Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Third Report

5  Other Countries of Concern


104. The FCO Report notes that "the past year has seen a deterioration in the human rights situation in Burma."[140] The Burmese government has stepped up pressure on political and ethnic groups opposed to the continuation of military rule. More than 1,150 political prisoners remain in Burmese jails and labour camps, and the FCO continues "to receive credible reports of torture."[141]

105. In our last Report, we recommended that the FCO "redouble its efforts to bring the question of abuses by the Burmese authorities to the attention of the UN Security Council."[142] We are pleased to note that, during its EU Presidency, the United Kingdom played a leading role in drafting Resolution 60/233, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 23 December 2005. It called on the military regime to end the systematic violations of human rights and to release political prisoners.[143] In January 2006, the UN Special Envoy to Burma, Tan Sri Razali, resigned as the government had not allowed him to visit the country for over two years.[144] However, in May and November 2006, UN Under-Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari was able to visit Burma and had a 45 minute meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, the first contact the outside world had had with her since March 2004.[145]

106. On 12 January, China and Russia vetoed a US-drafted Security Council resolution calling on Burma to improve its human rights record. South Africa also voted against the resolution, with Indonesia, Qatar and Congo abstaining. The other nine states voted in favour, which means that if Russia and China had abstained rather than vetoed, the resolution would have passed.

107. This was only the fifth veto in Beijing's Security Council record. Its main argument for casting the veto was that Burma was not a matter of international peace and security and therefore should not be considered in the Security Council. The Financial Times reported that some European diplomats were uneasy at the fact that the failed resolution highlighted the disunity in the international community over Burma.[146]

108. We put it to the Minister that it might have been better not to force the issue by pressing it to a vote on the Security Council, when it is was clear that support for the resolution was far from unanimous. Mr McCartney rejected this:

    If you simply run around on the basis that in all circumstances of a veto you do not speak out, you might as well sit on your hands. Extensive discussions and negotiations took place—as always happens in these cases—and you can rest assured that the words spoken there were that it should be given the best shot possible. ... It is important, overwhelmingly, that we keep putting Burma in the spotlight and that we keep the United Nations putting Burma in the spotlight.[147]

Human Rights Watch took the contrary view:

    The veto of the resolution has unfortunately given a boost to Burma's military government. They now have confirmation that China and Russia will protect them from international pressure. While we appreciate the UK government's efforts to give greater prominence to the serious human rights problems in Burma, it probably was better to have the threat of a resolution out there longer and to have waited for an opportunity where the political situation or events on the ground would have made it more likely to obtain China's and Russia's abstentions.[148]

Amnesty, however, were more supportive of the Government's line:

    The cooperation of China and Russia with the Security Council resolution was critical, and their veto was disappointing. There is however no guarantee that they would have been persuaded to support the resolution or abstain from voting should it have been tabled later.[149]

The Minister recently informed the House that the Government "will continue to work within the UN to ensure that Burma remains on the UN Security Council agenda."[150]

109. We conclude that there is growing cause for concern at the very serious abuses of human rights being perpetrated by the military junta in Burma. Although the Chinese and Russian vetoes of the recent UN Security Council resolution against Burma may have boosted the military junta in the short-term, we recommend that the Government maintain its efforts to raise the issue of Burma in the Security Council and in other organs of the United Nations.

The People's Republic of China

110. The FCO Annual Report has a large section on China, touching on abuses such as the extensive and non-transparent use of the death penalty and widespread instances of torture. There are increased restrictions on freedom of expression, severe restrictions on freedom of association, and human rights violations occur frequently in Xinjiang and Tibet.[151]

111. Since 1997, the primary instrument used by the Government to raise human rights concerns with the authorities in Beijing has been the bilateral UK-China Human Rights Dialogue. In our last Report, we concluded that the Dialogue was making "glacial" progress.[152] The Government's reply stated that "we do not believe this means the Dialogue is failing."[153]

112. Human Rights Watch certainly do not see the Dialogue as a success:

    The FCO staff working on the dialogues are doing the best they can in a hostile (China) and indifferent (the most senior UK political authorities) environment. If one just looks at an individual dialogue session on its own they may mark some progress. But the dialogues are not a success and the document doesn't really place them in their full context. These problems stem from a lack of commitment on the Chinese side and a lack of priority on the UK side, where human rights are largely marginalized in the overall relationship due to trade and other foreign policy issues.[154]

Amnesty called for "specific benchmarks against which to measure progress on human rights abuses by China within an agreed timeframe."[155]

113. Amnesty's call is similar to a recommendation in our August 2006 Report on East Asia, that the Government should publish a list of objectives and outcomes for each Dialogue meeting.[156] In noting the 14th round (which took place in Beijing from 3-7 July 2006), the FCO Report set out some of the United Kingdom's aims, such as ratification of individual International Labour Organisation conventions on freedom of association, and commented that "as yet, China has not changed its position." Discussing the Dialogue more widely, the Report commented that "in most areas progress is either slow or non-existent."[157]

114. When he appeared before the Committee, the Minister provided us with an update on the latest, 15th round of the Dialogue:

    There has been a three-day dialogue, and on one day I met the Chinese delegation and raised eight issues. There is continuing work with the Chinese on abolition of the death penalty, and I want a moratorium while the work continues. We are having some success on changes, transparency, and reduction in the number of capital crimes. A parallel issue is that of the rights of public defenders—investment in them, protection of them, cessation of harassment, and provision of public defenders for ethnic minorities in China. We have asked the Chinese to put in place a work programme on implementation of international covenants, including that on civil and political rights. I told them that we welcome the work that has been done, including technical and practical work in which we have invested. At some point, however, we want to see implementation. We have achieved some progress on opening the role of civil society, and we are seeking to undertake a project with them on the engagement of civil society. On press freedom, I specifically asked the Chinese to consider one point, which I will follow up at ministerial level. 8 October is the date before the Olympics from which press restrictions will be relaxed, and I told them that they should take that as an opportunity to start the process of not reimposing such restrictions. The Chinese delegate listened politely.[158]

We welcome the Minister's action in raising the subject of press freedoms in the context of the Dialogue.

