Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)




  20. Can you give a firm assurance to the Committee that the events of 11 September and the need to keep coalition partners on board has not led to any lessening in our pressure for human rights in the countries which deserve it?
  (Mr Hain) I do not believe so. But we are not perfect and the world is a difficult place in which to operate at the present time. I do not want to pretend that in every discussion, with every Minister or official, with one of the countries involved, human rights are necessarily mentioned in every conversation. That would be impracticable and security has been such a concern. We are very conscious that the human rights agenda must not be made subsidiary. Indeed what would be the point of having a formidable and successful reaction to an international terrorist threat, as it has so far been and must continue to be, if human rights were ridden roughshod over in the course of it? We should be defeating the objective, which is to create a world which is safe, in which freedom and individual liberty is respected.

Ms Stuart

  21. May I take you to the report itself and the way it is organised and structured? Going back in the history of the Committee, there seems to have been a slight divergence of views on how it is best structured, whether it should have broad headings with overviews or a country by country list with the headings alongside. I understand that in the last Foreign Office response to the Committee's report Botswana was listed in the examples as to why the current structure was best. Given Botswana's record both on the death sentence and freedom of expression has not improved at all, I am surprised that it is not specifically mentioned in the current edition of the report. It rather makes the Committee's case that the country by country approach actually allows us to see whether progress has been made.
  (Mr Hain) I understand that and I should like to explore it a little more with you. We have to decide on priorities. If you look at the way in which the report has evolved over the years since we have been in power, because it did not exist before, in 1998 it was 55 pages long, in 1999 it was 93 pages long, in 2000 it was 174 pages and this current one is 187 pages. So it has been getting more comprehensive by the year, partly under your own recommendations as a Committee and guidance and assistance and advice and partly because we wanted to make it comprehensive. We have responded to points which have been made by Amnesty International and others as well. There is a limit, given Foreign Office resources, as to how big this can go and I am inclined to say that we have reached pretty well close to that limit. I should like Dr Browne's department and her officials to be concentrating on promoting human rights abroad and projecting policy and getting it right, because it is difficult stuff with a lot of countries, rather than producing a bigger and more comprehensive report, especially when, as the Committee will be aware, there are many other reports in the international arena. Amnesty for example, the US State Department and Human Rights Watch do have much more in-depth country by country reports which we draw upon freely. That is a better way to do it. It is better that we approach it in a thematic and analytical way. I realise this is one of the recommendations we have not accepted, but we have accepted most of the others and that is the best way to go about it.

  22. With something as fundamental as the existence of the death penalty, I do not see that a simple list of the countries which would show us which countries still have it would be a problem. More particularly, there is a danger when a country is specifically mentioned one year and an issue is raised and it is then omitted in subsequent years, that it could actually be seen as a negative endorsement, saying we feel it is no longer priority and things have improved. The omissions would actually send out the wrong signals.
  (Mr Hain) I understand that point. May I just say by way of response that the death penalty is retained in 86 states and we have further information in Amnesty International's reports and particularly on its website which is referred to on page 91. I am quite happy to look at including in the next report a list of the countries which do have the death penalty so that that information is available in easily digestible form for the Committee.

  23. I am more concerned about the fact, to take Botswana, that we mention it one year and then it is not mentioned even though things have not changed, that we do give the impression or it could be used as an indication that things have got better. It sends out the wrong signals. That is what I am more concerned about.
  (Mr Hain) I take your point but we do need to get Botswana which featured in previous Committee hearings, which is not to say it should not in this one ... We have a pretty good record overall in Africa on human rights and democracy and free elections.


  24. In many ways Botswana is a model for the SADC region.
  (Mr Hain) Indeed.

Ms Stuart

  25. I would not have chosen Botswana, I would probably have been more interested in why Swaziland was excluded.
  (Mr Hain) You are making the point of principle.

