Foreign Affairs Committee publish human rights report

09 August 2009

Foreign Affairs Committee report examines the Government‘s record in relation to securing the human rights of British citizens and others overseas and its work in promoting human rights in other countries.

The report covers rendition, allegations of UK complicity in torture, transfers of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan and the regulation of private military and security companies. It also provides an examination of the international human rights framework and human rights abuses in individual countries of concern including Burma, China, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Zimbabwe and also in the UK’s overseas territories.

On rendition Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Gapes MP said:

“The Government must take further steps to obtain from the US the full details of the two admitted cases of rendition (under the Bush administration) through Diego Garcia and request that the Obama Administration carries out a comprehensive check of its records including details of the movement of ships inside and outside Diego Garcia’s territorial waters.

"The Government must also address the use of UK airspace for empty flights which may be part of a rendition circuit and whether current aviation law, aircraft identification procedures and its own record-keeping and disposal policies are adequate.”

On transfers of detainees Mr Gapes said:

“The Government must take action to address concerns and allegations in respect of the treatment of detainees handed over to the US and to the Afghan authorities and the fate of individuals detained by US forces in Iraq as a result of operations by UK forces, or those captured by UK forces and detained by US forces.”

On torture, Mr Gapes said:

“The Government has a duty to use information that comes into its possession, from whatever source and however obtained, if it believes this will avert the loss of life. At the same time, we strongly recommend that the Government should continue to exert as much persuasion and pressure as possible to try to ensure world-wide that torture is not employed as a method of interrogation.

"The Government must ensure it fulfils its legal obligations in respect of the prevention of torture, including any duty to act positively to prevent it, investigate allegations that it has taken place, and expose it.

“While we understand the Government’s caution about publishing historical guidance to intelligence officers whilst current court cases are in progress, we are not convinced that the release of material that would be available to a court on request is likely to prejudice a case. We therefore recommend that such historical guidance should be placed in the public domain as soon as possible.”

On the regulation of private military and security companies, Mr Gapes said:

“The Government’s decision to advocate a system of regulation for private military and security companies based on a voluntary code of self regulation is disappointing and we remain unconvinced that anything other than a legislative solution can provide suitably strict regulation of this sector.”

On Overseas Territories Mr Gapes said:

“In all future discussions with Overseas Territories about revisions to their constitutions, the FCO should insist that no specific religion or faith community be singled out for privileged mention, and that anti-discrimination provisions make explicit mention of sexual orientation.“

On International human rights Mr Gapes said:

“We continue to be concerned about abuses of human rights in a number of countries. The UN Human Rights Council’s May 2009 resolution rejecting calls for investigation of human rights violations in Sri Lanka is deeply regrettable, and has damaged the credibility of the Council. The Government should press for the setting up of an international war crimes inquiry, to investigate allegations of atrocities carried out by both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war.

“The FCO report pulls its punches on the massive scale of abuses taking place in Saudi Arabia. Just because it is a “strategic ally” should not mean that we turn a blind eye to its human rights failings, specifically in relation to women’s rights.

“Recent events in Iran have revealed the extent of the desire amongst millions of Iranians for a fairer electoral process, as well as for greater personal freedoms and a normalisation of relations between Iran and the wider world. Iran’s overall human rights record remains appalling.

“Although the participation of the opposition in Zimbabwe in a transitional coalition government, and the recent measures of economic stabilisation, offer glimmers of hope, it is difficult to see how fundamental reforms in governance, the rule of law, and ending human rights abuses can be achieved as long as Robert Mugabe and his supporters are still in power and control the security apparatus.

"The Government should provide immediate aid to Zimbabwe’s suffering people, subject to safeguards against its falling into the hands of Mr Mugabe and his supporters, should encourage progress towards the early holding of fair and free elections, and should make preparations for a long-term reconstruction package to be delivered when a genuinely democratic and representative government is finally in place.

"The FCO should continue to raise the gross violations of human rights in Zimbabwe at the UN Security Council.”

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