Written evidence from PLATFORM|
1. Prioritising the promotion of British business
interests has conflicted and currently conflicts with the promotion
of values including democracy and human rights.
2. Oil exploration and extraction in undemocratic
countries almost invariably leads to increased human rights abuses,
escalating conflict and repression, and entrenchment of undemocratic
3. Thus when the FCO lobbies on behalf of British
oil & gas corporate interests, it is often undermining and
weakening human rights and democracy abroad.
4. Two case studies of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan
highlight the negative impact that FCO support for British oil
interests can have on local human rights.
5. The structure of the FCO's Human Rights &
Democracy report doesn't include a reflective or self-analytical
examination of the FCO's own complicated impacts on human rights.
1. PLATFORM is a London-based research organization
that has monitored the impacts of the British oil industry for
over 15 years, exploring the social, economic, environmental and
human rights shifts that result from oil and gas exploration,
extraction and transportation. Our work is regularly published
and cited by governments, academia and media, corporations. We
are consulted for expertise on specific contracts by human rights
defenders, parliamentarians and journalists. We have deep knowledge
of the interaction between British oil companies and Nigeria,
Iraq, the Caspian and North Africa.
2. This submission has been produced by Mika
Minio-Paluello, who has worked on conflict and human rights issues
in the Middle East for over a decade. Since 2005, Minio-Paluello
has focused on the impacts of oil in the Caspian region and North
1. In July 2010 the Prime Minister announced
"I want to refashion British foreign policy,
the Foreign Office, to make us much more focused on the commercial
making sure we are demonstrating Britain is open
for business. [
] I want to reorientate the Foreign Office
to be much more commercially minded. [
] I want us to be
much more focused on winning orders for British business overseas,
attracting inward investment back into Britain."
"I want to make sure that whenever any British
minister, however junior, is meeting any counterpart, however
junior or senior and for however short a time, they have always
got a very clear list of the commercial priorities we are trying
to achieve, whether that is pushing forward British orders, attracting
inward investment or promoting bilateral or unilateral trade talks."
3. At the same time, the FCO's Human Rights &
Democracy report states that although each country is different,
"This does not mean that we will ever overlook
human rights abuses; indeed, we raise our human rights concerns
wherever and whenever they arise."
4. So Ministers and the FCO abroad are to promote
British business interests whenever possible, and human rights
concerns whenever they arise. Inevitably, prioritising one means
deprioritising the other, particularly when two conflict with
one another. Such conflict is very difficult to avoid when the
business being supported is fossil fuel exploration, extraction
5. Oil extraction in undemocratic countries tends
to contribute to increased human rights abuses because (a) such
strategically important resources are closely controlled by and
linked to the regime; (b) sites of extraction are then militarised
by forces already connected with human rights violations; (c)
oil extraction provides vast revenues, which are comparatively
easy to siphon off and steal; (d) even when used "legitimately"
in the budget, revenues are directed towards entrenching regimes,
through arming militaries, police forces and short-term patronage.
6. Paul Stevens, then BP Professor of Petroleum
Policy at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and
Policy in Dundee described how "The revenues support existing
regimes simply because they allow low tax rates and large patronage.
They also allow large spending on internal security further entrenching
regimes. The revenues increase the potential for internal conflict
and even civil war. Such countries also tend to be more heavily
7. We have seen how undemocratic and repressive
regimes have repeatedly used their oil reserves, and involvement
of foreign companies in exploiting these, to bolster both their
ability to oppress their own people and to prevent democratization.
This happened in Libya,
Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Oman,
Yemen and elsewhere.
8. Current government ministers William Hague
and Andrew Mitchell recognised the principle that oil exports
and arm imports empower regimes and increase acceptability after
a visit to Sudan in 2006:
"International diplomatic initiatives intended
to decisively influence Khartoum continue to be thwarted by other
countries more interested in pursuing their economic or political
advantage than in promoting human rights
and that Sudan's
status as an [...] oil exporter and a significant importer of
arms has proven to be a successful deterrent against any united
9. Thus when a British minister meets a counterpart
minister representing a repressive regime and promotes British
business, this usually empowers the regime to continue to torture
and arrest critics. Sometimes British government representatives
will mix in words of concern over human rights, although not "wherever
and whenever they arise", as claimed in the FCO's Human Rights
But even when such questions are brought up, careful words of
critique carry far less weight and impact than the hard support
of revenues and business relationships.
