Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Amnesty International UK


  Amnesty International is a worldwide membership movement. Our vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In pursuit of this vision, Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending abuses of these rights.


  The FCO's Human Rights Annual Report 2007 (the report) is the Government's 10th human rights report. Amnesty International welcomes the publication of these reports; they represent an important opportunity to set out the Government's activities and policies in this field. On the whole, the report is comprehensive and provides a thorough overview of the Government's work to protect and promote human rights worldwide. However, the report is noticeably weak in relation to countries where the UK has particular strategic, security or economic concerns.

  In part, the report is structured around the FCO's new policy goals. Amnesty International was involved in the consultation on the policy goal refresh; we welcome the involvement of stakeholders in this process. Human rights are incorporated in the policy goal "prevent and resolve conflict", and in theory are "mainstreamed" throughout the work of the FCO. However, Amnesty International is concerned at a number of human rights omissions from the policy goals as well as by the mismatch between rhetoric and practice in some instances. Amnesty International is particularly concerned at the absence of a serious and integrated approach to gender issues in both the policy goals and the report; a separate section on women's rights is insufficient. We would like to see gender awareness throughout the report and the FCO's work more broadly.

  The clear commitment to human rights expressed in the report is not always consistently applied in practice. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a key moment for the UK to reinvigorate its commitment to rights. The UK must take the lead and refocus its efforts on promoting the human rights framework rather than taking steps that undermine it (for example in the counter-terrorism field).

  The Government has identified a role for the UK as a global hub, a point of leadership and influence. Amnesty International would like to see this role expanded to include a proud and consistent assertion of universal human values. Human rights values (including the rule of law, justice and equality) should be at the heart of all the UK's foreign policy goals. This is not just a principled approach; a human rights approach to foreign policy is crucial to any effective long-term policy.

  Amnesty International welcomes the Foreign Secretary's recognition that human rights have moved "from the margins to the mainstream" and can no longer be treated as a discrete area of foreign policy, with human rights a vital dimension of foreign policy challenges.[1] It is critical that human rights values are fully integrated in UK foreign policy and are consistently respected in the implementation of policies, and not just given rhetorical support at opportune moments. This should be true in relation to all states, including those with which the UK has important strategic, security or economic links.

  The FCO frequently makes reference to the fact that human rights cut across the policy goals and are mainstreamed throughout the organisation. However, there is a need to make mainstreaming more meaningful if pockets of good practice are not to be seen as tokenistic. This could be achieved by such measures as: strengthening and deepening human rights training across government; strengthened, frequent and regularised dialogue with NGOs; and regularised NGO briefings and training.

  Amnesty International welcomes the report's shorter, more compact format and general accessibility. However, we note that with the exclusion of the annexes, the report does not contain any breakdown of the level of government funding for human rights projects. In the past, this information provided an important opportunity to scrutinise expenditure. The issue of funding for human rights projects is an ongoing concern. It has often been difficult to establish what funding is available for discrete human rights projects within the Global Opportunities Fund (GOF). Fewer countries are eligible for funding under the GOF programme than the previous Human Rights Project Fund and there remain fears that the GOF could be susceptible to budgetary pressure.

  This submission will look briefly at each of the policy goals. It will then focus on a small number of "countries of concern", incorporating many of our concerns relating to the key human rights themes outlined in Part 4 of the report (equality, democracy and the rule of law). The report covers the period from September 2006 to December 2007, but also looks forward to the year ahead. Therefore, this submission will focus on this period, but comment on more recent events where appropriate, as well as making forward-looking recommendations for government policy and practice.


Counter terrorism, weapons proliferation and their causes

Counter terrorism

  Amnesty International fully recognises the serious nature of the threat of terrorism and the obligation on all states to act to protect their citizens. We condemn in the strongest possible terms all violent acts targeting civilians—the horrors of 9/11, the Bali, Madrid and London bombings. These terrorist attacks were barbaric acts and gross human right violations and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

  Amnesty International welcomes the report's statement that "far from being an obstacle to our counter-terrorism work, human rights are central to our efforts to counter radicalisation under the Government's `Prevent' strategy". The report also notes the importance of the rule of law in any long-term approach to security. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that all measures taken to bring people to justice, as well as all measures to protect people from terrorism, are consistent with international human rights law and standards. Unless governments across the world respond to the threat of international terrorism in a manner that is fully grounded in respect for human rights and the rule of law, they risk undermining the values they seek to protect and defend.

  The policy goals contain an important recognition of the diverse range of factors that contribute to radicalisation. Many of these factors have human rights aspects. The report notes that the GOF supports projects that tackle human rights-related themes and contribute to efforts to reduce the stimuli for radicalisation. This is to be welcomed. However, there should be a more explicit recognition of the importance of human rights throughout the various approaches to countering extremism; human rights could be made more central to the conceptual framework.

  It is critical that policies in this area are implemented in a human rights context. For example, working with or promoting international partners who abuse human rights risks making the policy counterproductive and could risk encouraging extremism. It is also important to ensure that any "moderate voices" the Government works to promote hold moderate views across the whole range of issues, including gender. Given that real or perceived political grievances or social injustice can drive extremism, it is crucial that UK policies are consistent in terms of the values they espouse. The alternative risks perpetuating a cycle of political grievance and social injustice that could contribute to extremism.

  This is not just a matter of principle. There is a national interest in being seen to do the right thing in today's globalised world, where what the UK does in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Libya or China is seen all over the world as well as in the UK. Only by consistently living up to the values the UK claims to stand for and promote, can the UK work towards reclaiming the rhetoric of justice so often misused by extremists.

Deportations of foreign nationals and torture

  Amnesty International would question the report's assertion that the UK "abides by its human rights obligations, including the absolute prohibition of torture". We are also gravely concerned by the section titled "ethical dilemmas", which appears to give support to the use of "torture evidence". Under international law torture is absolutely prohibited in all circumstances; no statement obtained through torture or other ill-treatment should be admitted as evidence except in proceedings against torturers. The absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is one of the most universally accepted human rights and encompasses a ban on transferring a person to a state where there is a real risk they would be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment (non-refoulement). The principle is binding on all states, is absolute and permits no exceptions.

  The report states the Government's commitment to the obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). However, the report also sets out the Government's policy of deportations with diplomatic assurance. Amnesty International is extremely concerned at the Government's efforts to deport foreign nationals to countries where they face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment (whether in association with memorandums of understanding, an exchange of letters or any other sort of diplomatic agreement). Amnesty International considers that the UK's reliance on diplomatic assurances when seeking to expel people to countries where they would face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment violates its obligations under international law. Diplomatic assurances are corrosive of the absolute prohibition against torture.

  Amnesty International is far from reassured by what the report says about safeguards and improvements in human rights brought about by these arrangements. Diplomatic assurances are only sought with countries where there is a risk of torture and ill-treatment and which do not respect their existing obligations. Given that these states have previously violated legally binding obligations, they cannot be relied on to honour bilateral diplomatic understandings. Moreover, torture and other ill-treatment almost always happens in secret. Amnesty International considers that undertakings not to torture made by states known to use torture or ill-treatment are self-contradictory and cannot be relied upon.

  The idea that monitoring mechanisms bolster the effectiveness of diplomatic assurances is misguided. The safeguards that assurances provide fall below those in international law; they lack an enforcement mechanism and do not provide a remedy in case of a breach. Indeed, diplomatic assurances have proven to be ineffective. People who have been transferred on the basis of diplomatic assurances by other countries have later complained of torture.[2] Amnesty International considers that diplomatic assurances are inherently unreliable and in practice ineffective.

  Amnesty International has consistently raised concerns about the UK's efforts to "balance" the risk of torture and ill-treatment with national security concerns. This has included interventions in a number of cases before the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to change case law in this area. In this regard, Amnesty International welcomed the February 2008 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Saadi v Italy. In this landmark judgement, the Court ruled that deporting Nassim Saadi to Tunisia, where he would face a real risk of torture, would violate the Italian Government's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court recognised the difficulties states face in protecting against terrorism, but explicitly rejected UK and Italian arguments that the risk of harm faced by the individual should be balanced against any danger posed by the individual.[3] The Court rejected as "misconceived" the arguments advanced by the UK. Amnesty International considers that the Government's efforts to "balance" national security and the risk of torture work to undermine the absolute prohibition of torture.

  Many international human rights institutions and experts share Amnesty International's concerns in this area. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, has said: "The prohibition of torture is absolute, and States risk violating this prohibition| by transferring persons to countries where they may be at risk of torture".[4] Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, has expressed similar concerns: "Diplomatic assurances and memoranda of understanding do not constitute adequate safeguards to avert the risk of deportees being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment in the countries of destination". The Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture has said: "The fact that such assurances are sought shows in itself that the sending country perceives a serious risk of the deportee being subjected to torture or other ill treatment".[5] Moreover, in April 2008, the Court of Appeal ruled in two cases that the UK could not lawfully proceed with deportations in two key cases. The Court found that an individual could not be returned to Jordan because of the risk of unfair trial, including the use of "torture evidence" and that two Libyans could not be returned because the Memorandum of Understanding with Libya is insufficient to protect them from torture and other ill-treatment.

  Amnesty International calls on the Government to reaffirm its commitment to the absolute obligation under international law not to return any person to a country where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment. It is extraordinary that the Government, which has been a strong advocate of the elimination of torture throughout the world, should now be undermining this work by seeking to circumvent the principle of non-refoulement.