115. On 10 March, the Minister wrote to us, providing a fuller statement on the Dialogue. The letter concluded:

    Engaging with China on human rights can be hard going. It requires sustained commitment. But over a long time-scale, I believe that you can see things are moving in the right direction. Since mid-2005, the Chinese have taken real steps towards a substantive reduction in the death penalty. They have strengthened measures to reduce torture by the police. They have moved towards re-drafting the criminal procedure law to promote fairer trials by improving the rights of defendants. They have renewed reform (albeit not yet abolition) of RTL. And they have substantially liberalised the rules for foreign correspondents. China is making progress, albeit slowly and ponderously. Encouragement and practical co-operation in these areas can help China towards the rule of law and greater freedom of expression.[159]

We note that most of these changes are to the legal framework; there is as yet little evidence of change on the ground.

116. We conclude that the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue is still failing to make substantive progress. We recommend that the Government consider introducing a timeframe for the completion of specific objectives, to increase the transparency of the success or otherwise of the Dialogue.

117. In our Report on East Asia, we raised a number of concerns about human rights in the Tibet 'autonomous region', which some of us were able to visit in May 2006.[160] The Government responded to our concerns, informing us that "We have raised our concerns on Tibet at the highest political level, including most recently between the Prime Minister and Chinese Premier Wen in September."[161] We also note with approval that Ian McCartney has arranged to brief the Committee on human rights in Tibet, following the debate on our Report.


118. The FCO report states that "the internal armed conflict continues to inflict severe suffering across Colombia" and that "serious human rights abuses remain a common occurrence." Over 5,000 people are still held hostage by illegal armed groups, and the UNHCR estimates that there are at least 2 to 3 million people who have been forced to leave their homes and livelihood as a result of the conflict.[162]

119. In July 2005, the Colombian Congress approved the Justice and Peace Law (JPL), which is designed to "balance the need to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate ex-combatants from illegal armed groups with the rights of the victims of the conflict to truth, justice and reparation."[163] The FCO Report states that by August 2006, over 30,000 paramilitaries had demobilised under the law. It notes there is "strong evidence" that demobilised paramilitaries are forming "new criminal groups." It notes that the EU supports the JPL, although it does still have many concerns about the law.[164]

120. In its written evidence, Amnesty International argues the demobilisation process is,

    continuing the internal conflict by 'recycling' combatants under another guise. We seriously question EU and UK government support for the JPL, which we believe is contributing to impunity in Colombia and failing to meet international standards in providing effective truth, justice and reparation to victims.[165]

Human Rights Watch wrote to us that,

    The UK government and the EU should condition and qualify their support for Colombia's paramilitary demobilization process. So far, the EU's financial support for the process has been unconditional; its political support for the process has been perceived in Colombia as almost unqualified. However, this is a tremendously risky process that could easily result in widespread impunity for crimes against humanity and the legitimisation of paramilitaries' mafia-like power.[166]

The position of the British Government has been that it supports the new law, but it must be implemented transparently.[167]

121. The human rights situation in Colombia is monitored by an office of the United Nations, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR). At the time of publication of the FCO's 2006 Human Rights Report, it was unclear whether the mandate of the OHCHR, which expired in October, would be renewed. It had previously been renewed for four years, but on this occasion it was renewed at the last minute and only for a further 12 months. FCO Minister of State, Rt hon Geoff Hoon MP, commented on this in answer to a Parliamentary Question:

    We welcome the one-year extension of the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia. We also welcome signs that the Colombian Government is increasing efforts to co-operate constructively with the Office in order to make progress on the 27 OHCHR recommendations. We support the extension of the mandate in the longer term.[168]

Ian McCartney told us that he felt it was "vitally important" to obtain a further extension later this year.[169]

122. We recommend that the Government apply pressure on Colombia to agree to a longer extension to the mandate of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia and that it set out in its response to this Report the signs that the Colombian authorities are co-operating constructively with the Office. We further recommend that the Government make a full statement of its policy on Colombia's Justice and Peace Law.

Democratic Republic of Congo

123. The FCO Report states that "the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains poor" with large scale instances of summary executions, beatings and sexual violence. The east and north-east of the country are particularly badly affected where soldiers, police and militiamen are the principal perpetrators of human rights violations.[170]

124. The country's first democratic elections in four decades were held under UN supervision on 30 July 2006 and were won by Joseph Kabila. While this represents a huge opportunity for the country, some NGOs have expressed concern over the procedure and the long-term sustainability of democratic reform in the country. Amnesty International reported "acts of political oppression during the elections."[171] Human Rights Watch told us that, "the elections were a landmark … but elections on their own do not bring democracy" and that "the elections were marked by serious events—violence and human rights abuses."[172]

125. More worrying are the ramifications of the escalation of conflicts in other parts of Africa—specifically Sudan. There is a fear that the UN's peacekeeping resources will be stretched, to the detriment of the population of the DRC. Again, Human Rights Watch have commented on this, explaining that, "the DRC is still in intensive care and there are still worrying reports of human rights abuses in various parts of the country, and the international community needs to stay."[173] The Prime Minister appeared to be of a similar view when answering a question on the DRC in the House of Commons on 7 March:

    when we bring peace and stability to parts of Africa, as with the DRC, that is an investment not only in those countries but in our own future.[174]

126. We conclude that the recent Presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo presents an important opportunity to move on from the dreadful human rights abuses of recent years. We recommend that the Government use its position on the UN Security Council to ensure that the international peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo is maintained at its current strength until the security situation has stabilised.


