Joint Committee on Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office


  1.  The coming into force of the Human Rights Act (HRA) was an important event for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a key international treaty—a guiding principle for UK foreign policy since accession in 1953. FCO Legal Advisers act as Agents of the Government at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg—the link between the Court and Whitehall Departments. More widely, the ECHR has been a touchstone for the remarkable transitions that have taken place in Europe since 1989.

  2.  The Committee has asked what efforts the FCO has made to implement the Human Rights Act.

  3.  A review of the FCO's legislative responsibilities was carried out in the 18 months leading up to the full coming into force of the HRA on 2 October 2000. It should be noted that the FCO only occasionally initiates primary legislation. No amending legislation was judged necessary in existing areas of FCO policy lead.

  4.  FCO rules and procedures, at home and abroad, were also thoroughly reviewed. These were originally designed to be ECHR compliant. Practical guidelines on the implications of the HRA were drawn up for all staff working on entry-clearance and consular work. On personnel issues, the FCO has followed the Cabinet Office review of civil service regulations and has adhered to central guidance.

  5.  FCO procedures are being kept under close review to take account of emerging HRA-related jurisprudence.

  6.  The Committee has further asked what efforts have been made to develop a "human rights culture" in the FCO.

  7.  The most significant requirement identified for the FCO as a result of the HRA was for training and awareness raising. Training has taken various forms. A contract was awarded to the respected human rights organisation, Justice, to run a general Human Rights Act training course for all FCO staff. The course introduces staff to the HRA and, in practical terms, helps them to relate the HRA to their areas of responsibility. The courses began in early 2000 and have been well attended, and highly rated by staff at all levels from across the organisation. Representatives of Non-Departmental Public Bodies, for which the FCO has responsibility, have also attended. Courses continue on a monthly basis.

  8.  The FCO/Home Office Joint Entry Clearance Unit (JECU), Immigration Service Training and Development Unit (ISTDU) and Home Office Legal Advisers Branch cooperated to run a cascade training course for Entry Clearance Officers (ECO) and Managers (ECM) at all diplomatic posts abroad. Between April and September 2000 courses were held at regional training centres—New Delhi, Bangkok, Lagos, Pretoria, Dubai, New York, Caracas and the Far East—as well as in London. In addition, the HRA is an integral part of training courses run by JECU for pre-posting and home-based staff.

  9.  The HRA has also been incorporated into training for all Management and Consular staff prior to departure on overseas postings. Other FCO departments are developing supplementary training programmes according to their specific needs.

  10.  HRA guidance and publicity materials produced by the Home Office Human Rights Unit have been distributed to all overseas posts. These have been supplemented by FCO-specific guidance telegrams. Embassy managers were asked to ensure all staff—British and locally engaged—were aware of these materials.

  11.  The Committee has asked how the HRA has affected the FCO's approach to human rights issues, and about the consequences for policy-formation and the delivery of services.

  12.  Over the past four years, human rights have been central to this Government's foreign policy. Ministers and an enhanced Human Rights Policy Department have worked to "mainstream" human rights into the work of FCO geographical departments and overseas posts. Human rights are therefore already an important element in policy-formation. The coming into force of the HRA has enabled the FCO to demonstrate, in contacts with third countries, the importance the Government attaches to human rights issues—at home and abroad.

  13.  The FCO's main service-delivery activities—entry-clearance and consular work—were reviewed to ensure ECHR compliance (see para 4). Training and guidance materials have been used to ensure that all staff engaged in these areas of work are aware of the human rights implications. Some departments have taken their own additional steps—for example, Consular Division have recruited a new member of staff to look at the human rights aspects of consular policy.

  14.  There have been no court judgements on human rights issues with direct implications for the FCO since the coming into force of the HRA.

  15.  The introduction of the International Criminal Court Bill in the House of Lords on 14 December 2000 required Baroness Scotland, FCO Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, to issue a Ministerial Certificate under Section 19 (1)(a) of the HRA. Having taken appropriate advice, Baroness Scotland was satisfied that the Bill complied with Convention rights and made a statement to that effect.

February 2001


UK Human Rights Policy: Achievements Since 1997

    —  East Timor—Foreign Secretary played key role galvanising international community's response to crisis following independence vote; independence leader Xanana Gusmao stayed with our Ambassador in Jakarta after his release from prison; we are supporting the UN and East Timorese in their preparation for full independence.

