4 Current issues in human rights policy|
human rights issues
133. Kate Allen criticised the FCO Report
for being "patchy" in its treatment of women's rights.
Amnesty urged the FCO to continue to do more to "mainstream"
women's rights throughout its human rights work and reporting.
134. Kate Allen highlighted the importance of women's
rights in conflict and post-conflict situations in particular.
The UN Security Council passed a landmark resolution on this issue
in October 2000 (UNSCR 1325). In November 2010, to coincide with
the tenth anniversary of that Resolution, the Government published
its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which is
designed to ensure the Resolution's implementation.
The Plan is tri-departmental between the FCO, MOD and DFID. Ms
Allen said that the Plan was "good [...] but could be better":
"it does not allocate responsibility at a senior level, it
is vague on resources and there is no real cross-government, joined-up
Amnesty recommended senior leadership, cross-departmental co-ordination
and the allocated of dedicated resources to "operationalise"
the National Action Plan.
135. The Plan stated that cross-Government leadership
and coordination was to be provided through the appointment of
a "senior representative" on tackling international
violence against women. In November 2010, Lynne Featherstone,
Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Equalities at the Home Office,
was appointed to this role. In the FCO Report, her appointment
was noted in the "Women's rights" section, and not referred
to in the separate section on "Women, peace and security"
which discussed the National Action Plan.
136. We recommend that in its response to this
Report the FCO set out the work that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State at the Home Office is doing in support of the National
Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; and explain her role
in relation to the Plan, given that her home department is not
one of the Plan's three co-owners.
137. The National Action Plan is to be reviewed annually
and a full evaluation conducted after three years. The Plan stated
that, in addition to a Ministerial statement, "Progress
will be reported to Parliament [...] through the Associate Parliamentary
Group on Women, Peace and Security".
138. We recommend that the FCO ensure that the
results of the 2011 review of the National Action Plan on Women,
Peace and Security are fully reported to us, as its departmental
scrutiny committee, when the review is published in October 2011.
We further recommend that the FCO's 2011 human rights report also
report on progress in implementing the Plan.
139. David Mepham highlighted the new Council of
Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against
women and domestic violence. He said that the Government had played
a "fairly negative role" in the concluding negotiations
on the Convention, "putting in a lot of caveats and qualifications",
but that "quite a strong text" had nevertheless been
agreed. The Council
of Europe Committee of Ministers adopted the Convention on 7 April
2011 and it was opened for signature in May. Human Rights Watch
said that it was now "critical that the UK Government [...]
ratify [the Convention] as soon as possible and without reservations".
Home Office Parliamentary Under-Secretary James Brokenshire told
the House on 13 June that there were "a number of articles
[of the Convention] on which we require more detailed consideration
before a final decision can be made on [its] signature and ratification".
140. We recommend that in its response to this
Report the FCO update us on the Government's plans for signature
and ratification of the new Council of Europe Convention on preventing
and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
141. David Mepham reminded us of the large share
of the global population made up by children and young people
aged under 18. He argued that the FCO Report did not cover
children's rights as much as was warranted, and that the Government
should "think rather more about that younger group of people"
in its international human rights policy.
142. UNICEF UK and World Vision UK told us that the
FCO Report gave the impression that the FCO was according
a lower priority than in the past to children's rights. UNICEF
in particular felt that the Report provided too little detail
on children's rights issues, indicating that the FCO was not building
children's rights sufficiently into its overall human rights work.
UNICEF and World Vision noted critically that the Child Rights
Panel of expert and NGO representatives which had met under the
previous Government seemed to have lapsed.
Both organisations were also concerned that the FCO appeared to
have no plans to replace its previous three-year child rights
strategy, which came to an end in 2010. World Vision said that
a new strategy should be cross-Governmental, and UNICEF urged
the FCO to work more closely with DFID in particular.
143. We recommend that in its response to this
Report the FCO inform us what expertise on children's rights is
available within the Foreign Secretary's Advisory Group on Human
Rights. We further recommend that the FCO inform us whether it
plans to draw up a new child rights strategy; and if not, why
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
144. We received a number of submissions highlighting
freedom of religion or belief. The Church of England's Mission
and Public Affairs Council and the Bahá'i
Community of the UK both welcomed the coverage given to this issue
in the FCO Report, which referred to the FCO's concerns
and activities in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Laos,
Nigeria and Turkey.
