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

1  Introduction

1. The Foreign Affairs Committee in previous Parliaments conducted an inquiry into human rights each year from 1998 to 2009, on the basis of the annual human rights report which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) began publishing in the first of those years. Shortly after we were elected at the start of the present Parliament, in July 2010, we decided to continue our predecessors' practice. Our decision reflected the importance we attached both to the FCO's—by now well-established—report, and to human rights work within the wider work of the department. The FCO published its 2010 human rights report on 31 March 2011 (hereafter referred to as the FCO Report).[1] We launched our 2011 inquiry on the same day.[2]

2. We invited written evidence assessing the FCO's human rights work in 2010-11. We said that we would particularly welcome submissions which addressed:

  • the content and format of the FCO's report;
  • the extent to which there [had] been any changes in the FCO's approach to human rights under the Coalition Government, compared to the previous Government;
  • the effectiveness of the FCO's human rights work, and how this [could] be assessed; and
  • the relationship between the FCO's human rights work and the emphasis which the Government [was] placing on the promotion of UK economic and commercial interests in UK foreign policy.[3]

    3. Our inquiry focussed not only on the FCO Report but also on some broad issues arising from the change of Government. The initiation of an annual FCO human rights report in 1998 was one of the most distinctive initiatives taken by the previous Government in the field of foreign affairs, serving to highlight the prominence of overseas human rights promotion as an element in UK foreign policy. After 12 years of human rights reporting, by the FCO and by our predecessors, we were interested in the way in which the incoming Government dealt with this part of its predecessors' legacy. We were interested in particular in any potential tension between overseas human rights promotion and the sharper focus on promoting UK commercial interests which the present Government was giving to UK foreign policy.

    4. We make no attempt in this Report to comment on all the many issues dealt with in the FCO Report. We have been selective in focussing on matters that were raised with us in evidence, or which on other grounds were of particular concern to us. In one respect our practice differs from that of our predecessor Committee. In this Report we have largely addressed issues about particular countries in the course of our discussion of more general themes in the FCO's human rights work, rather than by seeking to duplicate the extensive country-by-country reporting contained in the FCO Report (as well as in a number of other regular official and NGO publications). It should be emphasised that any lack of specific reference to individual countries, or particular cases of alleged abuses, in our Report should not be taken to indicate any lack of interest or support on our part for the FCO's work in promoting human rights in those countries or in campaigning against those abuses.

    5. We took oral evidence from Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK (hereafter referred to as Amnesty), David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, and Jeremy Browne MP, the FCO Minister responsible for human rights. We received written submissions from Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and 15 other organisations, campaign groups and individuals. The FCO also responded to requests from us for further written information on a number of points.[4] We would like to thank all those who contributed to our inquiry.

    6. Our Report has three substantive chapters. In Chapter 2, we review the FCO's approach to human rights work under the current Government, including the FCO Report. We devote Chapter 3 to human rights-related issues arising from the Government's focus on the promotion of UK commercial interests in its foreign policy. In Chapter 4, we comment on a number of current issues for FCO human rights policy.

    1   FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report, Cm 8017, March 2011 (hereafter FCO ReportBack

    2   Foreign Affairs Committee, "Announcement of new inquiry: The FCO's human rights work 2010-11", press notice, 31 March 2011 Back

    3   IbidBack

    4   Written evidence from the FCO, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch is printed in this volume of our Report. Written evidence from witnesses who did not also give oral evidence is published in a 'virtual' second volume, available on the Committee's website at In references, evidence published in the 'virtual' web-only volume is indicated by a 'w'.  Back

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    Prepared 20 July 2011