FCO’s 2007 Human Rights ReportLondonMarch 25th, 2008
Welcome to the launch of the FCO's 2007 Annual Report on Human Rights. For a number of reasons, this is a good moment to take stock of the global struggle to advance universal human rights, and the British government's contribution to that struggle.
The historian Arnold Toynbee said the twentieth century would be remembered not for political conflicts or technical inventions, but as an age when people dared to think of the health of the whole human race as a practical objective.
This year we mark that moment of daring: the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Over the past sixty years, political ideologies have come and gone. Empires have crumbled. Global politics has been reshaped. Yet the Declaration lives on. It is today the cornerstone for much of international human rights law. Its ideas have influenced the thinking of generations, from American civil rights activists, to the champions of gay rights and those who brought down the Berlin Wall. I pay tribute to the millions of people, leaders and led, who have kept the flame of freedom alive, never more so than today.
In the last year, when foreign policy has broken through to dominate the news cycle, it has often been because of concern about human rights. The crisis in Zimbabwe. The twin agony of the suffering in Gaza and Sderot. The frustrated demands of millions of decent people in Burma. The threat to peace in Kenya. And most recently the situation in Tibet: worldwide concern is justified and proper. There needs to be mutual respect between all communities and sustained dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Authorities.
It is the passion of the British people for justice, and the determination of the media to reflect that concern in their coverage, that has propelled situations of people far away into every living room in Britain. I welcome that passion of people, and the campaign groups that often represent them, and the determination of often brave journalists. I want it to be matched by the government: where people are working to achieve human rights around the world, we should be on their side. The Human Rights Report is one way to do that: a comprehensive survey of progress and setbacks, including a clear list of countries of concern, where we feel the human rights situation merits special attention.
This is the 10th FCO Human Rights report. Over the last decade, concern for human rights has moved from the margins to the mainstream. The Human Rights Act brought the European Convention into domestic law in 1998. A raft of legislation has been passed promoting gender, disability and race equality and giving new rights to gay and lesbian couples. Internationally, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and the arrests of Milosevic and Charles Taylor were major steps forward for international justice. The unanimous 2005 agreement on the Responsibility to Protect was another significant sign of the change in the climate.
As human rights moves from the margins to the mainstream, it can no longer be treated as a discrete area of foreign policy; more and more of the challenges of foreign policy have human rights as a vital dimension. This is reflected in the new strategic framework governing the work of the FCO. All four of the foreign policy goals that now drive our work - from tackling terrorism and conflict to promoting low carbon development and effective international organisations - reflect concerns about human rights, reflect the role of human rights as a platform for human progress, reflect the history of the struggle for human rights and what we have learnt along the way, and reflect something else, namely that the case for human rights is moral but also instrumental: they should be the basic rules for a world in which we can all live in peace and dignity.
Our new goals flow directly from our analysis of how the world is changing. There is more democracy, more wealth, more opportunity than ever before; but also more insecurity and by some definitions more inequality than ever before; and by all calculations more interdependence than ever before. So a country like Britain has a choice: pretend we can opt out of the great struggle for progress, kidding ourselves that it will not affect us; or we can play our part, because it is the right thing to do, and because it is in our interest. The prism of our most basic values can help us do that: as the National Security Strategy published last week by the Prime Minister said, the starting point for a security strategy has to be clarity about values: 'human rights, the rule of law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all...form the basis of our security, as well as our well-being and our prosperity.'
Let me set out how concern for human rights will inform the pursuit of our foreign policy goals, and then say what I think we need to do to advance them.
First, the struggle against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
I believe the consciousness of the world has been changed by the events of 11 September 2001, and by subsequent terrorist attacks around the world, including here in London, and in Asia and the Middle East. The threat we face is different - in its methods, in its ideology, in its goals, in its doctrine - than anything we have faced before.
Some say that countering terrorism is so important that we must put aside concerns about human rights. But I think that concern for human rights is our greatest strength.
Democratic and inclusive political systems around the world are a bulwark against the terrorist mantra of incompatible civilisations. That is why we are right to support the spread of democracy in Afghanistan, in Bangladesh, in Iraq, and defend fragile democracies in Lebanon, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.