  26. Botswana was the Foreign Office's own illustration of why that format was appropriate in their response to the Committee. I do have to say in terms of a southern African context that Botswana is the least of my concerns.
  (Mr Hain) I shall look at the logic of our response more carefully in the future.

Mr Illsley

  27. That is an interesting point.
  (Mr Hain) I have many good friends in Botswana.

  28. May I look further at this idea of the thematic content of the report as opposed to listing country by country? Does the department have a criterion which it uses for including reference to a certain country? We have been pressed by other bodies to raise issues, particularly in relation to Swaziland and Singapore and the United Arab Emirates which are not included within the report, even though there have been references to us that perhaps there are human rights issues in those countries. Is it that they are not included because the British Government have had no direct involvement with those countries in raising issues with them or the issue has not been raised with the department? Or is it simply that you chose not to include them either because of the size of the report or the pressure?
  (Mr Hain) No, it does not imply at all that we have not had contact with the countries concerned over human rights or on the other hand that we are seeking to bury it in some way. On the contrary, we need to concentrate on where we see the priorities. We have human rights dialogue with virtually every country in the world at one level or another.

  29. Are there any particular successes which can be attributed to the Government's human rights policy over the year covered by this report?
  (Mr Hain) If I just go back a little further than that and then focus specifically on the past year, there would be 11 major achievements which I think we can point to with some pride as a Government. We have acted to defend human rights in Sierra Leone, where we have saved that country from awful atrocities, in Kosovo to halt systematic ethnic cleansing and enabling the most rapid refugee return in the post-war history of Europe. We acted in Afghanistan contributing to an end to the Taliban regime and the restoration of civil rights, especially for women and girls; a lot more to go there but we have been very robust there. Perhaps of particular interest in the last three to four years we have supported over 500 human rights projects in more than 90 countries, about £17 million of expenditure involved. We have a stricter code for arms sales and over the past year we were able to ratify the International Criminal Court with the Bill coming through. That is a major achievement in which Britain played a leading role. We have lead the global campaign against torture, we abolished the death penalty in 1998 and have lobbied worldwide for its abolition and last year we helped over 200 victims of forced marriage, simply last year, and assisted the repatriation of over 50 victims. We were responsible for initiating the so-called Kimberley process to certify rough diamonds which have been responsible for the trade in arms and the decimation of the population of Angola and Sierra Leone and to some extent the Congo. Finally, we funded to the tune of more than half a million pounds the BBC World Service educational series which has informed 123 million people in 13 languages about their rights over the past year. That is a record which we constantly seek to improve upon but we can point to 11 concrete achievements, some of which were specifically last year.

  30. We shall come back to one or two of those if time allows, especially the International Criminal Court and forced marriages. By the same token, are there any areas where the Government's policy might not have worked as you would have wished in respect both of successes and perhaps areas where things might not have worked as you wanted them to? Have you changed policy in any of those areas as a consequence throughout the year?
  (Mr Hain) When we are talking about dialogue with countries which do not have a tradition in which human rights have featured very highly or a culture of the kind which we have and which is taken for granted pretty well in Europe, it is very difficult, it is heavy lifting, but nevertheless we have not shrunk from it. For example, take China, which we may want to come back to, we have instituted a relationship of critical dialogue with China and I am happy to go into what I think are the successes of that and what have been the failures of it, but the important point is that we have managed to get a relationship of honest dialogue where previously there was no dialogue; a kind of shouting match took place, and we have learned from each other and there have been some advances; not as much as we should have liked. That is true for a number of countries. I could go into them individually if you wish me to.

  31. We shall come onto individual countries. One or two very narrow questions. As I understand it, from April 2001, the conflict prevention fund has now been merged into-inter-departmental conflict prevention pools. Will the department be able to provide information on the inter-departmental conflict prevention pools in future reports in the same way as it has provided information this year on the conflict prevention fund?
  (Mr Hain) I shall happily do that. It has been quite a ground-breaking initiative in joined-up government, to repeat that over-used phrase, in the sense that with the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development and ourselves, with the Treasury also involved, providing extra money to buttress it and underpin it, we have been able to pool our funds—to be frank, ours are relatively small compared with the others—and take a more coherent approach. If we take something like peace-keeping in Sierra Leone for example, there is not a lot of point having bits of money coming in individually when we can pool it and proceed. I shall happily provide information on that.


