Memorandum submitted by Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch thanks the FAC for providing
it once again with the opportunity to comment on the FCO's 2007
annual report on human rights. As in previous years Human Rights
Watch welcomes the FCO's report which for the most part provides
workmanlike analysis of the most serious and significant human
rights crises and themes around the world. The report sets a useful
standard against which groups like Human Rights Watch can measure
the British government's performance in addressing these abuses
through the various policy instruments at its disposal.
The report is also potentially a useful means
of ensuring that officials and policy makers in the FCO and in
other relevant parts of government (eg DFID, MOD, BERR, etc) are
aware of the UK's position on important human rights issues. It
is therefore welcome that this 2007 edition, while shorter than
some previous editions, is more clearly structured and easier
This submission starts with three general points
about the report before going into a more detailed commentary
on some of the chapters and sections where Human Rights Watch
takes issue with the analysis provided by the FCO.
Three preliminary points
First, the report does not always deal with
abuses and abusers with the clarity of analysis and disapproval
which they warrant. This report is not supposed to be comprehensive
and there will always be quibbles over things that have been left
out. But there are some particularly striking omissions, and some
issues which are raised in the report are misrepresented or glossed
over. These weaknesses in the report are addressed in more detail
in the text below. The main examples include: absence of any reference
to torture perpetrated by the governments of Jordan, Libya, Egypt
and other key strategic allies; absence of any mention of the
role of Ethiopia in Somalia and the abuses perpetrated by its
forces there; very weak handling of US counter terrorism policy
including Guantanamo and the military commissions, and the CIA's
programme of abduction and secret detention; an overly upbeat
assessment of the human rights situation in Iraq.
Secondly, the report highlights an important
contrast between the FCO's analysis and HMG's policy response.
Notwithstanding the points made in the preceding paragraph, much
of the analysis provided in the report is sound and based on an
accurate assessment of facts on the ground. However, in many cases
the policy response of HMG is too weak. This submission provides
further detail below on this contrast between analysis and action.
Two good examples include: the failure to address the issue of
human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia at a high enough level in
bilateral dialogue between London and Riyadh, particularly during
the state visit of King Abdullah in 2007; on China the UK government's
determination to use the Beijing Olympics to promote the London
Olympics, and to avoid offending the Chinese government, has led
the UK to largely ignore those who are trying to use the Games
as a way of drawing attention to China's dismal record on human
The two points raised above underlie a third
more general point which is of relevance to this report, namely
that wherever important UK interests are at stake, or are seen
to be at stake, the government often seems to struggle to align
those interests with a principled approach to tyranny and repression.
Because the report clearly sets out the human rights dimensions
of the FCO's four new policy goals, it helpfully highlights some
of the dilemmas and countervailing interests faced by ministers
when they seek to reconcile UK efforts to promote human rights
with the pursuit of other important UK interests. In the case
of torture and counter terrorism, the report explicitly elaborates
and analyses one such dilemma. Human Rights Watch believes that
it would be useful to extend this approach to other areas where
respect for and promotion of human rights are somehow seen as
being in conflict with UK interests, for example energy security,
development, commercial relations and conflict resolution. Many
of these dilemmas are real. But it is only by setting out them
out clearly that one can deal with them and devise strategies
to align interests more closely with ethics.
PART 1: POLICY
Counter Terrorism and weapons proliferation
Human Rights Watch welcomes the statement in
the report that "the counter terrorism programme requires
the consideration of human rights whenever projects are deployed".
However this approach should be extended beyond "projects
funded by us" to all aspects of HMG's policies on counter
US counter terrorism policy
The UK's attitude, as revealed in this report,
towards US counter terrorism policies and practices indicates
a failure to face up to the seriousness of US abuses.
For example, on the detention of terrorism suspects
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the report welcomes Bush's "commitment
to close the facility". But in fact, President Bush has now
stated that he will not do so, and that he will leave Guantanamo
for the next president to deal with. The FAC should encourage
the FCO to press the US to take concrete steps to end detention
at Guantanamo Bay, a policy that Secretary of State Rice, Secretary
of Defense Gates, and numerous former diplomats have all supported.
The UK should offer assistance in resettling Guantanamo inmates
in the EU.
The report discusses "improvements"
in camp conditions, but neglects to mention that the majority
of the detainees are being housed in maximum security units, locked
in their cells 22-23 hours a day, with almost no opportunity to
communicate with anyone other than the prison guards. Those housed
in these units, which are modelled on those used to house the
most dangerous convicted criminals in the US, include detainees
who have long been cleared for release and remain in Guantanamo
only because they cannot be returned to their home country. As
is to be expected, the extreme isolation is reportedly having
a negative psychological effect on many of the detainees, which
will only make it even harder to resettle and reintegrate them
in the future.
On US torture policy, the report commends President
Bush's statements that the US does not practice torture, without
mentioning that the US has now conceded that it has water-boarded
three detainees in its custody, and that while water-boarding
is not currently approved for use it is not off the table for
the future. President Bush's statements on torture need to be
considered in the light of the memoranda from his legal advisers
that re-defined torture so narrowly as to make the prohibition
Furthermore, the Bush administration has vetoed
legislation which would have prohibited abusive interrogation
techniques by all government agencies including the CIA. In vetoing
the legislation, the President insisted that the CIA and other
non-military interrogators needed the flexibility to use additional
interrogation techniques. These additional techniques reportedly
include extreme sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and use
of painful stress positionsall of which violate the prohibition
on inhumane treatment. Although the actual veto came after this
report went to press, the administration had long made its position
and intentions clear.
