By George Galloway
House of Commons debates
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
Somalia (Human Rights)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Steve McCabe.]
A Government ready to rely on those friends of liberty, the Democratic Unionist party, to shred the liberties of our own people are almost by definition unembarrassable, but I hope this evening to add to the issues ventilated in a recent Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme to adumbrate the extent to which the tragedy in Somalia, which so many people are now becoming aware of, is another of our Government’s dirty little secrets.
We must start the story in Ethiopia, where 4 million people, according to the United Nations, are facing starvation and 120,000 Ethiopian children have just one month to live, according to last week’s media reports. Television viewers were shocked to see the pictures last week of the widespread suffering redolent of 1984 and the great famine of that year.
The US and Britain immediately pledged $90 million in famine relief. Just one week after its appeal to the international community for famine relief, the Ethiopian Government increased their military budget by $50 million to $400 million. The regime in Addis Ababa—when I knew them in the 1980s, they were pro-Albanian Maoists—are the most militarised and heavily armed in Africa. They are in a state of perpetual war or preparation for war with one neighbour, Eritrea, and they are supporting anti-Government rebels in Sudan, many believe with western connivance.
Most astonishingly of all, the Government of Ethiopia—that starving country whose little children are fly infested, kwashiorkor swollen, famished and famine stricken—have been encouraged, armed, trained, financed and otherwise facilitated to invade and occupy their neighbour, Somalia, and create a reign of terror in that land, which is testified to by this voluminous Amnesty International report, which, if I had time, I would extensively quote from.
Somalia has lost thousands of dead as a result of the Ethiopian invasion. Millions have been displaced. Somalia, under Ethiopian occupation, is the grimmest prison state in Africa—far worse than Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Who has done the encouraging, the arming, the training, the financing and the facilitating? The same US and British Governments who donated the $90 million to the same Ethiopian Government who are burning their money and burning the villages, the neighbourhoods and the people of occupied Somalia.
This Government are never done talking about the shortcomings of African leaders. Just last week in Rome, the Secretary of State for International Development was roaring at Robert Mugabe, yet there has not been a squeak out of him, or any other Minister, about the much bigger crime in which we are ourselves deeply complicit. Is it any wonder that African opinion considers so much of what we have to say about misgovernance in Africa to be the deepest, most cynical hypocrisy?
Two weeks ago, Channel 4’s “Dispatches” team took terrifying risks to bring us the latest from occupied Mogadishu. That was undoubtedly an award-winning documentary. It was memorable for many reasons, not least the scene in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when the Minister of State, Lord Malloch-Brown, his face frozen in horror, was confronted by Aidan Hartley with the central case of the documentary makers. For the benefit of Members who did not see the programme—the Minister will certainly have seen it; she would hardly be sent out to bat on this wicket without being shown it—that central case was that, in the grim prison state of occupied Somalia, the fingerprints of our country and our Government were all over the scene of the crime.
The President of the puppet regime imposed by the Ethiopian army in Somalia turns out to be British. He spends much of his time here—well, it is dangerous in Somalia, after all—and has property and family here. After presiding over a gang of torturers, murderers, grand larceners and extortionists, he flies back to England. Then there is the police chief whose officers kidnap people for ransom, which they extort from people living in our own country—in Leicester, in Birmingham, in London. They torture people, make them disappear, and kill them if their families will not pay. He too is British. As for the former Interior Minister who presides over an interior of mass refugee camps, starvation and misery, and who stands accused of stealing international aid and diverting food for political purposes—why, he is British as well.
Guess who is paying the wages of the murdering, kidnapping, torturing, quisling police force in Ethiopian-occupied Somalia? That’s right: we are. The public dictatorship in Somalia is a very British crime, especially as our own Government—in particular, that pocket-sized Palmerston to whom I referred earlier, the Secretary of State for International Development—are so voluble on the subject of other problems in Africa.
So how did we get here? How did we get into bed with the former pro-Albanian Maoists of the Government in Addis Ababa? I am afraid that the answer is our old friend, our old acquaintance, the policy of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. The policy that has got us into so much trouble, from Afghanistan to Iraq and many other parts of the world, is what lies behind this obscene paradox.
