2 The FCO's Annual Report on Human
Rights and Democracy 2013|
4. The 2013 FCO Report on Human Rights and Democracy
(2013 Report) is in a format similar to that of previous years:
it analyses country situations where there are concerns around
human rights and comments on a number of thematic issues that
cut across geographical boundaries. An important focus for 2013
was the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, which
was launched by the Foreign Secretary in May 2012. Other initiatives
prioritised in 2013 were:
· The defence of freedom of religion or
· Agreement on the world's first treaty
to control arms trade;
· The UK's election and return to the UN
Human Rights Council (UNHRC); and
· The launch of the UK Action Plan on Business
and Human Rights.
5. In addition to these five initiatives, the FCO
reported on several other thematic issues, including:
· The abolition of the death penalty;
· The prevention of torture;
· The right to freedom of expression;
· The promotion of equality and non-discrimination
including women's and children's rights; and
· Business and human rights.
Countries of concern
6. The FCO identified 28 countries of concern in
the 2013 Report; these are the same as those designated in the
2012 Report (published in 2013) with the addition of the Central
Table 1: Countries of Concern
· Central African Republic (CAR)
· Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)
· Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
· Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs)
· Saudi Arabia
· South Sudan
· Sri Lanka
CRITERIA FOR DESIGNATING COUNTRIES OF CONCERN
7. In the FCO's 2012 Report, the set of criteria
used to designate countries of concern were:
· the gravity of the human rights situation
in the country, including both the severity of particular abuses
and the range of human rights affected;
· whether a deterioration or improvement
in the human rights situation in the country would have a wider
impact in the region;
· whether the human rights situation in
the country has an impact on wider UK interests; and
· how active the UK is in the country and
our level of engagement there.
In our report last year, we recommended that the
last two criteria should no longer apply.
The Government, in its response to our recommendation, said that
UK engagement or interests were not factors that were applied
in evaluating human rights standards in a country, and were only
applied to "determine which countries among all those where
there are concerns about the human rights situation should be
a particular focus of FCO efforts".
We note that in the 2013 Report, the last criterion was replaced
by "whether we are able to influence the human rights situation
8. The FCO has taken steps to be more transparent
about its designation of countries of concern in this year's report
by using a range of internationally respected human rights indicators
and indices in deciding which countries to designate.
The indicators and indices used by the FCO were:
· the Freedom in the World assessment of
Political Rights and Civil Liberties drawn up by the Freedom House;
· the Political Terror Scale, a yearly measure
produced by academics from the USA;
· the World Press Freedom Index prepared
by Reporters Without Borders;
· the Religious Restrictions Index compiled
by Pew Research Center;
· Amnesty International's Death Sentences
and Executions record;
· the UN Human Development Index;
· the UN Gender Inequality Index; and
· whether the country was subject to UN
Security Council resolutions, or country mandates or country specific
resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council.
Baroness Warsi told us that, while the identification
of countries of concern was "much more independently verifiable",
there was still an element of "human intervention";
ambassadors, high commissioners, FCO desk officers in London and
Ministers all contributed their understanding of the countries
to help the Foreign Secretary make a final decision.
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.
Case study countries
9. Country case studies were introduced in the 2011
Report (published in 2012), and have again been included in the
2013 Report. The FCO explains that these countries did not meet
the overall threshold to be designated countries of concern but
were judged to be facing human rights challenges or to be on a
"trajectory of change" with regard to their human rights
year, six country case studies have been included: Bahrain, Bangladesh,
Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Egypt.
Human Rights Watch told us that the exclusion of Bahrain, Ethiopia,
Egypt, and Rwanda from the list of countries of concern was unjustified,
given the "objective gravity" of human rights abuses
in these countries and the extent of UK influence with their governments.
10. We have not taken detailed evidence during this
inquiry on conditions in any of these case study countries. However,
we continue to have concerns that wider political and strategic
interests in some of these countries colour decisions on whether
they should be designated as countries of concern, as we observed
in our report on the FCO's human rights work in 2011 (published
11. Bahrain, for example, was designated not as a
country of concern but as a country case study in the FCO's 2012
Report, and the FCO maintained that this designation struck "the
appropriate balance" between progress made in some areas
and continuing concerns in others.
