Afghanistan

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 7th December 1999.

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Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 2:53 pm, 7th December 1999

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the latest regulations covering the travel of British subjects working with charitable non-governmental organisations in Afghanistan.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, the Government continue to advise strongly all British subjects against travel to Afghanistan because there is a significant threat to their safety. For that reason, DfID will not fund the activities in Afghanistan of NGOs which send British personnel into the country against the Government's advice. The Secretary of State for International Development explained the Government's position more fully in a letter to the Chairman of the International Development Committee on 5th August, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer even though it is not at all satisfactory. We all agree that the Taliban is an evil regime and should on no account be recognised, but will the Minister tell us why, either through NGOs or by other means, we cannot support the Tajiks, the Shia Hazaras or Ahmed Shah Masoud, who have always held the British in high esteem and have been our friends?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, the advice of DfID is quite specific: we shall not fund organisations which send expatriates into Afghanistan against Government advice. However, we continue to fund NGOs which use local personnel. We have just concluded a review of that policy and have changed the policy slightly to enable NGOs to send in expatriates for small periods of time. We shall continue to review the policy on a regular basis.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, under what conditions do the Government expect to recognise the Taliban?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, at this moment in time I am unable to give the noble Viscount a direct answer to that question.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are well-attested violations of human rights, particularly in relation to women, in the Taliban-dominated part of Afghanistan? What action have the Government taken in relation to those violations?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, the Government are extremely concerned about human rights violations in Afghanistan. We have taken an extremely strong position in relation to our development assistance, which is represented also in the EU position on aid, in which we are clear that aid is agreed only where there is an equitable relationship between women and men in terms of the disbursement of that aid. In addition, we press in all ways possible the Taliban and others involved in Afghanistan about violations of human rights.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said, will she assure the House that when aid agencies send personnel into Afghanistan on the temporary assignments that she mentioned, there is no discrimination by the Taliban in terms of insisting that only male members of staff be sent in?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, I can only repeat what I said in reply to previous questions: we take the human rights issues and, in particular, the issue of violations of human rights against women and girls very seriously indeed. It is a matter which we are taking up with NGOs which will be sending personnel for short periods of time into Afghanistan. They understand the Government's position fully.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the restrictions in the case of the United Nations agencies have been relaxed somewhat without them coming to terms with the Taliban? Cannot the United Kingdom follow that example and give more encouragement to the NGOs?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, it is important for the House to recognise that the International Red Cross and the UN organisations are in a different position to other NGOs. The UN sent personnel into Afghanistan again from March this year. They withdrew their personnel in October last year. My understanding is that the position will be kept under review. As I said, we have amended our policy slightly to enable NGOs working in Afghanistan to be more effective. They indicated to us that it would be helpful to have personnel going in for short periods of time. We have amended our policy in order to enable that to happen. We shall keep that policy under review, but there is a specific and targeted threat against UK and US nationals which we must take extremely seriously.

Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, surely we should be trying our best to help NGOs to go into Afghanistan to assist people who are being dreadfully abused by the Taliban and who live in the most appalling conditions. Surely that is consistent with an ethical foreign policy. To ignore their needs seems to me to run counter to an ethical foreign policy.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Government Whip

My Lords, the fact that the Government have agreed over £4 million in development assistance to Afghanistan this year--a figure which will increase to between £6 million and £8 million in the coming year--illustrates that they are taking the situation extremely seriously. We appreciate that there is a humanitarian crisis. However, there is also a serious security threat which we must understand and take seriously.