127. The FCO's report notes a "continued deterioration" in the "deeply worrying" human rights situation in Iran.[175] Iran was second only to China in terms of the total number of executions carried out in 2005. Many death sentences are carried out in public. According to NGOs, Iran was the only country to execute children and juvenile offenders in 2005. Freedom of expression has "deteriorated significantly" in the last 12 months and in 2005, Reporters without Borders described Iran as "the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East."[176]

128. Iran has refused to engage in the EU-Iran Human Rights Dialogue since June 2004. The UK raised human rights concerns with the Iranians 16 times in the last six months of 2005, and during its Presidency led the EU in issuing five statements addressing various violations.[177]

129. In its written evidence, Human Rights Watch argued there is a "lack of international leverage on Iran" and that efforts to prevent Iran developing nuclear technology come "at the expense" of efforts promoting human rights and political reform.[178]

130. The Minister told us that the Government is,

    continuing individually and collectively to try to discuss with Iran its capacity to move to a different place. It is not just human rights; there are other issues. Iran has been extremely difficult with us. The issue of human rights is such that we are not in for the short haul here. We are in for the long haul and we will do everything that we can to co-operate internationally to try to influence a better outcome for the people of Iran.[179]

131. Iran's record on human rights came under renewed scrutiny in March 2007, when fifteen British sailors and marines were seized from their boats in the Gulf during a search operation carried out in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1723. The service personnel were held in Iran for 12 days. On their return, they made statements to the press. Lieutenant Felix Carman, RN, said:

    On arrival at a small naval base, we were blindfolded, stripped of all our kit and led to a room where I declared myself as the officer in charge and was introduced to a local commander.

    Two hours later we were moved to a second location and throughout the night were subjected to random interrogations. The questions were aggressive and the handling rough, but it was no worse than that.

    The following morning we were flown to Tehran and transported to a prison where the atmosphere changed completely. We were blindfolded, our hands were bound and we were forced up against a wall. Throughout our ordeal we faced constant psychological pressure.

    Later we were stripped and then dressed in pyjamas. The next few nights were spent in stone cells, approximately 8'x6', sleeping on piles of blankets. All of us were kept in isolation.[180]

Later, footage of the detainees and of the oral and written statements made by them was shown on Iranian television. The captives were not prisoners of war, but it appears that in several respects their treatment failed to meet the standards which, under the Geneva Conventions, would apply to prisoners of war.

132. The Secretary of State for Defence, Rt hon Des Browne MP, told the House that "the Iranians detained our personnel illegally." He stated that "our main objective - the peaceful resolution of the incident and the safe return of our people - was achieved, earlier than many predicted". He emphasised that "there was no apology and there was no deal" in securing the return of the personnel.[181]

133. We intend to consider further both the actions of the Iranians in detaining the personnel and the efforts made by the Government to free them, and will report our findings to the House in due course.

134. We conclude there is a danger that international preoccupation with Iran's nuclear programme could overshadow concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation there. We recommend that the Government work with its international partners to maintain awareness of human rights abuses in Iran.

Israel and Hezbollah

135. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2007, the war in Lebanon from 12 July to 15 August 2006 left more than 1,100 Lebanese dead (a majority of them civilians), more than 4,000 people injured and an estimated 1 million displaced. Children accounted for a third of the casualties. In Israel, indiscriminate rocket fire from Hezbollah killed at least 39 civilians and injured hundreds more.[182]

136. The FCO Report provided the numbers of Israeli dead in the section on Syria, but at no point did it mention the scale of Lebanese suffering.[183] Amnesty International found the Report's "failure to address and condemn the disproportionate and indiscriminate nature of the Israeli bombardment and shelling of civilians as well as direct attacks on civilian objects in Lebanon" to be "a most regrettable omission."[184]

137. Human Rights Watch noted that during the fighting, the United Kingdom "refrained from serious criticism of Israel", "resisted calls for a humanitarian ceasefire" and "gave a green light to the transfer of American weapons to Israel through the UK." It argued this led to many Lebanese seeing the UK as complicit in the violence they suffered, and claimed "this lack of balance is perpetuated in the FCO report."[185]

138. This strong rebuke for a lack of balance by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch is particularly interesting, given that the FCO Report and the FCO memorandum to this Committee decried the lack of balance (in the other direction) of resolutions passed on the war by the UN Human Rights Council.[186]

139. We raised this with Ian McCartney. Asked whether the 2007 Human Rights Report will explain why the Government seems to be unable to use the word "disproportionate" in relation to the Israeli actions, the Minister replied "I will be frank: that is a pejorative remark. The report will set out in graphic detail a fair, effective, honest assessment of the issues involved in the crisis, what our role was and what it has been since, some of which is already in the public domain."[187]

140. The Minister continued:

    We gave a commitment on publication of that report that in this year's report there will be full coverage of the conflict and its consequences. There is no dodging that. This year's report will include all the information on the whole period and what has happened since.[188]

141. We welcome the Government's undertaking to provide a comprehensive account of the war in Lebanon in the Annual Human Rights Report 2007, and recommend that this should include details of the casualties on both sides suffered both during the war, and, as a result of the accidental detonation of unexploded munitions, subsequently.

