My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill will enable us to show, through concrete action, our commitment to the United Nations, to international justice and to Sierra Leone. A vicious war ravaged Sierra Leone throughout the late 1990s. Wanton killing, mass rape and sexual slavery, mutilation, amputation, the burning of homes and destruction of property shocked the world. Tragically, those who perpetrated such crimes often used children as soldiers in their war. They enslaved them. They armed them. They made them commit terrible crimes, often against their own loved ones.
I am proud that, through our military intervention in May 2000, the United Kingdom helped to bring peace to Sierra Leone. Our forces did a remarkable job, as ever, in a place that some people said was beyond saving. Since then, we have supported the Government of Sierra Leone as they have built on that peace and worked to put the years of war decisively in the past. But peace in west Africa is fragile. We should not forget that the people of Sierra Leone continue to live with the legacy of the crimes committed and inflicted on them, just as others do in the Balkans and in Rwanda.
In 2002, the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations negotiated an agreement to establish the Special Court for Sierra Leone. We supported that because we recognised the horror of what had come before, and we were mindful of the need to send a message that such crimes could not be allowed to go unpunished; there should be no impunity. The special court is an international criminal tribunal, which incorporates domestic and international law. Sierra Leonean judges and staff sit alongside international colleagues. We have consistently supported the special court as it takes forward its mandate to try those most responsible for the serious violations of international humanitarian law that took place during the civil war.
If we want to stop fresh atrocities in Africa, or in any part of the globe, we need to send a strong message: some crimes, whatever the circumstances, will be punished. It is, of course, for the court to determine the truth regarding the allegations against those individuals facing trial. In doing so, it will help to close this chapter of conflict and help Sierra Leone to overcome its bitter legacy. Our support for the court, as for other international criminal tribunals, such as those for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, is not just financial. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in June, if we want to live in a just world, we must take responsibility for creating and fostering it. In practice, that means that we, and other states, must provide strong support to such tribunals as they take forward their important work. We do that by sharing information, by taking witnesses into our relocation system and by imprisoning some of those convicted by the tribunals.
It is for that reason that the International Criminal Court Act 2001 makes provision, among other things, for our entering into sentence enforcement agreements with the International Criminal Court and with other international criminal tribunals established by resolution of the United Nations Security Council.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established with the full agreement and participation of the Government of Sierra Leone. A UN Security Council resolution was not, therefore, required. None the less, a resolution authorised the UN Secretary-General to negotiate the founding agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone. The reality is that an international criminal tribunal established in this way was not entirely foreseen at the time of the drafting of the International Criminal Court Act.
This short, two-clause Bill will extend the International Criminal Court Act’s provisions on sentence enforcement to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. It will enable the United Kingdom to enter into such an agreement with the special court. That is further concrete evidence of our support for the resolution of this history of difficulty. I can assure the House that the Special Court for Sierra Leone enjoys full support from the whole of the international community and fully deserves our practical support.
Some may ask why we are taking this step now in the particular case of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The first reason is the United Kingdom’s commitment to peace, security and development in Sierra Leone. We have shouldered that responsibility from intervention through to finishing the job. We told everyone—the Sierra Leoneans, the ECOWAS community of west Africa and, not least, our forces that started this difficult job—that we would finish this difficult job. Secondly, it is through actions such as this that we safeguard the investment that the United Kingdom has made militarily, politically and financially in Sierra Leone. Thirdly, we shouldered that responsibility to give effect to our commitment to imprison former Liberian President Charles Taylor if he were convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Perhaps I may speak now about that commitment. Former President Taylor was transferred to the detention facility of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown on 29 March 2006, when he was indicted for alleged crimes against humanity and for war crimes. Within a short period, considerable security concerns arose regarding former President Taylor’s presence in Freetown. There were fears that his supporters might take action to destabilise the region; there was evidence, which I regarded as significant, that they were planning such action. For that reason, the Governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia, with the support of the United Nations, proposed that former President Taylor’s trial should take place away from the court’s headquarters in Freetown. The Government of the Netherlands agreed to allow the special court to sit in The Hague to hear former President Taylor’s trial, and the International Criminal Court agreed to allow the special court to use its facilities for the trial. The Dutch, however, insisted that, if former President Taylor were convicted, he must serve his sentence in another state.
