Debate on Human Rights in Iran (Excerpts)

December 2, 2004

Lord Clarke of Hampstead asked Her Majesty's Government whether improvement of Iran's human rights record has been removed as an element of the diplomatic agreement with the EU3 group (United Kingdom, Germany and France) on Iran's nuclear weapons development programme.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the focus of the recent agreement is Iran's nuclear programme. The agreement does not refer to all elements of our dialogue with Iran, nor all of our concerns about Iranian policy. We continue to have serious concerns about human rights and regularly raise them with the Iranian authorities. The United Kingdom and other European Union governments co-sponsored the resolution on human rights in Iran adopted by the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on 17 November.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her helpful answer. Does she agree with the conclusions that appear on the EU website about its serious concern about serious violations of human rights? In 2002, 2003 and as recently as October of this year, the Iranian regime has promised to do certain things about human rights, but violations continue to take place.

Further, does my noble friend believe that it is right for this country or the European Union to enter trade agreements with a government who systematically murder hundreds of their people? In particular, I ask her about two children, Kaveh Habibi-Nejad, a 14 year-old boy flogged to death for eating in public during Ramadan and Atefeh Rajabi, a 16 year-old girl publicly hanged for what they call an act incompatible with chastity. Will my noble friend ask the Iranian authorities what justification they have for carrying out such wicked atrocities?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, on the question about the EU website, it is because we agree with so much of what our colleagues elsewhere in the European Union are saying that we supported the General Assembly resolution to which I referred in my initial Answer. My noble friend will also be interested to know that, with our support, on 24 November the European Union called on the Iranian authorities to express concern at the increasing number of arrests and incidence of harassment of journalists and non-governmental organisations activists, as well as the Christian and Bahá'- communities.

However, my noble friend is especially exercised by the question of the execution of juveniles. I myself have raised some of these cases with the Iranian authorities. The deeply disturbing case of the young girl of 16 who was executed in public is an appalling example of the dispatch of a child in horrendous circumstances. I have also raised the case of a 13 year-old allegedly sentenced to death by stoning for incest. We have been told that she will not be executed and that she and her brother have been transferred to welfare organisations. So I am aware of those abuses of human rights and I and my colleagues raise them with the Iranian authorities.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there will be a lot of sympathy with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, about those revolting practices? Does she recall that, on Monday, I asked her whether the Iranian undertaking to suspend uranium enrichment, which was part of the deal under the diplomatic agreement with the EU foreign ministers, had any time limit? She replied that the aim was to provide long-term objectives. Since then, we have heard from Tehran that in fact the agreement is purely temporary. That does not sound very long term at all. Can she explain the discrepancy? What is the right story here?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, first, I hope that I made clear that I not only have sympathy with but support the points raised by my noble friend about the particular practices that he adduced to your Lordships. On the agreement that we have reached, which the noble Lord said is claimed to be a temporary arrangement by the Iranians, if he reads the terms of the agreement, he will see that it mentions sustaining the suspension of those activities. The agreement that we reached on Monday through the International Atomic Energy Agency involves the suspension of the activities that have given cause for concern while negotiations on a long-term agreement are under way. The negotiations on that long-term agreement will begin within the next few weeks-I think that the timescale is the first couple of weeks of December-and it is that long-term agreement that will provide the objective guarantees. Monday's agreement will stay in place until the long-term agreement can be put in place through negotiation.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, how far have the entirely desirable efforts that we have made to encourage the Iranian Government to continue with their human rights improvements been indirectly prejudiced by the United States' human rights failings in Iraq? I am thinking of Abu Ghraib and of the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have no reason to think that there is a direct read-across, although I am aware that countries that have shortcomings in their practice of human rights try to reach for an argument that may help them, by adducing the difficulties in Abu Ghraib and, indeed, Guantanamo to which the noble Lord alludes. There is an important point: we are by no means setting aside our concerns-the United Kingdom's concerns and the European Union's concerns-about human rights because of Monday's agreement. We have made it clear that our relations with Iran can develop only if Iran takes action to address general political concerns, which must include concerns over human rights.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the best way to proceed from the temporary suspension to which the Iranians have agreed is to take up rapidly the recommendation in the UN panel report that a general moratorium on all enrichment and reprocessing of a new kind should be applied worldwide? A system should be put in place to enable countries with civil nuclear regimes that are properly covered by safeguards to get their supplies at a reasonable market rate and without any possible interruption. That offers a way forward that is more solid than the one on which we are at present.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, that the United Kingdom Government must seriously address questions relating to non-proliferation, which we will promote when we can. I have a slight concern about the general way in which the noble Lord framed his question. There are countries of concern that are not covered by specific agreements, and the noble Lord will remember that it was part of our concern with Iran that we should not force a situation in which Iran would decide to withdraw altogether from the non-proliferation treaty.

Our first concern is to draw others into the non-proliferation treaty, but, if we can make additional requirements of those who wish to turn away from the difficult issue of the spread of nuclear capability, we will do what we can.


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