Benedict Rogers is East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a former parliamentary candidate and a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute.
Jeremy Hunt was the best Foreign Secretary of recent times, and his departure is regrettable. He brought gravitas, a global vision and deeply-held values to the role. He did more than any of his recent predecessors combined to champion human rights and freedoms around the world. Only William Hague, who developed in opposition the pledge to put “human rights at the heart of foreign policy” and introduced the campaign on preventing sexual violence in conflict, comes close.
In his year as Foreign Secretary, Hunt introduced an independent review of policy on the persecution of Christians around the world, led by the Bishop of Truro, which was published earlier this month, and a campaign on global media freedom which resulted in an excellent international conference in London earlier this month. For me as a human rights activist specialising in freedom of religion or belief and a former journalist who believes passionately in press freedom and freedom of expression, these were extremely welcome initiatives.
Hunt also made a point of defending individual cases and giving them profile — for example, on his first visit to Beijing as Foreign Secretary he met with the wives of jailed Chinese human rights lawyers, and he gave personal voice to the plight of Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe in a persistent and impressive way. If he had stayed in office longer, he would have developed these and other causes and built a robust foreign policy based on the defence of the values we Conservatives hold dear: freedom, human rights, the rule of law and democracy – recognising that these are not only Conservative values, but universal ones, for everyone, everywhere.
Dominic Raab’s background, however, gives me hope that he will build on the work of his predecessor. As the son of Czech Jewish refugees, as a lawyer who prosecuted war criminals, and as the Member of Parliament who led the introduction of the Magnitsky Act, legislation designed to sanction officials in tyrannies around the world who commit or are complicit with torture, he has the credentials to be a Foreign Secretary who defends and promotes freedom and human rights.
So as the new Foreign Secretary begins to consider his in-tray, I urge him firstly to continue and strengthen the campaign to promote and defend media freedom around the world; secondly, to implement the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s report on the persecution of Christians, which the new Prime Minister has already endorsed; and thirdly to prioritise some key parts of the world where Britain has a particular obligation, such as Hong Kong, the new frontline in the battle between freedom and repression, and Burma, where small fragile flickers of hope have been snuffed out by genocide and crimes against humanity by a military that continues to act with impunity.
I urge Raab to send a clear message that Britain will stand up for Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy promised under the “one country, two systems” principle. I urge him to consider ways to hold the perpetrators of mass atrocities in Burma accountable. And I urge him to be bold in reviewing Britain’s relationship with China, recognising that we want to continue to do business with such a major economy but not at the cost of our values. China must be challenged on the mass atrocities it is perpetrating against the Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, the most severe crackdown on Christianity since the Cultural Revolution, the continuing persecution of Tibetans and Falun Gong, allegations of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience as concluded by the recent China Tribunal chaired by the lawyer who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, not to mention the threats China poses to our own freedoms and national security. I hope he will confer with the new Education Secretary over the dangers of Huawei investment in 5G technology.
Finally, while of course among the most immediate priorities are Iran, Syria, continuing challenges with Russia, North Korea must be given more attention. I urge the new Foreign Secretary to encourage the United States and South Korea to include the human rights question as part of the new engagement process with Kim Jong-Un’s brutal regime, and not to forget the findings and recommendations of the UN Commission of Inquiry report published five years ago, which concluded that North Korea is committing crimes against humanity “unparalleled” in the world.
As a human rights activist working for a Non-Governmental Organisation specialising in freedom of religion or belief, I urge the Foreign Secretary to champion this right for everyone, everywhere as a key part of foreign policy. As the founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, I urge him to strengthen Britain’s support for the people of Hong Kong at this critical time in what has been one of Asia’s freest and most open cities, and a major international centre, but whose basic freedoms are threatened as never before. And as co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, I offer myself and our co-operation to him and his team, just as we have worked with his predecessors, in continuing and enhancing a foreign policy that promotes and defends freedom everywhere.