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

4  Current issues in human rights policy

Thematic human rights issues

Women's rights

133. Kate Allen criticised the FCO Report for being "patchy" in its treatment of women's rights.[206] Amnesty urged the FCO to continue to do more to "mainstream" women's rights throughout its human rights work and reporting.[207]

134. Kate Allen highlighted the importance of women's rights in conflict and post-conflict situations in particular. The UN Security Council passed a landmark resolution on this issue in October 2000 (UNSCR 1325). In November 2010, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of that Resolution, the Government published its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which is designed to ensure the Resolution's implementation.[208] The Plan is tri-departmental between the FCO, MOD and DFID. Ms Allen said that the Plan was "good [...] but could be better": "it does not allocate responsibility at a senior level, it is vague on resources and there is no real cross-government, joined-up policy".[209] Amnesty recommended senior leadership, cross-departmental co-ordination and the allocated of dedicated resources to "operationalise" the National Action Plan.[210]

135. The Plan stated that cross-Government leadership and coordination was to be provided through the appointment of a "senior representative" on tackling international violence against women. In November 2010, Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Equalities at the Home Office, was appointed to this role. In the FCO Report, her appointment was noted in the "Women's rights" section, and not referred to in the separate section on "Women, peace and security" which discussed the National Action Plan.[211]

136. We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO set out the work that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office is doing in support of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; and explain her role in relation to the Plan, given that her home department is not one of the Plan's three co-owners.

137. The National Action Plan is to be reviewed annually and a full evaluation conducted after three years. The Plan stated that, in addition to a Ministerial statement, "Progress will be reported to Parliament [...] through the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security".[212]

138. We recommend that the FCO ensure that the results of the 2011 review of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security are fully reported to us, as its departmental scrutiny committee, when the review is published in October 2011. We further recommend that the FCO's 2011 human rights report also report on progress in implementing the Plan.

139. David Mepham highlighted the new Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. He said that the Government had played a "fairly negative role" in the concluding negotiations on the Convention, "putting in a lot of caveats and qualifications", but that "quite a strong text" had nevertheless been agreed.[213] The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers adopted the Convention on 7 April 2011 and it was opened for signature in May. Human Rights Watch said that it was now "critical that the UK Government [...] ratify [the Convention] as soon as possible and without reservations".[214] Home Office Parliamentary Under-Secretary James Brokenshire told the House on 13 June that there were "a number of articles [of the Convention] on which we require more detailed consideration before a final decision can be made on [its] signature and ratification".[215]

140. We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO update us on the Government's plans for signature and ratification of the new Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.


141. David Mepham reminded us of the large share of the global population made up by children and young people aged under 18. He argued that the FCO Report did not cover children's rights as much as was warranted, and that the Government should "think rather more about that younger group of people" in its international human rights policy.[216]

142. UNICEF UK and World Vision UK told us that the FCO Report gave the impression that the FCO was according a lower priority than in the past to children's rights. UNICEF in particular felt that the Report provided too little detail on children's rights issues, indicating that the FCO was not building children's rights sufficiently into its overall human rights work.[217] UNICEF and World Vision noted critically that the Child Rights Panel of expert and NGO representatives which had met under the previous Government seemed to have lapsed.[218] Both organisations were also concerned that the FCO appeared to have no plans to replace its previous three-year child rights strategy, which came to an end in 2010. World Vision said that a new strategy should be cross-Governmental, and UNICEF urged the FCO to work more closely with DFID in particular.[219]

143. We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO inform us what expertise on children's rights is available within the Foreign Secretary's Advisory Group on Human Rights. We further recommend that the FCO inform us whether it plans to draw up a new child rights strategy; and if not, why not.