142. We will return to consideration of events in Lebanon in our forthcoming Report on Global Security: the Middle East.

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

143. The FCO Report notes a decline in civilian casualties in 2005 as compared to 2004. The implementation of Israel's disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip contributed to a 75% reduction in the number of Palestinian casualties and a 50% reduction in Israeli fatalities in this period. In 2005, around 200 Palestinians and 50 Israelis were killed in conflict related events.[189]

144. In 2006, according to Amnesty International's written evidence, Palestinian armed groups killed 17 Israeli civilians. However, "killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces spiralled, with some 600 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians and including some 100 children, killed by Israeli forces." Amnesty also points out that the FCO Report states "the UK unreservedly condemns all acts of violence against Israel's civilian population" but it fails to include such a statement with regards to the Palestinian civilian population.[190]

145. However, both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch agree that the FCO Report provides a balanced and accurate account of the human rights abuses committed by both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli Government.[191]

146. Hamas emerged as the clear winner from the PA elections on 25 January 2006. This led to a financial boycott of the PA by western states and Israel due to Hamas' refusal to meet the demands of the Quartet (the UN, US, EU and Russia) to recognise Israel, respect previous agreements, and renounce violence. In our last Report on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, we endorsed the Government's refusal to channel aid through the PA but stressed "it is important that the Palestinian people are not punished for exercising their rights as voters."[192]

147. The FCO has told us that in 2006 the EU gave the Palestinians through various means, including the temporary international mechanism, €680m—"a record figure."[193] This money has not gone to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority but directly to public servants and health services. However, The Guardian has reported that delays have led to an absence of basic medicines and school closures.[194] In his visit to the Middle East in December 2006, the Prime Minister proposed a plan to channel more aid through the office of President Mahmoud Abbas, including the bolstering of his security forces.[195]

148. Human Rights Watch wrote to us that the combination of the financial boycott and Israel's refusal to remit tax money "has led to a crippling budget shortfall for the government."[196] Amnesty added that "There has been a sharp increase in poverty, unemployment and health problems among Palestinians, and an overall deterioration of the humanitarian situation to an unprecedented level."[197] In their recent report on the Palestinian Territories, our colleagues on the International Development Select Committee said that, with regard to poverty, these actions "have made a bad situation worse." Current measures are "harming ordinary people." The Committee provides statistics suggesting 20% of the Palestinian population were below the poverty line in 1998, which had risen to 64% by 2006. In Gaza, the figure is 78%.[198]

149. The Minister was keen to share with us the Government's activity in the region:

    We are raising bilaterally and with the European Union, the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority the following issues: freedom of movement between the west bank and Gaza; the targeted killings of Palestinians by the Israeli defence force; the firing of artillery shells near populated areas of the Gaza strip causing the death of civilians; continued construction of settlements in the west bank; the impact of the barrier; crossing point closures; settler violence; and the intimidation and harassment of Palestinian citizens. It is a long list of difficult issues.[199]

He later provided us with an update on humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people:

    The UK Government is extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and is committed to helping the Palestinian people through the EU-led Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) and other means. In 2006, we gave £30 million bilaterally and an additional £40 million through the EU. The Secretary of State for International Development has also announced a 4-year, £76.6 million commitment to UN Relief and Works Agency. The TIM has been extended by the Quartet twice, most recently in late December for 3 months. Following this decision the EU has agreed to increase the number of recipients, while maintaining the rigorous auditing procedures that have been applied so far.[200]

150. We conclude that, although the major responsibility must lie with Hamas' refusal to meet the Quartet's demands, the Western and Israeli financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority has also contributed to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territories.

151. We will comment in greater depth on the situation in the Palestinian Territories following our visit to the region, in our forthcoming Report on Global Security: the Middle East.


152. Although it is referred to elsewhere, Pakistan is not included as a country of concern in the FCO Report. In its written submission, Human Rights Watch called its exclusion "inexplicable on the basis of its human rights performance… the human rights environment has deteriorated dramatically under the military government of Pervez Musharraf and in particular in the past two years as the situation in the border region with Afghanistan has deteriorated."[201] Human Rights Watch listed some of its major concerns for human rights in Pakistan, including "total impunity for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other security services", "dozens if not hundreds of enforced disappearances", "unlawful and abusive" counter-terrorism efforts and "endemic" torture.[202] Amnesty drew our attention to "the generally parlous state of women's rights in Pakistan."[203] Recent legal reforms should lead to improvements, but Amnesty would prefer to see the entire legal framework replaced.

153. A number of us visited Pakistan in November 2006, when we were able to raise these issues. We sought an update from the Minister, who had also visited the region recently:

    In Pakistan, I met Prime Minister Aziz and followed that up with a detailed letter and notes about the issues of concern. I also expressed in the letter that those concerns had been expressed to us by communities in the UK that are committed to Pakistan and its well-being. I am waiting for a response.[204]

We comment further in our Report on South Asia.[205]

154. We conclude that, despite welcome improvements in women's rights and legal reforms, the serious nature of human rights abuses in Pakistan and the importance of establishing a culture of human rights in the country mean that Pakistan warrants inclusion as a country of concern in the Annual Human Rights Report 2007.


