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HRW Submission to the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee

On the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2010 Report: "Human Rights and Democracy"

1.         Human Rights Watch welcomes the publication of the Foreign Office annual report on human rights and democracy. This document provides a substantial amount of information on the efforts of the Foreign Office (and to a lesser extent, other UK Government departments) to promote human rights around the world.

2.         Human Rights Watch welcomes the clear language set out in the Foreign Secretary's Foreword, that the new UK Government is committed to a "foreign policy that has the practical promotion of human rights as part of its irreducible core", and "will raise our concerns about human rights wherever and whenever they arise", and that the Government "is committed to ensuring that our own standards match those enshrined in international law", and "will continue to support those pursuing more open societies, political systems and universal values".  These words set a clear standard against which Human Rights Watch will measure the Government's performance over the course of this Parliament.

3.         There are three specific aspects of the new Government's policy on human rights that we particularly welcome. First, we appreciate the UK's more assertive efforts on the issue of the death penalty, including the publication of a separate strategy on this and guidance to embassies and high commissions on the issue. Second, we welcome the prominence given to the role of human rights defenders, including the Foreign Secretary's highlighting of their work on Human Rights Day. Third, we believe that the establishment of a Human Rights Advisory Group to the Foreign Secretary is an important innovation and creates a forum for frank but constructive dialogue on human rights.

4.         While Human Rights Watch is broadly supportive of the conceptual analysis contained in the report - as it relates to the causes and consequences of human rights violations - we make two general observations about the overall framework.  Firstly, it downplays tensions and conflicts between the Government's various international policy goals. It states that "there is no contradiction between our work to build Britain's prosperity and our defence of human rights".  We agree that these two goals can be mutually supportive in many cases and especially over the longer term, but in the short term the two objectives can conflict.

5.         For example, Ministerial support for boosting defence equipment sales to the Middle East can conflict with the Government's stated goal of restricting military equipment sales where these might be used for repressive purposes, especially when countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya are designated by the UK Government as priority markets for these sales. Similarly, commercial interests in oil and gas from Central Asia weakens the UK's willingness to push human rights concerns in that region. The report also understates the tensions that exist between the Government's counter-terrorism strategy (in its current form) and its human rights obligations.  Human Rights Watch believes that the Government should acknowledge these tensions, but give precedence to its human rights obligations and legal commitments.

6.         Secondly, the report gives insufficient attention to the human rights implications of the work of other UK Government departments, beyond the Foreign Office.  While the FCO is the lead department for the UK Government's international human rights policy, the actions of the Department for International Development, the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and others are very significant in respect of human rights. While it would be a more challenging document to produce, Human Rights Watch believes that future annual reports should be explicitly cross-governmental, so that the actions of the whole Government can be assessed for their human rights impact.

7.         In the remainder of this submission we focus on some specific areas where we believe that the UK Government's practice on human rights falls short of its declared policy and of its international human rights obligations. We look initially at a number of thematic or cross-cutting issues. We then provide some brief commentary on UK Government policy towards particular countries. Given the momentous events that have unfolded in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, it is important to stress one further point.  Like the FCO report, we confine our remarks largely but not exclusively to events in 2010.  However, there are occasions when we make reference to developments in early 2011, especially relating to priorities for future action by the UK.

THEMATIC/CROSS-CUTTING ISSUES

8.          Counterterrorism - Human Rights Watch recognises that the new Government is committed to making reforms to UK Government policy in this area (as announced by the Home Secretary on January 26, 2011), including the roll-back of pre-charge detention time-limits for terrorism suspects and a significant narrowing of terrorism stop and search powers.  However, in our assessment the proposed changes fail to bring UK counterterrorism law and policy fully in line with international human rights standards, particularly with the widening of the policy of deportation with assurances (discussed below) and the continuation of control orders, albeit in a more limited form. Overall the Government has missed an opportunity for bolder reform to end abusive policies that have tarnished the UK's reputation at home and abroad.

