The FCO's human rights work in 2013 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Criteria for designating countries of concern

1.  We welcome the FCO's efforts to draw upon a wider range of indices in assessing and reaching decisions on human rights standards in individual countries. We note, however, that there is still an element of subjectivity in making the final decision on the countries of concern, and the level of UK influence in a country, and the impact on its interests there, are factors in determining the final designation. The FCO's list of countries of concern is therefore not an objective league table of the world's worst human rights offenders but a subset of these countries on which the FCO will focus. (Paragraph 8)


2.  We see little or no evidence that Bahrain has made enough progress in implementing political reform and safeguarding human rights, and we believe that the FCO should have bitten the bullet and designated Bahrain as a country of concern. (Paragraph 13)


3.  We recognise, however, that attempts are being made, through a new constitution and setting up of parliamentary elections, to lay the foundations for a more democratic and representative Egypt. We attach key importance to the promised reforms being implemented. (Paragraph 17)

Case study countries

4.  There is merit in a 'halfway house' concept and in flagging countries where there is a risk of deterioration in human rights severe enough to warrant future designation as country of concern. However, we are not convinced that 'case study' is an appropriate term for such countries. It is misleadingly soft on countries that would benefit from a more critical assessment by the FCO. We recommend that the FCO use the term case study purely for illustrating FCO activity and human rights programmes. A different term should be used for countries which the FCO is signalling are at risk of being designated country of concern in future. (Paragraph 18)

Accountability of the FCO's human rights work

5.  We believe that human rights policy, like any other aspect of government policy, would benefit from the establishment of clearly defined objectives and benchmarks to measure outcomes. We recommend that FCO, in next year's report, include short sections outlining objectives for, and evaluation of, each of its key initiatives, and we reiterate our recommendation from our report on the FCO's work in 2011, that the FCO should assess its work and should experiment with accountability measures for its human rights programmes. (Paragraph 24)

6.  We believe that it would be in the interests of transparency if summaries of discussions at meetings of the Advisory Group on Human Rights and its sub-groups were published. (Paragraph 25)

7.  While we recognise the difficulty in estimating total costs of the FCO's human rights work, an annual figure compiled on a consistent basis, even if inexact, would be useful in showing trends in spending over the years. We believe that the FCO analysis was useful and encourage the FCO to provide equivalent figures in future years. (Paragraph 26)

8.  We recommend that the FCO review the configuration of its funding mechanisms for human rights programmes. The FCO should provide funding to longer-term human rights projects that extend beyond the current 12 month timeframe. (Paragraph 27)

Sri Lanka

9.  We recommend that the FCO, in its response to this report, outline how it monitored whether people who spoke with the Prime Minister about human rights have faced reprisals, and whether the FCO has any knowledge of reprisal attacks on people who met the British delegation during its visit to Sri Lanka in November 2013. (Paragraph 30)

10.  We recommend that the Government encourages the new Indian administration to give public support to the OHCHR international investigation on Sri Lanka. (Paragraph 35)

11.  We recommend that the Government negotiates with its EU partners to remove GSP status from Sri Lanka, if the Government of Sri Lanka does not allow the OHCHR investigating team into the country and uphold the right of human right defenders to engage with the UN human rights system. (Paragraph 37)


12.  We recommend that the Government reiterate to the Government of Burma that the current situation is still highly unsatisfactory, and that the UK will strongly advocate the re-imposition of sanctions by the EU if there is no progress over the next 12 months in improving the conditions of the Rohingya community, and in securing the unconditional release of all political prisoners. We also recommend that the UK Government closely monitors whether former political prisoners who wish to stand for elections in 2015 are able to do so. (Paragraph 45)

Bedouins of Israel

13.  We believe the British Government should play a more prominent part in helping to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Bedouin community, and should use its standing with the Israeli government and the Bedouin community to promote a peaceful, negotiated settlement. (Paragraph 52)

The Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative

14.  We recommend that the Government bring forward proposals in its response to this report for tracking implementation of commitments under the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. We see advantage in an accountability exercise funded by the Government but undertaken by a non-governmental body, rather than by the FCO itself, reporting to this Committee on the implementation of commitments. (Paragraph 58)

