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Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 6 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Iran about violence towards pro-democracy demonstrators.

My Lords, we admire the courage of the thousands of ordinary men and women who strive for recognition of their rights in Iran. We have consistently condemned the violence meted out against those who simply ask that their basic freedoms are respected. The Foreign Secretary made this clear in his statement on 28 December, as did our ambassador to Iran when summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on 29 December. We will continue to seek an improvement in the human rights situation in Iran and speak out wherever and whenever we see such flagrant abuses of civil liberties.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: I thank the Minister for that response but is she aware that the anger over the stolen presidential election in June has now turned to demands for an end to the religious dictatorship by demonstrators, 11 of whom were killed on 28 December while thousands more have been arrested over the past few weeks and face torture? Will the Government signal our strong support for those demanding democracy and human rights by recalling our ambassador in protest at the violence used against the demonstrators and by supporting tighter sanctions against this menacing regime?

I thank my noble friend for those comments. We have repeatedly and consistently made clear our concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran. The Foreign Secretary’s recent Statement was an extremely strong one. We have also been taking very strong measures to ensure that there is a response at EU and UN level. On sanctions on human rights abuses, we are, of course, prepared to look at all the options that may have a positive effect and make a difference to the lives of ordinary Iranians, such as seeking multilateral sanctions to get Iran to comply with Security Council resolutions on nuclear programmes. But this reflects wider international concern about the failure of the Iranian regime to live up to its international obligations. I do not think we should consider recalling our ambassador because those diplomatic contacts are extremely important and political dialogue has to play its part in trying to work towards the return to, or at least the establishment of, democratisation in Iran.

My Lords, I thank the British Government for persisting in negotiations with the Iranian Government because I think that is the only way forward. I deplore the unwarranted arrest of the sister and the secretary of Shirin Ebadi for a sin of association and also the arrest last night of the entire editorial board of a magazine on culture and music without any reason. The best way forward is by negotiation and by the presence of foreign interest in Iran in order to be able to inform both the West and the Iranians about what is going on.

I thank the noble Baroness for her continuing commitment and interest in these matters. I think she would be very interested to know that the Foreign Secretary met Shirin Ebadi when she was in London and, of course, continues to condemn excessive use of force and the arrests of people who are only demonstrating and standing up for their rights. The situation in Iran is deplorable—according to Amnesty, it is the worst that has existed for 20 years. We remain committed to improving the human rights situation and we will continue to urge the Iranian Government to abide by the international human rights obligations they have actually signed up to.

Does the Minister agree that there have been attempts at negotiations with the Iranian regime for years now and that they have got precisely nowhere? The regime’s promotion of terrorism abroad, its contempt for human rights at home and its determination to become a nuclear power make it highly improbable that any negotiations will get anywhere in the future. Surely what is needed now is tougher action by the international community and, in particular, tougher sanctions.

The noble Lord will recall that I have already said that under the United Nations there is consideration of a sanctions resolution. However, today on the BBC it was reported that China has already said that it will block such a resolution. It is encouraging and important to note that the human rights resolution was agreed by the UN Human Rights Council in December, because that also sends a clear message of international concern about the human rights situation in Iran. However, I do not underestimate what the noble Lord says and understand that we need to seek many more ways of dealing with this regime; it is facing the biggest ever challenge to its legitimacy, which we welcome.

My Lords, it is reassuring to hear the Minister talk about using all channels to deal with Iran, which is seldom brought to its knees through threats and use of force. Apropos sanctions, will the noble Baroness confirm that, despite what appears to be China’s statement today, Her Majesty’s Government will continue working with Russia, which seems to be re-evaluating its relationship, and with China to bring about successful sanctions resolutions in the UN Security Council, and will continue to keep channels of negotiation open with the Iranian Government?

I thank the noble Baroness. There was some hesitation about sanctions and movement on human rights because the international community was concerned about nuclear diplomacy and how that might be affected were we to take particular notice of human rights in Iran. However, the events that we have seen on the streets of Iran and the amazing courage of the people under terrible repression demand a suitable response. We are prepared to look at all options, but options which would be likely to have a positive effect on the lives of the people of Iran. We will seek multilateral sanctions, and we have done so at both EU and UN level. In December, the EU also took a strong stand on Iran and called for stronger sanctions. We will continue to pursue that course.