9.          Deportation with Assurances (DWA) - We welcome the Government's stated commitment that it will not deport a person where doing so would expose that person to a real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CID). However we are concerned by the Government's decision to "extend" its predecessor's policy of using deportation with assurances as a means of removing foreign terrorism suspects to countries known to practice torture. The UK has reached formal agreements on diplomatic assurances with Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, and, most recently, Ethiopia, and accepts informal assurances from Pakistan and Algeria.

10.       Human Rights Watch research has found that these no-torture promises are inherently unreliable. Because torture is carried out in secret, it is often very difficult to detect and the countries where torture takes place all deny that it does. Neither the sending nor the receiving country has any incentive to carry out serious investigations or bring breaches to light. The agreements themselves are not legally binding, and there are unlikely to be any consequences for a country that breaches them.

11.        Post-return monitoring, a key feature of the UK agreements, is unlikely to protect returnees from torture or reprisals. Unlike ICRC monitoring of an entire prison, where confidentiality can be preserved by the large numbers monitored, monitoring a single detainee or small group makes it easy for the authorities to identify the source of any report of ill-treatment. Experience has shown that detainees are reluctant to report abuse in those circumstances for fear of reprisals.

12.       Rather than seeking to extend the policy, the UK government should instead be looking to prosecute terrorism suspects at home, while taking advantage of the dramatic changes in the Middle East and North Africa to renew and revitalize efforts to promote systematic anti-torture reforms in those countries in a way that would genuinely facilitate the safe return of terrorism suspects to those countries.

13.       Detainees, intelligence services and complicity in torture - Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of the complicity of UK agents in torture by the ISI in Pakistan. In light of that evidence, as well as evidence from other sources indicating UK complicity in torture in other countries in the context of counterterrorism operations, it is critical that it is made clear how this occurred and who was responsible; that UK law, policy and guidance is revised so that it is clear that such conduct violates the UK's obligations under international and domestic law and is contrary to Britain's values. To avoid such complicity happening again, it is also vital that those responsible for any criminal acts of complicity in torture, or who gave orders to others to become complicit, are held criminally accountable.

14.       Human Rights Watch has also reported on the ways in which UK intelligence cooperation with countries with poor records on torture validates the use of such illegal practices, undermining the laudable efforts by the Foreign Office (referred to in its annual report) to eradicate torture around the world. In our assessment, more effective oversight of the intelligence services and clearer procedures on intelligence cooperation with governments with poor records of torture are crucial to ensure that the UK's actions in this area do not undermine the prohibition of torture.

15.       We welcome therefore the new Government's publication of the Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel on the Detention and Interviewing of Detainees Overseas, which includes guidance on passive receipt of intelligence material, and the Prime Minister's decision to establish the Detainee Inquiry. We also welcome the decision to review the Intelligence and Security Committee and the publication of the torture reporting guidance by the Foreign Office in March 2011 for its staff. However, we retain a number of concerns about Government policy in this area.

16.       First, while condemning torture and indicating that the UK does not condone it, the Government and Ministers refuse to state explicitly that the UK is not complicit in torture carried out elsewhere.  UK Ministers should be asked  why this is the case.

17.       Second, the FCO annual report seeks to differentiate between torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (see for example page 53, paragraph 3) in a way that has no basis in international law.

18.       Third, there a number of concerns with the consolidated guidance: (a) the guidance appears to create ministerial discretion to authorize continued UK cooperation in cases where there is a risk that torture may occur; (b) the guidance indicates that private assurances between intelligence services can ameliorate the risk of torture, despite the unreliability of such assurances; (c) while the guidance includes hooding as treatment that can amount to CID, it creates an exception that permits the use of hooding where it "do[es] not pose a risk to the detainee's physical or mental health and are necessary for security reasons during arrest or transit." This exception is extremely problematic given that hooding was one the five techniques outlawed by the British armed forces as CID in the 1970s, and given the evidence that widespread hooding in Iraq by British forces helped create a permissive environment for abuse, a fact that has emerged from the Baha Mousa Inquiry. As a separate matter, it is notable that the FCO guidance to staff, unlike the consolidated guidance, does not specify what action should be taken beyond reporting (e.g. discontinuing cooperation).