Our own democratic and judicial systems, which embody hard won rights, and deal with people of different religion or race on an equal basis, are living proof that healthy societies depend for their stability on equal rights for all. That is why, for example, we are making our contribution, through the return of British nationals and residents, to the closure of Guantanamo, and why it is our clear policy never to be complicit in torture or rendition to torture. It is why we need to continue to ensure that we adhere to all of our commitments to human rights and home and abroad.
And human rights are relevant not just to how we respond to those who threaten us, but to how we empower those who share our views and aspirations. That is why we are running projects to promote women's rights in places such as Morocco. It is why we support the establishment of an independent judiciary in Iraq and Pakistan. And it is why we are promoting an independent media through projects in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East, and through our support for BBC World service's launch of 24-hour BBC Arabic and BBC Persian TV.
For the FCO it means more staff in the Middle East and North Africa. It means more coordination with the rest of Whitehall, with the MOD and DFID on security overseas, and the Home Office and Ministry of Justice on security at home; and it means more emphasis on the work we do to support democracy and good governance in fragile states, whether it is building a future for the people of Kosovo, actively supporting the Middle-East Peace Process, or working to provide assistance and protection for the people of Darfur.
Our second policy goal is about preventing and resolving conflict. Modern warfare means that civilians are often the victims. Increasingly violence is deliberately directed against them. But in all cases they suffer because their livelihoods are destroyed, because they are displaced, or because they are unable to access food and healthcare. This is why it is vital that we make the Responsibility to Protect a reality, not just a slogan.
Mary Robinson once said 'today's human rights violations are the causes of tomorrow's conflicts'. Conflict prevention means addressing problems of political and economic marginalisation that can fuel violence and instability, and it can also mean using military power with civilian forces where minority rights will otherwise be abused.
UK foreign policy supports political dialogue as the only solution for the world's most intractable conflicts. In the Middle East, the conflict over the creation of a Palestinian state able to live at peace with a secure Israel, we have not had a political process for seven years. Now we have one - started at Annapolis, fragile in many ways, under assault from various sides, but still the only hope for citizens on both sides united only by the misery and insecurity of the current impasse. In Cyprus, recent elections have given dialogue a chance; we will support it. In Northern Iraq and Southern Turkey the greatest threat to the PKK is dialogue between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government.
UK foreign policy will also support the use of the hard power of military force - from Kosovo to Darfur to Afghanistan and Iraq. Military victories never provide solutions, but they can provide the space for political and economic solutions to be found. And without military power, the result can be more bloodshed.
For the FCO it means: using our Embassies to monitor countries at risk, identifying the political and economic divisions that might fuel violence and instability so that we can address them - through mediation or development work - at an early stage. It means working to strengthen international civilian capacity so that we can quickly deploy police, judges and emergency service professionals to assist failing states and to help rebuild countries emerging from conflict. Last week the PM announced that we will be developing a 1000-strong UK civilian standby capacity for this purpose and we will be encouraging our EU and NATO partners to be ambitious about their own contributions. And it means an active role in the tripartite Stabilisation Unit with MOD and DFID to help us deliver UK assistance to countries emerging from conflict.
The third policy goal is to promote a low carbon, high growth, global economy.
Some people might ask what this has to do with human rights. But human rights are not just civil and political; they are economic, social and cultural. And these different rights are interdependent. When political rights are absent, state power and corruption grow, and the people are impoverished. Where economic and social rights are absent, the temptations of dictatorship are greater.
So we need to turn two of the world's great challenges - economic development and climate change - from two separate and parallel tracks, and often two separate sets of campaigning organisations never mind government departments, into two sides of a single coin.
For the FCO this a significant increase in the number of London-based and overseas staff dedicated to climate change and development. It means an extra £33m over the next three years focused on projects that will change the political conditions in key countries, for example, funding studies that build on the Stern review by assessing the economic costs and benefits of climate change for individual countries. It means using our position within multilateral institutions to focus on climate change: in particular, making the EU a leader in shaping a global low carbon economy, and supporting World Bank initiatives to fund investment in low-carbon development and adaptation.
So this is how human rights will inform our policy work in the year ahead. Let me conclude by setting out how we can prosecute our shared campaign.
The challenge is to align the three main sources of power and influence in the world: global civil society; international institutions; and national governments.
First, global civil society and the media can continue to use the power of public attention on individual cases to make the case for change.
