Sunday, July 06, 2008

My week in Westminster

Monday: joined in a question on Zimbabwe from Peter Blaker. I asked if the Government would seek to persuade the Germans to halt the printing of bank notes, which have fuelled the 9 million per cent inflation. By coincidence, it was reported the next day that the presses had been stopped. My other question was about allowing Zimbabwean refugees in the UK to work, since clearly they can't be sent back to a country spiralling down into anarchy. This the Government are still considering.

In the afternoon, a long session of the Select Committee on Intergovernmental Organisations, looking at the draft of the first three chapters of the Report. Then, a meeting of the Parliamentary Party's foreign affairs team.

Tuesday morning, meeting on terrorism with Lord West and Home Office officials.

Afternoon, meeting with Mir Ali, leader of the Mehdi Foundation International, and two colleagues. They have issued the following press release:

67 asylum seekers from Pakistan, members of the spiritual Mehdi Foundation International, have been in Tihar Jail, New Delhi, since April 23, 2007. They were fleeing from the threat of charges under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and would qualify as refugees if India was a signatory of ther United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees.
Instead, they have been charged with criminal offences under Indian law, for burning their Pakistani passports and obtaining visas by deception. The detainees acknowledged that they had given spurious reasons to get the visas, as refugees normally do. The maximum sentences for the two charges are 5 years and 2 years imprisonment respectively.

Judge Ajay Kumar Kuhar, who will try these cases, has informed the detainees’ representatives that he is ready to start the trial as soon as the defence is ready, and July 15 has been suggested. The detainees have been advised to plead guilty as charged in the hope of attracting light sentences, and also because the proceedings might take months if they plead not guilty.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been active behind the scene but has not made any statement that could be used in court. It had been hoped that the prosecution authorities might withdraw the case, on the grounds that the defendants acted under duress.

In February 2008 the UN Rapporteur on Religious Freedom, Ms Asma Jehangir issued a joint Urgent Appeal with the Special Rapporteur on Torture on behalf of the detainees, see extract from her report in Annex A. No response has been received

Wednesday morning, met former President Cassam Uteem of Mauritius and David Snoxell, former UK High Commissioner in Mauritius, and accompanied them to the Judicial Committee's hearing on the Chagos Islanders case. The formidable counsel for the Islanders, Sir Sydney Kentridge, spoke lucidly and compellingly, and had ready answers to the interjections by their Lordships. At the age of 86 he has lost none of his intellectual vigour.

In the afternoon, addressed a meeting of the Anglo-Somali Society, mainly on the question of Khat. Those I discussed it with all felt that it was harming the Somali community, but agreed that making it illegal wasn't the answer.

Thursday, joined in a question on Sudan, asking whether it was realistic for the head of UN peacekeeping to say that UNAMID will have 20,000 troops and police on the ground by the end of the year, considering that after six months it has managed to increase the total to only just over 9,000. I also asked the Minister whether, at the AU summit he had urged President to enter into peace negotiations with President al-Bashir, bearing in mind that the undeclared proxy war between the two countries is one of the main causes of instability and violence in the region; and whether he had persuaded President Déby to acknowledge that the European Union force is there to protect civilians, not to engage in military action against the rebel National Democratic Alliance. Mark Malloch-Brown answered that we had been clear in all our public comments that the role of the EU force is to protect IDPs and it cannot be drawn into the political conflict between Chad and Sudan. He had not, had the opportunity to press President Déby directly, but others from Europe did, and we were working collectively to support a Libyan and Senegalese initiative for a peace agreement between Sudan and Chad.

PS Ping pong with JW 1-1 Saturday, 2-0 to me Sunday, making the cumulative score 83-78 to me.

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