19.       Fourth, while we recognize that a small number of criminal inquiries have been carried out, we are concerned that no prosecutions have been brought for complicity in torture.  The reference to the forthcoming "Green Paper" also appears to suggest that evidence of torture or other criminal acts committed against individuals may be kept from disclosure in future non-criminal court proceedings, in a way that could deny the victims an effective remedy against such abuse.

20.       Fifth, while the Detainee Inquiry remains at an early stage, and has yet to start hearings, we are concerned about the Government's commitment to ensure the inquiry's effectiveness, in terms of the Government's willingness to allow as much evidence as possible to be heard in public, to permit the scope of the inquiry to include all allegations of complicity by UK agents in overseas torture, including in Pakistan, and to commit the resources necessary to allow it to do so.  

21.     Applicability of human rights law to UK forces overseas. The report says little about how it intends to address the legacy of torture, unlawful killings and other serious human rights abuses by UK forces in Iraq, particularly of detainees in UK custody. We remain deeply concerned that the Government appears to retain the position of its predecessor in denying, or attempting to greatly limit, the application of international human rights law outside the United Kingdom's territory, including over the actions of UK officials and armed forces. This is despite repeated criticisms of the UK's position by the European Court of Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee against Torture.

22.       We hope the Government will commit to immediate implementation of any recommendations emerging from the Baha Mousa inquiry and make clear in its forthcoming report to the UN Committee against Torture, and elsewhere, that human rights law (including the Convention against Torture) applies to all acts of UK forces anywhere in the world, in particular the laws prohibiting arbitrary detention and torture. These should mean that all detentions by UK armed forces should be based on law, the detainees should be brought immediately before an independent judge, and all cases of unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment of those in military detention should lead to independent criminal investigations and prosecutions.

23.     Military equipment exports - The new Government has placed a heavy emphasis on increasing the volume of military exports, described as a key part of its business strategy.  As already noted, it has also been dismissive of suggestions that this objective might conflict with its human rights obligations.  However, it is clear to Human Rights Watch that these tensions do exist and that the Government's approach to military exports has paid insufficient attention to the risk that UK military equipment might be used to abuse human rights. This risk - and specific weaknesses in UK arms export policy and practice - predate recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa in late 2010. But these events have served to expose these weaknesses in a dramatic fashion. 

24.       In the last quarter of 2010, the Government has revoked a considerable number of licences for military equipment sales to regimes in that region, including Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.  We agree with the conclusion of the UK Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls, which stated in a recent report, that "both the present Government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for certain authoritarian countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression". We also agree with the Committee that the Foreign Secretary's review of UK arms export licences for countries in North Africa and the Middle East (currently underway) should be extended to authoritarian regimes worldwide.  The Government should not be licensing the export of military equipment to countries where there is a risk that these might be used to abuse human rights.

25.     Military/ Police training - Human Rights Watch was shocked by the positive reference in the report to UK support for the Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). This is described as training for "human rights and ethical policing".  However, there is ample evidence that the joint military/police RAB carries out extrajudicial killings, frequently described as deaths in "cross-fire". Signs of torture and abuse are often found on the bodies of so-called "cross-fire" victims and survivors testify that torture is commonly inflicted by the RAB in custody. Human Rights Watch believes it is wrong for the UK to be providing training to such an organisation, until there is a clear acknowledgement by the Bangladeshi government of the need to root out abuses and hold those responsible to account.

