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The Baha'i Minority In Iran

Volume 476: debated on Friday 13 June 1986

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make further representations to the Government of Iran in the light of the recent reports of killing and torturing of members of the Baha'i faith in that country.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Iran, including the persecution of minorities such as Baha'is. The United Kingdom co-sponsored the draft resolution that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1985 calling for an end to violations of human rights in Iran. We shall continue to express our concern at every opportunity.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply, and I am sure that the many thousands of Britons who are members of that minority religion will also be grateful for what she has just said.

Is the noble Baroness not aware that for six years there was the most heinous campaign against the Baha'i religion involving torture, killing, and all kinds of persecution? After representations were made to the UN there was a lull but, alas, it has all started again. Does the noble Baroness not agree that inasmuch as there has been in recent months stoning of members of the Baha'i faith, imprisonment, confiscation of finances and property, denial of legal rights, deprivation of livelihood and summary executions, the Government might now consider making representations not only to the United Nations but also to the EC and the British Commonwealth of Nations on behalf of that honourable though minority religion?

My Lords, we are aware of recent press reports of renewed persecution of the Baha'is in Iran. I believe that action taken by all international groups, and by the Community partners in particular, can be, and is, most effective. We have already made representations with our Community partners about human rights violations in Iran and we shall certainly consider doing so again should the circumstances warrant it.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness not aware that, in the Ayatollah Khomeini, we are dealing with an absolute religious maniac? The man is stark raving mad. Any representations we may make would be an absolute waste of time, when one is dealing with people like him. Is it not logical to assume from all that that it is necessary—and I say this for the benefit of those who oppose—for Britain to have an armed defence, because we are dealing with crackpots throughout the world?

My Lords, what evidence is there in the possession of the Government that the present Iranian Government are behind and are supporting the activities of revolutionary Shi'ite movements in other countries of the Middle East and elsewhere?

My Lords, that matter is somewhat without the terms of the original Question and I am not able to give the noble Lord a reply, but I will look into it.

My Lords, would the Minister not accept that what she has said, particularly in answer to the first two questions, is very welcome? Will she bear in mind that a representative of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights was appointed to investigate the circumstances of the Baha'is in Iran? Can she give the House any information about the progress that is being made in that investigation?

My Lords, I am only aware that the investigation is under way; I cannot report back on it. With regard to recent press reports concerning renewed persecution, our own representatives in Tehran have not been able to confirm them. It is for that reason that it would not be appropriate for us to make specific representations at the moment, although we shall continue to express our concern about the general situation. But we will pursue, and will certainly take into consideration, the report of the United Nations representative.

My Lords, I am very much obliged. Will the Minister consider making a further statement to the House about that report when further details become available?

My Lords, I am not totally familiar with the procedures in such a case but I feel sure that if a Question were to be put down by the noble Lord, then we should be happy to answer it.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that the state-inspired murder, torture and forced conversion of the Baha'is of Iran actually constitutes genocide, as defined by the 1948 United Nations convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide?

My Lords, I can only reply that there was considerable support for the draft resolution that was co-sponsored by the United Kingdom in the United Nations in December 1985.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness be so kind as to make a reply in writing to the supplementary question that I put?

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that the Baha'is in Iran are suffering from organised government tyranny, and although that government might be led by a crackpot, will she in no way take any notice of that fact? It is an appalling policy to say that, because a state leader poses as a crackpot, he will receive no condemnation from anyone. I hope that the noble Baroness will resist any such suggestion. I return to her first words in reply to my Question, which I know for certain will give so much encouragement and hope to the Baha'i people in our country and throughout the world.

My Lords, I can only repeat that we will continue to express our concern about those violations at every opportunity.