Human Rights Annual Report 2008 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

7  Countries of concern

169.  This section of our Report is not intended to be a comprehensive list of countries where human rights are of concern. Instead, we focus on countries where there have been significant developments that we have not covered in our previous annual Reports. In a number of cases we indicate that we intend to make comments on the human rights situation in specific countries in other Reports which we expect to publish in the near future.


170.  We deal with human rights issues in relation to Afghanistan in our forthcoming Report on Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Burma (Myanmar)

171.  The FCO report comments that the human rights situation in Burma deteriorated still further during 2008, particularly towards the end of the year when harsh sentences were given to over 200 democracy activists:

The picture continues to be characterised by the persistent denial of almost all fundamental rights, including the ability of Burma's citizens to have any say in the country's future. The referendum on a new constitution in May [2008] was deeply flawed. […] Despite its natural resources, Burma remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and faces a range of humanitarian challenges.[295]

172.  The FCO's report details the extent of human rights abuses in Burma. These include repression and intimidation of opposition activists, with severe sentences passed in 2008 on more than 200 political prisoners; continuing discrimination against ethnic minority communities and religious groups, such as the Muslim Rohingya in the west of the country; absence of measures to avert a famine affecting the Chin community on the border with India, despite this arising from a plague of rats which occurs on a wholly predictable 50-year cycle; and other problems arising from poor governance, economic mismanagement, and lack of civic participation.[296]

173.  The contribution of the international community to alleviating the devastation caused in May 2008 by Cyclone Nargis, which killed some 130,000 people, was impeded by the refusal of the regime to permit access by foreigners to the affected areas.[297] The Government notes that "UK relief for Cyclone Nargis is delivered through the UN, Red Cross and international and local non-governmental organisations. We make every effort to ensure that all UK aid - both for cyclone relief and for our main aid programme - is delivered in compliance with EU sanctions."[298]

174.  The plight of the pro-democracy campaigner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest has continued to attract international attention. In June 2008 the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy of France wrote her a joint open letter reaffirming the two countries' commitment to her struggle to achieve democracy in Burma. On 18 May 2009 Ms Suu Kyi was put on trial in Rangoon, charged with breaching the terms of her house arrest, because of a visit by an American man who swam across a lake to her house earlier in May. Court proceedings have been repeatedly adjourned. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Burma in July 2009 and called on the Burmese military junta to release Ms Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. However, his request to meet Ms Suu Kyi was denied.[299]

175.  Human Rights Watch praises the FCO report's account of the situation in Burma, which it says mirrors its own reporting and analysis.[300] Tom Porteous, London Director of Human Rights Watch, told us that "we, Amnesty and the UK Government are all extremely concerned about the situation, particularly in the run-up to the so-called elections, which the Burmese authorities are holding as a result of their sham political reform process". He noted that the UK had limited leverage in respect of Burma, and that Burma's own neighbours, China, India and Thailand, have considerable economic interests in the country, which has led to a reluctance to criticise the Burmese regime.[301]

176.  We conclude that the scale of human rights abuses in Burma, and the extent of suffering caused to the Burmese people by their government's economic and political mismanagement, is intolerable. The Burmese government's indifference to the welfare of its own people was demonstrated by its handling of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. We recommend that the British Government continues to exercise the strictest vigilance in ensuring that aid supplied to Burma is not misused by the authorities. We further recommend that the UK encourages Burma's regional neighbours, in particular China, India and Thailand, to bring pressure on the regime to improve its human rights record.


177.  Despite the rapid economic development of the People's Republic of China, the country's human rights record has continued to give cause for concern. The FCO assesses that "China has made little progress towards greater respect for human rights in 2008". They draw attention to two key developments: the crackdown in Tibet in March 2008 (which we deal with in a separate sub-section below), and the holding of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August 2008, which led to human rights defenders being detained or expelled from the city. On a more positive note, the FCO comments that China ratified the International Covenant on the Rights of Disabled People (in conjunction with its hosting of the Paralympic Games in September 2008); and that certain reductions in restrictions on foreign journalists, put in place before the Olympics, have subsequently been made permanent.[302]

178.  These positive developments have to be set against the background of the continuing human rights concerns listed by the FCO. They include widespread use of the death penalty (with at least 470 people executed during 2007, according to published media reports—although the FCO considers the true figure likely to be "much higher"); torture; the lack of an independent judiciary; arbitrary detention; ill-treatment of prisoners; failure to protect human rights defenders; harassment of religious practitioners and Falun Gong adherents; and limitations on freedom of expression and association.[303]

179.  Amnesty International likewise concludes that the human rights situation in China has seen little improvement. It comments that:

China's hosting of the Olympics brought heightened repression throughout the country as the authorities tightened control over human rights activists, religious practitioners, ethnic minorities, lawyers and journalists. Hundreds of people remain in detention or unaccounted for after the protests and unrest in Tibet. The Chinese authorities have launched sweeping crackdowns on the Uighur population in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Tight control continues to be exercised over the flow of information, with many websites blocked, and journalists and internet users harassed and imprisoned.[304]

180.  In November 2008 we published a Report on Global Security: Japan and Korea. One issue we addressed in that Report was that of China's treatment of emigrants from North Korea.[305] Large numbers of North Koreans have fled from their own country to China, either with the intention of settling there or of travelling through China en route to further destinations. The Chinese authorities regard these people as illegal economic migrants, and when caught they are returned to North Korea, where they reportedly face punishments including prison, labour or prison camp, torture, execution and, for women who have become pregnant by Chinese men, forced abortion.[306]

181.  The Government's policy regarding human rights in China continues to be based on a mix of high-level engagement (the FCO's report lists expressions of concern about Tibet and other matters made by UK Ministers during 2008), through the "UK-China Human Rights Dialogue" (under which one meeting was held in 2008) and through project work on the ground (including monitoring of prison conditions and of the impact of the new foreign media regulations).[307]

182.  Amnesty International is critical of the British Government's strategy towards China. It argues that the Government's focus on addressing China's emergence as a global economic and political force counts for more in determining UK policy than its professed concern for human rights. Amnesty claims that there is little evidence that the Government's policy of "engagement and co-operation" in its promotion of human rights with China is achieving tangible results. Amnesty notes that commitments made by China during its Universal Periodic Review process and in its newly published human rights action plan include some concrete targets for 2010, and recommends that the Government "should incorporate the delivery of these commitments into the objectives of its dialogue with China".[308]

183.  We conclude that there remains little evidence that the British Government's policy of constructive dialogue with China has led to any significant improvements in the human rights situation. We recommend that the Government sets benchmarks and specific targets for making progress in this dialogue; these should take account of but not be restricted to the time-specific commitments given by China itself during its Universal Periodic Review process. We further recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government informs us of what action it is proposing to take in this regard.

184.  We reiterate the conclusions of our 2008 Report on Global Security: Japan and Korea that China is in breach of its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention as regards its treatment of North Korean migrants. We remain particularly exercised by China's continuing failure to allow the UN High Commission on Refugees access to its border region with North Korea, and by its practice of forcible repatriation of North Koreans who have not had access to a determination-of-status process. We recommend that the Government should urge the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to give a high priority to the issue of the treatment of North Korean migrants in China. We further recommend that the Government works internationally and more actively to encourage China to find ways of fulfilling its international obligations on this issue as part of the process of becoming a responsible global power.