The then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in the light of the security concerns and on the advice of UN staff operating on the ground, added his urgent call to that of the regional Governments and requested that the United Kingdom agree to make the necessary commitment to the Dutch. On 15 June, I informed the House that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had agreed that, subject to parliamentary legislative approval, the United Kingdom would allow former President Taylor to enter the UK to serve any sentence imposed by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, if he were convicted and if circumstances required that. In the following days, former President Taylor’s transfer to The Hague was authorised by the president of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and was confirmed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1688. On 20 June, he was transferred to The Hague, where he now awaits trial. A real threat to peace and security in Sierra Leone and the wider region had been overcome.
I emphasise that our decision was taken entirely without prejudice to the outcome of the trial of former President Taylor or any other individual on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. I am absolutely clear that former President Taylor is entitled to a fair trial and I am absolutely confident that the Special Court for Sierra Leone will ensure that he receives one.
In short, the Bill and any subsequent signing of a sentence enforcement agreement represent a contingency arrangement. Imprisonment in the United Kingdom would take place only if former President Taylor were convicted, if the special court requested that the United Kingdom imprison him and if the United Kingdom agreed to do so.
After contact with the Scottish Executive, it was decided that it was sufficient for the territorial extent of the Bill to be limited to England and Wales. It follows, therefore, that any sentence of imprisonment would be served in a prison in England or Wales.
The Bill, and any sentence enforcement agreement signed as a result of its provisions, will not apply specifically to former President Taylor. The Bill, which comprises two clauses only, simply establishes the legal basis under which the United Kingdom may sign a sentence enforcement agreement with the special court. None the less, I confirm that the request that was made to us and the political undertaking that we have given relate only to imprisoning former President Taylor, should that be necessary. We have not received a request in respect of any other individual on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Indeed, we expect that any other individuals convicted by the court will serve their sentences elsewhere. To put this into context, in total, 10 persons are on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
In closing, I should like to recall that the United Kingdom has placed itself at the forefront of the international community’s efforts to ensure that those accused of the most serious crimes known to humanity are held to account. The Bill follows in the tradition of the UK’s staunch action to achieve that objective in relation to the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and more recent challenges, such as those in northern Uganda and Darfur. It sends yet another powerful signal to those who abuse high office and commit low crimes: there can be no impunity; justice must be served. The Bill matches our words with actions. I commend it to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Triesman.)
My Lords, in intervening, rather briefly, in the Second Reading of this Bill, I do so not out of any desire to criticise it; indeed, I wholeheartedly support it and congratulate the Government not only on the role they played in bringing stability and the rule of law back to Sierra Leone, thus rendering possible the taking of legal action against those suspected of having committed crimes against international humanitarian law in that country, but also on having drawn the practical consequences of our political support by making it possible for us to enforce judgments against any of those so convicted.
Far too often, fair words by Governments at the United Nations in New York are not translated into practical action by them to implement those fair words, particularly when that action may involve some costs to them either politically or financially. That we are thus willing the means as well as the ends is admirable and it could set a good example to others.
I want to make one or two more general points. First, amid the gloom and perplexity that we feel when faced with the difficulties of dealing with the problems in Iraq, Afghanistan or Darfur, we tend to forget the major advances that have been made in the past 15 years since the end of the Cold War in undermining the culture of impunity for gross breaches of international humanitarian law. The Yugoslav and Rwandan tribunals, the International Criminal Court and the hybrid tribunals set up with UN backing in Sierra Leone and Cambodia are all steps along that road. Of course, we are still a long way from eliminating that culture of impunity entirely, and no doubt difficult choices and hard cases remain to be settled along the road. But if anyone had suggested, before that trend began, that heads of state would be brought to trial before international tribunals and that leaders as well as foot soldiers would be held to account for their crimes, they would have been laughed out of court. We are, I believe, witnessing a fundamental shift in the application of international law and a very welcome one.