    —  Sierra Leone—We have consistently led international support for the democratically elected Government of Sierra Leone; deployed troops since May 2000 in response to rebels' breaking Lomé Peace Agreement; now providing 200 troops to train Sierra Leone Army; and £30 million in aid this year (£70 million since 1998).

    —  Kosovo—Played leading role in international community's response to impending humanitarian catastrophe in 1999, and now in international efforts to rebuild.

    —  We introduced in 1997 tough new criteria for UK arms sales and worked with EU partners to introduce EU code of conduct on arms exports in June 1998, and in 2000, consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. In 1999 we lobbied for ratification of Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines.

    —  Torture equipment—Banned export and transhipment from the UK of electroshock batons, stun guns, tasers, leg irons, gang chains, shackles and other equipment that has been used in torture.

    —  We have published three annual reports on our strategic export controls—putting us at forefront of transparency in arms exports in Europe.

    —  We lobbied hard in favour of International Criminal Court and played key role in negotiations leading to agreement of strong court at Rome Conference in June 1998. Bill to enable UK ratification introduced in December 2000.

    —  International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)/International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) —We have provided strong support for both tribunals—UK SFOR troops in Bosnia have taken part in 13 out of 24 detentions of indictees to date.

    —  Complete abolition of Death Penalty in UK means we now lobby for abolition of Death Penalty and for clemency in application worldwide. Ratified Additional Protocol 6 of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Optional Protocol 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Agreed guidelines on EU demarches (under UK Presidency). EU resolution at Commission on Human Rights (CHR) each year. Foreign Secretary's Death Penalty panel introduced.

    —  Around the world our missions lobby governments much more actively than ever before to promote human rights—seeking dialogue and co-operation where possible, encouraging wider ratification and implementation of core UN human rights instruments, but also applying pressure where necessary in response to violations of human rights.

    —  Worldwide lobbying campaign for ratification of Convention Against Torture, late 1998—early 1999. Ratification of CAT increased from 114 to 124. Torture Reporting Handbook launched March 2000. 10,000 copies distributed in Russian, Arabic, French, Spanish and English. Supporting publication in Chinese and Turkish. Support for UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, European Committee for Prevention of Torture, OSCE anti-torture programme, Association for the Prevention of Torture and others.

    —  Conflict diamonds—UK played key role in getting diamond producing, marketing and importing states to work together against illegal diamond trade fuelling conflict.

    —  Government has implemented a major programme of initiatives to promote child rights. UK played key role in drafting and securing agreement to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 182 on elimination of worst forms of child labour in June 1999. In 2000, ratified that convention as well as ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age of employment. UK now ratified all eight-core ILO conventions.

    —  Work with Governments around the world to tackle commercial sexual exploitation of children. Good example is Asia/Europe initiative with Government of the Philippines, bringing together child protection experts from both continents.

    —  Prime Minister in September 2000 signed new Optional Protocols to Convention on the Rights of the Child—on children in armed conflict and the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution. Intend to ratify both as soon as possible.

    —  UK taking a lead in supporting international action to tackle racism and racial discrimination; we pressed for the fast tracking of the new EU Race Directive and have funded preparations for the World Conference Against Racism in September 2001.

    —  Re-election of UK to UN Commission on Human Rights; and Professor Sir Nigel Rodley elected as Independent Expert to UN Human Rights Committee.

    —  UK first predominantly Christian country to send a delegation to the pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, providing consular and medical assistance to about 2,000 of the 20,000 British Hajjis who performed pilgrimage in 2000.

    —  Proposed jointly with Germans new European Union Annual Human Rights Report. Second report issued in December 2000.

    —  We have published three annual human rights reports explaining these changes in policy and reporting our activity to implement them. The reports are a crucial part of our on-going dialogue with those outside government, a further step in the increased openness of policymaking, and a deliberate move to hold ourselves and our record up to public scrutiny.

    —  We have evolved human rights country specific strategies to promote human rights in key countries and target our efforts on issues where they can have most effect—over 90 strategies so far. These set out key problems, objectives of our policy, UK's scope to secure improvements, and plan of action.

    —  The FCO's human rights training course is essential training for all policy staff, up to and including Ambassadors. 280 staff trained from 1998-2000.

