Submission to the House of Commons Select
Committee on Foreign Affairs
THE HUMAN RIGHTS ANNUAL REPORT 2000
1. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Human Rights Annual Report 2000 covers the 12 month period to
June 2000. This memorandum highlights the observations of Amnesty
International UK on the report's structure and content. However,
we would also wish to draw the Committee's attention to our human
rights audit of UK Foreign and Asylum Policy, which provides a
more detailed appraisal of government policy over a period roughly
similar to that covered in the FCO's report.
2. We hope that the production of an authoritative
annual human rights report is a practice that has now taken root
in the Foreign Office. Nevertheless, it is worth repeating a point
that we made in our submission to the Committee last year; that
"[w]ider and deeper understanding of how the government applies
human rights principles to policy enhances the quality of public
debate. This debate leads to better policies . . . The human rights
annual report is an important component of the Government's initiatives
to make relevant information available." We might add that
some of the information contained in the report reflects good
practice and positive action that would not otherwise reach the
3. The production of an annual report has
also provided the hook for an annual appraisal of the FCO's human
rights policy by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Such scrutiny
is vital and underlines the importance that Parliament attaches
to an effective human rights policy. We hope that the annual evidence
sessions and reports on this issue will continue.
(a) The practice of producing a Human Rights
Annual Report is an important contribution to public debate and
should be continued;
(b) The Foreign Affairs Select Committee
should maintain its practice of annually taking evidence from
the Minister of State on this subject.
4. The Annual Report 2000 follows basically
the same structure as 1999's report, which Amnesty International
welcomed as a significant improvement on the previous year. Further
improvements have been made, demonstrating that Foreign Office
officials have genuinely listened to comments and suggestions
made by Amnesty International and others. We are pleased to see
a full index for example. Good use has also been made of links
to relevant websites. The appendices are also very useful.
(c) The Foreign Office should continue to
seek the views and suggestions of non-governmental organisations
at an early stage in the preparation of the report.
5. Last year, Amnesty International called
for a fuller description of the role of other government departments
in promoting human rights. The FCO has responded in Chapter Two.
Regrettably, the Department for International Development was
either unable or unwilling to participate in the production of
this year's report, although this does not appear to have had
an adverse effect on either the quality of the report or on central
messages concerning the indivisibility and universality of human
6. The second half of Chapter Two highlights
the government's efforts to deliver human rights in the UK. Although
the report was completed before the full entry into force of the
Human Rights Act, it describes the Act as "one of the most
significant pieces of constitutional legislation enacted in this
country" (p 31). Amnesty International agrees. However, over
the past 12 months, there have been significant misrepresentations
and misunderstandings of the Act and the European Convention of
Human Rights (ECHR). For example, there were mistaken suggestions
that the ECHR was a creation of the European Union rather than
the Council of Europe. The Act was also construed as a transferral
of power from domestic courts to judges "in Europe".
If anything, the opposite is true.
7. We believe that such misunderstandings
highlight the need to enhance public knowledge of human rights
and the principle international instruments that establish and
enforce them. Citizenship education must play a central role in
conveying this knowledge to young people. In next year's report
we would welcome a description of how the Department for Education
and Employment is promoting human rights awareness amongst UK
8. Chapter Two also notes that the Deputy
First Minister of Scotland has announced a consultation process
of the need for a Human Rights Commission in Scotland. Amnesty
International welcomes this debate. However, we recommend that
the Government initiate a consultation on establishing a Human
Rights commission function for all the United Kingdom.
(d) Next year's report should highlight measures
being taken by the Department for Education to promote human rights
awareness among young people in the UK;
(e) The Government should initiate a consultation
on establishing a human rights commission function for all the
9. We welcome the UK's ratification of all
the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation.
On page 42 of the report, the Foreign Office notes that "[o]ur
adherence to all eight ILO core Labour Conventions puts us in
a stronger position to lobby for their ratification and implementation
throughout the world". This is an important point, since
the UK cannot convincingly argue for other countries to sign up
for standards that it does not adhere to. We recommend that in
the next annual human rights report, the Foreign Office provides
a full description of the UK's stance towards the all principal
international instruments and their optional or additional protocols.
10. We regret the failure to give UK citizens
the right to petition bodies established under certain UN treaties.
It would be wrong to suggest that such rights are rendered superfluous
by the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights
(ECHR). For example:
the ICCPR has a more comprehensive
guarantee of equality before the law and non-discrimination than
the ICCPR specifies rights of detainees
that the ECHR does not;
the ICCPR enshrines children's rights
whilst the ECHR does not.