The FCO has made the same argument this year in defending its
decision to designate Bahrain as a country case study.
12. We examined in detail last year the UK's relations
with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, including the FCO's policy on human
rights in the two countries. We concluded that the UK should press
for Bahrain to implement the recommendations set out in the Bahrain
Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), engage seriously in
dialogue and welcome UN mechanisms in order to re-establish good
faith in its intentions.
We recommended that, if there was no significant progress by the
start of 2014, the Government should designate Bahrain as a country
of concern in its next Human Rights Report.
13. The Bahrain case study in the FCO's 2013 Report
gives an update on progress on reform implementation. The FCO
says that the Government of Bahrain continues to implement the
recommendations set out in the BICI, but it acknowledged that
some areas of reform had been "slower than hoped".
Human Rights Watch, in its written submission to our inquiry,
stated that the Government of Bahrain had done "very little"
to implement the BICI recommendations, and that serious human
rights abuses in the country remained pervasive.
We note the continued detention of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was
sentenced to life imprisonment for taking part in the 2011 uprising
in Bahrain. He started his second hunger strike in August 2014
in protest at his detention.
Two other high profile human rights defenders were arrested in
Bahrain in 2014. Maryam Al-Khawaja, the daughter of Abdulhadi
Al-Khawaja, was arrested on 30 August 2014, and was held in custody
for 19 days before being released.
The charges still stood at the time of release.
Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights,
was arrested in October 2014 on charges of "insulting a public
institution" over Twitter. He had been imprisoned in Bahrain
for two years between July 2012 and May 2014 for exercising his
right to freedom of assembly for participating in, and calling
for peaceful protests.
Mr Ellwood, the FCO Minister responsible for the region, has said
that the FCO was monitoring the situation of Mr Al-Khawaja closely
and had been given assurances by the Bahraini Ministry of Interior's
Ombudsman's Office that he had been provided with regular health
care. The FCO also
urged the Government of Bahrain to respect international norms
of justice in their treatment of Maryam Al-Khawaja and Nabeel
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.
14. In oral evidence, David Mepham, the UK Director
of Human Rights Watch, singled out Egypt and said that its exclusion
from the FCO's list of countries of concern was "extraordinary"
given what had happened over the previous six to nine months.
He cited the deaths of over 1,000 people in July and August 2013
when the Egyptian security forces used excessive force in clearing
protesters at sit-ins in Cairo. Tim Hancock, Campaigns Director
of Amnesty International UK, raised concerns about the Egyptian
judiciary. The most
striking example was the death sentences handed down to 1,212
people, mostly Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, in March
and April 2014. Although
most of these sentences were commuted on appeal by Egypt's Grand
Mufti, 220 people were still sentenced to death.
On 23 June 2014, a court in Cairo sentenced three English staff
members of Al-Jazeera to multi-year prison sentences after a trial
in which prosecutors had failed, in the eyes of many, to present
any credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
15. The International Bar Association's Human Rights
Institute (IBAHRI), in its report "Separating Law and
Politics: Challenges to the Independence of Judges and Prosecutors
in Egypt", expressed concerns over the recent swathe
of controversial judgments issued by the Egyptian courts. Baroness
Kennedy QC, Co-Chair of the Institute, has stated that the judgments
appear to be politically motivated and to focus on members of
opposition forces, protesters and journalists.
The Egyptian Ambassador to the UK was summoned to the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office on 23 June 2014 and was told that the
British Government was "deeply concerned" by the verdicts
on the journalists, along with the procedural shortcomings seen
during the trials.
16. Some steps are being taken towards progressing
democratic reform in Egypt. In January 2014, Egypt held a constitutional
referendum in which over 98 per cent of people voted in favour
of a new constitution; a new President, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi,
was elected in June 2014; and parliamentary elections are planned
to take place before the end of 2014.
17. Egypt was designated by FCO in its 2012 Human
Rights and Democracy Report (published in 2013) as a case study.
