problems including endemic domestic violence and a general failure to acknowledge the right of women to control their own fertility. Unfortunately the UK hasn’t much to contribute on this front in spite of the efforts we have made to mainstream gender equality in our aid programme, because we no longer have a presence in Lima. DfID’s regional policy, run from La Paz since 2004, doesn’t appear to contain any specifically Peruvian projects of any kind, let alone any that are addressed to the needs of women.

On the question of human rights following the general election, there are some worrying developments. As you know if you’ve had time to look at the latest issue of the PSG Update, I wrote to the Foreign Office Minister David Triesman who deals with Latin America on behalf of the Group, expressing our concern over legislation passed by the Congress in Peru which appears to us to threaten the freedom of NGOs working in Peru. All NGOs, fomestic and foreign, now have to register with a Peruvian government agency, and if they are deemed not to be working towards the goals of the national development plan they can be terminated. As some NGOs have been critical of the government’s policies in the past, and as there is a history of attacks and intimidation by government on human rights NGO critics in Peru, there is every reason to be apprehensive about the intentions behind this law, which experts think is contrary to both the Peruvian Constitution and the ICCPR. I am pleased to say that the Minister shares some of our concerns, and notes that the Peruvian Congress has postponed the final vote on the law to allow time to consider its compatibility with the constitution, and to enter into a dialogue with the NGOs on possible further amendments. Although we are not directly involved in that process, Tom Pegram’s workshop may allow us to make suggestions that could be of use to the many NGO friends of the PSG.

Another matter of concern to be discussed no doubt in that session is the fourth draft law to extend the use of the death penalty since President Garcia came into office, tabled on November 11. Amnesty International warn that two of these ills would entail withdrwal from the American Convention on human rights, thus denying citizens the right of petition to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

Last but by no means least, we shall be discussing the question Mining: who loses, who benefits? Corporate resonsibility and citizen security under the guidance of Martin Scurrah. This is a subject we have dealt with before, and we return to it in the context of growing disquiet in Peru about the lack of consultation by the government with local communities resident on, or owning, land affected by the projects concerned, and without a framework of revenue sharing which is fair to local and national governments, a problem which arises almost everywhere there are large scale mining or oil and gas developments. It was very good news that Peru signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in June, giving citizens access to fully published and verified details of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining. At least, people in the area of extractive developments will be able to monitor the revenue they generate, and thus to make an informed assessment of whether they are getting their fair share. As I may have said before, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises also calls for collection of information on the environmental, health and safety impacts of their activities, the establishment of measurable objectives for their environmental performance, and the regular monitoring and verification of their progress towards environmental, health and safety targets. They should provide the public and employees with adequate and timely information on all these matters, and should engage in consultation with the communities directly affected by their environmental, health and safety policies. Where there is evidence that a company is not adhering to these guidelines, and domestic remedies in the host state have been exhausted, those affected or their representatives, including NGOs, can formally apply to a person designated as the National Contact Point in the state where the company involved is headquartered. This person first decides whether a complaint is does refer to a breach of the guidelines, and then makes his good offices available to the parties in an attempt to reach agreement on the matter in dispute> If this fails, he has power to issue a statement ad make formal recommendations on the implementation of the guidelines.

As you know, the PSG published a report on Mining and poverty in 2005, in which some of the issues covered by the OECD guidelines were canvassed. It was reported that under Fujimori an unprecedented number of mining permits were granted, and the economy is heavily slanted towards the extractive industries including the Camisea natural gas megaproject, which may generate large revenues for the state but carry penalties. The Energy and Mines Minister Juan Valdivia told Congress that the cost of dealing with environmental problems caused by mining and oil operations would be $800 million, and the culprit was the lack of a proper regulatory framework

I think we have enough on our plates in this agenda to keep us going for several days, and I will save a minute or two of my allotted time by handing over now to the chair of the Conference, Linda Fabiani MSP. I had the pleasure of Linda’s company when we visited Peru together with Des Browne MP in 2000 immediately after the fraudulent elections of that year, and just before the Marcha de los Quatros Suyos which led to the democratic opening and the Toledo Presidency. Linda has maintained her limnks with the PSG and her enthusiasm for democracy and the elimination of poverty and gross inequality in Peru since then, and I look forward to an enjoyable and productive day under her guidance today.

The week

Peccavi - a whole week since my last entry. Monday and Tuesday I was in Brussels with Subcommittee F of the Lords EU Select Committee taking evidence in connection with our inquiry into SIS II, a mega-database which will contain criminal information which law enforcement officers in the UK will be able to access, and immigration information from which we will be excluded because we're not part of Schengen. Wednesday moring the Committee met in our usual Committee Room 3, to take evidence from Joan Ryan MP, a Home Office Minister, the last witness before we decide on our Report.

Then I had lunch with a delegation of MPs from Cameroon, led by their Deputy Speaker Rose Abunaw Makia, who I had met when she was a member of a previous delegation two years ago.

Thursday was my question on Somalia
ldhansrd/pdvn/lds06/text/61130-0001.htm#06113069000008 followed by my debate on the forthcoming elections in Bangladesh
ldhansrd/pdvn/lds06/text/61130-0009.htm#06113069000004, and in the evening, dinner with the Supreme Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, at The London Mosque.The Ahmadis believe in the benevolent message of Islam - peace, universal brotherhood, and submission to the Will of God. Unfortunately they are attacked in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and now Sri Lanka by extremists who deny their right to call themselves Muslim, and in Pakistan itself, where they originted, they suffer discrimination under the law.

Friday I did al interview on al-Jezira TV, about the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office of alleged corrupt payments by BAe to secure the multi-billion Al Yamamah arms contract, and Saudi threats that if the investigation isn't called off they will cancel arms deals with the UK. Needless to say, I told them it was unthinkable that our Attorney-General or any other Minister would interfere with criminal or legal processes, whatever the consequences. There is an often quoted Latin tag, Fiat justicia, ruat coelum, which means Let justice be done though the heavens fall.

Today I was at the University of Kingston for the Annual Conference of the Peru Support Group, of which I'm President. It was a useful and informative meeting, with excellent speakers, organised by the invaluable Sophie Paton, the Secretary of the PSG.