144. We received a number of submissions highlighting freedom of religion or belief. The Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council and the Bahá'i Community of the UK both welcomed the coverage given to this issue in the FCO Report, which referred to the FCO's concerns and activities in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Nigeria and Turkey.[220] The Mission and Public Affairs Council and the Bahá'i Community also both welcomed the priority being given to freedom of religion or belief in the work of the Foreign Secretary's Advisory Group on Human Rights, which the Mission and Public Affairs Council said represented "a significant advance on the FCO's Religious Freedom Panel of old".[221] The Bahá'i Community welcomed the swift and public condemnation by the Foreign Secretary and FCO Parliamentary Under-Secretary Alistair Burt of the sentences passed on seven Bahá'i leaders in Iran in 2010.[222]

145. The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) argued that the FCO Report provided insufficient coverage of the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan, and of the country's blasphemy law in particular. CLAAS said that the amendment or repeal of that legislation was "an absolute necessity for the survival of religious minorities in Pakistan".[223] In the report's section on Pakistan as a "country of concern", the FCO identified strengthening freedom of expression, religion and belief as one of its priorities for human rights work in Pakistan in 2011. The FCO said that it continued "to support those who wish to see reform through lobbying and project work", but that there was "little likelihood of much-needed reform in the near future" following the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer—who had spoken out for reform—at the beginning of 2011.[224] In its online update of its Pakistan "country of concern" section at the end of March, the FCO noted the assassination of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, whom the FCO Report had identified as a key FCO interlocutor on this issue.

146. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the FCO update us on its assessment of prospects for reform of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, and on its wider work to encourage the protection of religious minorities in that country.

147. The FCO Report set out the department's position against the adoption by the international community of a new legal standard on the "defamation of religions". The FCO said that such an approach would be "inconsistent with the international human rights legal framework, which exists to protect individuals and should not seek to protect concepts or specific belief systems from criticism".[225] Our witnesses endorsed this policy, with Kate Allen arguing that "most religions [could] handle [...] criticism" and that it was individuals who needed protection.[226]

148. We conclude that the Government is correct to oppose the adoption by the international community of a new legal standard on the "defamation of religions".

International institutions

UN Human Rights Council

149. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) was established in 2006 as the successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights. In successive Reports, our predecessor Committee tracked the HRC's—often difficult—early development. The HRC has tougher membership conditions than its predecessor, aimed at reducing the likelihood that its members will include states with poor human rights records. The HRC has nevertheless been subject to significant criticisms for having rights-abusing states among its members, for being unwilling to agree to international action on alleged rights abuses in some cases, and for being biased against Israel in particular. However, in its last human rights report, in 2009, our predecessor Committee welcomed an increase in the number of HRC resolutions which the UK Government had been able to support, as well as the new membership of the US in the HRC, following a reversal by the Obama Administration of its predecessor's stance.[227]

150. In the 2010 FCO Report, the department said:

    Despite improvements in the Council's performance, it is difficult for us to achieve our objectives. The UK and like-minded states are in a voting minority and have to work hard to persuade other members that the UN should address human rights situations in specific countries. We believe that this is essential to the Council's credibility.[228]

151. Witnesses to our present inquiry felt that, albeit from a low start and in patchy fashion, the HRC was continuing to gain some credibility. David Mepham noted the "beneficial" impact of the United States' decision to join the Council. Giving evidence in May 2011, he told us that in the preceding year the HRC had "done quite a lot of good things and it's finally getting its act together in a way that we find quite encouraging".[229]

Since late 2010, the HRC has:

  • in response to a report it requested from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, established an international commission of inquiry into alleged human rights violations in C¼te d'Ivoire following the disputed presidential election of November 2010, with the aim of bringing those responsible to justice;[230]
  • established an international commission of inquiry into events in Libya, which found that government forces had committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, and that opposition forces had committed some acts which would constitute war crimes;[231]
  • seen the UN General Assembly suspend Libya's membership in the Council, the first time that an HRC member has been suspended;
  • appointed a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran (a step welcomed in its evidence to us by the Bahá'i Community of the UK);[232]
  • passed a strongly critical resolution on the repression of anti-government protests in Syria, including a call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to despatch a mission to Syria to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law;[233] and
  • seen Syria fail to be elected as an HRC member, after the Asian group of HRC member countries dropped it from its list of nominees.

