Queen’s Speech debate – North Korea and Darfur


20th November 2006

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in the gracious Speech, reference was made to North Korea and Darfur. On Thursday last, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office organised a welcome discussion with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn. During our discussions, I referred to the 2 million people who starved to death in North Korea, the 200,000 people who languish in modern-day gulags and the estimated 400,000 people who have died in North Korean concentration camps over the past 30 years. It is particularly perverse that at least 30 per cent of that totalitarian state’s GDP is used for armaments and to develop nuclear weapons while its people starve and are trapped in third world poverty.

In that context, the promulgation of the United Nations doctrine of the responsibility to protect—the duty to intervene in egregious situations—may provide a new instrument for international diplomacy where there is evidence of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes or crimes against humanity. However, we need to know from the Government how that is to be implemented. In the case of North Korea, Professor Muntarbhorn accepts that the empirical evidence of the regime’s involvement in crimes against humanity was well documented in a report launched on30 October at a meeting in your Lordships’ House that was sponsored by the All-Party Group on North Korea, which I chair. That report, Failure to Protect: a call for the UN Security Council to act in North Korea, was commissioned by Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former Norwegian prime minister.Mr Bondevik addressed our meeting.

The view of that troika was endorsed last Friday by the General Assembly of the United Nations when it passed its second resolution on North Korea. With the welcome support of the Republic of Korea, the General Assembly voted 91 in favour, 21 against with 60 abstentions. The General Assembly called for North Korea to reassess its refusal to recognise the mandate of the special rapporteur. It condemned the morass of allegations and the evidence of the use of torture, degrading treatment, public executions, prison camps, forced labour, people’s tribunals and the absence of due process. It drew attention to the,

    “all-pervasive and severe restrictions on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association”,

the terrible plight of refugees and the restrictions on travel and the freedom of movement. It detailed the precarious humanitarian situation; the continuing violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly those of women forced into marriage and abortion; the infanticide of children of repatriated mothers, the abduction of foreigners and enforced disappearances.

There is every indication that the secretary-general elect, Mr Ban Ki-moon, an accomplished and respected Korean diplomat, wants to use the United Nations mechanisms to improve substantially the human rights situation in North Korea. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us what consideration is being given to how best we can help Mr Ki-moon in that process. For instance, will the welcome renewal of the six-party talks on security issues be extended to form what Professor Muntarbhorn called a “comprehensive package”, also making reference to the human rights situation? Do the Government see merit in the Bondevik-Havel-Wiesel proposal that Chapter 6 powers should be invoked, allowing the Security Council to consider the situation without having to take the full gamut of measures required in Chapter 7?

Given that the Republic of Korea and China are desperate that there should not be a complete collapse of the DPRK, with all the humanitarian and refugee issues that would arise, will the Minister say how we intend to encourage China—a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford—to use its extensive leverage, not least through its control of North Korea’s petrol and electricity, to deter further nuclear proliferation and to avert these crimes against humanity? Meanwhile, China is itself in flagrant violation of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in repatriating them to a country where they will face severe punishment, torture, and even execution.

On North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons, how effective does the Minister believe the current sanctions against North Korea really are? Is he confident that the international community will be able to block the seepage of nuclear materials and technology to third countries and to terrorist organisations? What is the current situation with regard to the food aid so desperately needed in North Korea? Is it the case, for instance, that funds for the World Food Programme for North Korea are down from £6 million to £1.9 million, and that only 10 per cent of the needed funds have come in from30 countries out of 200? Although, in the light ofthe current circumstances, the attitude of the international community is understandable, will the Minister reiterate that food aid should not be conditional?

Professor Muntarbhorn flagged up one other issue—the future of UN special rapporteurs. Given their effectiveness in exposing the situation in countries such as Burma and North Korea, what will our diplomats be doing to defeat moves in the new United Nations Human Rights Council to abolish the more than 10 country-specific special rapporteurs?

North Korea is the latest test of our frayed international structures. It will be among the United Nation’s great moral challenges in the coming years. Let us hope that we do better than we have done in Darfur. Since travelling to Sudan in 2001 and Darfur in 2004, I have raised the situation there on countless occasions. In 2004, an estimated 50,000 people had died. Today, the dead number between 200,000 and 400,000. Two million people have been displaced and 90 per cent of the villages have been razed to the ground. Most of the 16 recommendations in my 2004 report, including the naming of the genocide for what it is, remain to be acted on.

In the light of the leading role that Her Majesty’s Government played in securing Security Council Resolution 1706, will the Minister spell out for us tonight why there is not now to be a UN force, and what will be the composition of the proposed African Union/United Nations hybrid force? What will be the respective proportions? How many troops will be deployed? Will that include western personnel? Under whose command and control will it operate? What will be its mandate? When will the targeted sanctions agreed under Security Council Resolution 1591 be enforced? How will we respond to the call in August of the International Crisis Group for the targeting of the economic assets of Khartoum, its security agencies and its fraudulent charities, and to the widespread calls for divestment in Sudan? What progress is being made in disarming the Janjaweed militia?

To conclude, Darfur is a textbook example of what happens when a Government declare war on their own people. As untold thousands have been raped, tortured, terrorised and killed, it has been a test of the determination of the international community to implement its doctrine of “the duty to protect”. Yet, as recently as Wednesday last, the head of United Nations humanitarian operations, Jan Egeland, was told on arriving in Khartoum that the vice-president of Sudan would not meet him and that he would not be permitted to travel to any of his proposed destinations in Darfur outside of the state capitals.

We flatter ourselves if we think that regimes like this will act for the benefit of their own citizens. That is never their consideration. Their aim, rather, is to perpetuate their grip on power and to ensure that their ideological aims are implemented. We consistently fail to grasp the true nature of regimes such as those in Sudan and North Korea, and they generally outwit us. Abasement and appeasement in dealing with their defiance will not strengthen the UN as it faces other equally desperate situations.

We all need to ask ourselves the question, when all the bodies have been buried in Darfur, how will history judge us? How will history judge the effectiveness of our international institutions? And would it not be better not to use sententious and earnest rhetoric, such as “the duty to protect”, if we are unwilling or unable to make a reality of the high-minded words? Dag Hammarskjold, one of the great UN secretary-generals, said that the UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell. That should remain its objective in Darfur and North Korea.

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