public pressure |
76. As part of its "active and activist
foreign policy", the FCO seeks to promote British values,
including human rights, and to contribute to the welfare of developing
countries and their citizens.
Much of that work will be carried out through specific projects,
fostering the development of media freedom or of women's rights,
for example; or it may occur through the quiet but steady exercise
of influence at a personal level by staff at FCO missions overseas.
Occasionally, the UK Government will judge that some sort of public
pressure is the best means of indicating the UK's disapproval
of a foreign state's human rights policy or standards. Economic
sanctions and boycotts of international events are examples of
77. As the FCO notes in its 2011 Annual Report
on human rights and democracy, multilateral sanctions are not
intended to punish: rather, they are designed to coerce and constrain
those they target with the aim of changing their behaviour, and
to send a political signal.
Much academic effort has been expended on trying to determine
whether economic sanctions are effective in achieving their aim.
Even if the desired outcome appears to have occurred, establishing
a causal link with the enforcement of sanctions is difficult.
78. Furthermore, achieving watertight sanctions
when there are multiple, competing trading interests can be almost
impossible. When giving evidence to the Committee last year, Jeremy
Browne MP (the then FCO Minister with responsibility for human
rights) appeared to question the value of sanctions, noting that
"that model is becoming harder to sustainin fact,
it may already be past its peakwhen other countries in
the world that do not, or do not appear to, or whose Governments
do not, share those values supply the country that we have sanctions
against". He concluded that "a bit of a rethink about
the tools that we have at our disposal" was required.
The Foreign Secretary reiterated this view in a speech at the
Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 9 July 2012, when he said
that "we have to adapt to the fact that some of our traditional
diplomatic measures, including EU sanctions, will have a weaker
impact as the EU's share of global GDP declines relative to the
rest of the world".
However, despite the cautionary note sounded by the Foreign Secretary,
we note that an FCO Minister felt able to state on 25 June that
sanctions were "a key reason" why Iran had agreed to
talks with the E3+3
on the use of nuclear material.
We also note the widespread belief that the effects of the sanctions
regime on Libyan oil companies in 2011 contributed to the downfall
of Colonel Gaddafi's regime.
79. Recent events in Burma, which has long been
subject to economic sanctions, provide a good case study. The
EU's sanctions regime against Burma dates back to the mid-1990s,
and concerns about the absence of progress towards democracy in
Burma and at the continuing violation of human rights led the
EU Council to adopt a Common Position in October 1996 which has
provided the basis for subsequent measures. The sanctions regime
has encompassed dealings with the Burmese timber, mining and precious
minerals industries, visa restrictions for named individuals,
an arms embargo, asset freezes on individuals and businesses,
and the suspension of all but humanitarian aid.
80. Burma has been one of the FCO's "countries
of concern" since 2005, when the designation was first conceived;
and it had been listed since 1999 in the FCO's annual Human Rights
reports as a country posing a "challenge". However,
after a long period of isolation from the West, a change of direction
became evident in Burma during 2011. As the FCO noted in its annual
report on its human rights work in 2011, the Burmese government
opened up a process of dialogue with the most prominent opposition
figure, Aung San Suu Kyi; media and internet restrictions were
relaxed to some extent; laws permitting the establishment of independent
trade unions were passed; and political prisoners were released.
In response, the FCO has "moved to a new level of engagement"
with the Burmese government, and the Foreign Secretary visited
Burma in January this yearthe first British Foreign Secretary
to do so since 1955.
81. Evidence of reform prompted Western countries
to review the sanctions regime in force. At the EU Foreign Affairs
Council in Luxembourg on 23 April, which was attended by the Foreign
Secretary, the Council decided to suspend all sanctions against
Burma for twelve months, excepting the arms embargo and the supply
of equipment that could be used for internal repression. The US
had already lifted travel and certain financial restrictions;
Canada suspended most sanctions on 24 April; and Australia lifted
all remaining travel and financial sanctions on 7 June.
82. The Rt Hon David Lidington MP, as Minister
for Europe, wrote to the Committee Chairman on 9 May with a summary
of the discussion and conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council
on 23 April. He reported that "the Foreign Secretary stressed
[to the Council] that sanctions had given the EU significant leverage";
and he also argued in a blog on the FCO website that EU sanctions
had been "part of the mix of international pressure"
which had led to the decision on the part of the Burmese government
to initiate reforms.
