The Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:
HUMAN RIGHTS ANNUAL REPORT 2000:
FOLLOW-UP TO GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
1. In January we published a Report on the Human Rights Annual Report 2000 produced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In April the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs responded to our Report. While his response is generally constructive in tone, the rejection of several of our recommendations appears to be based on a number of misunderstandings. We are taking this opportunity to clarify these recommendations and to invite the Government to revise its response accordingly.
2. In our Report we recommended, for the third time this Parliament, the inclusion of information on a country-by-country basis in future annual reports on human rights. The Foreign Secretary responded that this would lead to a greatly increased workload, would mean a significant scaling back of work current work to address human rights concerns, and that it would duplicate existing reports.
3. This misunderstands the nature and extent of the information we have requested. Our Report explicitly stated that we were not asking for documents on anything like the scale of those produced by the US State Department or NGOs:
"We agree with the 2000 Annual Report that it should not be 'intended to provide an exhaustive analysis of the human rights situation in every country in the world,' and this is not what we are suggesting. Such reports are already produced by the US State Department and non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch."
4. Nor would the information we have asked for have the same function as these other reports. We were seeking information which would enable the reader to assess whether action by the United Kingdom Government related to human rights in a particular country was effectivenot for a detailed and lengthy assessment of the human rights situation in every country more generally.
5. Our second recommendation described the parameters of our request as follows:
a brief assessment of the country's human rights record, including details of the country's record of ratification of core human rights instruments and, where relevant, details of UK Government action to encourage ratification;
details of UK Government action designed to improve the country's human rights record, including action taken in conjunction with EU, Commonwealth or other partners;
a list of the human rights-related projects supported by the UK Government, with the cost of each; and
an outline of further proposed activities and actions.
6. We made clear in our Report that much of this information is already available to Government. In response to a previous recommendation of ours, all heads of mission now include a section covering human rights in their annual reviews to London. We would be surprised therefore if the inclusion of this information in future annual reports on human rights were particularly onerous. We certainly cannot believe that it would detract from practical work in the field of human rights currently undertaken by the Government. Indeed, we would expect the provision of this information to help those both within and outside Government to target human rights work more effectively.
7. The Foreign Secretary has made two lesser objections to our recommendations, which are also, we believe, based on misconceptions. He says that it would need disproportionate effort to break down the human rights element present in projects and programmes other than those in the Human Rights Project Fund (HRPF). We did not ask for a breakdown of the human rights element in projects which might also have other purposes, but simply for a list of human rights-related projects supported by the UK Government in any one country, with the total cost of each. It would of course be for the Government to determine whether the human rights element in any one project was sufficiently important for it to be included in the list. The Government has also claimed that it would be difficult to predict future proposed actionwe did not ask for predictions, but for an outline of activities and actions which have been proposed, but not yet implemented.
8. We remain of the opinion expressed in our last Report that there are advantages in providing a thematic appraisal of human rights, but we would also like to see information on a country-by-country basis alongside such an appraisal, particularly where there have been significant improvements or deteriorations in a country's human rights record. Given that the Government response to our Report on the Human Rights Annual Report 2000 appears to be based on a number of misunderstandings, we continue to recommend that information on a country-by-country basis be included in future editions of the annual report on every country where there are significant grounds for concern about human rights, concentrating on action taken by the United Kingdom Government and its effectiveness.
Information on funding
9. In our last Report we recommended that future editions of the annual report on human rights should include as an annex a breakdown of FCO expenditure through key human rights funds over the previous financial year. We noted that the annual report identified four key sources of expenditure on human rightsthe HRPF, Assistance to Support Stability with In Service Training (ASSIST), the Conflict Prevention Fund and the Commonwealth Human Rights Fundbut that no breakdown of expenditure through these funds was currently provided. The Foreign Secretary has responded that the Annual Report 2001 will include a review of the HRPF since its inception. We welcome this.
10. He claims, however, that it is not possible to provide a breakdown of human rights-related expenditure for other funds, because this would involve disproportionate effort. We understand that the key funds identified in the 2000 annual report have now been reorganised, with the Commonwealth Human Rights Fund incorporated into the HRPF and the Conflict Prevention Fund and ASSIST subsumed within new cross-Departmental Conflict Prevention Funds. Information on disbursements through these new funds is, however, of such direct relevance to the Government's human rights effort abroad that it ought to be made available in the FCO's annual report on human rights. If it would be impossible to isolate human rights-related or Departmental expenditure within these funds, then the information should be presented without attempting to do this, but should be broken down in a way which is useful to the reader and convenient for Government. We recommend that future editions of the annual report should include a breakdown of expenditure over the previous financial year through the HRPF and the Conflict Prevention Funds.