185.  In last year's report we commented in detail on the protests which took place in Tibet in March 2008 against Chinese rule, and China's response which involved sending troops into Tibet to restore order. We reported on the evidence session we had held with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in May 2008. We concluded that China's policies towards Tibet have fostered a culture of repression, and we condemned the use of violence either by Tibetans or the Chinese government during the recent disturbances. We recommended that the British Government should press the Chinese authorities to allow an independent and international investigation to take place in Tibet, and to impress on the Chinese government that they should recognise there is currently a significant window of opportunity to make progress in resolving the dispute over Tibet, based on the demand by the Dalai Lama for "genuine autonomy", not independence.[309]

186.  In its report the FCO concludes that "freedom of religion, expression and association of Tibetans continues to be severely restricted", and that it "remain[s] extremely concerned about the current situation in Tibet and its surrounding regions". The FCO notes that the 8th Round of Dialogue between Tibetan and Chinese representatives, held in Beijing in late October/early November 2008, ended in acrimony, with the Chinese refusing even to discuss the proposals presented by the Tibetans.[310] The British Government has urged the Chinese to allow the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief, and other representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit Tibet to allow an independent assessment of the situation there.[311]

187.  Amnesty International reports that "hundreds of people remain in detention or unaccounted for after the protests and unrest in Tibet".[312]

188.  In October 2008 the Foreign Secretary announced a change in the British position on the status of Tibet. Since 1914 successive governments had recognised China's "suzerainty" over Tibet, but "on the understanding that Tibet was autonomous". Mr Miliband stated that:

Our ability to get our points across has sometimes been clouded by the position the UK took at the start of the 20th century on the status of Tibet, a position based on the geopolitics of the time. Our recognition of China's "special position" in Tibet developed from the outdated concept of suzerainty. Some have used this to cast doubt on the aims we are pursuing and to claim that we are denying Chinese sovereignty over a large part of its own territory. We have made clear to the Chinese Government, and publicly, that we do not support Tibetan independence. Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part as part of the People's Republic of China. Our interest is in long-term stability, which can only be achieved through respect for human rights and greater autonomy for the Tibetans.[313]

189.  We questioned the Foreign Secretary about this policy shift in December 2008. He told us: "our previous policy […] was getting in the way of a serious discussion about human rights in Tibet and good relations and engagement with China. The concept of suzerainty is not accepted or understood by anyone in the diplomatic world."[314]

190.  We conclude that the absence of any momentum towards resolving the dispute over Tibet is a matter of grave concern. We recommend that the Government continues to press its Chinese counterparts to lift restrictions on access to Tibet, to allow an independent assessment of the human rights situation there to be carried out by representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.


191.  The FCO states that "we are […] concerned about allegations of a crackdown on religious practices in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, preventing individuals from displaying symbols of religious belief and observing religious festivals".[315] There has been longstanding tension in the western province of Xinjiang between the Chinese authorities and the mainly Muslim indigenous Uighur community. On 6 July 2009 Chinese state media reported that violence in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, had left at least 140 people dead and more than 800 people injured, with several hundred also having been arrested. The BBC reported that the violence appears to have arisen following street protests prompted by a deadly fight between Uighurs and Han Chinese in southern China last month. It added that "if the numbers of dead are to be believed—and state media say they may rise—this looks like the bloodiest violence in China since Tiananmen Square 20 years ago".[316] It was subsequently reported that vigilante mobs of Han Chinese had sought to carry out revenge attacks on Uighars, and that thousands of troops were on the streets of Urumqi to secure order.[317]

192.  During the disturbances in Tibet in 2008, the Chinese authorities pursued a vigorous policy of excluding foreign journalists from affected areas. By contrast, following the recent protests in Xinjiang, the authorities appear to have adopted a policy of allowing the foreign media free access. As at 8 July 2009, it was reported that 60 foreign media organisations had sent representatives to Xinjiang and that the regional government local authorities were not seeking to restrict their movements or reporting.[318]

193.  We conclude that the developing situation in Xinjiang, with significant violence arising from long-standing ethnic tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese, gives cause for concern. We recommend that the Government, acting in conjunction with its EU partners, should monitor the situation and urge restraint upon the Chinese government. We further conclude that what appears to be a change in Chinese policy towards foreign media, allowing journalists free access to Xinjiang, is—if confirmed as events develop—to be welcomed.


194.  As in previous years, the FCO continues to be concerned about the human rights situation in Colombia, which it attributes to the decades-long internal armed conflict driven by control of the illegal drugs trade. It states that human rights defenders, trade unions and other civilians have been the victims of threats, intimidation, kidnappings, murders and forced displacement. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that 3 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict, the second highest number in the world after Sudan.

195.  The FCO notes some recent improvements in the situation, commenting that in some respects Colombia is much safer than previously, but adding that it still faces huge challenges: "to stem the flow of cocaine; to bring to justice the armed groups that threaten Colombia's future; to tackle impunity; to reduce and eliminate abuses, including those committed or condoned by Colombia's armed forces and police; and to build a strong civil society".[319]

196.  Human Rights Watch criticises the FCO report for downplaying the extent of corruption within the Colombian establishment:

paramilitaries and their successors have infiltrated some of the highest levels of government. More than seventy members of the Colombian Congress—including approximately 35% of the Senate—are under investigation or have been convicted for rigging elections or collaborating with paramilitary groups. Nearly all the congresspersons under investigation are members of President Uribe's coalition. The Uribe administration has repeatedly taken steps that could undermine the investigations and keep the influence of these mafias in the political system intact. High-level government officials, including Uribe himself, have repeatedly attacked the Colombian Supreme Court, which started what are known as the "parapolitics" investigations.[320]

197.  Human Rights Watch argues that "this problem should be an important focus of UK policy, as it will define the future of the rule of law and democracy in Colombia", and it draws attention to "the frequent practice of extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Colombian Army".[321]

198.  Tom Porteous of Human Rights Watch told us that "there is no doubt that Colombia is by far the most dangerous place in Latin America at the moment. I would not want to make a comparison about whether it is more dangerous now than it was a year ago. It is very, very dangerous, particularly for journalists, trade unionists and human rights defenders."[322]

199.  Mr Porteous called for greater clarity about British military assistance to Colombia:

the main reason why the British Government are providing this military aid to Colombia is that they are simply following the dictates of the strategic alliance with Washington. Colombia has been a good ally of the United States, particularly under the Bush Administration. Here is the interesting thing: since the Democrats gained control of the US Congress a couple of years ago, US military aid to Colombia has become much more transparent: we know where it's going. The Democrats have managed to hold up some of that aid. In the UK, it is still an accountability-free zone. We would like to see much more transparency over UK military aid to Colombia.[323]

200.  The Ambassador of Columbia, HE Noemi Sanin Posada, wrote to us in June 2009 to draw attention to what he argued were recent improvements in the human rights situation in Colombia. Noting that although Columbia is a long-standing democracy, "we have also been afflicted by severe violence for 52 years", he claimed that there had been significant reductions in recent years in the level of serious abuse. In particular, he stated that between 2002 and 2008 there had been a reduction in:

  • The number of homicides by 44%
  • The number of victims of massacres by 75%
  • The number of extortive kidnappings by 88.5%
  • The number of homicides of indigenous people by 66%
  • That of journalists by 100%
  • And that of union members by 80%.[324]

201.  However, the Ambassador acknowledged that "as a result of the appalling terrorist violence and the weakness of the state, more than 2.5 million have been internally displaced", and that, "in this respect, we have to painfully recognise that human rights abuses still remain".[325]

202.  Mr Miliband told us that "there are massive human rights issues in Colombia, but it is not legitimate to say that British engagement is party to human rights abuses in Colombia". He argued that "military aid" was a "very loaded" phrase, because it suggested "bombs, bullets and soldiers", whereas UK assistance to Colombia involved demining and human rights training for the Colombian army. The UK's demining work was part of a multilateral process, while the human rights training programme had been concluded. Mr Miliband said that that training meant that:

the Colombian army, for the first time ever, has a set of human rights commitments that it is meant to adhere to—I say "meant to" adhere to—partly as a result of the engagement that we have had. It has never had that before.[326]

203.   On 30 March 2009 the Government announced that the UK had reprioritised its financial assistance to Colombia. It stated that "our bilateral human rights projects with the Colombian Ministry of Defence will cease", and that funding would henceforward be channelled towards demining, counter-narcotics, tackling impunity, and projects in areas such as freedom of speech, democracy and tackling discrimination. The Government added that:

Projects already approved for the next financial year and beyond total almost £1 million and a further £170,000 is to be allocated for human rights projects. With British trade union partners, we will continue to look at ways in which the UK can promote labour relations in Colombia.[327]

204.  We conclude that, despite some recent improvements, human rights abuses in Colombia remain systemic and widespread, with considerable evidence of complicity by the Colombia authorities, police and armed forces. We note that, in particular, it is an extremely dangerous place to be a trade unionist. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government supplies us with a detailed breakdown of its current and planned future aid to Colombia, with full costings, and information as to how this spending will be used to exert leverage on the Colombian government to improve its human rights record. We further recommend that the Government at the same time supplies us with any internal assessment that has been carried out of the effectiveness of its human rights training programme for the Colombian army; and that it informs us whether that programme was scheduled to finish when it did, or whether it was abandoned because of concerns about the scale of the army's continuing participation in abuses.


