MP defends trip to African dictatorship

First published in News

ROMSEY’S MP has defended her much-criticised decision to join a cross-party parliamentary delegation to the west African country of Equatorial Guinea.

Mrs Caroline Nokes joined fellow MPs Nadine Dorries and Steve Baker on the trip funded by the Triarius Foundation, which weeks later produced a report claiming human rights violations in the country were “trivial”.

This contradicted a recent Amnesty International report which claimed press freedom on the country was severely restricted and that police and soldiers regularly tortured and ill-treated detainees.

Labour MPs have criticised the Conservative trio for not finding more out about the Equatorial Guinea government before travelling to the country in August.

Labour MP Paul Flynn told the Daily Telegraph: “Five minutes of research should have informed these MPs that this was not a regime with which our parliamentarians should be associating with.

“One would have thought that recent events in Libya would remind MPs that cosying up to corrupt dictators is unwise.”

However, Mrs Nokes says the trip had the support of officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Mrs Nokes said: “I specifically asked if the delegation had the support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The MP said she was aware “the appalling reputation” of Equatorial Guinea but said that the last report on the country’s human rights record was several years old and possibly out of date.

Mrs Nokes added: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that any updated information that we could provide would be welcome and would assist the Government in shaping policy towards a county that has appalling human rights records, but is not of significant commercial interest to the UK. “ The MP pointed out that after being given guarantees about her freedom of movement and being given details of meeting and assurances by the trip’s organisers that a balanced report would be published, she agreed to join the delegation.

Mrs Nokes also pointed out that she had a long-standing interest in international development and regularly speaks on the issue.

The £25,000 trip which was funded through the Triarius Foundation via Equatorial Guinea’s government and while in the country the delegation stayed at the five-star Sofitel Hotel at Sipopo which has an 18-hole golf course.

The delegation had meetings with government ministers including Prime Minister Ignacio Milam Tang, and they visited several hospitals.

The trip has been described as junket by the national press but Mrs Nokes, commented: “In light of the relatively short visit, the busy field trips, hectic rounds of meetings and the mosquitoes, I will leave it to others to consider if recent media reports of the trip are accurate.

“However, I would say that in light of the predicted protest against anyone who dares set foot in the country, that those who decided to go showed considerable resilience and courage in deciding to independently examine the country and form our own opinions without fear of either the Equatorial Guinea (EG) regime or a hostile press. I would hope that those who wish to know more about my involvement in the delegation will not criticise without first establishing the facts and read a of copy of the report.”

The MPs’ report, entitled “For the Children Who Wash in Rivers” has been filed in the House of Commons library.

The MPs acknowledged the country has an undeniable appalling global reputation based on the president’s reputation as a cannibal.

Looking at governance, the reports states that the EG government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of the ruling class at the expense of the wider population.

Public hospitals were “shocking” says the report, which also says the MPs were not allowed to look at schools or question teachers during their visit but were given the opportunity to meet a number of key influencers including the education minister and the minister for labour.

The MPs agreed that if EG is to become a member of the Community of Nations, the ruling family has to relinquish its hold on power and accept the premise of free and fair elections.

They add in the report that healthcare needs to become a priority and the EG government needs to buy in expertise and establish a robust healthcare service as an investment for the future.

Foreign journalists should be given entry visas and freed to travel in the country, states the report. The MPs suggest that EG could be a land of milk and honey for all inhabitants if the country’s leadership relinquishes power and shares the nation’s wealth.

Comments (5)

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3:42pm Mon 7 Nov 11

Turbotastic says...

I can hear the predictable howls of protest already, but.....I took the trouble of reading the report. Any criticisms from other MPs (like Paul Flynn) seem a bit ridiculous given that she clearly knows her stuff, has done her research and written a report which Amnesty International would welcome.

The report is pretty damning stuff and I don't think the EG Government are overly pleased with what was written. She certainly wasn't 'bought off' for the price of a few days in a hotel!

Fair play to her and the other MPs who went. I think Caroline Nokes was right to go, and pretty brave to do so.
I can hear the predictable howls of protest already, but.....I took the trouble of reading the report. Any criticisms from other MPs (like Paul Flynn) seem a bit ridiculous given that she clearly knows her stuff, has done her research and written a report which Amnesty International would welcome. The report is pretty damning stuff and I don't think the EG Government are overly pleased with what was written. She certainly wasn't 'bought off' for the price of a few days in a hotel! Fair play to her and the other MPs who went. I think Caroline Nokes was right to go, and pretty brave to do so. Turbotastic
  • Score: 0

4:04pm Mon 7 Nov 11

Millian Liberal says...

