Parliament committee challenges UK minister over Free Tibet concerns

Tibet protesters outside UK parliament
Tibet protesters outside UK parliament
25th February 2016

Minister claims UK "fully engaged" with human rights despite widespread criticism

A senior committee of the UK Parliament has used evidence submitted by Free Tibet to challenge the UK government over its approach to working with human rights organisations. In response to our concern that meetings with NGOs about human rights may sometimes be a “box-ticking or PR exercise”, Baroness Anelay, the minister responsible for human rights, told the prestigious Foreign Affairs Committee that our complaint may have arisen out of disappointment over the UK’s position on Tibet.

Free Tibet: UK government doesn't listen to the experts

The Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) is responsible for scrutinising UK government policy on foreign relations and launched an inquiry on its human rights work in January. Free Tibet and Tibet Watch were among a range of organisations submitting evidence about matters such as the government’s human rights priorities, its willingness to work with external organisations and how it measures its success.

In our evidence, Free Tibet and Tibet Watch raised concerns that the UK government was not providing clear evidence of its effectiveness or activity in promoting human rights and that ministers were not engaging in open-minded and constructive dialogue with human rights NGOs concerned with China and Tibet. We also raised our concern that the section on Tibet in the UK’s annual Human Rights Report restates the UK’s position on Tibet being part of China – a political position that does not belong in a report on human rights.

Missing the point

In a hearing yesterday, the committee quoted our concerns about meetings with the UK’s minister responsible for China, Hugo Swire MP in which he failed to listen and engage in constructive dialogue. As our evidence reported, his approach led some organisations attending these meetings to whether they might be used for political ends, so that the government could appear to be consulting human rights groups. Some groups have questioned the value of attnding them at all.

In response, Baroness Anelay said that while the government puts a high value on meetings with human rights organisations, they may complain when their views are not reflected in government policy:

"For example, if one is working for Free Tibet it won’t be for much comfort if one of them finds that the government maintains its position, as we have, that we believe that Tibet is a part of China and therefore I can see that they would be disappointed with the result of their contribution."

Free Tibet and Tibet Watch’s evidence, however, made clear that we were referring only to issues surrounding human rights abuse in Tibet, not to political questions. Our views on the government's approach have been echoed in private by a number of human rights organisations working on China.

The government was widely criticised for its failure to publicly raise human rights concerns during President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the UK last year.

Free Tibet has asked the minister to provide detail about how or whether human rights were raised in private but no information has yet been provided.