The concept of a hybrid tribunal, set up under national law but enjoying the support and participation of the whole international community, such as in Sierra Leone and Cambodia, is clearly exceptional. It is a concept that will, one must hope, be even more exceptional now that the International Criminal Court is up and running. It is in a way a tribute to the pragmatism and flexibility with which the UN is capable of operating when the will of its members is there. How much better it would have been surely if a similar hybrid tribunal had been established in Iraq to conduct the trials of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, and how much more widely would the justice meted out to them have been seen as fair and reasonable than has in the event been the case? Just in case that may be considered as being wise after the event, I would point out that I proposed such a course three years ago in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.
I have one final point—it is a question rather. The legislation relates only to Sierra Leone and the hybrid court established by that country. Does that leave Cambodia in a somewhat anomalous situation, or have I perhaps missed something? Perhaps the Minister could throw some light on that matter when he winds up the debate.
My Lords, I, too, commend the Bill and adopt all that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, particularly his general point that now tyrants and those who have committed the most awful crimes against humanity will not go unpunished. I also note that my noble friend said that this Bill relates to a specific request from the United Nations and that there has been a specific undertaking by the Government only in respect of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia—if he is convicted, although we know that he was the principal sponsor of the RUF and that the RUF was responsible for some of the most atrocious crimes of recent years.
It is also worth noting that although the request is specific, the Bill is general. Presumably, if there were to be other requests by the special court in the cases of the other nine indictees, at least the Bill would open the way for us to receive one or more of those. One thinks, for example, of the late Sam Hinga Norman who, after a four-year trial in Sierra Leone in the special court—that is far too long a trial for anyone—eventually died after medical treatment in Dakar.
Perhaps my noble friend will confirm that the Bill does open the way for other indictees—I think there are 10 in total. I also assume that the special court is very much an ad hoc court because of the necessary agreement between the United Nations and the Sierra Leone Government. The Rome statute that established the International Criminal Court is not retrospective and did not come into force until 1 July 2002. Are there other special courts covering the interim period before the ICC came into force?
I also note what my noble friend says about the position in relation to Scotland. It is true that foreign affairs are the responsibility of the United Kingdom as a whole, but there are separate legal jurisdictions. With the precedent of Lockerbie one thinks that the Scottish courts in some cases would have had parallel legislation to this, but that was obviated by the agreement with the Scottish Executive.
It is right, of course, that we gave this undertaking, and it is right that we are prepared if necessary to receive Taylor under the sentence enforcement agreement. It is right that we shoulder the burden in such cases as a good example not only of international solidarity—yes, of Commonwealth solidarity—but because of the special links that we have with Sierra Leone. I have had links with Sierra Leone since the late 1950s when I had some very close friends at university. When I visited Sierra Leone first in the 1960s, it was a time of relative stability, although the Creole population of Freetown, as a result of democracy, had their privileged position threatened by the Mende and Temne tribes. Alas, the subsequent history has been chequered with military coups. Over the years, I have met a succession of exiles from Sierra Leone, all of whom seem to end up in Muswell Hill for some odd reason. Alas, one met a great effluxion of talent from that country.
We have served Sierra Leone well. In 2000, we had 800 British paratroops who secured the airport, evacuated British citizens and captured Foday Sankoh, the rebel leader, in what was probably a model of international humanitarian intervention—one of the best—which gained us much credit among African countries at the time. It is also fair to say that Britain has been a leader in post-war reconstruction. There are 80 British personnel serving with the International Military Advisory and Training Team, IMATT, in Freetown. DfID has a good record in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, proposals for good governance, anti-corruption and capacity building, and even direct budgetary support. There has been substantial progress in Sierra Leone in the transition from war to peace.
It is also clear that the transition has not been easy, with many of those problems which led to the civil war still existing, reducing the impact of the good work which has been done. Yes, there is the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme for blood diamonds, but one hears that there is now increasing smuggling of diamonds from Sierra Leone into neighbouring countries. The Minister might mention some of the evidence for that. There is, of course, still corruption, poor administration and high youth unemployment in, according to the human development index of the United Nations Development Programme, the second poorest country in the world. There is also regional instability. Liberia is much better placed, but President Conté in Guinea is under increasing pressure from insurgents.
