Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 19 DECEMBER 2000
HAIN, MP, MR
1. Minister, may I warmly welcome you to the
Committee for our annual discussion on the Annual Human Rights
Report, this one being the third in the seriesthe first
in April 1998, the second in July 1999 and this current one in
July of this year. I welcome with you Dr Carolyn Browne, who is
Head of Human Rights Policy Department in the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office, and Mr Tony Brenton, who is a Director, Global Issues.
We welcome submissions to the Committee by a number of outside
organisations in respect of the report, and we are particularly
pleased with the comment in the submission to the Committee by
Amnesty International that they recommend that the practice of
producing a human rights annual report is an important contribution
to public debate that should be continued. I assume, Minister,
that it is the intention of the Foreign Office to continue to
produce such reports?
(Mr Hain) Certainly.
2. They also recommend that the Foreign Affairs
Select Committee should maintain its practice of annually taking
evidence from the Minister of State on the subject. So far as
this Committee is concerned, I am confident that that will indeed
be the practice. It is something which we value, and we have given
a very high profile to human rights in our several reports.
(Mr Hain) We value it as well, Chairman. I cannot
say we always enjoy it, but we value it.
3. Minister, the suggestion of producing this
Annual Report on Human Rights came shortly after the euphoria
of the election victory in 1997 and in the context of the "ethical
dimension" to foreign policy. That seems to have gone off
the boil a little. We did not hear any mention of ethical dimension
in the Foreign Secretary's speech to Chatham House, and I have
not heard Ministers recently talking about the ethical dimension.
Why has the Government gone cool on the concept?
(Mr Hain) We have not gone cool on the concept at
all of a foreign policy based on a strong commitment to human
rights, and pursuing it wherever we can and whenever we can, and
an ethical dimension to foreign policy in that context. What we
have, however, been concerned with is this obsessive misinterpretation,
in the media especially, of what was a misrepresented term when
the Foreign Secretary first announced it; he said that there would
be an ethical dimension to our foreign policy, which there has
been, and I think we have a very fine record in that respect.
What he did not say was that you could have an identikit ethical
foreign policy applied regardless of circumstances around the
world. You had to do the best you could, and I think we have done
4. With respect, you yourself delivered certain
reservations in an interview with the New Statesman which
was published on 3 April, where you said, and I quote: "I
think, if there was a mistake made, it was in allowing the policy"
(that is the policy on the ethical dimension) "to be presented
as if we could have perfection." So who so presented it in
(Mr Hain) I think it was the media. I think the media
took that phrase, thought that we could operate, as it were, to
perfection in an imperfect worldwhen you have to set priorities
and have different opportunities for engagement on human rights
mattersand the whole thing became a ridiculous debate,
which has detracted from our record. Our record, whether it is
on subjecting arms exports to very stringent criteria or in terms
of our ambassadors and high commissioners projecting human rights
in their countries, the decisions we have taken from banning land
mines, leading the way on overseas aid and development, assistance
and debt reliefon all of these issues, which are crucial
to human rights' development across the world, I think we have
a very fine record. That record ought to be judged on its merits
not on, as I say, an obsessive preoccupation with a phrase.
5. You are citing important particulars, and
I imagine that the Committee would be with you on those important
particulars. However, in that same New Statesman interview
you said this: "The immensity of what it connoted has been
too great to bear." That is, as if you would rewrite history
if you could and not trumpet the ethical dimension in the way
it was done in the early months after the election in May 1997.
Do you regret that grand fanfare at the time?
(Mr Hain) I think you may find, Chairman, that that
phrase you quoted from the interview does not sound a familiar
phrase coming out of my mouth; I think it may have been the
6. That was the distillation of what John Lloyd,
the editor, thought you were saying.
(Mr Hain) Indeed. He is a very good journalist, but
those are his words not mine. I think the Foreign Secretary would
want to stand by his commitmentas I would in supporting
himas stated on coming into office, that we intended to
pursue a foreign policy that put human rights right at the heart
of it. We have done that.
7. Your judgment is that it was not a hostage
to fortune and that you would do the same in the same terms now
as you did in the euphoria of 1997?
(Mr Hain) I do not think it is a question of being
euphoric, I think it is a question of committing ourselves to
a foreign policy which was principled and put human rights at
the top of the agenda. If we had anticipated the, as I say, obsessive
way in which the media, as it were, turned every little genuflection
of policy against a criteria of perfection, often in a distorted
fashion, we might have gone about things in a different fashion.
I do not know.
8. Why has the phrase "ethical dimension"
not been used for, perhaps, the last two years? Has it been lost
from the Foreign Office vocabulary list?
(Mr Hain) No. Indeed, I had a discussion yesterday
in Berlin with my opposite number, the Deputy Foreign Minister,
and we actually had it under the title of the British Ambassador
arranged fully advertised an ethical foreign policy debate, which
we did, and it was a very good debate. So I do not think there
is any retreat from the principles, just a regret that it is very
difficult in today's climate of reporting to get to the substance
of issues, when people spinning like madejournalists spinning
like madget all preoccupied
9. Journalists spinning? Come off it!
(Mr Hain) I think journalists spinning. There are
no spin doctors in the Foreign Office that I know about.
Sir Peter Emery
10. Good morning, Mr Hain. We will not continue
on that line because we would be in a great deal of disagreement.
Can I turn to the Foreword of the report where, in dealing with
human rights, it is written (and for the sake of accuracy I will
read the quotation): ". . . there will be times where confrontation
is the only option left . . . there are cases where isolation
is the right course. There will be other times when critical engagement,
dialogue and encouragement is more likely to produce results."
Is it really the case that confrontation is only an option where
the country is, perhaps, militarily or economically unimportant?
