Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Special Report




Recommendation 1

  Given that the British Government believes that it is regarded by both Armenia and Azerbaijan as neutral and friendly, we recommend that it consider how it may best take forward the Minsk Group's work and contribute to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. (Paragraph 32)

What progress has been made towards a settlement?

  77.  The murders in the Armenian parliament of the Prime Minister, Speaker and six other parliamentarians in October 1999, proved a setback for the Nagorno Karabakh peace process. President Kocharian of Armenia was forced to concentrate on domestic affairs and the peace process subsequently lost momentum.

  78.  President Kocharian and President Aliev of Azerbaijan continue to meet to discuss Nagorno Karabakh, most recently at the Millennium Summit in New York. They are publicly committed to finding a solution. However, they have as yet been unable to put forward any alternative ideas acceptable to both sides. The Minsk group has made it clear to the two Presidents that it needs such new proposals before it can advance any new initiatives. The EU continues to be engaged: at a donor conference in Geneva in May 2000 organised by the Minsk Group, it agreed in principle to provide funding to underpin any eventual peace agreement. The EU raises Nagorno Karabakh in its regular co-operation council meetings with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Government continues to support the work of the Minsk Group. In response to an OSCE request we are looking for a suitable British national to be seconded to the staff of OSCE Ambassador Kasparcik. We have maintained a close and senior-level dialogue with the three co-chairs of the Minsk group.

Recommendation 2

  We welcome the British Government's involvement in resolving the conflict in Abkhazia and, while we recognise the great difficulties involved, we recommend that work towards a solution of a problem which threatens the security and integrity of the Georgian state should be a regional priority for British diplomacy. (Paragraph 40)

What progress has been made towards a settlement?

  79.  Progress towards a settlement on Abkhazia has been slow, and the two sides have yet to engage in serious discussion about central issues such as the division of constitutional competences. The FCO has continued to treat the Abkhazia problem as a top regional priority. We have repeatedly supported the extension of the UNOMIG mandate in Abkhazia, and continue to provide British personnel to the operation. As a member of the group of Friends of the UN Secretary General we have given strong, public support to his Special Representative. The Foreign Secretary discussed Abkhazia during his visit to Tbilisi in February 2000, and he and the Prime Minister received an update on developments from President Shevardnadze during the latter's visit to the UK in July. During that visit, and with the objective of boosting regional security, the Prime Minister announced a £100,000 contribution to a voluntary OSCE fund to assist the decommissioning of Russian bases in Georgia, including in Abkhazia. We have funded confidence building measures such as a meeting of Georgian and Abkhaz journalists, to encourage more accurate reporting of events in each others' territories.

Recommendation 3

  In view of the continued threat to regional stability posed by the situation in Tajikistan, we recommend that the Government maintain its efforts to support the peace process in Tajikistan through the UN Security Council. (Paragraph 42)

What progress has been made towards lasting peace?

  80.  The situation in Tajikistan remains difficult, with poverty and widespread criminal activity undermining weak central institutions. The Tajik government have struggled to combat activities this summer by the well-armed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has used Tajikistan as a base for incursions into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

  81.  Uzbek/Tajik co-operation against the insurgents has improved this year, but Tajik and wider regional stability remains threatened by the IMU's activities. The security situation in Tajikistan continues to rule out any British presence there. The United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT), which concluded its mandate in May 2000, played an important role in supporting the peace process. The British Government supported a UN proposal to establish a post-conflict peace-building office in Tajikistan, which will provide a political framework for UN peace-building activities, mobilise international donor support for programmes, and help create an environment for consolidating peace, democracy and rule of law. The UK also supports the work of the OSCE office in Dushanbe. FCO officials met with the chief economic adviser to President Rakhmonov in July 2000 for a briefing on the economic and political situation in Tajikistan.

Recommendation 5

  We recommend that in view of an actual threat to the United Kingdom from the trafficking of heroin and other opiates through Central Asia, the Government should reverse its decision not to post a full-time Drugs Liaison Officer to Tashkent, and work to strengthen its co-operation with the multilateral and national drugs control agencies operating in the region. (Paragraph 51)

What is the current assessment of threat?

