The Foreign and Commonwealth Office welcomes the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on our human rights work in 2012. We are delighted that the FAC acknowledges that the FCO provides a valuable service through the production of our annual report on human rights and democracy and through our work to improve human rights standards. We are also pleased that the FAC commends our ‘authoritative analysis’ of conditions in our 27 countries of concern. We will consider the report and its recommendations in full and publish our response in December 2013.
We share the FAC’s wish to see substantial and sustainable improvements in human rights in Sri Lanka. However, we do not agree with the FAC’s assessment of the FCO as ‘timid and inconsistent’ on this issue. The FCO has consistently pursued progress in Sri Lanka on human rights through high-level bilateral lobbying, support for local and international non-governmental organisations on the ground and internationally through the EU and Human Rights Council. The decision to hold CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013 was taken at the 2009 Port of Spain CHOGM, where all Commonwealth Heads agreed a package that included Australia’s bid to host in 2011 and Mauritius in 2015. When the issue of hosts for 2013 and 2015 was raised in the 2011 CHOGM in Perth there was no consensus amongst member states to revisit the decision made in Port of Spain for Sri Lanka to host CHOGM in 2013. Since the decision was made the FCO has continuously urged Sri Lanka to make progress. We see CHOGM as an opportunity to highlight the need for effective commitment to the shared values and human rights for which the Commonwealth stands. The CHOGM meeting will be a spotlight on Sri Lanka and highlight either progress or its absence. The British delegation to CHOGM will see the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka and deliver a clear message that Sri Lanka needs to make concrete progress on human rights.
We recognise both the remarkable changes that have taken place in Burma, but also the scale of challenges that remain. We continue to raise human rights at the highest levels with the Burmese government, including during President Thein Sein’s visit to UK earlier this year. We continue to call for the unconditional release of all political prisoners, and to press the Burmese government to seek a long-term solution to the issues affecting Burma’s ethnic groups, including the Rohingya community in Rakhine State.
We will continue to work with international partners and the BBC World Service, regarding Satellite jamming, to take action to remove restrictions and to protect the right to seek and receive information through any media platforms.
We are pleased that the FAC do not support a boycott of the Sochi Games, and agree that we have a better chance of influencing Russia by engaging and challenging prejudices than by boycotting. We regularly set out our concerns on human rights to the Russian Government, and will continue to do so. Human rights will be part of our dialogue with Russia in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics.