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William Hague has just launched the Human Rights Commission’s Annual Report into the state of human rights around the world. Hague, who wrote for ConservativeHome about human rights earlier today, was very welcoming of the report and told the gathering of diplomats, NGO representatives and Party activists that human rights should be at the heart of our foreign policy – the third time he has said so in a speech.

The headline recommendation is on reforming the FCO – calling for a minister within it to be dedicated to human rights, a code of conduct on what is expected of FCO employees with regards to human rights, and more co-ordination of embassies on these issues.

The pdf of the full report can be downloaded here, and ConservativeHome has summarised each chapter below:

GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS: THEMES AND TRENDS

1. Slavery Today

This year we celebrated the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave
trade yet around the world there is still widespread forced labour and
sexual. The Commission has been particularly active on the issue of
human trafficking this year, which is in fact the third largest source
of income for organised crime. We recommend the immediate ratification
and implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action
Against Trafficking in Human Beings, and the setting up of designated
help-lines for victims of trafficking and for men who believe that a
prostitute is working against her will.


2. Rape as a Weapon of War

The co-ordinated victimisation of women through sexual violence is a
relatively recent element to conflicts, such as in Burma and Darfur. In
these cases rape has a more calculated purpose than mere sexual
gratification; it perpetuates Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and in
ethnically divided regions it is even used to dilute the ethnicity of
persecuted populations. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal
Court and the Geneva Conventions specify rape as a war crime. It’s time
to stop these crimes being committed with the impunity that they are,
by rigorously enforcing UNSC 1325 which calls for states to prosecute
its perpetrators.

3. Child Soldiers

One campaign group estimates that as many as half a million children
under the age of eighteen have been recruited into armed groups. In
several countries these groups include official government forces, and
in most the word ‘recruit’ is a euphemism. Child soldiers are at the
bottom of the hierarchy; they are often beaten, abused, and given the
most dangerous jobs. Few manage to live what could be considered normal
lives afterwards. Existing and emerging international standards such as
those advocated by February’s UNICEF conference on the matter in Paris
should be promoted. They should be acted on by at least trying to stop
the most prolific offenders from travelling and receiving transfers of
money and arms, and restricting cooperation with government’s that are
implicated in the use of child soldiers.


4. New Faces of Apartheid: Ethnic and Caste Discrimination in India

Caste-based discrimination continues in India under its democratic
government and free press as it has done for thousands of years. The
increasing economic and strategic significance of India should not mute
concern about the systematic injustice of almost 200 million Dalits,
the so-called ‘untouchables’, being treated like second class citizens
purely because of their caste. The Indian constitution does outlaw such
discrimination but in practice it remains endemic. The Commission has
met with Dalit activists in India and in a hearing it hosted in
Parliament, and we hope other elements of the Conservative Party will
engage with them. The UK should be raising the matter with the Indian
government, as well as supporting Dalit organisations with resources,
and their communities with ring-fenced aid.

5. Refugees and Internally Displaced People

The UNCHR’s figures for refugees in 2006 show significant increases
over previous years in the number of stateless persons, refugees, and
‘persons of concern’, whilst the number of those repatriated
voluntarily, the preferred solution for refugees, has stalled. These
trends are partly because of the situation in Iraq, and partly due to
smaller scale conflicts in Colombia, Lebanon and Sri Lanka. The
countries of first asylum are often as under-resourced as the source
countries and need considerable support. More fortunate countries
should also do more to live up to commitments to protect refugees in
their own countries.


6. Prisoners of Conscience

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion are absolutely fundamental
freedoms, and we are committed to the principle of using our liberty to
promote others’. David Cameron and our Chairman Stephen Crabb met with
two North Korean defectors in June who described the terrible plight of
the 200,000 political prisoners in their country. When the Burmese
junta clamped down on the protesting monks and citizens in September
and October, Conservatives were able to use their long-standing
interest in the situation to speak out authoritatively against it.


7. Torture

International treaties banning torture are cruelty in all circumstances
are more readily ratified than most others, but the usual suspects such
as North Korea, Iran and Burma continue to blatantly practice it. The
debate on torture has intensified greatly since the United States took
the controversial position that it can be acceptable in certain
circumstances, and the British government sought to be able to balance
the risk of torture against national security concerns. We have to be
careful not to undermine our moral standing in the world, and should
take a leading role in urging countries to sign up to the UN’s
convention against torture, and to restrictions in the trade of torture
equipment.