The report makes no mention of the CIA detention
program for terrorism suspects, whose existence the US government
has acknowledged. The report should have condemned the incommunicado
and secret detention of terrorist suspects by its ally, which
is a violation of international law. Failure to do so gives a
dangerous impression that the UK condones such action or is complicit
There is no mention in the report of the fact
that the military commissions set up to try terrorism suspects
held at Guantanamo explicitly authorise the use of evidence obtained
through cruel, inhuman, and degrading interrogations, so long
as the evidence was obtained prior to December 2005 and a judge
finds the information "reliable". The rules governing
the commissions also give the prosecution wide latitude to withhold
sources and methods of interrogations from both the defendant
and his counsel. As a result, it will be extremely difficult for
defendants to establish that evidence was obtained through torture
or other coercive interrogation methods. When coupled with the
lax hearsay rules, this means that defendants could be convicted
based on affidavit summaries of evidence obtained through abuse,
without any opportunity to confront this accuser or to establish
that the statement was the product of abuse and therefore unreliable.
Unless military commission judges are extremely vigilant, the
prohibition on evidence obtained through torture could be become
Contrary to what the report states, the military
commissions are back up and running, albeit fitfully. The US Supreme
Court decision expected in 2008 should address detainees' right
to habeas corpus; but it will not consider the legality of the
new military commissions.
Again contrary to what the report says, the
US has failed to provide proper protections to ensure that Guantanamo
detainees are not transferred to face abuse or torture elsewhere.
Detainees have no meaningful opportunity to raise an individualised
fear of torture upon repatriation, and the US, like the UK, relies
on unenforceable promises of humane treatment to transfer detainees
to countries with poor records on torture. Human Rights Watch
has documented the torture and ill-treatment of several Russian
and Tunisian detainees returned home based on promises of humane
Deporting foreign nationals from the UK
As in recent years, the report provides a defence
of the UK's misguided policy on deporting terrorism suspects to
their countries of origin in spite of the risk of torture. Human
Rights Watch's arguments against this policy are well known and
have been laid out clearly at http://hrw.org/reports/2005/eca0405/.
Four points are worth highlighting:
First, the report states: "The government
takes its obligations under the CAT [UN Convention Against Torture]
very seriously and is fully committed to upholding this principle,
known as the principle of nonrefoulement. The government is equally
committed to upholding similar international human rights obligations
to which the UK is party, including article 3 of the European
Convention on Human Rights". However in Saadi v Italy
at the European Court of Human Rights, the UK was the lead
intervener (sending more lawyers than Italy, which was actually
defending the case), arguing that the principle of non-deportation
where there is substantial risk of torture should be "balanced"
in cases where there was an alleged threat to national security.
This argument was rejected by the ECtHR. In the light of this,
Human Rights Watch recommends that the FAC ask the FCO if it now
accepts that the Art 3 CAT and Art 3 ECHR duties of nonrefoulement
are absolute and there should never be a balancing exercise where
there is a risk of torture.
Secondly, it is disingenuous for the report
to cite a 2004 report by the former Special Rapporteur on Torture
Theo van Boven to support the UK's policy on deporting terrorism
suspects on the basis of diplomatic assurances. Mr van Boven has
since made clear his opposition to diplomatic assurances from
countries where torture is a serious problem. It is peculiar to
say the least that on the same page as a cite of Mr van Boven,
the report uses a photo of the current Special Rapporteur on Torture,
Manfred Nowak. Mr Nowak's vocal and unequivocal opposition to
diplomatic assurances in general and specifically to the UK's
policy on deportations with assurances is well-known.
Thirdly, the UK policy hangs in part on the
effectiveness of mechanisms established to monitor whether or
not deported terrorism suspects will be tortured when they return
to their home countries. The report appears to justify its efforts
on monitoring mechanisms by referring to the Optional Protocol
to the Convention Against Torture. But this Protocol provides
for monitoring of all places of detention in a country on a universal
and non-selective basis and does not in any way contemplate the
type of individual monitoring based on diplomatic assurances provided
for in the Memoranda of Understanding which the UK has now negotiated
with three Arab states.
Finally, the report makes no mention of the
decision of the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC) in
relation to Libya permitting the appeal against deportation based
on DAs. Nor does it mention the credible reports of ill-treatment
of Algerians sent back in reliance on DAs. In the light of the
recent rulings in April 2008 by the Court of Appeal against the
government's policy on deportations under diplomatic assurance,
Human Rights Watch urges the FAC to encourage the government to
abandon this policy.
The report states that the UK government has
"not approved and will not approve a policy of facilitating
the transfer of individuals through the UK to places where there
are substantial grounds to believe they would face a real risk
of torture". However, the real problem (underscored by the
Diego Garcia case) is that the UK does not have sufficient safeguards
in place to prevent renditions from being carried out through
UK airspace and territory. The key question therefore is not just
does the UK approve of renditions to torture. It is whether the
UK does anything meaningful to stop such renditions from taking
Following the admission by the Secretary of
State in Parliament about rendition flights passing through Diego,
Human Rights Watch recommends that the FAC support calls for a
full independent public inquiry into all rendition flights over
UK airspace or through UK territory, including follow-up on the
fates of the two men who have been acknowledged as victims of
rendition through UK territory. Through the APPG on renditions
there have already been proposals in parliament to address the
current deficiencies in UK law and policy regarding use of UK
airspace/territory for rendition flights but so far they have
been ignored by the government.
While UK policy on cluster munitions has evolved
in a positive fashion, and it has taken some important steps at
the national level, there is still reason for serious concern
about the UK's commitment to the Oslo Process aimed at a prohibition
on cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
The UK has not been among the nations leading
the way toward a treaty that will have the greatest humanitarian
impact. Rather, it has been a leader in a group of statesmostly
European nations with significant stockpiles of cluster munitionsthat
have promoted provisions that would weaken the future treaty.