205.  In March 2008 we published a Report on Global Security: Iran which considered Iran's human rights record.[328] We noted that during our visit to Iran in November 2007, we had had a "robust exchange" of views with the head of human rights in Iran's judiciary, Dr Mohammad Javad Larijani, and we expressed serious concern about the way that "senior figures within the Iranian regime used their religious and ideological beliefs to justify severe abuses of human rights in their country".[329] Our overall conclusion was that Iran's human rights record was "shocking". We recommended that the Government should ensure that human rights were not treated as a secondary concern to the nuclear issue in its dealings with Iran.[330]

206.  In its reply to our Report, published in May 2008, the Government commented:

The Iranian Government often claims that international concern about human rights in the country is an attempt to discredit and undermine the Islamic Republic, rather than a reflection of its failure to meet its freely undertaken human rights commitments. In that context the Government is grateful for the Committee's analysis of the situation, as an independent Parliamentary body, and we greatly welcome the fact that the Committee raised its own concerns with Iranian interlocutors during the course of the members' visit to Iran.[331]

207.  In its most recent human rights report, the FCO states that Iran's record is "dismal". It notes that Iran has the highest execution rate per capita in the world, with at least 320 people being executed in 2008. Executions have been carried out in public, and sentences such as stoning to death and "being thrown from a height" continue to be handed down by judges. The death penalty remains on the statute books for adultery and consenting same-sex relations. Iran continues to execute juveniles: at least 130 young offenders are on death row.[332]

208.  The FCO states that in 2008, Iran continued to harass activists and human rights defenders and clamped down rigidly on any form of dissent, opposition or organised protest, using charges such as "propaganda against the Islamic republic", "acting against national security" or "organising illegal gatherings". Religious and ethnic minorities, including members of the Bahá'í faith and converts to Christianity, have been persecuted. A draft penal code currently under consideration in the Iranian Parliament provides that "apostasy", "heresy" and "witchcraft" should be punishable by death. Gender inequality is widespread, and sustained by Iranian law. Trade unionists and campaigners for women's rights have been harassed.[333]

209.  The FCO's report was produced before the disputed Iranian presidential elections in June 2009. At the time of producing our present Report, the events set in train by those elections are continuing to unravel. The Iranian government's restrictions on reporting by foreign news agencies following the elections make it difficult to arrive at a full assessment of the situation. However, it is clear that large numbers of people in Iran were outraged by what they considered to be deliberate manipulation of the election result, and do not now regard the government headed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as legitimate; that there were significant differences of opinion within the regime itself on this issue; and that the Supreme Leader's address on 19 June gave the green light for a policy of massive repression of the popular protests. The BBC has reported that there have been many arrests, and "scores—possibly hundreds—of opposition supporters and prominent reformists remain in prison".[334] Locally recruited staff of the British Embassy in Tehran have been particularly targeted, in line with the regime's policy of claiming that the protests were instigated by foreign powers, particularly the UK. Several staff members were arrested and, at the time of producing this Report, one (Hossein Rassam) remains in custody, charged with acting against national security.[335] Meanwhile, the stifling of free reporting has continued, with foreign correspondents expelled or confined to their quarters, and with sophisticated efforts being made to prevent electronic dissemination of information to the wider world by means of mobile phones, emails, or Internet media such as Twitter.

210.  We conclude that the events of June and July 2009 in Iran have revealed the extent of the desire amongst millions of Iranians for a fairer electoral process, as well as for greater personal freedoms and a normalisation of relations between Iran and the wider world, and that those events have also demonstrated the capacity of the present Iranian regime to respond with ruthless force in suppressing expressions of dissent. We further conclude that Iran's overall human rights record remains appalling. We recommend that the Government continues to act with firmness, in conjunction with its European partners and the wider international community, in pressing for the Iranian regime to respect the human rights obligations it has entered into, and in actively encouraging Iran to adopt a more civilised approach to the rights of its own citizens.

211.  We conclude that the detention of British Embassy staff by the Iranian authorities is deplorable, and we recommend that the FCO should keep us informed as this situation develops. We propose to return to the issues of the safety of Embassy staff and the extent to which they are protected by diplomatic immunity as part of our forthcoming inquiry into the FCO's Annual Report for 2008-09.


212.  The FCO's report states that "Iraq, a country where for so long human rights violations were endemic, is undertaking a long and difficult transition".[336] The report claims that "Iraqis are arguably freer now than at any time in the country's history", and that "the security situation in Iraq has improved vastly in the last few years, which has in turn improved the living conditions of the citizens of Iraq immeasurably, including women".[337] The FCO notes particularly the improvements in everyday life in Basra following the Iraqi-led Charge of the Knights operation in March 2008.[338]

213.  However, the FCO report acknowledges that "significant challenges" in the field of human rights remain. It draws attention to allegations of abuse and over-crowding in Iraqi prisons, and to the large numbers of people detained without trial because of lack of capacity in the prison system. It notes continuing use of the death penalty, and the abuse of women's rights, both through violence (including so-called "honour killings") and through deprivation of opportunities in the fields of education, health care and employment. The FCO cites the estimate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that more than two million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and a similar number have fled to nearby countries. It notes that minorities, including Christians, have come under attack.[339]

214.  Amnesty International comments that:

  • Despite a marked reduction in violence in Iraq, civilians continue to be killed or injured by armed groups as well as the MNF and Iraqi government forces. The MNF and Iraqi authorities hold thousands of detainees, most without charge or trial—some for up to five years. The Iraqi authorities hold some detainees incommunicado in secret detention facilities. Iraqi forces continue to commit gross human rights violations. Prison guards and security forces are reported to commit torture; detainees held by Interior Ministry officials are particularly at risk.
  • There is extensive use of the death penalty. Most death sentences follow flawed criminal procedures, with reports that 'confessions' are obtained under torture or other duress. Trials of former officials have been marred by political interference.
  • Violence against women remains serious, with women threatened and attacked for not complying with strict codes of behaviour, including dress codes. The Iraqi authorities continue to fail to provide adequate protection against violence. Several million Iraqis remain displaced, both internally and abroad.[340]

215.  Human Rights Watch argue that there are systemic problems in Iraq's criminal justice system, including the abuse of detainees with the aim of extracting confessions.[341] The FCO's report confirms that the Iraqi system has traditionally relied on confessional evidence to secure convictions, which all too easily leads to abuses taking place during the process. For this reason, the FCO comments, the UK is assisting Iraq by running a National Forensics Project, with the aim of developing forensic capacity to create a more professional investigative process and protect the rights of those under interrogation.[342]

216.  Human Rights Watch criticises the FCO's report for making no mention of the FCO's handling of sexual abuse allegations concerning female Iraqi contractors at the British Embassy in Baghdad.[343] We discuss this matter in paragraphs 114 to 125 above.

217.  We conclude that with the departure of most British troops from southern Iraq, and the withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi towns and cities, the responsibility for creating security, which is an essential precondition of human rights, has passed decisively to the Iraqi government. We further conclude that many grave human rights concerns remain in a country which is, as the FCO puts it, making a "difficult transition". The plight of Iraqi refugees, both within Iraq and beyond its borders, and the discrimination suffered by women, contrary to the Iraqi constitution, are of particular concern. We recommend that the British Government continues to discharge its responsibility to the Iraqi people by offering their government and Parliament full and effective assistance, both practical and financial, in creating the institutions and attitudes necessary to underpin the effective upholding of human rights.