26.     Women's rights - While Human Rights Watch agrees with the broad analysis set out in this section of the report, we would highlight two areas where UK policy could be stronger. The report describes the UK Government's "keen involvement" in the process leading up to a Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. However, during the negotiations in 2010, the UK Government representatives argued against the inclusion of clear human rights language in the convention and provisions on asylum and immigration. This was regrettable. Now that the Council of Europe has agreed a strong text, it is critical that the UK Government should support this, and ratify it as soon as possible and without reservations.

27.       The report also makes no specific reference to the UN Security Council's decision on December 16, 2010 to publicly shame those armed groups that target women for sexual abuse.  Sexual violence remains one of the most pressing women's rights abuses, and the UK should push for and support efforts at the UN level to combat this violence.

COUNTRIES

28.       Human Rights Watch has focused its comments on those countries where human rights abuses are particularly egregious, or where we disagree to some extent with UK Government policy or analysis.  We have also provided commentary on a couple of countries that are excluded from this list, where we believe there were good grounds for their inclusion.

29.     Afghanistan - This section provides a good overview of UK efforts to advance human rights in Afghanistan.  However, its tone is much more positive than is justified by the realities on the ground.  Supported by the UK and others, the Afghan Government did commit in 2010 - as the Report notes - to finalise and begin implementation of its National Priority Programme for human rights and civic responsibilities, targeting communities across Afghanistan. But we see no evidence that these measures have yet led to an improvement in human rights. 

30.       In our last submission to the FAC, Human Rights Watch flagged the important issue of civilian casualties resulting from NATO and ISAF airstrikes.  We welcome the attention paid to this issue in the 2010 FCO Report, including the reported drop in civilian casualties in 2010, as compared with 2009, arising from new measures to protect civilians. Human Rights Watch believes that these precautions are essential and that ISAF forces should look to further strengthen them, consistent with their obligations under international humanitarian law. When civilian harm does take place we would like to see improvements on investigations and accountability mechanisms.

31.       Human Rights Watch would also highlight the need to focus on the human rights implications of any political deal between Afghan factions.  As pressure grows during 2011 for a way out of the conflict, the UK should do its upmost to ensure that any Afghan political settlement is genuinely inclusive and that it strengthens rather than weakens the observance of human rights across Afghanistan, especially the rights of women and girls as well as ethnic and religious minorities. 

32.     Bahrain - A glaring omission in the report is any coverage of Bahrain.  While the human rights situation has deteriorated very rapidly in recent months, serious human rights abuses existed before 2011. There was a noticeable crackdown that began in August 2010 when security forces arrested opposition figures and hundreds of others. There were also serious allegations of torture used against some of the detainees.

33.       Belarus - We would highlight one specific omission in this section. There is no mention of the fact that in Belarus, participation in the activities of a non-registered organisation constitutes a criminal offense. Since the authorities regularly deny registration to NGOs, these groups - including human rights NGOs - are under constant threat of criminal prosecution.

34.     Burma - In an otherwise very strong section, there is a curiously positive reference to the role played by local civil society groups in helping the Burmese government to write its report to the UN Universal Periodic Review. While strengthening civil society in Burma is an important goal, this was emphatically not the example to cite, given that the Burmese official submission to the UN was full of inaccuracy and distortion.

35.       Overall, however, we commend the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Foreign Secretary William Hague for raising human rights concerns about Burma at the highest levels, specifically the UK's role in securing a tough and comprehensive human rights resolution on Burma at the UN General Assembly. We also commend the UK Government for reaffirming in this report that it will "continue to work to build international support for the UN special rapporteur's call for the UN to consider a Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in Burma".

36.     China - This section omits a couple of important issues. It makes no reference to the Chinese government's continuing denial to Chinese workers of the right to organize and form independent trade unions.  Nor does the report mention that in 2010 the Hong Kong Immigration Department continued to implement selective denial of entry to certain individuals whose opinions were deemed unacceptable by the Chinese government

37.       A wider concern for Human Rights Watch is how committed the new UK Government really is to pushing human rights concerns with China, especially given their emphasis on economic and trade relations with China.  While David Cameron has said that he wants a dialogue with China about human rights, during his visit to the country, human rights issues appeared to receive limited attention and were raised privately rather than in public.  In November 2010, David Cameron pointed to the UK-China bilateral human rights dialogue as proof of the seriousness of the UK's engagement with the Chinese government on human rights. However, Human Rights Watch has documented how that bilateral dialogue has failed to deliver significant results.

