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Foreign Affairs Committee to Monitor Brit’s Case, amid 'Concerns' over UK Human Rights Approach

Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) has said it will monitor the case of a British father held in Ethiopia, among others, amid concerns that the government has lessened its commitment to ending human rights abuses abroad.

In an interim report released today on the UK’s overseas human rights work, the FAC said that there was “plainly a perception” that the government had recently downgraded its commitment to the promotion of human rights. The FAC’s inquiry follows the news, in August last year, that Foreign Office would no longer use the longstanding designation ‘countries of concern’ to denote countries associated with human rights abuses. An FCO official subsequently remarked to the Committee that human rights were “not one of our [the government’s] top priorities”.

The FAC – which today launches a wider inquiry into the government’s human rights work – revealed it would monitor the situation of several individuals facing abuses abroad, and use these as benchmarks to measure the Foreign Office’s commitment to protecting human rights. They include Andy Tsege, a British father of three who was kidnapped at an airport in June 2014 and rendered to Ethiopia. Mr Tsege is held under a sentence of death imposed in absentia in 2009. Mr Tsege and his family in London are assisted by human rights organization Reprieve.

While the UN and the European Parliament have called on Ethiopia release Mr Tsege, the British government has not issued a similar request. Last year, while hosting an event for the Ethiopian government in London, then-Africa Minister Grant Shapps said the UK stood ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the country. More recently, it has emerged that the UK is providing funding for the country’s security forces.


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Another case the FAC has said it will follow is that of Ibrahim Halawa – an Irish teenager who faces a death sentence in a mass trial in Egypt, after his arrest at a protest in 2013. Egypt remains a close UK ally, and MPs on the Committee raised particular concerns over the UK’s failure to include the country, as well as Bahrain, among its current list of Human Rights Priority Countries. They said the designation “sends an important message to the country concerned”, and that the omission of Egypt and Bahrain “contributes to the perception that the FCO has become more hesitant in promoting and defending international human rights”.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“MPs are right to raise these concerns. In recent months we’ve seen a steady downgrading of the government’s commitment to human rights, even as our allies – the likes of Bahrain, Egypt and Ethiopia – crack down ever harder on peaceful dissenters, such as British dad Andy Tsege. As the FAC says, promises of private diplomacy are not enough – the Foreign Office must make be unequivocally clear that it is committed to ending human rights abuses, by our allies and others.”

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Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.

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