Despite events in the last 12 months, and despite acknowledgment
by the FCO that the human rights situation in Egypt deteriorated
in 2013, the FCO has not chosen to reflect a change of status
to country of concern. There is a powerful case for doing so,
particularly given continuing restrictions on fundamental political
and civil rights, attempts to curtail the work of non-governmental
organisations, and lack of due process. 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.
CONCLUSION ON CASE STUDY COUNTRIES
18. 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
Accountability of the FCO's human
Setting and evaluating objectives
19. The FCO's 2013 report provides useful narratives
on its human rights initiatives, often including background detail
on both the historical and contemporary issues facing a particular
human right. However, Mr David Mepham, representing Human Rights
Watch, told us that the FCO was not clear enough in the 2013 Report
about what it was trying to change. We asked Baroness Warsi whether
the FCO had clear outcome-based objectives when it started initiatives
or interventions in foreign countries. She replied:
I don't think you can start off by
saying, "we are going to achieve this within this time frame,"
because human rights work is incremental and it does not always
head in the right direction all the time. You might make some
progress, Egypt is a classic example, and then start to go backwards.
Therefore, it is not something you can continuously measure in
a specific way. You can measure areas such as the death penalty,
However, it cannot always be achieved for some
of the other human rights work."
20. The FCO has attempted to define "goals"
in respect of the death penalty:
· to further increase the number of abolitionist
countries, or countries with a moratorium on the use of the death
· further restrictions on the use of the
death penalty in retentionist countries and reductions in the
numbers of executions; and
· to ensure that universal minimum standards
are met in countries which retain the death penalty.
'Torture Prevention' is another area where goals
have been set and the FCO's work is underpinned by a strategy.
21. Some other thematic priorities are less clear
in their objectives. For instance, in respect of freedom of religion
or belief, it is not clear whether the FCO will focus its attention
on particular geographical regions, or concentrate resources on
governments that fail to protect their citizens from violence
by non-state actors, or on reducing infringements imposed directly
by government, or on a combination of these. The FCO would benefit
from having specific goals as it would have a better understanding
of what it is trying to achieve.
22. The 2013 Report, perhaps as a consequence of
not having clearly defined objectives, seems to us to be weak
in evaluating the Department's human rights policies and initiatives.
Mr Mepham said that the report remained a "list of activities",
and that "benchmarks" had not been clearly established
yet. We arrived at
a similar conclusion in our report on the FCO's work on human
rights in 2011, and recommended that the FCO "experiment
with accountability measures for some of its human rights programmes,
for instance by setting benchmarks, targets and indicators".
In its response, the Government agreed that it was important to
evaluate the impact of its work and said that, in other policy
areas, the FCO endeavoured to review the impact of its work "against
18 priority foreign policy outcomes with the setting of milestones
The Government had committed to reflect this approach in relation
to its human rights work where possible and said that it would
also consider how it could improve the measurement of the impact
of the Human Rights and Democracy Programme Fund.
23. The FCO assesses its achievements against the
'priority foreign policy outcomes' in its Annual Report and Accounts
and in its annual Departmental Improvement Plan (DIP).
In the July 2014 publication of the DIP, the FCO assessed its
achievements of 2013 against 15 'priority foreign policy outcomes',
and marked whether it had achieved its targeted outcome.
It provided comments for each outcome to inform progress and explain
the reason behind its achievement categorisation. Two of the 15
outcomes related directly to human rights work: the development
of a new International Protocol on the investigation and documentation
of sexual violence in conflict and the adoption of a UN Arms Trade
Treaty. Both of these outcomes were achieved in 2013.
24. Arguments are put forward that progress in human
rights is inherently difficult to measure. Attributing change
directly to an FCO policy or intervention may be challenging when
so many other, independent actors are also involved in human rights
work. Another reason cited by human rights organisations is the
problem of conducting periodic performance evaluations on human
rights policies that are often designed to achieve long-term and
While both examples highlight some of the difficulty, we do not
believe the argument is wholly satisfying. Human rights policy
is not unique; almost all other government policies face similar
difficulties in evaluation. 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.