152. As of early summer 2011, two institutional developments at the HRC were engaging UK action:

a)  HRC review. Work was underway on the five-year review of the HRC required by the General Assembly when it established the Council. The review process is expected to conclude in summer 2011. In the FCO Report, the department said that it would "like the review to make the Council more effective", but that it was "realistic about our chances of success".[234] Susan Hyland, Head of the FCO's Human Rights and Democracy Department, told us that the Government wanted to "improve the quality of the [HRC's] membership"—by making the membership criteria more robust; and by enforcing the membership conditions that exist already, by holding countries to account for commitments made in seeking election to the Council.[235] However, Jeremy Browne noted that limiting membership too far risked also limiting the HRC's influence, and that there was a value to trying to "draw [countries] in". He said that the Government's preference was therefore to "try to draw [membership] as wide as we can without making [the HRC] completely ineffectual or perverse in its opinions".[236]

b)  UK membership. After two consecutive terms as a member, the UK was not eligible to stand for re-election to the Council at the elections held in May 2011. From June 2011, the UK was thus not on the HRC for the first time since the body's inception. The Government has already announced that it plans to run again for membership in 2013. Both Kate Allen and David Mepham commended the UK's role overall as a member of the HRC, and Kate Allen told us that she hoped the Government would "stay close" to the body during the UK's period of non-membership.[237] Jeremy Browne told us that the Government planned to try to continue to influence the HRC's work, by trying to speak at the Council, and by lobbying and forming partnerships with HRC members, especially among EU Member States.[238]

153. Although the UN Security Council remains the decisive forum for international action on human rights, we are encouraged by recent signs that the UN Human Rights Council is beginning to operate as a more effective international watchdog on UN Member States' human rights records, and in particular that the international community is beginning to use election to and suspension from the Council as a mechanism to deploy against human rights violators. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the FCO update us on the extent to which it achieved its objectives for the 2011 review of the Human Rights Council. We welcome the Government's announcement that it plans to stand again for election to the Council in 2013. We recommend that the FCO provide more information on the arrangements it has put in place to continue to engage effectively with the Council in the period before 2013 following the end of the UK's term of membership in June 2011.


154. During our inquiry, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was in the spotlight because of the international community's decision to engage it with respect to the evolving conflict and human rights crisis in Libya. On 27 June, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Colonel Gaddafi and two other senior Libyan figures after concluding that there were "reasonable grounds" for believing them criminally responsible for two counts of crimes against humanity committed from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February.[239] The ICC Prosecutor's investigation and request for arrest warrants came after the UN Security Council unanimously referred the situation in Libya to the Court (in Resolution 1970 of 26 February). Libya joined six other countries where cases are being investigated or pursued by the Court—including Sudan, with respect to the situation in Darfur, on which the Court issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir in 2010.[240]

155. The cases of Sudan and Libya, in particular, raise the issue of the potential tension between the swift pursuit of justice and the possible requirements of a political resolution to a conflict. It has been suggested that launching action against Colonel Gaddafi at the ICC might make it more difficult for the UK to achieve the end it seeks in Libya, namely Gaddafi's exit from power.[241] In late May, Jeremy Browne did not think that the ICC action would necessarily make it harder or easier to achieve a resolution of the Libyan situation, but he was firm in his support for the ICC action in any case.[242]

156. Like the Minister, Kate Allen and David Mepham argued against any ideas of amnesty or impunity. They contended that sustainable peace often could not be achieved without accountability. Ms Allen also argued that those responsible for human rights abuses needed to be held to account if international justice was to acquire a deterrent effect. However, David Mepham drew our attention to Article 16 of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, which allows the Security Council to suspend an ICC investigation or prosecution by passing a resolution to that effect under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.[243]

157. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the FCO set out its assessment of any impact that the issuing of arrest warrants for Colonel Gaddafi and other senior Libyan regime figures by the International Criminal Court may be having on prospects for a resolution to the Libyan crisis.