However, the FCO's 2011 report on human rights steers clear of
drawing any conclusions on the effectiveness of sanctions in Burma,
and the reasons are understandable. The Burmese economy had been
sustained by investment from China and Thailand and was on an
upward rather than a downward trend, having grown by 5.5% from
2010 to 2011. At least one NGO has questioned whether sanctions
had the opposite effect to that which was desired:
"The sanctions were counter-productive and reinforced
suspicions against the West
It gave them a justification
for maintaining power and perversely, it helped to maintain military
The generals have learnt to survive within the sanctions".
83. The EU's decision partially to suspend sanctions
needed to be finely judged. Although there is clear evidence of
a positive approach by the Burmese Government to reform in certain
areas, serious infringements of human rights continue. The FCO's
2011 annual report on human rights cites reports of gender-based
violence by the military, and censorship and denial of rights
to ethnic minorities. There was serious conflict with ethnic armed
forces in Kachin State in 2011, and by the end of the year, nearly
50,000 people had been internally displaced from the State.
Violence has also flared in Rakhine State in western Burma, where
the Muslim Rohingya minority has been subjected to serious discrimination.
The Government has registered with the Burmese President and the
Burmese Minister for Foreign Affairs its deep concern at the violence
in Rakhine State.
We note that the Burmese Government announced in August that it
would establish an independent Investigative Commission to examine
the violence in Rakhine State.
84. There is also uncertainty about the extent
to which political prisoners have been released. In a letter to
the Committee Chair following a debate on human rights in Westminster
Hall in January this year, Alistair Burt MP, as the FCO Minister
responding to the debate, listed "the release of all political
prisoners [in Burma] in time for the by-elections on 1 April"
as one of the preconditions for supporting the lifting of EU sanctions.
Yet, although the EU agreed in April to suspend sanctions, there
is doubt about whether all political prisoners had in fact been
released. Some 200 had been released in October 2011; but a newspaper
report in May 2012 quoted the National League for Democracy
as suggesting that there remained "about 330" political
prisoners, and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
(based in Thailand) cited a figure of "more than 900".
The Secretary of State told the House in May, during the Queen's
Speech debate on foreign affairs, that there were still prisoners
who the Burmese opposition argued were political prisoners. He
added then that "we are now at the stage of definitions of
what constitutes a political prisoner. We and the opposition in
Burma may have a differing view from the Government there".
In June, he confirmed that he believed that there were still political
prisoners in Burma;
and an FCO Minister reported that a further 25 political prisoners
had been released in July this year.
It should be borne in mind that the release of a prisoner may
be only temporary: Amnesty International warned that those released
might be on long-term parole and were liable to have their freedom
revoked for minor offences which could be trumped up easily.
85. We have not undertaken an in-depth assessment
of whether the economic sanctions imposed multilaterally upon
Burma achieved their desired effect. However, we
are satisfied that enough progress towards reform has been made
in Burma to justify some relaxation of the EU's sanctions regime,
although we are in no doubt that Burma's human rights record remains
seriously blemished. We
believe that the UK can and should build on the current climate
of goodwill to press for wider reform, including access to those
still held in detention as political prisoners or for political
offences or for politically-motivated reasons. Developments
in Rakhine State, however, appear grim.
We recommend that the UK urge the Burmese authorities to permit
independent observers to visit Rakhine State, to gather objective
evidence on the extent to which the rights of the Rohingya minority
are being respected.
Boycotts of international events
86. On at least three occasions this year, major
international events have taken place in countries widely recognised
as having flawed records on human rights: the Formula One Grand
Prix in Bahrain in April, the Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan,
and the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship (Euro 2012),
partly hosted by Ukraine. In each case, there were suggestions
that the event should be boycotted in protest.
87. There were no plans for the UK Government
to be officially represented at the Bahrain Grand Prix. There
was pressure, however, on Formula 1 sponsors, drivers and the
media to boycott the race, and some suggested that the UK Government
should lend its support to such calls. The Prime Minister, however,
It's a matter for Formula 1, but let me be clear,
we always stand up for human rights and it's important that peaceful
protests are allowed to go ahead
I think we should be clear
that Bahrain is not Syria, there is a process of reform underway
and this government backs that reform and wants to help promote
Mr Burt, giving evidence to us on 18 April on the
Arab Spring, took the same line.
88. It emerged on 7 June that no UK Government
ministers would attend England's three group games in the first
stage of the Euro 2012 football championship in Ukraine, and that
attendance at later stages of the tournament was being kept "under
review in the light of ministers' busy schedules ahead of the
Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the
rule of law in Ukraine".