  82.  A recently completed study of drugs trafficking in Central Asia, commissioned by the FCO, concluded that while the region as a whole is not a major threat to the UK, Turkmenistan might now be a heroin trafficking route to the UK. As a result, HMC&E have now decided in principle to post a full time Drugs Liaison Officer to the Central Asian Republics. We are currently examining the arguments for a variety of locations within the region for the post.

Recommendation 6

  We urge the Government to ensure that EU programmes in the field of drug control in Central Asia are implemented in a timely and effective fashion. In particular, such programmes should not waste resources in duplicating efforts undertaken by other national or multilateral organisations. (Paragraph 53)

What progress has been made?

  83.  The Government continues to encourage the Commission to implement the projects set out in the EU Central Asia Drugs Action Plan (CADAP) in a timely and effective fashion. The Commission are appointing an EU Coordinator in Almaty to ensure that the CADAP assistance programmes do not duplicate efforts undertaken by other national or multilateral organisations in the region. He is scheduled to arrive in October.

Recommendation 7

  We recommend that the Government use its best efforts to work with the governments of Central Asia to alleviate the severe difficulties of water management in the region, both in resolving disputes over resource allocation and in promoting the necessary technical assistance from British companies with expertise in the field. (Paragraph 56)

What progress has been made?

  84.  The UK has been actively pursuing the issue of water management in Central Asia. At the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in November 1999, the Secretary of State offered to host a high level meeting, under the auspices of the OSCE, to promote strengthened regional co-operation over water.

  85.  A mission led by the UK, but also involving the Austrian OSCE Chair, the OSCE Secretariat, the European Commission, the US Government and the World Bank, visited the region in March 2000 to explore the views of the five Republics. Reactions were mixed; some were in favour of bilateral or regional solutions without outside help. A high level meeting is unlikely to take place in the near future. Nonetheless, in co-ordination with other organisations and donors, the UK is continuing its efforts to encourage regional co-operation over water.

Recommendation 9

  We recommend that the British Government work within the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to achieve a suitable status within the Council for the countries of Central Asia which have undertaken to subscribe to its core values and which have made material progress in that direction. (Paragraph 72)

What progress has been made?

  86.  The Government wants to encourage the Central Asian states to subscribe to the core values of the Council of Europe (CoE). It is currently considering a proposal by the CoE Chairmanship that special co-operation status be given to Central Asian states which do subscribe to those values. Discussion, including on the eligibility criteria to be applied, the nature and extent of access to the CoE that observer states might enjoy, and the financial implications for the CoE, will shortly take place in the relevant CoE sub-committee.

Recommendation 10

  We believe that conditionality is most effective when donors co-ordinate policies. We recommend that the Government should use its position within the EBRD to ensure that the EBRD does not spend money in countries which do not have programmes agreed with the IMF and World Bank. (Paragraph 84)

Have there been any developments in this area?

  87.  The Government has continued to emphasise to all International Financial Institutions including the EBRD the need to co-ordinate activities in line with their respective mandates. In determining its country strategies the EBRD takes account of IMF and World Bank programmes.

Recommendation 11

  We welcome the steps that have been taken within the OECD to mirror the US Corrupt Practices Act, and recommend that the Government should continue to take all possible steps to end corrupt practices in business, in order to create a level playing field internationally. (Paragraph 95)

What progress has been made on effective implementation of the OECD Convention?

  88.  The Government continues to support the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, and to press for effective implementation.

  89.  Corruption remains a major problem in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, creating a difficult operating environment for British companies. The Government has taken and will continue to take every opportunity to raise corruption with government leaders and officials from the region, and to stress that transparency and the rule of law are a prerequisite for long term British investment. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary both discussed corruption in Georgia with President Shevardnadze, during the latter's visit to the UK in July 2000, and welcomed President Shevardnadze's establishment of an anti-corruption working group. One of its key officials visited the UK in October 2000 at the invitation of the Government, and Sir John Kerr held talks in Tbilisi from 4-6 October.

Recommendation 12

  We support the Government's policy of multiple pipelines. We recommend that the Government should continue to use its best efforts to discourage the US Government from promoting particular pipeline routes, for purely political reasons, to the detriment of other more economic routes. (Paragraph 101)

Have there been any developments in the dialogue with the USA and others?

  90.  We have continued to promote our views on pipeline policies with the government of the United States and with countries in the region, and will take an early opportunity to raise the issue with the new US administration, in order to protect the commercial interests of British oil and gas companies and the broader economic interests of the countries in the region.

Recommendation 13

  We recommend that the Government, working on its own, and in co-ordination with its EU partners and with the United States, should act to give a fresh impetus to the monitoring and promotion of human rights in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. (Paragraph 118)

What progress has been made on monitoring and promotion of human rights?

  91.  The Government has given priority to monitoring of human rights in the region, and pushed for a common EU response on matters of concern. It has initiated EU demarches on ICRC access to prisons in Uzbekistan, freedom of access to Internet services in Turkmenistan, and the restriction of the media and harassment of journalists in Azerbaijan. It has supported EU Presidency demarches on the attempted exclusion of opposition groups in the November 2000 Azerbaijan elections and our Ambassador in Baku has made a major contribution to an EU Heads of Mission report on the subject. The Government supports the work of the OSCE in promoting democratisation and human rights in the region and continues to provide financial support. It continues to be a regular contributor to election monitoring missions undertaken by the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The Government will continue its work, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to identify and pursue specific human rights problems.

Recommendation 15

  We believe that urgent consideration should be given to the establishment and development of ASSIST programmes with states of the region wherever practicable. (Paragraph 123)

What ASSIST programmes have been undertaken?

  92.  Within the region, two programmes in Kyrgyzstan have been funded to promote anti-corruption, recruitment and needs assessment in the Kyrgyz police; one in Georgia on ethnic awareness in the armed forces; one in Armenia on disaster management; one through UNDP for conflict prevention in Tajikistan; The FCO's ASSIST budget for the region is now fully committed for this financial year.

Recommendation 16

  We recommend that the Government review its funding and assistance to all organisations seeking to promote a properly-functioning civil society, where there is freedom of expression and freedom of the media, in the states of the region. (Paragraph 126)

What is the effect of review?

  93.  The Government continues to believe that the role of NGOs is crucial to the development of civil society in the region, and will continue to look for ways of supporting a wide range of groups. The Department for international Development (DfID) and the FCO are funding a number of projects. The use of resources is under constant review.

Recommendation 18

  We recommend that the Government press the states of the region to comply fully with their obligations under those UN and ILO human rights instruments to which they are party. The monitoring of governments' compliance with these obligations should be a core responsibility of embassies in the region. (Paragraph 130)

What progress has been made on compliance?

  94.  The Government will continue to press governments in the region to respect international human rights standards, and to implement effectively their commitments under ILO and UN conventions and OSCE norms. The Government has since urged Kazakhstan also to sign and ratify two core UN human rights conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and to abolish the death penalty. Turkmenistan has now abolished the death penalty and Kyrgyzstan has extended its moratorium on its use.

  95.  Our Embassies in the region continue to place a high priority on monitoring and reporting countries' adherence to their international human rights commitments.

Recommendation 20

  We recommend that the Government should not seek to ratify any Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with the Republic of Turkmenistan without clear evidence of improvement in the observance of human rights. (Paragraph 135)

What is the view on current human rights situation in Turkmenistan, and current view on any PCA?

  96.  The human rights situation in Turkmenistan has not improved. The EU continues to raise human rights concerns with the Turkmen authorities at every opportunity. There is no immediate prospect of the PCA entering into force and the UK has not proceeded to ratification because of its human rights concerns. The Government can confirm that it is keeping the situation closely under review and does not, at present, intend to proceed to ratify the PCA while its concerns on human rights remain unresolved.

Recommendation 21

  We recommend that the Government work both bilaterally and with its European partners to ensure that the human rights elements of the EU's Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (PCAs) are fully respected, and that pressure on those countries in the region with poor human rights records is maintained through the mechanisms established by the PCAs, to the extent that states which consistently fail to meet their obligations should have their PCAs suspended. We also recommend that the Government should ask its European partners to take a stronger position in future on securing actual progress on human rights before EU Partnership and Co-operation Agreements are entered into. (Paragraph 140)

How have PCAs been used to apply leverage on human rights?

  97.  The Government endorses the opinion of the Committee that the EU should work to ensure that the human rights provisions of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (PCAs) are implemented. The EU continues to take advantage of the PCA structures to ensure that human rights issues are raised at the highest levels. Human rights are an important element in the dialogue established under the PCAs. At the Co-operation Councils and Committees (eg with Uzbekistan in February 2000, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in July 2000 and with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in October 2000), the EU has made it clear that progress on strengthening democracy, freedom of speech and other fundamental rights is key to the further development of relations.