38.       Human Rights Watch urges the UK Government to challenge the Chinese government more assertively on serious human rights abuses in major diplomatic forums;  to put human rights abuses at the centre of all high-level discussions with the Chinese government; and to maintain support for the EU arms embargo on China.

39.     Ethiopia - Human Rights Watch strongly believes Ethiopia should be considered a "country of concern" by the UK Government. Ethiopia merits incorporation because of longstanding repression of the press, opposition political parties, certain ethnic groups and repeated reports of torture, disappearance, arbitrary arrest and detention. This is in addition to the brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Somali region, in which Ethiopian forces and civilian commanders are accused of war crimes. Since the passage of the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law) in early 2009, many of the traditional activities of national and international NGOs, especially around research and advocacy, are also now illegal.  

40.       The other reason why Ethiopia's exclusion is so indefensible is because of the very close ties that exist between the UK Government and the Government of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of UK development assistance, receiving over £200 million last year. This - alongside diplomatic, security and intelligence links - gives the UK some real leverage. However, the UK Government has said almost nothing about human rights abuses in Ethiopia in 2010.  A Human Rights Watch Report on Ethiopia, published in October 2010, provided evidence of the political manipulation of aid resources for political gain by the Ethiopian authorities. UK officials in DFID initially promised an inquiry to look into the issue, but have since backed away from the idea. Our understanding is that many Foreign Office officials working on Ethiopia recognise the scale of the human rights abuses in Ethiopia and favour rising these issues more assertively with President Meles. But DFID remains the dominant player in Whitehall in determining UK relations with Ethiopia, with the result that the UK Government is embarrassingly silent about these abuses.

41.      Iran - Human Rights Watch believes that the UK could have played a more assertive role in 2010 in pushing for a special session of the Human Rights Council on Iran, following the disputed 2010 presidential election.  The UK could have also pushed harder for the EU to support a "special mechanism" establishing a country mandate in the 2010 UNGA resolution on Iran, although this was finally agreed during the 2011 Human Rights Council session in February.

42.     Iraq - Human Rights Watch broadly supports the assessment of the human rights situation in Iraq as set out in the report, with three caveats and qualifications.  First, there is no reference to Internally Displaced Persons or to Persons with Disabilities, both of which are significant human rights issues in Iraq.  Second, the report's assessment of freedom of expression in Iraq is overly optimistic. Our work has documented some of the major dangers and constraints faced by reporters in Iraq in 2010.  Third, the FCO report makes no reference to attacks by the government on freedom of assembly and the right to peacefully protest. The situation has deteriorated over the last year and this raises questions about the Iraqi Government's commitment to core human rights principles, as well as the effectiveness of the human rights training of Iraqi security forces (including police forces) by the UK and others.

43.       Israel/Occupied Palestinian territories - The report provides a generally accurate overview of the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as in Israel itself. As the report notes, many of these concerns stem from Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. Israeli human rights violations in the West Bank include denial of due process, restricting the rights to free expression and assembly, land confiscation, home demolitions, abuses of detainees, improper administrative detention, the revocation of residency rights, and impunity for settler violence. Palestinians in Gaza suffer from Israel's ongoing closure policy and shootings in the buffer zone. Similarly, the report is right to say that Hamas continues to suppress Palestinian civil society and freedom of expression in Gaza and to abuse detainees, and that hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians are at risk of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.  As the FCO report also notes, the Palestinian Authority's security services continue to abuse detainees with virtual impunity.

