Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fifth Report


Countries of concern

20. There are too many countries which deserve criticism for their human rights record, and we are not in a position to comment on them all. In our oral evidence session with Peter Hain, we asked the Minister questions about Turkey, Zimbabwe, Kashmir and China. We are currently conducting an inquiry into the United Kingdom's relations with Turkey,[23] and will comment on the human rights situation in that country in due course. We looked at Kashmir in our recent Report on British-US relations.[24] Here we will make some brief remarks on Zimbabwe and China, and also on the Middle East, in the light of the Minister's answers and the Government's human rights policy more generally.


21. At the very end of our oral evidence session with him,[25] Peter Hain announced that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had decided to defer the question of whether to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth until its next meeting in March. It is clear that the Foreign Secretary had unsuccessfully urged his Commonwealth colleagues to adopt a more robust policy. CMAG's rejection of his proposal is symbolic, in our view, of the failure of the international effort to engage constructively with Zimbabwe. Only regional powers have the effective levers which could bring about change in Zimbabwe, but those regional powers, the Southern Africa Development Community in particular, seem unwilling to use them.

22. It also became clear in early February that the European Union was not prepared in the short term to impose targeted sanctions on the President of Zimbabwe and his associates, despite British pressure to do so. We regret this, as a united European stand against the erosion of human rights and of democracy in Zimbabwe would have sent a clear message to the Zimbabwean Government. We welcome the EU's eventual decision to impose targeted sanctions on the ruling circles in Zimbabwe following the enforced withdrawal from Zimbabwe of the head of the EU Election Observers team.

23. We conclude that the failure of constructive engagement in Zimbabwe reveals the limits of that policy as an effective diplomatic tool. We further conclude that the credibility of the Commonwealth and of the European Union have been called into question by the failure of the former to suspend Zimbabwe and of the latter to respond adequately to the erosion of human rights in that country. We recommend that the Government explore ways of encouraging the Southern Africa Development Community and individual African governments to take firm action to help restore democracy and the rule of law to Zimbabwe.


24. In the Human Rights Annual Report 2001 the Government expresses the view that the repeated practice of extra-judicial killings by both parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a "violation of international human rights law".[26] Similarly, the Committee considers the restrictions on freedom of expression and religion and the practice of inhumane punishment in Saudi Arabia and in other countries in the region as clear breaches of human rights.

25. We conclude that institutional disregard for human rights is a serious threat to achieving stability within the Middle East. We recommend that the Government bring the strongest pressure to bear on all parties in the region to end human rights violations.


26. When on 17 July 1997, the then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook made his speech on 'Human Rights into a new century', he set out twelve policies to put into effect the Government's commitment on human rights. The fifth of these was that "at multilateral conferences, such as the annual meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, Britain will support measures and resolutions which criticise abuses of human rights and call for the observance of universal standards".[27] The United States has tabled annually a draft resolution at the UN Commission on Human Rights, criticising China's human rights record, on which China has regularly prevented discussion through the use of a procedural device. This year, the United States is not a member of the Commission, and cannot table draft resolutions.

27. When we asked Peter Hain whether the British Government would promote the tabling by the European Union of a draft resolution on China, he told us:

    "We will do whatever we think is the right way forward. May I say that it is not because we lack courage, or because we lack determination on this matter? It is what we think will be effective. There is no point tabling resolutions which are continually voted down and which do not get anywhere, it is counter productive."[28]

We disagree. The tabling of a draft resolution at the Commission on Human Rights is an annual reminder to China of international disapproval of that country's human rights record. In our view, failure to table such a draft resolution would be a sign to China of weakening international commitment to human rights reform. We recommend that the British Government join with other EU member states to promote the tabling by the European Union of a draft resolution on China at the UN Commission on Human Rights for 2002.

28. The Human Rights Annual Report comments at some length, and rightly so, on abuses of human rights in China, including restrictions on the exercise of freedom of religion and belief. On page 17 of the Annual Report the Government sets out ten objectives of a high-level critical dialogue on human rights issues between China and the United Kingdom and its EU partners, objectives with which we agree. There is, however, one omission. We suggest that the human rights abuses which have occurred as a result of China's population control programme[29]—"coercive fertility control", as described by the Secretary of State for International Development[30]—should also appear as a matter to be addressed in this list of objectives, and should be mentioned in future Human Rights Annual Reports.

Global Issues


29. We are impressed by the way that the FCO, together with the Home Office, has been tackling the problem of forced marriages since the launch in August 2000 of the report of the Government working group on forced marriage. As Peter Hain made clear to us in oral evidence, a crucial step towards eliminating forced marriage will be improving "the attitude and practice and priority given by police forces in countries in which this odious practice operates".[31] We welcome the sponsorship by the FCO of a £350,000 programme to forge links between British police forces and police forces in the Indian subcontinent. Forced marriage is of course not only an issue for other countries. We welcome the fact that the Government has recognised this, and the measures that it is taking to try to eliminate forced marriage in this country. We recommend that the issue of forced marriages continue to feature in future Human Rights Annual Reports, with specific reference to progress in co-operation between the United Kingdom and the countries abroad in which forced marriages most commonly occur.


30. In response to a report by our predecessor Committee on Sierra Leone, the Government announced in April 1999 that it would be preparing a green paper on mercenaries, to be published by November 2000. Numerous delays, for which the Secretary of State has expressed his regret, have meant that the green paper, 'Private Military Companies: Options for Regulation',[32] was only published on 12 February.

31. We have had little time to examine the paper. The green paper arose directly as a result of a recommendation by our predecessor Committee,[33] following their revelations about the role of such companies in Sierra Leone—the so-called 'Sandline affair'. Exports of defence goods are subject to regulation; defence services should be as well. We trust that responses, from this Committee and others, during the six-month consultation period on the green paper will give the Government a clear steer as to how this regulation can best be achieved. We welcome the publication of the long overdue green paper on mercenaries, and look forward to examining it in detail.

23   The full terms of reference of the inquiry are "the United Kingdom''s relations with Turkey, with reference to Turkey's role in European defence structures and its prospects for accession to the European Union". Back

24   Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-02, British-US Relations, HC 327 (2001-02), paras 171-174. Back

25   Q72. Back

26   HRAR, p. 10. Back

27   Speech available online at Back

28   Q 47. Back

29   Ev, p. 59. Back

30   HC Deb, 7 November 2001, Col. 285. Back

31   Q64. Back

32   HC 577 (2001-02). Back

33   Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1998-99, Sierra Leone, HC 116 (1998-99), para 96. Back

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