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Written Statements

Volume 470: debated on Friday 25 January 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 25 January 2008

Defence

Iraq: Aitken Report/Mr. Baha Mousa

In February 2005, the then Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), undertook to publish the findings of the review instigated by General Sir Mike Jackson into the cases of deliberate abuse of Iraqi citizens in 2003 and 2004. I am pleased to announce that the report, entitled “The Aitken Report: An Investigation into Cases of Deliberate Abuse and Unlawful Killing in Iraq in 2003 and 2004” is today being released in full.

The report by Brigadier Aitken is critical in places, and rightly so; only the highest standards are acceptable to the Army and to the Ministry of Defence as a whole.

Since the events that Brigadier Aitken has examined in his report, the Army has already done a great deal to improve its procedures. I am satisfied that the Army is doing everything possible to ensure that its personnel do not repeat the appalling acts that were perpetrated in these cases. I believe that Brigadier Aitken has demonstrated this in his report, but we must not be complacent.

The report makes three broad recommendations:

The Army needs to ensure that it learns and implements lessons from the disciplinary process in the same way that it does for wider operational issues;

The Army needs to find better ways to inculcate its core values of selfless commitment, courage, discipline, loyalty, integrity, and respect for others and its standards of behaviour and discipline, into the everyday lives of its personnel;

The Army must educate itself to ensure that they are using administrative action correctly.

The report is part of a continuing process of review, investigation and continuous professional development for the Army. It details the work that has already been completed, or is in progress, to ensure such acts as are examined by the report are not repeated. This work includes enhancements to training packages for both routine and specific training, and the implementation of a standard operating procedure for use in Operation Telic, which includes the treatment of detainees and prisoners.

I am proud to acknowledge that the vast majority of our personnel who have served in Iraq have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour—some displaying extraordinary qualities of courage, self-discipline, integrity and selfless commitment far and above what might reasonably have been expected under the circumstances they faced.

One of the cases of abuse examined by Brigadier Aitken and referred to in his report is that of Mr. Baha Mousa. In September 2003, an Iraqi civilian, Mr. Baha Mousa, lost his life while in British military custody. He and eight other Iraqis had been subjected to varying degrees of abuse. I should like to take this opportunity to also update the House on recent developments in this case.

Last year, the court-martial of seven British Army officers and soldiers concluded. That trial resulted in the conviction of one individual, who had pleaded guilty to the inhuman treatment of prisoners; the other defendants were acquitted.

Following the trial, and in line with normal procedures, the Royal Military Police (Special Investigation Branch) reviewed the case to establish if there was any new evidence (including evidence from the trial) and any further lines of criminal inquiry into the death of Mr. Mousa and ill-treatment of other Iraqi nationals. They reported their findings to the Army Prosecuting Authority, who, in turn, having considered the report, consulted the Attorney-General.

The criminal review concluded that no further criminal lines of inquiry could be pursued on the basis of the existing evidence. This does not mean that a further investigation will not be instigated should new evidence be made available. Those individuals who were under investigation, and Mr. Mousa’s family, have been informed that no further disciplinary action will be taken based on the current evidence. The Army’s chain of command is now considering whether individuals should face administrative action.

The next step is to consider what form any future inquiry into these appalling incidents should take. I have agreed to receive representations from the legal representatives for Mr. Mousa’s family, and I will make a further statement when a decision has been made. The conclusions of Brigadier Aitken’s work and the subsequent actions already carried out by the Army will then be taken into account in this process.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 28 January in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

External Relations

Western Balkans

The Government expect discussion of the Western Balkans to focus on Serbia and Kosovo. The Council is likely to discuss the forthcoming second round of presidential elections in Serbia, including ways the EU can best take forward Serbia’s European perspective. The Government are committed to a tangible EU future for Serbia but, at the same time, committed to full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a requirement for progress. On Kosovo, EU leaders agreed in December that the Union should play a leading role in implementing a settlement on Kosovo’s final status. The Council is likely to discuss ways to take forward that commitment. The Government believe the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable and are working for a rapid resolution of status in co-ordination with international partners.

Middle East

The Government expect the Council to discuss latest developments in Gaza and southern Israel, as well as highlighting their support for the political process and welcoming the contributions made at the Paris donors’ conference in December, which raised over $7.4 billion over three years in support of Palestinian development.

The Government will support conclusions at the Council welcoming recent bilateral negotiations, maintaining continued support for the political process through the framework of the EU action strategy and expressing the EU’s serious concern about the humanitarian situation and continued violence in Gaza. The Government also want conclusions to encourage the parties to adhere to their roadmap commitments, particularly on Israeli settlement activity and on Palestinian security; and to welcome the achievements of the Paris donors’ conference.

The Government are committed to supporting the process initiated at Annapolis, which has put the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008, which the Government hope will lead to a final settlement of two states living side by side in peace and security. Israeli security is absolutely fundamental to a just solution; and Palestinian hardship can only be tackled through a political process that creates an economically and socially viable Palestinian state.

The Government expect the Council to adopt conclusions on Lebanon in light of the ongoing political crisis and the recent spate of violence. Lebanon has been without a Head of State since President Lahoud’s term of office expired on 23 November 2007 amid ongoing divisions between the Government and the opposition over who should succeed him. The Government will support EU endorsement of the latest Arab League diplomatic initiative to help resolve the crisis and call on all parties to engage.

Sudan/Darfur, Chad/Central African Republic

The UN envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, will brief the Council on latest developments in the political process in Darfur. The Government will support conclusions welcoming the return of the SPLM to the Government of National Unity in Sudan, while noting the importance of timely and thorough planning for the elections in 2009. The Government will also want the Council conclusions to call on all parties to facilitate the prompt establishment of an effective African Union-UN peacekeeping force, UNAMID, noting in particular the continued lack of full co-operation by the Government of Sudan.

The Government hope that the Council conclusions will in addition express concern about the tensions between Chad and Sudan, call on both sides to refrain from any further escalatory action and support calls for an internal political process in Chad to end the armed conflict. The Government expect the Council to launch the EU military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, which will contribute to the protection of refugees, facilitation of humanitarian assistance and the work of the UN. The Government welcome and fully support EU engagement and messages on these issues.

Kenya

The Government expect the Council to discuss the latest situation in Kenya and agree conclusions expressing concern about the humanitarian situation following questions raised in reports by a number of independent observers over the results of the presidential elections in December.

The Government will support a clear condemnation of the violence in the conclusions, which should also urge Kenya’s political leaders to work together to agree a political solution to the crisis while expressing strong support for the efforts of the African Union and the mission led by Kofi Annan to assist Kenya’s politicians in achieving this goal. The Government also expect the Council to discuss what further action the EU could take to support efforts to find a political solution. The Government welcome this opportunity for discussion given the seriousness of the crisis in Kenya.

Pakistan

The Government expect the Council to discuss the current political situation in Pakistan with a particular focus on upcoming elections and the steps the EU can take to support the Government of Pakistan towards delivering free and fair elections, including through an EU election observation mission.

Iran

The Government expect the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy to brief the Council on next steps following Iran’s failure to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747. The Government fully support the strengthening of EU sanctions and will be pressing partners to take a firm stand on this issue, following the adoption of a new UN Security Council Resolution.

Wales

Planning Bill

I am pleased to inform the House that an explanatory memorandum explaining the proposals for the use of framework powers in the Planning Bill is available today. Copies of which can be found in the Vote Office and at: www.walesoffice.gov.uk.