10. British foreign energy policy currently tends
to prioritise guaranteed supplies of energy resources and access
to profitable contracts and access to oil fields, while deprioritising
the human rights of foreign citizens.
11. During a 1993 meeting between Foreign Secretary
Douglas Hurd and several directors of BP, "The Secretary
of State emphasised that there were some parts of the world, such
as Azerbaijan and Colombia, where the most important British interest
was BP's operation." An expose later revealed BP's co-operation
with parts of the Colombian army responsible for attacking civilian
When the FCO allows corporate oil interests to over-ride other
concerns, human rights will fall by the way-side. This happened
in Libya after 2005, in Algeria, in Nigeria. It is currently the
case in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Congo (DRC), Oman and elsewhere.
1. Britain is the dominant player in Azerbaijan's
economy by a long way. Last year, the UK invested almost £1
billion in the country or 51.9% of total foreign investment in
Most of this was made by BP, the largest foreign company operating
in the country. Yet British involvement in the country has not
led to an improved human rights situation. The current President
Ilham Aliyev was touted as a potential "reformer" when
he inherited power from his father.
2. However, the human rights situation has not
improved. Dissent is met with repression, journalists are imprisoned
on spurious charges and there is no freedom of assembly. In April,
calm attempts at pro-democracy protests inspired by Egypt and
Tunisia were violently quashed
and journalists are being harassed, kidnapped and beaten on a
3. Parliamentary elections in November were condemned
by OSCE and European Parliament monitors as "not sufficient
to constitute meaningful progress in the democratic development
of the country", due in part to "restrictions of fundamental
freedoms, media bias, the dominance of public life by one party,
and serious violations on election day".
Ilham Aliyev and his father Heydar Aliyev have ruled Azerbaijan
for all but a handful of years since 1969.
4. In interviews with PLATFORM in 2009 and 2010,
civil society actors and independent observers operating in Azerbaijan
were clear that BP's role in the country buttresses and bankrolls
British corporate investments provide Aliyev's authoritarian government
with international acceptability and relevance as a "strategic
partner of the West",
enabling continued denial of freedom and democracy to the people
5. Trade missions and invitations boost President
Aliyev's reputation further. In particular, the Duke of York's
repeated visits have enabled Aliyev to build an "image as
received at the very highest level of the European
aristocracy", according to Ilgar Mammadov, an opposition
spokesperson. "We never felt that Prince Andrew's contribution
has helped the democratic process."
6. Meanwhile the Aliyev regime has been explicit
that BP oil revenues will be spent on militarizing and arming
the country so that it can outmatch Armenia. In October 2010,
President Aliyev announced that "Next year, our total military
spending will be more than $3 billion. If we consider that the
entire state budget of Armenia, which continues to keep our lands
under occupation, is slightly above $2 billion, we can see that
the task we have set earlier that Azerbaijan's military expenses
should exceed Armenia's total budget has already been fulfilled.
It is a reality today. Over time, we, of course, will further
increase our costs."
1. The FCO has taken an active role in promoting
British oil investments in Turkmenistan, and British oil majors
like BP and Shell are very eager to break into and expand operations
in the country. According to the History page on the Embassy's
"has been very fruitful in terms of further
strengthening UK-Turkmen relations, a further Ministerial visit
by the UK's Minister of State for Energy, Lord Hunt, took place
in early March. Lord Hunt had a number of high level meetings
with key Turkmen officials. His meeting with the President of
Turkmenistan was another push for the development of further co-operation
in energy and the fuel sector as well as diversifying energy routes
from this hydrocarbon rich country. During the visit, Lord Hunt
also kicked off the second British-Turkmen Energy Business Forum
No activities are mentioned in relation to human rights.
2. According to the FCO's Human Rights &
Democracy 2010 report, Turkmenistan is a country of concern, highlighting
torture, prison conditions, the fact that human rights defenders
can't operate and a lack of freedom of expression and freedom
The FCO's report claims that "The UK took all appropriate
opportunities to raise human rights with the government in 2010."