The Mission and Public Affairs Council and the Bahá'i
Community also both welcomed the priority being given to freedom
of religion or belief in the work of the Foreign Secretary's Advisory
Group on Human Rights, which the Mission and Public Affairs Council
said represented "a significant advance on the FCO's Religious
Freedom Panel of old".
Community welcomed the swift and public condemnation by the Foreign
Secretary and FCO Parliamentary Under-Secretary Alistair Burt
of the sentences passed on seven Bahá'i
leaders in Iran in 2010.
145. The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement
(CLAAS) argued that the FCO Report provided insufficient
coverage of the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan,
and of the country's blasphemy law in particular. CLAAS said that
the amendment or repeal of that legislation was "an absolute
necessity for the survival of religious minorities in Pakistan".
In the report's section on Pakistan as a "country of concern",
the FCO identified strengthening freedom of expression, religion
and belief as one of its priorities for human rights work in Pakistan
in 2011. The FCO said that it continued "to support those
who wish to see reform through lobbying and project work",
but that there was "little likelihood of much-needed reform
in the near future" following the assassination of Punjab
Governor Salman Taseerwho had spoken out for reformat
the beginning of 2011.
In its online update of its Pakistan "country of concern"
section at the end of March, the FCO noted the assassination of
Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, whom the FCO Report
had identified as a key FCO interlocutor on this issue.
146. We recommend that, in its response to this
Report, the FCO update us on its assessment of prospects for reform
of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, and on its wider work to encourage
the protection of religious minorities in that country.
147. The FCO Report set out the department's
position against the adoption by the international community of
a new legal standard on the "defamation of religions".
The FCO said that such an approach would be "inconsistent
with the international human rights legal framework, which exists
to protect individuals and should not seek to protect concepts
or specific belief systems from criticism".
Our witnesses endorsed this policy, with Kate Allen arguing that
"most religions [could] handle [...] criticism" and
that it was individuals who needed protection.
148. We conclude that the Government is correct
to oppose the adoption by the international community of a new
legal standard on the "defamation of religions".
UN Human Rights Council
149. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) was established
in 2006 as the successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights.
In successive Reports, our predecessor Committee tracked the HRC'soften
difficultearly development. The HRC has tougher membership
conditions than its predecessor, aimed at reducing the likelihood
that its members will include states with poor human rights records.
The HRC has nevertheless been subject to significant criticisms
for having rights-abusing states among its members, for being
unwilling to agree to international action on alleged rights abuses
in some cases, and for being biased against Israel in particular.
However, in its last human rights report, in 2009, our predecessor
Committee welcomed an increase in the number of HRC resolutions
which the UK Government had been able to support, as well as the
new membership of the US in the HRC, following a reversal by the
Obama Administration of its predecessor's stance.
150. In the 2010 FCO Report, the department
Despite improvements in the Council's performance,
it is difficult for us to achieve our objectives. The UK and like-minded
states are in a voting minority and have to work hard to persuade
other members that the UN should address human rights situations
in specific countries. We believe that this is essential to the
151. Witnesses to our present inquiry felt that,
albeit from a low start and in patchy fashion, the HRC was continuing
to gain some credibility. David Mepham noted the "beneficial"
impact of the United States' decision to join the Council. Giving
evidence in May 2011, he told us that in the preceding year the
HRC had "done quite a lot of good things and it's finally
getting its act together in a way that we find quite encouraging".
Since late 2010, the HRC has:
- in response to a report it
requested from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, established
an international commission of inquiry into alleged human rights
violations in C¼te d'Ivoire following the disputed presidential
election of November 2010, with the aim of bringing those responsible
- established an international commission of inquiry
into events in Libya, which found that government forces had committed
crimes against humanity and war crimes, and that opposition forces
had committed some acts which would constitute war crimes;
- seen the UN General Assembly suspend Libya's
membership in the Council, the first time that an HRC member has
- appointed a Special Rapporteur on the situation
of human rights in Iran (a step welcomed in its evidence to us
by the Bahá'i Community of the UK);
- passed a strongly critical resolution on the
repression of anti-government protests in Syria, including a call
on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to despatch a mission
to Syria to investigate alleged violations of international human
rights law; and
- seen Syria fail to be elected as an HRC member,
after the Asian group of HRC member countries dropped it from
its list of nominees.