155. Russia is given 12 pages of the FCO Report, significantly more than any other country. The Report states that human rights defenders "continue to be gravely concerned by actions taken by the authorities." However, it notes that the Federal Ombudsman for Human Rights, Vladmir Lukin, has said there is cause for "cautious optimism" for human rights in the medium to long term.[206]

156. The Report outlines security concerns in Chechnya, including "torture, abduction, hostage-taking."[207] In January 2006, a new NGO law was passed, forcing all Russian NGOs to register or re-register, imposing strict reporting requirements, and permitting officials to ban projects by foreign NGOs deemed to be against the Russian national interest.[208]

157. In October 2006, an unidentified gunman murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaia. Human Rights Watch's World Report states that there is "no doubt" she was killed for her work, in which she was highly critical of the Kremlin and the pro-Russian government in Chechnya.[209] Amnesty International writes that such murders "appear to be carried out in an atmosphere of virtual impunity."[210] In another controversial murder, former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko died of radiation poisoning in London on 23 November 2006. Litvinenko was an opponent of Russian President Vladmir Putin, and was said to be investigating the killing of Politkovskaia. The Economist wrote that "though it is not clear whether the Kremlin ordered the killing [of Litvinenko], that this even seems possible says something about the internal state of Russia."[211]

158. Human Rights Watch argues that international monitoring of Russia's human rights performance was "grossly inadequate" in 2006, especially since Russia held the Presidency of the G8. It argues that the broad EU-Russia agenda is "dominated by energy security" concerns at the expense of human rights.[212] The Times similarly argues that Europe may have to make "uncomfortable compromises" with the Kremlin on human rights "by too close an embrace of the Russian bear over energy."[213]

159. Giving evidence to the Committee last year, Ian McCartney's predecessor, Ian Pearson MP, said that "we want to … ensure that the momentum of reforming is not lost and that change moves in the right direction."[214] To that end, the Government maintains a human rights dialogue with the Russian Federation. Mr McCartney wrote to us following the latest round of this dialogue, which took place in London on 22 and 23 January 2007:

    As a new element of the talks, the UK made presentations on our experience of advancing human rights in areas of mutual interest. The Association of Chief Police Officers (National Communities Tension Team) gave a presentation on the UK's experience of investigating racially motivated crimes. In addition, the Department of Constitutional Affairs (Human Rights Division) shared UK experience of implementing European Court of Human Rights judgements. These presentations stimulated a useful exchange of views.[215]

We welcome this format for the talks.

160. In our last human rights Report, we recommended that the Government "make clear to President Putin and other Russian authorities that a creeping return to authoritarianism is not an acceptable policy to pursue."[216] With regret, we observe that in the past year the human rights situation in Russia has deteriorated further.

161. We plan to carry out an inquiry into aspects of the United Kingdom's and the EU's relations with Russia later this year, and will ensure that the human rights dimension is covered as part of that work.

Saudi Arabia

162. In last year's Report, we wrote that human rights in Saudi Arabia "fall far short of universal standards."[217] The 2006 FCO Report agrees that "there is still cause for serious concern" about human rights in Saudi Arabia, including state-sanctioned discrimination against women, foreigners, and non-Muslims (even non-Sunnis) and restrictions on freedoms of, inter alia, press and movement. Saudi Arabia has the highest per capita execution rate in the world. The FCO estimates that 92 were executed in 2005, an almost 200% increase on the estimate for 2004. Despite this, Saudi Arabia was elected to the UN Human Rights Council on 9 May for a period of three years.[218]

163. As noted earlier in this Report, the Attorney General announced in December that the Serious Fraud Office had stopped its investigation into BAE Systems' dealings with Saudi Arabia because of public interest grounds and because of "the need to safeguard national and international security."[219] The Prime Minister has said the investigation would have been "devastating for our relationship with an important country."[220] However, the decision has been controversial and was met with severe criticism from anti-corruption organisations. There may also be an argument that it has weakened the United Kingdom's ability to take firm action against Saudi Arabia in a range of fields, including human rights.

164. We recommend that the Government use its close relationship with Saudi Arabia, including through the "Two Kingdoms Dialogue," to set measurable and time-limited targets for specific human rights objectives, in particular in the areas of women's rights, the use of torture and the application of the death penalty.


165. Despite commenting on the murder of the prominent peace activist Abdulqadir Yahya Ali, the pursuit of Sharia law by the Islamic courts and the abuses suffered by the Gaboye minority, the FCO Report does not include Somalia on its list of 'Countries of Concern.'[221] Human Rights Watch explained that "the fact that Somalia is not included as a 'country of concern' indicates the extent to which Somalia simply fell off the radar for the international community over recent years. We are now seeing the consequences of that."[222]

166. The security situation in Somalia remains bleak. Having been without a legitimate central government for 15 years, the population is deemed to be "vulnerable to any future conflict."[223] Ethiopian intervention on behalf of the transitional government in the early part of January 2007 has seen the Islamists defeated, but the planned withdrawal by the Ethiopians raises the prospect of a power vacuum. Human Rights Watch explained that the Islamists still retain popular support because "they provided an element of security and justice in many parts of the country, although we have very serious concerns about some elements of their policies—Sharia punishments, the forbidding of freedom of assembly and of expression."[224]

167. During the Battle of Ras Kamboni in the South of the country, the US launched an air-strike against suspected al Qaeda targets. It followed up this attack with further strikes in January 2007. Michael Ranneberger, the US Ambassador to Kenya, claimed that no civilians were killed during this attack, a claim disputed by Human Rights Watch: "We have reports of at least 30 civilians who died in that strike, and we are very concerned about that."[225] Claims by Oxfam's regional director, Paul Smith-Lomas, suggest that the number of casualties may even be as high as 70.[226]

168. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government comment on the current human rights situation in Somalia, including the impact on civilians of the recent US air-strikes against terrorist targets.