Providing individual petition rights to UK citizens
would therefore extend human rights protection domestically. It
would also strengthen the Foreign Office's capacity to lobby other
countries from regions where human rights mechanisms are less
comprehensive than in Europe.
(f) Next year's human rights report should
provide a comprehensive explanation of the UK's stance towards
major international human rights instruments;
(g) The Government should review its reservations
and its stance towards the optional provisions contained in international
treaties, including rights of individual petition. Any review
should not only consider domestic impact, but also international
effects, such as the potential to enhance UK leadership in support
of the treaties.
UN Human Rights Mechanisms and Treaty Monitoring
11. Various UN human rights treaties establish
committees to monitor state implementation of treaty provisions.
In the report, the Foreign Offices states that "we attach
the utmost importance to ensuring that [they] are effectiveand
that they receive the support they need from the Office of the
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights" (p 42). The report
places a similar emphasis on the effectiveness of and co-operation
with UN human rights mechanisms, such as Special Rapporteurs,
Special Representatives and Working Groups. Most of these also
rely on the support of the Office of the UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights (OHCHR).
12. We welcome the government's diplomatic
support for these mechanisms and bodies, as well as the financial
contributions provided to OHCHR by DFID and the FCO. However,
we would wish to draw the Committee's attention to the serious
pressures and lack of resourcing experienced by OHCHR. Between
1995 and 1998 there was a 38 per cent increase in the number of
special mechanisms calling on OHCHR's resources.
13. However, since 1993 UN regular budget
funding for human rights programmes has decreased by $1 million.
The UK should therefore work towards securing adequate resources
for OHCHR from the UN's regular budget. Amnesty International
would welcome the development of a government strategy to increase
support for special mechanisms and to ensure that OHCHR gets the
support it needs.
(k) The UK should maintain its diplomatic
and financial support to the OHCHR, the human rights mechanisms
and the Treaty Monitoring Bodies. It should develop a strategic
approach to enhancing the effectiveness of these mechanisms and
bodies including by ensuring adequate resourcing for OHCHR's support
activities from the UN regular budget.
UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR)
14. We welcome the FCO's assertion that
"[I]t is a mistake to dismiss [country] resolutions as mere
gestures by the international community that take the place of
real action. Resolutions can be of central importance to the international
community's response to human rights problems." Importantly,
the report notes that "[r]esolutions also provide real assurance
and support to those who are persecuted, by reminding both them
and the perpetrators of violations against them that the world
has not forgotten about them" [p 38].
15. We agree with these observations and
acknowledge the role played by the United Kingdom and its EU partners
in securing a number of country resolutions at this year's UNCHR.
However, we regret the failure to co-sponsor a resolution on the
human rights situation in China. We entirely support the Foreign
Affairs Committee's recommendations made in its recent report
16. Once again, no country promoted a resolution
on Saudi Arabia at the UNCHR. Given the serious human rights concerns
in the Kingdom, this is a matter of regret. Nevertheless, Saudi
Arabia has made a number of encouraging commitments in the past
12 months, as summarised on page 120. The Government should regard
the promotion of human rights in the Kingdom as a priority and
next year's report should contain an update on progress.
(o) The UK should publicly indicate its willingness
to support a resolution on China at next year's UNCHR;
(p) There should be early co-ordination of
the EU towards a draft resolution on China, accompanied by a determined
effort to lobby for support of the EU stance;
(q) The Government should regard the promotion
of human rights in Saudi Arabia as a priority. Next year's report
should detail the Kingdom's progress towards implementing commitments
made over the past year.
17. Much of the UK's human rights policy
continues to be executed in conjunction with the European Union.
We are therefore pleased that steps have been taken to increase
the transparency of EU action in this field, not least by publishing
a second annual report on human rights activities, by organising
a Human Rights Discussion Forum and by inviting NGOs to participate
in a session of the Council of Ministers Human Rights Working
Group. We hope that moves towards increased transparency will
be developed and enhanced.
18. The Amsterdam Treaty established a new
and foreign policy instrument for the EU, the "common strategy".
A number of common strategies have been agreed and we would welcome
a description and appraisal of their contribution to human rights.