Women, peace and security

15.  We recommend that, in future, the implementation plan for women, peace and security should be published in conjunction with each new National Action Plan to ensure that it is not just words, and that action will follow. (Paragraph 60)

16.  The UK is lagging behind its Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) partners in using the OECD's Gender Equality Policy Marker. The Marker is used by OECD countries to check whether their aid-related activities promote women's rights. We recommend that the Government should use the Marker to identify all aid which supports the advancement of gender equality, as a way of increasing transparency of expenditure. (Paragraph 63)

17.  We believe that the Government's initiative to increase the involvement of women in peace and security discussions would have benefited from greater participation of women at the NATO Summit, including participation by women representing civil society who would suffer as a result of any deterioration in the security situation. (Paragraph 64)

Children's human rights

18.  The FCO should do more to demonstrate publicly its support for children's rights. As we observed last year, one simple way for the FCO to improve engagement with child rights groups is for the Foreign Secretary to appoint a child rights expert to his Advisory Group on Human Rights. This would provide reassurance that children's rights are represented at the FCO, and the FCO has the necessary support to deal with these issues. (Paragraph 67)

FCO's work on freedom of religion or belief

19.  We welcome the steps taken by the FCO in promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief. Given the rising trend in restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief and the role religious intolerance plays in fuelling conflict, we also welcome the FCO's indication that spending on project work to support freedom of religion or belief will rise from 2013-14 levels. The formation of a sub-group of the Secretary of State's Advisory Group on Human Rights to advise specifically on freedom of religion or belief is a sensible and worthwhile step. We recommend that the FCO publish the strategy being drawn up by the sub-group specifying what the FCO is trying to achieve and how it plans to spend the funding allocated to project work. The strategy should specify which countries the FCO is targeting, if any, which partners it plans to engage with, and what practical steps it will take to bring about change. (Paragraph 76)

UK's participation in the UN Human Rights Council

20.  Whilst we recognise the difficulties of garnering support at the UN Security Council for action against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), the gravity of the human rights violations by North Korea is so severe that the UK and its partners at the UN Security Council should not be seen to stand by. We encourage the FCO not to give up on using UN organs, including the Security Council, to bring pressure to bear on North Korea to improve the human rights of the population, and to work towards securing referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. (Paragraph 83)

21.  There is a clearly a difference of opinion between the UK Government and the UN Special Rapporteur on whether there is international consensus on the legal parameters surrounding the use of drones. We believe that the Government should acknowledge this and provide a written response detailing its points of disagreement with the UN Special Rapporteur's findings to both Parliament and the UN Human Rights Council. (Paragraph 88)

22.  We find it surprising that the Home Office was unable to facilitate a request, even at short notice, from a UN Special Rapporteur to visit Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre. It sets a dangerous precedent for other countries to follow suit and has caused embarrassment to the UK. We welcome the Minister's assurance that the FCO is developing a new process to work with other government departments to improve cross-Whitehall preparations for future visits by UN Special Rapporteurs. (Paragraph 91)

Business and human rights

23.  We note support for the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights from some human rights organisations such as Amnesty International UK, but we also note concerns about whether it will be fully implemented, whether there is political will to develop it, and whether it lacks teeth. If the Action Plan is to command confidence, the Government should indicate that mandatory measures are being held in reserve if voluntary measures are not effective in improving business respect for human rights. (Paragraph 95)

24.  The Government maintains that human rights and business interests go hand in hand. This was undermined by UK Government Ministers sending conflicting messages that appeared to indicate that advocating human rights was subservient to promoting UK trade and investment. The Government should recognise that this conflict exists: by doing so, the Government would be better able to articulate how it is able to achieve both of its legitimate foreign policy objectives. In cases where a conflict arises, such as when the Government engages in business with an authoritarian regime, and particularly when it sells arms to such a regime, the Government should set out explicitly how UK trade and investment would help to influence positive change in human rights in that country. (Paragraph 98)

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 27 November 2014