169. Sudan—the third largest oil producer in Africa and a country of great economic potential—is listed as a 'Country of Concern' in the FCO Report, which discusses human rights violations such as sexual and gender-based violence and the use of rape as a weapon of war. Furthermore there is a widespread culture of impunity and criminality and banditry are commonplace. Darfur is by far the worst affected region, with actors from both sides of the conflict involved in serious human rights abuses. The International Criminal Court has made progress with preparing its case against those cited for human rights abuses in Darfur.[227] Some progress has also been made at a political level, with the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) between the Sudanese Government and one faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM). However, on the ground the specific human rights content of the agreement has been difficult to implement and the so-called "NGO Act" of March 2006 has hindered the work of humanitarian organisations in situ.[228]

170. Amnesty International was supportive of the United Kingdom's key role in attempting to broker peace in Sudan:

    The UK government continues to play a leading role at the UN and we welcome its efforts supporting the Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on Darfur and in securing UN Security Council Resolution 1706.[229]

Amnesty also welcomed the extension of the AMIS mandate until 30 June 2007 but said that this "should be an interim measure that would ultimately lead to the transition to a UN peacekeeping force under UNSCR 1706."[230] Human Rights Watch also suggested that the United Kingdom should use its influence in other organisations to allow for a more effective approach to Darfur, suggesting that the "EU could complement the UN in Darfur."[231] It paid heed to "some tough talk from Prime Minister Blair"[232] but remained critical of the EU's level of involvement in Sudan. Human Rights watch suggested that greater involvement from the EU would benefit understanding of the regional dimensions of the conflict, in particular the overspill into Chad which is difficult to monitor owing to an absence of British diplomatic representation there.[233]

171. A particularly difficult aspect of the conflict has been the unwillingness of the Sudanese government to welcome the UN Peacekeeping force to replace the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). UNSCR 1706 was co-sponsored by the United Kingdom and adopted on 31 August 2006. It called for a UN force to take over from AMIS with the support of the African Union but has so far failed to secure the backing of the Sudanese government.[234] This has raised concerns that any future role of such a force would be undermined by Sudanese conditions placed upon it.

172. Amnesty International fears that without the UN force, human rights atrocities will continue to occur in a culture of impunity. It has expressed concern at this and explained that the "African Union has been absolutely clear that it wants the UN to take over its mission to provide protection for the citizens under attack while that process goes on."[235] In this statement, "that process" refers to the attempts in Sudan to bring different factions around the table to discuss their own aspirations, something that is seen as absolutely critical by Human Rights Watch who made it clear that, "a political solution is required for this problem."[236] In the immediate period after the signing of the DPA, there was significant fragmentation among the rebel groups, which in turn has rendered negotiations extremely complex. Human Rights Watch told us that it is therefore even more critical that the United Kingdom continues to push to keep Sudan on the international agenda.[237]

173. We welcome the Government's lead amongst the international community in seeking to improve human rights in Sudan. We recommend that the Government continue to use all available forums to apply pressure on the Sudanese regime and its international allies to halt the atrocities in Darfur. We further recommend that the Government seek to ensure that the mandate of any UN force deployed in Darfur is not so watered down as a result of compromises with Sudan's authorities as to render it ineffective.


174. The September 2006 coup which deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra occurred too late to be included in the 2006 annual report. However, Human Rights Watch drew our attention to a "deteriorating" human rights situation during Thaksin's five-year period in office, including "some 2,500 extrajudicial executions in [his] war on drugs, suppression of media freedom, brutal counter-insurgency in the south, and the downgrading of refugee protection." Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch pointed out, the EU sought a free trade agreement with Thailand.[238]

175. We recommend that the Government include more information on recent developments in the human rights situation in Thailand in the Annual Human Rights Report 2007.


176. The United Kingdom, through the EU, has raised concerns with the situation of human rights in Uzbekistan in various dialogues, including on 20 September 2006 with the Special Rapporteur on Torture at the Second Session of the Human Rights Council.[239] The United Kingdom and other EU members of the HRC also joined the Council's consensus decision to keep a case relating to human rights violations in Uzbekistan under the Council's 'Confidential Complaints Procedure'.

177. The US tabled a resolution at the UN General Assembly Third Committee setting out the international community's concerns with the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and calling for action. Within this resolution specific concern was expressed about the Uzbek government's unwillingness to allow an international independent investigation into the massacre in Andizhan in May 2005.[240] The United Kingdom was one of the first EU member states to co-sponsor this resolution. However, Uzbekistan tabled a 'No Action Motion' proposing that no action be taken on the resolution itself. This was the only 'No Action Motion' against a country resolution at the Third Committee to be successfully carried, by 74 votes in favour to 69 against, with 24 abstentions. The EU and US made strong statements stressing their opposition to the use of 'No Action Motions', and making clear that the Third Committee should be given the opportunity to consider every resolution on its own merits.[241]

178. Following the massacre in Andizhan in May 2005, the EU imposed sanctions on the Uzbek government, which included an arms export embargo and the positioning of seven Uzbek officials on the EU's visa ban list. However, in November 2006 after an "aggressive push" by Germany these sanctions were relaxed, despite "no meaningful steps by the Uzbek government to meet the conditions originally set for lifting the sanctions."[242] Indeed, according to the FCO, the human rights situation in Uzbekistan "has deteriorated further since November 2006."[243] In the most recent EU assessment in February 2007, the sanctions were maintained. A dialogue and an expert seminar have been offered by the Uzbek government, in place of the international investigation which was originally demanded. Human Rights Watch was concerned that the principled position initially taken by the FCO on Uzbekistan was not translated into concrete action during EU negotiations.[244] Other sources suggest that the relaxation is related to Germany's new policy which views Uzbekistan as a "cornerstone of its new policy to build an EU presence in Central Asia."[245]

179. We recommend that if the Uzbek authorities fail to provide for an independent investigation into the Andizhan massacre or fail to make significant improvements in their respect for human rights, the Government should press for the EU to impose tougher sanctions against Uzbekistan.


