Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Short week

This evening Parliament has risen for a 10-day recess, with a crowded timetable in the next few weeks before the general election, which everybody assumes will be on May 6. The Equality Bill finished Committee stage yesterday and we're still hoping that by Report stage on March 2, the Government will have considered the powerful representations on adding caste to the characteristics for which there is protection against discrimination.

Yesterday the Eritrean Ambassador came to lunch, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the situation in the Horn of Africa, and in particular the impasse on Ethiopia's refusal to accept the internationally approved border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Both countries maintain large forces on either side, and a huge swathe of territory is effectively barred to occupation and agriculture. The unnecessary burden on the economies of two poor countries is appalling, and the international community is largely to blame for not being firmer with Ethiopia.

We also talked about the trouble on Eritrea's border with Djibouti, on which the Ambassador promised to send me a note; the disorder in Somalia, which he thought should be addressed by the withdrawal of foreign forces and of the support given to the 'government', and human rights concerns in Eritrea like the detention of opposition activists including conscientious objectors. The Ambassador said that prisoners were not in secret locations, contrary to the universal findings of human rights organisations.

After that I chipped in on Navnit Dholakia's question about the ill-treatment of asylum-seekers by the UK Borders Agency (; then spoke in the Asylum (Designated States) Order, on Kosovo and Korea (as well as the point about gays, see earlier posting)

This morning, before the Bahrain press conference, I spoke on Lord Sheikh's question, about the Tamils of Sri Lanka:

Lord Avebury: The Minister may have seen the claim made yesterday by a Sri Lankan Minister that all the IDPs have been resettled except 70,000. Whatever the actual number, does the Minister agree that there is no coherent programme for making the former inhabited areas that were subject to conflict safe for habitation by removing the mines and by rebuilding the damaged or destroyed houses? Also, what progress has been made in dealing with the 11,000 alleged former LTTE fighters who are in indefinite detention? Will they be brought to trial?

Lord Brett: The noble Lord makes two important points. I will have to write to him with up-to-date information on the point about the detainees, but he is absolutely right about the requirement for demining and for reconstruction. DfID is providing some £12.5 million of humanitarian funding aimed at supporting two British NGOs, the HALO Trust and the Mines Advisory Group, to undertake demining activities. We are also supporting the UN operations team to provide transitional shelter for 2,000 returning IDP families to the Vanni area.

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