The FCO's human rights work in 2011 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The FCO's 2011 Human Rights and Democracy Report

1.  We congratulate the FCO's Human Rights Department on the considerable effort which has gone into the 2011 Human Rights and Democracy Report. We strongly welcome the FCO's decision to continue publication of the report in printed form. (Paragraph 6)

2.  We believe that the value of the FCO's annual report on human rights and democracy would be enhanced considerably if it were to provide some form of assessment of the FCO's work. We recommend that the FCO, in next year's report, experiment with accountability measures for some of its human rights programmes, for instance by setting benchmarks, targets and indicators. (Paragraph 7)

3.  We support the approach being taken by the Government in negotiations on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. (Paragraph 13)

Women's human rights

4.  We ask the FCO to indicate what steps it is taking to safeguard the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan from 2014. (Paragraph 16)

5.  We request that the FCO inform the Committee what steps it is taking to encourage the Iraqi government to ban female genital mutilation across Iraq and to have this practice banned world-wide. (Paragraph 17)

6.  We ask the FCO to indicate what steps it is taking to safeguard the rights of women and girls in Pakistan and world-wide. (Paragraph 18)

7.  We commend the Government for signing the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, although we are concerned that the delay in signature—and the failure to explain publicly the reasons for the delay—may have damaged perceptions of the UK's commitment to women's human rights. (Paragraph 20)

Children's human rights

8.  We recommend that the FCO undertake urgent work to address negative perceptions among voluntary sector groups of its commitment to children's human rights abroad. (Paragraph 23)

FCO policy development and staffing

9.  We recommend that the Secretary of State's Advisory Group adopt a more consultative format for its meetings and that specific draft policy proposals be put regularly to the Group for comment and advice. (Paragraph 27)

10.  We request that the FCO inform us what training on human rights and on relevant strategy documents is provided for FCO staff during their careers, how the FCO's human rights objectives are reflected in staff job descriptions, and how individual performance in pursuit of those objectives is evaluated. (Paragraph 31)

Countries of concern

11.  We recommend that, despite the difficulties inherent in the concept, the FCO should continue to designate "countries of concern". (Paragraph 42)

12.  We believe that Bahrain should have been designated as a country of concern in the FCO's 2011 report on human rights and democracy. (Paragraph 43)

13.  It is inevitable that the UK will have interests which have the potential to conflict with its human rights values: these interests might, for instance, be strategic, commercial or security-related. In pursuing these alongside its human rights work overseas, the UK runs the risk of operating double standards, and our view is that it would be in the Government's interest for it to be more transparent in this respect and for Ministers to be bolder in acknowledging that there will be contradictions. Rather than trying to assert that the two can co-exist freely, part of the Government's role should be publicly to set out and explain its judgments on how far to balance them in particular cases, having taken into account the need to adapt policy according to local circumstances and developments. (Paragraph 45)

14.  We recommend that the FCO revise its criteria for designating "countries of concern". Decisions on designation, if they are to have maximum credibility, should be based purely upon assessments of human rights standards and should stand up to objective comparison. External factors, such as strategic considerations or the UK's ability to influence developments, should not be allowed to colour those decisions, although they might usefully guide decisions on where to concentrate funding for human rights programmes. If, despite our recommendations, the FCO chooses to continue to use existing criteria, we recommend that the Department uses more flexibility in allocating funds from human rights programme budgets to countries which are not "countries of concern" and where human rights failings are less severe, but where the chances of a lasting beneficial impact are reasonably high. (Paragraph 46)


15.  We strongly welcome the publication by the FCO of the Strategy for the Prevention of Torture 2011-15. We believe that there is merit in keeping a tight focus to the Strategy, and we do not support suggestions that its scope should be widened to cover policy on reparations for victims of torture, as this needs to be considered on a case by case basis. (Paragraph 52)

16.  We find it unsatisfactory that the Government has not been more forthcoming to Parliament about its efforts—in general and in specific cases—to assess the level of risk to the safety of those who are removed from the UK. (Paragraph 56)

17.  We welcome the new channel of communication established between FCO officials, non-governmental organisations and the UK Border Agency to discuss the assessment of risk to those who are removed from the UK. We encourage the FCO to be energetic in evaluating reports by non-governmental organisations and media sources of torture of deportees from the UK, including in Sri Lanka, and in spelling out the risk to the UK Border Agency. We also request that the Government clarify the division between the roles of the FCO and of the UK Border Agency's Country of Origin Information Service in gathering the intelligence needed to make accurate assessments of the risk to deportees upon their return to their country of origin. (Paragraph 58)

18.  We conclude that arrangements for deportation with assurances would command greater confidence if both parties to the agreement were to have signed the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) which would signify that the states concerned permitted regular independent monitoring of places and conditions of detention. We also recommend that the Government should inform Parliament of the names of the individuals or bodies responsible for monitoring the conditions under which those deported are being held, and the arrangements made for follow-up monitoring. (Paragraph 64)

