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الثلاثاء، 5 أبريل 2016

Human rights work has been downgraded by Foreign Office, say MPs

Human rights work has been downgraded by Foreign Office, say MPs
Select committee criticises foreign secretary Philip Hammond in report raising concerns about changing priorities
The Guardian

An anti-government protest in Bahrain

 An anti-government protest in Bahrain which, the foreign office select committee says, should be on the Foreign Office’s list of priority countries. Photograph: Hasan Jamali/AP

Foreign Office ministers, through their actions and words, have allowed a perception to grow that its human rights work has been downgraded, especially in countries such as Saudi Arabia, China and Egypt, the foreign affairs select committee has found.
A new report by the committee of MPs says that it has become harder since Philip Hammond became foreign secretary for human rights organisations “to get access to senior ministers and their immediate advisors and even that engagement at ministerial level seemed to be more about box-ticking than genuine consultation”.
The committee highlights the government’s failure to place Egypt and Bahrain on its list of human rights priority countries, saying this sent the wrong signal, and suggests the government has no reliable way of measuring whether its human rights work is having any impact.
Hammond 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 MPs challenge the government to do more overseas to champion the cause of gay rights, and suggests the rainbow flag should be flown above embassies on gay pride days.
The all-party committee found the attitude of ministers “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”.
It says: “While ministers say they have not deprioritised human rights, the written evidence received by the committee as part of its inquiry indicates there is plainly a perception that its status in the Foreign Office’s work has been downgraded.
“Perceptions and symbols matter, particularly in the context of the UK’s soft power and international influence. 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.”
The committee pointed out there had been a strategic shift in the FCO’s approach – focusing on international systems, human rights for a stable world and the rule of law – but that was so unspecific that it was impossible to see how the government would be held accountable.
Crispin Blunt, the committee’s chairman, said: “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.”
The MPs said they would monitor the work the carried out by the FCO to help 11 named political prisoners, as well as its work to strengthen human rights in Egypt and Eritrea.

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