The Foreign Secretary's Advisory Group on Human
25. The Foreign Secretary's Advisory Group on Human
Rights was set up in November 2010 to provide the Foreign Secretary
with the "best possible information about human rights challenges",
and for the FCO to benefit from "outside advice on the conduct
of its policy".
Since its creation, a number of sub-groups have been established
to provide expert advice on specific areas of human rights. While
the FCO's 2013 Report made some mention of the Advisory Group
on Human Rights and its sub-groups, limited information was available
on what was discussed during the meetings held during the year
and almost no disclosure was made on the advice provided to FCO
Ministers and staff by the panel of experts of the advisory groups.
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.
FUNDING OF HUMAN RIGHTS WORK
26. The 2013 Report did not specify the total expenditure
on the FCO's human rights work in the 2013-14 financial year.
Although the FCO maintains that it is not possible to provide
a definitive figure for the total cost of its work in supporting
human rights abroad, it was able to provide a figure of £6.5
million for the spending through the Human Rights and Democracy
Programme Fund (HRDP) in financial year 2013-14.
We pressed the FCO for a figure which encompassed spending on
human rights work across all of the Department's work. The FCO
carried out some analysis and provided an estimate of £39.3
million for 2013-14, albeit with heavy caveats.
The FCO told us that it was difficult to calculate total expenditure
as human rights considerations were mainstreamed across all FCO
activities (safeguarding security, promoting prosperity, supporting
consular services); indeed Baroness Warsi argued that the entire
FCO budget could be said to have a human rights dimension.
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.
27. A number of points were raised in the evidence
about the constraints on use of FCO funding for human rights project
work. Professor Evans said that having to work with an Embassy
or High Commission could potentially be a "big disincentive"
for local civil society actors working with a 'foreign government'
as it might arouse suspicion and heighten risk of interference
by state authorities, and strain relationships with other civil
society organisations in that country.
Professor Evans, and others (AB Colombia and Christian Solidarity
Worldwide), argued that the timeframe of project funding should
be extended and that, rather than operating on an annual application
cycle, the FCO should allocate funding for longer timeframes,
if it were to have "meaningful impacts".
In order to do this, the FCO would have to allocate funding beyond
its annual budgetary cycle, so there is a small risk that the
FCO may not have sufficient funds to fulfil its commitments to
recipient bodies; but given the relatively small amounts of money
involved, the likelihood of this happening is minimal. 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.
3 FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: 2013 FCO Report,
Cm 8870, April 2014, page 21 Back
FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: 2012 FCO Report, Cm 8593,
April 2013, page 120 Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2013-14, The
FCO's human rights work in 2012, HC 267, paragraph 11 Back
FCO, Government response to the Third Report of Session 2013-14
from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Cm 8762, page 3 Back
FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: 2013 FCO Report, Cm Paper
8870, April 2014, page 149 Back
Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (HRS0035)
Freedom House describes itself as an independent watchdog organisation
dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world. The Freedom
House website states that it speaks out against the main threats
to democracy and empowers citizens to exercise their fundamental
rights. It analyses challenges to freedom; advocate for greater
political and civil liberties; and support frontline activists
to defend human rights and promote democratic change. Back
The Political Terror Scale measures levels of political violence
and terror that a country experiences in a particular year based
on a 5-level "terror scale" originally developed by
Freedom House. The data used in compiling this index comes from
two different sources: the yearly country reports of Amnesty International
and the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights
Practices. The Political Terror Scale was compiled by Mark Gibney,
Linda Cornett and Peter Haschke from University of North Carolina
and Reed Wood from Arizona State University. Back
Reporters without Borders is registered in France as a non-profit
organisation, and its website states that it promotes and defends
freedom of information and freedom of the press. It has consultant
status at the United Nations and UNESCO. Back
Pew Research Center describes itself as a nonpartisan fact tank