Guantánamo Bay

  In previous years, Amnesty International has criticised the Government for being slow to make sufficiently strong and public criticism of Guantánamo. We therefore welcome the report's finding that the "circumstances in which detainees are currently held indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay are unacceptable" and the call for the detention facility to close. However, the report makes only brief mention of the human rights abuses at Guantánamo and fails adequately to criticise US practice there.

  The report glosses over the harsh reality of conditions at Guantánamo and gives a misleading impression by citing reports of improvements. In addition to the serious distress caused by the indefinite nature of their detention, most detainees have languished in harsh conditions throughout their detention, confined to mesh cages or enclosed in maximum-security cells. In December 2006, a new facility known as Camp 6 opened. This facility created even harsher conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation in which detainees are confined to almost completely sealed, individual cells, with minimal contact with any other human being.

  Amnesty International is also concerned by the report's acceptance of US assurances that the USA is opposed to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It has become clear over recent years—not least from the US Government's own confirmation that it has authorised and used the form of torture known as "waterboarding"—that what the USA considers torture does not match international law. Furthermore, the USA's treaty reservations mean that it considers itself to be bound by the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment only to the extent that it matches existing US law. Under US Supreme Court jurisprudence, conduct is banned that "shocks the conscience". This opens the door for consideration of the "circumstances" in which the abuse occurs. In Amnesty International's view, the USA adheres to a less than absolute ban on torture and other ill-treatment.

  A further area of concern is the denial of access to due process. The report notes some concerns about the Military Commissions Act, but does not fully recognise the seriousness of the situation. Detainees are held in indefinite executive detention without charge or trial. The systems of review and trial fall far short of international standards. The Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) have effectively served as rubber stamps to affirm "enemy combatant" status, a status used by the USA but unknown in international law. The narrow judicial review of CSRT decisions provided for under the Detainee Treatment Act cannot be an adequate substitute for habeas corpus review, and in any event has not yet occurred. Military commissions are not impartial or independent. Like the CSRTs, they also allow the use of information extracted under cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and classified evidence, without the defendant necessarily being able to effectively challenge this.

  The conditions at Guantánamo and the continued denial to detainees of access to due process are wholly unacceptable. The Government should press the USA to repeal or substantially amend the Military Commissions Act to bring it into conformity with international law, including by fully ensuring the right to habeas corpus. There is also an urgent need to end the harsh conditions of isolation and sensory deprivation in use at the camp.

  The report notes the Government's change in position on former UK residents held at Guantánamo and its request for their return from the USA. Amnesty International welcomed this and the return of Bishar al-Rawi, Jamil El Banaa, Omar Deghayes and Abdennour Sameur. However, we remain deeply concerned about former residents Binyam Mohammed and Shaker Aamer, as well as Ahmed Belbacha, who also lived in the UK, but was excluded from the UK request because the Government claims he was present in the UK illegally. Belbacha, who is reported to be cleared for release, would face a serious risk of torture or other ill-treatment if returned to his native Algeria. It is now more than six years since the first detainees were transferred to Guantánamo from Afghanistan. There is a need for increased urgency in efforts to find a solution to closing the camp. There is a broad consensus that Guantánamo should close. However, the USA will need assistance in achieving this. The Government should push hard for the return to the UK of the remaining UK residents, and Ahmed Belbacha, and work with its allies to encourage other states to take a similar approach. The UK should also work with its allies to help resettle detainees who are not going to be charged and tried in accordance with international standards, and who cannot return to their country of origin.


  The report sets out the Government's understanding of the terms "rendition" and "extraordinary rendition". There is a danger of confusion over terminology in this area. Amnesty International uses the term "rendition" to refer to a variety of practices involving transfers of individuals from one country to another, without any judicial or administrative process such as extradition. This includes transferring detainees into the custody of other states, assuming custody of individuals from foreign authorities and abducting suspects on foreign soil. Amnesty International considers rendition to be illegal because it bypasses any judicial or administrative process. Additionally, rendition usually involves multiple human rights violations, including abduction, arbitrary arrest and detention and unlawful transfer without due process of law. All of the victims of rendition Amnesty International has interviewed have said they were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.

  As reflected in the report, the Government has taken a strong position on rendition that involves torture. However, it has failed to take a principled position on the broader human rights abuses involved in rendition. The Government has also failed to criticise the US practice of rendition. The Government should take a strong and consistent position opposing rendition in general and not just rendition that involves torture. The Government also needs to take a stronger position opposing the US practice of rendition and secret detention.

  The report sets out the Government's policy on rendition and its expectation that the USA will request permission to use UK airspace or Overseas Territories for rendition. Amnesty International is deeply concerned by this position. As the report notes, in February 2008, Foreign Secretary David Miliband was forced to tell Parliament that previous assurances that UK Overseas Territories had not been used for rendition were inaccurate. The USA is now known to have used Diego Garcia to render two individuals. Relying on US requests and assurances regarding rendition is clearly ineffective. The Government should oversee a properly independent and thorough investigation into the UK's involvement in rendition. This should include flights believed to have been on the way to or from a rendition (the rendition circuit) and not just those with detainees on board. In relation to the two detainees rendered through Diego Garcia, the Government should seek more details about the men. The Government should also press the USA to make a full disclosure of its rendition and secret detention programme, cease rendition and secret detention, and hold to account those involved in these practices.

  A later section of the report sets out the Government's position on the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. This Convention could provide important protections in the area of rendition and secret detention. The Convention recognises enforced disappearance as a violation of human rights and prohibits it; puts an obligation on states to make enforced disappearance a crime in national law, bring offenders to justice and investigate reports of enforced disappearance; and provides for reparations for victims and families. The Government should give urgent attention to signing and ratifying the UN Convention on Protection from Enforced Disappearance.

Weapons proliferation

Arms Trade Treaty

  The development of an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to help curb the flow of arms to those using them to commit abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law remains crucial. Significant progress continues to be made; Amnesty International welcomes the commitment of the Government and its international partners, which continue to play a lead role in promoting the ATT on the international stage. In 2007, at least 100 governments submitted their views on an ATT to the Secretary General, an unprecedented number of responses for an initiative of this kind.

  This year (2008) is another key year for the ATT. The 28-member Group of Government experts (GGE) will meet three times to consider the feasibility, scope and draft parameters of a legally-binding arms trade treaty and will report back to the General Assembly.

  The Government has been at the forefront of support for the ATT initiative. It must continue to work hard to drive it through the UN system and increase its efforts to secure widespread and international active support, particularly from southern governments. It is clear from progress so far, that there is overwhelming international support for an ATT. However, substantial blocks are starting to emerge as key governments begin to outline their concerns. It is imperative that efforts are made to engage effectively with these sceptical states and ensure they do not de-rail progress.

  It is also clear that an ATT will only save lives and protect human rights if it is truly comprehensive, robust and effectively implemented. Amnesty International does not support an ATT at any cost; we believe that the eventual treaty must enshrine the core principles of international human rights and humanitarian law and other relevant non-proliferation norms and standards. It must also be as comprehensive in scope as possible, apply to all conventional arms, including their components, manufacturing technology, production equipment and relevant dual-use goods. As a starting point, Amnesty International recommends that the ATT use the Wassennar military list. This list is comprehensive, multilateral in status, supported by the majority of arms-exporting states and is an agreed international standard for classification of conventional weapons. The ATT must also cover all aspects of international arms transfers, including import, export, transit, transhipment, and overseas production and arms-brokering activities.

Cluster Bombs

  This year (2008) will see the conclusion of a new international treaty prohibiting the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. Final treaty negotiations will take place in Ireland in May 2008. Amnesty International welcomes the Government's support for the process, but remains concerned that it is part of a small group pushing for certain exemptions that would seriously weaken the treaty. This stance risks undermining the UK's leadership in this area and credibility to argue for legally binding humanitarian standards for arms transfers.

  In particular, Amnesty International is concerned that the Government appears to be arguing for exemptions that would allow it to keep its current stocks of cluster bombs, either by allowing munitions with self-destructing mechanisms or by allowing weapons with less than 10 munitions. The UK's existing munitions stocks should not be exempted from an eventual cluster bomb treaty.

  In addition, the UK continues to claim that L20A1 artillery shells with M85 submunitions should be exempted from prohibition because their "self-destruct" (SD) mechanism means they do not cause significant post-conflict contamination. However, M85 submunitions with SD were used by Israel in Lebanon in 2006 and have caused contamination and subsequent casualties. Analysis by the head of the UN mine action programme in southern Lebanon, NGOs, government defence research bodies and independent ordnance analysts has concluded that the performance of M85 with SD in Lebanon demonstrates that the presence of SD mechanisms does not provide an adequate basis for civilian protection.

  In 2007, the Government sought to reclassify CRV7 rockets with M261 warheads containing M73 submunitions as "not cluster munitions", despite the fact they had been categorised as cluster munitions previously. The Government argued for this reclassification, and continues to argue for an exemption from prohibition, on the basis that each warhead contains only nine submunitions. An exemption for a cluster munition with 10 or fewer submunitions would represent a major loophole in the treaty. Such a loophole would allow the development and continued use of weapons that have exactly the same problematic effects that have been associated with cluster munitions for decades. In a short-term effort to secure an exemption for one specific weapon, the UK appears to be prepared to create loopholes that will result in long-term shortcomings for the international treaty. These rockets are fired from pods of 19 rockets, and four such pods are typically mounted onto an attack helicopter, providing a capacity for 684 submunitions. M73 submunitions do not contain any self-destruct mechanism, and so fall within the Government's own definition of "dumb" munitions.

  Even under controlled testing environments, the M73 has an unacceptably high failure rate of approximately 6%. The UK has not made a detailed case for the particular military utility of these weapons, nor has it explained why other CRV7 rocket warheads that do not contain cluster bombs, which can and are fitted to the CRV7 system, might not be used to provide the same capability.

Export Licensing

  The Government has made a commitment not to grant arms export licenses to countries or end-users that could use the equipment to facilitate human rights abuses. However, export licenses continue to be issued for types of equipment that could be used to commit abuses to countries about which the Government has expressed human rights concerns. These countries include Afghanistan, China, Colombia, Israel, Iraq, Russia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The type of equipment that has been licensed to these destinations include armoured vehicles, pistols, machine guns and sniper rifles, components for combat helicopters, components for air to surface missiles, body armour, riot control agents and military communications equipment. According to Saferworld, in 2007 the Government issued export licences for arms and dual-use equipment to 18 of the 21 countries identified by the Government as "major countries of concern" for human rights abuse.

  The Government has made some improvements in the transparency of its reporting, for example by disclosing the end-users of certain equipment, particularly where it is destined for a humanitarian end-use (eg mine clearance) or peacekeeping activities. However, the Government's arms export reports still do not enable adequate or meaningful scrutiny. It is imperative that the Government provide a much more coherent explanation of its export licensing decisions to countries it lists as countries of concern in the FCO's annual human rights report. The Government should also publish more information on end use and end-users.

Review of the Export Control Act

  The 2007-08 review of the 2002 and 2004 Export Control legislation offers an opportunity to close existing loopholes in the UK's export control system. Amnesty International welcomes the Government's decision to close the loophole on the brokering and trafficking of small arms and light weapons by introducing full extraterritorial controls on these categories of arms. These are important and necessary controls.

  We also welcome the decision to introduce a new "end-use" control on goods and equipment that could be used to facilitate acts of torture. This addresses a dangerous loophole that could have allowed certain goods to evade control because they were not included on a specific list of equipment. Although we support efforts to introduce the torture end-use control across the EU, as part of the ongoing development of the EU Torture regulation, Amnesty International urges the Government to make a commitment to introduce torture end-use controls within the UK's national export controls at the earliest opportunity.

  Amnesty International is also pleased that the review is being extended into late 2008 to cover issues that require further deliberation. We welcome the approach taken by the Government and its desire to work constructively with both NGOs and industry. Recent case examples have shown the need to more effectively regulate international production issues, including the export and re-export of components, as well as the need to extend full extraterritorial brokering controls to a wider range of lethal equipment.

  For example, in July 2007, Amnesty International and other NGOs published a report detailing the proposed transfer of military helicopters from India to Burma. These helicopters contained significant components and technology from several EU and US manufacturers. Several EU countries have much more stringent controls over the re-export of components and technology, and it appears that this stopped the deal. This is in stark contrast to the situation in the UK, where no re-export controls are applied. A previous transfer from India to Burma of UK military aircraft went ahead. Similarly, in 2005, Uzbekistan security forces used military Landrover defender vehicles during the Andijan massacre. These vehicles were supplied by Turkey, which manufactures them under license from Landrover in the UK. In February 2005, it emerged that a UK subsidiary company based in India was negotiating to supply military trucks to Sudan. This deal would have been illegal if done from the UK, as Sudan is subject to an EU arms embargo.


Human rights and globalisation: human rights and global business

Clarity of strategy

  The report outlines the Government's development of a strategy on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Amnesty International welcomes this and congratulates the Government for developing a strategy on CSR. However, we have questions about the clarity of this strategy. The strategy document of February 2007 states that: "The FCO also plays a lead role in the international implementation of the DTI's International Strategic Framework for Corporate Social Responsibility of March 2005". Amnesty International would ask whether this means that the Government is implementing two CSR strategies simultaneously, and if this is the case, which strategy takes precedence and which department has the lead on CSR? A further question would be whether DfID is part of this strategy with regard to the role of the World Bank and other international financial institutions in funding Foreign Direct Investment projects.

Minimal human rights emphasis

  The FCO strategy emphasises partnership with business to demonstrate "the UK's currently undisputed leadership in the CSR field", with benefits for the reputation of British business and the UK generally. However, there is minimal emphasis on human rights in the strategy, and none at all on the Government's international obligations to hold companies accountable. The assertion that "the FCO intends to encourage responsible business practice that goes beyond compliance with international legal requirements and regulations" calls into question why the Government is not actively trying to raise the bar on international human rights standards for business. The "beyond compliance" agenda assumes that the impact of business at present is adequately regulated. Amnesty International considers that this is not the case, especially in areas of weak governance where states are unwilling or unable to hold companies accountable.


  The report notes that the Government has "identified voluntary industry codes of conduct as a priority, focusing on multi-stakeholder dialogues that bring together companies, governments and civil society". This implies that the Government believes that voluntary codes of conduct and multi-stakeholder initiatives are effective in improving the effects that companies have. Amnesty International would ask whether the Government has evaluated any of these initiatives, and if so, what evidence there is that they work. Amnesty International's experience of participation in the UN Global Compact and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights is that these initiatives are inadequately governed, their effects on the ground are not monitored, and that there is considerable variation between commitment and implementation. This is reinforced by the lack of sanctions against those companies that link themselves to initiatives but fail to operationalise them.

  If the Government's approach to corporate social responsibility is to lead to improvements in the impact that companies have on human rights, it will have to address fundamental issues outlined in the report to the Human Rights Council of the UN Secretary General's Special Representative (9 February 2007):

    —  Very few states explicitly consider human rights criteria in their export credit and investment promotion policies or in bilateral trade and investment treaties. These are the points at which government policies and global business operations most closely intersect.

    —  For businesses with large physical or societal footprints, accountability should begin with assessments of what their human rights impact will be. This would permit companies and affected communities to find ways of avoiding negative effects from the start. No single measure would yield more immediate results in the human rights performance of firms.

    —  One area where greater clarity is needed is indigenous peoples' rights. The current lack of consensus on the practical implications of "consent" (in the formula of "free, prior and informed consent" to large-scale projects) is a major challenge for indigenous communities, business and governments alike.

    —  The rules governing extraterritorial jurisdiction suggest that it is permissible for the home country to impose civil liability on the parent company for its acts and omissions regarding activities by its subsidiaries abroad.

    —  In some instances, states are turning to soft law to avoid more binding measures gaining political momentum.

Human rights, development and poverty reduction

  As set out in the report, the Government is proud of its record on poverty alleviation and the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights. However, Amnesty International has concerns about a number of areas of this work.

Rights Based Approach to Development

  In "Realising Human Rights for Poor People" (2000), the Government outlined the importance of human rights for achieving poverty reduction and sustainable development. However, two assessments of the role of human rights in the work of the Department for International Relations carried out by the Overseas Development Institute in 2004 and 2008, both highlighted the fact that while the rights-based approach principles of inclusion and participation are generally implemented, insufficient attention is paid in policy and practice to the role of the international human rights framework, both to hold governments to account and to empower individuals.

  Amnesty International recommends that the Government implement a full survey of its use of international human rights standards in its development and poverty alleviation work. This should be with a view to strengthening the accountability element of the rights-based approach that it takes and ensuring that state recipients of UK aid use it appropriately. This includes ensuring that UK aid donated through multilateral institutions, such as the EU and World Bank, is also given in accordance with human rights principles.

Millennium Development Goals

  Amnesty International also commends the Government for its focus on the MDGs. However, the MDGs are merely goals and say nothing about the strategies required to achieve them. As such, they are silent on the key human rights principles of participation, inclusion, equality and in particular, non-discrimination. The MDGs also set lower targets than states are required to meet under international law and only partially reflect the spectrum of economic, social and cultural rights states are obliged to address. The MDGs also exclude civil and political rights, despite acceptance that economic, social and cultural rights are rarely realised where individuals are denied the freedom to mobilise in defence of them.

  Amnesty International urges the Government to develop a set of principles at the UN Summit in September 2008 to assess progress towards the Millennium Development Goals worldwide. Amnesty International urges the Government to work with relevant civil society organisations in-country to achieve this.

Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  It is critical that international institutions and standards that affect development are strengthened. Negotiations have been underway for some years at the UN in order to secure an Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR). This would allow redress at the international level for victims of abuses of economic, social and cultural rights on the same terms as victims of abuses of civil and political rights. As part of the NGO Coalition for an OP-ICESCR, Amnesty International believes that only a "comprehensive" form of protocol would be effective, ie obliging states to allow individuals to seek redress for all rights protected by the International Covenant as opposed to only those the state chooses.

  On 4 April 2008, a final text for such a protocol was agreed by the UN working group on an OP-ICESCR and has now been passed to the Human Rights Council for adoption in June, after which it will proceed to the General Assembly for adoption in December. Up until the last week of negotiations, the Government argued for an "a la carte" version of the text, allowing states to pick which rights would apply. However, the Government supports the agreed text.

  Amnesty International welcomes the Government's support for an effective and comprehensive Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The organisation urges the Government to argue strongly for both the Human Rights Council and General Assembly to adopt the Optional Protocol.


  Amnesty International welcomes the fact that preventing and resolving conflict are now at the heart of the FCO's strategic framework. We agree with the report that "human rights violations can be an indicator of an impending conflict". Amnesty International urges the Government to ensure that all UK posts are adequately trained in identifying human rights abuses and are working to implement the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders.

  The report also mentions the role that the UK can play as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as a member of other multilateral institutions. Amnesty International agrees that these institutions are platforms for addressing threats to peace and security; however, political will is also required for effective action. Amnesty International urges the Government to ensure that it uses its membership of multilateral bodies to ensure that high and equal standards are set when addressing issues of conflict prevention and resolution. For instance, the Government must condemn unequivocally abuses committed by states, including when they are committed by close allies.

  The report notes that international financial institutions (IFIs) have a role to play in conflict prevention and resolution. Amnesty International agrees that IFIs have a role to play in ensuring that human rights are upheld and respected. We urge the Government to use its influence and membership of these bodies to ensure that human rights are on their agenda. For instance, while trade agreements have created new opportunities for some, and can have a positive impact on human rights, they have been associated with patterns of growing inequality and deteriorating social conditions, including denial of human rights for the poorest and most marginalised sectors of the population.

Responsibility to protect

  In September 2005, the UN World Summit agreed the concept of the "responsibility to protect"; in April 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1674 on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. However, the international community continues to fail to meet this responsibility; this is clear from the situation in Darfur, where over 200,000 people have died as a result of the conflict, tens of thousands of people have been raped and assaulted, and almost two million people forced from their homes. Darfur is the litmus test for the international community to show its resolve in addressing egregious human rights violations; to date it has failed to meet this test. The Government must show commitment to translating the concept of the responsibility to protect into a willingness to act in all instances where states fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It must use its influence, in particular as a permanent member of the Security Council, to ensure that prompt and decisive action is taken to protect civilian populations.


  The report addresses many of Amnesty International's concerns regarding Sudan. The organisation recognises the Government's continued engagement in efforts to find a resolution to the conflict while seeking to maintain support for the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

  However, while the report states that the Sudanese Government is falling short of its human rights commitments, the report fails to note that it continues to attack civilian populations in Darfur. In February 2008, Amnesty International reported that thousands of civilians had fled West Darfur's Sirba region; an unknown number of people were killed as the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) moved to re-occupy the area, accompanied by uniformed Janjawid militia on horseback. In the attacks, up to 100 civilians are believed to have been killed in the three main villages in the area (Sirba, Abu Suruj and Silea). The attacks were supported by SAF aeroplanes and the SAF now occupies the area.

  The report also fails to make any reference to the fact that the conflict in Darfur has spilled over into eastern Chad and the Central African Republic. Amnesty International has conducted two missions to eastern Chad in the past year and has reported cross-border attacks by Janjawid militia and other armed groups. In the February attack, Amnesty International reported that thousands of civilians had fled West Darfur's Sirba region; up to 12,000 fled to Chad, where many, including women and children, took shelter in the bush.

  Amnesty International urges the Government to use its influence to ensure that the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur is provided with the logistical support it requires and that it is fully deployed as soon as possible.

  We would also welcome any representations the Government was able to make to its Sudanese counterpart to assist gaining access for Amnesty International to Northern Sudan and Darfur. It was the Secretary of State's timely intervention that resulted in Amnesty International's access to Darfur in March 2004. Since that time, the organisation has only been able to visit Southern Sudan, and does not have access to other parts of the country.

Women, peace and security

  The report notes that the UK was a driving force behind the adoption in 2000 of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The report also sets out the UK's development in 2006 of a national action plan for the implementation of Resolution 1325. Resolution 1325 calls for increased protection of women during armed conflict, for an end to impunity for gender-based abuses during and after conflict, and the participation of women at all levels of decision-making related to prevention, management and resolution of conflict. Amnesty International welcomes the Government's development of a national action plan. However, despite modest progress in mainstreaming gender considerations in peace-keeping initiatives, violence against women and girls in conflict-affected situations continues unabated and most acts of violence are never investigated, or the perpetrators brought to justice. Amnesty International urges the Government, along with its international partners, to take concrete steps to make real the promises of Resolution 1325 for all women living in conflict-affected situations.

Private Military and Security Companies

  The report does not mention the role of private military and security companies. This is a grave oversight given that these companies are currently not subject to adequate legal control in the UK for their activities abroad, and that increasing use is being made of them in conflict and weak governance zones around the world, including by the Government. There is a pressing need to regulate these companies. Amnesty International is concerned that since the publication of the Green Paper ("Private Military Companies: Options for Regulation") in 2002, and the Government review completed in 2005, a decision has still not been announced as to whether the Government will pursue regulation of private military and security companies. Amnesty International urges the Government to issue a timeframe for the announcement of a decision on regulation of private military and security companies. We further urge the Government to opt in favour of binding regulation that will ensure accountability for human rights violations committed by UK private military and security contractors.

  In particular, Amnesty International calls on the Government to put in place legislation that will enable private military and security contractors to be brought to justice in the UK for serious crimes committed abroad. We are concerned that there is currently a lack of jurisdiction in the UK to prosecute private military and security contractors for a range of serious crimes if these are committed abroad. Given that contractors are effectively immune from prosecution in many of the countries they operate in, UK contractors are operating in a context of impunity and the potential for unaddressed human rights violations is significant. The Government must act swiftly to remedy this situation.

  Amnesty International further urges the Government to adopt measures to increase transparency and oversight over the activities of private military and security companies and reminds the Government of the recommendations made in this regard by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in its Ninth Report of 2002.


  Amnesty International welcomes the fact that one of the FCO's policy goals is to establish effective international institutions. However, the focus in this section of the report is on the UN Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly and the Third Committee. While these are critical bodies for addressing human rights, Amnesty International considers that human rights should be on the agenda of all international institutions; international institutions should work to mainstream human rights in their activities. In this section, the report fails to mention the role that international financial institutions can play in promoting and protecting human rights.

  The report states that the Government is committed to building an international system able to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Amnesty International welcomes this ambition. It is critical that the Government work with the international community wherever possible to enhance, promote and improve human rights, and to ensure that they are mainstreamed throughout all international institutions. Amnesty International would also like the UK to use its almost unparalleled multilateral engagement (for example as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a member of the EU, the UN Human Rights Council, the G8, WTO and IMF) to encourage other states to do the same, in order to ensure that the multilateral infrastructure is fit for purpose.

UN Human Rights Council

  The report's assessment of the UN Human Rights Council is fair. The UK has been active in its efforts to ensure that the Council is an effective body for addressing human rights. The Council's success will depend on the political will of its members and its ability to establish effective mechanisms for addressing human rights. The Government has made a positive contribution to the UN Human Rights Council, working to ensure that it is an effective body. Amnesty International would urge the Government to continue in this spirit, using its influence to build on the foundations that have been laid in the Council's first year, ensuring that its mechanisms and procedures continue to be strengthened.

  The UK was among the first group of countries to undergo the Universal Periodic Review (UPR); Amnesty International urges the Government to set a high benchmark for others to follow. The Ministry of Justice coordinated a cross-government consultation process with civil society, in which Amnesty International took part. In general, Amnesty International was satisfied with the consultation; the timing was tight, but the Government was working to a UN timetable. Nevertheless, there are likely to be lessons to be learnt from the process. Amnesty International welcomes the Government's willingness to share its experiences by holding seminars for Commonwealth countries in Geneva and London.

European Neighbourhood Policy

  The report covers the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), stating that the underlying political principals of the policy are the same as the EU's: democracy, liberty, freedom of expression, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The report goes on to note that respect for human and fundamental rights feature heavily in each of the action plans. Amnesty International would urge the Government to ensure that human rights are respected by all the countries that are party to the European Neighbourhood Policy.



  Despite recognising "difficult security challenges", the report fails to reflect the severity of the security situation in Afghanistan. The conflict in the south and east has grown in intensity and had a detrimental impact on governance in other parts of the country. In 2007, around 1,500 civilians were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes because of conflict and drought. The UN Secretary-General's special representative to Afghanistan has expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in the south and called for more development work as well as further military and diplomatic interventions to curb the growing violence.

  Benefiting from a climate of lawlessness, notably in the south, the Taleban has enjoyed a significant resurgence. Their forces are responsible for killing civilians and others not involved in combat, using human shields to escape attack and ill-treating and torturing those over whom they have effective control. The conflict has also reduced the access of humanitarian agencies to some of the worst affected areas in the south, hindering the delivery of essential aid and medical care to millions of Afghans.

  While the report highlights the attacks on civilians by the Taleban and other groups, it underplays the number of civilians killed as a result of the failure by international and Afghan forces to take precautions to protect them; this failure is in contravention of international humanitarian law. Civilians have been killed as a result of indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardments by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US-led Operation Enduring Freedom forces. As a matter of urgency, Amnesty International calls on all sides to adhere in their operations to the principles of distinction and proportionality, rules of international humanitarian law by which they are bound. All forces must ensure that they do not target civilians or carry out indiscriminate attacks.

  The report states that the UK is "confident that the human rights of detainees handed over by UK forces are not breached". Amnesty International commends the UK for keeping records of prisoner transfers and for regular monitoring of prisoner welfare. However, the organisation remains concerned about the treatment of detainees handed over by ISAF to the Afghan authorities. We have received reports of torture and other ill-treatment, as well as arbitrary detention by Afghan forces, particularly the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) drawn up between some ISAF forces, including the UK, and the Afghan authorities have not prevented allegations of torture. Under international law, states are under an absolute obligation not to expel, return or extradite any person to a country or location where they would face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment (the principle of non-refoulement). MoUs must not be used to circumvent this obligation. Research by Amnesty International, as well as other sources, has shown that such a risk clearly exists in Afghanistan, especially for those detained by the NDS.