(t) The UK should continue to work for transparency
in the EU's human rights activities and work for increased dialogue
and co-operation between NGOs and EU institutions;
(u) Next year's annual report should describe
and appraise the contribution of EU common strategies to human
19. We welcome the government's explanation
of international humanitarian law on pages 52-55 and its efforts
to increase awareness of and respect for these standards. This
is of fundamental importance given the increased deliberate and
systematic targeting of civilians witnesses in many of the world's
20. The report notes that "[p]erpetrators
of such abuses calculate that they can act with impunity. In the
chaos of war their crimes usually go unreported and normal law
enforcement ceases to function". This is one reason why the
establishment of an International Criminal Court is of such importance.
21. The UK has a strong track record of
support for the international criminal tribunals for former Yugoslavia
and Rwanda. The Government also played a positive role in negotiations
leading to the agreement of the Rome Statute establishing the
International Criminal Court. Sixty countries need to ratify the
Statute before the Court can begin operations; 25 have done so.
We therefore welcome the recent announcement of legislation to
enable the UK to join their number.
22. To ensure that the legislation presented
to Parliament is of a high standard and capable of securing the
maximum possible support, the Foreign Office published a draft
ICC bill in August 2000. This consultation document contained
a number of strengths but also some weaknesses. Many of these
are of a technical nature but others are more serious, including:
The failure to provide UK courts
with jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity or war
crimes no matter where they are or committed, no matter who is
A failure to clearly state that there
shall be no immunity attaching to heads of state or other politicians
or officials with respect to ICC crimes;
Leaving decisions on whether to institute
a UK prosecution proceedings to the Attorney-Generala politicianrather
than the Director of Public Prosecutions.
23. These shortcomings are important because,
as the annual Report notes, "[t]he prime responsibility for
punishing atrocities will remain with national courts". Unless
the weaknesses of the draft bill are remedied, there is a risk
that those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against
humanity could escape prosecution, even if they reside in the
24. The Committee should also note that
negotiations are continuing on some of the detail that will need
to be agreed before the Court enters into operation. These include
financing measures and a relationship agreement between the ICC
and the UN. Regrettably, the United States of America is seeking
to use these negotiations as an opportunity to introduce measures
that will prevent the court exercising jurisdiction over US servicemen
or officials. Although we would welcome the USA's signature on
the Rome Statute, we do not believe that this should be bought
at the price of a weakened Statute. We would welcome reassurance
from the government that it will oppose any attempt to undermine
the Statute's integrity.
(f) The forthcoming ICC Bill should provide
the universal jurisdiction of UK courts over ICC crimes, should
eliminate immunities for persons suspected of those crimes and
allocate responsibility for initiating criminal proceedings to
the Director of Public Prosecutions;
(g) The UK should oppose any measures to
weaken the integrity of the Rome Statute.
25. One of the most critical issues facing
the international community at present is the scale of refugee
flows. As the report notes, "the vast majority of those fleeing
persecution or conflict find themselves in neighbouring countries,
most often in Africa" (p 54). Although the UK's asylum regulations
and its treatment of asylum-seekers are beyond the scope of the
Foreign Affairs Committee, we believe it is important to note
that practices in the United Kingdom will be noted elsewhere.
This is just one reason why the Government must ensure that international
obligations are fully respected and that refugees and asylum seekers
in the UK are able to enjoy their full human rights.
26. The European Union is playing an increasing
role in asylum and refugee issues. One EU initiative was the agreement
of action plans covering a number of countries that generate significant
numbers of refugees (the UK drafted an action plan on Sri Lanka).
One of the key concepts of the action plans was a cross-pillar
approach that, amongst other things, would use external affairs
tools to address the root causes of refugee movements. However,
we are concerned that, to date, there has been insufficient attention
paid to root causes and renewed momentum needs to be put into
the foreign policy aspects of the action plans.
(j) Next year's annual human rights report
should provide a description of the EU's action plans on Sri Lanka
and other countries, paying particular attention to measures designed
to address root causes of refugee movements and achievements to
Arms Export Controls
27. In July 2000, the Government published
its third Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls. Amnesty
International described this as a significant improvement on previous
reports in terms of the quality of information provided. We are
also pleased that the Government has indicated that it will provide
information on the number of weapons contained with in each licence
for the categories covering conventional and small arms. The Government
should go further and provide such information across all categories.
Further improvements could also be made by providing details on
the end-users of arms and information on licenses refused.