  32. It is obviously important for us that we can track developments and compare like with like so far as possible.
  (Mr Hain) Yes.

Mr Illsley

  33. My other question refers to page 145 and the two graphs which you are looking at on the Human Rights Project Fund, which is quite a colourful page but with very little further information included. Although it is a little bit of a criticism, is it possible that the department could look at providing more information in relation to that fund rather than just the two graphs?
  (Mr Hain) We shall happily look at that and perhaps discuss with the Committee how that might be helpfully done.

  34. And in particular the various projects and whether they have been completed.
  (Mr Hain) Indeed. In the first instance if we wrote to the Committee and provided the information comprehensively, then we could discuss what might go into the next annual report. I would just point out that additional details on the global pool are on the website, details of which are given on page 144, opposite the coloured bar charts. The same goes for the Africa pool also and the Africa website details. There is probably as much information as you can cope with there on those websites.

Mr Hamilton

  35. Zimbabwe has been in the news quite a lot recently. In relation to the report, what leverage can the Government exert over other African countries to help persuade them to take a consistently robust stance against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe?
  (Mr Hain) As you will be aware, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has been meeting for most of the day. I think it was due to conclude about the time I came in to give evidence to you. I am not sure whether it has or has not. We shall know the outcome of that. We have been very concerned all along, both the previous Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Secretary today, to make sure that President Mugabe was not able to isolate Britain as the bad man having a go from his own old colonial past. On the contrary, he has wilfully sought to misrepresent the situation in that the European Union together took a very tough stand on Monday, unanimously. The actual decision—and I was present—was taken in about five minutes. There was no dissent from it and very welcome and targeted sanctions are to be applied from this weekend if international observers, including European ones, are not let in by President Mugabe, which he has previously refused to do, and to liaise constantly in dialogue with our African colleagues and friends. That is why the Foreign Secretary went to Abuja in December to meet other Commonwealth colleagues, including the Nigerians. We are constantly in touch with the Botswanans, who chair the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. For me, hailing from that part of the world, the tragedy has been not only the events in Zimbabwe, but the inability of Zimbabwe's southern African neighbours to exert any more influence on President Mugabe than we have been able to do. The consequences have been catastrophic for the region. The rand has devalued by something like over 40 per cent in the past year and unfortunately this was all too predictable. Indeed I personally warned over a year ago that the whole of southern Africa was going to suffer and we were concerned about this. The Prime Minister was concerned that if there was no ability to influence events in Zimbabwe, then countries like South Africa, which ought to be attracting international investment from the world over because they have very attractive macro-economic policies have suffered from an investment drain as a result of the chaos and bloodshed and tyranny which President Mugabe has unleashed on the people of Zimbabwe.

  36. Good news obviously that it took five minutes for the Council of Ministers to decide on their course of action, but if a leader like Mugabe consistently ignores the opinions, views and pressures of international partners, of local partners, of countries in the region, is there much we can actually do about it? We can complain and we can pass resolutions and we can agree in five minutes in the Council of Ministers, that what President Mugabe is doing is entirely wrong, and we can condemn him, but if he just says he is sorry but he is taking no notice of anybody, and he will do what he thinks is best for his country, is there any more we can do, or any more even countries in the region can do to force him to listen to democracy?
  (Mr Hain) There is more that we can do and that is what we are doing. The European Union will impose targeted sanctions on the assets of the ruling elite, a travel ban and take other measures as necessary. We hope that the Commonwealth will agree to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth unless the situation changes dramatically because there must be very real concern now as to whether any election, with or without international observers in Zimbabwe, could be free and fair. All we want it to be is free and fair. It is up to the Zimbabwean people to choose then. Given the kind of legislation which President Mugabe is trying to bring in, which was denounced by Eddison Zvobgo, for example, who was head of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, as the most calculated and determined assault on their liberties in the 20 years he served as a Cabinet Minister. This is a Zimbabwean Zanu-PF member, not a British Foreign Minister from the old colonial power saying this.

