Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Christian Aid


  1.  Christian Aid is the official relief and development agency of 40 British and Irish churches. It works where the need is greatest in 60 countries worldwide and helps communities regardless of religion. Christian Aid links directly with people living in poverty through local organisations. It supports programmes with the aim of strengthening the poor and improving their lives and life chances.

  2.  Christian Aid welcomes the inclusion of material on the UK's Human Rights Act and on further developments in UK Human Rights Law in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) Human Rights Annual Report 2001 (henceforth HRAR 2001). While the stated objective of these annual reports is to promote human rights overseas, the partnerships that underwrite international peace and security must demonstrate as well as promote scrutiny, transparency and accountability. As the report suggests, to adapt a truism, human rights begin at home.

  3.  Following the Select Committee's recommendations on last year's report (FAC-HRAR 2000), Christian Aid welcomes the inclusion of information on a country-by-country basis in HRAR 2001, detailing the "challenges and progress" in 14 states where human rights remain fragile.

  4.  The two key challenges facing global governance, as described by HRAR 2001, are impunity and the prospective role of the international community in helping to address such impunity. Christian Aid shares this view and welcomes the continuing emphasis on the fiduciary or "trustee" role that the international community can play. Good governance cannot be advanced without more effective partnerships between fragile states and the international community, in order to hold human rights abusers to account.

  5.  The development of new mechanisms such as the international tribunals on Rwanda and Yugoslavia and the establishment of an International Criminal Court are important steps forward as HRAR 2001 argues. Some recalcitrant state and non-state actors, however, retain the continuing ability to ignore existing international instruments and institutions as successive annual sessions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have made clear.

  6.  This offers increasing challenges to foreign policy perspectives, especially where the state or non-state actor's impunity threatens regional or international peace and security. In a world searching for security in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, such challenges will require regional solutions as well as national, where partnerships with key members of the international community will take on new and complex resonance.

  7.  While the doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of another state will remain one of the foundations of international relations, a range of preventive actions and representations will increasingly be required from member states as well as the United Nations system, in relation to states where impunity has come to be the norm. As with development assistance, it is increasingly clear that the most effective human rights partnerships will be those that include and are owned by the community of beneficiaries.

  8.  This submission provides two brief case studies where Christian Aid has substantial experience, namely Colombia and Israel/Palestine. We present these here as a contribution to enhancing the impact of British foreign policy from a human rights perspective.


  9.  Christian Aid has been present in Colombia for over a decade, supporting local organisations and internally displaced communities to strengthen development, democratic participation and the defence of human rights.

  10.  One of the international community's most effective interventions in fragile states has been its support for national offices and programmes of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Christian Aid urges Her Majesty's Government (HMG) to support the renewal of the mandate of OHCHR in Colombia and the establishing of regional sub-offices to enhance human rights monitoring.

  11.  Christian Aid also supports the conclusions and recommendations of OHCHR's 2001 report to the UN Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2001/15) which are too diverse to list here. Paragraph 253 of the report confirms the pervasive impunity that blights Colombian society. "The office was able to confirm that the principal problem as regards human rights is not an absence of laws, programmes, mechanisms or institutions, but a failure to use them and thus an absence of tangible decisions, action and results."

  12.  While HRAR 2001 welcomes Colombian legislation to combat impunity, it does not mention the recent Law for National Defence and Security (Law No 684 of 13 August 2001), which facilitates incommunicado detention without trial, promotes military over police authority and establishes norms that impede the investigation of members of the security forces. Christian Aid and its partners urge HMG through its bilateral contacts with Colombia to work for the removal of Law 684 from the statute book.

  13.  Christian Aid likewise urges HMG through its partnerships with Colombia and the International Community to work for a full implementation of the OHCHR report's recommendations.

  14.  HRAR 2001 affirms that the best way to secure human rights and the rule of law in Colombia is through progress in the peace talks between the Colombian government and the main guerrilla groups (p 21). But in doing so it acknowledges the paradox that "Widespread and systematic human rights violations are often at the root of conflicts, particularly internal armed conflicts. Respect for human rights is a necessary component of lasting peace" (p 41).