158. In April 2011, a UN panel of experts appointed by the Secretary-General published a report into the final stages of the conflict between the Government and Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka. The panel found that there were "credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the government of Sri Lanka and the [Tamil Tigers], some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity". The panel called for an independent international investigation, with a view to a possible international mechanism for accountability.[244] In its last human rights report, in August 2009, our predecessor Committee already recommended that 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.[245] The Sri Lankan government has argued that publication of the panel of experts' report impedes the process of post-conflict reconciliation.[246] Human Rights Watch told us that the Government should support the panel's recommendation.[247] However, Jeremy Browne told us that the UK Government "believes that the primary responsibility for addressing accountability and achieving reconciliation lies with the Government of Sri Lanka".[248]

159. On 14 June, Channel 4 broadcast a widely-noted documentary entitled 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields', about the final weeks of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers.[249]

160. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the FCO explain more fully why it does not regard an international accountability mechanism as appropriate to the Sri Lankan situation at this stage, and under what conditions it might change its position.

161. We commend Channel 4 for its documentary 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields', which showed horrific scenes of crimes carried out in 2009. We reaffirm the view of our predecessor Committee and call on the UK Government to 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.

162. In May 2011, Serbia captured and extradited former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. General Mladic's transfer leaves only one ICTY indictee, Goran Hadžiæ, still at large. In December 2010, under Resolution 1966, the UN Security Council established an International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which will be able to prosecute any ICTY cases remaining after 2013.

163. We strongly welcome Ratko Mladic's extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, as an important step in ending impunity for grave international crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, and in continuing to move the Western Balkans away from its recent history of inter-ethnic conflict. We congratulate all those, including in the UK, who contributed to the long-running effort to see General Mladic on trial in The Hague.

Regions and countries

164. In this section we comment on challenges for UK human rights policy in a few regions and countries where the UK has a particular role in 2011 and beyond.


165. Amnesty told us that "how the UK Government reacts to the changes in the [Middle East and North Africa] region represents the greatest test of its foreign policy thinking to date and will provide a litmus test for the place of human rights within that policy".[250]

166. As we prepared this Report in June and early July 2011, the developing situation in the Middle East and North Africa engaged a wide range of human rights issues:

  • Tunisia was under a transitional government pending elections to a Constituent Assembly in October, after mass protests led to the resignation in January of former President Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia. As of early July, the FCO website was noting that the transitional government had signed several key international human rights instruments and set up independent commissions to investigate human rights abuses by the former regime. Tunisian courts had convicted former President Ben Ali in absentia for embezzlement and abuse of public funds, and were continuing to investigate further allegations against him.
  • Egypt was under the control of a military-backed transitional government pending parliamentary elections expected in September and presidential polls in November, after mass protests led to the resignation of former President Mubarak in February. Former President Mubarak and other former senior regime and police figures had been or were being tried for offences including the murder of protesters and corruption. By late June, apparent popular frustration with the pace of reforms and perceived weaknesses in the accountability process led to clashes with police. As of early July, in the Egypt country profile on its website, the FCO said that the longstanding emergency law—which remained in force—allowed for "human rights violations such as the use of administrative detention, military courts for civilians and torture", and that the department was calling for its termination. The FCO also noted allegations of torture and mistreatment of detainees, and concerns about freedom of expression, sectarian tensions and religious discrimination.
  • In Bahrain, the authorities were detaining and imprisoning large numbers of civilians after protests against the regime. In particular, the authorities had detained, reportedly mistreated, tried and in some cases imposed lengthy prison sentences on medical personnel who had treated injured civilians. Over 30 people were reported to have been killed by the security forces, and the regime had called in armed support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. By early July, the Sunni regime had opened talks with the main Shia opposition group, in a "national dialogue" on political reform; and it was being reported that the regime had announced an investigation into the security forces' handling of the unrest and that most of the Saudi troops were being withdrawn.[251] Subsequently the Bahrain regime has announced the establishment of a commission to investigate the events of recent months.[252]
  • Saudi Arabia was trying a number of civilians, after limited protests against the regime.
  • In Yemen, protesting civilians had been killed by security forces. As of early July, there appeared to remain a risk of a more widespread breakdown of internal order, amidst a political impasse after President Saleh left the country in early June to be treated in Saudi Arabia for injuries sustained in an attack on the presidential compound. While clashes were escalating between political factions and between regime security forces and al-Qaeda-linked militants in the south, demonstrations continued in support of President Saleh's permanent exit and the formation of a transitional government, and against al-Qaeda influence.
  • In Libya, the UK had been participating since March in a UN-mandated NATO military operation to protect civilians, after Colonel Gaddafi had threatened violent mass reprisals against civilians in the city of Benghazi following the outbreak of an uprising against him. As we noted in paragraph 154, in late June the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Colonel Gaddafi and two other senior regime figures.
  • In Syria, the regime was using armed force against civilian protesters, as anti-regime demonstrations which broke out in March spread throughout the country. In early July, the BBC quoted Syrian human rights activists as saying that more than 1,350 civilians and 350 security personnel had been killed since the unrest began.[253] The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the UN Human Rights Council in mid-June that over 10,000 people were estimated to have been arbitrarily detained.[254] Foreign media and human rights bodies did not have free access to Syria. While continuing to put down opposition demonstrations, the regime was continuing to announce political reforms and pursue "national dialogue", most recently in a speech by President Assad on 20 June; but the Foreign Secretary told the House on 29 June that the speech was "disappointing" and that without an end to violence there could be "no credible attempt at national dialogue".[255] The UK was seeking a UN Security Council resolution condemning the behaviour of the Syrian regime, but the resolution was opposed by China and Russia.[256]
  • The unrest in Libya and Syria had produced refugee flows to Tunisia and Egypt, and Turkey and Lebanon, respectively.

167. The Foreign Secretary said in May that if the 'Arab Spring' led "to more open and democratic societies across the Arab world over a number of years, it [would] be the greatest advance for human rights and freedom since the end of the Cold War". He went on:

    Reform is not a threat to stability, it is the guarantor of it over the long term. It is not credible or acceptable to repress now and suggest that reform will follow later, or to use public order as an excuse to oppress critics. Nor will it be sustainable over the long term to promise economic reform without steady political development. Governments that curb human rights and roll back reform are stoking up anger and frustration that will spill over in the future. Across the region we urge Arab nations to address grievances through dialogue and democratic reform, not through violence. Long-term stability requires real steps towards representative institutions, political pluralism, a free media and economic fairness.[257]

168. In addition to action in the UN, EU and G8, and participation in the NATO operation in Libya, the UK's bilateral response to the 'Arab Spring' has been the announcement of an "Arab Partnership". This was based initially on a new £5 million FCO programme fund for 2011/12, "to address, in partnership with regional governments, the long-term underlying governance and social, economic and political participation issues affecting the Arab world".[258] In May, the Prime Minister announced that the fund was being increased to £110 million over four years.[259] This comprises £40 million jointly from the FCO and DFID to support political reforms, and £70 million from DFID for economic support, including to public finance reforms.[260]

169. As we agreed this Report in mid-July 2011, we agreed also to launch a new inquiry dealing with aspects of UK Government foreign policy and the 'Arab Spring', for which we plan to take evidence in autumn 2011. We intend to follow closely the FCO's work on human rights in the region as part of our inquiry.[261]

170. We welcome the way in which the Government has put the UK at the forefront of international support for political and economic liberalisation in the Middle East and North Africa in response to the 'Arab Spring'. 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. However, the political outlook across the region is far from clear and may yet deteriorate. The human rights agenda in the region is now vast, ranging from urgent humanitarian and security risks facing civilians to the necessarily slow embedding of human rights norms in the security and other state institutions of democratising states. In Bahrain, we welcome the regime's establishment of a commission to investigate recent events, but we remain concerned that immediate action is needed to ensure an end to torture and politically-motivated detentions. We recommend that the FCO place human rights—and in particular political and civil rights—at the heart of its work with the Middle East and North Africa through the 'Arab Partnership' in coming years. We further recommend that the FCO devote a major dedicated section of its 2011 human rights report to reporting in detail on the human rights work which it is undertaking in the region.