Most notably, the UK has been insisting that
its helicopter-launched CRV-7 cluster munition rockets be exempted
from the prohibitions on use, production, transfer and stockpiling.
The cluster rocket itself is not guided, nor are the individual
sub-munitions it contains. The sub-munitions do not have self-destruct
devices or any other fail safe mechanisms. We note that annual
report states that the UK withdrew from service the BL-755 and
M26 cluster munitions because "Neither system has target
discrimination capability nor a self-destruction, self-neutralisation
or self-deactivation capability". The same is true of the
The UK has also supported the deletion or the
gutting of the draft treaty's provision that prohibits assistance
with any banned act, in essence indicating that it would be permissible
for the UK to assist the United States with use of cluster munitions
during a joint military operation. This would completely undermine
the integrity of the treaty and the effort to stigmatise the weapon.
Finally, while the annual report cites the UK's
substantial contributions to clearance of explosive remnants of
war in order to provide relief to civilian populations, the UK
has also indicated that it opposes the provisions in the draft
treaty text that would require states parties to provide victim
assistance and that assign special responsibility for clearance
of existing contaminated areas to those who used the weapons.
Promote a low carbon high growth global economy
Human Rights and Business
Human Rights Watch welcomes the FCO's efforts
to promote voluntary corporate responsibility efforts. However
the FCO should go further by examining ways it could develop and
support stronger mechanisms to ensure corporations respect human
rights. Human Rights Watch also urges the government to play a
productive role in developing meaningful human rights standards
for some of the initiatives that it does support, such as the
Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. An effort is
underway to strengthen this initiative and we hope that the FCO
will support meaningful standards intended to improve human rights.
Human Rights, Development and poverty reduction
Human Rights Watch welcomes the government's
recognition that sustainable development is underpinned by human
rights and democracy and notes the contribution to the debate
on this issue by DFID in its 2007 policy paper Governance, Development
and Democratic Politics. However the FCO report on human rights
should have gone beyond the generalities of its work on promoting
the key social and economic rights, including the rights to education,
water, health and food, to address the dilemmas HMG faces when
governments that are in receipt of UK taxpayers' money in development
assistance engage in serious human rights violations or corruption
which in turn can fuel rights abuses. Examples include Ethiopia,
Rwanda, Kenya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Nigeria.
The UK government should be commended for its
leading role in catalyzing international efforts on conflict prevention,
especially in Africa, and for its championship of the concept
of an international responsibility to protect civilians from genocide,
war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. However
Human Rights Watch would like to draw the attention of the Foreign
Affairs Committee to the report's poor coverage of two conflicts.
Human Rights Watch criticised the FCO's 2006
report on human rights for its biased assessment of the 2006 Lebanon/Israel
war. That report rightly mentioned the violations of international
humanitarian law by Hezbollah as well as the number of Israeli
civilian casualties from Hezbollah's attacks. However it failed
to mention Israeli violations and the far higher number of Lebanese
civilian casualties. The FCO described this omission as an oversight
and committed itself to correcting the record in the 2007 report,
which it has done, citing Human Rights Watch as a source.
However, even if it is strictly true to state
that "during the conflict, the UK consistently urged Israel
both publicly and privately to act proportionately, to conform
to international law and to do more to avoid civilian death and
suffering" (p 39), that diplomatic action, if it took place,
needs to be seen in the context of the UK also providing diplomatic
support at the UN and in the EU for an Israeli military campaign
in which serious violations of IHL took place.
Somalia and Ethiopia
On pp 31-32 the report addresses the linked
conflicts in Somalia and the Ogaden. The report's characterisation
of these conflicts is misleading and inaccurate. For example in
its description of the serious escalation of the Somalia conflict
in 2007 (in which Human Rights Watch has documented serious violations
of IHL amounting to war crimes by all sides) the report does not
even mention the intervention of Ethiopian forces and their leading
role in the fighting in Mogadishu let alone grave abuses they
The description of the conflict in the Ogaden,
the Somali region of Ethiopia, is entirely one-sided. The report
says that the cause of the conflict is the conflict in Somaliawith
no reference to the equally important internal causes of the Ogaden
conflict. And it blames the conflict entirely on the Ogaden National
Liberation Front, which it does not mention by name but merely
describes as a terrorist group. It further says that the UK "fully
recognises Ethiopia's need to counter the threat posed by these
terrorist elements ..". p 32. There is no mention of the
grave and well documented abuses published by Human Rights Watch
and others perpetrated against the Ogaden civilian population
by Ethiopian forces. The report's treatment of the Ogaden and
Somalia conflicts amount to a whitewash of Ethiopia's very grave
Israel Palestinian conflict
The principle shortcoming of the discussion
of what the report refers to as the Middle East Peace Process
is that is does not note the failure of the Quartet to identify,
either in its statements or its practices, respect for human rights
and international humanitarian law as an essential component in
any effort to resolve this conflict, which is fraught with serious
abuses by all parties.
Peacekeeping and human rights
The introduction to the section on conflict
prevention states: "It is a UK priority to ensure that mandates
for UN and other peacekeeping missions include the promotion and
protection of human rights" (p 29). This point is deemed
important enough to be highlighted in the introduction to the
report itself which states: "Peacekeeping missions have an
important role in protecting human rights" (p 8).
These statements seem to be in marked contrast
to what FCO lawyers have been arguing in the various cases at
the ECtHR in which the UK has been taking the lead in intervening
to try and limit the application of human rights law in peacekeeping.