  Amnesty International urges all ISAF forces to refrain from transferring individuals to the Afghan authorities until safeguards against abuse are in place. During this proposed temporary moratorium, Amnesty International suggests that ISAF states work collectively to create a national engagement plan to reform the Afghan prison system so that it operates in full compliance with international law and standards. The Government should also impress upon the Afghan Government the importance of protecting the human rights of those in its custody and the need for independent and impartial investigations of abuse. Amnesty International also urges the Government to press the Afghan authorities to allow independent monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghan independent Human Rights Commission, unrestricted access to all National Directorate of Security facilities.

  The report recognises that there is still much to be done on women's rights. Progress has been made in this area since the fall of the Taleban, but Afghan women and girls remain at exceptional risk, facing: widespread discrimination from all segments of society; domestic violence; abduction and rape by armed individuals; trafficking; forced marriage (including child marriages); and being traded in settlement of disputes and debts. Schools and teachers (especially those dedicated to educating girls) and students have also been targeted.

  Amnesty International is concerned at the failure to ensure justice for women whose rights have been abused. The police, courts and other justice-sector officials seldom address women's complaints of violence, including rape and other sexual violence. Women victims and defendants have little recourse to justice and are discriminated against in the formal and informal justice systems. Legal reforms designed to protect women have not been implemented, and women continue to be detained for breaching social traditions. There has been a rise in "honour" killings and self-immolation by women. In promoting their rights, women frequently encounter discriminatory laws, policies and practices, as well as attacks. Amnesty International calls on the Government to urge its Afghan counterpart to reaffirm its commitment to protect the rights of women and girls and ensure that human rights defenders are able to play their vital role documenting violations of human rights and upholding international human rights standards. Amnesty International also urges the Government to continue to fulfil its commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1325 through practical projects that promote understanding of women's roles in conflict prevention and resolution and peacebuilding.

  Amnesty International is concerned that the Afghan Government and its international partners are failing to meet the benchmarks set in the 2006 Compact on justice and the rule of law. Amnesty International calls on the Afghan Government and its international partners, including the UK, to co-ordinate efforts to reform the justice sector and establish the rule of law, including by providing the sustained financial support that is required for meaningful change.

  Amnesty International welcomes the Government's statements and the EU Troika demarche to the Afghan foreign minister in response to the execution of 15 people in October 2007. The 15 men were executed by firing squad at the Pul-i Charkhi high security prison outside Kabul. This marked an end to a three-year moratorium on executions in Afghanistan. The Government should continue to urge the Afghan Government immediately to implement a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, in accordance with the 18 December 2007 UN General Assembly Resolution on a moratorium on executions. This should be a first step towards the total abolition of the death penalty.


  The Government's policy towards China stresses the need for engagement and dialogue. It recognises the importance of human rights, but is driven more by economic and other strategic considerations. At present, the interface of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games is also important. The UK is keen to emphasise its multi-layered approach, where high-level contact is supported by a range of projects to improve human rights in modest but practical ways. Public comments by senior members of the Government on China's human rights record are carefully measured in order to avoid upsetting the overall balance of the relationship with China.

  However, recent events in Tibet and China's actions in the run up to Olympics are challenging the Government to be more robust in its condemnation of China's deteriorating human rights record. The Chinese authorities seem to have considered and then discounted the expected level of international reaction to these events. The Government has been slow to rise to the challenge. Amnesty International calls on the Government to express in unequivocal and public terms its condemnation of the worsening human rights situation in China.

  Amnesty International considers that much of the current wave of repression is occurring because of, and not in spite of the Olympics. Human rights activists, and others who have publicly criticised official government policy, have been targeted in the official pre-Olympics "clean up", in an apparent attempt to portray a "stable" or "harmonious" image to the world. Although there have been some high profile releases of human rights activists, many more have been detained in recent months for nothing more than petitioning the authorities to address grievances or drawing international attention to ongoing human rights violations. Individuals who have linked China's human rights responsibilities to its hosting of the Olympics have been among the most harshly treated. In March 2008, Yang Chunlin was sentenced to five years in prison for "inciting subversion" after he spearheaded a campaign under the banner "We don't want the Olympics, we want human rights". Yang was reportedly tortured by the police in detention; he was denied the opportunity to raise these allegations in court. Also in March, Beijing-based activist Hu Jia was convicted for "inciting subversion" in connection with his human rights activities; he had already spent many months under intrusive house arrest. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, continues to be held under tight police surveillance at home. Amnesty International is calling for the release of both these men. The Government should call for the unconditional release of Yang Chunlin, Hu Jia and other human rights activists unfairly convicted or detained in China.

  Amnesty International has welcomed official Chinese promises of "complete media freedom" and the introduction in 2007 of new, more open regulations for foreign journalists in the run up the Olympics. However, foreign journalists continue to be obstructed from reporting on issues deemed sensitive by the authorities. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China documented more than 180 violations of the regulations in 2007, with some cases amounting to assault and arbitrary detention. Chinese journalists continue to work under conditions of tight control and censorship; journalists who publish articles critical of the authorities or official policy risk prosecution and imprisonment. In recent months, new measures have been introduced to increase controls over the Internet. Reports suggest that information controls are also being extended to SMS text messaging in Beijing. The Government has been instrumental in persuading China to relax restrictions on foreign journalists for the duration of the Olympics; it should continue to press the Chinese authorities to maintain this relaxation and extend it to domestic journalists.

  Since March 2008, serious human rights violations have been reported in Tibet and neighbouring provinces. The Chinese authorities have used excessive and sometimes lethal force to crackdown on Tibetan protests; some of these protests are reported to have resulted in death, injury and damage to property. Amnesty International condemns such attacks and acknowledges the Chinese authorities' right and duty to protect all individuals against violence, including those who are at risk of being targeted solely on account of their ethnic identity. However, we are concerned that in restoring order, the Chinese authorities have resorted to measures that violate international human rights law and standards. Amnesty International has called on the Chinese authorities immediately to end such repressive measures. We are particularly concerned about the treatment of hundreds of persons detained in response to the recent unrest. Amnesty International calls on the Government to press the Chinese authorities to allow immediate access to Tibet and surrounding areas by UN investigators and other independent observers. The Chinese authorities should also disclose the names, whereabouts and legal status of all those detained in Tibet, and release anyone detained solely for peaceful protest.

  The Chinese authorities have claimed that the restoration of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) review led to a significant reduction in the number of executions in 2007. However, the authorities have failed to support these assertions by publishing full national statistics and other detailed information on the application of the death penalty. Such information is essential to assess accurately the impact of SPC review, and allow the Chinese public at large to debate and come to informed opinions on the death penalty. Recent reports indicate that the review process is beset by significant problems, including a lack of clarity on procedures for defence lawyers. No efforts have been made to reduce the large number of crimes punishable by death. Two recent SPC judicial interpretations on damage to electric power facilities and the production or sale of fake medicine may actually encourage lower courts to impose the death penalty, even if the crimes have non-lethal consequences.

  China is a "litmus test" country against which to judge the Government's resolve to make human rights considerations a key component of UK foreign policy. Amnesty International considers that, at this time, the Government is failing that test in its policies towards China. The Government needs to re-examine whether its longstanding policy of engagement and practical co-operation is capable of delivering real human rights improvements in China.


  The report acknowledges that Colombia has a long way to go on human rights. Nevertheless, Amnesty International considers that the report fails accurately to reflect the seriousness of the human rights situation. There have been improvements in the security situation in some large cities, leading to fewer kidnappings and killings, but the situation remains serious, especially in regions such as Nariño and Arauca, and in rural areas. All parties to the conflict—guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the security forces (sometimes in collusion with paramilitary forces)—are responsible for repeated and widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Amnesty International agrees with the report when it says that there are too many victims of extrajudicial execution; increasing reports of extrajudicial execution by the security forces are a particular concern. The security forces often describe the victims as "guerrillas killed in combat"; in reality, they are mostly peasant farmers.

  Amnesty International is concerned at reports that some "demobilised" paramilitaries have regrouped as criminal gangs, others have failed to demobilise, and new paramilitary groups have emerged. Paramilitaries continue to commit human rights violations in areas where they had supposedly demobilised. In 2007, paramilitary groups are believed to have been responsible for more than 200 civilian deaths. The Government should question the Colombian authorities about the progress of its demobilisation process and urge it to investigate the links between public officials and paramilitary groups.

  Impunity remains a problem. Although the Constitutional Court has said that the ordinary justice system should deal with human rights cases implicating the security forces, most are referred to the military justice system. The military system usually closes such cases without any serious attempt to hold those responsible accountable. Despite repeated recommendations by the UN, the Colombian Government has failed to tackle this issue. In view of the UK's support for the process of military justice reform, Amnesty International urges the Government to insist on the complete exclusion of human rights abuse cases from the jurisdiction of military justice.

  Amnesty International welcomes the Government's work to press the Colombian Government to prioritise victims' rights. Nevertheless, the organisation questions UK and EU support for the Justice and Peace Law (JPL), which is contributing to the culture of impunity and continues to fail to meet international standards for victims' rights to truth, justice and reparation. There are insufficient investigative units to handle the thousands of cases of human rights violations committed by paramilitaries, and the process has moved very slowly. Very little of the estimated 4 million hectares of land stolen by paramilitaries has been returned to the rightful owners; what little has been returned, has been a consequence of investigations outside the JPL process. Investigations into the links between state officials and paramilitaries have largely resulted from the work of the offices of the Attorney General and Procurator General, the Supreme Court of Justice and journalists and human rights groups rather than the JPL process.

