The FCO's Human Rights Work 2010-11 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


Support for human rights overseas has become an established element in statements of UK foreign policy under successive governments. We welcome the Government's stated commitment to the promotion of human rights overseas as one of its central foreign policy objectives, and we commend the work that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) does to further this aim. We recommend that the Government demonstrates this commitment in its foreign policy decisions.

We welcome the FCO's continued production of an annual human rights report. We also welcome the Foreign Secretary's decision to establish an Advisory Group on Human Rights.

The events of the 'Arab Spring' should stand as a reminder to the FCO that failing to take a stronger and more consistent stance against human rights violations by overseas regimes can carry risks for the UK. Any suggestion that the FCO downplays criticism of human rights abuses in countries with which the UK has close political and commercial links is damaging to the UK's reputation and undermines the department's overall work in promoting human rights overseas. We report concerns on this front with respect to UK policy towards Saudi Arabia, Syria and Bahrain in particular. We consider that the FCO should have included Bahrain as one of its "countries of concern" in its 2010 human rights report, and we recommend that the FCO takes a more robust and significantly more consistent position on human rights violations throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

We are not as confident as the FCO that there is little conflict between its simultaneous pursuit of both UK commercial interests and improved human rights standards overseas, and that the two objectives can be complementary.

The events of the 'Arab Spring' have revealed serious shortcomings in the system of UK arms export controls as regards the possible use of British-supplied equipment for internal repression. The Government has announced a review of policy and practice with respect to such equipment, the results of which had not been made public when we approved this Report on 13 July 2011. We look forward to the Government sharing the results of its review with Parliament in a timely and proper fashion.

We recommend that the FCO give higher priority to working to internationalise standards for human rights in business behaviour. This is essential if the UK's efforts to promote human rights internationally are not to be undercut by the behaviour of other countries and their companies.

We draw attention to the need for the FCO to work more closely with other departments and agencies to ensure that its human rights agenda is shared across Government. We highlight the FCO's relationships with the Department for International Development (DFID), the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI); and policy areas including trade policy, women in conflict situations, and children's rights.

We welcome the Government's recognition that the UK's own human rights practices, in particular with respect to counter-terrorism policy, affect its international reputation and ability to pursue effectively improvements in human rights standards overseas. We therefore welcome the publication of the consolidated guidance to intelligence and service personnel on the interviewing of detainees, and the initiation of the Gibson Inquiry into possible UK complicity in the mistreatment of detainees after 2001.

We find it difficult to support the Government's approach to human rights engagement with China in the continuing absence of any evidence that it is yielding results, and when the human rights situation in China appears to be deteriorating. We ask the Government to set out any hard evidence it has that its current approach is effective, and we recommend that the Government engages in more explicit, hard-hitting and consistent public criticisms of human rights abuses in China.

We agree with the Foreign Secretary that the 'Arab Spring' represents an opportunity for an historic advance in human rights and political and economic freedoms. The human rights agenda in the Middle East and North Africa region is now vast. We recommend that the FCO place human rights—and in particular political and civil rights—at the heart of its work with the region in coming years.

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Prepared 20 July 2011