In the case of Behrami and Behrami v France
last year, on the application of human rights law (ECHR) to
France with regard to its forces that formed part of KFOR in Kosovo,
the UK led a series of states intervening aggressively (and unfortunately
successfully) to say that the European Convention could not apply
to states sending forces on UN peacekeeping missions.
In its intervention (paragraph 13) the UK stated:
"It follows from the terms of resolution 1244 (1999) that
KFOR had no powers of administration over Kosovo and its inhabitants
and had neither the legal responsibility, nor the capacity, to
secure human rights and freedoms to those inhabitants. Still less
did any one of the States which contributed forces to KFOR have
such responsibility or capacity".
Since KFOR has significantly greater powers
to impose security than almost any other peacekeeping force, the
UK's argument would suggest that it believes its peacekeeping
forces will never have the power or the capacity to secure human
rights for the inhabitants of countries to which they are deployed.
Another question is whether human rights law
applies to military personnel serving in multinational stabilisation
forces overseas. This issue has arisen in the Saramati case,
which was joined with the Behrami case at the ECtHR, and
in the various cases within the UK with regard to the conduct
of UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government's general
legal argument in these cases has been that human rights law should
not apply to its forces.
Two questions therefore arise which we recommend
that the FAC should pursue with the government. First, given the
statement in the FCO's report on human rights, does the UK believe
its peacekeeping forces are under a duty to secure human rights
to the inhabitants of the territories they are in? And second
does the UK believe that peacekeeping forces should comply with
human rights law? If the answer to the questions is yes, then
Human Rights Watch recommends that the FAC should welcome the
change of position from the government's previous legal arguments.
If the answer is no, then the government should be pushed to resolve
the inconsistency or to admit publicly that the statement in the
report is misleading and that in fact the government's position
is that their peacekeeping forces do not need to protect human
rights and can violate them at will.
Develop Effective International Institutions
Human Rights at the United Nations
Human Rights Watch commends the FCO for its
work at the UN Human Rights Council where in the first two years
of the Council's existence the UK has been at the forefront of
efforts to make sure the Council does not fail but can develop
the institutional teeth it needs to act as an effective mechanism
to improve and promote respect for human rights among UN member
states. This is of course a difficult task as several of the UN
member states on the Council, and many who are not currently represented,
appear determined to prevent the Council from becoming an effective
Human Rights Watch would like to draw the Committee's
attention to several issues on which the UK needs to redouble
its efforts at the council.
On Burma there is need for continued pressure
at the HRC. There were good resolutions in October and December
but the Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has not been
able to return to the country because of government obstruction.
The Council should not allow Burma to be allowed to obstruct the
work of its Special Rapporteur in this way.
Since the report went to press the Council has
decided to terminate the mandate for an expert on DR Congo. Human
Rights Watch sees this as unjustified and believes that the EU
compromised too much allowing for the abolition of this mandate
in return only for a discussion on the DR Congo in March 2009.
The EU should have stuck to principle and voted against the decision.
More generally the Council has failed to take
meaningful action on a number of situations that deserve its attention
including: Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Tibet, Uzbekistan and
The last eight months have seen concerted attempts
by some member to undermine the institution-building package that
was agreed by the Council last June. In particular this has impacted
on the appointment procedure for the special procedures. This
could usefully have been mentioned in the report as could the
efforts of some HRC members to undermine the independence of the
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The report states that the EU is a "driving
force on human rights". Human Rights Watch agrees that the
EU indeed has been such a force in the enlargement area, accession
to the EU being a powerful stimulus for improvement on human rights.
However outside of the enlargement area the picture is much more
mixed. Indeed Human Rights Watch believes that the consensus rule
combined with a non transparent decision process often means that
the EU tends to adopt a lowest common denominator approach to
For example the European Neighbourhood Policy
has failed to use the EU's considerable leverage to win concrete
improvements in the human rights situation in Egypt, Libya and
other North African countries. In the case of Libya where the
EU is developing a new economic and political relationship, this
is particularly disappointing, and the UK appears to be among
those EU member states willing to downgrade human rights in favour
of developing business, security and counter-immigration ties
with Tripoli. Human Rights Watch would also question the assessment
of the report that "Jordan has put in a good performance
on human rights reform" especially as there is no mention
of the continuing and pervasive problem of torture in Jordan.
Another example is the EU's relationship with
Central Asia. The UK's approach to human rights in Central Asia
has been among the best of all EU member states. However its principled
attitude towards human rights violators and violations in the
region is diluted in EU policy terms by the efforts of Germany
and others to prioritise strategic and economic concerns above
the promotion of human rights.
The UK has been in the lead when it comes to
stronger EU measures against those responsible for serious human
rights violations in Burma and Darfur. It is critically important
that the UK continues its leadership in this regard and that in
does so in a very open and public manner.
With the likely coming into force of the Lisbon
Treaty in January 2009, the EU will establish a new and enhanced
diplomatic service on foreign and security policy primarily consisting
of diplomats seconded from the 27 member states to the Council
secretariat. It is critically important that such a new service
will include experts on regional priorities of the EU as well
as on human rights, including child and gender specific aspects
of these rights, and International Justiceall stated EU
priorities. The UK should ensure that such experts will be among
the new diplomatic service and should offer to second human rights
experts for the service.
PART 2: HUMAN
Human Rights Watch has on numerous occasions
applauded the UK government for its work on various cross cutting
human rights themes. Comments on this section are limited to the
rule of law.
Rule of Law
Human Rights Watch welcomes the UK's international
work on enforced disappearance, the death penalty, prison reform,
torture, and law enforcement. Human Rights Watch notes the reasons
given in the report for not signing the convention on enforced
disappearances and urges the government to move swiftly towards
signing and ratifying the treaty.
