UK Developments - Parliamentary Committee calls for more principled and consistent approach to human rights in foreign policy

A parliamentary committee has recommended that the United Kingdom take a more principled, persistent and consistent approach to human rights in foreign policy. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, in their report on the Foreign Office's human rights work, welcomes the Government’s commitment to “the promotion of human rights overseas as one of its central foreign policy objectives”, but recommends that the UK “take a more robust and significantly more consistent position on human rights violations”. The report highlights that a human rights-based approach to foreign policy can build diplomatic capital and finds that any “downplay of criticism of human rights abuses in countries with which the UK has close political and commercial links is damaging to the UK's reputation, and undermines the department's overall work in promoting human rights overseas.” It also highlights the necessity for domestic and foreign policy coherence, stating that “the UK's own human rights practices...affect its international reputation and ability to pursue effectively improvements in human rights standards overseas.”

The report contains a range of recommendations to achieve consistency and coherence, including that:

  • the Foreign Office document “more clearly the department's key objectives for its human rights work in the coming year, along with the rationale for their identification and the means by which the department proposes to pursue them”;
  • the UK enhance funding for “human rights project” internationally and also strengthen human rights training, guidance and support for Foreign Office staff;
  • the Government give “higher priority” to developing and promoting “standards for human rights in business behaviour”, concluding that “this is essential if the UK's efforts to promote human rights internationally are not to be undercut by the behaviour of...companies”; and
  • human rights and trade be pursued as complementary and not conflicting priorities.

The Committee also welcomes the establishment of an expert Advisory Group on Human Rights to provide the Foreign Secretary with external advice on foreign policy and options for addressing human rights problems.