Finally, we know about the good work we have done thus far in Sierra Leone. We also know that it faces elections on 28 July for both the president and the Parliament. It is good that President Kabbah, unlike certain other presidents, is respecting the constitutional bar on standing again. These elections can be a positive factor in stabilising the country. I hope that the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and possibly the European Union are ready to help in those elections if called on. I ask the Minister what help we are prepared to give, both logistically and with monitoring. This could be another major step on the road to long-sought stability in that Commonwealth country.
My Lords, one of the books I have read over the past 12 months which most impressed me was Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings. It is about the episode at the end of the great revolutionary war in the United States when slaves—freed as a result of promises made to them by the British when coming over to our side—were first dumped in Nova Scotia, but then, as a result of the efforts of the two Clarkson brothers, taken to Freetown. There they initially created the first community in the world with universal franchise: both men and women voting. Unfortunately, that initial promise was not borne out in the subsequent history of Sierra Leone.
We know about the tragic episode of the civil war touched on by the Minister. I join him in echoing the congratulations to our forces on how they heroically restored order there and to all those concerned with the effective help given to Sierra Leone in restoring a functioning democracy. I echo what the Minister said about the assistance we have consistently given in building up a system that will enable war criminals and those guilty of crimes against humanity to be brought before international tribunals and punished for their serious offences.
On the face of it, the Bill is a simple measure to permit the detention of Mr Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, to serve in a UK prison any sentence that may be imposed on him by the special court for Sierra Leone. We have no objection to that in principle and fully support the idea that where there is evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity the alleged perpetrators should be tried either in the courts of their own country or from now on before the International Criminal Court. As has been hinted, this will probably be the last tribunal of its kind before that court takes such cases. In the mean time, we supported the establishment of the ICTY and the ICTR by the United Nations and the arrangements that were made for special courts in Cambodia and Sierra Leone, which were later approved, although not initiated, by the Security Council. I hope that it will not be so easy for those who commit these offences in future to enjoy a peaceful and luxurious retirement in some third country.
That does not mean to say that we are entirely satisfied with the operations of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and we would like to hear the Government’s views on the report of the independent expert, Judge Antonio Cassese. I hope that the Minister has received notification of my questions on this issue, particularly on which of Judge Cassese’s recommendations are being implemented. As there are quite a few conclusions, there may not be time to cover them all, but it would be particularly useful to hear what the Minister thinks about the financial insecurity arising from the unpredictability of the voluntary contributions that have financed the court, making it difficult to recruit good staff, and whether the timetable suggested by Judge Cassese is realistic. Judgment is expected in the other cases by mid-2008, but in Mr Taylor’s case, not for another year after that. If there is an appeal, Judge Cassese thinks that it might be dealt with by the end of 2009, and the SCSL would then be wound up. I think that that answers the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about further trials before the tribunal. This case would be the last.
Judge Cassese deals with some of the problems relating to Charles Taylor’s trial in particular. He says that as it is starting so much later than the others, it is of central importance to the success of the special court that it should run smoothly. Unfortunately, there have been some problems already, of which the most serious is that moving the trial from Freetown to The Hague not only deprives the court of the advantage of being located in the territory where the crimes were committed, but creates a complicated and expensive logistical nightmare, with a new special court office, redeployment of staff, relocation of the trial chamber, transfer of witnesses and the establishment of an enhanced special court presence in Liberia. Communications between the special court staff in The Hague and Freetown, and between the special court and the ICC, which is providing detention facilities for Mr Taylor as well as the courtroom and presumably offices and storage for defence and prosecution, need to be fully established.
The decision to hold Mr Taylor’s trial at The Hague was made, according to the briefing note kindly provided by the Government, as a result of serious concerns that the defendant’s continued presence in Sierra Leone posed a considerable and immediate threat to regional security. The Minister said today that he had seen evidence to that effect which he regarded as significant. The Governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia and the UN Secretary-General called for the trial to be held outside the region.