  15.  Currently, many members of Colombian civil society, advocating a negotiated solution to the conflict are brutally repressed through threats, intimidation and selective murders, say recent reports by the Barrancabermeja-based human rights organisation, Credhos, a Christian Aid partner. Until the government of Colombia curbs paramilitarism and provides effective protection and support for peace-building in civil society, its people will be the continuing victims of this illusory divide.

  16.  Peace negotiations cannot pre-empt the rule of law. Peace negotiations are part of the rule of law. The prevalence of the rule of law in wider spheres of society is more likely to create a climate for peaceful resolution of conflict than high powered peace talks in a disintegrating society. In reality, in as complex an arena as Colombia, they are mutually reinforcing components not competing agendas.

  17.  As a development agency, Christian Aid is all too aware of the human cost of conflict in Colombia and other fragile states. NGO estimates suggest that over 300,000 people fled their homes to become internal refugees in Colombia in 2001. Over two million people have been displaced by the war in Colombia, over a million of them in the last five years.

  18.  According to OHCHR's 2001 report. Colombia's Ministry of Planning concluded that the number of those living in poverty rose by 14 per cent between 1997 and 1999 to 22.7 million of its 36 million people. Poverty is both an active cause and effect of conflict. Its effects are both tangible and visible and can be effectively addressed with the support of the international community.


  19.  Christian Aid has been involved with work with the Palestinians and Israel since the 1950s. It works today with 25 partner organisations, Palestinian and Israeli, in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, health, education and women's issues. Christian Aid's work includes a focus on all human rights—economic, social, political, cultural and economic. Within the region, we condemn all violations of human rights and are especially concerned by, and have repeatedly condemned, the growing acts of political violence and killings by all sides to the conflict.

  20.  Like Colombia, as HRAW 2001 confirms, a parallel impasse blinkers the perceptions of the protagonists to human rights concerns. Israel claims that threats to its security justify measures such as targeted assassination, detention without trial, confiscation of land and destruction of private property. The Palestinian Authority explains Palestinians' responses as spontaneous reactions to provocation or collective punishment, while groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim suicide bomber attacks on civilian targets are a legitimate weapon of their liberation struggle.

  21.  Since "the second Intifada" began in October 2000, more than 950 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli occupation forces. Over 250 Israelis have been killed in the same period, including Tourism Minister Rehavim Ze'evi. An Israeli state policy of retaliation and targeted assassination provides ammunition to Palestinian extremists to re-escalate the conflict and prevent progressive resolution. A Palestinian Authority policy of apparent toleration of organisations like Hamas and of their activities, in turn, gives Israel the opportunity to pursue such groups extra judicially and with impunity.

  22.  FCO Minister, the Rt Hon Peter Hain MP, in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee last year, defended the government's policy of "avoiding tough and harsh negotiations with Israel". This referred to discussions that might take adequate account of the human rights related clauses in the European Union (EU Association Trade Agreement, with Israel and lead to the Agreement's possible suspension or withdrawal (FAC-HRAR 2000, paragraphs 32-38).

  23.  While acknowledging that human rights concerns were raised during a range of diplomatic contracts with Israel, Mr Hain's assertion was that "the really important thing was, rather than get into a dispute between the EU and Israel over this matter, to try and push forward the peace process, because in the end that is the best guarantor of human rights protection". Committee member, the Rt Hon Dr Phyllis Starkey MP rightly characterised this as exemplifying an either/or approach where human rights concerns were sacrificed to broader political objectives.

  24.  While as HRAR 2001 confirms, HMG has supported measures at the UN Commission for Human Rights and European Council sessions, calling on Israel to comply with her obligations and responsibilities, this has had little or no effect. Christian Aid requests the Committee to renew its dialogue with Mr Hain and the FCO on more effective modalities for human rights accountability and Israel.

  25.  In conclusion, Christian Aid believes that human rights cannot be put on hold, whether in Colombia or Palestine or elsewhere. Nor should their observance be bargained for influence. Trade or other interests, as is sometimes the perception. Even from an instrumental perspective, they are seldom effective currency for these purposes. In a moral economy, human rights remain the property and inalienable possession of the people of the respective state. Where they are threatened or stolen, it is our part of our responsibility in the compact of global governance, to return them to their rightful owners.

Christian Aid

15 January 2002

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