We are supporting the Ethiopian Government’s occupation of Somalia because George Bush told us to: because Somalia is a front line in George Bush’s ill-conceived, counter-productive, utterly discredited, “about to be booted out in the United States” so-called war on terror. We were against the former Government of Somalia because they were an Islamic Government, just as we are against the Government in Sudan because they are an Islamic Government, and just as Ethiopia, on our behalf, opposed the Government in Eritrea because they are an Islamic Government.
This policy, having been such a disaster around the world, is now in full force in Somalia, and but for Channel 4’s “Dispatches” hardly anyone in Britain would know anything about it. No British Minister has come to the Dispatch Box to explain why British taxpayers’ money is being paid to a police force in Mogadishu that is accused of kidnapping people and extorting ransom money from British citizens. No British Minister has come to explain—unless we interpret Lord Malloch-Brown’s frozen face as an explanation—why we are so heavily involved with a puppet regime that is bereft of political and public support in Somalia.
This policy of backing anyone whom Bush tells us to back—this policy of backing anyone who is against those whom we, today, perceive ourselves to be against—is morally utterly vacuous. Arguably worse than that, however, is the fact that it is a total, dismal failure, as we have found in Afghanistan to our bitter, bitter cost, not least this very week. The very mujaheds whom Mrs. Thatcher’s Government lauded, supported and armed are now murdering and killing our soldiers in Afghanistan—
It being Seven o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn .—[Ms Diana R. Johnson.]
Our Government’s Dirty Little Secrets Part II
By George Galloway
House of Commons debates
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
Somalia (Human Rights)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Steve McCabe.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn .—[Ms Diana R. Johnson.]
Mr. Galloway: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This Adjournment debate was scheduled to begin at 7 pm and last for half an hour. I have spoken for 10 minutes, and the country—or at least those interested enough to watch on parliamentary television—will not hear the Minister reply.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. The Adjournment debate is now starting, which means that he has so far had bonus time. This is one of the procedures, as far as the House is concerned, we have to go through.
Mr. Galloway: That is truly magnificent, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I have plenty to say. Perhaps I will be able to quote Amnesty International in more detail in the time that I did not think that I would have available.
This policy is not only morally bankrupt, it is politically disastrous. Afghanistan is the perfect example, but the Ethiopian Government preside over a country where famine and mass starvation stalk the land. They are being helped militarily to invade, occupy and threaten their neighbours. What can that conceivably do for our standing in Africa, or for our credibility when we lecture the Governments of Sudan or Zimbabwe?
It would be bad enough if our difficulties in that respect were confined to Africa, but the problem is much worse. The Somalians are the tallest people on earth, but they are virtually invisible, politically, on the international stage and in this country. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of Somalians here, either because they have European Union passports or because they are refugees from the very fighting that we initiated and are now fuelling. Increasingly, young Somalis are furious, bitter and angry. They nurse their wrath as they watch—on Somali television or other Muslim channels—the carnage being wrought in their country.
Two million people in Somalia are living as refugees, out of a population of 11 million. That is almost a fifth of the total: to scale it up, in our country that would amount to 12 million people. There are another 1 million Somali refugees in neighbouring countries, and God knows how many hundreds of thousands are scattered across the EU.
In their bitter exile, the sons—and may be the daughters too—of those Somali families are being brought up bitter and furious at the role played by the west in the problems that they see on their televisions screens. We have spent hours this afternoon trying to deal with the problem of terrorism, but we cannot see how that connects with the way that we constantly infuriate young Muslim boys and girls with the double standards and injustices of our policy towards their countries and the countries from which their parents come.
We cannot see the connection between the growth of extremism and our actions. The Government are always looking for a cleric or an organisation to ban or to blame for the radicalisation of Muslim youth in Britain. But those young people do not need a cleric or an organisation to radicalise them: they just have to watch the news and see what our Government are doing in Muslim countries such as Somalia.
I know that the Minister has seen Channel 4’s “Dispatches” programme. She will not claim otherwise, even though she is answering a debate on human rights in Somalia. I hope that she will do a better job than Lord Malloch-Brown did when it comes to explaining how are taxes are being used. Among other things, that tax money could be used to help starving people in Ethiopia. It could be used to keep our pensioners warm in winter or to keep some post offices open.
I see that the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is Under-Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister responsible for closing post offices, is standing by your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that that counts as being in the House and that it is therefore in order for me to refer to him.