152. As of early summer 2011, two institutional developments
at the HRC were engaging UK action:
a) HRC review. Work was underway on the
five-year review of the HRC required by the General Assembly when
it established the Council. The review process is expected to
conclude in summer 2011. In the FCO Report, the department
said that it would "like the review to make the Council more
effective", but that it was "realistic about our chances
Susan Hyland, Head of the FCO's Human Rights and Democracy Department,
told us that the Government wanted to "improve the quality
of the [HRC's] membership"by making the membership
criteria more robust; and by enforcing the membership conditions
that exist already, by holding countries to account for commitments
made in seeking election to the Council.
However, Jeremy Browne noted that limiting membership too far
risked also limiting the HRC's influence, and that there was a
value to trying to "draw [countries] in". He said that
the Government's preference was therefore to "try to draw
[membership] as wide as we can without making [the HRC] completely
ineffectual or perverse in its opinions".
b) UK membership. After two consecutive
terms as a member, the UK was not eligible to stand for re-election
to the Council at the elections held in May 2011. From June 2011,
the UK was thus not on the HRC for the first time since the body's
inception. The Government has already announced that it plans
to run again for membership in 2013. Both Kate Allen and David
Mepham commended the UK's role overall as a member of the HRC,
and Kate Allen told us that she hoped the Government would "stay
close" to the body during the UK's period of non-membership.
Jeremy Browne told us that the Government planned to try to continue
to influence the HRC's work, by trying to speak at the Council,
and by lobbying and forming partnerships with HRC members, especially
among EU Member States.
153. Although the UN Security Council remains
the decisive forum for international action on human rights, we
are encouraged by recent signs that the UN Human Rights Council
is beginning to operate as a more effective international watchdog
on UN Member States' human rights records, and in particular that
the international community is beginning to use election to and
suspension from the Council as a mechanism to deploy against human
rights violators. We recommend that, in its response to this Report,
the FCO update us on the extent to which it achieved its objectives
for the 2011 review of the Human Rights Council. We welcome the
Government's announcement that it plans to stand again for election
to the Council in 2013. We recommend that the FCO provide more
information on the arrangements it has put in place to continue
to engage effectively with the Council in the period before 2013
following the end of the UK's term of membership in June 2011.
INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE MECHANISMS
154. During our inquiry, the International Criminal
Court (ICC) was in the spotlight because of the international
community's decision to engage it with respect to the evolving
conflict and human rights crisis in Libya. On 27 June, the ICC
issued arrest warrants for Colonel Gaddafi and two other senior
Libyan figures after concluding that there were "reasonable
grounds" for believing them criminally responsible for two
counts of crimes against humanity committed from 15 February 2011
until at least 28 February.
The ICC Prosecutor's investigation and request for arrest warrants
came after the UN Security Council unanimously referred the situation
in Libya to the Court (in Resolution 1970 of 26 February). Libya
joined six other countries where cases are being investigated
or pursued by the Courtincluding Sudan, with respect to
the situation in Darfur, on which the Court issued an arrest warrant
for President Bashir in 2010.
155. The cases of Sudan and Libya, in particular,
raise the issue of the potential tension between the swift pursuit
of justice and the possible requirements of a political resolution
to a conflict. It has been suggested that launching action against
Colonel Gaddafi at the ICC might make it more difficult for the
UK to achieve the end it seeks in Libya, namely Gaddafi's exit
from power. In
late May, Jeremy Browne did not think that the ICC action would
necessarily make it harder or easier to achieve a resolution of
the Libyan situation, but he was firm in his support for the ICC
action in any case.
156. Like the Minister, Kate Allen and David Mepham
argued against any ideas of amnesty or impunity. They contended
that sustainable peace often could not be achieved without accountability.
Ms Allen also argued that those responsible for human rights abuses
needed to be held to account if international justice was to acquire
a deterrent effect. However, David Mepham drew our attention to
Article 16 of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, which allows
the Security Council to suspend an ICC investigation or prosecution
by passing a resolution to that effect under Chapter VII of the
157. We recommend that, in its response to this
Report, the FCO set out its assessment of any impact that the
issuing of arrest warrants for Colonel Gaddafi and other senior
Libyan regime figures by the International Criminal Court may
be having on prospects for a resolution to the Libyan crisis.
