Libya — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 2nd February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 11:30 am, 2nd February 2012

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to reports from Amnesty International about alleged torture and other brutalities in Libya, and what action they are taking to address the situation.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, United Kingdom Ministers have regularly raised concerns over the treatment of detainees since the liberation of Libya. Following recent reports, my honourable friends and fellow Foreign Office Ministers Mr Jeremy Browne and Mr Alistair Burt have raised the issue with the Libyan Interior Minister, Mr Abdilal, and the Deputy Foreign Minister. We welcome the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister's recent commitment to investigate all violations of human rights and to bring all detainees under central government control.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that it is going to take more than words to deal with this situation? Does he not also agree that, just as our highly effective and professional armed services played such a key part in bringing about the downfall of Gaddafi and his regime, we must be as rigorous in our resolve to secure the standards of justice, human rights and freedom which were the rationalisation and reason for the rebellion against the existing regime?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

I would certainly agree with that, and it is reflected in the discussions that Ministers have had in reiterating these concerns. The Libyan Interior Minister is actually visiting this country at this moment and Ministers are in close touch with him. Our ambassador in Tripoli has raised the matter with members of the transitional Government. The noble Lord is absolutely right: words are not enough; actions are required to gain control of the very disparate bodies and groups on the Libyan scene, which is the first problem, and to establish an orderly path towards a strong and democratic system of governance. All this is part of the pattern of tackling what is completely unacceptable behaviour.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister accept that these appalling reports from Libya, along with the distressing reports of incidents in Port Said yesterday, argue for perhaps rather greater caution on joining other people's calls for a change of regime in Syria?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

The noble Lord touches on a difficult issue. The situations in the countries he has mentioned-Egypt, Libya and Syria-are completely different. We can see the horrors of Syria, including what are apparently child murders and other appalling atrocities, and we are pressing this matter as hard as we can at the United Nations-my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been in New York for the past two days-to get full UN backing for the efforts of the Arab League and all those who want to bring to a halt the ghastly situation in Syria. I think that the noble Lord is fully aware of the difficulties at the United Nations in bringing along some of the members of the permanent Security Council, notably Russia and China. However, we are working very hard to bring them in line to meet the appalling situation in Syria.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

Does my noble friend accept that in countries which are emerging from conflict, the building of institutions takes its time and is quite problematic? Can he tell the House whether the ample resources of the Stabilisation Unit and the Conflict Pool might be available to help train Libyan judges and the country's police force so that they can comply with due process and improve their judicial standards?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My noble friend is quite right to draw attention to the fact that it takes time and that these are early days. It is just about a year since the Libyan liberation drama began to unfold. We must be patient but, in addition to what we are doing already, we will examine further means of supporting the training of judges and so forth. I have before me a long list of activities where the UK is supporting the Libyan democratic process and trying to ensure that it rolls forward smoothly. I could delay the House with the details, but I will not do so. However, my noble friend has certainly touched on one very important aspect.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, some time ago when we were intervening in Libya, I asked the noble Lord about the occurrence of tribalism. Can he now say whether the brutalities that are taking place in Libya are as a result of tribalism out there?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord a detailed and informed answer because it is very hard to get all the information. There are tribal enclaves and there have been problems, as demonstrated by the continuing support of some villages and towns for the now totally discredited and removed Gaddafi regime. This support may well be linked to tribal and ancestral loyalties, and everyone recognises that the Libyan scene remains problematically influenced by many tribal traditions and rivalries. I can say no more than that for now and, while I shall look into it, I do not think that we are going to find very much more at the moment.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative

My Lords, is the situation in Libya improving or deteriorating for sub-Saharan migrant workers who were caught up in the initial wave of imprisonment? What efforts is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office making to communicate with Britain's diaspora communities, who are very concerned about this matter?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

We are concerned about the matter as well. There is some evidence that some relief is being organised, but the situation remains far from satisfactory and we will keep a very close eye on it.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, following on from the excellent question of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, can the Minister tell us what direct support the Foreign Office is able to give through financing the work that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy was doing in Libya, as well as that of the Law Society, which was engaging on some of the very points that the noble Baroness raised, on judge training and establishing the rule of law and functioning courts?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

We support all these aspects. As I think the noble Baroness knows, although there was a dip in the funding for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, there has been a modest but welcome increase for the current year. That reflects our belief, which we share with her, that its work is an extremely valuable part of the scene. As to the Law Society and other non-governmental but very important operations of the kind that she has mentioned, these are things that we encourage. We should certainly look at and develop judge training. We are looking at projects in civil society, electoral preparations, prison reform, asset tracking and public financial management. We are supporting the role of women through funding the first women's convention in November; we are helping the Libyans strengthen their institutions and restore public services. There is a whole list of other areas in which we are involved. All these are very important. We want to see Libya emerge as a stable, democratic country, bringing peace and prosperity to its much benighted citizens.