171. In March 2011 we published a Report on The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan. We supported a process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan.[262] Although primarily concerned with political and military issues, the Report commented on aspects of the human rights situation in that country. It noted that in the 10 years since the US-led intervention, there had been "significant improvements in education, especially for girls, and in the fields of health, telecommunications, human rights, and media freedom".[263] However, the Report also drew attention to fears that any power-sharing agreement involving the Taliban, and consequent constitutional or legislative changes, might jeopardise civil and political liberties, and the rights of women and minorities in particular.[264]

172. The UK Government is committed to a political settlement in Afghanistan which "is representative; gives no one group disproportionate influence; upholds human rights and the rule of law and is in accordance with Afghanistan's Constitutional framework".[265] In its response to our Report, the Government stated that "Any political settlement should be inclusive and address the concerns of all Afghan citizens. [...] It is important that we ensure women have as full participation as possible in the political process". [266]

173. The Government also drew attention to the commitments given by President Karzai's administration:

    At the London and Kabul conferences in 2010, the Afghan Government committed to ensuring that the human rights of the Afghan people are promoted and protected as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution. The Lisbon Summit Declaration stressed 'the importance of Afghanistan standing by its Constitutional and international obligations on human rights, particularly of women, and of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.' [...] The implementation of this resolution means that the Afghan Government and international community will work to ensure that in addition to protecting women's rights in the conflict, women play a role in decision-making about the future of the country and in the wider political settlement process. Most recently President Karzai reaffirmed that women's rights were central to the future of Afghanistan in his New Year speech of 22 March 2011.[267]

174. In the 2010 FCO Report, the FCO also emphasised the Afghan government's commitments, drawing attention to its pledge in July 2010 to "finalise and begin implementation of the National Priority Programme for human rights and civic responsibilities" as well as to implement a National Action Plan for Women and the law on elimination of violence against women.[268] The FCO Report devoted 12 pages to human rights in Afghanistan. On women's rights, it commented that "women in Afghanistan continued to face huge challenges throughout 2010, including high illiteracy rates, domestic violence, forced marriages, poor access to healthcare and lack of livelihoods". However, it noted "some encouraging gains", including the role played by women in the June 2010 Consultative Peace Jirga (where they amounted to 25% of participants), the fact that there were nine female members of the High Peace Council, and women's success in winning 69 seats in the Lower House in the September 2010 parliamentary elections.[269]

175. In its evidence to our present inquiry, Human Rights Watch considered that the FCO Report provided a good overview of the UK's efforts to promote human rights in Afghanistan, but concluded that "its tone is much more positive than is justified by the realities on the ground". In particular, Human Rights Watch saw no evidence that the Afghan government's various commitments and undertakings had actually led to an improvement in human rights.[270] Human Rights Watch stated that:

    As pressure grows during 2011 for a way out of the conflict, the UK should do its utmost to ensure that any Afghan political settlement is genuinely inclusive and that it strengthens rather than weakens the observance of human rights across Afghanistan, especially the rights of women and girls as well as ethnic and religious minorities.[271]

176. Oxfam argued that in Afghanistan the UK's generally progressive approach to security sector reform had "yet to be translated in practice". Oxfam claimed that the UK and many of its allies had "focussed too much on fighting the war and paid insufficient attention both to building accountable security forces trained to uphold the rule of law, and establishing effective, accessible mechanisms that deliver justice to Afghan people". Oxfam stated that, as greater responsibility is handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces, "there is a serious risk that violations of human rights and humanitarian law will escalate unless adequate accountability mechanisms are put in place".[272]

177. We reiterate our previous support for a process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan, involving talks with the Taliban. However, we conclude that it is essential that the UK Government continue to use its leverage with President Karzai's administration to ensure that it carries through its undertakings in respect of human rights, and in particular to secure implementation of the National Priority Programme for human rights and civic responsibilities, the National Action Plan for Women and the law on elimination of violence against women.


