FCO Human Rights report

13 May, 2014

Syria, human rights, democracy, ,sexual violence, UN,

Last month the Foreign Secretary launched the 2013 Human Rights report, which set out the steps taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last year to promote and protect human rights.

The FCO Human Rights report provides an overview of its activity in 2013, along with its diplomatic network, to defend human rights and promote democracy around the world. The notion and values of human rights has evolved over centuries and can be traced back through history to ancient times in religious beliefs and cultures around the world. Fundamentally, all human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and freedoms. However, the report highlights 2013 as a tumultuous year, with both setbacks as well as successes.

Sexual Violence

An important new focus in 2013 was the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI). Under the Security Council resolution 1888 (2009) a series of resolutions recognised the detrimental impact sexual violence in conflict has on communities and acknowledged the undermining effect it has on peace, security and rebuilding once a conflict has ended. Conflict related sexual violence is no longer seen as an inevitable by-product of war, but a crime that is preventable and punishable under international human right laws.

The PSVI is working closely with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict which coordinates the work of 13 UN entities in this field.

The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague has proclaimed both his and the UK’s determination to end sexual violence in conflict. This issue is to be discussed on 10-13 June 2014 when William Hague and the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, will co-chair a global summit on ending sexual violence in conflict. All the governments that have endorsed the UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict are invited, as are legal, military and judicial practitioners and representatives from multilateral organisations, NGOs and civil society. The Summit aims to create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and deliver practical action that impacts those on the ground.

This meeting follows our 2012 conference, Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, which William Hague and Angelina Jolie both attended. The conference highlighted the increased momentum from the international community to break the silence of sexual violence in conflict, combat a culture of impunity and shift the balance of shame from the survivors to the perpetrators. The discussions also identified policy progress and what more needs to be done to move the agenda forward. The UK Presidency of the G8 Summit 2013 was identified to launch a sustained campaign by increasing awareness, seek greater global commitment to end sexual violence and meet the objectives, such as increasing the number of perpetrators brought to justice both internationally and nationally and supporting nation states to build their capacity to address sexual violence. As a result, on 11 April 2013 William Hague launched the G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence which features many of the issues discussed during Wilton Park’s conference developed into action points, underlining his belief that “this is one of the greatest and most persistent injustices in the world. It is also one of the most neglected”.

LGBT

The UK’s global policy is that human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To render consenting same-sex relations illegal is incompatible with international human rights obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Human Rights Report states that the FCO has “advocated a UNHRC resolution to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights internationally and, alarmed by reactionary legislation in several countries, including in the Commonwealth, combined lobbying with funding and working on practical projects to help protect communities at risk.”

During 2013, the FCO pushed for a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution to further the case of LGBT rights internationally, but the resolution proved difficult in the face of intransigence from some states.

We are holding our first conference on this issue in September 2014.  Promoting LGBT rights: next steps for international institutions and civil society will bring together relevant stakeholders from international and regional institutions, policy makers, legislators, civil society and academia at a crucial time. Discussions will focus on how to support efforts to put this issue back on the UN’s agenda with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) 27th session taking place on 8-26 September.

William Hague has stated: “I am deeply troubled by reactionary legislation and increasing persecution of the LGBT community in many parts of the world. The UK will remain active, both in close cooperation with expert NGOs and local communities. We will speak up, in public and in private, to protect individuals from discrimination and violence. And we will keep on working to build tolerant and pluralist societies in the long run, which is core business for our diplomatic and development strategies worldwide.”

FCO 2013 Human Rights and Democracy Report launch

William Hague’s speech was followed by presentations from Erin Gallager, Physicians for Humans Rights and member of PSVI steering board, and Mo Ibrahim, a prominent and highly respected businessman and philanthropist. Mr Ibrahim is Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation which provides tools to support advancements in leadership and governance and aims to bring about meaningful change in Africa. Ibrahim’s wealth of business experience and support in leadership and governance facilitates invaluable work on good governance and tackling corruption in the continent.

William Hague says UK re-election to the Human Rights Council means we will be able to speak out forcibly, publicly and privately about human rights abuse. In closing,  he reinforced the importance of the continuous fight  to improve human rights internationally:

“We will use our seat on the Human Rights Council to promote human dignity for all, to help countries improve respect for human rights and to hold other governments to the same high standards to which we must hold ourselves.”

The 26th HRC session is due to take place on 10–27 June in Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.

Further information

Human Rights and Democracy Report for 2013 published (Gov.uk)

G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence (Gov.uk)

Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) (Gov.uk)

UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict (Gov.uk)

Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict (United Nations)

UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (Stop Rape Now)

Conference: Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations

Conference: Promoting LGBT rights: next steps for international institutions and civil society?

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague launches the UK’s action plan on business and human rights

Stay up to date

Sign up to our newsletter