UK's First Human Rights Ambassador Rita French Could Become A 'Joke'

UK’s First Human Rights Ambassador Could Become A ‘Laughing Stock’, Barrister Warns

The UK’s first ever international human rights ambassador will become a “laughing stock” if the government does not practice what it preaches, a former chairwoman of the Bar human rights committee has warned.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has today (May 20) appointed Rita French, formerly his principal private secretary, to the task of championing human rights internationally and promoting the UK’s work at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

The Foreign Office told the Guardian that Ms French’s role, the first of its kind in Britain, will involve leading the government’s key campaigns in areas including media freedom, modern slavery and freedom of religion or belief.

It will also involve advocating for human rights both inside the government and across the globe.

Standards Must Be High Otherwise Post Will Be A ‘Laughing Stock’

Speaking to RightsInfo, human rights barrister Kirsty Brimelow QC, a former chair of Bar human rights committee, said the creation of the ambassador post is “an excellent initiative”.

But they also added: “However, that emphasises that human rights legislation and implementation in the UK must be at a high standard, otherwise the standing of the human rights ambassador will quickly become one of an international joke.”

They will become a laughing stock if human rights in the UK are not held to the international standard.

Human rights barrister, Kirsty Brimelow QC

A report released by Human Rights Watch earlier today found that tens of thousands of families in England have been forced in food poverty as a consequence of austerity-motivated government cuts to welfare over the last decade.

She said: “They will become a laughing stock if human rights in the UK are not held to the international standard.”

This could mean the international human rights ambassador post might also “have a positive effect of reminding the UK that it must practice what it preaches,” Ms Brimelow said.

She suggested that the government create a separate human rights ambassador position with a national portfolio.

Lord Tariq Ahmad, the Foreign Office minister in the House of Lords, also retains ministerial responsibility for human rights among numerous other portfolios he holds.

However, the creation of the international ambassador is hoped to give the championing of human rights a higher profile.

Other nations to have pioneered this role include France, Germany and the Netherlands – often taking outspoken positions with China and Saudi Arabia among other countries.

Main Image Credit: © Schneider. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at meeting in Brussels.

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About the Author

Aaron Walawalkar

News and Digital Editor
Aaron is an NCTJ-accredited multimedia journalist focussing on human rights. His extensive reporting on rough sleeping in east London has been nominated for multiple awards. He has worked for regional and national newspapers and produced illustrations, infographics and videos for humanitarian organisation RedR UK. View all posts by Aaron Walawalkar.
UK’s First Human Rights Ambassador Could Become A ‘Laughing Stock’, Barrister Warns
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