158. In April 2011, a UN panel of experts appointed
by the Secretary-General published a report into the final stages
of the conflict between the Government and Tamil separatists in
Sri Lanka. The panel found that there were "credible allegations,
which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations
of international humanitarian law and international human rights
law was committed both by the government of Sri Lanka and the
[Tamil Tigers], some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes
against humanity". The panel called for an independent international
investigation, with a view to a possible international mechanism
In its last human rights report, in August 2009, our predecessor
Committee already recommended that the Government should press
for the setting up of an international war crimes inquiry, to
investigate allegations of atrocities carried out by both sides
in the Sri Lankan civil war.
The Sri Lankan government has argued that publication of the panel
of experts' report impedes the process of post-conflict reconciliation.
Human Rights Watch told us that the Government should support
the panel's recommendation.
However, Jeremy Browne told us that the UK Government "believes
that the primary responsibility for addressing accountability
and achieving reconciliation lies with the Government of Sri Lanka".
159. On 14 June, Channel 4 broadcast a widely-noted
documentary entitled 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields', about the final
weeks of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the
160. We recommend that, in its response to this
Report, the FCO explain more fully why it does not regard an international
accountability mechanism as appropriate to the Sri Lankan situation
at this stage, and under what conditions it might change its position.
161. We commend Channel 4 for its documentary
'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields', which showed horrific scenes of
crimes carried out in 2009. We reaffirm the view of our predecessor
Committee and call on the UK Government to press for the setting
up of an international war crimes inquiry to investigate allegations
of atrocities carried out by both sides in the Sri Lankan civil
162. In May 2011, Serbia captured and extradited
former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic to the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
General Mladic's transfer leaves only one ICTY indictee, Goran
Hadiæ, still at large. In December
2010, under Resolution 1966, the UN Security Council established
an International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which
will be able to prosecute any ICTY cases remaining after 2013.
163. We strongly welcome Ratko Mladic's extradition
to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia,
as an important step in ending impunity for grave international
crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, and in continuing to
move the Western Balkans away from its recent history of inter-ethnic
conflict. We congratulate all those, including in the UK, who
contributed to the long-running effort to see General Mladic on
trial in The Hague.
Regions and countries
164. In this section we comment on challenges for
UK human rights policy in a few regions and countries where the
UK has a particular role in 2011 and beyond.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
165. Amnesty told us that "how the UK Government
reacts to the changes in the [Middle East and North Africa] region
represents the greatest test of its foreign policy thinking to
date and will provide a litmus test for the place of human rights
within that policy".
166. As we prepared this Report in June and early
July 2011, the developing situation in the Middle East and North
Africa engaged a wide range of human rights issues:
- Tunisia was under a transitional
government pending elections to a Constituent Assembly in October,
after mass protests led to the resignation in January of former
President Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia. As of early July,
the FCO website was noting that the transitional government had
signed several key international human rights instruments and
set up independent commissions to investigate human rights abuses
by the former regime. Tunisian courts had convicted former President
Ben Ali in absentia for embezzlement and abuse of public
funds, and were continuing to investigate further allegations
- Egypt was under the control of a military-backed
transitional government pending parliamentary elections expected
in September and presidential polls in November, after mass protests
led to the resignation of former President Mubarak in February.
Former President Mubarak and other former senior regime and police
figures had been or were being tried for offences including the
murder of protesters and corruption. By late June, apparent popular
frustration with the pace of reforms and perceived weaknesses
in the accountability process led to clashes with police. As of
early July, in the Egypt country profile on its website, the FCO
said that the longstanding emergency lawwhich remained
in forceallowed for "human rights violations such
as the use of administrative detention, military courts for civilians
and torture", and that the department was calling for its
termination. The FCO also noted allegations of torture and mistreatment
of detainees, and concerns about freedom of expression, sectarian
tensions and religious discrimination.
