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Mark supporting the International Tribunal on Sierra Leone

June 13, 2007 2:00 PM
By Mark Hunter

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), whose testimony was powerful. She spoke movingly, knowledgeably and with great sincerity.

The Liberal Democrats support the proposed change to the International Criminal Court Act 2001, and the commitment to human rights that it demonstrates. Without well-publicised enforcement of human rights laws and without an obvious determination to see that those who are alleged to have broken them are brought to justice, those laws will not deter future war criminals and human rights offenders. It is right that Britain should lead the way by sending a clear signal to the rest of the world that those alleged to have violated human rights will be tried and, if necessary, punished. By agreeing to imprison Charles Taylor, should he be convicted, we are doing just that.

Often, apparent support for human rights laws by major international players is not backed by their actions, and violations by so-called friends abroad are ignored because of the possible financial and political ramifications of calling them to account. I hope that this move by the Government illustrates a new willingness to engage wherever there are human rights abuses. I add my party's congratulations to those of Members who have spoken of the sterling and remarkable work of our troops in helping to end this conflict and bring peace and democracy to a region so devastated by the effects of a war that shocked the rest of the world.

None of us will forget the reports that have emerged of the mass murders, rapes, mutilations and amputations, and the involvement of child soldiers. By agreeing to imprison Charles Taylor, should he be found guilty, we are rightly finishing the job that we have started. I wish to make a few specific points about the Bill, and I have some questions for the Minister, but I want to make it clear that I have no criticism of the principle behind the Bill, which we fully support.

I am concerned about the impact of the decision to move the trial of Charles Taylor out of Sierra Leone to The Hague. There is still considerable disquiet among the people of Sierra Leone and members of the international community about the decision. That the victims of the war in Sierra Leone feel that they have ownership of the court is important to the process of recovery from the conflict. A Human Rights Watch paper published in June last year stated that "there is a real risk that his trial will feel distant and less meaningful to the people most affected by the crimes."

I understand from the speech of the Foreign Office Minister Lord Triesman on Second Reading in the Lords that an outreach programme is in place. I invite the Minister to expand a little today on what that programme involves. What actions does he understand are being taken to make this trial accessible to the people of Sierra Leone themselves? We need to ensure that the court is seen as legitimate and effective by the people of Sierra Leone, in order to allow the country to recover from the aftermath of this most dreadful war.

There is another issue on which I seek some clarification. Who precisely will make the decisions relating to an early release or a revision of the sentence, once the Special Court for Sierra Leone ceases to exist? On Second Reading in the Lords, Lord Triesman said that these decisions would be made by a designated successor body from within the international court system, but that the situation would be clarified later. Perhaps this is the right time for the Minister to confirm that that will be the case, and to expand on how he envisages the body will work, and who the likely members of it will be.

There is also concern about any possible claim that Charles Taylor might make after completing his sentence in a UK prison. In a statement, Lord Triesman said that the expectation is that Taylor would leave the UK on release or face removal, on the grounds that the refugee convention contains provisions to refuse asylum to those involved in genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. However, on 15 April, The Sunday Telegraph published sections from a leaked ministerial memorandum stating that Taylor might choose to remain in Britain after his release, claiming asylum, and that this

"might represent a danger to the public or a drain on public resources".

I realise that under current immigration law, it is of course open to the Home Secretary to order the deportation of any non-British citizen whose removal from the United Kingdom is deemed conducive to the public good, but can the Minister confirm today that if this situation arose, the Home Secretary would indeed be mindful not to grant asylum in those circumstances?

There have also been some criticisms of the way in which the court itself is being administered. On Second Reading in the Lords, my noble Friend Lord Avebury alluded to the report on the Special Court for Sierra Leone by Judge Antonio Cassese, to which the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has also referred. Of course, Judge Cassese was appointed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as an independent expert, with a mandate to review the efficiency of the Special Court. One issue that I want to press the Minister on today is the funding of the court itself. As I understand it, Judge Cassese is still concerned about the court's insecure financial situation because of its reliance on voluntary contributions. In his report, he states that the United Nations has already had to bail the SCSL out three times already, costing a total of nearly $50 million.

This lack of stable funding has made it difficult to provide a long-term plan, especially for ensuring that there are enough staff with the expertise needed to run the court effectively. The situation still needs to be addressed, despite protestations from the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). I accept that this Government have recently pledged £2 million to the court, but can the Minister please give us an up-to-date account of the future funding situation?

Judge Cassese's report also contained several recommendations on how to improve the smooth running of the court, one of which is the strengthening of judicial leadership. Following the problems, which have been alluded to, involving surveillance cameras being placed in consultation rooms when the defendant met his lawyers, in accordance with International Criminal Court rules, Judge Cassese says that there needs to be clear leadership from the judges directly involved on which rules apply-those of the International Criminal Court, or those of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The report also raises the issue of communication between staff in The Hague and Freetown, and between the Special Court and the ICC. These links do indeed need to be strengthened if the court is to run effectively. Judge Cassese also said that the defence office needs to be reformed and properly funded to provide administrative, logistical and legal support for the defence team. That is particularly important, because the trial needs not only to be fair but to be seen to be fair if the court is to be a success. I should be interested to hear from the Minister today the opinion that the Government now have about Judge Cassese's recommendations. The Minister might also tell the House which of those recommendations are likely to be implemented, and how the process of implementation is progressing.

As I made clear at the beginning of my contribution, in our view this legislation is welcome, and I am pleased that the UK is involving itself fully in the process of working actively and publicly to enforce human rights law. As a nation with influence, we need to send a clear signal that we are ready, willing and able to bring alleged perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice. This Bill allows us to do just that.