Mr Taylor was not said to present any threat to regional stability when he was resident in Nigeria for three years before he was renditioned by President Obasanjo in March 2006, and, as far as I am aware, there were no demonstrations or activities in the seven weeks he was in Freetown before being moved to The Hague on 20 June. I have not been able to find any evidence of the supposed threat, and none was published by the UN. Since the defence application for a hearing on the change of venue was denied by the court, no evidence has been heard on the matter, but a civil society amicus curiae brief, which I hope the Minister has seen, submitted to the court points out that the late Hinga Norman—he was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—who had a great deal of influence as the head of an ethnic militia, had been on trial for some years up to the time of his death without any evidence linking him with moves to cause instability in Sierra Leone. The civil society brief expected the same would be true of Mr Taylor. It emphasised that victims of the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone wanted the alleged perpetrators to be dealt with locally, not in Europe, and it is indeed an insult to the victims and to Africa to remove these proceedings to another continent.
One unfortunate consequence of Mr Taylor’s removal to The Hague has been that the ICC sought to impose its own rules on his conditions of detention. They included the placement of a surveillance video camera in the room where consultations were held with his defence lawyers on the grounds that that rule applied to its own detainee, Thomas Lubanga, who is to be tried on offences committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lubanga’s defence lawyer protested, and the ICC’s pre-trial judges ordered their registrar to remove his cameras towards the end of last year. Perversely, the registrar removed the cameras from Lubanga’s room, but kept them in Taylor’s for a month after the SCSI had ordered their removal, prompting the lawyers acting on behalf of Mr Taylor to withdraw from consultations between 7 March and 22 March, when the ICC finally caved in. That delay may not be the last arising from potential conflicts between the rules of the ICC and those of the SCSL, although Judge Richard Goldstone, the distinguished former war crimes prosecutor, says that:
“SCSL judges have to be completely in charge of all procedures and rules that apply”,
to Mr Taylor. I agree with that opinion.
As a result of the chilling effect on the consultations with Mr Taylor, as well as the 18-day gap, defence counsel have not surprisingly asked for the trial’s start date to be postponed. They have also complained of being handicapped by being allowed only a single international investigator on a six-month contract—which is unlikely to be renewed—compared with the 10 allotted to the prosecution, and we need to be told whether this has been given serious consideration, as suggested by Judge Cassese.
However, the court has no money beyond June, and there are certain to be huge pressures for adherence to the planned start date, which have everything to do with financial expediency and the need to persuade donors to fund its continued existence and nothing to do with equality of arms between the prosecution and the defence.
There is no doubt that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed on a horrendous scale in Sierra Leone before and after 30 November 1996, the date from which the allegations in the indictment run, and it is right and proper that those alleged to be responsible should stand trial. However, I regret that, in this one case only, the international community has seen fit to remove the proceedings from Africa, at great and unnecessary expense, to the detriment of the fairness of the trial and without any consultation with the African Union, which, I believe, would have opposed the decision if it had been asked. I say that because in the case of the former President of Chad, Hissene Habré, who was charged in Belgium with war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture, the AU decided that he should be tried in Senegal rather than extradited, and the Senegalese national assembly enacted a law allowing its courts to deal with these offences wherever they had been committed. I have heard no suggestion that Mr Habré’s trial will jeopardise the stability of the region.
The issue may go beyond the question of whether, if convicted, Mr Taylor should serve his sentence in an English or Welsh prison. But if the international community had not unthinkingly accepted the proposition that Mr Taylor’s presence in a Sierra Leone courtroom or jail somehow represented a threat to the security of the whole region, the Bill would not have come before your Lordships today. In agreeing to the Bill, we should at least recognise that that assumption itself impairs the possibility that Mr Taylor will receive a completely fair trial and that removing the delivery of justice on African crime to Europe will delay Africa's acquisition of the capacity to deal with the legal aftermath of its several internal conflicts.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for introducing and explaining the Bill and to the noble Lords who have, in this short debate, discussed the Bill and its background in considerable detail. I make it clear from the outset that we on these Benches support the Bill, which we understand to be now necessary for the reasons that the Minister explained. To be crystal clear, we understand that the Bill enables the United Kingdom to sign the sentence enforcement agreement with the Special Court for Sierra Leone so that if former Liberian President Charles Taylor is convicted by that court—I understand that his trial is due to begin on 4 June—he can serve his sentence here in the UK.
I gather, although I would like confirmation of this, that although the Bill sounds as though it is legislating for one individual, it is not hybrid, as one might think, as it deals with a situation rather than a person. I hope that that explanation is correct. To be clearer still on the need for the Bill, I also understand that the issue arises only because we are dealing with a crime or crimes perpetrated before the setting up of the International Criminal Court in 2002 and therefore not embraced by the ICC.