44.       While the report highlights examples of where UK Ministers and officials have raised human rights concerns with the Israeli and Palestinians authorities, Human Rights Watch believes that the UK Government should speak out more forcefully on accountability for war crimes committed by all sides during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict. Israeli actions to investigate gross violations by Israeli forces during "Operation Cast Lead" have been seriously inadequate, while Hamas has done nothing to investigate serious violations on its side. Despite the controversy occasioned by Richard Goldstone's article in April 2011 on the work of his UN authorised inquiry into the Gaza conflict, Human Rights Watch believes that major violations of international humanitarian law did occur during this conflict and that all need to be thoroughly investigated.

45.     Libya - In general, the tone of this section is too complacent about Libyan reform efforts during 2010 and not sufficiently critical about serious human rights abuses. For example, the report mentions, without any further comment, that Libya underwent the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review in November 2010. But the Libyan authorities made no serious effort to engage with this process, and there is little evidence - even before recent events - that the Libyan regime intended to respond meaningfully to issues raised with them as part of this process. On the issue of torture, the report says that "prosecutions of torture are rare". Human Rights Watch is not aware of a single case in which the Libyan authorities have prosecuted anyone for torture.

46.       The report's commentary on Libya has, of course, been totally overtaken by recent events. While the current priority is to promote greater protection for civilians, to prevent major human rights abuses arising from the conflict, to hold Gaddafi's forces and opposition groups to international humanitarian law, and to ensure accountability for those guilty of war crimes, these events also throw some light on UK policy towards Libya in 2010.  In general, they suggest that the UK Government was too willing to give that regime the benefit of the doubt, reflected for example in UK arms sales to Libya.  

47.     Pakistan -  While this section covers the major areas of concern, there are problems of tone, emphasis and detail. The section on torture says "the media and civil society made regular allegations of torture in 2010."  The reality is that torture in Pakistan is widespread and systemic. The section on freedom of religion and belief mentions a "growing culture of intolerance". However, it fails to note that the Pakistani Government has reacted to this trend by turning a blind eye to incitement to murder by these religious groups instead of holding them accountable.

48.     Rwanda - As with Ethiopia, the absence of any reference to the human rights situation in Rwanda (other than a brief mention of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) is a glaring omission in the report. 2010 was marked by blatant human rights violations in Rwanda - in particular, severe restrictions on freedom of expression in the run-up to presidential elections in August. The FCO was aware of these incidents, and maintained in meetings with Human Rights Watch and others that it was raising concerns with the Rwandan government. Yet the FCO report remains entirely silent on these issues, and the UK Government, through DFID, continues to be the largest bilateral aid donor to Rwanda.

49.     Russia - Human Rights Watch agrees with the assessment of the human rights situation in Russia, as set out in the report. Over the course of 2010, the key mechanisms for UK policy on human rights towards Russia are its bilateral dialogue with the Russian authorities and EU-Russia human rights consultations.  The UK has pushed human rights concerns through both mechanisms. One areas of criticism, however, is that the UK in several cases has been unable to provide visas for human rights activists who urgently need to leave the country for safety reasons.

50.     Saudi Arabia - The section on Saudi Arabia is more comprehensive than in previous years. However, it still omits some important areas of concern and is too eager to praise Saudi reform efforts. For example, the report is too positive about the work of the Saudi Human Rights Commission. The Commission has failed in every high-profile human rights case to obtain a positive result - if it tried at all, which local activists doubt.

51.       We suggest that the UK Government should be more assertive and public about its human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia. The UK's traditional quiet diplomacy towards the Saudis creates the justified impression of a double standard in UK human rights policy, given frequent and public denunciations of similar violations in, for example, Iran. On the other hand, it creates doubt among Saudi activists and the international human rights community as to the seriousness with which the UK Government is pursuing its human rights goals towards Saudi Arabia.