178. There is continuing evidence of widespread human rights abuses in Iraq. On a positive note, the FCO Report drew attention to Iraq's participation in a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the UN Human Rights Council in February 2010. The Iraqi government committed itself to the promotion of human rights, and accepted a number of recommendations from the UK and other countries. The Iraqi constitution embodies a number of human rights principles. International observers concluded that the elections held in March 2010 were free and fair. The FCO argued that, despite some attacks on journalists, the right to freedom of expression in the media was generally upheld.[273]

179. The FCO Report also noted that "challenges remain". Minority religious communities have been subject to persecution. It is alleged that torture and other forms of ill-treatment are used in Iraqi detention centres to extract confessions. Overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons are commonplace. Many remand prisoners have to spend several years in detention before being brought to trial. Iraq retains the death penalty. The situation with regard to women's rights is poor, with one in five women claiming to have been a victim of domestic violence, female illiteracy widespread, and female genital mutilation and so-called 'honour killings' still practised.[274]

180. Human Rights Watch told us that it broadly accepted the analysis of the Iraqi human rights situation in the FCO Report, but with three caveats: there was no reference to internally displaced persons or to persons with disabilities, both of which were significant human rights issues in Iraq; the report's assessment of freedom of expression in Iraq was "overly optimistic"; and it made no mention of "attacks by the [Iraqi] government on freedom of assembly and the right to peacefully protest".[275]

181. Nearly 3,500 Iranians in exile (mostly belonging to the dissident Mujahedin e-Khalq group) are still resident in Camp Ashraf, 40 miles north-east of Baghdad. The Iraqi authorities have signalled their intention of closing the camp and moving its residents elsewhere. The FCO reported that "the authorities have given assurances that none of the residents will be forcibly transferred to a country where they have reason to fear persecution".[276] There have been violent clashes between Iraqi security forces and the inhabitants of the camp on several occasions, most recently on 8 April 2011 when it is claimed that 31 residents were killed and 300 injured. FCO Minister Alistair Burt issued a statement saying he was "deeply disturbed" by reports of these deaths.[277]

182. British forces ended combat operations in Iraq in April 2009, and all British armed forces personnel in the country had withdrawn by the end of May 2011.

183. We conclude that, given its past military and political involvement with Iraq, the UK has a particular responsibility to try to secure improvements in human rights standards in that country. We recommend that the FCO continue to offer practical and financial support to the Iraqi government and people to assist in the promotion of freedom of expression and assembly, personal security, women's rights, protection of religious minorities, amelioration of prison and detention conditions, and other basic human rights. We further recommend that the Government—in conjunction with its international partners—take active steps to investigate conditions in Camp Ashraf, and do all in its power to hold the Iraqi authorities to their commitment to protect the rights of its inhabitants.

206   Q 29 Back

207   Ev 42 Back

208   FCO, MOD, DFID, "UK Government National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 Women, Peace & Security", November 2010, available via Back

209   Q 29 Back

210   Ev 43 Back

211   FCO Report, pp 30, 65 Back

212   FCO, MOD, DFID, "UK Government National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 Women, Peace & Security", p 5; see also pp 15, 49. Back

213   Q 29 Back

214   Ev 35 Back

215   HC Deb, 13 June 2011, col 653W Back

216   Q 30 Back

217   Ev w6 [UNICEF UK], w26 [World Vision UK] Back

218   Ev w5 [UNICEF UK], w25 [World Vision UK] Back

219   Ev w5-6 [UNICEF UK], w26 [World Vision UK] Back

220   Ev w2 [Bahá'i Community of the UK], w7 [Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council]; see FCO Report, pp 26­30. Back