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

218.  We deal with human rights issues in relation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in our forthcoming Report on Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinians Territories.

North Korea

219.  We commented on the human rights situation in North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) in our Report on Global Security: Japan and Korea, published in November 2008. Our conclusions were as follows:[344]

We conclude that the North Korean regime is one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, that its human rights practice is an affront to the international community, and that the main reason that the issue is not the subject of a larger international outcry is because it remains too little known. We conclude that the work of the FCO in attempting to address North Korean human rights, both bilaterally and with international partners, is to be commended. Although we conclude that human rights abuses are deeply linked to the nature of the North Korean regime, we recommend that the Government's efforts to address North Korea's human rights abuses should avoid language which Pyongyang might construe as threatening, and should be couched in terms of reference to specific obligations under international instruments to which North Korea has signed up. We further recommend that enabling the acquisition of more human rights information from inside North Korea should be a major goal of the Government's work, and that efforts should focus in particular on securing access for the UN Special Rapporteur. We further recommend that the Government should seek to co-ordinate its work on North Korean human rights with that of the South Korean Government, as Seoul's new willingness to raise human rights issues with Pyongyang may come to represent an important strengthening of the international effort in this field.[345]

Given the failure of UN mechanisms so far to achieve any significant improvement in North Korea's human rights practice, we conclude that the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which North Korea is to undergo at the UN Human Rights Council in December 2009 offers a major opportunity to advance the international effort to secure improvements in North Korean human rights, as well as to establish the credibility of the UPR process. We recommend that the Government should engage actively with Pyongyang and with international official and non-governmental partners to ensure that the potential of North Korea's UPR process is realised to the maximum extent possible.[346]

220.  Since the publication of our Report, the political and diplomatic relationship between North Korea and the wider world has continued to deteriorate with the resumption of nuclear testing and long-range ballistic missile launches, and the decision by North Korea to withdraw from the Six-Party Talks and to declare that it no longer regards itself as bound by the 1953 armistice with South Korea that ended the Korean War.

221.  In this context, it is unsurprising that the human rights situation in North Korea , insofar as it can be assessed by outsiders, remains extremely bleak. The FCO's report notes that:

There is no freedom of expression, assembly, association, movement or information. There are no free and fair elections. The state tightly controls all media. […] There is no independent human rights monitoring organisation. […] The use of the death penalty, including public executions and extra-judicial killings, and the lack of transparency around this, also gives grave cause for concern. During the last year, the number of public executions seems to have risen markedly. […]

North Koreans are subject to arrest and detention without trial. Depending on the offence, authorities can detain or punish entire families for the crimes of one member. […] Women do not enjoy equal rights. […] The government does not provide adequate nutrition and health services for all children.[347]

222.  The FCO comments that large numbers of North Koreans cross the northern border with China for economic and political reasons—it is estimated that there may currently be between 20,000 and 40,000 such migrants in China's border provinces. The Chinese consider these people to be illegal economic migrants, and if caught they risk being forcibly repatriated to North Korea where they are subject to harsh penalties, including imprisonment, torture and execution. The FCO observes that in February 2008, "it was reported that a large group of people who had returned after having crossed the border were executed near the Chinese border".[348] We comment further on this issue in the section of this Report dealing with China (see paragraphs 180 and 184 above).

223.  North Korea's human rights practice was highlighted—and its relations with the US further strained—when in June 2009 a closed North Korean court sentenced two US journalists to 12 years in labour camp for an unspecified "grave crime" and for allegedly illegally crossing into North Korea from China, where they were reporting on the issue of North Korean emigrants.

224.  We reiterate the conclusions of our 2008 Report on Global Security: Japan and Korea as regards North Korean human rights and British Government policy on the issue, including our conclusions that the North Korean regime is one of the worst human rights abusers in the world and that the Universal Periodic Review which North Korea is to undergo at the UN Human Rights Council in December 2009 offers a major opportunity to advance the international effort to secure improvements in human rights in the country. We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO sets out what steps it is taking to achieve this advance. We further recommend that the Government provides an assessment of any ways in which its work on North Korean human rights issues is being affected by the deterioration of North Korea's relations with the West and with the other participants in the Six-Party Talks.


225.  In February 2008 a civilian government was elected in Pakistan, bringing to an end eight years of military rule. The FCO in its report points out that the new government faces challenges "including serious human rights issues, often related to weak state institutions".[349]

226.  In our forthcoming Report on Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan we discuss specific human rights issues relating to the imposition of Shari'a law in Swat and other districts of north-western Pakistan, and the subsequent campaign by Pakistani armed forces against Islamist militants in that region.[350] Earlier in this report we discuss allegations that the UK was complicit in the torture of British nationals in Pakistan (see Chapter 3 above).

227.  The FCO draws attention to wider problems of human rights in Pakistan, listing:

Issues of poor access to justice, impunity, discrimination and violence against vulnerable groups, including women and minorities, non-implementation of legislation relating to rights of children, arbitrary application of Islamic penal and blasphemy legislation, arbitrary application of the death penalty, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention and the use of torture, abuse of power by law enforcement officials and enforced disappearances.[351]

228.  The FCO adds that:

Sectarian and terrorist acts in Pakistan caused by extremists include indiscriminate killing, inadequate justice through impromptu Shari'a courts, and the destruction of girls' schools.[352]

229.  The situation with regard to women's rights in Pakistan continues to be disturbing. Pakistan has a very low placing in the UN Gender Empowerment Index, at 82nd out of 93.[353] The FCO report draws attention horrific examples of "honour killings" such as the burial alive of five women in Baluchistan in August 2008 for planning to marry without family consent.[354]

230.  During our visit to Pakistan in April/May 2009, we received a briefing on the work of the British High Commission's Forced Marriages Unit in Islamabad. We were told that forced marriages account for a large part of consular work at this Post, with 44 "rescue visits" since the establishment of the unit, and 124 cases investigated in the previous 12 months. We were told that every report from either a victim or a third party is followed up. At an operational level, staff from the consular division try to establish direct contact with anyone they feel is at risk, using a combination of planned visits and "cold-calling". Although the unit can approach the courts to request legal protection for victims, we were told that the unit has successfully used more low-key and nuanced approaches, including persuasion, to positive effect.

231.  Human Rights Watch praises the FCO for including Pakistan as a "major country of concern" in this year's human rights report, and describes the entry for Pakistan as "generally good". However, it criticises the Government for mentioning abuses by the intelligence and policy authorities while "conspicuously fail[ing] to mention allegations of UK complicity in any of those abuses".[355]

232.  Despite Pakistan's record of human rights abuses, the country retains a vigorous civil society and press, which can act as a positive influence. This is illustrated by the "long march" of summer 2008, in which thousands of lawyers and civil society activists took part in a country wide protest to demand the restoration to office of senior judges dismissed by then President Musharraf. Amnesty International commended "important work" done by the British Government in promoting an independent judiciary in Pakistan.[356]

233.  We conclude that human rights abuses in Pakistan continue to be widespread. In particular, women and girls continue to be subjected to violence and discrimination.

234.  We conclude that the work of the Forced Marriages and Child Abduction Unit at the British High Commission in Islamabad is to be commended. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the FCO should supply us with an update on the work of the Unit, and on the implementation of the UK/Pakistan Judicial Protocol on Child Abduction, and detail its plans for supporting and promoting the work of the Unit in future.