8. Freedom of the Press

Progress on this front has been slow since the early 1990s. Freedom
House’s latest survey of media independence concluded that just 18% of
the world’s population live in countries that can be classified as
having a free press. A number of governments have created a culture in
which journalists are compelled to self-censor, rather than cracking
down on them overtly. The internet is making it so much easier for
citizens and minority groups to publicly express themselves, but
authoritarian governments are doing their utmost to keep up with
technology and censor them. There are some excellent organisations
working in this field and their cause should be spotlighted as much as
possible, especially on World Press Freedom Day.

9. Freedom of Religion

The right to choose your own religious beliefs, or none, is under siege
by laws prohibiting ‘blasphemy’ and imposing harsh penalties on those
who convert away from, or refuse to convert to, the preferred doctrine.
Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan account for most of
this discrimination and lack of religious freedom, particularly those
that have incorporated Sharia law. Hindu nationalism in India and
militant Buddhism in Sri Lanka also cause concern. The UN’s Special
Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief and the US’ innovative
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom have helped to
focus minds on this issue, and we would urge the FCO to formalise and
strengthen its Freedom of Religion Panel.

10. Institutions of Democracy

There continues to be a strong correlation between unstable,
undemocratic countries and poor human rights records. The UK needs to
be more proactive in assessing the viability of the institutions of
democracy within countries. Too few EU and UN programmes assess the
viability of institutions of democracy and ensure that democracy
continues to be a reality after election day. The next Conservative
government will, we hope, be at the forefront of designing and funding
programmes that foment participation in the democratic process.

A PROGRAMME FOR ACTION: PUTTING HUMAN RIGHTS AT THE HEART OF FOREIGN POLICY


1. The structures and mechanisms of the UK Government: the role of
embassies, diplomats and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The FCO’s responsiveness to human rights violations is highly dependent
on the capability and willpower of its diplomats. Human rights need to
be a more institutionalised concern with rewards and warnings meted out
accordingly. We propose an International Human Rights Act that would
make human rights promotion a strategic priority rather than merely a
sub-category of sustainable development. That prioritisation should be
reflected by the appointment of a dedicated Minister of State and an
Ambassador-at-Large, advised by a permanent advisory group composed of
respected NGOs. The Annual Human Rights report should be presented to
and debated in both Houses of Parliament. The FCO’s Freedom of Religion
panel should be given permanent status and an influential Special
Representative for it appointed. Embassies should be encouraged to
contribute to a Human Rights & Democracy website that acts as a
gateway to relevant information, and they should be required to engage
with human rights activists in their respective countries.

2. Human Rights and Human Wrongs: Making the UN Human Rights Council work

The UN Human Rights Commission was an embarrassing failure for the UN
system. The cumbersome size of its membership and the conspicuous
presence of countries that themselves had a lot to answer for on the
human rights front meant it achieved very little and had little
credibility. Its replacement, the Human Rights Council, is an
improvement in several structural ways but isn’t as distinct from its
predecessor as we would have liked. It has slightly fewer members and a
slightly better system of deciding memberships, but its agenda so far
seems as narrow as the Commission’s in its continuing disproportionate
focus on Israel. We are also concerned at the ineffective
Europeanisation of the UK’s approach to negotiations, and the prospect
of the UK having less clout as a result of a common EU representative.

3. Economic policy: the role of business and the place of sanctions

Economic decisions can be powerful catalysts for change. Governments
have the important duty of maintaining a stable and successful economy
as well as a duty to uphold human rights. They should not be seen as
mutually exclusive. Economic sanctions are not always the best option
but they are often the least worst. They make it clear to the world
what is considered acceptable, and should certainly be considered
before the use of force. Sanctions targeted at government-dominated
industries and the personal interests of senior officials can be as
effective as bans on all trade. Trans National Corporations have a role
to play as well, they should take the initiative in being responsible
in respect of human rights because in the long-run it is in their
interests to be so.

4. Democracy promotion: what the UK can do better

Democratic systems aren’t one-size-fits-all, but they should include
fair elections, a free press, an impartial judiciary and a vibrant
civil society. They are the best way of achieving competent and fair
governance, and should be promoted as such.  The Westminster Foundation
for Democracy is the main vehicle in the UK for doing so, it offers
grants to civil society organisations around the world and encourages
co-operation between political parties in established democracies and
like-minded parties in less developed democracies. We would like to see
it given the resources to become a major institution with a broader
remit and incorporating government schemes such as the FCO’s Global
Opportunities fund so that efforts are strategically co-ordinated. The
Conservative Party itself has done a lot of work in building relations
with sister parties, including capacity building work with fledgling
Eastern European parties, and we strongly endorse those continuing
efforts.

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