The British tax money that I have mentioned could have been used for a better purpose, but instead it is being spent on the security forces in Somalia, which Amnesty International, as well as Channel 4, accuses of widespread abuses of human rights—of torture, murder, disappearances, kidnapping, extortion and grand larceny. Why are we allowing the Interior Minister of Somalia to travel back and forth into our country unmolested when he is accused by aid agencies of purloining international aid—desperately needed emergency aid for hungry people—for himself and for political purposes for his political clan? Why are the Government not stopping him at the border and questioning him about where the money went that was put into Somalia and has disappeared?
Aid agencies will not now, by and large, set foot in Somalia, so catastrophic has the situation there become. I ask the Minister why we are supporting the President, the Interior Minister and the chief of police in Somalia, and allowing them to come and go freely without answering the charges that are being made against them? When will the Government at least condemn the human rights abuses in Somalia? Amnesty has voluminously recorded them, but not a squeak has come from the Government, which has never done roaring at Sudan or Zimbabwe. Why? Because we are deeply complicit in that. Indeed, we are paying for it; we are paying for the security services that are committing these crimes in Somalia.
The Government might think that because most Somalis in Britain do not, for one reason or another, have votes, they can be ignored—that tall as they are, they can be disregarded. However, the truth is that the Somali community in Britain’s loathing of the actions of our Government is a ticking time bomb in Britain. I, if not the Minister, am constantly exposed in my constituency, and in Birmingham and Leicester and other places, to the anger of these young Somalis. There is a disaster waiting to happen. I hope that the Minister will announce today that, in the wake of the Channel 4 revelations, she will investigate the allegations properly, and that she will report her findings to the House.
I am talking in my speech tonight about not only the current British Government’s foreign policy towards the horn of Africa and Afghanistan, but about previous Governments’ foreign policies, too. I remember being on the Opposition Benches and accusing the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, of having opened the gates to the barbarians by her support for the so-called mujaheddin in Afghanistan so many years ago. The policy that our Governments have followed of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” has proved to be fatally flawed everywhere that it has been tried, and it is now being tried all over again in Somalia.
Many Somalis will be watching our debate this evening—word is out about it in the Somali community, and it is being shown on Universal TV and other Somali channels. For their sake, I hope that the Minister will come clean about the dreadful problems that exist, and I also hope that she will say some words to the Ethiopian Government.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having secured this debate. I apologise for having arrived late for it; I was caught somewhat unawares as it began early. What is best for Somalia and its people is, of course, security. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Ethiopian Government are providing security in Somalia at present, and that they want to withdraw from Somalia at the earliest possible moment? Will he also join me in encouraging the United Nations, the African Union Mission in Somalia—AMISOM—and the African Union to ensure that troops are put back into Somalia in order to give Somalis that security, which they need? Ethiopian troops want to return to Addis Ababa.
Mr. Galloway: I do not accept that at all, and it seems that I know the Ethiopian Government rather better than the hon. Gentleman does. As I explained before he came in, I knew them when they were pro-Albanian Maoist guerrillas in the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front. I knew all the leaders—they are now the Government Ministers—and I know that they have no intention of withdrawing from Somalia unless they are forced to do so. They want to occupy Somalia because they have been paid to do so by the Government of the United States and our own Government. The Ethiopian Government are doing a job for what they imagine to be the western part of the international community. I see the Minister for closing post offices laughing. His constituency contains many Somalis, as does mine, and I hope that the camera caught him laughing.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I apologise for intervening on the hon. Gentleman, but I must point out that I did not laugh at anything that he has been saying so far.
Mr. Galloway: I shall not go further down that track. Perhaps the camera caught the verisimilitude.
The truth is that the Ethiopian Government are carrying out a service for the people who give them weapons, for the people who give them money and for the people who give them diplomatic and political support. They are having a beano in the Ethiopian embassy next week. Perhaps the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) will go to it; he will certainly get an invitation in the post following his intervention. The Ethiopian Government are having a beano in the Ethiopian embassy in London to celebrate the 17th anniversary of their coming to power, and it is going to be a very grand event.
That event comes at a time when the Ethiopian Government’s own people are starving to death. Their children are starving to death—120,000 children have a month to live—they are invading and occupying their neighbouring countries and nobody says boo about it. In fact, far from saying boo, people are saying, “Here’s some more military and financial aid to do it.” That is because the Government of President Bush, who are utterly discredited and on their way out, with virtually nowhere to go except Downing street on Sunday for one last photo call, regard the defeat of the former Islamic Government in Somalia as part of their war on terror.