On torture Human Rights Watch notes with great
concern that there is no mention of the problem of torture in
countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia
and Morocco. In several of those countries torture is enough of
a problem that (taken together with other concerns) it warrants
including them in the FCO's list of countries of concern. At the
very least concerns about torture in those countries should have
been mentioned in the section on torture.
PART 3: MAJOR
The list of countries chosen this year is broadly
the right one and there is useful material in each of the country
sections. Human Rights Watch particularly welcomes the inclusion
in this report of Pakistan. The FAC may wish to consider that
the FCO includes one or two further countries in next years' report.
Possible contenders include Libya and Egypt. We have not commented
on all the countries listed in the report as countries of concern.
As a major military, diplomatic and development
player in Afghanistan it is of great importance that the UK keeps
human rights and the rule of law at the forefront of its strategic
thinking on dealing with the challenges in Afghanistan. Human
Rights Watch is therefore encouraged that the report addresses
Afghanistan's human rights situation. However Human Rights Watch
notes with concern that the report fails to reflect the gravity
of the human rights situation in Afghanistan, and even the fact
that UK forces are involved in an armed conflict in the country.
It is not noted for example that 2007 was the
most violent year in Afghanistan since the US led invasion in
2001. Furthermore the report does not attempt to examine the reasons
for this violence, beyond blaming "Taleban and other insurgent
groups". It is true that anti-government forces routinely
target civilians in indiscriminate attacks, including suicide
bombing. It is also true that they violate the laws of war by
launching attacks from civilian areas, knowingly drawing return
fire. But it is also the case that NATO and US led coalition forces,
including UK military personnel, killed at least 300 civilians
in 2007though the real figure is likely much higher given
the inherent difficulty of distinguishing between civilians and
combatants in this kind of war and the extensive use of airpower.
The report also fails to provide adequate analysis
of government abuses and the extent to which warlords and criminals
responsible for egregious crimes in the past continue to exercise
power and influence over the parliament and government and continue
to protect their position through intimidation and violence. None
of this is reflected in the report's coverage of what it understatedly
calls the "controversial" Amnesty Bill through which
the warlords sought to institutionalise impunity in Afghanistan.
Nor is there any mention of the nexus between human rights abuses,
warlordism and opium cultivation. Efforts of international actors
in Afghanistan to address the wider problem of impunity in Afghanistan
are hampered by the excessive focus of energy and attention on
the conflict with the Taleban. But defeat of the Taleban depends
not only on military action, but political action, including ending
impunity for powerful warlords and war criminals.
On the issue of detention, it is commendable
that UK is monitoring detention facilities in Afghanistan and
supporting the Afghan law enforcement institutions to improve
prison and detention conditions. However it should be noted that
there is no central control over prisons and detention facilities.
This leads to a situation where it is practically impossible to
monitor and control all the various legal and quasi-legal prisons
and detention facilities, operated by institutions (such as the
NDInational intelligence service) which do not keep to
the minimum standards. Furthermore there is no mention in the
report of the fact that the US forces, operating in Afghanistan
without an adequate legal framework, continue to detain hundreds
of Afghans without adequate legal process. In a single remarkable
exception to an otherwise poor record of accountability a US federal
court in February 2007 found one CIA contractor guilty of assault
in the beating to death of an Afghan detainee in 2003.
In its coverage of women's rights the report
also fails to note that according to the Afghan Independent Human
Rights Commission (AIHRC) violence against women, domestic violence,
forced marriage, self-immolation, access to justice have all deteriorated
Another omission in the report is the dire situation
of the judiciary in Afghanistan, which suffers from a serious
lack of professional and qualified judges and resources. As a
result basic rights to due process and rule of law are under threat
for Afghans who either are brought before the justice system or
seek justice through it. In most southern provinces the formal
justice system is totally dysfunctional and traditional customary
systems are filling the vacuum.
There is also no mention of the situation of
children in Afghanistan. The achievements of the past six years,
mainly in the field of education, have come under threat in the
past 18 months. The number of school attacks has increased and
accordingly the enrolment and attendance rate of primary schools
in the Southern provinces of Afghanistan have decreased, in some
districts no girls are registered for primary school attendance
Human Rights Watch commends the UK government
for its role in ensuring that Belarus was not elected to the Human
Rights Council. The report's section on Belarus makes it clear
why Belarus would have made a terrible HRC member. However there
are some important omissions in the report.
The report mentions the harassment against several
members of the political opposition, but fails to explain the
grounds. Authorities in Belarus require political opposition groups
to register, but registration is frequently denied for arbitrary
and unfounded reasons. Consequently, many people who participate
in opposition activities are detained and harassed for acting
on behalf of unregistered organisations. Students linked to opposition
groups have been expelled from schools.
In the section about independent media, the
report omits information about the Internet, which is tightly
controlled by the government. All Internet access passes through
the state-owned operator Beltelecom, and the State Center for
Information Security responsible for protecting state secrets
and for running the country's top domain is supervised by President
The report does not mention religious freedom.
In theory the Belarusian constitution provides for freedom of
religion, but authorities make it difficult for adherents of religions
other than those affiliated with the Belarusian Orthodox Church.
Religious leaders have been threatened, detained and fined, for
holding religious services in "unauthorised" spaces,
even though it is very difficult for adherents of some faiths
to secure authorisation and registration. More than 25 foreign
Catholic and Protestant clergy were expelled from Belarus between
the summers of 2006 and 2007 for allegedly "posing a threat
to national security".