All over the world, the power of technology is providing real time examples of oppression. In China the prominent human rights campaigner Hu Jia has just been tried for the crime of 'subversion of state power' after having been under house arrest for over half a year. And Yang Chunlin, a land-rights campaigner who published an open letter about human rights, was sentenced yesterday to 5 years' imprisonment for the crime of 'inciting subversion of state power'. In Iran at least 10 people are currently under sentence of death by stoning. And with more than 500 cases in just seven months last year, torture is a growing problem in Zimbabwe.
Networks and mass communication can be used to foment hate, but they can also be used to convey the power of the ideas in the Universal Declaration. And sometimes campaigns, supported by governments, achieve their aims. In Malawi we funded a project which led the abolition of the mandatory death penalty. 30 prisoners were subsequently removed from death row and re-sentenced. In Saudi Arabia, international concern helped secure a Royal pardon for the Qatif girl who, after being gang raped, was charged for violating laws on segregation of the sexes and sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months imprison.
Global media and civil society have unparalleled reach and influence, but they have little formal legitimacy. For that, they require international institutions - the fourth priority in the FCO's new strategic framework.
I believe in the power of international organisations. The UN, EU, Nato have been great civilising institutions of the post second world war period. But if we are to uphold international rules and norms in a time of great global change, our international architecture needs to better reflect the 21st century world in which we live and the 21st century challenges that we face.
The Prime Minister has laid out an ambitious agenda of reform to modernise our international institutions. We need an EU that is outward looking, open and internationalist; a more representative and credible UN Security Council; expansion of the G8 to encompass influential emerging economies such as India and China; a mandate for the IMF which goes far beyond crisis management to crisis prevention; and a World Bank whose focus on poverty reduction takes full account of the impact of climate change.
But we must also look for specific areas and opportunities in the next year to promote our values. For the FCO this means:
* using the UN's Human Rights Council as an opportunity to forge greater consensus on the implementation of human rights at the global level, including through the Universal Periodic Review, where every UN Member State will now have its human rights record examined on a regular basis by their peers, and the UK will be one of the first to go through this process when it begins next month. The UK's approach to the UPR is a reflection of our commitment making the Human Rights Council truly effective. This is why we are standing for re-election to the Council in May.
* we are leading international efforts to secure a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty to end the irresponsible global trade in arms. As part of this we are looking to tighten our own laws and extend controls on extra-territorial brokering and trafficking. And we are pursuing every opportunity to reach a good result on cluster munitions. We've been involved in the Oslo Process from the start and are looking forward to the Dublin diplomatic conference in May.
* We are supporting reforms of the international trading system to open global markets for the benefit of the poorest countries. We are using our position in the EU and G8 to continue to argue for an ambitious, pro-development outcome to the Doha world trade negotiations.
Finally, civil society may have influence; international institutions may have legitimacy, but formal power - financial, military, and political - remains with national governments. International institutions cannot work effectively if their members are pulling in opposite directions.
We need to build a clearer consensus about the rights and responsibilities of nation states in advancing the Universal Declaration at home and abroad. The nation state remains the basis of allegiance and authority. But the acceptance of universal values, and our deepening interdependence means we must adjust our traditional notions of national sovereignty.
That is why we need emerging and existing powers to demonstrate 'responsible sovereignty' - not just upholding the obligations towards their citizens that are embodied in human rights treaties, but also demonstrating responsibility to the international community.
China is a striking example here. A country which has lifted more people out of poverty than any in human history, but which now faces the urgent challenge of expanding the political and social rights of its people to match the economic and social progress which has been made. It's in all of our interests that they succeed, and that's why we will keep arguing frankly and directly for greater human rights in China.
But Responsible sovereignty is relevant to each and every country because universal values means that power cannot be untrammelled. Citizens have rights, and states have a responsibility to protect them. And in extreme cases the failure of states to exercise their responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide or ethnic cleansing warrant intervention on humanitarian grounds.
Interdependence means that states interfere consciously and unconsciously with each others affairs. We have no choice but to interfere. The choice is whether this is based on agreed rules and responsibilities, or merely a free for all. The only way to protect the climate, the international financial system, counter-terrorism and weapons proliferation is to agree on shared rules and responsibilities.
And that is why an alliance between the influence of civil society, the legitimacy of international institutions, and the power of government can be a force for good in the world and a force for progress in human rights. I look forward to working with you in that project.