I was a little puzzled when the Minister said that this was not foreseen when the ICC was set up. Surely what he meant was that, because the ICC was not retrospective, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, rightly said, it could not embrace crime committed at that time. Among other things, it would be interesting to know from the Minister whether it is envisaged that more horrors from before 2002—we can all remember many hideous atrocities and apparent international crimes from that period—will lead to trials in similar courts and whether the UK may be similarly involved. In other words, could we face similar legislation in future about the pre-2002 past, or is this really the end of the line, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggested or hoped? Is the Bill setting any kind of precedent?
I turn briefly to a few questions beyond those that noble Lords have already put to the Minister. First, as the Minister reminded us, Charles Taylor is not the only one facing charges of this kind in the Sierra Leone court. I believe that there are nine others—well, there are actually 10 but one has gone missing. Can we be sure that the UK will not end up imprisoning any of them, or is that just, in the Minister’s word, an “expectation”? Confirmation of that would be helpful.
Secondly, can the Minister explain the exact reason for using the model of a special court based in—although for security reasons, as we have just heard, not actually meeting in—the country in which the atrocities took place, when, prior to the ICC, courts for Yugoslavia and Rwanda worked somewhat differently? Is the argument for this particular formula this time around that it delivers justice quicker or costs less, or what? Does it have a downside, of the kind just described by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for Sierra Leone itself?
On the matter of cost, which we should never put entirely out of our minds, I suppose that it is right that the UK carries the annual cost of £44,000, and will continue to do so, presumably for many years ahead, if all this comes about. Was there any suggestion that the cost should be shared among ICC member states, or have we, for reasons that the Minister may be able to elaborate on, decided that it is best to take it all on our own purse?
I have a couple more questions of this kind. If a decision were taken for early release—I have absolutely no grounds for believing that such a thing could arise—who exactly would take that decision? I presume that it would be the court, but the court might not exist some years ahead, so would some residual capacity handle that matter? We must also ask what happens when the sentence comes to an end. Could the person concerned—in this case it would be Charles Taylor, if convicted—claim political asylum if and when he was released from prison at the end of his sentence? Is that likely? Has that been thought about?
Finally, we come to the minutiae. I would like to know two much smaller facts. First, has the Minister any idea how long the trial will take? Are we talking about months or years? Secondly, he noted that the Bill was for England and Wales only and that it excludes Scotland. Will he tell us exactly why? Is there any subconscious meaning to leaving Scotland out of the Bill that we should all know about?
Generally, this is a necessary, if not very warming, piece of legislation about an ugly, unpleasant and dark situation—indeed, a nightmare—from the recent past. If we want hope, we can draw it from what is now happening in Sierra Leone, where it seems that a better pattern for the future is emerging. However, we can never forget those hideous scenes and reports from the 1990s of atrocities and cruelties to men, women and children, which we thought probably belonged to the darkest of dark ages but which still continue. We shall now have to wait and see whether and when the Bill comes to be used. At least we are prepared.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this Second Reading debate. It has been constructive, and I welcome the wide support for the United Kingdom continuing to play its leading role in strengthening international justice and seeing through our pledges to Sierra Leone. As I said, the Bill supports, through practical action, two of our foreign policy priorities: ensuring that those accused of serious crimes of international concern face justice; and preventing and resolving conflict through strong international systems.
Let me do my best to address the points that noble Lords have made. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for his assessment. He is quite right that this is a fundamental shift in delineating our international responsibilities on issues of this kind. I understand his point, and he is quite right to say that he first made it some time ago about Iraq, but I can say only that the strong view of the Government of Iraq was that the trial of Saddam Hussein and others should take place in the context of their national law and their new national institutions. They expressed that very forcefully. Here we are dealing with a case being tried in part under local but principally under international law.
On hybrid tribunals as a whole, including that for Cambodia, overall my assessment is that mixed national and international courts—that is the distinction that I am making with Iraq—have been a success. This special court has behaved impressively and has worked well under difficult conditions. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, in the course of the trial from 4 June I expect it to continue to do so. Certainly so far it has proved less costly than either the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda tribunals, and its excellent outreach programme means that it is perceived as being accessible and relevant to the people of Sierra Leone. Incidentally, a great deal of work has been done with journalists through the BBC World Service Trust to make sure that there is constant information to underpin the point that this is not a remote activity.
