A report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee has found that there is a clear perception that the human rights work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been deprioritised.
The report was issued following the Permanent Under-Secretary Simon McDonald’s statement to the Committee in September 2015 that human rights “is not one of our [the FCO’s] top priorities”. It is part of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s mandate to scrutinise the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They now intend to review the FCO’s human rights work annually.
The key findings of the report were that:
- There is plainly a perception that the FCO has deprioritised human rights.
- The actions and words of Ministers in the Foreign Office have undermined the human rights work carried out by the Department.
- The failure to include Egypt and Bahrain amongst the list of Human Rights Priority Countries in the FCO’s 2014 annual report contributes to the perception that the FCO has become more hesitant in promoting and defending international human rights openly and robustly notwithstanding the importance of private diplomacy.
In addition, the Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond’s decision not to fly the Rainbow Flag at FCO buildings for Pride 2015 was criticised for signalling an apparent change in FCO policy and sending a message that contradicts much of the actual work and objectives of the FCO.
The implications of these findings was found to be serious. The report concluded that:
Perceptions and symbols matter, particularly in the context of the UK’s soft power and international influence.
It recommended 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.
Phillip Hammond. the Foreign Minister, rejected the report saying:
I do not recognise this characterisation of our human rights work. Improving human rights is a core function of the Foreign Office and is the responsibility of every British diplomat around the world.
“The UK supports over 75 human rights projects in more than 40 countries and this year we are doubling the funding available for human rights projects to £10m – a true measure of the importance we attach to this agenda.
The report is the latest in a series of reports on the UK’s approach to human rights which we have covered. You can read RightsInfo’s coverage of the Human Rights Commissioner’s finding on the rights of asylum seekers and immigrants in the UK s here and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on equality here.