180. The FCO Report discusses various examples of poor governance which have led to human rights violations throughout Zimbabwe. 'Operation Murambatsvina' ('Drive Out the Filth'), a campaign of forced evictions and housing demolitions has affected nearly a fifth of the population - or roughly 3.1 million people - leaving them without shelter, sanitation or education. In her report, Kofi Annan's Special Envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, explained that an estimated 700,000 of these have been left homeless, unemployed and destitute.[246] Those affected throughout the past year have still received little or no help. 'Operation Garikai' ('Live Well') was devised to re-house those made homeless by previous evictions but in practice only 3,325 houses have been built and a large proportion of these have gone to police, civil servants and those favourably viewed by the ruling ZANU (PF) party.[247] Further themes explored in the FCO report are the ban on carrying excess cash, draconian punishments for those participating in the Valentine's Day marches and the intimidating rhetoric used against the opposition regarding the organisation of peaceful protests.

181. The FCO report goes on to discuss other current concerns:

    Civil and political repression, including the removal of elected opposition mayors;

    Freedom of expression being eroded by new legislation;

    Constitutional amendment 17 which has nationalised land ownership, imposed restrictions on the freedom of international movement by Zimbabwean citizens and the restriction in electoral participation by second and third generation citizens;

    The food crisis: 'Operation Taguta/Sisuthi' ('Eat Well') has only exacerbated the population's reliance on the government for food, which has been explicitly used as a political tool.[248]

182. The British Government's attempts to put unilateral pressure on Zimbabwe have been hampered by its colonial history because, as Human Rights Watch explained, it allows the current regime to describe the scenario as "a neo-colonial crisis about land".[249] According to Amnesty International, therefore, a better allocation of resources would be found in "talking to African countries about the ways in which they might bring pressure to bear upon the Mugabe regime."[250]

183. The FCO Report states that there has been some success in getting Zimbabwe on the UN Security Council agenda, but this is not a course of action that attracts universal support. Tom Porteous of Human Rights Watch said, "I do not know whether the situation in Zimbabwe merits referral to the Security Council" and "South Africa has played a very unhelpful role."[251] Amnesty International argued for the need to take a harder line with South Africa: "We are very disappointed by South African quiet diplomacy over the past seven years and would say that it has not produced anything".[252]

184. The question of involving other partners in putting pressure on Zimbabwe has frequently been raised. Ian McCartney explained that it is important that "we [the EU] have a comprehensive and effective trade arrangement that takes into account economic development and builds the capacity of those countries in southern Africa to develop human rights awareness."[253]

185. During March 2007 the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated even further as Robert Mugabe and his ZANU (PF) party continued their clamp-down on political opposition. The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai, was severely beaten on 11 March for trying to attend a meeting organised by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a pro-democracy coalition of civic and opposition groups. He was hospitalised by his injuries, which were severe enough to attract accusations that the attack was in fact "attempted murder".[254] Many more of Tsvangirai's MDC colleagues have also faced increasing intimidation and violence from Mugabe's "hit-squads".[255] MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa was attacked by a gang of eight, leaving him with severe facial injuries while MDC leaders Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinje were prevented from boarding a flight to South Africa for important medical checks.[256] Foreign diplomats have also been warned that the increased intensity of the Mugabe regime will be redirected towards them. A Zimbabwean foreign affairs official outlined the regime's hostility towards the British and American diplomats in particular, stating that "if these two don't shut up from now on, their expulsions are imminent."[257]

186. In response to questions over the current situation in Zimbabwe, the Foreign Secretary told the House on 20 March of the need to promote and maintain strong multilateral pressure on the Mugabe regime. She made it clear that the United Kingdom's concerns must be shared by the EU, the African Union and the UN.[258] Therefore, and in spite of the obvious deepening of the Zimbabwean crisis, there have been a number of developments which give cause for cautious optimism. In response to the recent violence, South Africa has shown tentative signs of a movement away from its quiet diplomacy and has become more vocal in its criticism of Mugabe's regime, describing the beatings as "obviously unacceptable to us as a government."[259] Furthermore, Thabo Mbeki's recent appointment by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as a mediator in the Zimbabwean crisis has been seen as a "critical new departure by insiders".[260] He is mandated to ensure that next year's presidential elections are free and fair. The African Union, which itself has faced criticism because of the perceived unwillingness of its member Heads of State to put significant pressure on the Mugabe regime, has also raised its voice over the issue. The Chairperson of the Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare, has urged "all concerned parties to commence a sincere and constructive dialogue"[261] with Zimbabwe. Perhaps the most critical development, however, could be the opening up of fissures within the ZANU (PF) party itself, with Mugabe recently conceding that some of his colleagues are "plotting against him", as the country moves towards a perceived tipping point.[262]

187. We conclude that the appalling human rights situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated over the past year. We recommend that the Government continue strongly to urge South Africa to apply greater pressure on the Mugabe regime. We further recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government set out what progress has been made on the issue of Zimbabwe at the UN Security Council.