In Cambodia, the trials in the extraordinary court, better known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, have not yet started, so it is not possible to say how many individuals will face trial or be convicted. None the less, our expectation is that any sentences given to those who are convicted will be terms of imprisonment served in Cambodia. I can also say that it is absolutely not our intention to imprison any individuals convicted in that trial. In other answers, I shall come back to the issue of burden sharing in general.
My noble friend Lord Anderson and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, rightly made the point that other indictees could be covered by this Bill. As I said in my opening speech, at the moment we have no expectation that that will be the case. But I want to make the point that it does not totally exclude the possibility. Indeed, if we had named Charles Taylor, we would have been right in the territory of hybrid Bills and thus in all the difficulties that such Bills can create. I can confirm completely that this is not a hybrid Bill.
I shall respond in the following terms to the other questions put to me by my noble friend Lord Anderson and others. It is true to say that the International Criminal Court could not try Taylor because it has jurisdiction only in respect of crimes committed after the Rome statute entered into force on 1 July 2002, whereas the special court covers crimes committed since 30 November 1996. That is the accurate position, as I can confirm for the noble Lord, Lord Howell, as well. I hope that nothing that I said in my opening speech has added to the confusion; that was not my intention. My noble friend Lord Anderson also asked whether the United Kingdom might take prisoners other than Taylor, and I hope that I have responded to that in relation to what he and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, have put to me.
My noble friend rightly noted that, despite the positive effects of the quite remarkable intervention in Sierra Leone by our paratroopers in 2000, the troubles in the country are not over. I shall say a little about what we are doing to assist in a more general sense. We certainly have assisted in the movement towards an election and I am pleased to note that, in this context, more support will be provided throughout the election process. It is helpful that the president has decided not to try to change the constitution and run for a third term. I share completely that view. Work needs to be done on corruption and certainly on diamonds, although good progress has been made in the area generally. I was delighted that Liberia was given permission to resume trade for a period, after which there will be another assessment. Progress is being made in the region. As I have said, we are working to see credible elections being held and we are implementing a £2.5 million programme of electoral support to cover, among other things, the capacity of national and local media to report the elections. The programme will also support a coalition of national election monitors, and DfID will be funding international election observers through the National Democratic Institute. UK and EU observers will also be deployed.
I turn to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. First, it is right to highlight the value of the Cassese report and its recommendations. The United Kingdom is represented in New York on the management committee dealing with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which will supervise the implementation of the recommendations made in the report. Financial security is an important factor and I am pleased to confirm that in the past few days the United Kingdom has made a further payment of £2 million to the court. We will continue to work with other key contributors to the court to ensure full funding. The latest SCSL budget is being discussed at the moment by the management committee, but I am confident that with our contribution we are beginning to see the kinds of provision that will be necessary to give it the financial stability that has been sought.
I cannot predict to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, or the noble Lord, Lord Howell, how long the Taylor trial will last. At the moment that is not known, but if there is new information or a new assessment I will willingly share it with them. However long it lasts, we are committed to ensuring that the court has the funding that it needs for the period in which it conducts the trial.
I do not share the noble Lord’s understanding about the move to The Hague. I will be explicit about my reasons. I believe that Freetown was always going to be difficult. The decision to arrange the move was certainly not taken unthinkingly; on the contrary, we pondered every detail of it long and hard, because we foresaw the question coming up of whether a trial conducted locally would have more impact on the people who had been directly affected.
