Foreign Affairs Committee: Press Notice

18 July 2008

EMBARGOED PRESS RELEASE

NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00.01 BST (01.01 GMT)

SUNDAY 20 July 2008

(one minute past midnight)

COMMITTEE PUBLISHES REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS ANNUAL REPORT 2007

The Foreign Affairs Committee will publish its report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Human Rights Annual Report 2007 at 00.01hrs BST (01.01 GMT Sunday 20 July). This will be the Committee's Ninth Report of Session 2007-08 (HC 533).

Advance embargoed copies will be made available to witnesses and members of the press in electronic (pdf) form at 11am on Friday 18 July and in printed form from the Press Gallery, and the Foreign Affairs Committee office, House of Commons.

The Chairman of the Committee, Mike Gapes MP, said:

"This report considers in detail the work of the British Government in promoting human rights around the world. There are many areas in which the Government is showing leadership, for instance at the UN Human Rights Council, and our report welcomes this.

We believe that it is the right decision for the Prime Minister to attend the Olympic Games, but we recommend that the Government should strongly condemn any repressive measures taken by the Chinese Government against dissidents. We also recommend that the Government should press the Chinese authorities to allow an independent and international investigation to take place in Tibet.

Our report highlights a number of human rights issues related to counter-terrorism. We conclude that, given the recent US practice of water-boarding, the British Government can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture. We also conclude that it is extremely important that the veracity of allegations that the British Government has 'outsourced' interrogation techniques involving the torture of British nationals by Pakistani authorities should be investigated."

The report's conclusions and recommendations in full are as follows:

1. We conclude that the new allocation of Ministerial responsibilities within the FCO is to be welcomed and that it will allow the Government to pursue its human rights agenda more effectively. We further conclude that the Human Rights Annual Report 2007 is an improvement on its predecessors in its accessibility. (Paragraph 8)

2. We recommend that the Government should ensure that the key issues of women's rights, children's rights and the promotion of democracy are given greater prominence in next year's edition of the FCO report. We further recommend that the report should set out clearly how these three issues have been factored in to the Government's overall strategy towards individual countries of concern. We also recommend that it should bring out the important role of free trade unions and a free media in the promotion of democracy. (Paragraph 12)

3. We conclude that the Government has demonstrated commendable commitment to the Human Rights Council. We welcome its decision to stand for re-election, and its success in achieving this. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government should set out its priorities for strengthening the work of the Council. (Paragraph 19)

4. We conclude that the Government has played a leading role in building support for an Arms Trade Treaty. We recommend that the Government should continue its efforts with vigour and determination, in particular by aiming to convince sceptical states that the treaty will be most effective if it includes all conventional arms. (Paragraph 23)

5. We conclude that the Government's eventual support for the prohibition of all current cluster munitions is very welcome. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government should set out its strategy for obtaining the support of the US Government and other non-signatories to a ban on cluster munitions, and the implications of the Convention for future military co-operation with such states. (Paragraph 30)

6. We conclude that the Government has made a good start to its work on corporate social responsibility. (Paragraph 35)

7. We conclude that the progress made by the International Criminal Court is to be welcomed. However, international criminal law will only be effective in preventing human rights abuses if applied in a systematic and consistent way. We recommend that the Government should continue to urge the next President and Congress of the United States to accede to the Rome Statute of the ICC. We further recommend that the Government should seek to extend the ambit of the role of the ICC so that any individual who clearly and deliberately commits gross life-taking and life-threatening violations of human rights can be brought before it. (Paragraph 41)

8. We conclude that the Government has a moral and legal obligation to ensure that flights that enter UK airspace or land at UK airports are not part of the “rendition circuit”, even if they do not have a detainee on board during the time they are in UK territory. We recommend that the Government should immediately raise questions about such flights with the US authorities in order to ascertain the full scale of the rendition problem, and inform the Committee of the replies it receives in its response to this Report. (Paragraph 47)

