There is some coverage in the papers today (Guardian, Daily Telegraph) on the report published by the Foreign Affairs select committee on the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Report 2011. The report assesses the FCO’s record on human rights and democracy promotion.
From the key conclusions, by section:
On women’s rights
We ask the FCO to indicate what steps it is taking to safeguard the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan from 2014.
We ask the FCO to indicate what steps it is taking to safeguard the rights of women and girls in Pakistan and world-wide.
On children’s rights
We recommend that the FCO undertake urgent work to address negative perceptions among voluntary sector groups of its commitment to children's human rights abroad.
On responses to protests during the Arab Spring
We believe that Bahrain should have been designated as a country of concern in the FCO's 2011 report on human rights and democracy.
We find it difficult to discern any consistency of logic behind the Government's policy in not taking a public stance on the Bahrain Grand Prix but implementing at least a partial boycott of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship matches played in Ukraine.
On harmonizing human rights promotion with business and strategic interests
It is inevitable that the UK will have interests which have the potential to conflict with its human rights values: these interests might, for instance, be strategic, commercial or security-related. In pursuing these alongside its human rights work overseas, the UK runs the risk of operating double standards, and our view is that it would be in the Government's interest for it to be more transparent in this respect and for Ministers to be bolder in acknowledging that there will be contradictions. Rather than trying to assert that the two can co-exist freely, part of the Government's role should be publicly to set out and explain its judgments on how far to balance them in particular cases, having taken into account the need to adapt policy according to local circumstances and developments.
On deportations, rendition and torture
We conclude that arrangements for deportation with assurances would command greater confidence if both parties to the agreement were to have signed the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) which would signify that the states concerned permitted regular independent monitoring of places and conditions of detention. We also recommend that the Government should inform Parliament of the names of the individuals or bodies responsible for monitoring the conditions under which those deported are being held, and the arrangements made for follow-up monitoring.
We recommend that texts of memoranda of understanding between the UK and foreign states relating to arrangements for deportation with assurances should be laid before Parliament. We further recommend that such memoranda of understanding should not come into force before 14 sitting days have elapsed, during which time Members may signify any objection.
We welcome the forthcoming independent review of deportation with assurances (DWA) arrangements announced in the FCO's 2011 Human Rights and Democracy report. We request that the Government indicate what exactly will be reviewed, by whom, and to whom the results of the review will be made available.
The long drawn-out nature of police investigations into cases of alleged rendition has had an unacceptable impact on the work of the Detainee Inquiry and of this Committee and others. We request that the Government explain to us why the investigations by the Metropolitan Police into claims made by Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi are expected to take so long to conclude.
We make no comment at this stage on developments in allegations of UK complicity in rendition. We reiterate, however, that we would be deeply disturbed if assurances given by Ministers over many years to this Committee's predecessors that the UK had not been involved in rendition were shown to be inaccurate. We expect to return to this issue.
On linking human rights, economic interests and arms exports
We recommend that the Government should consider linking provision of Government procurement opportunities, investment support and export credit guarantees to UK businesses' human rights records overseas.
We accept the FCO's assurances that its human rights department is consulted on all arms export decisions. We are surprised, however, that the FCO Minister responsible for human rights appears not to have been consulted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the list of priority markets for forthcoming arms exports, and that the overlap between priority market countries and "countries of concern" was not brought to his attention. We believe that it should have been, and we recommend that BIS and FCO officials take steps to prevent such lapses in the sharing of information on arms exports between ministers, and explain how this will be done.
Human Rights Watch in its written evidence to the committee criticizes the government’s use of deportation with assurances, noting the case of Abu Qatada. HRW also raises the issue of the implementation of international human rights law against members of HM Armed Forces accused of practicing abuse or torture abroad. HRW notes, “…the UK government is still apparently denying that international human rights law should apply to cases of abuse or torture by members of the British army outside of the EU...The UK government should take steps to ensure that British soldiers always operate within the framework of international human rights law and hold account those responsible for abuses.”
Amnesty International UK in its written evidence recommends in relation to the MENA region that HMG put “human rights at the heart of its engagement in the region and takes a consistent approach to raising human rights issues. The FCO must engage more with civil society, especially women’s organisations. We recommend that the FAC ask the FCO about specific work to support economic, social and cultural rights.”
On the proposals contained in the Justice and Security bill to extend the mandate on the use of secret trials AI UK recommends that “the future inquiry into UK involvement in torture, rendition and secret detention must comply with international human rights standards. The Government must also reconsider the proposals in the Justice and Security Green paper which could prevent victims of human rights violations finding the truth.”
The FAC report can be found here.
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