19.  We acknowledge the efforts made by the Government to keep Parliament informed of new arrangements for deportation with assurances. However, these are matters of such significance within Parliament that we believe that a greater degree of accountability is warranted. We recommend that texts of memoranda of understanding between the UK and foreign states relating to arrangements for deportation with assurances should be laid before Parliament. We further recommend that such memoranda of understanding should not come into force before 14 sitting days have elapsed, during which time Members may signify any objection. (Paragraph 66)

20.  We welcome the forthcoming independent review of deportation with assurances (DWA) arrangements announced in the FCO's 2011 Human Rights and Democracy report. We request that the Government indicate what exactly will be reviewed, by whom, and to whom the results of the review will be made available. (Paragraph 67)

21.  The long drawn-out nature of police investigations into cases of alleged rendition has had an unacceptable impact on the work of the Detainee Inquiry and of this Committee and others. We request that the Government explain to us why the investigations by the Metropolitan Police into claims made by Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi are expected to take so long to conclude. (Paragraph 73)

22.  We recommend that the Government and human rights organisations should start to explore ways of finding a mutually acceptable basis on which the successor inquiry to the Detainee Inquiry can proceed. However, while we value transparency in principle, we question whether total transparency could be applied to all proceedings of the successor inquiry without hindering, rather than assisting, the inquiry team in getting to the truth of the matter. (Paragraph 74)

23.  We make no comment at this stage on developments in allegations of UK complicity in rendition. We reiterate, however, that we would be deeply disturbed if assurances given by Ministers over many years to this Committee's predecessors that the UK had not been involved in rendition were shown to be inaccurate. We expect to return to this issue. (Paragraph 75)

Applying public pressure

24.  We are satisfied that enough progress towards reform has been made in Burma to justify some relaxation of the EU's sanctions regime, although we are in no doubt that Burma's human rights record remains seriously blemished. We believe that the UK can and should build on the current climate of goodwill to press for wider reform, including access to those still held in detention as political prisoners or for political offences or for politically-motivated reasons. We recommend that the UK urge the Burmese authorities to permit independent observers to visit Rakhine State, to gather objective evidence on the extent to which the rights of the Rohingya minority are being respected. (Paragraph 85)

25.  We find it difficult to discern any consistency of logic behind the Government's policy in not taking a public stance on the Bahrain Grand Prix but implementing at least a partial boycott of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship matches played in Ukraine. (Paragraph 91)

26.  We ask the Department to confirm that the presumption against the granting of visas to enter the UK on human rights grounds would only apply to people against whom there was evidence that they had abused human rights. (Paragraph 92)

27.  We conclude that publicising the names of those who are denied visas to enter the UK on human rights grounds could be a valuable tool, when used sparingly, in drawing attention to the UK's determination to uphold high standards of human rights, and we recommend that the Government make use of it. (Paragraph 96)

Business and human rights

28.  We welcome the FCO's intention to develop a Business and Human Rights Strategy, which may give some unity of form to the various initiatives and resources already in place to promote responsible business practice. However, it appears that the Strategy will be couched exclusively in terms of guidance and voluntary initiatives. While these are undoubtedly worthwhile, we believe that they do not on their own meet the spirit of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which envisage that states will take "appropriate steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress abuse through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication". (Paragraph 109)

29.  We recommend that the Government should not dismiss out of hand the extension of extra-territorial jurisdiction to cover actions overseas by businesses based in the UK, or by firms operating under contract to the UK Government, which have an impact on human rights. Relying on local administration of justice may not be enough to preserve the international reputation of the UK for upholding high standards of human rights. (Paragraph 110)

30.  We recommend that the Government should consider linking provision of Government procurement opportunities, investment support and export credit guarantees to UK businesses' human rights records overseas. (Paragraph 111)

31.  We accept the FCO's assurances that its human rights department is consulted on all arms export decisions. We are surprised, however, that the FCO Minister responsible for human rights appears not to have been consulted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the list of priority markets for forthcoming arms exports, and that the overlap between priority market countries and "countries of concern" was not brought to his attention. We believe that it should have been, and we recommend that BIS and FCO officials take steps to prevent such lapses in the sharing of information on arms exports between ministers, and explain how this will be done. (Paragraph 115)

32.  We recommend that the Government, in its response to this Report, set out the scope for controlling the supply by UK nationals, or by companies based in the UK, of telecommunications equipment for which there is a reasonable expectation that it might be used to restrict freedom of expression on the internet. (Paragraph 117)


33.  The UK has a strong record in upholding human rights across the world, and the FCO's 2011 Report on Human Rights and Democracy provides ample evidence of its work in promoting higher standards of human rights abroad, sometimes under difficult circumstances. That work is widely recognised within the sector, and we applaud it. We hope that the constructive criticism in this Report will enable the FCO and indeed the Government, collectively, to improve upon that performance. (Paragraph 118)

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Prepared 17 October 2012