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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea 7:10 pm, 13th October 2008

I do not doubt that what the hon. Gentleman says is correct. I entirely agree, but I want to concentrate my comments on one specific aspect: the use of military power to deal with human rights abuse.

The two major areas where the British Government, the United States Government and a number of other countries have sought to implement such a policy are Iraq and Kosovo. The road to Baghdad began in Belgrade. Serious consequences arose from the situation in Kosovo that were never part of the Government's policy. They achieved two things by their intervention: they were able to take action that ultimately led to the downfall of Milosevic—indirectly—and they were able to reverse the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. However, when we look at the whole picture we find that although the Kosovar Albanians were repatriated, the Kosovar Serbs were ethnically cleansed and to this day remain exiles from their country. The Government have made no significant attempt to draw attention to that fact, yet it is part of the overall balance in the consequences of their policy. The ethnic cleansing of a minority is no more or less reprehensible than the ethnic cleansing of a majority.

The Government choose to ignore the fact that it was never part of their policy to advocate the independence of Kosovo—quite the opposite. Not only the British Government but all western Governments, as well as NATO itself, made it clear that the purpose of the intervention—or rather the war; it was not an intervention—was to ensure that Kosovo achieved autonomy. They said that they were against independence because of the fragmentation of the Balkans and the terrible example it would set for other parts of the world, including the Caucasus. That idea has had to be dropped and it is no longer part of British policy or that of the west as a whole.

When the NATO bombing of Belgrade began, NATO expected it to be only for several days. It was not; the bombing lasted for almost two and a half months and, in essence, involved a war on Serbia fought from the air. I have no time for the Serb Government of Milosevic—that is not the point at issue—but when people start wars, they lead to consequences far different from those that were intended. Those consequences can be serious both domestically and geopolitically.

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