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Iran: Capital Punishment

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 24 May 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Iran regarding the use of capital punishment against homosexual men.

My Lords, we have been extremely clear about the human rights situation in Iran and about Iran’s excessive and cruel use of the death penalty. We deplore Iran’s persecution of, and use of the death penalty against, homosexuals. This, like many other practices in Iran, is inconsistent not only with international obligations but with common humanity. The United Kingdom has been and will remain at the forefront of international efforts through the European Union and the United Nations to encourage an improvement in Iran’s very poor human rights record.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. What has been the response in Iran to all the objections that we have made over the years to these thousands of executions? Is Iran ready to consider complying with the United Nations declaration of human rights? Also, what co-operation do we have with Amnesty International in these moves?

We certainly have co-operation with all the major NGOs and international movements, which are equally concerned at the horrors in Iran. It is very hard to answer my noble friend’s first question as to what impact these comments and pressures have. My personal belief is that they do have some impact. After all, we have to remember that when the elaborate EU sanctions were discussed and formulated—they are now having, apparently, some impact on Iran—there were discussions about Iran’s human rights record and the horrific rate of persecutions and executions in that country. As far as we know, this includes over 600 people executed last year and 130 executed so far this year—indeed, 60 in the last week.

My Lords, when did Her Majesty’s Government last raise the issue of human rights with Iran? When they were in full diplomatic relations with Iran, did they discuss the execution of people for their sexual orientation, of others, such as the Baha’is and Christians, for changing their religion, and of women, who are regularly publicly executed for so-called social offences? Is this not something that we should at least be making a démarche about and certainly trying to draw the international community into full unison, not just on the security questions, which we regularly raise, but on these profoundly important human rights issue too?

The answer to the first part of the noble Lord’s question is almost continuously. However, we are constrained by the fact that our diplomatic relations with Iran are now at a very low level. As he knows, there are no ambassadors between the two countries because our embassy was attacked and had to be evacuated. So far we have not got any agreement from Tehran to our request for a protecting power to look after our interests and maintain contacts. However, that does not stop us almost continuously working with the UN special rapporteur to keep this kind of horror on the UN agenda and to keep up the international pressure in every way that we can.

My Lords, I recognise that it is difficult to exert direct pressure on and have a conversation with a country with which we no longer have, for understandable reasons, diplomatic relations. I welcome the Minister’s mention of the European Union sanctions. I wonder whether, in any of the discussions, the list of things being provided by the European Union to the Iranians, alongside all the issues about the development of their nuclear capability, has been included and whether there has been any response from the Iranian Government on those items. If there has not been, would it be a moment to perhaps urge the European Union to make the discussion more comprehensive?

The discussions with Iran are going on continuously at this moment in Baghdad. They have not yet stopped; they were due to do so yesterday but the Iranian team, as I understand it, is still in Baghdad this morning. Those discussions are, of course, focused on Iran’s nuclear programme and its weaponisation ambitions, but behind them is the obvious point that the EU sanctions—and particularly the oil embargo—clearly concern the Iranians. They keep raising the issue, which is a good sign that they are worried. As to the other items to which the noble Lord referred, these will come in at the right opportunity. I cannot assure him at the moment on everything that he referred to—I am not sure whether his full list is included—but he can be sure that, within the present climate of trying to get Tehran to make some sensible concessions and to comply with the IAEA, these issues will all come up.

The figure for the executions that my noble friend gave the House is positively horrific. When did we last initiate a United Nations resolution on this subject? Could we perhaps initiate another one very soon?

There have been successive UN resolutions. We are limited by the fact that not every member of the UN Security Council is agreed on how far we should go in these affairs. I cannot answer my noble friend precisely on when the last resolution came through—I do not have it in front of me—but I shall certainly write to him giving the details that he wants.

My Lords, following the welcome judgment by the UK Supreme Court in 2010 that overturned the previous Government’s refusal to grant asylum to homosexuals from Iran, what are the UK Government doing to work with other Governments, such as that of Australia, who bizarrely still believe that it is acceptable to argue that it is possible to hide one’s sexuality?

Our position is quite clear. As my noble friend is aware, we regard all these abuses and attitudes as offensive against human rights and we would like to see them changed. We are working both bilaterally and at the United Nations on all these issues and I assure my noble friend that every opportunity is taken to make known our views and to press them on the countries concerned.

My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is the Minister aware that there is a Private Member’s Bill before the Parliament in Uganda to introduce the death penalty for homosexual acts? Is he further aware that at the recent IPU Assembly in Kampala, the British delegation, of which I was privileged to be a member, had a difficult but none the less very hard-hitting meeting with the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, making clear how unacceptable we regard this proposal? Now that we have come home, we hope that our high commission is continuing with those representations.

Yes, I am aware. We have made it quite clear that we deplore this proposal in Uganda, as indeed we deplore attitudes taken in other African countries, including Nigeria. The answer to the noble Lord’s question is yes.