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Human Rights

Volume 401: debated on Friday 14 March 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment his Department has made of the human rights situations in (a) Uzbekistan, (b) Turkmenistan, (c) Kyrgmenistan, (d) Algeria, (e) Jordan, (f) Qatar and (g) Pakistan. [101619]

[holding answer of 10 March 2003]: Human rights are at the heart of foreign policy and as such are integrated into policy-making at all levels. The FCO is therefore continually considering the human rights issues in all countries alongside other political, economic and security issues. However the human rights situations in the countries raised are as follows:Uzbekistan:We remain deeply concerned by reports of human right abuses in Uzbekistan. We recognise that the Uzbek Government has made small concessions in addressing the situation, including co-operating with the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture. However, Uzbekistan needs to do much more. We would like to see reform of the criminal justice system, as well as wider recognition of independent human rights groups, religious groups and political parties. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), raised human rights concerns with the Uzbek Ambassador in London on 10 February. We shall continue to press for tangible improvements in Uzbekistan's human rights record. We are also thinking together with the EU how best to handle the human rights situation in Uzbekistan at the next session of the Commission on Human Rights starting in March.

Turkmenistan:

We are greatly concerned at the recent developments in Turkmenistan following the reported assassination attempt on President Niyazov last November. We encouraged the EU to make a statement calling on the Turkmen authorities to comply with Turkmenistan's human rights obligations under international law. The EU is also considering how best to handle the human rights situation at the next session of the Commission on Human Rights.

Through the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) we have sought to establish a fact-finding mission to Turkmenistan to investigate all matters relating to the conduct of the investigations, including detentions, arrests and allegations of torture, as well as the trials, convictions and sentencing procedures. Turkmenistan has however refused to admit any mission of this kind. The OSCE has asked the Turkmen authorities to reconsider. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Kyrgyzstan:

We recognise efforts made by the Kyrgyz Government to improve its human rights situation and to bring about political reform. Positive developments include a presidential decree on 8 January 2003 extending a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. We are however still concerned by cases of harassment of independent media and unofficial Muslim groups. We shall continue to help Kyrgyzstan make improvements, in line with its international obligations and commitments.

Algeria:

We regularly raise our concerns about human rights violations in Algeria with the Algerian Government. We continue to urge the Algerian Government to fully comply with all its obligations under international human rights law, including the investigation of human rights violations, and to allow visits by the UN special rapporteurs on the question of torture and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The UK with EU partners has also raised its concerns about a number of cases of human rights abuses with the Algerian authorities. The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has offered information on some of these cases, but both we and our EU partners will continue to press for full answers.

Jordan:

We welcome the decision by the Jordanian Government to hold general elections in June 2003 (elections were previously postponed from autumn 2002). This decision represents the opportunity for people to exercise their democratic right to vote. We will encourage the Government to hold a free and fair electoral process. We have some concerns about the human rights situation in Jordan including the treatment of religious minorities, honour killings, and freedom of expression. Toujan al-Faisal was a former member of the Jordanian Parliament who was arrested in 2002 in connection with her public criticism of the Government's policies. We welcomed her release following a Royal Pardon in July 2002. We will continue to raise each human rights case as appropriate with the Jordanian Government or in conjunction with EU Partners.

Qatar:

Qatar has a good human rights record for a conservative Islamic society with an autocratic system of government. The social and political system is comparatively tolerant and increasingly open. The Amir has the right basic instincts towards human rights issues but recognises that change which could damage the fabric of his tribal people must be handled carefully and will take time. The Amir is encouraging women to play an active part in all walks of life; he has introduced his first steps towards democratic reform; the press exercises some self censorship; freedom of worship is tolerated provided it is discreet; there are plans to build Qatar's first churches; work continues on codifying sharia and civil law but Qataris are still to some extent associated in the Western mind with their Wahabi cousins in Saudi Arabia. Death sentences have been carried out but are extremely rare. There are, however general issues regarding the treatment of third country nationals and minors working in Qatar.

Pakistan:

The UK Government welcomed President Musharraf's speech of 12 January 2002 in which he condemned all forms of sectarianism and religious hatred and made the case for a moderate and tolerant Islam. We hope the new government will look carefully at human rights violations in Pakistan. The UK and EU are particularly concerned by sectarian and terrorist violence that has resulted in the deaths of a number of Christians across Pakistan, most recently the vicious attack on 25 December 2002.

We have concerns about the abuse of the blasphemy laws and are seriously concerned about the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy. The UK government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. Women's rights issues remain a concern. We hope the new government will keep to the pledge of the out-going government to review the Hudood ordinances on Islamic punishments. We are particularly concerned by so-called "honour" crimes against women, forced marriages, domestic violence, kidnap and rate. We believe much can be done to promote women's rights within the existing Islamic legal framework.