The FCO's 2011 report on human rights noted that 2011 was a "year
in which Ukraine's respect for democratic principles and the rule
of law had been called into question, principally over the detention,
trial and convictions of opposition political leaders".
The FCO pointed to evidence that trials had been seriously flawed
and politically motivated, and the Rt Hon David Lidington MP,
as Minister for Europe, registered dismay at the physical abuse
by prison staff of the former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Senior European Commission figures, including the President and
Viviane Reding (Justice Commissioner) announced that they would
not attend Euro 2012 events in Ukraine, and Chancellor Merkel
also said that no-one from her Cabinet would attend games played
by Germany in Ukraine.
89. We questioned the Minister on the Government's
policy, noting that there appeared to be inconsistencies both
in its approach to the different stages of Euro 2012 and between
the official lines taken with regard to the Bahrain Grand Prix
and to Euro 2012. He accepted that the FCO was open to such charges,
while saying that "it is very difficult to have absolute
consistency in these matters"; and he pointed out that he
had seen no comment in the media in favour of a boycott of the
Chinese Grand Prix held in Shanghai, despite China's record of
serious human rights abuses. He sought to justify the decision
to impose at least a partial boycott of Euro 2012 events in Ukraine
on the basis that "it was felt
important that the
British Government demonstrated the concerns that exist here in
Parliament about human rights in Ukraine. That was what was thought
to be an appropriate signal of disapproval".
90. Witnesses representing human rights groups
took a different view. Jeremy Croft, representing Amnesty International,
said that Amnesty did not call for boycotts of sporting events
because "we just do not believe that will achieve human rights
change". Human Rights Watch also had a policy of not calling
generally for boycotts of sporting or cultural events. Indeed,
Mr Mepham observed that "we use the opportunity of those
events to bring pressure to bear and to draw public attention
to the abuses that are taking place there".
He referred to the "huge amount of advocacy and media work"
which Human Rights Watch had undertaken to try to expose human
rights abuses in Bahrain, and he noted that the issue had "got
a lot of coverage" because of the Formula One Grand Prix.
He also anticipated that the intense media coverage of the Eurovision
Song Contest in Azerbaijan would present opportunities to draw
attention to human rights abuses in the country.
91. We find it difficult to
discern any consistency of logic behind the Government's policy
in not taking a public stance on the Bahrain Grand Prix but implementing
at least a partial boycott of the 2012 UEFA European Football
Championship matches played in Ukraine.
Denial of visas
for entry to the UK
92. The FCO's 2011 report on
human rights states that
Britain welcomes visitors from around
but not those who have perpetrated human rights
abuses. Foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area
may only come to the United Kingdom if they satisfy the requirements
of the Immigration Rules. Where there is independent, reliable
and credible evidence that an individual has committed human rights
abuses, the individual will not normally be permitted to enter
the United Kingdom.
The Minister with responsibility for human rights
confirmed, in correspondence with the Committee, that there had
been a change in presumption, designed to leave human rights abusers
"in no doubt where we stand".
However, that message is not particularly visible, as the Government
does not routinely comment on individual cases and does not normally
publicise the fact that an entry visa has been denied.
We also query the statement by the Minister that there exists
a power to deny entry to the UK to those who are implicated
in human rights abuses:
in theory that might extend to people who are guilty of nothing
and are merely the subject of unfounded allegations. We
ask the Department to confirm that the presumption against the
granting of visas to enter the UK on human rights grounds would
only apply to people against whom there was evidence that they
had abused human rights.
93. The exercise of the power to deny entry to
non-EEA nationals on human rights grounds became a high-profile
issue as a result of the case of Mr Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian
lawyer who was arrested in November 2008 while investigating an
alleged tax fraud against the Russian state by law enforcement
officials, and who was taken into pre-trial detention, where he
died nearly a year later. In July 2011 the Russian Presidential
Council for Civil Society and Human Rights found that Mr Magnitsky
had been denied medical treatment while in detention, and that
there was "reasonable suspicion to believe that the death
was triggered by beating".
We note that Mr Magnitsky's case is not an isolated one: according
to the FCO, between 50 and 60 people die in pre-trial detention
facilities in Russia every year.
According to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, 107,800
people were held in pre-trial detention in Russia on 1 October
2011. Delays and
a lack of progress in investigating deaths of human rights activists,
lawyers and journalists continue, and prominent figures who fall
foul of the Russian authorities face detention for long periods
on dubious grounds (Mikhail Khodorkovsky being just one example).