235.  In our Report on Global Security: Russia, published in November 2007, we considered Russia's human rights record in detail.[357] We concluded that "the trend overall in Russia in recent years has been towards a less open and plural political environment, combined with continuing serious human rights concerns".[358] We recommended that the British Government could improve the effectiveness of its human rights dialogue with Russia by stressing to a greater extent that the political and human rights standards at issue are not Western, but international, that they are not foreign impositions but commitments to which Russia has voluntarily signed up, and that it was in Russia's interests to be taken seriously as an international actor which respects its international commitments.[359]

236.  The FCO report makes an attempt to accentuate the positive, by stating that "the UK welcomes and supports new President Dmitri Medvedev's stated agenda of promoting the rule of law in Russia".[360] However, it also draws attention to concerns over media freedom, safety of journalists, civil society, racism and xenophobia, and the penal system. The FCO comments that the security situation in the North Caucasus remains fragile, with a particular deterioration in security in Ingushetia and Dagestan. It notes allegations that in those areas a culture of impunity on the part of federal law enforcement bodies is fuelling further human rights allegations including abductions, torture and extra-judicial killings.[361]

237.  Political and diplomatic relations between the UK and Russia have been strained in recent years. In our Report on Global Security: Russia, published in November 2007, we discussed the consequences of the "Litvinenko case" (the murder of former Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006).[362] In our Report on the FCO's annual report for 2007-08, we detailed the difficulties which have been faced by the British Council in Russia in recent years.[363]

238.  The UK participates in six-monthly EU-Russia human rights consultations, and a UK-Russia bilateral consultation took place in January 2009. In 2008-09 the UK spent £1.5 million on projects supporting human rights and conflict prevention in Russia. These include work in the field of penal reform and support for NGOs working to promote media freedom. The FCO is encouraging Russia to engage constructively with the UN Universal Periodic Review mechanism.[364]

239.   Human Rights Watch told us that the FCO's comments on Russia "could have been more hard-hitting". They noted that "Russia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with more than 14 outstanding unsolved murders of journalists in the last nine years". They criticise the FCO entry for lacking "any serious discussion of economic or social rights issues, the lack of democratic accountability, corruption (including the weakened judiciary) and Russia's lack of co-operation with international institutions".[365]

240.  In a report published in July 2009, Amnesty International considered the human rights situation in the North Caucasus.[366] The report commented:

On 16 April 2009 the Russian authorities declared an end to the counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya. Yet serious human rights violations continue to be committed in a climate of impunity in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus, in particular in Ingushetia, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria. The civilian population continues to live in an atmosphere of lawlessness that engenders fear and insecurity. Armed opposition groups in the region continue to mount attacks. Law enforcement officials conduct counter-terrorism measures which, in many instances, entail serious human rights violations. A legitimate aim—that of tackling violence by armed groups and bringing stability to the North Caucasus—is still being pursued by means which violate international human rights law.[367]

241.  We conclude that President Medvedev's commitment to promoting the rule of law in Russia is undermined by continuing human rights violations. The extent of the threat to press freedom arising from intimidation and even murder of journalists is particularly worrying, as is the rise in xenophobia and racism. We further conclude that there is substantial evidence of major human rights abuses in the republics of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus. We recommend that the British Government continues to work with its international partners to maintain a constructive relationship with Russia, whilst at the same time taking effective steps to encourage that country to develop a human rights culture which reflects more closely the international norms and commitments to which Russia has voluntarily signed up.

Saudi Arabia

242.  The UK has expressed concern to Saudi Arabia over use of the death penalty, corporal punishment, and the quality of judicial procedure. However, the FCO's report comments that "many of our concerns regard punishments proscribed [sic][368] by Islamic Shari'a law, a legal system supported by most Saudis".[369] The report also claims that the "severe restrictions" on women "have the support of the majority of Saudi men and women". The FCO states that the UK "take[s] every opportunity to urge Saudi Arabia to pursue laws and practices that foster tolerance and mutual respect".[370] It has run projects in the country that have supported shelters for victims of domestic violence and delivered training to women in the charity sector.

243.  Human Rights Watch comments that "the UK continues to tread carefully around the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia". It argues that the FCO's comment about Shari'a law is misplaced, because the Saudi government allows no debate about the meaning of Shari'a law and blocks all alternative interpretations to its own exceptionally harsh one:

The report suggests that support for Shari'a equates with support for the harshest punishments. Yet many other Muslim countries which implement Shari'a manage to do so without chopping off hands and heads.[371]

244.  Human Rights Watch refers to "the poor quality of the judicial system" in Saudi Arabia, and claims that "many of the most abusive features of the Saudi justice system are contrary to Shari'a". Tom Porteous told us that there had been a little progress, not least that Human Rights Watch itself is now admitted to Saudi Arabia on official visits.

245.  Kate Allen of Amnesty International told us that she had found the section on women in Saudi Arabia in this year's FCO report difficult reading:

It was apologist in tone, and seemed to imply that […] men and women in Saudi Arabia were pretty happy with the institutionalised nature of the discrimination that takes place against women. It talked about the ability of richer women to reclaim their rights by leaving Saudi Arabia, which does not really feel like progress in terms of women's rights. We at Amnesty continue to document women being treated as second-rate citizens, subordinate to men under family law, denied equal opportunities, not allowed to drive. […] And the latest case, this year, of an eight-year-old being offered to a 60-year-old man in marriage—only this year. This is still happening and this is still how women's rights are being treated..[372]

246.  We commented in last year's Report that "the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is one of the worst in the world", and recommended that the UK's dialogue with the country should have measurable and time-limited objectives.[373] The Government did not directly address this recommendation in its response. Whilst stating that it shared the Committee's concerns, the Government commented that it

disagrees that our policy of assisting with gradual reform is not adequate. Sustainable reform cannot be imposed on a country. […] Whilst reform in Saudi Arabia is not at the pace which we would like to see, recent announcements on the reform of judiciary are significant and should be welcomed. These changes will improve access to the judicial system, including for women.

247.  We conclude that human rights continue to be violated on a massive scale in Saudi Arabia. We consider that the FCO's latest report pulls its punches on this matter. Although it lists Saudi Arabia as a "country of concern", it lays emphasis on the degree of cultural acceptance of severe punishments and of discrimination against women. Whilst we agree with the Government that "sustainable reform cannot be imposed on a country", we conclude that the current policy of "assisting with gradual reform" has borne very little fruit. The fact that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally of the UK should not lead to an official policy of turning a blind eye to its human rights failings. We repeat our recommendation in last year's Report that the UK's ongoing dialogue with Saudi Arabia should have measurable and time-limited objectives in relation to human rights, and specifically in relation to women's rights, and that the Government informs us of these objectives in its response to this Report.


248.  The protection of human rights in Somalia has been impeded for many years by the lack of strong state institutions. The international community has supported the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in its civil conflict with Islamist militants. In January 2007, Ethiopian military forces entered the country and toppled the militants who had seized control of the capital Mogadishu. In January 2009 the mandate of the TFG was extended till 2011, at which time it is anticipated national elections will be held. As a consequence, Ethiopian forces have now withdrawn from Somalia.