That is what this is all about. Ethiopia is playing the role of hammer in the horn of Africa for the policy of the United States and its war on terror. That is what Ethiopia is doing, so it will not withdraw until a new American Government, hopefully with a Kenyan-affiliated President, tell them that actually this policy is deeply flawed. The puppet regime of British citizens imposed on Somalia by the Ethiopian invasion would not last five minutes if the Ethiopian forces withdrew—that regime would have to withdraw with them. So, any Government who come to power in Somalia in the future will be filled with hatred of Britain and the United States.
That is the problem that we keep making everywhere; we intervene either to prop up tyrants or to support tyrants because we do not like the tyrants that they are fighting against, and we generate still more problems for ourselves. We wonder why that is, and we agonisingly debate anti-terrorism laws. We wonder why so many people in the Muslim world want to hurt us. We wonder why so many young people in the Muslim world are so bitter and angry about us that they want to hurt us. Is it any wonder? Can it be any wonder to any sane person? I beg the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to believe me when I say that it is because of the kinds of policies that I have described. I talk to Somalis all the time, and I know that the rage the Somali community both in Britain and around the world feels about Britain and America’s role in their country generates terrorists. As the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who saved the Government’s bacon earlier this evening, is in his place and as we spent so many hours discussing anti-terrorism, let me spell it out: we are making new terrorists in Britain with our policy towards Somalia, with our double standards and with our hypocrisy.
Mark Pritchard: While the Government of Ethiopia are not perfect—indeed, there are Governments closer to home who are not perfect—it is right that human rights abuses by the Somali security services are fully investigated. Nevertheless, does the hon. Gentleman accept that if Ethiopian troops withdrew, it would create a security vacuum in which terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, would create mayhem in the horn of Africa, which is a key strategic location, and that would come back to haunt us?
Mr. Galloway: I said in this House when it was recalled a few days after the atrocity of 9/11 that if we handled it the wrong way we would make 10,000 new bin Ladens. We have handled it the wrong way, and we have made 10,000 new bin Ladens. The problem of al-Qaeda in Somalia has been made worse by the western intervention and the Ethiopian invasion. Far more people have been recruited to a narrow, fundamentalist, separatist, violent Islamism by our policy than ever would have been if that policy had never been formed.
The hon. Gentleman obviously has not read the Amnesty International document. The Ethiopian forces are not providing security: they are providing mass murder and terror in occupied Somalia. The refugee camps are full with 2 million people. No one can walk on the streets of Mogadishu. Channel 4’s reporters were almost killed making their programme. Some of the team on the same vehicle with them were shot dead live on television—
Mark Pritchard: By Somalis.
Mr. Galloway: I do not know if they were shot by Somalis or Ethiopians. The point is that the country has been plunged into utter lawlessness, and to pretend that the Ethiopian Government are providing security is completely ridiculous. The words Somalia and security should not even be mentioned in the same sentence.
There may be a need for African Union forces or Arab League forces. This conflict will go on and I hope that the Minister will not claim that the deal reached this week is any kind of solution to the problem. The people who are doing the fighting are not involved in the deal. It is like a peace process in the north of Ireland that excluded the people who were doing the fighting. That is what has happened in relation to Somalia in the past few days.
I am grateful for the extra time that I had for this debate, and I apologise for my churlish point of order, which turned out to be entirely misconceived. I hope for some answers from the Minister this evening.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): I welcome the opportunity to reply to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway) in this debate. I see this as an excellent chance to highlight how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seeks to address a number of issues relating to Somalia.
As my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown, the Minister for Africa, said in his statement this afternoon, we congratulate the Somali transitional federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia on reaching agreement on the cessation of violence. That agreement was signed by both parties in Djibouti on Monday and witnessed by members of the international community. I wish to thank the UN Secretary-General’s special representative, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, on his continued efforts to mediate in the talks between the parties which resulted in the agreement. This is a positive step and we look forward to all parties fulfilling their commitment to cease armed confrontation. We are committed to working with the UN to support this process.