The chapter on Burma is good. But Human Rights
Watch has three concerns. First, while it is right to endorse
the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) mechanism on reporting
cases of forced labour, there should be some acknowledgement of
the limitations of the mechanism. Even the ILO admits it will
not stamp out forced labour in the countryside, where egregious
and widespread use of forced labour continues. Second, any discussion
of the humanitarian crisis in Burma and DFID's work in addressing
the crisis needs to underline the level of restrictions experienced
by UN agencies and relief agencies in the country. Third, while
it is positive that the UK is supporting the efforts of Mr Gambari,
a more balanced assessment of his work could have been presented.
In truth the Burmese government has made few, if any, real changes
in response to Mr Gambari's work: no political prisoners have
been released, no military offensives have been halted, and no
participatory progress on democratic freedoms has been achieved.
The section on China is generally sound. The
report also notes that "as the 2008 Beijing Olympics draw
closer, the world's attention is increasingly focused on China's
human rights record". However neither this report, nor any
other statement in recent months by the British government, has
articulated how and why the UK should use the opportunity of the
Beijing Olympics to press for improvements in human rights China.
Recent weeks have demonstrated the lack of a
coherent UK strategy towards the Beijing games. In China as the
Games approach the government is cracking down ever harder on
dissent and protest not only in Tibet but around the country.
Meanwhile the UK government is tying itself to the Chinese position
of pretending that the Games should have nothing to do with human
rights. The Prime Minister Gordon Brown not only took part in
the disastrous torch relay ceremony in London (without mentioning
human rights) he has also committed himself unconditionally to
attend the Games in August.
The UK government seems to want to use the Beijing
Olympics to promote the London Games in 2012 and to avoid offending
the Chinese government. In so doing it is turning its back on
those Chinese groups inside and outside of China who are using
the Beijing Games to draw attention to the dismal human rights
situation in China. The UK government needs quickly to rethink
this unprincipled position. The Prime Minister should at the very
least make his presence at the closing ceremony of the Games conditional
on genuine improvements in key aspects of the human rights situation,
including the Chinese government honouring the commitments on
human rights it made as part of its bid for the Games.
The report's coverage of Colombia is sound.
However Human Rights Watch believes that in the light of the serious
human rights situation in Colombia, and especially in light of
the high rate of extrajudicial executions by the military, the
UK should either suspend military assistance to Colombia or attach
strong human rights conditions to it. The UN's High Commissioner
for Human Rights noted in her annual report that extrajudicial
executions continue to be a problem, and Human Rights Watch has
also documented several cases from last year (12 from just one
small town). The Office of the Inspector General of Colombia has
650 investigations open into such executions, all from the last
few years. The US Congress has already moved to freeze some US
military aid to Colombia. Human Rights Watch respectfully suggests
to the FAC that it recommend that the UK government suspends military
aid or at least make its continuance conditional on substantive
Given the UK government's prominent role in
Iraq it is perhaps inevitable that the report's coverage of human
rights in Iraq pulls its punches. The report rightly notes the
existence of a "culture of abuse" within the Iraqi security
forces. It also notes that elements of the Iraqi police and military
have committed grave human rights violations, including the torture
by police of detainees at secret jails in Baghdad. The report
cites UK efforts to institute human rights training in police
units established with British supervision, and points to the
disbanding of two units in the south as evidence of commitment
to identify and seek accountability for such abuses.
However, the report ignores the degree to which
security forces in Basra, generally established under the supervision
of British forces, have been infiltrated by militias and other
armed elements which are themselves reported to have committed
abuses. The report also fails to draw any link between the dreadful
human rights situation in Iraq and strategic and policy mistakes
made by the UK and the US.
Most tellingly the report fails to make any
reference to instances of abuse of Iraqi civilians and detainees
by British forces, nor to instances of abuse of Iraqi civilians
by US forces and/or private security outfits contracted to the
US government and MNF bodies.
Furthermore the report makes no reference to
the high level of civilian casualties of US-led MNF operations.
The report also paints far too rosy a picture
of the UK's efforts to address the Iraqi refugee crisis. According
to the report the UK has provided £125 million for humanitarian
action in Iraq since 2003. Included in that sum is UK money spent
addressing the refugee and internal displacement crisis. This
is a small sum compared to the billions spent on military operations
in Iraq and highlights the need for solutions to the Iraq crisis
which focus much more on human security and the needs of Iraqi
Human Rights Watch also notes that the government
had to be pressured by the campaigning of groups like Human Rights
Watch, Amnesty and the Refugee Council and the media not to abandon
those Iraqis (translators and interpreters for the most part)
who were at grave risk because of their employment by the British
government in Iraq. And six months after it announced a package
of support to these Iraqis many have not received any help at
all but are still struggling to survive as fugitives from death
squads in Iraq or as refugees in Syria and Jordan.
Israel and OPT
The survey of human rights concerns in the OPT
is generally comprehensive and accurate. However, in referring
to Israel's blockade of movement of persons or goods into or out
of Gaza after the Hamas takeover in June 2007, the report fails
to observe that this constituted a policy of protracted collective
punishment, a serious violation of international humanitarian
law. The report should also have noted that the Israeli-led blockade
had in fact been imposed earlier, in part in response to Hamas
forming a government after winning free and fair elections in
early 2006. The measures implemented in June 2007 represented
only an intensification of a long-standing policy that initially
was tacitly or openly supported by the UK and other Israeli allies.
The UK itself participated in an economic embargo of the Palestinian
Authority (PA) which exacerbated the effects of the blockade in
the period between the formation of a Hamas-led PA in March 2006
until President Abbas' June 2007 dismissal of the Hamas-led government.