140   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, p 38 Back

141   Ibid, p 39 Back

142   Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2005-06, Human Rights Annual Report 2005, HC 574 Back

143   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, pp38-42 Back

144   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006 Back

145   "Suu Kyi needs more medical attention, says UN envoy", The Guardian, 13 November 2006 Back

146   "China and Russia veto UN's 'arbitrary' move on Burma", Financial Times, 13 January 2007 Back

147   Q 91 Back

148   Ev 56, para 6 Back

149   Ev 53, para 6 Back

150   HC Deb, 5 March 2007, col 1661W Back

151   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006 Back

152   Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2005-06, Human Rights Annual Report 2005, HC 574 Back

153   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, First Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee 2005-06, Annual Report on Human Rights 2005, Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Cm 6774, May 2006 Back

154   Ev 56, para 7 Back

155   Ev 53, para 7 Back

156   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2005-06, East Asia, HC 860 Back

157   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, pp44-48 Back

158   Q 88 Back

159   Ev 92 Back

160   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2005-06, East Asia, HC 860, paras 362-386 Back

161   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Seventh Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, East Asia, Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Cm 6944, October 2006, para 105 Back

162   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, pp 49-50 Back

163   Ibid, p 51 Back

164   Ibid, October 2006, p 51 Back

165   Ev 17, para 116 Back

166   Ev 55, para 5 Back

167   HC Deb, 14 July 2006, col 2135 Back

168   HC Deb, 2 November 2006, col 659 Back

169   Q 85 Back

170   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, p 59 Back

171   Ev 18, para 123 Back

172   Q 39 Back

173   Q 39 Back

174   HC Deb, 7 March 2007, col 1518 Back

175   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006 Back

176   Reporters without Borders, Iran - Annual Report 2004, Back

177   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, pp63-66 Back

178   Ev 27 Back

179   Q 78 Back

180   "Sailors and Marines speak for the first time about their detention by Iran", Defence News, 6 April 2007, available at Back

181   HC Deb, 16 April 2007, col 24 Back

182   Human Rights Watch, World Report 2007, p 476 Back

183   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, p 105, p 215 Back

184   Ev 21, para 144 Back

185   Ev 28 Back

186   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006; Ev 63 Back

187   Q 82 Back

188   Q 80 Back

189   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, pp 77-83 Back

190   Ev 22, para 151 Back

191   Ev 21; Ev 28 Back

192   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2005-06, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 573, para 20 Back

193   Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence to the Defence Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee,

HC (2006-07) 209-i, Q7 Back

194   "Blair makes one last push in Middle East with Palestinian funding plan", The Guardian, 19 December 2006 Back

195   "Blair seeks to bolster support for Abbas", Financial Times, 18 December 2006 Back

196   Ev 55 Back

197   Ev 51 Back

198   International Development Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, Development Assistance and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, HC 114, pp 24-25 Back

199   Q 79 Back

200   Ev 86 Back

201   Ev 28 Back

202   Ev 56 Back

203   Ev 53, para 8 Back

204   Q 93 Back

205   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, South Asia, HC 55 Back

206   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006 Back

207   Ibid, pp 86-7 Back

208   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006 Back

209   HRW, World Report 2007, p 406 Back

210   Ev 23, para 158 Back

211   "Don't mess with Russia", The Economist, 16 December 2006 Back

212   Human Rights Watch, World Report 2007, pp 405-409 Back

213   "Putin wins the hearts and minds of Europe", The Times, 27 December 2006 Back

214   Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2005-06, Human Rights Annual Report 2005, HC 574, Ev 63 Back

215   Ev 86 Back

216   Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2005-06, Human Rights Annual Report 2005, HC 574 Back

217   Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2005-06, Human Rights Annual Report 2005, HC 574 Back

218   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, p 99 Back

219   HL Deb, 14 December 2006, col 1712 Back

220   PM defends Saudi probe decision, BBC News, 16 Jan 2007, Back

221   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, p 210 Back

222   Q 41 Back

223   Q 42 Back

224   Q 42 Back

225   Q 41 Back

226   US Strikes on Al-Qaeda Chiefs Kills Nomads, The Independent, 13 January 2007 Back

227   HC Deb, 7 March 2007, col 2020W Back

228   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, p 101 Back

229   Ev 24 Back

230   Ev 24 Back

231   Q 44 Back

232   Ev 31 Back

233   The British High Commissioner in Cameroon is accredited as Ambassador to Chad Back

234   Ev 60 Back

235   Q 46 Back

236   Q 47 Back

237   Q 47 Back

238   Ev 32 Back

239   Human Rights Council Second Session: Order of the Day, Wednesday 20 September 2006, Back

240   Situation of Human Rights in Uzbekistan A/C.3/61/L.39, Back

241   Ev 62 Back

242   Ev 52 Back

243   HC Deb, 19 March 2007, col 599W Back

244   Ev 52 Back

245   EU to Uphold Uzbekistan and Belarus Sanctions, Back

246   Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe to Assess the Scope and Impact of Operation Murambatsvina by the UN Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe p 7 Back

247   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, p 122 Back

248   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2006, Cm 6916, October 2006, p 124 Back

249   Q 48 Back

250   Q 48 Back

251   Q 49 Back

252   Q 48 Back

253   Q 88 Back

254   "Zimbabwe Opposition Leader 'Beaten Unconscious by the Police'" The Independent, 13 March 2007  Back

255   "Mugabe Accused of Using Hit-Squads to Target Opposition", The Independent, 21 March 2007 Back

256   "Zimbabwe Opposition Man Badly Beaten", Financial Times, 19 March 2007 Back

257   "Zimbabwe Threatens Diplomats with Expulsion", The Independent, 20 March 2007 Back

258   HC Deb, 20 March 2007, col 671 Back

259   "South Africa's Chief Government Spokesman, Themba Maseko as cited in Mugabe Accused of Using Hit-Squads to Target Opposition", The Independent, 21 March 2007 Back

260   Tsvangirai calls on South Africa to act soon on Zimbabwe, The Times, 2 April 2007 Back

261   African Union, Press Release, Back

262   "'Emergency Law' on the Streets as Mugabe Bids to Cling On", The Guardian, 18 March 2007 Back

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