Human rights issues in Somalia are longstanding and complex. They cannot be attributed to any one cause, and there are no easy or obvious solutions. Somalia is not like other countries. Serious violence, lack of governance structures and the deteriorating humanitarian situation have been ongoing for 17 years. Many in Somali society have been brutalised by years of violence. It is therefore often individuals, not answerable to any particular group or commander, who carry out abuses on their own initiative. That makes it even more difficult to prevent further abuses and to bring those responsible to justice.
Given that complexity and the insecurity in Somalia, there is little opportunity to monitor the situation reliably or gather and verify facts or allegations. Reporting is often biased and may be exaggerated to exert influence on the international community. The only sustainable way to address human rights in the long term is to engage in effective state building, concentrating on developing institutions, parliamentary accountability, an inclusive security sector and delivery of basic services. Short-term fixes that do not focus on state building will mean we return to the issue year after year, prolonging the suffering of the Somali people.
Reports of incidents and accusations of human rights abuses by Ethiopian troops are difficult to corroborate and have been categorically denied by the Ethiopian Government. Ethiopian troops in Somalia are carrying out a role that security providers in Somalia do not have the capacity for. Many critics forget that fighting between militias went on for 15 years before Ethiopia intervened, at the invitation of Somalia’s transitional federal Government.
African Union member nations have not yet committed to contributing sufficient troops to allow for full deployment of the African Union mission in Somalia, which currently has only 2,400 of the 8,000 troops mandated. Further planning for a possible UN mission was called for by UN Security Council resolution 1814, although that is unlikely to be mandated soon. Evidence from other Ethiopian peacekeeping deployments indicates that they make a positive contribution to missions. Ethiopian troops are likely to form the largest contingent of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur.
We regularly engage with human rights organisations, listen to their views and appreciate their efforts to gather information and evidence on human rights. We and they fully acknowledge that allegations of abuse are made against all parties to the conflict in Somalia. We sponsored an Arria meeting at the United Nations in New York on 31 March to enable Governments and the non-governmental organisation community freely to discuss human rights and humanitarian issues and to exchange views on how to achieve progress in Somalia.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow might be interested to know that in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I said:
“We unreservedly condemn all proven incidents of human rights abuse and expect those responsible to face justice.”—[ Official Report, 3 June 2008; Vol. 476, c. 832W.]
My noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Lord Malloch-Brown, raised the issue of human rights in Somalia with the Ethiopian Prime Minister in late January 2008. Our ambassador to Ethiopia regularly raises the issue of respect for human rights in Somalia at senior levels of the Ethiopian Government. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in London and at the UN have also raised the issue with their Ethiopian counterparts.
Ethiopia has told us that it intends to withdraw from Somalia and that it has reduced force numbers by more than half since late February 2007. The Ethiopian Government are extremely positive about the newly signed peace agreement, which includes a strategy for their withdrawal from Somalia. Until Ethiopia withdraws its troops completely, we urge them to use only appropriate force, adhere to international humanitarian law and respect human rights. However, for Ethiopia to withdraw from Somalia before an effective alternative force has been established would risk creating a dangerous security vacuum. Somalis would suffer the most from such a development.
The UK is a leading contributor to world efforts to rebuild the Somali state. We support the efforts of the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Somalia to engage with civil society and to help bring about social and political reconciliation that will lead to greater respect for human rights and religious freedoms for all Somalis. Through helping to shape UN Security Council policy, and our membership of the EU and the international contact group, we press for greater focus on human rights in Somalia. We asked the UN to enhance its capacity to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Somalia and 11 Jun 2008 : Column 434
Council resolution 1814, unanimously adopted on 15 May, and the EU General Assembly and External Relations Council conclusions, adopted on 26 May, support the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including the independent expert for Somalia, and encourage them to undertake a fact-finding and assessment mission to Somalia to address the human rights situation.
We co-chair the donors group and are the second largest bilateral humanitarian and development donor. We are also the second largest bilateral donor, after the US, for the African Union mission to Somalia. We are a key donor to the UN Development Programme effort to develop a full justice system, including improving the police force and the judiciary and penal systems to an internationally acceptable standard. I understand that the hon. Gentleman thought that that issue was a matter for the Department for International Development, but I can confirm that it is a policy area of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
We value human rights highly. No other states are as active as the UK on human rights issues in Somalia. We urge other states to join our efforts and encourage international human rights organisations to concentrate their advocacy activities on pressing other less active states for support, too.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Seven o’clock.
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