249.  Last year we criticised the FCO for its handling of Somalia in its human rights report for 2007. Somalia was not listed as a "country of concern", it received mention only in three paragraphs in a chapter on conflict prevention, and the report did not refer to alleged abuses carried out by Ethiopian troops in the country. We noted that "strong denials by the Ethiopian government are not sufficient cause for omitting these allegations". We recommended that the Government should ensure that human rights are central to its approach in Somalia, and that it should be included as a country of concern in next year's report.[374]

250.  In its latest report the FCO has listed Somalia as a country of concern.[375] It comments that Somalia's human rights record remains poor, with violence and fighting continuing throughout most of the country, particularly in Mogadishu and other areas of southern and central Somalia. Violence against women, including sexual violence, is widespread. The FCO notes an incident in which a 13-year-old girl who had been raped was stoned to death, accused of adultery. It comments that this incident "has led to many Somali people protesting and questioning the use of such punishments within their own community".[376]

251.  The FCO argues that the UK is "leading the international effort to re-build the Somali state", shaping UN Security Council policy and "continually press[ing] for greater focus on human rights capacity-building in Somalia". The UK is the second largest bilateral humanitarian and development donor. It has "raised its concerns with the Ethiopian government regarding alleged human rights abuses by its troops in Somalia".[377] However, the FCO comments on the lack of available information about the human-rights situation in Somalia, arguing that "there is little opportunity to monitor the limited institutional system, to gather and verify facts or to understand fully what's actually happening on the ground".[378]

252.  The Government states that it supports the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry to investigate alleged human rights. However, it argues that "the timing must right", and that to launch an inquiry at the wrong time "could have unintended consequences and increase the threat to the humanitarian community and the UN". It notes the difficulty of gathering verifiable information about abuses.[379]

253.  Human Rights Watch remains critical of the FCO for continuing to describe abuses committed by insurgent fighters in Somalia as fact, but abuses by Ethiopian and TFG security forces as "reported". Human Rights Watch argues that:

In reality the evidence of war crimes and other serious abuses by Ethiopian and TFG forces in Somalia from late 2006 through the end of 2008 is overwhelming and undeniable. […] The UK government cannot engage effectively around these issues with either the Ethiopian government or the TFG unless it takes the position that these serious abuses have without question occurred.[380]

254.  Human Rights Watch also claims that assistance to the TFG police from the UK and other donors has been "alarmingly free of human rights conditionalities". They argue that TGF policy forces have "committed serious conflict-related abuses and violent acts of criminality against civilians in Mogadishu", and the current Commissioner of Police, Abdi Qeybdid, "is implicated in serious abuses and should be replaced as a condition of any further donor assistance to the police forces".[381]

255.  The Government's support in principle for a UN commission of inquiry is welcomed by Human Rights Watch. However, they argue that the FCO report's concern about the timing of any commission is "overblown", on the grounds that the job of collecting evidence will be a major one and needs to begin as soon as possible, before the trail goes cold.[382]

256.  We conclude that the FCO is to be commended for including Somalia as a "country of concern" in its latest report, following our previous recommendation. We further conclude that serious human rights abuses, including violence against women, are continuing across much of Somalia, particularly in Mogadishu and in central and southern Somalia. We conclude that the Government's support for a UN commission of inquiry into abuses in Somalia is to be welcomed, though we do not accept its view that the time is not yet right for such a commission to be established. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the FCO states what conditions must be satisfied before the time is deemed to be right for a commission to be set up. We further recommend that, in that response, the FCO indicates what steps it is taking to ensure that UK aid is not supplied to Somali police forces where there is reason to suppose that those forces have been complicit in human rights abuses.

Sri Lanka

257.  President Rajapakse took office in Sri Lanka in November 2005 in the context of a 2002 ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) that was already crumbling and political negotiations on a peace agreement that had gone nowhere. Government and Tamil Tiger militants clashed regularly during 2006 and 2007. By this point the ceasefire agreement was dead in all but name. During 2008 the Government finally declared it dead and launched a massive military offensive against the Tigers, which has now led to what appears to be their complete defeat.

258.  On 18 May 2009 the Sri Lankan military reported that the leader of the Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had been killed. The head of the Sri Lankan army, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka, said the military had defeated the rebels and "liberated the entire country". The BBC noted that this claim cannot be verified as reporters are barred from the war zone.[383]

259.  Aid agencies have expressed concern about an acute humanitarian emergency in northern Sri Lanka as large number of civilians have fled the fighting, while others have remained trapped in the so-called safe zone which has been subject to heavy bombardment. Both sides in the conflict have been accused of human rights abuses, including the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers. There have been allegations, which the authorities deny, that the armed forces have used cluster munitions. The LTTE have been accused of using civilians as human shields on a massive scale.

260.  Some observers worry that the growing triumphalism of the government is being accompanied by increased intolerance towards independent critics. On 8 January, the editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was shot dead in Colombo. Prior to his death, he wrote an open letter in which he stated that, if he was assassinated, he expected that it would be by elements from within the state.

261.  During the earlier fighting, the Foreign Secretary called for a ceasefire. This call was greeted with hostility by supporters of the Sri Lankan government. On 17 May a large crowd demonstrated outside the British High Commission in Colombo and burnt an effigy of Mr Miliband.

262.  In its report, the FCO noted that "allegations of extra-judicial killings, abductions, disappearances and violence and intimidation against the media continue. There has been little progress in the investigation of those incidents. The prevalent culture of impunity is one of the main obstacles to peace in Sri Lanka."[384] However, Sri Lanka is not one of the "countries of concern" singled out for special attention in the FCO's report.

263.  On 14 May the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that thousands of people remained trapped in a small area along the coast within the conflict zone:

As fighting goes on unabated, civilians are forced to seek protection in hand-dug bunkers, making it even more difficult to fetch scarce drinking water and food. "Our staff are witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe," said the ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl, from the ICRC's headquarters in Geneva today. "Despite high-level assurances, the lack of security on the ground means that our sea operations continue to be stalled, and this is unacceptable," added Mr Krähenbühl. "No humanitarian organization can help them in the current circumstances. People are left to their own devices."[385]

264.  The following day Rt Hon Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development, commented that he was "utterly appalled" that the ICRC is unable to evacuate war wounded to safety or provide aid to the 50,000 civilians trapped in the conflict zone.[386]

265.  On 18 May, the Foreign Secretary along with other EU Foreign Ministers issued a statement stating that they were "appalled by the loss of innocent civilian lives as a result of the conflict" and called on the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to take "all necessary steps to prevent further loss of life".[387]

266.  As noted earlier in this Report, on 27 May the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution praising the Sri Lankan government in its military campaign against Tamil Tiger insurgents, and describing the conflict as a domestic matter that did not warrant outside interference. The motion, proposed by the Sri Lankan government, was supported by 29 countries including China, India, Egypt and Cuba. It was opposed by 12 countries including the UK.[388]

267.  However, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for an international war crimes inquiry, saying she believed that both sides might be guilty of war crimes. The UN Secretary-General has been reported to be privately supportive of this approach:

Ban Ki-moon, at a closed-door briefing for Security Council members [on 5 June], called for a credible inquiry to be undertaken with international backing and full support from Sri Lanka's government. He declined to elaborate on exactly how the inquiry should be done, but he urged an examination of what he said were serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian laws, according to diplomats and U.N. officials who attended.[389]

268.  On 10 June Tom Porteous of Human Rights Watch told us that "it is very difficult to get a very accurate picture of what is going on", but that "terrible loss of life and destruction" had taken place. He added:

Sri Lanka should be included as a country of concern, perhaps in next year's report. The human rights situation is about not just the behaviour of the Sri Lankan Government forces and the Tamil Tigers in the zone of conflict in the north, but the overall situation in the country. Critics of the Government—whether they are in the north or the south—tend to get into trouble. They are targeted in one way or another, and that is a source of real concern.[390]

269.  Mr Miliband told us on 16 June that the reason why Sri Lanka was not listed as a "country of concern" in the FCO's report was the timing of writing the report: "obviously at the height of the fighting in March and April there would have been very serious concern".[391] He subsequently informed us that it will definitely feature as a country of concern in next year's report.[392]

270.  Mr Miliband stated that the test for Sri Lanka was whether it could live up to the commitments that President Rajapakse had given immediately after the cessation of hostilities: "to find a way of giving an inclusive political role to all the communities in Sri Lanka". He also noted that there is a massive problem of internally displaced persons (IDPs), with 270,000 IDPs needing to be resettled; and a huge task of demining to be carried out.[393]

271.  On 14 July the Government supplied Parliament with its latest assessment of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. It concluded that the situation was stabilising but that there was still a population of almost 284,000 IDPs held in camps. Conditions in the camps were continuing to improve, but the Government remained concerned about high levels of malnutrition, particularly among children, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation facilities. The Government also expressed concern about the lack of freedom of movement of internally displaced people (IDPs).[394]