I shall say what the sequence was, because it is vital that the House should understand it. It is true that, for a period, ex-President Taylor was a guest, if I can put it that way, of President Obasanjo. I do not know that one could say that his security was a problem—he was under house arrest and very closely supervised, and he did not move anywhere. He was not in prison but he was, in a sense, imprisoned. We then found, when the question of the possibility of a move to Freetown came up, that the newly elected President of Liberia made the point to us in forceful terms that she was asking President Obasanjo to send Charles Taylor to Freetown, and that she was very apprehensive. The trigger to get Charles Taylor out of Nigeria and to Freetown was the request of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
I remind the House that almost immediately the request was made, Taylor escaped. He was caught on the Nigerian border, not only in full flight but talking about the possibility of resurrecting some of the old forces that had gone around dismembering people in the region. By anyone’s standards, those are the beginnings of a significant potential breach of security. However, I am delighted to say that he was recaptured. Then the threats, absolutely not from the victims—this is no insult to them—but from people who were his supporters, to attempt to free him from prison in Freetown gave rise to the anxieties that I have described.
When you are asked by Kofi Annan, by President Johnson-Sirleaf and by ECOWAS—acting for the African Union as its competent regional body—to take these steps, that is, candidly, not something that you can easily ignore. I had the great privilege of meeting ambassadors and high commissioners from ECOWAS at lunchtime yesterday, and I know that some of them have been present in your Lordships’ House to see how this part of our process has been carried forward. I assure your Lordships that the desire of the region was to remove someone who was posing what we believed, for good security reasons, was a significant threat to a place where we could remove that threat. I believe that there will be a fair trial; we will press for it to be entirely fair, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has suggested.
I hope that I have responded to the main points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. His understandings are correct, including the point about the hybrid Bill. Although there are more horrors and I cannot rule out that they could lead to further trials, I think that that is unlikely. The understanding of burden sharing is better embedded now in the international community. We will all have responsibilities, and we had a particular responsibility, as my noble friend Lord Anderson said, for Sierra Leone. Burden sharing is very important. The special court is the right mechanism in this case because it was so specific to the issues in the area, the nature of the witness pool and so on.
We have not asked to share costs, principally because others are sharing the burdens in response to other trials. Obviously it would not be possible for the Netherlands, which has done a tremendous amount in organising the court proceedings, to say that because people happen to be tried in The Hague, as one of the great centres, the Netherlands should always pick up the issue of imprisonment. There is broad sharing, however, and all in all costs are pretty well distributed.
I think it wholly unlikely that there will be an early release, but my understanding is that the international court system will make that determination. However, that can certainly be clarified.
Any decision on asylum would plainly be made in the light of circumstances at the time, but if Taylor were to be convicted by the special court and if he served his sentence in the UK and was then released, I would expect him to leave the United Kingdom or face immediate removal. Under current immigration law, it is open to the Home Secretary to order the deportation of any non-British citizen whose removal from the United Kingdom is deemed conducive to the public good. Any asylum claim would be considered in accordance with the refugee convention, which contains provision to refuse asylum to those who are involved in genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. That is a specific provision and, were this to result in a conviction, it would be hard to see how the person convicted would not be covered.
On Scotland, we believed that we had the resources in England and Wales to do the job and that it was not necessary to go through a further legislative round in Scotland. I hope that that is acceptable to the House; it was never a question of resistance from the Scots Administration.
We have come to see some crimes, such as those that scarred Sierra Leone, as so serious that they must be of concern to the international community as a whole, wherever they may occur and whoever may commit them. We have a responsibility to ensure that they are investigated and that those responsible are held to account. The primary responsibility for ensuring such prosecutions lies with individual states. I pay tribute to states such as Rwanda and those in the Balkans that are tackling some of these crimes from the past in their national courts. They will continue to have our support in that task. But where an individual state cannot or will not act, the international community must play its role. For that reason, the United Kingdom was instrumental in passing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1593, which referred the situation in Darfur to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. I welcome the progress made by the prosecutor in that investigation; the court can continue to count on us as it carries forward its work.
In Sierra Leone, the international community is working hand in hand with the Government of Sierra Leone as they seek to come to terms with its bloody past. Sadly, international justice cannot bring justice for every victim, as so many of them are no longer alive to receive it. For every man, woman and child killed, scarred or traumatised, it cannot always do the whole job, but it can and it must none the less hold to account those responsible for such crimes. There is already anecdotal evidence from the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere that knowledge of the reach of international justice—it can extend even to some of the most inaccessible and war-torn parts of the globe—acts as a deterrent to future would-be warlords and war criminals. That is why we will continue to play our role and to commit the resources and expertise, where necessary, to help the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the wider system of international justice to do their work.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.