Government Human Rights Report: Progress hampered by backtrack on ICC and Foreign Policy and commercial-interest failings

In the past 12 months, the Foreign Office has played a constructive role in the fight against torture and in promoting international abolition of the death penalty. The UK has also provided useful funding support for human rights organisations and projects through its missions and human rights fund.

However, Amnesty International remains concerned about a lack of progress – even reverses - in key areas.

Traditionally a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court - which came into force under treaty on 1 July 2002, the UK has recently shown signs of accommodating US demands that will undermine the court. Moreover, should the UK accede to Washington's demand for an immunity agreement with respect to US nationals, the UK risks failing to meet its international obligations as well as contravening international treaty law.

Amnesty International is also concerned at recent FCO decisions relating to arms exports which suggest that commitments to a responsible export control policy are under threat.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The government's human rights report is an important tool of accountability and reflects real efforts within the Foreign Office to assess its policy and practice according to human rights criteria.

Despite real advances in some areas, however, we remain worried that there is evidence that the government may be sacrificing human rights on the altar of commercial expedience and realpolitik.

Perhaps most worrying of all is recent evidence of the UK aiding and abetting US wrecking actions over the International Criminal Court. Instead of deploying its diplomatic resources to defend international justice, the UK appears to be using them to frustrate attempts to agree a strong EU position on the court.

It is vital that the UK stand firm in support of a court that will investigate and prosecute people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – the worst crimes in the world.

The annual report reveals much good work, but the ICC issue and concerns about the regulation of arms exports are two reasons why we are beginning to worry about the strategic commitment to human rights in the FCO. We hope these fears are unfounded.'

Amnesty International was also concerned at a lack of consistency in the government's approach to human rights issues around the globe, not least following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

Kate Allen added:

'While tough on countries like Iraq and Zimbabwe, the government's foreign policy was soft-centred over countries like Saudi Arabia. Foreign policy ought to be dictated by the 'facts on the ground' in countries that abuse human rights, and not by commercial or supposed strategic objectives.

As we read this report in detail, we will be paying particular attention to see how the FCO is approaching human rights violations committed in the name of the 'war against terrorism.''

Amnesty International welcomed in 2001 the long-delayed publication of an Export Control Bill as a positive step towards introducing the regulatory system needed to ensure that UK transfers of arms and security equipment do not contribute to human rights violations abroad.

However, Amnesty International is concerned that the Export Control Act 2002 is insufficient to ensure that UK-supplied arms and security equipment is not used to violate human rights and international humanitarian law. It appears that the government is breaking its manifesto commitment to 'control the activities of arms brokers and traffickers wherever they are located', as under current proposals loopholes exist which allow UK arms brokers to avoid all controls by stepping out of the country to conduct their business.

There are no proposals to improve the system for monitoring the end-use of UK arms exports, the practice of licensed production is still severely under-regulated and the government is refusing to introduce a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny for export licence applications.

Kate Allen commented:

'A much-need and much-delayed law to regulate the arms industry is dangerously full of loopholes and doesn't allow for proper scrutiny. The fear is that new legislation will not prevent weapons ending up in the hands of those who commit human rights violations.'

For Amnesty International's on-line petition on the ICC, see: http://web.amnesty.org/web/icc_petition.nsf/action_english

For further information on Amnesty international UK's 'Aim higher; tough arms controls' campaign, see: /content.asp?CategoryID=655 /p>

For further Amnesty international information on China, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Iraq, see: http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/index.html (selecting country)

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