Partnership and Co-operation Agreements
11. One final misunderstanding relates to policy, rather than to the contents of the annual report. In our Report, we expressed our concern that, despite continuing human rights abuses in a number of states which have concluded Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (PCAs) with the EU, there seemed to have been no suggestion that the relevant PCAs should be suspended. Accordingly we recommended that states which consistently failed to meet their obligations should have their PCAs suspended. The Government's response, that it was "not convinced ... that suspension of a PCA should be seen as the automatic response to particular human rights violations" misrepresents our recommendation. We are concerned that the suspension of a PCA is perceived by Government to be an unrealistic policy option in almost every circumstance, and that the human rights provisions of PCAs are accordingly toothless. It is important that signatory countries view PCAs as contingent on their actions, and should be constantly aware of the possibility that a PCA may be suspended in the event of severe human rights violations. It surely cannot be the case that suspension is to be ruled out in all cases, no matter how severe the circumstances. We recommend that the Government assure us in its response to this Report that the suspension of a PCA is a genuine policy option which it would consider instigating in response to human rights violations of a significantly grave nature by a signatory country.
Undertaking not yet fulfilled: green paper on mercenaries
12. There is one further aspect of the Government response with which we are not satisfied. The Government originally undertook to publish a green paper on mercenaries in November 2000. It was then admitted that the deadline would be missed. In our last Report we regretted the Government's failure to publish this paper on time, and asked it to state when it would in fact be published. In his response to our Report, the Foreign Secretary stated that the issue was "complex", that it was important "to work carefully through the details" and that work on the paper "was continuing". The Government has not, despite our recommendation, set a revised date for publication of the paper.
13. It is now six months after the original date scheduled. We find it difficult to understand how a paper can still not be ready for publication when the Government could state in October 2000 that it would be published in the following month. We recommend once again that the Government state in its response to this Report when the green paper on mercenaries will be published.
14. This Report is part of a constant and productive dialogue between Parliament and Government. Where a Government has properly considered the recommendations of a select committee, it is its right as the executive to reject them. Unfortunately, in this case the Government has rejected a number of our recommendations on the basis of a series of misunderstandings. We trust that this follow-up Report has provided the necessary clarification which will enable the Government to reassess our proposals as they were meant to be understood.
SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
(a) Given that the Government response to our Report on the Human Rights Annual Report 2000 appears to be based on a number of misunderstandings, we continue to recommend that information on a country-by-country basis be included in future editions of the annual report on every country where there are significant grounds for concern about human rights, concentrating on action taken by the United Kingdom Government and its effectiveness (paragraph 8).
(b) We recommend that future editions of the annual report should include a breakdown of expenditure over the previous financial year through the HRPF and the Conflict Prevention Funds (paragraph 10).
(c) We recommend that the Government assure us in its response to this Report that the suspension of a PCA is a genuine policy option which it would consider instigating in response to human rights violations of a significantly grave nature by a signatory country (paragraph 11).
(d) We recommend once again that the Government state in its response to this Report when the green paper on mercenaries will be published (paragraph 13).
(e) This Report is part of a constant and productive dialogue between Parliament and Government. Where a Government has properly considered the recommendations of a select committee, it is its right as the executive to reject them. Unfortunately, in this case the Government has rejected a number of our recommendations on the basis of a series of misunderstandings. We trust that this follow-up Report has provided the necessary clarification which will enable the Government to reassess our proposals as they were meant to be understood (paragraph 14).
7 First Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2000-01, Annual Report on Human Rights 2000 (HC 79) (henceforth, Human Rights Report). Back
8 Cm 5129. Back
9 Human Rights Report, para. 7. Back
10 Cm 5129, para. 5. Back
11 Human Rights Report, para. 8. Back
12 Ibid., para. 8. Back
13 HC 41 (1999-2000), para. 18. Back
14 Ibid., para. 9. Back
15 Cm 5129, para. 7. Back
16 Human Rights Report, para. 8. Back
17 Cm 5129, para. 7. Back
18 Human Rights Report, para. 8. Back
19 Ibid., para. 9. Back
20 Ibid., para. 12. Back
21 Ibid., para. 11. Back
22 Cm 5129, para. 8. Back
23 Ibid. Back
24 Cm 4774, p. 142. Back
25 Cm 5129, para 9. Back
26 Human Rights Report, para. 22. Back
27 Cm 5129, para. 13. Back
28 Cm 4325. Back
29 HC Deb 5 November 2000, Col. 50W. Back