We also note the constraints on freedom of expression, as illustrated
most recently by the imposition of a sentence of two years' imprisonment
on members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, for having "crudely
undermined social order".
94. Hermitage Capital Management, the firm for
which Mr Magnitsky worked, sent us a written submission recommending
the public denial of visas and asset freezes for individuals who
held responsibility in the chain of events which led to his death.
Motions proposing such a course have been agreed to in the Dutch
Parliament (but not taken up by the executive) and in the European
Parliament. Legislation is proceeding through the US Congress
which would introduce targeted visa bans and asset freezes for
individuals held responsible not just for Mr Magnitsky's death
but also for any extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross
violations of internationally recognised human rights in Russia.
95. Even though the Government maintains that
it does not routinely publicise the identity of banned individuals,
it may well be that visas are already being refused to those linked
to Mr Magnitsky's death.
The question which we have considered is whether the benefit to
the Government and the UK in signalling publicly its insistence
on human rights values could justify making public the denial
of entry to those believed to be in serious breach of them. When
we asked the Minister to explain why such decisions were not routinely
made public, he told us that
If you get into justifying each individual case,
you could make the case for justifying all kinds of new categories,
and you could then make the case for legal appeals against the
individual cases and we would end up with a hugely complicated
system. For some people, for reasons of confidentiality or sensitivity,
I think it would probably be regarded as reasonable not to release
the details that underlie the decision. The position has been
taken by successive Governments that it is better policy to have
an overall policy that people understand, but not to comment on
Mr Browne accepted that publicising the refusal of
a visa on human rights grounds "would send out a powerful
message", but he suggested that there might be other, "less
glorious" considerations which needed to be weighed against
such an approach. Examples of such considerations might include
the danger of prejudicing a trial in the country of origin, or
the danger of retaliation against British nationals.
In further correspondence, the Government referred to the general
duty of confidentiality "which means that it would not normally
be appropriate to discuss details of individual immigration cases".
The Government added that
it is also unhelpful to the effective operation of
this policy to enter into a public debate about who should and
should not be banned from the UK. Such decisions are by their
nature emotive but need to be taken on the basis of objective
and verifiable evidence available to Ministers.
96. Entry clearance policy is of course a Home
Office responsibility, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
retains a strong policy interest, and we are anxious that this
should not be sidelined. We accept that routine disclosure of
the fact that an entry visa had been denied might be inappropriate;
but we detect an element of dogma and inflexibility in the Government's
defence of its policy. We
conclude that publicising the names of those who are denied visas
to enter the UK on human rights grounds could be a valuable tool,
when used sparingly, in drawing attention to the UK's determination
to uphold high standards of human rights, and we recommend that
the Government make use of it.
137 FCO Annual Report and Accounts 2011-12, Statement
of Priorities, p13: "Our Purpose". Back
Human Rights and Democracy: the 2011 FCO Report, page 137 Back
Evidence given on 23 May 2011, Q 97, HC 964 (Session 2010-12) Back
UK, France, Germany, China, Russia and the US Back
Alistair Burt MP, HC Deb, 25 June 2012, col 90W Back
Human Rights and Democracy: the 2011 FCO Report, page 178-9 Back
The Age (Melbourne), 7 June 2012 Back
Jim Della-Giacomo, South East Asia project director, International
Crisis Group, quoted on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-17781745 Back
Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 FCO Report, page 183 Back
See HC Deb 4 July 2012, col 661W Back
HC Deb 17 July 2012, col 722W Back
See FCO press release 20 August 2012 Back
The Burmese political party led by Aung San Suu Kyi Back
The Nation, Bangkok, 6 May Back
HC Deb 15 May 2012, col 422 Back
HC Deb 19 June 2012 col 740 Back
Lord Howell, HL Deb 13 July 2012, col WA 282 Back
Mr Croft Q 57 Back
See for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/11/azerbaijan-eurovision-song-contest-boycott
and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17782601 Back
British foreign policy and the 'Arab Spring', Second Report from
the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 80, evidence
given on 18 April 2012, Q 226. Back
Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 FCO Report, page 146 Back
Q 135 Back
Q 55 Back
Human Rights and Democracy, the 2011 FCO Report, page 55 Back
Ev 106 Back
See HC Deb 7 March 2012, col 935 Back
Ev 109 Back
Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 FCO Annual Report, page 302 Back
See http://www.rbcdaily.ru/2011/11/01/focus/562949981927754 Back
See HC Deb 7 March 2012, col 937 Back
Q 130 Back
Q 131 Back
Ev 107 Back