  Mr Hamilton: Even that voice of old colonialism, the BBC, has given us a very, very clear idea of exactly what Mr Mugabe is trying to do.


  37. How do you read the low-key approach of President-Mbeki, who could presumably, because of the considerable debts owed by Zimbabwe to ESCOM for power supplies, have a stranglehold in terms of his effect of pressure on Zimbabwe if he so willed?
  (Mr Hain) All I would say on that is that the constructive engagement which members of the Southern African Development Community have sought to bear on Zimbabwe and its president has failed abjectly, just as the pressure that international opinion more widely, ourselves included, has failed. I include within that the Americans and the Europeans because we have all been at one. I am very struck by the same frustration, the same exasperation, the same anger, that we all feel at President Mugabe's tyrannical actions. I find that it is shared by African leaders, including presidents I have personally discussed the matter with over the last few years, and the Foreign Secretary will confirm exactly that.

  38. But only those regional powers have the effective levers which could bring about change within Zimbabwe.
  (Mr Hain) That is true and there are lessons to be learned here for the regional forces of Africa and elsewhere in the world. If we are talking about Africa for a moment, when you look at the way the Zimbabwean crisis has escalated virtually beyond control, impacting upon the whole region, SADC will want to reflect on this and decide whether its own mechanisms for influence need to be toughened up.

Mr Hamilton

  39. May I move us on to another region which is causing some concern in the international community and indeed was raised by Kofi Annan when the Committee visited New York to conduct its recent inquiry into our Anglo-US relations following 11 September and that is Kashmir. Those of us who represent substantial numbers of British citizens of Kashmiri origin will know that this is a subject which raises a lot of interest amongst those communities, but it is a subject which does not get very much, or until recently has had very little coverage, in both our press and the international press. In your Human Rights report on pages 67 and 68 you do mention the situation in Kashmir. You say, "In response to violent attacks by militants, Indian security forces have pursued a heavy-handed counter-insurgency policy. The people of Kashmir continue to suffer serious human rights violations from which they have little opportunity for redress". I am sure many of my constituents of Mirpuri origin would agree with that. Obviously since this report was written the situation has escalated and has got considerably worse so that we read in the press now that there is the strong possibility of conflict in the region over Kashmir, indeed many think that the source of a potential serious conflict in the future could well be Kashmir rather than the Middle East or any of the other world's hotspots. What can we do and what in your opinion can the Government do to try to separate the parties in this conflict, to try to bring about the kind of solution which I know many British people of Kashmiri origin would want and that is a free and fair referendum in that region?
  (Mr Hain) Like you we remain very concerned about the human rights situation in Kashmir. I have personally discussed it with Indian Ministers when I visited India in November 1999 and then again in November 2000. We have similarly expressed in robust terms our strong criticism of the way in which cross-border terrorism comes from the Pakistan side, in the past certainly with the active connivance and complicity of the Pakistani Government and its intelligence agencies, perhaps less so now, we hope. I agree that a resolution of the Kashmir conflict is an imperative. It is potentially one of the three or four most dangerous hotspots in the world, given also that Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers. We have to continue to impress upon everybody, whether on the Indian authorities the benefits of greater transparency and the importance of investigating human rights abuses, and urging them to allow greater access to Kashmir, including to international human rights organisations or for United Nations rapporteurs on the one hand, or on the Pakistani authorities a very firm message that terrorist incursions across the line of control, which make it very difficult for the Indians to establish normal relations on their side of the line of control, that those incursions are completely unacceptable and must be stopped.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 28 February 2002