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Syria: Geneva II Talks

Volume 751: debated on Tuesday 21 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the future of the Assad regime in Syria, in the light of the Geneva II conference talks.

My Lords, the purpose of Geneva II is to implement the Geneva I communiqué. This calls for the establishment by mutual consent of a transitional governing body with full executive powers. Any mutually agreed settlement will mean that Assad can play no role in Syria’s future. The Government will continue to do everything we can to maximise Geneva II’s chances of success.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. She has answered part of my Question, but I will persevere. Given the findings of Sir Desmond de Silva and his team of 11,000 executions in a single location, which were systematic, ordered and directed from above, according to the team, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government foresee an outcome at Montreux which would be satisfactory in terms of a transitional Government? Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government are holding talks with the Arab League and the Gulf co-operation council in light of these findings to establish a regional tribunal to try the Assad regime for crimes against humanity?

My Lords, my noble friend once again refers to an appalling atrocity taking place in Syria. This matter has now gone on for many years. We have heard horrendous stories; only last night we heard details of photographs of detainees who had been tortured in custody. However, we come back to the fact that this matter can be resolved only through a political solution. Geneva II is really the only show in town. That is why we are working as hard as we can to make sure that it is a success.

My Lords, I read the report yesterday and I shall not repeat the figures because the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, has already provided them to the House. There is credible evidence in Sir Desmond’s submission of widespread war crimes. He is one of the most eminent lawyers in the field of international criminal law. He says that the evidence would stand up in any court of law.

The Government often repeat their policy of no immunity. In that light, is it now not unlikely that Assad can travel abroad to a peace conference or, indeed, any other conference without being arrested for war crimes—or, at least, on the allegation of war crimes—as would indeed apply to any rebel forces against whom similar allegations could be made?

My Lords, the delegation of regime representatives at Geneva II is being led by Foreign Minister Muallem, and I cannot see how a successful Geneva II process would mean that Assad or his brutal regime had a future role in Syria. I agree that there must be accountability for the appalling human rights violations that have been committed in Syria. That is why we have been supporting the opposition through, among other things, human rights training to document these abuses, so that one day those who committed them will be brought to account.

My Lords, in our Syrian debate on 9 January I quoted Mr Ban Ki-Moon as saying that it would be “useful” for Iran to be present at the Geneva conference. I expressed my own view, which I still maintain, that it is essential for Iran to be there. Does the Minister accept that there can be no hope of the conference reaching a diplomatic or political solution, or even a partial ceasefire, in the absence of the Syrian regime’s principal supporter, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have poured money and foreign fighters into this so-called Sunni-Shia war, while paying lip service to the implementation of the Geneva communiqué of June 2012, make no secret of their determination that there shall be no representation of the present Alawite-controlled regime in any transitional Government? Will the Government persuade our allies, our friends and Mr Ban Ki-Moon to think again at this 11th hour, if there is to be any hope of this conference achieving any practical result?

My Lords, I have said on numerous occasions at this Dispatch Box that the Government have no objections in principle to Iran being involved in Geneva II. However, Geneva II is about the implementation of the Geneva I communiqué, and we do not see how it would be possible for Iran to take part in the Geneva II discussions when it has not endorsed the Geneva I communiqué. Noble Lords will have seen on the news the offer to Iran to take part in Geneva II. It was made by the UN Secretary-General, on the understanding that Iran would endorse the Geneva I communiqué. The endorsement was not forthcoming, and it was therefore appropriate for the invitation to be rescinded.

My Lords, I know that the Minister will have supported the calls made by Syrian women for a place at the table at the Geneva II conference. Does she agree that without women’s support and participation, no viable peace agreement can be made—or, indeed, implemented? Does she further agree that Syrian women’s rights must be strengthened and not compromised in any way during the discussions taking place tomorrow?

I agree with everything that the noble Baroness said. That is why the Foreign Secretary has led the call for women to be involved in these negotiations. The noble Baroness will be pleased to know that UN Women will have a delegation at the Geneva II discussions, and it will have access both to the delegations and to Brahimi. There will also be senior women in both the attending delegations.