272.  On 19 July the Prime Minister, giving evidence to the Liaison Committee, said that:

I have talked to the President of Sri Lanka on a number of occasions. I have been very concerned about the humanitarian problems that have arisen from the numbers of internally displaced people. We think the number is about 280,000. […] There are high levels of malnutrition, overcrowding and inadequate water and sanitation facilities […] We are concerned about the lack of freedom of movement of the people in the camps, the restrictions that are put on activities. [395]

273.  Asked whether it was time that the Sri Lankan Government recognised the rights of the Tamil people to an element of self-determination, the Prime Minister replied:

This is, if I may say, exactly the position that I put to the President, that to have an end of military conflict does not mean that the problem has gone away. It has got to be dealt with politically and it has got to be dealt with by discussion and negotiation and some form of conciliation. That is why we are anxious that Des Browne, who is our envoy to this area, has the chance to talk to all the different groups and that is why we are putting as much pressure on the President as possible that this has got to be a seen as a step towards and a mean by which a political solution can be found.[396]

274.  We conclude that the FCO's decision to include Sri Lanka as a "country of concern" in next year's human rights report is amply justified by recent events in that country, and is to be welcomed. We recommend that, notwithstanding the regrettable vote in the UN Human Rights Council on 27 May, the Government should press for the setting up of an international war crimes inquiry, to investigate allegations of atrocities carried out by both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war. We further recommend that the Government uses such leverage as it has at its disposal to encourage the Sri Lankan government to tackle what the FCO refers to as "the prevalent culture of impunity".


275.  The FCO's report sets out developments in the human rights situation in Sudan in the years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 brought to an end the civil war between North and South Sudan. It finds that the record continues to be poor, with a widespread culture of impunity. The FCO draws attention to issues of concern including the death penalty; women's rights; torture; Hudud punishments (amputation, flogging and stoning); freedom of the media; and harassment and arrest of activists and political figures. In the western region of Darfur in particular there are systematic violations of human rights, and lack of respect for international humanitarian law by government, militias and rebel groups.[397]

276.  The FCO notes some signs of progress. The ceasefire in Southern Sudan following the 2005 agreement has been largely observed. The joint UN-African Union Peacekeeping Force for Darfur (UNAMID) has been deployed. In June 2008 the UN and African Union jointly appointed a single chief mediator for the Darfur political process.

277.  However, the FCO comments that "rights enshrined in the agreement and constitution have had little impact on the ground. For instance, a National Human Rights Commission, which should have been established under the CPA, has still not been set up. UNAMID is still suffering from shortfalls in funding and equipment, preventing its full deployment. The UK has offered £4 million in support for training and equipping African troop-contributing countries for UNAMID.

278.  In paragraph 162 above we noted that the International Criminal Court has been blocked in its attempts to bring individuals to trial for alleged human rights violations in Darfur. The Sudanese government has refused to respect arrest warrants issued in 2007 for the Sudanese minister Ahmad Muhammad Harun and the Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, and the warrant issued in March 2009 in respect of the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

279.  Human Rights Watch criticises the FCO's report for saying nothing about the campaign led by some African and Arab states to have the warrant for President al-Bashir deferred by the Security Council, under Article 16 of the Rome Statute. Human Rights Watch comments that:

Given the nature of the crimes committed in Darfur, the clear political/military chain of command and Bashir's failure to cooperate with the ICC on previous warrants, the UK should make clear that a deferral of this warrant would be unjustified. The notion that justice can be traded for peace is a false one. The victims of abuse in Darfur have a right to justice and the world must tackle such crimes head-on if they are to hope to prevent future mass atrocities.[398]

280.  On 2 July 2009 the African Union, at a meeting held in Libya, resolved to halt co-operation with the ICC over its decision to charge President al-Bashir with war crimes.[399]

281.  Earlier, on 18 June, the UN Human Rights Council had voted to continue the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan, Dr Sima Samar.[400] The proposal was carried by 20 votes to 18, with 9 abstentions. Sudan opposed the proposal; the UK was in favour. It was reported that the United States, which has only just taken up a seat on the Council, "played a key behind-the-scenes role in negotiating the text ultimately adopted".[401]

282.  Dr Samar's most recent report, presented to the Council before this vote, concludes that:

Despite some positive legislative developments, the human rights situation in the Sudan remains critical, with daunting challenges in terms of securing, in particular, the rights to life and security of the person, and the effective administration of justice.[402]

Dr Samar draws attention to widespread arbitrary arrest and detention, ill-treatment in custody, use of torture, and (in Darfur) direct and indirect attacks on civilians by security forces and government-supported militia.[403] She states that "a key challenge to human rights protection continues to be the lack of political will and capacity to ensure justice and accountability for serious violations of human rights and IHL. In most incidents authorities have failed to hold perpetrators accountable."[404] There are continuing reports of "violence and sexual abuse against women and children by state, non-state, criminal groups and bandits".[405] Interlocutors in Khartoum and Darfur reported a climate of fear, and an inability to exercise freedom of speech or association for fear of reprisal.[406]

283.  We conclude that continuing widespread abuses of human rights in Sudan are a matter of great concern. We further conclude that the recent decision of the UN Human Rights Council, by a narrow majority, to continue the investigation of human rights abuses in Sudan is to be welcomed. We recommend that the British Government continues to be pro-active in offering support for the Darfur peace process and for UN peacekeeping forces. We further recommend that the Government works closely with its international partners in an effort to ensure that the writ of the International Criminal Court operates in Sudan.


284.  On 30 January 2009 the National Council of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe announced its intention to proceed with the power-sharing deal agreed on 15 September 2008 under which Robert Mugabe would remain President whilst Morgan Tsvangirai became Prime Minister. That decision followed the Extraordinary Summit of the Southern African Development Community on 26-27 January 2009, held in Pretoria, at which parties agreed a way forward. Tsvangirai was sworn in as Prime Minister on 11 February with a Cabinet formed two days later. His wife was killed in an apparent road accident in March; he himself ruled out foul play, though others have not done so.

285.  On 13 May Mr Tsvangirai launched the unity government's "100-day plan", aimed at "the implementation of key sector reforms and the initiation of essential development and rehabilitation programmes".[407] However, Mr Tsvangirai has also drawn attention to repeated violations of the power-sharing agreement by Mr Mugabe and his political allies, including a failure to implement economic and fiscal reforms required by the International Monetary Fund.[408]

286.  The FCO report sets out in detail the extent of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe under the Mugabe regime,

including torture; intimidation; arbitrary arrests and detentions; forced displacements; violence; repressive legislation; lack of freedom of expression, association and the press; and politicisation of food. We have seen a frightening deterioration of the situation in 2008, which has drawn criticism from across the international community. [409]

287.  The FCO notes that the 2008 elections themselves were "characterised by intense violence, torture, abductions and murder perpetrated by agents of the state", often militia or so-called 'war veterans', but also the military and, to a lesser extent, the police. The FCO estimates that from March 2008, more than 5,000 people were victims of violence, with at least 36,000 displaced. Both rounds of elections were declared undemocratic by the international community.[410]

288.  The political crisis which followed the disputed elections was accompanied by a developing humanitarian crisis. NGOs withdrew from most activities before the elections and any resumption of activities was prevented by the post-election violence. On 4 June 2008 the Zimbabwe government announced that it was suspending the field operations of most NGOs, a ban not lifted till 29 August. NGOs continue to face severe challenges.[411]

289.  Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is the lowest in the world, more than 2,500 people a week are dying from AIDS-related illnesses, there have been 1,900 deaths from cholera, over five million people (nearly half the population) need food aid, essential services have largely ceased to function, over 80% of the population is unemployed, the economy is subject to hyper-inflation, and health and education provision is on the point of collapse.[412]

290.  The UK gave £45 million in aid to Zimbabwe in 2008, and expects that "it will be necessary to give sustained large-scale humanitarian support from the international community for the foreseeable future". In 2008 the UK increased funding for civil-society organisations, "including those seeking to uphold human rights and democratic freedoms", to £3.5 million.[413]

