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Foreign Office needs to raise the profile of human rights

5 April 2016

The Foreign Affairs Committee report says that there is clear perception that the human rights work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has been deprioritised.

The Committee found that the words and actions of FCO Ministers have generated a perception that their work on human rights has become less important, despite funding for the FCO's dedicated human rights programme, the Magna Carta Fund, having been doubled to £10.6 million.

The FCO needs to do a better job of selling its human rights work by evaluating it more effectively and presenting it in a more user-friendly fashion.

Chair's comments

The Chairman of the Committee, Crispin Blunt MP, said:

"The actions and words of Ministers in the Foreign Office have undermined the excellent human rights work carried out by the Department. This needs to be remedied.

We recommend that the FCO is more mindful of the perceptions it creates at Ministerial level, especially when other interests are engaged such as prosperity and security—as is the case with China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Perceptions, and the symbols that reinforce them, matter, particularly in the context of the UK's soft power and international influence."

Three themes of humans rights work

In August 2015, the FCO announced it would focus human rights work on three themes: democratic values and the rule of law; strengthening the rules-based international system; and human rights for a stable world.

It is not yet possible to judge the impact of this shift but the Committee is concerned about the lack of specific commitments in the three themes and the difficulties this presents for implementation and accountability.

Crispin Blunt commented:

"The actual effect of this change of approach could be to lose the focus of specific human right priorities. It will be important for specific issues, such as the prevention of torture or women's rights, not to be overlooked by FCO Missions and for strategies to be developed and progress measured.

In the absence of measurable targets for the Department's human rights and democracy work, it is extremely difficult to hold the Foreign Office to account for its spending and to assess whether projects deliver value for money.

We will keep the FCO's human rights work under review over the course of this Parliament to ensure that it receives the focus that it requires."

Future work

The Committee will continue to monitor the FCO's human rights work over the course of this Parliament. This will entail:

  • Consideration of the FCO's Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy
  • Specific thematic and country inquiries on areas of immediate concern
  • Reviews of the FCO's contribution and progress in specific individual cases, issues and countries (as identified in the Report) to be revisited on a yearly basis.

Further information

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