  Civilians, especially those belonging to indigenous, Afro-descendent or peasant-farmer communities continue to bear the brunt of the conflict (many live on land of economic and strategic importance). Amnesty International is concerned about the high number of people forcibly displaced (estimates suggest more than 305,000 civilians were displaced in 2007). We have received many testimonies of continued forced recruitment of children by both guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Paramilitaries and criminal gangs are also known to recruit women and girls for prostitution. Combatants continue to kill, sexually abuse, kidnap and threaten women and girls. The Government should continue to support the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office and efforts to protect internally displaced people.

  Human rights defenders, trade unionists, and community activists continue to be targeted, principally by paramilitaries. The arrival of a permanent International Labour Organization representative and the establishment of special units in the Attorney General's office to investigate the killing of trade unionists are positive steps. Nevertheless, Amnesty International remains concerned at the high number of attacks against trade unionists and the small number of prosecutions for these attacks. In 2007, 39 trade unionists were killed. The international community has tended to take a clear and constructive stance in this area. Amnesty International urges the Government to continue to support organisations representing human rights defenders. It is critical that FCO staff in Colombia work to implement the EU Guidelines on human rights defenders.

  Colombia has yet to fully implement the human rights recommendations of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which provide a blueprint for addressing the human rights crisis in the country. Amnesty International urges the Government and its EU partners to monitor the Colombian authorities' implementation of the UN recommendations. The Government must also continue to fund projects that will strengthen this process.

  Amnesty International is concerned that the UK continues to provide military assistance to Colombia, including to units implicated in serious human rights abuses, such as the High Mountain Brigades. As in previous years, the report provides little information on UK assistance. Given that successive Colombian governments have failed fully to implement the UN human rights recommendations, which are essential to confront the crisis, there are no guarantees that military aid will not exacerbate the human rights crisis. Amnesty International urges the Government to be more transparent about assistance for the Colombian Government, in particular the military.

  There is a risk that funding projects linked with the demobilisation process will exacerbate the problem of impunity and cause further human rights abuses. One such project (the Rural Reinsertion Programme) threatens to legalise ownership of land stolen by paramilitaries. Instead, international actors should consider how to ensure that such land is identified, registered and returned to its rightful owners. The Government, with its EU partners, should stop funding projects linked with the paramilitary demobilisation process.


  Compared with previous entries on Iraq, the report takes a more balanced approach to the myriad human rights problems in the country. Nevertheless, it underplays a number of aspects of the very serious and broad nature of the human rights abuses in Iraq. The Government should urge its Iraqi counterpart, as well as its international allies, to make a real commitment to protect and promote the full range of human rights for all Iraqis and others within Iraq.

  The report notes that insecurity is a serious obstacle to a culture based on human rights and that violence is generating a complex humanitarian picture. Amnesty International agrees with this assessment, but considers that the report does not fully reflect the reality that Iraq is now one of the most dangerous places in the world. Hundreds of people are being killed every month in pervasive violence. Despite the "surge", the violence has continued, albeit less intensively than in recent years. Most killings are the result of sectarian violence; all sides have committed gross human rights violations. Amnesty International condemns attacks on civilians as well as indiscriminate attacks, abduction, hostage-taking, torture and other ill-treatment. The Iraqi Government has a duty to bring those responsible to justice in fair trials and without recourse to torture or the death penalty.

  Iraqi security forces are reported to have extra-judicially executed dozens of people. Some members of these forces are believed to maintain close links with militia groups and allegations of involvement in sectarian killings continue. In recent months there have also been allegations of rape by members of the Iraqi forces. The Iraqi Government has failed to introduce practical measures to deal with the serious human rights violations perpetrated by its security forces. The Government should urge its Iraqi counterpart to ensure that allegations of human rights abuse by members of the Iraqi security services are properly investigated.

  The report overlooks the part played by the multinational force in the violence. Amnesty International remains concerned at the number of civilians killed by US forces. US forces have killed scores of civilians in recent months, on many occasions firing at unarmed civilians seen as a threat because they came too close to a convoy or patrol or approached checkpoints too quickly. Moreover, despite the introduction of measures to safeguard detainees, torture and other ill-treatment by the multinational force continue to be reported, albeit on a lesser scale than before 2004. The Government should urge both the Iraqi and the US Governments to set up prompt, independent and impartial investigations into human rights violations. The Government should also ensure that there are proper investigations into alleged abuse by UK forces.

  The report does not mention the problem of private military security contractors (PMSCs) in Iraq. Contractors from foreign firms have killed dozens of Iraqis, and appear to have total impunity to do so. The Government should ensure that private military security contractors contracted by the Government (whether from the UK or elsewhere) are subject to adequate legal control. The Government should also ensure that all allegations of human rights violations committed by employees or contractors of such firms are promptly investigated.

  The report makes only brief reference to the problem of displacement. Sectarian violence has forced millions of Iraqis to flee their homes, creating a deepening humanitarian catastrophe. Iraqi refugees who fled to countries in the region are experiencing acute economic difficulties, mainly because they are not allowed to work, and are at risk of detention and deportation for overstaying their visas. Living conditions for people displaced within Iraq have deteriorated considerably, with shortages of food, clean water, shelter, fuel, electricity and adequate healthcare. Many children are not attending schools. The international community has largely ignored the increasingly desperate humanitarian situation of displaced Iraqis. The Government should urge its Iraqi counterpart to take immediate steps to improve security for all refugees and internally displaced people, and provide them with adequate humanitarian assistance, including ensuring children's access to education. The international community must work harder to provide financial, technical and in-kind assistance to regional states that have received large numbers of Iraqi refugees, as well as to UN agencies and international NGOs that are assisting Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The Government should immediately stop all forcible returns to any part of Iraq. Any return of failed asylum-seekers should only take place when the whole of Iraq has stabilised.

  The report fails to reflect the extent of the impact of violence on women in Iraq. Violence against women and girls has increased dramatically in the past five years. Many have been forced to leave their jobs or schools for fear of being killed; others have fled the country. Women are being threatened if they do not observe strict Islamic dress. Women and girls are also at risk of rape by armed groups and members of the Iraqi security forces. Domestic violence and "honour killings" are increasing; few cases are investigated. Iraq is a state party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Under the Convention, the Iraqi Government has a duty to protect women from violations by state agents as well as by private actors such as armed groups. The Iraqi Government also has a duty to amend any law that discriminates against women, such as provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code that allow lenient punishment for "honour killings". The Government should urge the Iraqi Government to take urgent steps to uphold the rights of women and protect women and girls from violence. Amnesty International calls on the Government, through its commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to press the Iraqi Government to advance human rights through the Constitution and repeal any articles that could discriminate against women.

  The report includes a section on coalition detention and internment, but does not properly consider the human rights implications of these practices. The majority of detainees held by the multinational force are security internees who have been held without charge or trial and without the right to challenge their detention before a judicial body. Amnesty International considers the system of security internment to be arbitrary and in violation of fundamental human rights. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Iraq, the USA and the UK, no one should be arbitrarily detained. Detainees must have access to a court empowered to rule without delay on the lawfulness of their detention and to order their release if the detention is found to be unlawful. These requirements apply to "anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention" and therefore apply fully to those interned by the multinational force.

  The report notes various weaknesses of the Iraqi justice system. These include serious abuse in Iraqi prisons as well as the failure to tackle the culture of impunity. The report sets out some of the work the UK is doing to provide the Iraqi police with human rights training and to support an improvement in the criminal justice culture more broadly. Amnesty International welcomes this work. Up to 35,000 detainees are held in prisons and detention centres under the control of the Iraqi authorities, where torture and other ill-treatment are widespread. The report notes the execution of prominent members of the former regime, including Saddam Hussein, and sets out the UK's opposition to the death penalty. However, the report does not make clear the extent of the problem. The death penalty has been used extensively since its reintroduction in 2004; hundreds of people have been sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials. In 2007 alone, Amnesty International recorded at least 199 death sentences and at least 33 executions. The true figure could be higher since the media does not report death sentences systematically. The vast majority of death sentences have been passed by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI); trials before the CCCI consistently fall short of international standards for fair trial. Defendants commonly complain that their "confessions" were extracted by torture and that they could not choose their own legal defence counsel. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a violation of the right to life and as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

  The Government should call on its Iraqi counterpart to immediately establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. Amnesty International continues to urge the multinational force in Iraq not to transfer any detainees to the custody of the Iraqi authorities for fear of torture. Both the Iraqi Government and multinational force should release or charge with recognisable criminal offences all those currently held without charge or trial in prisons and detention centres. The Government should urge the Iraqi Government to ratify and observe the requirements of the Convention against Torture.

  The report makes a very brief mention of the situation in the largely autonomous Kurdistan region. Serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture and the use of the death penalty, continue to be reported in the Kurdistan region. Political opponents of the Kurdish authorities are subject to arrest, and sometimes torture, by the security forces. Journalists are muzzled and often risk arrest and torture in their daily work. Scores of women have been killed in "honour crimes", with few of the culprits being brought to justice.

Israel and the Occupied Territories

  The report notes that the human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories has not improved over the last year. Amnesty International say there has been a marked and clear deterioration in the human rights situation. Moreover, despite recent peace talks, there appears to be very little or no progress in improving the humanitarian situation for Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

  The report states that the Government is concerned about whether Israel's use of force is necessary and proportionate. Israel's response to attacks by Palestinian armed groups is often disproportionate, and too often results in death or injury to innocent civilians. In a two week period in May 2007, 50 Palestinians were killed and 200 injured in the Gaza Strip by Israeli air strikes and other attacks. On 20 May 2007, seven members of the al-Haya family, including two children, were killed by an Israeli air strike. Amnesty International has presented the Government with information about these and other attacks. The organisation shares the Government's concern over the failure to convict members of the Israeli Defence Force for their part in such attacks. As a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Government should unreservedly condemn Israel's disproportionate use of force, which too often results in death or injury to Palestinian civilians.