- In Bahrain, the authorities were detaining and
imprisoning large numbers of civilians after protests against
the regime. In particular, the authorities had detained, reportedly
mistreated, tried and in some cases imposed lengthy prison sentences
on medical personnel who had treated injured civilians. Over 30
people were reported to have been killed by the security forces,
and the regime had called in armed support from Saudi Arabia and
other Gulf states. By early July, the Sunni regime had opened
talks with the main Shia opposition group, in a "national
dialogue" on political reform; and it was being reported
that the regime had announced an investigation into the security
forces' handling of the unrest and that most of the Saudi troops
were being withdrawn.
Subsequently the Bahrain regime has announced the establishment
of a commission to investigate the events of recent months.
- Saudi Arabia was trying a number of civilians,
after limited protests against the regime.
- In Yemen, protesting civilians had been killed
by security forces. As of early July, there appeared to remain
a risk of a more widespread breakdown of internal order, amidst
a political impasse after President Saleh left the country in
early June to be treated in Saudi Arabia for injuries sustained
in an attack on the presidential compound. While clashes were
escalating between political factions and between regime security
forces and al-Qaeda-linked militants in the south, demonstrations
continued in support of President Saleh's permanent exit and the
formation of a transitional government, and against al-Qaeda influence.
- In Libya, the UK had been participating since
March in a UN-mandated NATO military operation to protect civilians,
after Colonel Gaddafi had threatened violent mass reprisals against
civilians in the city of Benghazi following the outbreak of an
uprising against him. As we noted in paragraph 154, in late June
the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Colonel
Gaddafi and two other senior regime figures.
- In Syria, the regime was using armed force against
civilian protesters, as anti-regime demonstrations which broke
out in March spread throughout the country. In early July, the
BBC quoted Syrian human rights activists as saying that more than
1,350 civilians and 350 security personnel had been killed since
the unrest began.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the
UN Human Rights Council in mid-June that over 10,000 people were
estimated to have been arbitrarily detained.
Foreign media and human rights bodies did not have free access
to Syria. While continuing to put down opposition demonstrations,
the regime was continuing to announce political reforms and pursue
"national dialogue", most recently in a speech by President
Assad on 20 June; but the Foreign Secretary told the House on
29 June that the speech was "disappointing" and that
without an end to violence there could be "no credible attempt
at national dialogue".
The UK was seeking a UN Security Council resolution condemning
the behaviour of the Syrian regime, but the resolution was opposed
by China and Russia.
- The unrest in Libya and Syria had produced refugee
flows to Tunisia and Egypt, and Turkey and Lebanon, respectively.
167. The Foreign Secretary said in May that if the
'Arab Spring' led "to more open and democratic societies
across the Arab world over a number of years, it [would] be the
greatest advance for human rights and freedom since the end of
the Cold War". He went on:
Reform is not a threat to stability, it is the
guarantor of it over the long term. It is not credible or acceptable
to repress now and suggest that reform will follow later, or to
use public order as an excuse to oppress critics. Nor will it
be sustainable over the long term to promise economic reform without
steady political development. Governments that curb human rights
and roll back reform are stoking up anger and frustration that
will spill over in the future. Across the region we urge Arab
nations to address grievances through dialogue and democratic
reform, not through violence. Long-term stability requires real
steps towards representative institutions, political pluralism,
a free media and economic fairness.
168. In addition to action in the UN, EU and G8,
and participation in the NATO operation in Libya, the UK's bilateral
response to the 'Arab Spring' has been the announcement of an
"Arab Partnership". This was based initially on a new
£5 million FCO programme fund for 2011/12, "to address,
in partnership with regional governments, the long-term underlying
governance and social, economic and political participation issues
affecting the Arab world".
In May, the Prime Minister announced that the fund was being increased
to £110 million over four years.
This comprises £40 million jointly from the FCO and DFID
to support political reforms, and £70 million from DFID for
economic support, including to public finance reforms.
169. As we agreed this Report in mid-July 2011, we
agreed also to launch a new inquiry dealing with aspects of UK
Government foreign policy and the 'Arab Spring', for which we
plan to take evidence in autumn 2011. We intend to follow closely
the FCO's work on human rights in the region as part of our inquiry.