9. We conclude that the Foreign Secretary’s view that water-boarding is an instrument of torture is to be welcomed. However, given the recent practice of water-boarding by the US, there are serious implications arising from the Foreign Secretary’s stated position. We conclude that, given the clear differences in definition, the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future. We also recommend that the Government should immediately carry out an exhaustive analysis of current US interrogation techniques on the basis of such information as is publicly available or which can be supplied by the US. We further recommend that, once its analysis is completed, the Government should inform this Committee and Parliament as to its view on whether there are any other interrogation techniques that may be approved for use by the US Administration which it considers to constitute torture. (Paragraph 53)

10. We conclude that it is extremely important that the veracity of allegations that the Government has “outsourced” interrogation techniques involving the torture of British nationals by Pakistani authorities should be investigated. Irrespective of these allegations, we recommend that the FCO should immediately seek full consular access in all cases where it is aware of mono- or dual-national British citizens being detained by the Pakistani authorities, and in particular by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. We conclude that it is not acceptable for the Government to use an individual’s dual nationality as an excuse to leave him or her vulnerable to the prospect of possible torture. (Paragraph 62)

11. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government should explicitly state whether UK officials met any of the four dual nationals to discuss non-consular matters and should also state why non-consular access was granted to one UK national, but not consular access. We also recommend that the Government should further tell us whether it was aware of all six individuals at the time of their detention, and whether intelligence or evidence gained by the Pakistani authorities in its interrogation of any of these men led in whole, or in part, to further investigations or charges in the UK. We further recommend that the Government should describe its collaboration with the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and its human rights concerns about this organisation, in its response to this Report. (Paragraph 63)

12. We conclude that, in the case of Saadi v. Italy, the Government clearly attempted to water down its anti-torture commitments. We also conclude that it is disturbing and surprising that such arguments were made in the name of the United Kingdom and we believe this gives cause for serious concern. (Paragraph 72)

13. We conclude that the European Union can and must do more to help the United States in bringing about the overdue closure of the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay. We welcome the Government’s representations on behalf of the five British residents in Guantanamo Bay. Given its decision to intervene in their cases, we recommend that the Government should express particular concern over the prospective trial of Binyam Mohamed under the Military Commissions Act and lobby strongly against any use of the death penalty if he is found guilty. We recommend that the Government should continue to press for the return of Binyam Mohamed and Shaker Aamer to the UK. (Paragraph 77)

14. We conclude that the Minister’s commitment to introducing regulation for private security companies is to be welcomed. We further conclude that the delay in introducing regulation has been unacceptable. We are disappointed that there was no mention of legislation on private security companies in the Prime Minister’s Draft Legislative Programme 2008-09, and we recommend that the Government should announce its intention to introduce the relevant legislation in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. We further recommend that such legislation should impose strict regulation on private security companies, and ensures that these companies can be prosecuted in British courts for serious human rights abuses committed abroad. (Paragraph 82)

15. We conclude that the overall human rights situation in Afghanistan is difficult and in some areas appears to be worse than at any point since the fall of the Taliban. The failure of transitional justice, backsliding on women’s rights, and the deteriorating security situation are of particular concern. We recommend that the Government should devote greater attention to the peace, reconciliation and justice action plan in Afghanistan, and be more open about the failures of the Afghan authorities. We further recommend that next year’s report should include a specific section on the action being taken by the British Government to stop poppy cultivation, on which the UK has lead responsibility in Afghanistan, and an analysis of how good governance is being undermined by the most prominent warlords in the country. (Paragraph 88)

16. We conclude that the human rights record of the Burmese junta, evidenced by its response to pro-democracy protests and the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, is reprehensible. We strongly support the Government’s efforts to promote human rights in Burma, and we praise its generous donation for the victims of the storm. We recommend that the Government should put in place very strict measures to ensure that its aid cannot be misused by the regime, and inform us of these measures in its response to this Report. We further recommend that, in principle, the Government should not rule out invoking the “responsibility to protect” in situations such as Burma, but that this should be guided by a practical assessment of the situation on the ground, and the likely wider consequences of such intervention. (Paragraph 96)

