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Cambodia: Violation Of Human Rights

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 9 November 1977

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2.44 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider vetoing any further measures of constraint against the Republic of South Africa until such time as the General Assembly and the Security Council have voted to exclude from the United Nations, on the grounds of a total and evident violation of all human rights, the present régime in the People's Republic of Cambodia.

My Lords, our policy is to work through the United Nations to bring effective international pressure to bear over violations of human rights whenever and wherever they occur, but we do not accept that action in respect of one country should be conditional on progress in another. We support the principle of universal membership of the United Nations and oppose the expulsion of Member States, whatever the reason.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that reply, which I must say was on the lines that I expected. But surely the Government are aware that, in the light of all the available evidence, the Red Khmer authorities, apparently on the sole grounds that they could read and write and lived in towns, have shot, clubbed to death, starved to death, or left to rot in the paddy fields anything up to one-fifth of the entire population of Cambodia? This seems, on the face of it, to be one of the greatest collective crimes even of our present horrible century. Since it is difficult to contradict the facts, would not the Government at least agree that what is sauce for the South African goose should even more be sauce for the Cambodian gander?

My Lords, it is tempting to follow the noble Lord's logic in this matter. However, I think that it would be found to be progressively counter-productive if one were to relate policies in this respect to one country on the basis of what happens in another. However, I hasten to agree with him that reports from Cambodia must horrify everybody. We have made our views on this matter known more than once, and we continue to do so, to the Cambodian authorities. Indeed, we have joined with others in discussing the best ways of pressing forward to secure an improvement in the situation. I certainly would not dissent from the noble Lord's description of what has been happening in that country, and I would hope that there would be a consensus as to how to deal with the situation internationally, though not related to how we deal with the situation in any other country.

My Lords, can the Minister inform the House as to what steps the Government have taken in the General Assembly of the United Nations with regard to the condemnation of Cambodia, particularly in relation to the crime of genocide?

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness is referring to the session where it was hoped to reach the matter of Cambodia, but it was not possible because the session fairly well confined itself to the situation in Uganda. That certainly does not rule out the possibility—I would say the probability—of early attention being given to the situation in Cambodia. Indeed, one is heartened, by the way in which the international community reacted to the situation in Uganda, to hope for a similar strong reaction by everybody to the position in Cambodia.

My Lords, would the Minister therefore give an assurance that every effort will be made by the British Government in the United Nations to defend the rights of those who have been tortured and have suffered in Cambodia?

Yes, certainly, my Lords; we have done, and shall continue to do, everything we can to help to protect or rescue people who have been placed in this terrible situation in that country, and indeed in any other country.

My Lords, is it possible for us to do anything at all in view of the evident fact that all action against Cambodia is held up by the Afro-Asian bloc?

My Lords, that is not a final, end effect. One is constantly seeking to overturn, to go beyond, situations of that kind. It is a fact that there are in the United Nations groups of countries who oppose our ideas and those of our friends, but that is no reason why we should not continue to press our point of view. I have just given the example of Uganda, where we have been successful.

My Lords, will the Government, in considering this question, bear two points in mind? The first is that South Africa is the only Government in the world whose philosophy accepts racial discrimination. The second is that there are now 80 Governments in the world who are denying human rights. While we are appalled by what has happened in Cambodia, there are other territories, even allies of ours, which are denying human rights, and to carry out the principle referred to would mean that half of the members of the United Nations would have to retire from that Assembly.

My Lords, I cannot dissent from the statistical precision of my noble friend, but I think that he and I might differ in detail as to the approach to this matter. We condemn and oppose as effectively as we can apartheid in South Africa and torture in Cambodia. It is not possible to relate the one to the other, and to decide what to do in respect of one contingent upon what one does in respect of the other. We must maintain a general condemnation of all these abominable practices, wherever they occur.