170. We welcome the way in which the Government
has put the UK at the forefront of international support for political
and economic liberalisation in the Middle East and North Africa
in response to the 'Arab Spring'. We agree with the Foreign Secretary
that the 'Arab Spring' represents an opportunity for an historic
advance in human rights and political and economic freedoms. However,
the political outlook across the region is far from clear and
may yet deteriorate. The human rights agenda in the region is
now vast, ranging from urgent humanitarian and security risks
facing civilians to the necessarily slow embedding of human rights
norms in the security and other state institutions of democratising
states. In Bahrain, we welcome the regime's establishment of a
commission to investigate recent events, but we remain concerned
that immediate action is needed to ensure an end to torture and
politically-motivated detentions. We recommend that the FCO place
human rightsand in particular political and civil rightsat
the heart of its work with the Middle East and North Africa through
the 'Arab Partnership' in coming years. We further recommend that
the FCO devote a major dedicated section of its 2011 human rights
report to reporting in detail on the human rights work which it
is undertaking in the region.
171. In March 2011 we published a Report on The
UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We supported a process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Although primarily concerned with political and military issues,
the Report commented on aspects of the human rights situation
in that country. It noted that in the 10 years since the US-led
intervention, there had been "significant improvements in
education, especially for girls, and in the fields of health,
telecommunications, human rights, and media freedom".
However, the Report also drew attention to fears that any power-sharing
agreement involving the Taliban, and consequent constitutional
or legislative changes, might jeopardise civil and political liberties,
and the rights of women and minorities in particular.
172. The UK Government is committed to a political
settlement in Afghanistan which "is representative; gives
no one group disproportionate influence; upholds human rights
and the rule of law and is in accordance with Afghanistan's Constitutional
In its response to our Report, the Government stated that "Any
political settlement should be inclusive and address the concerns
of all Afghan citizens. [...] It is important that we ensure women
have as full participation as possible in the political process".
173. The Government also drew attention to the commitments
given by President Karzai's administration:
At the London and Kabul conferences in 2010,
the Afghan Government committed to ensuring that the human rights
of the Afghan people are promoted and protected as enshrined in
the Afghan Constitution. The Lisbon Summit Declaration stressed
'the importance of Afghanistan standing by its Constitutional
and international obligations on human rights, particularly of
women, and of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace
and security.' [...] The implementation of this resolution means
that the Afghan Government and international community will work
to ensure that in addition to protecting women's rights in the
conflict, women play a role in decision-making about the future
of the country and in the wider political settlement process.
Most recently President Karzai reaffirmed that women's rights
were central to the future of Afghanistan in his New Year speech
of 22 March 2011.
174. In the 2010 FCO Report, the FCO also
emphasised the Afghan government's commitments, drawing attention
to its pledge in July 2010 to "finalise and begin implementation
of the National Priority Programme for human rights and civic
responsibilities" as well as to implement a National Action
Plan for Women and the law on elimination of violence against
women. The FCO
Report devoted 12 pages to human rights in Afghanistan. On
women's rights, it commented that "women in Afghanistan continued
to face huge challenges throughout 2010, including high illiteracy
rates, domestic violence, forced marriages, poor access to healthcare
and lack of livelihoods". However, it noted "some encouraging
gains", including the role played by women in the June 2010
Consultative Peace Jirga (where they amounted to 25% of participants),
the fact that there were nine female members of the High Peace
Council, and women's success in winning 69 seats in the Lower
House in the September 2010 parliamentary elections.
175. In its evidence to our present inquiry, Human
Rights Watch considered that the FCO Report provided a
good overview of the UK's efforts to promote human rights in Afghanistan,
but concluded that "its tone is much more positive than is
justified by the realities on the ground". In particular,
Human Rights Watch saw no evidence that the Afghan government's
various commitments and undertakings had actually led to an improvement
in human rights.
Human Rights Watch stated that:
As pressure grows during 2011 for a way out of
the conflict, the UK should do its utmost to ensure that any Afghan
political settlement is genuinely inclusive and that it strengthens
rather than weakens the observance of human rights across Afghanistan,
especially the rights of women and girls as well as ethnic and
176. Oxfam argued that in Afghanistan the UK's generally
progressive approach to security sector reform had "yet to
be translated in practice". Oxfam claimed that the UK and
many of its allies had "focussed too much on fighting the
war and paid insufficient attention both to building accountable
security forces trained to uphold the rule of law, and establishing
effective, accessible mechanisms that deliver justice to Afghan
people". Oxfam stated that, as greater responsibility is
handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces, "there
is a serious risk that violations of human rights and humanitarian
law will escalate unless adequate accountability mechanisms are
put in place".