  The report rightly raises the humanitarian situation in Gaza and notes that it has deteriorated further since the Hamas takeover in June 2007. However, it is important to note that even before this date, the Gazan crossing points only opened on an ad hoc and infrequent basis, adversely affecting the humanitarian situation. It is misleading to suggest that the humanitarian situation was adequate before the Hamas takeover.

  As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for ensuring the welfare of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, all of whom are protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Arguments that Israel is not bound by the laws of occupation because it redeployed to the perimeter of the Gaza Strip in 2005 are inaccurate. Israel retains effective control by virtue of its full control over the land border, air space and territorial waters, as well as the movement of people and goods. Israel is bound by its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to ensure the welfare of the Palestinian population. According to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited". The Government has failed to make this point publicly. Amnesty International urges the Government to condemn the collective punishment of the Palestinian population of Gaza and to press the Israeli authorities immediately to end restrictions on the supply of fuel, electricity, humanitarian assistance, medical supplies and other necessities.

  The report highlights the problem of access to clean water and effective sewerage systems in Gaza and the fact that this has been exacerbated by closures since June 2007. However, the report fails to mention that the sewage plant was originally destroyed by Israel in 2006. It also fails to mention that access to water is a serious problem for Palestinian communities in the West Bank, where Israeli settlers are given priority and are permitted access to five times as much water as Palestinians.

  Amnesty International agrees with the report that Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace and are illegal under international law. The report notes the expansion of existing settlements in violation of the Roadmap. In addition, existing settlements continue to expand and new settlements are being built despite previous assurances of a freeze on settlement expansion. New settlements are also being built under the pretence that they are part of existing settlements. In addition to violating international law, the settlements and related infrastructure, including the fence/wall (80% of which is inside the West Bank) and the network of "bypass" roads, have had disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Restrictions on movement hinder the functioning of the Palestinian economy, causing increased poverty and unemployment and ultimately preventing any semblance of normal life.

  The Government should continue to demand that the Israeli authorities: immediately stop building and expanding settlements and the fence/wall, including in and around East Jerusalem; enact measures to evacuate settlers; dismantle those sections of the fence/wall that have been built inside the West Bank; and end the regime of closures and movement restrictions.

  The report notes that the Israeli authorities frequently demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in Area C of the occupied West Bank on the grounds that they have been built without a permit. However, as in previous years, the report underplays the problem. The report also fails to mention efforts by the Israeli military to intensify the expulsion of Palestinians from the Jordan Valley. Much of the Jordan Valley has been designated a "closed military zone". As a result, the Israeli authorities are putting increasing pressure on Palestinian villagers to leave the area.

  The Israeli authorities continue to pursue a policy of discriminatory house demolition. While Israeli settlements are allowed to be built on occupied Palestinian land, in breach of international law, Palestinian land is confiscated, with the Israeli authorities refusing Palestinians building permits and destroying their homes. This confiscated land is often used to build illegal Israeli settlements. International law forbids occupying powers from settling their own citizens in the territories they occupy.

  Amnesty International urges the Government to lobby its Israeli counterpart to cancel all outstanding orders for forced eviction and demolition of unlicensed houses and to impose a moratorium on forced eviction and demolition until such time as the law is amended in a manner that complies with international standards. Amnesty International would also ask the Government to urge the Israeli Government to end its policy of punitive demolition.

The Palestinian Authority

  The report condemns all acts of violence against Israel's population and indiscriminate rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The report notes the issue of intra-Palestinian violence and in particular focuses on the inter-factional political violence that has engulfed the Gaza Strip in the past year. Amnesty International has reported that fighting between security forces and armed groups loyal to the two main Palestinian political parties (Fatah and Hamas) has caused the death of many unarmed bystanders, including children. In the first half of 2007 alone, some 350 people were killed and over 2,000 injured as a direct result of inter-factional violence. Both sides have committed grave human rights abuses and have shown a flagrant disregard for the human rights of the civilian populations of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

  Amnesty International urges the Government to use its influence to press the Palestinian Authority and the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip to investigate all unlawful killings, abductions and other attacks against civilians, and to ensure that that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice.

  While there has been considerable focus on the security situation in the Gaza Strip since June 2007, the situation in the West Bank has received much less attention. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority security forces continue to detain Hamas supporters and there have been reports of torture and other ill treatment in detention. In addition, the Palestinian Authority has closed more than 100 charities linked to Hamas and used violence to break up demonstrations and public gatherings of Hamas supporters. The Government is right to condemn abuses committed by Hamas and other groups, but must pay equal attention to abuses committed by the Palestinian Authority and armed groups affiliated to Fatah.

  Amnesty International urges the Government to use its influence in representations to the administration of President Abbas to press the Palestinian Authority to:

    —  Issue clear instructions requiring all Palestinian Authority security forces to uphold the law and respect human rights.

    —  End the torture and ill treatment of all of those detained by the Palestinian Authority.

    —  End arbitrary arrests and detentions and ensure that those detained arbitrarily are released immediately.

    —  End impunity and investigate all unlawful killings, abductions and any other attacks against civilians, and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice.

Myanmar (Burma)

  Amnesty International shares the Government's concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation in Myanmar.

  We welcomed the opportunity provided in October 2007 for our Secretary General to address the Prime Minister about the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations across Myanmar in August and September 2007. We also welcomed the strong terms in which the Prime Minister and Government responded to the serious human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar authorities. Such international pressure was clearly instrumental in the Myanmar authorities' initial acceptance of visits by UN representatives to the country. However, that pressure has not been maintained and the Myanmar authorities have not since met any of the calls to restore and protect human rights made in the UN Security Council Presidential Statement of October 2007, UN General Assembly resolutions or at the UN Human Rights Council. UN Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinherio was not permitted to return to Myanmar to monitor implementation of the recommendations he made following his visit in November 2007. The Government, both in its own right and through the EU, must continue to press the Myanmar authorities for Professor Pinherio's successor to have the opportunity to complete a full assessment of the human rights situation in the country.

  The Myanmar authorities should continue to be pressed to allow: international organisations access to political prisoners, the unconditional release of monks currently confined to their temples as well as those imprisoned, and the unconditional release of prisoners of conscience, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The international community should set a strict timetable for these steps to be taken.

  Amnesty International understands that last summer's demonstrators will be charged under law 5/96, which provides for up to 20 years in prison for anyone who is found guilty of expressing opinions that disrupt the stability of the state. We have called for the repeal of this law and its vague and sweeping provisions, which criminalise the peaceful expression of political beliefs.

  Concerns over the suppression of last summer's demonstrations should not overshadow longstanding human rights abuses suffered by ethnic groups in Myanmar. The Myanmar army has resorted to killings, torture, forcible relocation and collective punishment of populations suspected of sympathising with opposition armed groups, especially in and around Kayin (Karen) State and Bago Division. Punishments have included the burning of houses and villages, and the destruction of crops. There is evidence that these military operations have involved acts against civilians that constitute violations of international humanitarian and human rights law on a scale that amounts to crimes against humanity.

  Amnesty International considers it unacceptable for states to continue to supply arms to a government that is responsible for persistent serious violations of human rights and which now resorts to violence against peaceful demonstrators. We have urged the UN Security Council immediately to impose a comprehensive and mandatory arms embargo on Myanmar. The Government is a party to the EU embargo and a supporter of the EU common position, but is less vocal for action by the UN given the reluctance of some other UN Security Council members to act. Amnesty International has also called on the principal suppliers of arms to Myanmar (China, India, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and ASEAN nations) to prohibit supply of military and security equipment to the country. Specifically, in July 2007, Amnesty International and a number of European NGOs produced a report illustrating how EU components (including parts from the UK) were used in the manufacture of attack helicopters apparently destined to be sold by India to Myanmar. India subsequently denied such an intention and the sale did not go ahead.


  Amnesty International welcomes the inclusion of Pakistan in the report as a major country of concern and the recognition of the many serious human rights abuses in the country. Nevertheless, we consider that the report underplays some serious areas of abuse and is insufficiently critical in certain places.

  In November 2007, the Pakistani Government declared a state of emergency. There were widespread arrests and incommunicado detention of lawyers, judges, journalists and human rights defenders as well as the violent suppression of peaceful protests. Criminal charges were made against hundreds of lawyers who had protested against the imposition of emergency powers. The report briefly mentions this issue, noting the Government's criticism of the imposition of the state of emergency. Amnesty International urges the Government to press the Pakistani authorities to make public information about all those arrested and subsequently released during the state of emergency, and to ensure that individuals are either charged and tried with recognisable criminal offences in fair trial processes, or released.

  The report underplays the human rights abuses linked with terrorism and counter-terrorism activities. Armed groups are responsible for violent attacks and public executions. However, Amnesty International has also received reports of extrajudicial execution, house demolition, arbitrary detention and harassment by the Pakistani security forces. The organisation is also concerned at the treatment of terrorism suspects, many of whom are dealt with outside the judicial system. Hundreds of suspects are known to have been handed over to US authorities outside the legal extradition process; some were subsequently transferred to Guantánamo Bay. There are also believed to have been large numbers of "disappearances"; it is impossible to know the true extent of the problem. The Government should use its strategic relationship with Pakistan to push the authorities to make greater efforts to ensure that human rights are respected in its counter-terrorism policies and practice. In particular, the Pakistani Government should ensure that there are no further "disappearances", that there is full disclosure of those who have been held in secret detention and redress for victims and their families. The Pakistani Government should sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Government should also press its Pakistani counterpart to work harder to investigate allegations of human rights abuse, and ensure that those found responsible are held accountable.