28. One of Amnesty International's priorities
in relation to strategic exports has been to bring arms brokering
and licensed production within the licensing regime. Although
the Human Rights Annual Report contained little mention of these
issues, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has promised
to introduce measures to control brokers. We look forward to examining
the Secretary of State's proposals. To be effective, it is essential
that they include provision for a register of arms brokers as
well as a licensing regime for individual deals. We believe that
controls should also be extended to licensed production deals.
29. Amnesty International UK has repeatedly
expressed frustration at the Government's failure to introduce
new legislation on export controls. On page 61, the Annual Report
notes that government proposals for such legislation were introduced
in a White Paper in July 1998, that the proposals were being reviewed
in the light of comments received and that proposals for new export
control legislation would be announced following the conclusion
of the review. The report states that Government "is committed
to introducing a bill to implement this legislation as soon as
time is available in the legislative programme".
30. In the December 2000 Queen's speech,
the government announced that it would produce a draft strategic
exports bill. Whilst Amnesty International UK will certainly participate
in this second consultation exercise on the subject, we are very
disappointed at the failure to commit parliamentary time to legislation
and that we may have to look to another Parliament to remedy a
shortcoming identified in the Scott Report of February 1996.
(o) The Government should further improve
its Annual Report on Strategic Exports by detailing the number
of weapons in each licence for all categories, details of end-users
and information on licenses refused;
(p) Government measures on arms brokering
should include a registration and a licensing system for brokers;
(q) Licensed production deals should be brought
within the licensing system;
(r) The Government should publish its draft
strategic exports Bill but move swiftly towards the introduction
31. Chapter Six of the Annual Report highlights
a number of important ways in which the UK's diplomatic missions
contribute to human rights. Over the past 12 months, Amnesty International
has been aware of a number of instances where UK missions have
indeed taken important action, not limited to the activities outlined
on page 86. These are welcome but we are by no means certain that
such action is common to all UK embassies and high commissions.
We hope that the Foreign Office provides opportunities for overseas
posts to share experiences and views on best practice with regards
to human rights work in their countries.
32. Torture is banned by international agreement
but in two-thirds of the world's countries it still occurs. Most
victims are tortured not just for information but because of what
they believe in or who they are. The UK and the wider international
community have an important role to play in ending torture. We
are pleased that the Foreign Office appears to view the flight
against torture as a priority of its human rights work.
33. The report notes the publication of
the Torture Reporting Handbook in March 2000, written at
Essex University and supported by a grant from the Human Rights
Project Fund. According to the report 1,500 were distributed in
the first few weeks after publication. Amnesty International is
also distributing the handbook to its network of contacts and
34. We hope that over the next 12 months
the FCO will further develop its work in this area. This will
certainly involve continued lobbying in support of ratification
of the Convention Against Torture. We also hope that the UK will
encourage EU partners to also work towards an end to torture in
a co-ordinated and strategic manner.
35. There are a number of ways in which
the EU could take action. It could, for example, use its guidelines
for work on the death penalty as a useful model to extend to torture.
This might lead to joint demarches in support of CAT ratification
or in cases where urgent action may be needed to protect an individual.
The EU should also adopt a complete prohibition on the export
of all torture equipment.
(x) The Government should continue to view
the elimination of torture as a foreign policy priority;
(y) The Government should encourage co-ordinated
EU action against torture;
(z) The EU should adopt measures to prohibit
the export or brokering of torture equipment from Member States.
36. In May 2000, the UN General Assembly
adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the Convention on the
Rights of the Child. This optional protocol deals with the involvement
of children in armed conflict. It forbids forced or compulsory
recruitment of under-18s in armed conflict and require that "all
feasible measures" be taken to ensure that under-18s do not
take a direct part in hostilities. The UK has signed the protocol
but upon signature made a declaration stating that it understood
that the OP would not exclude the deployment of under-18 year
(a) there is a genuine military need to deploy
their unit or ship to an area in which hostilities are taking
(b) reason of the nature and urgency of the
(i) it is not practicable to withdraw
such persons before deployment; or
(ii) to do so would undermine the operational
effectiveness of their ship or unit, and thereby put at risk the
successful completion of the military mission and/or safety of
37. We are concerned that this Declaration
indicates an unwillingness by the UK Government to change its
policy on deployment, and undermines their support for the optional
(cc) The UK should ratify the Second Optional
Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child without
3 Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Audit
2000 UK Foreign and Asylum Policy (September 2000). Back
Foreign Affairs Committee Tenth Report Session 1999-2000, China,
Vol 1 paragraphs 91-93. Back