177. We reiterate our previous support for a process
of political reconciliation in Afghanistan, involving talks with
the Taliban. However, we conclude that it is essential that the
UK Government continue to use its leverage with President Karzai's
administration to ensure that it carries through its undertakings
in respect of human rights, and in particular to secure implementation
of the National Priority Programme for human rights and civic
responsibilities, the National Action Plan for Women and the law
on elimination of violence against women.
178. There is continuing evidence of widespread human
rights abuses in Iraq. On a positive note, the FCO Report
drew attention to Iraq's participation in a Universal Periodic
Review (UPR) process at the UN Human Rights Council in February
2010. The Iraqi government committed itself to the promotion of
human rights, and accepted a number of recommendations from the
UK and other countries. The Iraqi constitution embodies a number
of human rights principles. International observers concluded
that the elections held in March 2010 were free and fair. The
FCO argued that, despite some attacks on journalists, the right
to freedom of expression in the media was generally upheld.
179. The FCO Report also noted that "challenges
remain". Minority religious communities have been subject
to persecution. It is alleged that torture and other forms of
ill-treatment are used in Iraqi detention centres to extract confessions.
Overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons are commonplace. Many
remand prisoners have to spend several years in detention before
being brought to trial. Iraq retains the death penalty. The situation
with regard to women's rights is poor, with one in five women
claiming to have been a victim of domestic violence, female illiteracy
widespread, and female genital mutilation and so-called 'honour
killings' still practised.
180. Human Rights Watch told us that it broadly accepted
the analysis of the Iraqi human rights situation in the FCO
Report, but with three caveats: there was no reference to
internally displaced persons or to persons with disabilities,
both of which were significant human rights issues in Iraq; the
report's assessment of freedom of expression in Iraq was "overly
optimistic"; and it made no mention of "attacks by the
[Iraqi] government on freedom of assembly and the right to peacefully
181. Nearly 3,500 Iranians in exile (mostly belonging
to the dissident Mujahedin e-Khalq group) are still resident in
Camp Ashraf, 40 miles north-east of Baghdad. The Iraqi authorities
have signalled their intention of closing the camp and moving
its residents elsewhere. The FCO reported that "the authorities
have given assurances that none of the residents will be forcibly
transferred to a country where they have reason to fear persecution".
There have been violent clashes between Iraqi security forces
and the inhabitants of the camp on several occasions, most recently
on 8 April 2011 when it is claimed that 31 residents were killed
and 300 injured. FCO Minister Alistair Burt issued a statement
saying he was "deeply disturbed" by reports of these
182. British forces ended combat operations in Iraq
in April 2009, and all British armed forces personnel in the country
had withdrawn by the end of May 2011.
183. We conclude that, given its past military
and political involvement with Iraq, the UK has a particular responsibility
to try to secure improvements in human rights standards in that
country. We recommend that the FCO continue to offer practical
and financial support to the Iraqi government and people to assist
in the promotion of freedom of expression and assembly, personal
security, women's rights, protection of religious minorities,
amelioration of prison and detention conditions, and other basic
human rights. We further recommend that the Governmentin
conjunction with its international partnerstake active
steps to investigate conditions in Camp Ashraf, and do all in
its power to hold the Iraqi authorities to their commitment to
protect the rights of its inhabitants.