17. We conclude that there continues to be little evidence that the Government’s Human Rights Dialogue with China is achieving significant results. We conclude that, as at the time of our agreeing this Report, the Prime Minister is correct to attend the Olympic Games. However, the Olympics represent a unique opportunity to advance the cause of human rights in China. We conclude that there is mounting evidence that the Chinese authorities are taking repressive measures to prevent any of their citizens from expressing visible dissent in the run up to or during the Games. We recommend that the Government makes immediate public and very strong condemnation of this. We further recommend that the Government should be ready to discontinue the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue if substantial progress is not made in the coming year. (Paragraph 103)

18. We conclude that China’s policies towards Tibet have fostered a culture of repression. We condemn the use of violence either by Tibetans or the Chinese Government during the recent disturbances. We welcome the British Government’s calls for restraint and dialogue between the two parties. We recommend that the British Government should press the Chinese authorities to allow an independent and international investigation to take place in Tibet, and to impress on the Chinese Government that they should recognise that there is currently a significant window of opportunity to make progress in resolving the dispute over Tibet based on the demand by the Dalai Lama for “genuine autonomy”, not independence. (Paragraph 112)

19. We conclude that the human rights situation in Colombia is serious and shows little sign of improvement. We further conclude that allegations of extra-judicial executions by the Colombian military, and the continued targeting of trade unionists, cannot be ignored. We therefore believe it is inappropriate for the Government to provide military aid to Colombia without any reference to human rights improvements. Noting recent moves by the US Congress to freeze some aid to Colombia on human rights grounds, we recommend that the Government should request the Colombian military to demonstrate measurable and verifiable human rights improvements in exchange for future assistance. We further recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should set out a range of possible measures that could be used for this purpose. (Paragraph 117)

20. We conclude that Iran's human rights record remains shocking and appears to be deteriorating. We welcome the Government's recognition that treating human rights in Iran as an issue of secondary concern would be counter-productive. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government should set out where it believes progress can realistically be made in advancing human rights in Iran and the further action that the Government itself is taking to achieve such progress. (Paragraph 122)

21. We conclude that despite improvements in security, the human rights situation in Iraq remains very difficult. We believe that the deteriorating human rights situation faced by women in many parts of Iraq is unacceptable, and we recommend that the Government should use all its leverage to press the Iraqi Government to ensure women are afforded security and the legal equality provided for in the Iraqi constitution. (Paragraph 128)

22. We conclude that the Government and the international community must do much more to help Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries. We recommend that the Government should provide bilateral financial assistance to help Syria and Jordan cope with their refugee burden. We welcome the Government's resettlement programme for some of its Iraqi employees, but we are concerned that former employees and their families perversely need to face the dangers involved in leaving Iraq to become refugees in neighbouring countries before being able to apply for the Gateway programme. We recommend that the Government should allow its eligible former employees to apply for relocation to the United Kingdom without first having to register as a refugee. (Paragraph 132)

23. We agree with the Minister that some of Israel's actions against the Palestinians have been disproportionate and we conclude that Israeli policies towards the population of the Gaza Strip as a whole have been a form of collective punishment. We recommend that the Government should urge Israel in the strongest possible terms to desist from activities that violate international law. We further conclude that the Government is absolutely correct to condemn all forms of violence committed by Palestinians against the Israeli population. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government should provide an assessment as to what policy options are available to prevent the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel. We repeat our condemnation of violence between Palestinians, and we welcome the Government's provision of significant financial support to the Palestinian Authority. (Paragraph 144)

24. We conclude that the human rights situation in North Korea is extremely grave. We will consider the country's human rights abuses, and the response of the British Government, in detail in our Report on Global Security: Japan and Korea. (Paragraph 148)

25. We conclude that there are serious and wide-ranging human rights abuses in Pakistan. We further conclude that the FCO report should have been more critical of the imposition of the state of emergency, in particular by considering whether it was introduced to prevent the judiciary from considering the validity of President Musharraf's re-election. We unreservedly condemn the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and we welcome the relatively free parliamentary elections in February 2008. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government should set out more clearly what steps it is taking to support women's rights and other international human rights norms in Pakistan. (Paragraph 155)

