I have today laid before the House a copy of the 2012 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report on human rights and democracy (CM 8593).
The report comprehensively assesses the global human rights situation in 2012 and provides information about some important developments in early 2013. It sets out what the Government are doing through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to promote human rights and democratic values around the world, in three principal areas: it documents how we are seeking to exert a positive influence in a range of countries where we have serious concerns about the human rights situation; it assesses progress on a number of thematic issues that cut across geographical boundaries; and it reports on areas where we believe we have seen positive developments over the last year.
We have made some changes to the format of the report itself this year, including the introduction of new chapters. As our topical theme for the 2012 report we have chosen “promoting and protecting human rights through the UN”. We believe that the UN’s Human Rights Council is coming of age and that its universal periodic review process has already developed into a valuable mechanism for holding countries accountable for their human rights record. The theme is also timely as the UK is standing for re-election to the Human Rights Council later this year. We have also introduced a new chapter on our human rights and democracy programme and added a section on the preventing sexual violence initiative which I launched last year.
For this year’s report, we decided to review the criteria we use for deciding which countries are of most human rights concern to the UK. We drew on feedback from the Foreign Affairs Committee and consulted with the Foreign Secretary’s advisory group on human rights in coming up with a revised list of criteria.
The primary criterion for inclusion as a country of concern is the gravity of the human rights situation in the country, including both the severity of particular abuses and the range of human rights affected. The other criteria then considered are: whether a deterioration or improvement in the human rights situation in the country would have a wider impact in the region; whether the human rights situation in the country has an impact on wider UK interests; and the level of UK activity and engagement in that country.
FCO geographical directors, drawing on input from our embassies and high commissions and taking account of evidence from other expert sources such as the UN and civil society, assessed all the countries in their regions against this newly revised set of criteria. Ministers then made the final decision on the list of countries of concern to be included in the report. As a result of this analysis, we retained 27 of the 28 countries highlighted in 2011, dropping only Chad.
I also decided that we should retain case studies, which we introduced last year as a way to report on countries that do not meet the overall threshold for a country of concern, but whose human rights performance we judge to be on a changing trajectory. While many case studies focus on countries on a negative trajectory, in others we want to highlight a particular thematic issue. These countries remain subject to in-year monitoring and reporting.
These changes to our reporting system underline the Government’s determination to ensure that the report continues to remain relevant and timely. I hope that 2013 will conclude with our successful re-election to the Human Rights Council so the UK can continue to play a leading role in this important institution.
You can read the report at www.hrdreport.fco.gov.uk.