According to the committee, any suggestion that the FCO downplays criticism of human rights abuses in countries with which the UK has close political and commercial links is damaging to the UK's reputation and undermines the department's overall work in promoting human rights overseas. The committee is less confident than the FCO that there is little conflict between its simultaneous pursuit of both UK commercial interests and improved human rights standards overseas. During its inquiry, the committee heard concerns on this front with respect to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in particular.
Middle East and North Africa
The committee recommends that the FCO take a more robust and significantly more consistent position on human rights violations in the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, the committee says that the FCO should have treated Bahrain as a "country of concern" in its 2010 annual human rights report, alongside regional states such as Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The committee also says that it finds it
"difficult to support the Government's approach to human rights engagement with China in the continuing absence of any evidence that it is yielding results, and when the human rights situation in China appears to be deteriorating".
The committee recommends that the Government engages in more explicit, hard-hitting and consistent public criticisms of human rights abuses in China.
While criticising the Government's stance in some respects, the committee welcomes its stated commitment to the promotion of human rights overseas as one of its central foreign policy objectives.
Committee Chair Richard Ottaway MP said:
"We commend the work that the FCO does to further human rights overseas. In the Middle East and North Africa, we agree with the Foreign Secretary that the 'Arab Spring' represents an opportunity for an historic advance in human rights and political and economic freedoms. We welcome the way in which the Government has put the UK at the forefront of international support for political and economic liberalisation in the region, and we recommend that the FCO place human rights-in particular political and civil rights-at the heart of its future work there.
We welcome the FCO's continued production of an annual human rights report. We recommend that the report should highlight countries where human rights standards have improved markedly over the preceding year, as well as the "countries of concern".
We also welcome the Government's recognition that the UK's own human rights practices affect its international reputation and ability to pursue improvements in human rights standards overseas.
The committee recommends that the FCO work more closely with other departments, to ensure that its human rights agenda is shared across Government. The committee also says that the FCO should give higher priority to working to internationalise standards for human rights in business behaviour, so that UK human rights policy is not undercut by the behaviour of other countries and their companies.