Human Rights Protections in International Agreements Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.We consider that the human rights Minister and his team should know about such agreements so as to be satisfied about the human rights protections contained in such agreements. (Paragraph 10)

2.The Government must ensure that human rights expertise is embedded into the negotiating teams working on all international agreements. (Paragraph 11)

3.The Government must undertake adequate human rights analysis of all international agreements as part of its internal sign-off process. For simpler agreements there should be a memorandum. For more complex agreements (such as complex trade agreements) a human rights impact assessment might be more appropriate. (Paragraph 12)

4.The FCO highlights the Government’s normal practice in relation to different types of treaties; we consider it would be useful to ensure this practice is standardised and any departure from best practice is properly scrutinised by Parliament. (Paragraph 15)

5.Human rights must be protected in investment agreements and any litigation arising from those agreements. There are clear human rights and rule of law concerns with arbitration as a means of Investor-State dispute settlement. Investor rights should not be privileged over human rights. Any system established for dispute settlement must be fair, accessible and cost-efficient. (Paragraph 29)

6.Current trade agreements binding on the UK through the EU contain specific clauses to promote and protect human rights, including suspension clauses to suspend an agreement if core human rights standards are not met. The habitual inclusion of standard clauses for human rights protections such as suspension clauses, and exemption clauses to prevent an agreement being misused to override human rights protections, should not slip following Brexit. Moreover, lessons should be learned from the EU experience as to how best to use and enforce such clauses. (Paragraph 40)

7.It is clear that there are many human rights concerns that arise in different agreements and many different model clauses. Moreover, no standard clause is effective without an adequate enforcement mechanism. However, this does not mean that standard human rights protections cannot be effective. Standard human rights protections should be included in all agreements, with exact clauses tailored depending on the subject-matter of the agreement. (Paragraph 41)

8.Exemptions clauses should also be included in all agreements, providing that nothing in the agreement prevents a party to the agreement from taking measures to protect or promote public morals (including human rights standards). (Paragraph 42)

9.Suspension clauses should be included in all framework agreements—and included in trade agreements where not otherwise covered by a framework agreement. Such suspension clauses should highlight the importance of respect for human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements binding on the parties, and should provide for suspension of the agreement in case of a significant breach of these standards. (Paragraph 43)

10.Specialised human rights protections clauses should be included to protect human rights in specific sectoral agreements. This should include specific clauses in extradition agreements, mutual legal assistance agreements, data sharing agreements and agreements where labour rights or modern slavery could be at risk. The Government should consult on a set of standard clauses to be included in all relevant agreements. (Paragraph 44)

11.The current system intended to ensure Parliament has information about the human rights implications of proposed agreements is not working. Parliament has not received adequate or timely information from Government about the potential human rights implications of international agreements being negotiated or those subject to CRaG scrutiny. (Paragraph 52)

12.It is clear that the current arrangements under the CRaG Act are not adequate and that much more timely information is required from Government in relation to the negotiation of international agreements and human rights compliance. (Paragraph 65)

13.We consider that the Government must inform Parliament of all international agreements that it intends to negotiate - at a minimum identifying the other party to the agreement and the subject matter and broad aims of the agreement. This information should also indicate any human rights issues that might be relevant to the negotiation as well as any human rights protections that might need to be sought. For international agreements engaging human rights issues, the Government should keep the Committee regularly informed of progress in negotiations. (Paragraph 66)

14.The Government must provide to Parliament a human rights memorandum for all proposed international Agreements once there is a draft text. This memorandum should be communicated to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Such a memorandum could be very short for agreements raising few (if any) human rights issues, so need not be burdensome. For those agreements raising more substantive human rights issues, such as complex trade or investment deals, extradition treaties, mutual legal assistance treaties or data sharing arrangements, more detailed human rights analysis would be required. This should help to ensure that the human rights implications of the UK’s international obligations are considered fully before the UK becomes bound by those obligations. (Paragraph 67)

15.The Standing Order for the Joint Committee on Human Rights should be amended so that the remit covers “human rights relating to the UK’s international obligations (but excluding consideration of individual cases)” as well as “human rights in the UK (but excluding consideration of individual cases)”. (Paragraph 68)

16.There should be a formal role, specifically covering human rights, for the devolved administrations and parliaments in the formulations of trade policy, the negotiations process and the scrutiny of agreements prior to ratification. (Paragraph 69)

17.We have received many useful ideas for enhancing the parliamentary scrutiny of international agreements, which we commend to other Committees considering how the system as a whole should change. We look forward to colleagues’ views on how best to construct a parliamentary process to sift all international agreements and highlight those which require further consideration. Any such process should be properly resourced. (Paragraph 70)

18.We note that the Foreign Affairs Committee is currently inquiring into China and the International Rules Based System. We hope that that Committee will address this issue and that the evidence we have received will provide further background for their consideration of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. (Paragraph 75)

19.The Government should report regularly to Parliament on the implementation of international agreements containing human rights protections, so that we can monitor compliance with human rights standards. When an agreement is initially scrutinised by Parliament, Government and Parliament should agree an appropriate reporting timetable (which may only be once a Parliament in some cases). The Government should undertake a review of the measures available to it to take action where such human rights protections are not respected in practice. Where such human rights protections are not so respected, as reported to the Committee with reference to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the Government should then take such measures as are appropriate. This should help to ensure that human rights protections contained in agreements are respected in practice and measures taken if this is not the case. (Paragraph 77)

20.Increased transparency in international agreements is sorely needed. The information publicly provided to Parliament under our proposals should help towards addressing these concerns, and in facilitating these discussions with civil society. (Paragraph 78)

21.The UK should maintain adequate systems and procedures to prevent exports from the UK from being used in human rights violations and there should be adequate parliamentary oversight and involvement in those processes. (Paragraph 84)

22.The Government should consult this Committee and CAEC before making any changes to the rules relating to international trade and human rights, including export controls on certain goods such as those currently flowing from Council Regulation (EC) No 1236/2004 concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Consolidated EU and National Arms Exports Licensing Criteria. (Paragraph 85)

Published: 6 March 2019