3. However, the lack of explicit mention of any
human rights concerns on the UK Embassy's website is marked. Further,
it's very clear from the FCO's report of Lord Hunt's visit in
2010 that promoting oil interests was prioritized over human rights
4. During his meeting with President Berdimuhamedov,
Lord Hunt expressed Britain's wish to co-operate in the development
of Turkmenistan's energy sector.
"I congratulated the President for the successful
diversification of gas export routes, and reconfirmed UK support
for a Southern Corridor and Nabucco", said the Minister.
"I also took the opportunity to thank the President for Turkmenistan's
constructive role in Afghanistan, including humanitarian assistance.
I also encouraged further developments on democracy, human rights
and good governance, while welcoming areas of progress and noting
the range of UK assistance projects in these areas."
5. Which areas of progress Lord Hunt was welcoming
is unclear. Purported legislative "reforms" under President
Berdymukhammedov, including a revised constitution, have removed
government term limits and enabled increased repression, not less.
Since President Berdymukhammedov took power in 2006, physical
and legal attacks on civil society organisations and individuals
have intensified, particularly on those who "slander our
democratic, legal, secular state."
6. When the British Ambassador, visiting Ministers
or the Duke of York promote increased co-operation, access and
involvement by British companies in the Turkmen oil sector, they
are promoting a change that will strengthen Berdymukhammedov's
regime and leave it with less interest in democratic reforms.
7. Crude Accountability, the foremost and most
knowledgeable watchdog of human rights in Central Asia,
"does not advocate for isolation of Turkmenistan,
but, rather, engagement through a principled stance. Standards
of engagement should be uniform, regardless of whether the country
of operation is in Europe or in Central Asia. Seeking to 'improve'
human rights and civil society conditions in Turkmenistanor
any countryby engaging with oil and gas companies is an
exercise in absurdity. Pretending that the presence of one or
another US oil company in Turkmenistan is going to improve the
lives of average Turkmen citizens is the height of cynicism."
8. The same holds for British support for UK
oil companies, and when the FCO lobbies in favour of the proposed
Nabucco Pipeline, which could bring Turkmen gas to Austria.
9. British oil companies do not have a progressive
role in Turkmenistan, and have proven that they are willing to
engage with the regime in illegal and undemocratic activities.
In November 2010, Shell "and six other companies agreed to
pay a combined $236 million to settle allegations that they or
their contractors bribed foreign officials to smooth the way for
importing equipment and materials into several countries,"
1. Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign
& Commonwealth Office Report highlights the FCO's work towards
improving human rights, and also details certain concerns over
conditions in other countries. However, it does not explore or
evaluate those situations in which the FCO has found itself in
conflict or has contributed to a worse human rights situation.
As a result, the first 118 pages read like a celebratory funding
report, detailing all the wonderful work completedbut without
an honest evaluation of overall impacts and complications faced.
1. The next such report should include a more
reflective chapter, identifying situations in which the FCO has
not raised human rights concerns and the reasons for this,
and situations in which the FCO feels like it contributed to a
weaker human rights situation. This is standard practice in the
charity sector, and should also be so in government.
2. There is currently limited oversight and accountability
over the FCO's human rights abroad. Specific embassies should
report on their websites as to the work they are conducting.
3. The FCO should make a clear statement that
values will be prioritised over business interests. Human rights
are meaningless and not universal if they are negotiable.
4. Before the FCO commits itself to lobbying
heavily on behalf of a particular oil or gas projectas
it did over the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in the Caspian-Caucasus
region and over BP and Shell's contracts with Gaddafi in Libyait
should commission an independent human rights impact assessment.
This should lay out the current human rights context, and likely
changes resulting from the oil or gas project being developed.
The human rights impact assessment should be made available both
in Britain and the partner country.
5. The FCO should not provide support for fossil
fuel projects that will contribute to human rights abuses, increased
repression or conflict.
6. Any British company hoping to gain government
support should operate with transparency, clear human rights standards
and democratic values. This is not currently the case for much
of BP or Shell's operations in North Africa, the Middle East,
the Caspian or sub-Saharan Africa.
7. British oil companies should be held legally
responsible in Britain for their part in human rights violations
abroad caused by contracted private mercenaries and security entities.
29 April 2011
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