291.  Human Rights Watch criticises the FCO report for not focussing sharply enough on "the need for increased pressure on Zimbabwe to effectively end impunity for past human rights abuses by ZANU-PF and its allies". It notes that the report does not set benchmarks to be met by any new government in Zimbabwe before development aids can flows can resume. However, Human Rights Watch concludes that "for the time being, the UK should maintain its high levels of humanitarian aid (but avoid delivering aid directly to the government) and press for the retention of targeted EU sanctions against those individuals responsible for serious rights and governance abuses".[414]

292.  On 7 June Morgan Tsvangirai began a three-week visit to Western countries seeking "re-engagement" and urging them to lift what he called "restrictive measures" against Zimbabwe now that a coalition government was making progress toward economic and democratic reform. Mr Tsvangirai told Dutch television that he had a "workable relationship" with Mr Mugabe. He was also quoted as saying that "As far as I know today, there are no political prisoners in Zimbabwe. If there is a due process of the law, it must be followed."[415]

293.  Mr Miliband told us that the current position in Zimbabwe is "a tale of two halves", with the security forces still being in the grip of the ZANU-PF machine, but the economic, educational and social welfare institutions of the country being under the command of Prime Minister Tsvangirai. He stated that the British Government was pursuing a threefold policy towards Zimbabwe: first, to ensure that the cross-party power-sharing agreement is actually implemented, with appropriate benchmarks and staging posts; second, to regard the current government as a transitional one, because the international community does not recognise Mr Mugabe as the victor of the March 2008 elections; and third, "to continue to stand by the commitments to support the eventual renewal of Zimbabwe", with an internationally supported reconstruction programme, once there is a government in place in which the international community can have confidence.[416]

294.  We conclude that the human rights and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe continues to be appalling, although the participation of the opposition in a transitional coalition government, and the recent measure of economic stabilisation, offer glimmers of hope. We further conclude that it is difficult to see how fundamental reforms in governance, the rule of law, and ending human rights abuses can be achieved as long as Robert Mugabe and his supporters are still in power and control the security apparatus. We recommend that the Government should provide immediate aid to Zimbabwe's suffering people, subject to safeguards against its falling into the hands of Mr Mugabe and his supporters, of encouraging progress towards the early holding of fair and free elections, and of making preparations for a long-term reconstruction package to be delivered when a genuinely democratic and representative government is finally in place. We further recommend that the FCO should continue to raise the gross violations of human rights in Zimbabwe at the UN Security Council.

295   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 125 Back

296   Ibid., pp 125-26 Back

297   See Foreign Affairs Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2007-08, Human Rights Annual Report 2007, HC 533, paras 92-94 Back

298   Government Response to Foreign Affairs Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2007-08, Human Rights Annual Report 2007, Cm 7463 Back

299   BBC news website, "UN chief calls for Burma releases", 3 July 2009, Back

300   Ev 104 (paras 34-35) Back

301   Q 82 Back

302   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 127 Back

303   Ibid., pp 127, 130 Back

304   Ev 71 (para 32) Back

305   Foreign Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Japan and Korea, HC 449, paras 191-210 Back

306   Ibid., para 196 Back

307   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, pp 130-31 Back

308   Ibid., para 35 Back

309   Foreign Affairs Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2007-08, Human Rights Annual Report 2007, HC 533, para 112 Back

310   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, pp 128-29 Back

311   Ibid., p 129 Back

312   Ev 71 (para 32) Back

313   HC Deb 29 October 2008 c30-32WS Back

314   Foreign Affairs Committee, Oral and written evidence, Developments in the European Union, Wednesday 10 December 2008, HC 79-i, Q 52 Back

315   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 127 Back

316   BBC news website, "Scores killed in China protests", 6 July 2009, Back

317   BBC news website, "Uneasy calm in China's riot city", 9 July 2009, Back

318   BBC news website, "China seeks control through openness", 8 July 2009, Back

319   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 131 Back

320   Ev 104 (para 37) Back

321   Ev 104-05 (paras 37-38) Back

322   Q 88 Back

323   Q 88 Back

324   HR 188, pp 2-3 Back

325   HR 188, p 7 Back

326   Q 193 Back

327   Written Ministerial Statement, "Colombia", HC Deb, 30 March 2009, cols 40-42WS Back

328   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Iran, HC 142, paras 99-103 Back

329   Ibid., para 99 Back

330   Ibid., para 103 Back

331   Fifth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2007-08, Global Security: Iran: Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Cm 7361, para 37 Back

332   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, pp 141-42 Back

333   Ibid., pp 142-44 Back

334   "Fears grow for Iranian detainees", 3 July 2009, Back

335   The Times, "British embassy analyst faces prison sentence", 5 July 2009, Back

336   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 144 Back

337   Ibid., p 146 Back

338   Ibid., p 145 Back

339   Ibid., pp 144-48 Back

340   Ev 72 (paras 38-40) Back

341   Ev 106 (para 49) Back

342   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 147 Back

343   Ev 106 (para 50) Back

344   Foreign Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Japan and Korea, HC 449 Back

345   Ibid., para 175 Back

346   Ibid., para 178 Back

347   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 140 Back

348   Ibid. pp 140-41 Back

349   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 153 Back

350   Foreign Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2008-09, Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan, HC 302, paras 161-62 Back

351   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 153 Back

352   IbidBack

353   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 155 Back

354   IbidBack

355   Ev 107, para 55 Back

356   Ev 71, paras 23-26 Back

357   Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Russia, HC 51, paras 40-91 Back

358   Ibid., para 49 Back

359   Ibid., para 70 Back

360   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 157 Back

361   Ibid., pp 159-61 Back

362   Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Russia, HC 51, paras 110-24 Back

363   Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2007-08, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2007-08, HC 195, paras 269-75 Back

364   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, pp 157-60 Back

365   Ev 107 (paras 57-61) Back

366   Amnesty International, Rule without law: Human rights violations in the North Caucasus, July 2009 Back

367   Ibid., p 4 Back

368   The word intended is presumably "prescribed". Back

369   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 160 Back

370   Ibid., p 161 Back

371   Ev 107, para 62 Back

372   Q 86 Back

373   Foreign Affairs Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2007-08, Human Rights Annual Report 2007, HC 533, para 63 Back

374   Foreign Affairs Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2007-08, Human Rights Annual Report 2007, HC 533, para 174 Back

375   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, pp 162-63 Back

376   Ibid., p 162 Back

377   Ibid., pp 162-63 Back

378   Ibid., p 163 Back

379   Ibid., p 163 Back

380   Ev 107, para 64 Back

381   Ev 107-08, para 65 Back

382   Ibid., para 66 Back

383, 18 May 2009 Back

384   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 35 Back

385 Back

386 Back

387 Back

388   See paras 145-46 and 152 above. Back

389   Associated Press, 6 June 2009, "UN chief urges war crimes probe in Sri Lanka" Back

390   Q 79 Back

391   Q 183 Back

392   Q 184 Back

393   Q 183 Back

394   HC Deb, 14 July 2009, cols 12-13WS Back

395   Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given by the Prime Minister to the Liaison Committee, 16 July 2009, HC 257-ii, Q 305 Back

396   Ibid., Q 306 Back

397   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 164 Back

398   Ev 108, para 68 Back

399   BBC news website, "African Union in rift with court", 3 July 2009 Back

400   Associated Press, "UN rights body votes to continue Sudan scrutiny", 18 June 2009, Back

401   Reuters, "U. S. takes seat at U.N. rights forum, urges unity", 19 June 2009, Back

402   UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan, Sima Samar, June 2009, para 7 Back

403   Ibid, paras 8, 11 Back

404   Ibid., para 17 Back

405   Ibid., para 48 Back

406   Ibid., para 90 Back

407 Back

408 Back

409   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 174 Back

410   Ibid., p 174 Back

411   Ibid., p 175 Back

412   Ibid., p 177 Back

413   Ibid., p 178 Back

414   Ev 110 (paras 90-93) Back

415   Zimbabwe Guardian, 8 June 2009, "There are no political prisoners in Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai" Back

416   Q 184 Back

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