  Amnesty International remains deeply concerned about the risks to women and children in Pakistan. The report notes that amendment of some of the most damaging Hadood Ordinances by the introduction of the Women's Protection Bill in 2006 was a welcome step. However, women continue to be discriminated against in law. This is evident in the refusal to recognise marital rape and the incorporation of some of the provisions of the Zina (Hadood) Ordinance into the penal code (this does not recognise women as independent agencies and leaves them unable to make decisions about their own future). Such provisions obstruct women's freedom of movement, choices in marriage and contravene international conventions. In addition, "honour crimes" and forced marriage remain huge problems, and there is a high incidence of domestic violence. Amnesty International urges the Government to press its Pakistani counterpart urgently to work to repeal laws that discriminate against women.

  Press freedom was almost entirely suspended during the state of emergency. The Pakistani Government is currently repealing emergency laws restricting print and electronic media freedoms, and reports suggest that the situation is returning to "normal". However, even prior to the emergency measures, press freedom was heavily constrained. Journalists who criticise or contradict the Pakistani Government are regularly harassed, intimidated, attacked and in some cases murdered. Amnesty International urges the Government to put pressure on the Pakistani Government to cease attacks against and harassment of journalists and ensure that press freedom is respected.

  Amnesty International remains concerned at the low level of religious freedom in Pakistan. Members of faiths other than Islam are often arrested and detained. Individuals and their places of worship and business are also subject to attack. Cases of arrest for blasphemy are increasing; individuals charged with blasphemy face a long and unjust judicial process, with cases often taking years to conclude. Individuals accused of blasphemy remain at risk of attack even while in custody. The Government should impress upon the Pakistani authorities the urgent need to repeal all laws that persecute religious minorities.


  Torture is used in police custody across Russia. The General Procuracy routinely fails to ensure effective investigation of torture allegations and there is no fully effective, independent nationally enforced mechanism for monitoring places of detention. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has not yet been able to visit the Russian Federation. The Russian authorities say that the standard conditions of such visits (in particular, unannounced arrival at places of detention and private interviews of detainees) contravene Russian law. This is a particular concern in Chechnya; the Special Rapporteur has been asking to visit the area since 2000. The Government should press the Russian authorities to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, establish a mechanism for unannounced inspections of all places of detention, increase the effectiveness of investigations into allegations of torture and improve professional training for police officers. The Government should also press the Russian authorities to cooperate with UN human rights bodies.

  The report notes that the Russian human rights group "Memorial" has reported a fall in the number of disappearances in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, and comments that this is a "positive trend". However, Memorial itself has said that the picture in the North Caucasus "does not look reassuring" and that "although the situation is changing, there is no overall improvement in it". While the number of reported enforced disappearances in Chechnya has decreased, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, abduction, arbitrary detention and torture (including in unofficial places of detention) have all been reported as part of the Russian Government's counter-terrorism operations in the North Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Amnesty International calls on the Government to urge the Russian authorities to investigate independently all allegations of abuse by security forces, and bring those responsible to justice.

  Amnesty International shares the report's concern about the expanded Law on Combating Extremist Activity, and specifically the overly broad definition of extremism. The right to freedom of expression, assembly and association are guaranteed in the Russian Constitution and are enshrined in international human rights law. However, these rights are increasingly restricted. The provisions in various Russian laws allow for arbitrary interpretation and the Russian authorities have used them to clamp down on "dissent" by human rights defenders and others expressing alternative viewpoints.

  The report refers to the fact that a number of NGOs have expressed concern about the new NGO law; Amnesty International is one such organisation. In particular, Amnesty International is concerned that the law has been used to target NGOs, including human rights organisations, because they are seen as a threat to state authority. Some NGOs, including human rights organisations, have had to suspend their activities due to the law's requirements, and in some cases NGOs are reported to be facing possible closure for alleged violations of the law. The Government should remind the Russian authorities of their domestic and international duties to uphold the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

  Amnesty International shares the report's concerns about growing xenophobia in Russia. The Russian authorities have failed to provide protection or investigate effectively racially motivated attacks, including murders. A small rise in prosecutions of race hate crimes and local initiatives, such as increased policing, have been insufficient to address the scale of the problem, and there is no comprehensive programme to combat racist and xenophobic ideas and ideologies.

  We welcome the report's inclusion of material on violence against women in Russia. However, this material is limited to detail of UK funding for projects to support the Russian police in dealing with domestic and sexual violence and human trafficking. Amnesty International is concerned that the problem of violence against women cannot be addressed solely by law enforcement strategies. Russian law does not contain specific measures to address violence against women in the family, and there is inadequate government support for crisis centres and hotlines. The UN Committee against Torture has expressed concern about domestic violence and the lack of shelters for women. The Government should include more detail on the problem of violence against women in future human rights reports.

  The report notes that Russia is the only member of the Council of Europe that has not ratified Protocol 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The protocol was designed to reform the Convention and improve the workings of the European Court of Human Rights. The protocol cannot come into force until all member states have ratified it. Amnesty International notes that Russia has also failed to ratify Protocol 6, which provides for abolition of the death penalty, despite its commitment to do so by February 1999. In addition to concerns about the retention of the death penalty, we note that individuals who have sought justice before the European Court of Human Rights have faced intimidation by officials; defence lawyers have also been harassed. The Government, along with its European allies, should remind its Russian counterpart of its human rights responsibilities as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and participant in the Council of Europe. The Government should press the Russian Government to implement fully the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

Saudi Arabia

  Amnesty International shares many of the concerns raised in the report, but we are disappointed by the extreme brevity of the coverage of Saudi Arabia. The report cites the progress of gradual reform as a hopeful sign. However, despite such reform, Amnesty International remains gravely concerned about a range of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

  The report notes the publication by the Saudi Arabian National Society on Human Rights of its first report. This is to be welcomed, as was the decision by the Saudi authorities to allow a research mission to the Kingdom by Human Rights Watch. However, the cancellation of subsequent missions and the refusal to allow Amnesty International to send a research mission to Saudi Arabia shows that transparency and openness remain the exception rather than the rule. Amnesty International would welcome any representations the Government could make to its Saudi counterpart to assist gaining access for the organisation to the country.

  We welcome the UK's engagement with Saudi Arabia and the opportunity this gives to work to improve the country's human rights record. However, we were disappointed at the failure to discuss human rights as part of the 2007 state visit to the UK by King Abdullah. The Government should use the UK's close relationship with Saudi Arabia to express in unequivocal terms its condemnation of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

  The report refers to ongoing reforms and work to restructure the judicial system. However, it remains to be seen whether these steps will address the system's serious shortcomings, namely: the secrecy and lack of transparency of the criminal justice system; the lack of adherence to international fair trial standards, such as the rights to legal representation and appeal; and the lack of independence of the judiciary. The rights of detainees are commonly and systematically violated; detainees are often denied access to representation and face lengthy periods of pre-trial detention. Critics of the government are routinely held without trial. The Government should urge its Saudi counterpart to take steps to improve the fairness and transparency of the Saudi judicial process.

  The death penalty continues to be applied to a wide range of offences and is often applied to child offenders. At least 158 people (82 Saudi and 76 foreign nationals) were executed in 2007. These included three women and at least one child offender, Dhahian Rakan al-Sibai, who was 15 at the time of the offence for which he was prosecuted. Those executed were convicted of murder, rape, drug offences, witchcraft, apostasy and other charges, but virtually no information was available about their trials, appeal, or whether the defendants received legal representation. Most of the executions were carried out in public. The Government should press the Saudi authorities to abolish the death penalty immediately.

  Discrimination remains a serious problem, with women, migrants, Shia Muslims and non-Muslims being particularly at risk. Women suffer extremely harsh limitations on their freedom (despite a number of reforms, women continue to have a lesser status than men in Saudi law; a woman's testimony is worth half that of a man). There has been discussion of allowing women to participate in the political process, but at present women remain unable to vote. Rates of domestic violence are high, with little judicial recourse for victims and a culture of impunity for perpetrators. The seriousness of the situation is illustrated by the al-Qatif case, in which a girl was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison for committing a kilwa offence (being with a man who is not a family member) after she was gang raped by seven men while with this man. The Government should press the Saudi authorities to eliminate all discriminatory legislation and judicial processes. The Saudi Government should also adopt the recommendations of the Convention on the Elimination of all Form of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Saudi Arabia ratified in 2000, in particular in relation to women's freedom of movement, right to work and equal status with men.

April 2008

1   "The Foreign Secretary's Speech at the Launch of the FCO's 2007 Human Rights Report", 25 March 2008, London. Back

2   In 2001, Sweden expelled two asylum seekers to Egypt relying on "diplomatic assurances" to counter the risk of torture. Both men were held in incommunicado detention in Egypt and allege that they were tortured while in custody in Egypt. Back

3   Grand Chamber, Case of Saadi v Italy, Judgement, Strasbourg, 28 February 2008. Back

4   Statement of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, to the 2nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, 20 September 2006. Back

5   "Speech by Terry Davis", Secretary General of the Council of Europe, at the Seminar on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, London, 10 December 2007. Back

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