Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 125)




  120. Minister, back to the report. There have been two elements in the past which the Foreign Office have claimed as showing higher profile human rights, one is specific policy, like land mines, international criminal courts, indeed, the publication of the annual report, and the other is changes within the Foreign Office itself. We have had the promise in the past that all heads of mission when reporting back to the Foreign Office will have a human rights' element in their report. Is that, in fact, now being implemented?
  (Mr Hain) Yes, it is certainly being implemented. We have just reminded our heads of mission to include a human rights' assessment and a report within their annual reports. At the end of the year each head of mission provides an annual report on his or her assessment of the country in question in every sense and British relations with it, and human rights has to feature in those annual reports.

  121. In every mission is there now a specific individual charged with the responsibility for human rights?
  (Mr Hain) Usually the Ambassador, or the High Commissioner, has always a very clear responsibility here. Often, depending on the size of the mission—obviously some of them are very small—there is a designated individual with that responsibility.

  122. Finally on this, this report for the first time does not have the joint signatures of the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary for International Development, was she invited to co-sign this report?
  (Mr Hain) I do not think there is any mystery here. DFID felt they will pursue their human rights' agenda through their development programme and we were better placed ourselves to make an assessment of human rights' foreign policy.

  123. We cannot read anything of significance into this change?
  (Mr Hain) None at all.

Sir John Stanley

  124. Minister, on the issue of rights for women could you give us, first of all, any general view of the progress which the Government is making in the area of rights for women, particularly in Muslim countries and the other countries where there are religious or cultural practices which we would find in this country as being unacceptably discriminatory against women? That is the general point I wanted to put to you. On one specific point, earlier in this Parliament members of this Committee visited Kuwait, and we are extremely disappointed that the ruler of Kuwait and the leadership in Kuwait have so far been unsuccessful in getting the Kuwaiti Parliament to agree to extend the right of franchise to women in that country. Could you tell us whether the British Government is continuing to try to do all it can to see that that legislation goes through the Kuwaiti Parliament so that that country can be amongst those in the Gulf who are prepared to break the existing mould and to allow women to have equal franchise rights to men?
  (Mr Hain) I very much take the point and agree with the sentiments behind it. When I was in Kuwait only last month I specifically raised it with the most senior level in the Kuwaiti Government and said publically, such is the strength of feeling we have on this and share with you, that the Amiri Decree, granting women the right to vote, should be endorsed by the Kuwaiti National Assembly. There is still a lot of opposition. I am afraid in that sense democracy has triumphed over principle, that is to say male democracy, and we will continue to work with the Kuwaiti people to achieve that. I have also done a lot of work on this. I spoke at the first ever conference on women's rights in Morocco, in Rabut in October 1999, and have been struck when visiting Gulf countries, for instance, and other Muslim nations, that there is a demographic momentum here which is going to assist with the enhancement of women's rights. I was very struck in Abu Dhabi, in the Emirates or in Saudi Arabia, that there are increasingly large numbers of very highly qualified women graduates coming on to the labour market, coming into society with much more confidence, much more educated, much more professionally qualified in a way which I think is going to push forward this frontier in a very helpful way.


  125. Minister, that is a good note of consensus on which to end. On behalf of the Committee I would like to thank you and your two colleagues. We found our continued dialogue with non-governmental organisations and our dialogue with you and the Foreign Office on this key issue of human rights very helpful.

  (Mr Hain) Can I thank you very much. I value these opportunities in order to try and make sure not that we just report to you but that we get feedback from you to try and make sure we can improve upon things. This is a partnership, even though I am sometimes subjected to uncomfortable questions, we welcome it as getting the policy right. Thank you.

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