Foreign Office publishes Annual Report on Human Rights 2009
[18 March 2010] On 17 March, the Foreign Office published its Annual Report on Human Rights 2009. Tibet Society was invited, and attended, the launch event.

ImageIn his address to launch the Annual Report on Human Rights 2009, David Miliband, who was speaking within an hour of flying back to the UK from Beijing, stressed the importance of human rights and the annual report, saying, “human rights and democracy matter in foreign policy because they are fundamental to our legal obligations, they’re fundamental to our aspirations and because they further our interests.”

In looking back at the last 12 months, the Foreign Secretary admitted that despite best efforts, “the setbacks have been more striking than the progress in the last year”. He went on to describe major concerns held in some key countries. However, whilst he was very robust in his criticism of the Burmese authorities, he gave a scant two sentences on the current human rights situation in China, with no mention of Tibet, saying, “In China, 2009 ended with their execution of a mentally ill British citizen, Akmal Shaikh, and the imprisonment of prominent human rights activists, whose cases I raised in China yesterday and the day before.”

The report itself gives six pages to China. Within this, Tibet is disappointingly only given several paragraphs, much of which relates to the visit to Tibet of Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis in September 2009. The report reiterates the UK government’s position that “considers Tibet part of the People’s Republic of China”, but expresses “support [for] meaningful autonomy” and believes “only peaceful dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives will result in a lasting and peaceful solution to the problem of Tibet”.

On China, the Annual Report said, "China's human rights record remained a serious cause for concern in 2009." It went on to comment that while there had been economic and social progress, Beijing had been "far slower on civil and political rights, with a marked deterioration in some areas". Three issues were specifically highlighted in China: "increasing harassment of defence lawyers; the treatment of detainees in relation to ethnic unrest ... and the detention of human rights defenders and political dissidents".

ImageIn looking to the year ahead, David Miliband outlined in his speech three challenges; improving democratic accountability worldwide, greater co-operation on how to deal with terrorism, conflict and crime and, “ensuring that where the most oppressive governments refuse to be held to account by their own people, they are at least held to account by the international community”. He went on to emphatically reject “the notion that national sovereignty should be allowed to shield abusive states and their leaders from scrutiny”. It will be interesting to see how the Foreign Office follows this up with regards to China and the Chinese government’s oft repeated fob off whenever criticised, especially in regard to Tibet, that it is “an internal matter” and therefore no government has the right to comment or interfere. China also uses this stance whenever the Dalai Lama visits countries, with various spokesmen quoting the line, “Tibet is an integral part of China and any meeting with the Dalai Lama constitutes interference in its internal affairs.”

See also:
Foreign Secretary raises Dhondup Wangchen's case during China visit

External links:
FCO: David Miliband’s speech to launch the 2009 12th FCO Human Rights Report

FCO: Download the Foreign Office's Annual Report on Human Rights 2009
(The Foreign Office describes the report "a tool to inform parliament, NGOs and the general public and to hold the Foreign Office to account for our policy and activities to promote human rights around the world. It focuses on UK views and actions, and looks at the integration of human rights elements into some of our primary policy objectives.")

BBC: China hits out at FCO Human Rights report (18 March)

BBC guide: How China is ruled

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