26. We conclude that the Russian parliamentary and Presidential elections demonstrated democratic deficiencies and were a missed opportunity for the advancement of democracy in Russia. We recommend that the Government, both bilaterally and using the mechanisms of the EU, OSCE and the Council of Europe, should continue to emphasise to Russia that its media and NGO restrictions are steps in the wrong direction. We further recommend that the Government should encourage President Medvedev to honour the pledges he has made to uphold the rule of law. (Paragraph 160)

27. We conclude that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is one of the worst in the world. The Government's stated policy of assisting with gradual reform is simply not adequate in the face of the dramatically increased use of the death penalty and the continued repression of women's rights. We accept there is a balance to be struck in any relationship with a strategic ally, but we do not see how the Government's current policies are presenting sufficient incentives to the Saudi regime to curtail its most severe abuses. We recommend that the "Two Kingdoms Dialogue" should explicitly address issues such as the death penalty, and, as last year, we recommend that this dialogue should have measurable and time-limited objectives. We understand the Government's reasoning in not making such objectives public knowledge. However, we recommend that if the Government believes that these objectives should be kept private, the Foreign Secretary should write to us in confidence when he responds to this Report to outline what progress has been made. (Paragraph 167)

28. We conclude that the FCO's report fails to pay sufficient attention to the severe human rights crisis in Somalia. We are particularly concerned by the absence of any mention of alleged abuses carried out by Ethiopian troops in the country. Strong denials by the Ethiopian Government are not sufficient cause for omitting these allegations. We recommend that the Government should ensure human rights are central to its approach in Somalia, and we further recommend that it is included as a major country of concern in next year's report. (Paragraph 174)

29. We conclude that the human rights situation in Sudan remains of paramount concern. We are disappointed that the UN-African Union hybrid peacekeeping force for Darfur has yet to fully deploy. We welcome the Government's support for a political solution in Darfur and its financial assistance to the peacekeeping mission. We recommend that the Government should consider again whether it has any spare capacity to meet the need for helicopters or other equipment. We further recommend that the Government should provide the necessary diplomatic assistance to NGOs in their efforts to gain access into Sudan. (Paragraph 180)

30. We conclude that the repression of civil liberties in Syria continues to give cause for concern. We recommend that the Government should ensure that human rights remains central to its, and the EU's, approach towards Damascus. We further recommend that the international community does not relax the pressure on Syria to improve its human rights record even if progress is achieved on other political and foreign policy fronts. (Paragraph 185)

31. We conclude that Robert Mugabe's human rights record is utterly appalling. The first round of the Presidential election in March 2008 was deeply flawed, and the delay in announcing the results was unacceptable. We are concerned that South Africa appears to have maintained its patently ineffectual policy of "quiet diplomacy" with Zimbabwe, but we are encouraged that other regional states such as Zambia are beginning to speak out more forcefully against the brutality of the Mugabe regime. We conclude that the decision to remove Robert Mugabe's honorary knighthood was correct. We recommend that the Government should continue to urge regional states to take the diplomatic lead against Zimbabwe, and should not recognise any regime led by Mugabe. We further recommend that the Government should set out in its response to this Report what action is being taken against British businesses whose presence in Zimbabwe is helping to prop up the regime. (Paragraph 197)

Media enquiries:

Members of the press with enquiries or wishing to request an embargo copy should contact Alex Paterson, Select Committee Media Officer, on 020 7219 1589, or 07917 488488, or by email to [email protected]

Further Information:

The Foreign Affairs Committee is responsible for scrutinising the "administration, expenditure and policy" of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its associated agencies. The text of all Committee publications, including Reports, can be found on the Committee's website at www.parliament.uk/facom

The membership of the Committee is as follows: Mike Gapes (Chairman), Labour, Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal-Democrat, Mr Fabian Hamilton, Labour, Rt Hon David Heathcoat-Amory, Conservative, Mr John Horam, Conservative, Mr Eric Illsley, Labour, Mr Paul Keetch, Liberal Democrats, Andrew Mackinlay, Labour, Mr Malcolm Moss, Conservative, Sandra Osborne, Labour, Mr Greg Pope, Labour, Mr Ken Purchase, Labour, Rt Hon Sir John Stanley, Conservative, Ms Gisela Stuart, Labour.

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