Recommendation 22

  It is unacceptable for the EBRD to disregard its commitment to promoting development only in those countries which apply the principles of multiparty democracy and pluralism. As the United Kingdom is a major shareholder in the EBRD, and given the Government's commitment to introducing an ethical dimension into foreign policy, we recommend that the Government should ensure that the EBRD lives up to its commitment. The release of further funds by the EBRD should be made conditional upon improvements in the respect shown by governments of the region to multiparty democracy and pluralism. (Paragraph 142)

Have there been any discussions with EBRD on adverse developments in any relevant country?

  98.  Officials from the FCO hold regular meetings with the UK Director and EBRD management to review the situation in the Bank's region, including the South Caucasus and Central Asia, with regard to Article I of its founding agreement. Earlier this year the EBRD board adopted a new country strategy for Turkmenistan which restricts the Bank's future operations in the country to the private sector only. Shortly afterwards the UK Director participated in a Mission to Turkmenistan on behalf of the EBRD Board to explain the new Country Strategy to the Government of Turkmenistan. The Mission met senior ministers and was able to explain to them the responsibilities of the EBRD under Article I, which specifies the need for member countries to be committed to and applying the principles of multiparty democracy and pluralism. The Mission concluded that the EBRD should be very selective in its choice of private sector partners within the new restricted country strategy given the close and ambiguous relationship between the private and state sectors. Given the seriousness of the political situation in Turkmenistan, the country strategy will be reviewed within one year rather than the normal two years. If Turkmenistan is found non-compliant with Article I of the Bank's mandate, Directors will need to make recommendations to the Board Governors on what further action should be taken.

Recommendation 23

  We recommend that the FCO consider how to provide a programme of assistance to the parliaments of the region. (Paragraph 143)

Have there been any developments?

  99.  The Government continues to believe in the importance of strengthening parliamentary democracy in the region, including through close contact between the UK parliament and parliamentary groups, parliaments and parliamentarians in the region. The Westminster Foundation, which receives funding from the FCO, continues to play an important role in developing political parties and democratic pluralism. The IPU has invited Georgian parliamentarians to visit the UK later this year. An IPU delegation visited Kazakhstan in June 2000, and a delegation plan to visit Kyrgyzstan in 2001.

Recommendation 25

  We recommend that the United Kingdom open an Embassy to the Kyrgyz Republic in Bishkek. (Paragraph 152)

What is the latest thinking on representation in Bishkek?

  100.  The FCO agree that it would be desirable to open an Embassy in Bishkek, if resources permit. The FCO is looking at this possibility, in the context of competing pressures on available finances.

Recommendation 26

  We recommend as a first step that the FCO approach the German government about the possibility of creating a permanent British diplomatic presence in the German Embassy in Dushanbe. (Paragraph 153)

What is the latest thinking on representation in Dushanbe?

  101.  The Government will continue to review possibilities for establishing a British diplomatic presence in Dushanbe, including the Committee's recommendation that the FCO approach the German government about a possible presence at the German Embassy. However, the current security situation in Tajikistan rules out any British presence there for the time being, and FCO travel advice remains that British nationals should not travel to Tajikistan.

Recommendation 28

  We recommend that the FCO should ensure that the demands placed upon posts of the size of those in the region are regularly reviewed, and that they are no more than are absolutely necessary. (Paragraph 156)

What decisions have been taken to relieve burdens on smaller posts as a consequence of FCO's regular reviews?

  102.  The FCO continues to look for ways of reducing the administrative burden on small posts, consistent with effective financial control. Individual posts' difficulties and proposals for improvement are to be discussed at a regional heads of mission conference in March 2001.

Recommendation 29

  While we welcome the creation of new posts in the Embassies in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, we recommend that the FCO continue to monitor closely staffing levels in the region and the demands made upon staff. (Paragraph 158)

Have there been any changes in staffing levels that have happened or are planned?

  103.  The FCO monitors staffing levels at Posts continually. A new Second Secretary position has been created at Baku to strengthen the post's political section. A Defence Attache position has been identified for Central Asia. HMC&E have agreed to fund a drugs liaison officer for the region and a decision will shortly be taken on location. The FCO and Trade Partners UK are also considering the appointment of a senior official to strengthen regional commercial services in the oil and gas sector.