Is isolation really likely to be considered, when the United Kingdom
has considerable economic interests in that country? I wonder
if you would explain where the differences come and why they arise?
(Mr Hain) I think it starts from the presumption,
which I am sure we would all share, Sir Peter, that you do not
seek confrontation, especially if it requires military intervention,
as in Iraq, Kosovo or Bosnia. We seek to pursue foreign policy
by the alternative means that have been described and are well-known.
If confrontation has to come then it has to come, as we have been
ready to do as a Government in Kosovo, in Iraq and in Sierra Leone.
As for isolation, again, it is not a preferred outcome, we would
prefer a stance of critical engagement; if you get a country like
Burma, which does not want to have a critical dialogue and refuses
to recognise the concerns of the international community over
human rights abuses and of a junta nullifying a democratic election
and so on, then isolation is the only optionas for example
was historically proved to be valid in South Africa's case.
11. You mentioned Burma. I gather Mr John Battle
was in Vientiane where there were a whole host of Burmese Government
officials. Can you tell me whether Mr Battle actually had any
dealings with the Burmese officials?
(Mr Hain) I think the event to which you are referring
is the European Union and ASEAN conference.
12. That is right.
(Mr Hain) Indeed, he felt it appropriate and the Foreign
Office thought it correct to make sure that we were represented
at his senior ministerial level to make sure that our arguments
in the context of that conference were put face-to-face across
the table, in the context of the conference, with the Burmese
representatives there. We put them very forcefully, as we have
continued to do whenever we have had the opportunity.
13. Are you not open to the possible criticism
that this is a change of policy, and that instead of complete
isolation you are actually getting into a semi-negotiating position?
(Mr Hain) No, what happened there was not a negotiation,
it was an exchange of views and, in John Battle's case, very forthrightly
14. But not isolation.
(Mr Hain) We have still sought to take measures, which
may be seeking to persuade British businesses not to invest in
Burma because it simply props up the regime, but we have still
pursued a strategy of isolation. That does not mean to say we
do not ever miss an opportunity to put a strong message across,
which we did in that case.
15. Let us go to the other extreme: let us think
about human rights for women in Saudi Arabia. We do not really
have much confrontation or isolation or take any positive action
in trying to deal with that, do we?
(Mr Hain) We actually take a lot of opportunity, because
we have a good relationship with the Saudi regime, in managing
to put our views very strongly on human rights abuses and the
position of women, especially, in Saudi Arabia, because we have
a relationship of critical dialogue in which they are prepared
to listen, prepared to respect the arguments put to them and,
in some cases, prepared to take action. Although the picture is
still very serious there, I think that is in stark contrast to,
say, Iraq or Burma or in the case of Milosevic Serbia, where you
just cannot have a dialogue with anyone.
16. Let us go to somewhere in the middle. Let
us talk about human rights in Chechnya. We do not really seem
to be putting much pressure on the Russian Government in dealing
with that. The whole aspect of policy seems to be, from the Government,
to ignore it.
(Mr Hain) Again, Sir Peter, I do not think that is
true. Indeed, the reporting of the meetings between our Prime
Minister and President Putin show that Chechnya was raised very
vigorously, and, indeed, in the Foreign Secretary's meeting with
President Putin and with the Foreign Minister Ivanov earlier this
year; Chechnya actually took up three-quarters of the Foreign
Secretary's meeting. So we put our point of view very strongly.
Indeed, as a result of the pressure we put on Russia they set
up an independent national commission to investigate human rights
abuses, they agreed to the attachment of three Council of Europe
experts and they agreed to the Office of the Russian Presidential
representative on human rights in Chechnya, and they agreed to
the ICRC having access to detainees, including those held in filtration
camps. That does not negate the fact that the picture of human
rights abuses in Chechnya was and still is desperate.
17. You are not claiming that it was the British
Government that brought about all these actions, when one looks
at what other European nations and what the European Union were
(Mr Hain) We were acting as part of the European Union,
of course, but in our bilateral contacts our arguments were put
very forcefully. I think the fact that they were put to a new
president very early onin the Prime Minister's case before
he was actually elected, when he was effectively de facto
President during the election campaignin a spirit of constructive
engagement, I think, had a considerable impact. However, I do
not deny that the human rights abuses in Chechnya, nevertheless,
are continuing at a level which is totally unacceptable.
18. In your answer to my last question you were
summing up that we will take positive action where the nation
is weak or unimportant to us, but that where the nation is not
then we have to be a little more careful.
(Mr Hain) I do not think that is true in the case
of Iraq, for example. Iraq is very important strategically, and
in other ways and as part of British historical connection. If
I could respond to your questionand I understand why you
are asking the questions, because these are difficult issues to
get rightI do not believe that a "one-size-fits-all"
policy is the right one for every country; that you can, as it
were, take it out of a box and apply it equally to Chechnya, Saudi
Arabia, Iraq or Burma. You have to do your best in order to put
your case, and in order to get the desired outcome. I would be
very interested to know whetherwhether it is from you or
whether it is from the Committee's deliberationsthere is
a better policy for any of these countries. If the Committee came
up and said "We think the Foreign Office was wrong and the
Government was wrong and that we think" (I do not know, I
am not suggesting you would say this because this is a very serious
Committee of experts) "that Russia should have been invaded
to save the Chechens from human rights abuses." If that was
a serious suggestion, and I am sure it would not be, or if there
was a better strategy for dealing with these countries than the
ones which we have adopted we would be very pleased to hear them.
We regard you as partners in getting a better foreign policy.
19. What you are saying is that you have to
be practical in every case and make a different judgment, irrespective
of what your overall principle may be.
(Mr Hain) No, our overall principle, including our
commitment to human rights, is very high up at the top of our
foreign policy agenda. We have to look at how we can practically
apply it and get results.