206 Q 29 Back
Ev 42 Back
FCO, MOD, DFID, "UK Government National Action Plan on UNSCR
1325 Women, Peace & Security", November 2010, available
via www.fco.gov.uk/en/global-issues/women-peace-security/national-action-plan Back
Q 29 Back
Ev 43 Back
FCO Report, pp 30, 65 Back
FCO, MOD, DFID, "UK Government National Action Plan on UNSCR
1325 Women, Peace & Security", p 5; see also pp 15, 49. Back
Q 29 Back
Ev 35 Back
HC Deb, 13 June 2011, col 653W Back
Q 30 Back
Ev w6 [UNICEF UK], w26 [World Vision UK] Back
Ev w5 [UNICEF UK], w25 [World Vision UK] Back
Ev w5-6 [UNICEF UK], w26 [World Vision UK] Back
Ev w2 [Bahá'i Community of the UK], w7 [Church of England's
Mission and Public Affairs Council]; see FCO Report, pp
Ev w2 [Bahá'i Community of the UK], w7 [Church of England's
Mission and Public Affairs Council] Back
Ev w2 Back
Ev w16 Back
FCO Report, pp 244, 250 Back
FCO Report, pp 29-30 Back
Q 31 Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2008-09,
Human Rights Annual Report 2008, HC 557, para 153 Back
FCO Report, p 92 Back
Q 43 Back
Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/16/25, 16th
Session, 13 April 2011 Back
"Report of the International Commission of Inquiry to investigate
all alleged violations of international human rights law in the
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya", A/HRC/17/44, 1 June 2011 Back
Ev w2 Back
Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/S-16/1, 16th
Special Session, 29 April 2011 Back
FCO Report, p 92 Back
Q 122 Back
Q 123 Back
Qq 43 [Kate Allen], 45 [David Mepham] Back
Q 120 Back
ICC, "Pre-Trial Chamber I issues three warrants of arrest
for Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdualla AlSenussi",
press release, 27 June 2011 Back
Apart from Libya and Darfur (Sudan), the other cases are in Central
African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of
Congo, Kenya and Uganda. Back
See, for example, remarks by Rear Admiral Christopher J. Parry,
former Director General of Development, Concepts and Doctrine,
Ministry of Defence, in a podcast interview for the European Council
on Foreign Relations, 20 April 2011, via http://ecfr.podhoster.com/index.php?sid=2515;
International Crisis Group statement, "Libya: Achieving a
Ceasefire, Moving toward Legitimate Government", 13 May 2011;
"Libya: Gaddafi ICC arrest warrant raises questions",
BBC News Online, 17 May 2011; Thomas Obel Hansen, "Ocampo
targets Gaddafi: will International Criminal Court help end abuse
of civilians in Libya?", www.opendemocracy.net, 18 May 2011;
George Friedman, "Libya and the Problem with The Hague",
Stratfor Geopolitical Weekly, www.stratfor.com, 11 July 2011. Back
Qq 124-125 Back
Q 47 [Kate Allen, David Mepham] Back
"Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability
in Sri Lanka", 31 March 2011, pp ii, vii, www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/POE_Report_Full.pdf Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2008-09,
Human Rights Annual Report 2008, HC 557, para 274 Back
"Sri Lanka calls on UN not to release war crimes report",
The Guardian, 22 April 2011 Back
Ev 38 Back
Ev 47 Back
Ev 41 Back
"Bahrain: Sunni leaders begin talks with Shia groups",
BBC News Online, 2 July 2011 Back
"Military courts for protesters scrapped as King seeks calm",
The Times, 1 July 2011 Back
"Amnesty accuses Syria of crimes against humanity",
BBC News Online, 6 July 2011 Back
"Statement of Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights to the Introduction of preliminary report on
the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic",
Human Rights Council, Geneva, 15 June 2011, via www.ohchr.org Back
HC Deb, 29 June 2011, col 957-961 Back
"UN resolution founders as Assad blames 'saboteurs' for inciting
violence in Syria", The Independent, 21 June 2011 Back
William Hague, speech to Lord Mayor's Banquet, Mansion House,
4 May 2011 Back
HC Deb, 1 February 2011, col 42-44WS Back
David Cameron, transcript of closing press conference at the G8
summit, Deauville, France, 27 May 2011, via www.number10.gov.uk Back
For information about our inquiry, see our website at www.parliament.uk/facom. Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2010-11, The
UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan,
HC 514, paras 77, 123 Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2010-11, The
UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan,
HC 514, para 201 Back
Ibid., para 138 Back
FCO, "Quarterly report on progress in Afghanistan",
27 October 2010 Back
FCO, Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session
2010-11: The UK's Foreign Policy Approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan:
Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, Cm 8064, May 2011, section 24 Back
FCO Report, pp 120, 129 Back
FCO Report, p 129 Back
Ev 35-36 Back
Ev 36 Back
Ev w33 Back
FCO Report, pp 216-224 Back
Ev 37 Back
FCO Report, p 224 Back
FCO, "Foreign Office Minister deplores the loss of life and
injury at Camp Ashraf in Iraq", press notice, 8 April 2011 Back