Recommendation 30

  The Committee recommends that the FCO review its Embassy buildings in the region and satisfy itself that each is an appropriate base both for its staff and for the United Kingdom's public diplomacy. (Paragraph 162)

Have there been any changes in estate that have happened or are planned?

  104.  The FCO continues to keep under review the suitability of its Embassy buildings in the region. We expect to start conversion of an existing building into a new Embassy in Yerevan next year; office accommodation in Baku is being enhanced; an extension to the Embassy in Tbilisi was completed in January and we are reviewing the case for a new Embassy site; we are acquiring office space adjacent to the Embassy in Almaty to respond to the growing demand for visas; a contract to improve Embassy accommodation in Ashgabat has just been completed, and work on new accommodation on a new site, to be followed by a new Embassy building, will be put to tender in December.

Recommendation 31

  We recommend a more extensive programme of co-ordinated ministerial vists to the region. (Paragraph 164)

Have there been any ministerial visits that have happened or are planned?

  105.  The FCO continues to look for every opportunity to further our commercial and other interests in the region through Ministerial visits. The FCO also remains ready to facilitate visits to the region by members of the devolved administrations. Keith Vaz visited Yerevan in October 1999 for the funerals of the murdered Prime Minister and Speaker; the Foreign Secretary visited Tbilisi in February 2000; the Minister of State, DETR, Nick Raynsford led a BCB Mission to Kazakhstan in June 2000; Minister of State, Scotland Office, Brian Wilson visited Baku in June 2000 for the Baku Oil and Gas Exhibition; FCO Minister of State John Battle visited Kazakhstan in October 2000 for the Kazakhstan International Oil and Gas Exhibition and Conference. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DFID, George Foulkes, visited Kazakhstan in October 2000.

Recommendation 32

  We recommend that the British Council open offices in Yerevan, Bishkek and Astana, and give consideration to enhancing the work of the English Language Centre in Turkmenistan. In our earlier Report on FCO Resources we recommended an increase in British Council funding. We now recommend that increased funding should include the revenue and capital funding necessary to enable the Council to establish a properly-resourced and permanent presence in Armenia, the Kyrgyz Republic and Turkmenistan. (Paragraph 178)

What progress has been made?

  106.  As a result of the British Council's review of its operations in the region it plans to place a "UK-based" Country Director in Tbilisi by the end of the year; it has decided to open a Country Directorate in Yerevn; and its Board of Management has considered the question of opening in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, but has decided that it has other, greater priorities.

Recommendation 33

  We believe that in principle the BBC World Service should seek to ensure that World Service programming reaches as wide an audience as possible. To that end we recommend that the World Service establish services in Georgian and Armenian. (Paragraph 182)

What progress has been made?

  107.  At FCO request the BBC reviewed their position on Georgian and Armenian language services this year, but concluded that they did not yet have sufficient resources to establish full language services. The FCO will continue to discuss the matter with the BBC.

Recommendation 34

  We recommend that the Government continue to press the Government of Uzbekistan to reinstate BBC World Service access to medium wave transmitting facilities. (Paragraph 183)

What progress has been made?

  108.  The Government continues to believe that the BBC World Service plays an essential role in promoting democracy, stability and human rights in Uzbekistan. The matter was raised most recently with the Uzbek Foreign Minister by Sir John Kerr during his visit to Tashkent in March 2000. The Uzbek authorities have not so far allowed the BBC any satisfactory Medium Wave rebroadcasting facilities. Our Embassy in Tashkent continues to press them.

Recommendation 35

  We believe that it is important that World Service programming be as widely received as possible. We recommend that the Government work with the World Service to seek to lift broadcasting restrictions where they exist. We also recommend that the World Service seek to work as closely as possible with Embassies throughout the region in order to secure adequate rebroadcasting facilities. (Paragraph 185)

What progress has been made?

  109.  The FCO will continue to work with the BBC World Service for the removal of broadcasting restrictions in the region, and for adequate rebroadcasting facilities. The BBC now have access to a Medium Wave transmitter in Kazakhstan from which they can broadcast their Uzbek service as far as Tashkent.

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Prepared 9 January 2001