52.       Sri Lanka - This section is weak on the Sri Lankan Government's failure to investigate major human rights abuses committed during the final phase of its conflict with the Tamil Tigers in 2009. The report does not mention, for example, that almost two years after the end of the war the government has yet to initiate a single known investigation of human rights related violations either by its own forces or by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  In the light of this, the UK should support the main recommendation of the recent UN Panel of Experts' report, that there should be an international mechanism to bring to justice those guilty of serious human rights violations.     

53.      Sudan - The FCO report raises many of the right concerns about the human rights situation in Sudan. However the report could have been more comprehensive about the human rights abuses across Sudan in the lead up to, during, and after the April 2010 elections, by highlighting abuses by southern security forces, for example. On Darfur, the UK Government should also insist that the Sudanese government meet specific benchmarks, such as lifting the emergency laws, and ending the detention of student and rights activists in Darfur. These conditions are all the more relevant in view of the Sudanese Government's plans to hold a referendum on the administrative status of Darfur in July.

54.     Turkmenistan - The report's assertion that "the UK took all appropriate opportunities to raise human rights with the Government in 2010" and that "human rights are an important component of our bilateral relationship with Turkmenistan" are not substantiated by concrete examples of specific action taken. Nor does the tone of this section convey the full gravity of the abuses perpetrated by the Government of Turkmenistan. This muted criticism, coupled with a tendency to emphasize what the report terms "encouraging" developments, suggests that considerations other than human rights influenced the assessment. It mirrors a broader trend by European governments to downplay human rights concerns in their dealings with Turkmenistan - a country rich in natural gas and considered an important strategic partner by many governments, including the UK.

55.       The only forum for human rights promotion referenced repeatedly is the annual EU-Turkmenistan human rights dialogue. In the view of Human Rights Watch, this is a very ineffective process. Most troubling is the report's complete omission of a concern so central that many experts would consider it the hallmark of the Turkmen government's repression - the continued imprisonment of unknown numbers of individuals on politically motivated grounds.  The report notes the total absence of any independent monitoring of the prison system, including the government's continued refusal to allow access to the ICRC, but then goes on to note the Turkmen government's plan to build new prisons - as though this would somehow address the problems identified - adding, astonishingly, that the FCO is "looking at how we might be able to support this process, for instance by putting the government in touch with appropriate British companies." UK government efforts should be focused on ending the government's use of imprisonment as a tool for political retaliation, and on securing independent scrutiny of the prison system. 

56        Uzbekistan - The Report's coverage of Uzbekistan is weak in a number of specific areas. First, the Report acknowledges but understates the problem of torture. Torture is not merely a "serious concern", but a widespread and systematic practice. Second, on the issue of child labour, the report states that "there was some evidence of a reduction" in 2010. In the absence of independent monitoring by impartial experts, Human Rights Watch doubts that there is sufficient evidence to support the FCO's conclusion. Third, the FCO report commends Uzbekistan for "cooperating closely with the relevant UN agencies" during the humanitarian crisis following the violence in Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.  While Uzbekistan did allow UNHCR access to provide humanitarian relief, it continues to deny UNHCR staff visas and accreditation to operate in the country.

57.      Yemen - UK diplomats put insufficient pressure on the Yemeni authorities in 2010 to adhere to their international human rights obligations. For example, the UK apparently did not raise at the highest level the Yemeni Government's decision to block aid to civilians living under Huthi control.  The report also omits mention of two serious areas of human rights abuse in Yemen: the use of child soldiers by government forces as well as rebels, and the practice of enforced disappearances.

58.     Zimbabwe - One important area omitted from this section relates to justice and accountability for past crimes in Zimbabwe.  Impunity remains deeply entrenched in Zimbabwe and helps perpetuate cycles of violence, especially around elections. With a referendum and elections planned for 2011, the lack of accountability and justice for past abuses raises the spectre of further violence and human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch thanks the Chairman and Members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for their interest in these matters.

David Mepham
UK Director, Human Rights Watch

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