Also, to attribute the breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian security
coordination to Hamas's takeover ignores the serious lack of coordination
in preceding years as a consequence of the policies of both Israel
and the PA.
The survey's attention to the continuing Israeli
policy of administrative detention without trial is welcome. However,
the report does not mention that while administrative detention
can be imposed for periods up to six months, these periods can
be renewed indefinitely and many administrative detainees have
been imprisoned for years. Furthermore, the report omits that
when Israel transfers Palestinian administrative detainees to
prisons inside Israel it does so in flagrant breach of international
law which prohibits the transfer of detainees outside of occupied
territory. Furthermore, this section, states that the majority
of Palestinian prisoners have received court trials, without noting
that these trials are in Israeli military courts operating under
procedures that do not meet international fair trial standards.
The survey refers to the closure of the Erez
border between Gaza and Israel since June 2007, but fails to mention
the disastrous consequences of this closure, including the denial
of passage to urgent Palestinian medical cases (which has resulted
in tens of deaths, according to the World Health Organisation
and human rights organisations) and to hundreds of Gazan students
who are unable to continue their higher education outside Gaza.
Finally, Human Rights Watch welcomes the inclusion
of a discussion on the rights of Israel's Bedouin citizens in
the Negev region. Human Rights Watch has just published a major
report documenting the systematic discrimination in planning,
land allocation and land access against Bedouin citizens and the
intentional state policies which led to the confiscation of Bedouin
land and the de-legalisation of long standing Bedouin villages.
The report also documents the often unlawful way in which the
state demolishes Bedouin homes, more than 200 in 2007 alone. Human
Rights Watch recommends that the FAC requests that the FCO raise
the issue of accountability for human rights violations perpetuated
against the Bedouin population.
Given the seriousness of the human rights problems
in Pakistan Human Rights Watch welcomes the inclusion of Pakistan
in the list of countries of concern in this year's report. However
some serious shortcomings in the report's coverage of Pakistan
should be noted.
Pakistan is referred to as one of the UK's "most
important partners" in counter terrorism efforts which according
to the report includes "operational co-operation". The
report argues that the UK's training and wider counter terrorism
assistance to Pakistan "promote human rights compliance,
based on international human rights standards". This is a
misrepresentation of the UK's counter terrorism cooperation with
Pakistan. The report remains notably silent on the hundreds of
disappearances of terrorism suspects in Pakistan. Human Rights
Watch's research indicates that the UK has itself been complicit
in the illegal detention, forcible transfer to the UK and and
torture of some terrorism suspects. These have included Salahuddin
Amin and Rangzeib Ahmed in recent years. By failing to criticise
Pakistan's well-documented human rights abuses in relation to
the arrest and interrogation of terrorism suspects, this report
actually fuels the allegations of UK tolerance of and complicity
in such acts.
Another shortcoming of the report is that although
it notes that the UK has continued to "argue for an independent
judicial process in Pakistan", it omits to call for the restoration
of the deposed judiciary and even fails to mention that the deposed
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was held in illegal detention
for almost five months along with his family, including his childrena
teenage daughter and a seven-year-old son.
The section on Russia covers most of the important
dimensions of the multi-faceted crisis of human rights in Russia,
including the particularly dismal situation in the North Caucasus.
However the report overlooks two important areas of concern for
Human Rights Watch: ongoing abuses in the army and migrants' rights.
In places the language seems to reflect the
caution with which the UK and the EU community in general have
treated Russia recently. For example, the report says that although
the EU regrets that in the run up to the recent presidential elections
there were many allegations of media restrictions and harassment
of opposition parties, "the EU welcomes the fact that elections
took place in an orderly and organised fashion". Given the
security clampdown in the main urban centers during the election
it is hard to see how it could have been otherwise. Although it
does address many of the immediate problems surrounding the elections,
the report does not note the tight controls put into place over
several years, through which the government has severely compromised
the possibility of free and fair elections. Likewise, while the
report mentions the specific obstacles put in the way of NGOs
and civil society it fails to note the broad hostile environment
in which NGOs struggle to operate thanks to the policies of President
Human Rights Watch welcomes the inclusion of
Saudi Arabia as a country of concern and is appreciative of the
assistance of the British government in securing authorisation
from the Saudi government to visit Saudi Arabia at the end of
2006. For the record, it should be noted that this was not Human
Rights Watch's first official visit, as stated in the report,
but its first official research visit. Also Human Rights Watch
researchers did not visit four prisons, as stated in the report,
but one prison, one shelter for runaway domestic workers, one
juvenile detention facility for boys, and one juvenile detention
facility for girls and young women. In the last two no private
interviews were allowed.
The report's characterisation of the human rights
environment in Saudi Arabia is largely accurate. But Human Rights
Watch takes issue with the statement that "the pace of reform
will need to be acceptable to the Saudi government, its citizens
and powerful religious leaders". This is tantamount to saying
that reform must be at the pace of the most repressive and conservative
elements of Saudi society. Would the UK government declare that
change in Zimbabwe has to come at a pace that is acceptable to
The UK needs to speak up much more clearly on
human rights in Saudi Arabia and should have avoided sweeping
human rights under the carpet during the state visit of King Abdullah
to London in October 2007.
The report's coverage of Syria is generally
sound. However it is important that human rights should be at
the forefront of the UK and EU's strategy towards Syria, as well
as the issue of Syria's regional role with respect to Iraq, Lebanon
and Israel/OPT. While Human Rights Watch accepts that UK leverage
over Syria is limited (and vastly reduced because of mistakes
in Iraq) nonetheless it should be a guiding principle of UK policy
towards Syria that Damascus will only be able to play a stabilising
role in the region if Syrians within Syria are allowed the political
space to express their political opinions without fear of arrest,
torture and imprisonment. There is a concern that if Syria starts
to cooperate with the UK, the EU and the US on the regional politics
then external pressure for improvements on the internal political
front will diminishas it has in Libya and Egypt.