    —  We have strengthened our dialogue with civil society—including through regular Human Rights NGO fora chaired by FCO Ministers and NGO briefing for FCO Ministers and Ambassadors. We work closely with NGOs on human rights in posts, and have included a NGO expert as a human rights officer at one of our Embassies. Representatives of Save the Children, Amnesty International and World Organisation Against Torture have been placed in Human Rights Policy Departments; FCO placements to Article XIX, Minority Rights Group and Interights.

    —  Worked closely with British businesses and NGOs to support good practice in corporate social responsibility overseas, including initiative to introduce voluntary guidelines for companies operating overseas in the extractives sector. Creation of FCO Global Citizenship Unit. Introduction of human rights screening for applications to Export Credit Guarantee Department.

    —  Human Rights website—address:—(no www.). Website includes database of Human Rights Project Fund projects; Calendar of key international human rights events; copies of both human rights reports; NGO Forum and links to other human rights sites.

    —  We have established a human rights project fund (HRPF) to allow our missions around the world to support grassroots human rights promotion. Since inception in April 1998, it has supported over 450 projects worth over £15 million in over 90 countries. Used in close coordination with the activities of Department for International Development and the British Council on the ground.

  Examples include:

    —  support to Kenyan project dealing with victims of alleged police abuse;

    —  training for disabled children in Russia on rights awareness, so that they can train others;

    —  Palestinian Rights Programme;

    —  Chinese projects.

    —  BBC World Service Project "I have a Right to. . . "—launched November 2000, largest single human rights project supported by FCO, largest BBC World Service education project—£650,000 from HRPF over three years. Will broadcast 13 radio series in 12 vernacular languages, including Russian, Arabic, Swahili, followed up by five awareness raising events around world, and further radio programmes.

  Amnesty International, in their 2000 audit of HMG's foreign policy, referred to the government's: ". . . record of real achievement—including the constructive role the UK has periodically played around the world, the passing of the Human Rights Act and the increasing importance accorded to human rights and international justice in UK diplomacy abroad."

UK Human Rights Policy: Chronology

  July 1997—Speech by Foreign Secretary "Human Rights into a New Century"

  July 1997—Announcement of new criteria to be used in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms.

  Sept 1997—First meeting of FCO NGO Forum.

  Feb 1998—Announcement of Human Rights Project Fund.

  Apr 1998—First FCO/DFID Annual Report on Human Rights launched.

  June 1998—EU Code of Conduct on arms sales agreed by GAC.

  Sept 1998—Publication of Amnesty International's first annual Human Rights Audit of UK Foreign and Asylum Policy.

  Oct 1998—Speech by Foreign Secretary "Making the Difference" to Amnesty International human rights festival.

  Oct 1998—Launch of FCO anti-torture initiative.

  Dec 1998—50th Anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

  Mar 1999—Publication of first FCO/DTI/MoD Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls.

  July 1999—Second FCO/DFID Annual Report on Human Rights launched.

  Sept 1999—Publication of second Amnesty International Audit of UK Foreign and Asylum Policy.

  Nov 1999—Publication of second FCO/DTI/MoD Report on Strategic Export Controls.

  Nov 1999—10th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; Children's' Select Committee.

  Jan 2000—Speech by Foreign Secretary "Foreign Policy and the National Interest" at Chatham House.

  Mar 2000—Speech by Peter Hain, FCO Minister of State, to the Commission on Human Rights, Geneva.

  Mar 2000—Launch of Torture Reporting Handbook.

  Mar 2000—UK ratifies ILO Convention 182 on elimination of worst forms of child labour.

  May 2000—UK re-elected to UN Commission on Human Rights.

  June 2000—Beijing Plus Five—Special Session of the UN General Assembly, on progress against Beijing Platform for Action.

  June 2000—UK ratifies ILO Convention 138 on minimum age for entry into employment.

  July 2000—Publication of third FCO/DTI/MoD Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls.

  July 2000—Publication of third Annual Report on Human Rights.

  Sep 2000—Publication of third Amnesty International Audit of UK Foreign and Asylum Policy.

  Sep 2000—Professor Sir Nigel Rodley elected as Independent Expert to UN Human Rights Committee.

  Sep 2000—Prime Minister signs new Optional Protocols to Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  Oct 2000—Speech by Peter Hain, FCO Minister of State at European Conference Against Racism, Strasbourg.

  Oct 2000—Human Rights Act comes fully into force.

  Dec 2000—Launch of Second stage of FCO anti-torture initiative.

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