Foreign Secretary pledges to ‘strengthen’ human rights focus

15 September 2010 by

Updated British Foreign Policy will put more emphasis on protecting human rights, the Foreign Secretary said in a speech today at Lincoln’s Inn.

It has been widely reported this morning that Mr Hague will argue that a focus on human rights is inextricably linked to the UK’s security and standing, and in the context of the upcoming torture inquiry, “directly linked to the belief of others that we will do what we say and we will not apply double standards“.

The Foreign Secretary is also to announce a new independent advisory group, including non governmental organisations and independent experts, to advise ministers on human rights issues.

According to the BBC:

There will be no downgrading of human rights under this government and no resiling from our commitments to aid and development,” Mr Hague will say. “Indeed I intend to improve and strengthen our human rights work. It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience, and neither is it in our interests.

William Hague made an early commitment to put human rights at the “irreducible core” of UK foreign policy, and has repeatedly emphasised this in the face of criticism that the Foreign Office was cutting back on its human rights commitments.

I asked in a recent post (see here) whether human rights and foreign policy can sensibly be said to mix. The new Foreign Secretary has now made a number of grand statements about the UK’s commitment to human rights abroad. It is to be hoped that he is prepared to put the necessary time and money into considering how this can realistically be achieved.

Update: The full speech can be read here. Some choice quotes:

Better than New Labour: The [last government’s] ethical foreign policy approach, although praiseworthy in intent, proved to be misguided in application and based on flawed thinking.”

Promoting human rights is good for the UK: “We ourselves cannot prosper without the laws that protect free and fair trade, property and intellectual property rights.”

Tempered by realism: “We have to recognise that other countries are likely to develop at different paces. Democracy rests on foundations that have to be built over time: strong institutions, responsible and accountable government, a free press, the rule of law, equal rights for men and women, and other less tangible habits of mind and of participation.”

No arrogance: “But we do not have the option, unlike Gladstone or Palmerston, of dispatching gunboats and relying on the power of the British Empire. We must guard against arrogance in our dealings with other countries.”

New advisory group: “I can announce that I have decided to convene an advisory group on human rights which will draw of the advice of key NGOs, independent experts and others. It will ensure that I have the best possible information about the human rights situation in different countries, and can benefit from outside advice on the conduct of our policy. It will meet regularly and have direct access to Ministers.”

Annual human rights report:Rather than the current expensive glossy publication we will now report annually to parliament by Command Paper. The scope and quality of the reporting will not change, and indeed we want to make more of that information available to the public in real time on our website.”

The tweeting Foreign Office: “In Iran we are using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to communicate with the Farsi social media community and promote the debate on human rights, and we are replicating this work worldwide.”

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