The report's coverage of Thailand is mostly
accurate. However Human Rights Watch believes that the report's
account of the widespread and systematic human rights violations
committed by Thai security forces and the separatist militants
in the southern border provinces does not reflect the gravity
of the situation.
The report describes numerous reports of torture
and ill-treatment of detainees in military custody as "unsubstantiated".
However during the 18 month period of military installed government,
torture and ill-treatment of detainees by Thai security forces
has been thoroughly documented by Human Rights Watch and other
organisations. Nearly all detainees interviewed by Human Rights
Watch and other human rights groups reported that they were tortured
by the military.
In spite of complaints to the government from
Human Rights Watch, and promises to close down the main interrogation
center in Pattani, there has been no improvement. The interrogation
center remains operational under a different name, and the abuses
continue at all levels of command. Furthermore, no one had been
prosecuted in connection to the torture and ill-treatment or deaths
of detainees in military custody.
On the other side, the report also does not
mention that the separatist militants have shown no respect for
international legal and human rights principles. They are responsible
for the majority of the 2,800 deaths and the many more injuries
from January 2004 to 2007 in the southern border provinces. More
than 90% of their victims are civilians, including both Buddhist
Thais and ethnic Malay Muslims.
The section on Turkmenistan focuses on the opening
on the country during the first year of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's
presidency but it fails to make a clear statement that the end
of isolationism did not bring a genuine human rights reform. Turkmenistan
remains one of the most repressive and authoritarian countries
in the world. No independent organisation has been able to do
research on human rights abuses inside the country, and no agency,
governmental or nongovernmental, has had access to detention facilities.
Berdymukhamedov has made no public commitment for reform in the
field of fundamental rights and freedoms.
A striking omission in the FCO report is that
it does not mention the hundreds of political prisoners who remain
incarcerated (after unfair trials) from the Niazov era. Among
them are three well-known political prisoners, Mukhametkuly Aymuratov,
Annakurban Amanklychev, and Sapurdurdy Khajiev. Another crucial
issue is the continued de-facto prohibition of NGO and independent
media activities. No independent NGO or media has been registered
in 2007; at least six groups recently applied for but were denied
the registration as NGOs.
The coverage of Uzbekistan is generally sound
apart from the statement that "the crackdown on civil society
has subsided". This does not square with the evidence provided
by the report itself. Perhaps the authors are referring to the
apparent lull in new arrests and convictions of human rights defenders.
But it should be pointed out that repressive regimes use different
instruments of repression at different times to maintain control.
Many human rights defenders remain in prison, others have been
intimidated and threatened to the point they had to flee the country,
and those who have most recently been released had to admit guilt
and promise not to violate the law in the future.
Human Rights Watch is concerned that the use
of language suggesting a relaxation reflects a slipping of the
international community's expectations. The suggestion is that
things are now not quite as bad as they were in the year immediately
following Andijan, so this is a sign of progress. In fact, the
human rights community has been completely decimated and there
is no longer a need for the Uzbek government to use the brutal
tactics of late 2005 and 2006.
The report states that the UK will "continue
to support the maintenance of sanctions as an appropriate EU policy
response until there is an improvement in Uzbekistan's human rights
record". It is important that the UK continues to support
sanctions, but the criteria for the lifting of sanctions are much
more specific than simply an improvement in Uzbekistan's human
rights record. Human Rights Watch expects the UK to take a leading
role internationally and in Europe in supporting and actively
pushing for the maintenance of sanctions until the criteria set
by the EU have been fully realised.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the report's coverage
of human rights abuses in Vietnam and agrees with much of the
analysis and reporting. However, on the issue of religious freedom
progress should not be measured (as in the report) by the number
of registered congregations. Churches and denominations that do
not choose to join one of the officially-authorised religious
organisations, whose governing boards are under the control of
the government, continue to be officially banned or considered
illegal. For many churches that have been approved, registration
limits them to certain "specific activities", enabling
government officials to use the registration process to monitor
and control religious activities.
The report's assessment that media freedoms
have gradually improved is questionable. As the report notes,
all media continues to come under the control of the Vietnamese
government. The report points to media coverage of corruption
cases as an indicator of improvement. But this is nothing new:
it has long been the practice that certain newspapers are allowed
to criticise certain corrupt officials.
There is no mention of suppression of freedom
of assembly, such as legal restrictions on public gatherings and
arrests of peaceful demonstrators, such as Khmer Krom Buddhist
monks who participated in non-violent protests in the Mekong Delta
in February 2007.
The report also overlooks labour violations,
such as restrictions on workers who participate in "illegal"
strikes not approved by the government controlled union confederation
and the arrest and imprisonment of members of independent trade
In addition to noting the national security
provisions of Vietnam's penal code that criminalise dissent, it
is important to note that Vietnamese law continues to authorise
arbitrary detention without trial under Ordinance 44, which authorises
placing people suspected of threatening national security under
house arrest or in detention without trial in Social Protection
Centers, rehabilitation camps or mental hospitals.
Finally Human Rights Watch urges the FCO to
include in future reports, and the prisoner lists it submits to
the Vietnamese government, the 350 ethnic minority Christians
from the Central Highlands ("Montagnards") imprisoned
since 2001 for peaceful expression of their political or religious
views, or attempting to seek asylum in Cambodia.
Human Rights Watch thanks the Chairman and Members
of the Foreign Affairs Committee's for their interest in these