that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends
shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling,
demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical
social science research. Back
Q 54 Back
FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: 2013 FCO Report, Cm Paper
8870, April 2014, page 149 Back
Memorandum from Human Rights Watch, third bullet point in summary Back
HC Deb, 18 March 2014, col 510W [Commons Written Answer] Back
HC Deb, 3 September 2014, col 262W [Commons Written Answer] Back
Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) was established
on 29th June 2011. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa appointed
a panel of human rights experts to the BICI to examine the allegations
of a brutal crackdown on protesters by Bahraini security forces
from February and March 2011 (and thereafter). Chaired by Cherif
Bassiouni, an Egyptian former war crimes lawyer for the UN, the
Commission published a very critical report in November 2011,
which described how prisoners had been hooded, whipped, beaten
and subjected to electric-shock treatment, and stated that at
least five prisoners had died under torture. Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2013-14, The
UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, HC 88, paragraph
FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: 2013 FCO Report, Cm 8870,
April 2014, page 55 Back
Memorandum from Human Rights Watch, paragraph 13 Back
"Abdulhadi Al Khawaja Embarks on Hunger Strike", Huffington
Post, 28 August 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-dooley/abdulhadi-al-khawja-embar_b_5732892.html
"Bahrain: Maryam Al-Khawaja urges UK to speak out on human
rights violations", Index on Censorship, 17 October
2014, www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/bahrain-maryam-al-khawaja-nabeel-rajab-human-rights/ Back
Bahrain activist Maryam al-Khawaja released", Al Jazeera,
18 September 2014, www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/09/bahrain-activist-maryam-al-khawaja-released-2014918131513499744.html Back
"Bahrain: Arrest Of Leading Human Rights Defender Nabeel
Rajab For Tweets", Bahrain Center for Human Rights, 1 October
2014, www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/7096 Back
HC Deb, 11 September 2014, col 716W [Commons Written Answer] Back
HC Deb, 11 September 2014, col 716W [Commons Written Answer],
HL Deb, 28 October 2014, col WA 140 [Lords Written Answer] Back
Q 2 Back
"Egypt: One Court, One Month: 1212 death sentences",
Website of Alkarama (Geneva based independent human rights organisation),
29 April 2014, en.alkarama.org/egypt/1219-egypt-one-court-one-month-1212-death-sentencest Back
"'It is not a crime to carry a camera,' UN rights chief warns
as Egypt sentences journalists", UN News Centre, 23
June 2014, www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48106 Back
"Al-Jazeera journalists jailed for seven years in Egypt",
The Guardian, 23 June 2014, www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/23/al-jazeera-journalists-jailed-seven-years-egypt Back
"Egypt: IBAHRI urges new government to strengthen independence
of the judiciary in light of recent convictions", International
Bar Association press release, 1 July 2014, www.ibanet.org/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=d358354a-f212-4001-b465-30a670da36b2
HL Deb, 7 July 2014, Col WA7 [Lords written answer] Back
Q 61 Back
FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: 2013 FCO Report, Cm 8870,
April 2014, page 49 Back
Q 3 Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2012-13, The
FCO's human rights work in 2011, 11 September 2012, HC 116,
paragraph 7 Back
FCO, Government response to the Third Report of Session 2012-13
from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Cm 8506, page 4 Back
FCO Annual Report and Accounts 2013-14, HC (2014-15) 17, p 11-19;
FCO, FCO 2014 Improvement Plan, July 2014 Back
Against each outcome, the FCO would categorise its achievement
as either 'achieved', 'partly achieved', or 'not achieved'. Back
"Measurement and Human Rights: Tracking Progress, Assessing
Impact", Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human
Rights Policy, Summer 2005, p 41, www.hks.harvard.edu/cchrp/pdf/Measurement_2005Report.pdf Back
"Foreign Secretary announces members of Human Rights Advisory
Group", FCO webpage, 11 November 2010, www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-announces-members-of-human-rights-advisory-group
The HRDP Fund supported 83 projects (with 26 of them running into
the financial year 2014-15) targeted across eight specific areas:
discrimination against women; freedom of expression; business
and human rights; abolition of the death penalty; global torture
prevention; freedom of religion or belief; democratic processes;
and preventing sexual violence in conflict. Back
Memorandum from FCO (HRS 0034) Back
Memorandum from FCO (HRS0034) Back
Memorandum from Professor Evans Back
Q 41; See also memoranda from AB Colombia and Christian Solidarity