I agree with Turbotastic.

There have been so many inaccuracies over this story and the MPs have been unfairly criticised.

Firstly, saying that her decision to go was "much-criticised" is not accurate. The trip was welcomed by the UK Government, the human rights community, journalists and those who have wanted to have an independent assessment for many years after Amnesty withdrew.

Only one MP (Paul Flynn) has been critical. He criticised this trip because it was convenient for him to do so - to advance his own argument against lobbyists. He was attacking those who had the courage to go to EG simply because doing so means he could attack lobbyists. MPs shouldn't refuse to go to places simply because a lobbying organisation is involved, or because the media say they shouldn't. MPs have a duty to be independent - and clearly this delegation was, as was acknowledged by a journalist who was smuggled in to the country with the delegation. Mrs. Nokes, by being part of this delegation, possibly risked being imprisoned for having an undercover journalist in the party - something which her critics should be aware of.

My only regret is that other political parties were not represented, because they didn't have the courage to face down the media criticism or risk the wider dangers associated with the country. That doesn't show much bravery of commitment to the public good, but it does show that they wanted to avoid their own reputation being damaged. Those who didn't go put their careers first and their constituents second.

It cannot be stated enough how crucial this visit was, and how the UK Government now has some information to work from in terms of putting pressure on the EG Government and those who have commercial interests in EG, to improve democracy, human rights, civil liberties and freedom.

Caroline Nokes had two choices, to do the easy thing, or to do the right thing. She did the right thing and her critics should remember that when they seek to make lazy criticisms.
I agree with Turbotastic. There have been so many inaccuracies over this story and the MPs have been unfairly criticised. Firstly, saying that her decision to go was "much-criticised" is not accurate. The trip was welcomed by the UK Government, the human rights community, journalists and those who have wanted to have an independent assessment for many years after Amnesty withdrew. Only one MP (Paul Flynn) has been critical. He criticised this trip because it was convenient for him to do so - to advance his own argument against lobbyists. He was attacking those who had the courage to go to EG simply because doing so means he could attack lobbyists. MPs shouldn't refuse to go to places simply because a lobbying organisation is involved, or because the media say they shouldn't. MPs have a duty to be independent - and clearly this delegation was, as was acknowledged by a journalist who was smuggled in to the country with the delegation. Mrs. Nokes, by being part of this delegation, possibly risked being imprisoned for having an undercover journalist in the party - something which her critics should be aware of. My only regret is that other political parties were not represented, because they didn't have the courage to face down the media criticism or risk the wider dangers associated with the country. That doesn't show much bravery of commitment to the public good, but it does show that they wanted to avoid their own reputation being damaged. Those who didn't go put their careers first and their constituents second. It cannot be stated enough how crucial this visit was, and how the UK Government now has some information to work from in terms of putting pressure on the EG Government and those who have commercial interests in EG, to improve democracy, human rights, civil liberties and freedom. Caroline Nokes had two choices, to do the easy thing, or to do the right thing. She did the right thing and her critics should remember that when they seek to make lazy criticisms. Millian Liberal
  • Score: 0

3:19pm Tue 8 Nov 11

FBA says...

Caroline Nokes had two choices, to do the easy thing, or to do the right thing. She did the right thing and her critics should remember that when they seek to make lazy criticisms.”


I couldnt agree more...
Caroline Nokes had two choices, to do the easy thing, or to do the right thing. She did the right thing and her critics should remember that when they seek to make lazy criticisms.” I couldnt agree more... FBA
  • Score: 0

11:10am Wed 9 Nov 11

J.K. says...

"Go with Nokes" for a freeloading trip.
I hope they shared hotel rooms to save on expences....
Did Mum, Dad and the cat write the three letters above ?
Instead of a holiday in Africa she could have spent some time with local issues
"Go with Nokes" for a freeloading trip. I hope they shared hotel rooms to save on expences.... Did Mum, Dad and the cat write the three letters above ? Instead of a holiday in Africa she could have spent some time with local issues J.K.
  • Score: 0

11:11am Wed 9 Nov 11

J.K. says...

"Go with Nokes" for a freeloading trip.
I hope they shared hotel rooms to save on expences....
Did Mum, Dad and the cat write the three letters above ?
Instead of a holiday in Africa she could have spent some time with local issues
"Go with Nokes" for a freeloading trip. I hope they shared hotel rooms to save on expences.... Did Mum, Dad and the cat write the three letters above ? Instead of a holiday in Africa she could have spent some time with local issues J.K.
  • Score: 0

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