221   Ev w2 [Bahá'i Community of the UK], w7 [Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council] Back

222   Ev w2 Back

223   Ev w16 Back

224   FCO Report, pp 244, 250 Back

225   FCO Report, pp 29-30 Back

226   Q 31 Back

227   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2008-09, Human Rights Annual Report 2008, HC 557, para 153 Back

228   FCO Report, p 92 Back

229   Q 43 Back

230   Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/16/25, 16th Session, 13 April 2011 Back

231   "Report of the International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya", A/HRC/17/44, 1 June 2011 Back

232   Ev w2 Back

233   Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/S-16/1, 16th Special Session, 29 April 2011 Back

234   FCO Report, p 92 Back

235   Q 122 Back

236   Q 123 Back

237   Qq 43 [Kate Allen], 45 [David Mepham] Back

238   Q 120 Back

239   ICC, "Pre-Trial Chamber I issues three warrants of arrest for Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdualla Al­Senussi", press release, 27 June 2011 Back

240   Apart from Libya and Darfur (Sudan), the other cases are in Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Uganda. Back

241   See, for example, remarks by Rear Admiral Christopher J. Parry, former Director General of Development, Concepts and Doctrine, Ministry of Defence, in a podcast interview for the European Council on Foreign Relations, 20 April 2011, via; International Crisis Group statement, "Libya: Achieving a Ceasefire, Moving toward Legitimate Government", 13 May 2011; "Libya: Gaddafi ICC arrest warrant raises questions", BBC News Online, 17 May 2011; Thomas Obel Hansen, "Ocampo targets Gaddafi: will International Criminal Court help end abuse of civilians in Libya?",, 18 May 2011; George Friedman, "Libya and the Problem with The Hague", Stratfor Geopolitical Weekly,, 11 July 2011. Back

242   Qq 124-125 Back

243   Q 47 [Kate Allen, David Mepham] Back

244   "Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka", 31 March 2011, pp ii, vii, Back

245   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2008-09, Human Rights Annual Report 2008, HC 557, para 274 Back

246   "Sri Lanka calls on UN not to release war crimes report", The Guardian, 22 April 2011 Back

247   Ev 38 Back

248   Ev 47 Back

249 Back

250   Ev 41 Back

251   "Bahrain: Sunni leaders begin talks with Shia groups", BBC News Online, 2 July 2011 Back

252   "Military courts for protesters scrapped as King seeks calm", The Times, 1 July 2011 Back

253   "Amnesty accuses Syria of crimes against humanity", BBC News Online, 6 July 2011 Back

254   "Statement of Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Introduction of preliminary report on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic", Human Rights Council, Geneva, 15 June 2011, via Back

255   HC Deb, 29 June 2011, col 957-961 Back

256   "UN resolution founders as Assad blames 'saboteurs' for inciting violence in Syria", The Independent, 21 June 2011 Back

257   William Hague, speech to Lord Mayor's Banquet, Mansion House, 4 May 2011 Back

258   HC Deb, 1 February 2011, col 42-44WS Back

259   David Cameron, transcript of closing press conference at the G8 summit, Deauville, France, 27 May 2011, via Back

260 Back

261   For information about our inquiry, see our website at Back

262   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2010-11, The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan, HC 514, paras 77, 123 Back

263   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2010-11, The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan, HC 514, para 201 Back

264   Ibid., para 138 Back

265   FCO, "Quarterly report on progress in Afghanistan", 27 October 2010 Back

266   FCO, Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2010-11: The UK's Foreign Policy Approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan: Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Cm 8064, May 2011, section 24 Back

267   IbidBack

268   FCO Report, pp 120, 129 Back

269   FCO Report, p 129 Back

270   Ev 35-36 Back

271   Ev 36 Back

272   Ev w33 Back

273   FCO Report, pp 216-224 Back

274   IbidBack

275   Ev 37 Back

276   FCO Report, p 224 Back

277   FCO, "Foreign Office Minister deplores the loss of life and injury at Camp Ashraf in Iraq", press notice, 8 April 2011 Back

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Prepared 20 July 2011