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The importance of time and space

December 2023 update from Wilton Park Chief Executive, Tom Cargill.


This has been a good year for Wilton Park, with renewed recognition of our role as a strategic diplomatic asset, and growing demand for our expertise and convening power.

Building the time and space to broker honest dialogue between governments, experts, business, and civil society is as difficult, but as important as it has ever been.

While inevitably our attention is on addressing Russian aggression in Europe, conflict in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and tackling climate change, we have also been focused on other key issues such as keeping the global trade system moving, helping governments understand new technologies, supporting the needs of women and girls in developing countries, and preventing the spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Our increasing success is a testament to all our staff and the uniquely welcoming, relaxed but focused thought space for dialogue they create. It’s something many of our participants comment upon as being core to what makes Wilton Park so special. Our role and efforts will continue to expand next year, but we cannot build the networks and outcomes the world needs without constantly expanding and innovating our partnerships across government, business, academia, and civil society.

If you have the insight, resources, or networks to support our efforts to build dialogue to address the world’s most pressing challenges, we want to hear from you. Please do get in touch, and we look forward to working with colleagues old and new to find practical routes to a peaceful, free and prosperous world in 2024.

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Participants greeting each other in the Conference Room at Wilton Park in December 2023.
Overcoming challenges to universal human rights

In the aftermath of World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out clear foundational principles for an international human rights system, the architecture of which has subsequently been developed through a range of instruments both internationally and nationally, progressed amidst an evolving global landscape.

There have been many notable achievements over the decades with advancements in legal, political and diplomatic spheres to promote and protect human rights, prevent their violation and hold those responsible to account.

However, 75 years on from the Declaration, human rights violations persist and the human rights system is under pressure. The geo-political landscape is changing, with new alliances and powers emerging. Major issues facing the international community include the impact of climate change, fall out from the COVID pandemic, global inequality and ongoing armed conflict and insecurity in all regions around the world.

We are seeing increasingly robust actions by autocratic regimes, attacks on democratic institutions, and states previously relied upon to uphold multi-lateral systems threatening to withdraw from some aspects of the international order. Amidst these atmospherics, the universality of human rights is being questioned, with some states articulating a view of state sovereignty which undermines fundamental human rights principles and seeks to avoid accountability for violations of human rights. Civic space is shrinking, human rights defenders are being targeted and the rights of women, indigenous peoples, minority groups and others in vulnerable situations are under attack.

In the context of this rollback, and grounding discussion in the practical experience of those directly impacted by human rights violations, this conference aims to explore tactics and strategies being deployed by those seeking to recast their obligations in multi-lateral fora, across different sectors; re-energise, broaden and deepen alliances amongst key actors engaged in defending, promoting and safeguarding human rights; and identify commonalities, share successful strategies and develop prospects for new alliances.

This conference, funded by the Governments of Switzerland and Finland is the 18th in the annual series.

Development and climate change
Addressing violence in and through education

School violence is a global challenge, but prevalence is highest in low and middle-income countries where nearly a third of children are regularly exposed to physical or sexual violence at school.

Such violence is a major obstacle to human and economic development and can have devastating effects on brain development and health outcomes as well as harming children’s potential. Yet school violence does not receive sufficient political attention nor financial resources from domestic governments and the global education community.

This conference aims to produce a set of goals for ongoing action on the elimination of violence in schools. It will seek agreement on the evidence that currently exists about the problem and gain commitment for using this evidence to drive reform at the education system level.

This is the latest in our series of events at Wilton Park supporting the FCDO International Women and Girls Strategy and global campaign – Rights, Freedom, Potential.

Connecting the dots

A report commissioned for a Wilton Park dialogue has been shortlisted for Anthem, a social impact award.

The ‘Connecting the Dots’ report by GFF and FCDO was commissioned for our June event on ending the sexual exploitation of girls and young women for education fees, grades and first jobs, part of our series supporting the UK’s International Women & Girls strategy.

The report points to the scale of the issue – with new research suggesting ‘sextortion’ might impact over 54 percent of young women and girls – with the claim that exploitative men may be the largest source of private financing for higher education in many parts of the world. With that comes significant psychological harm, development setbacks and deprivation of opportunities.

The Anthem award aims to set a new benchmark for social impact excellence. There’s a chance to vote for all the finalists here.

Latest reports

Wilton Park is a proven asset for global foreign policy development, providing a high-impact and flexible way to advance thinking and policy on key issues.

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Diplomacy and geopolitics
Human Rights and New and Emerging Technology

Marking the 75th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our recent conference explored the implications of new and emerging technology on human rights.

These rapid technological changes provide opportunities to promote and protect rights through education, healthcare and access to information. But they can also generate complex human rights risks, including technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) and the use of highly intrusive surveillance technology to undermine and threaten civic space.

The significance of these developments is reflected in a number of active initiatives undertaken through a range of multi-lateral mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the OECD and the UN Internet Governance Forum.

It was concluded that education is key to address the growing digital divide and that protection of individual rights should be underpinned by clear principles of informed consent regarding the use and application of digital tools.

Human rights risks that stem from new technologies are either covered by existing international human rights law or can be addressed by further interpretation of the provisions of existing human rights treaties. Rather than replicate existing human rights structures, we need to strengthen and invest in these frameworks and bodies.

Expert reflections from the conference

Future space threats

There is a new space race to secure the economic and strategic benefits of the exploration and use of the moon, and future capabilities on-orbit around Earth have potential offensive and defensive uses; strategic competition is intensifying.

At this event, participants will discuss how space features in strategic competition. They will explore how competition in space might develop in the future; the current interest in and future potential of the moon; and how technology might shape the future of space threats. Discussions will continue on how to manage or reduce strategic competition in space and increase strategic cooperation.

The Grand Challenge: planning for sustainable biocontainment diagnostic laboratories

Diagnostic laboratories that safeguard biological materials, equipment, and methodologies, play a critical role in the global campaign to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks, whether they be naturally-occurring, accidental or deliberate (i.e. bioterrorism).

Such laboratory facilities, however, were pioneered in and designed for developed countries with ample resources, and are therefore often too expensive, too complex and too ‘western’ in design to be built and sustained in low- and middle-income countries. Identifying ways and means to address this persistent challenge promises to strengthen global health security.

In this context, the World Organisation for Animal Health, Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence have identified a Grand Challenge for Sustainable Laboratories as an innovative and promising approach.

Expert reflections from the conference

Economy and trade
Thailand-UK Policy Retreat

In late November, Wilton Park hosted a unique bilateral policy exchange between the UK and Thailand, seeking to strengthen ties between our two nations.

The bilateral relationship between the two countries has a strong foundation with extensive trade and investment ties, expanding tourism and education links, and long-standing Royal connections.

However, changing geopolitical and geoeconomic circumstances have given new urgency on both sides towards deepening the relationship. The event brought together Thai and UK leaders to deepen connections between the two countries and explore promising areas for future cooperation. Delegations included government officials, parliamentarians, foreign policy experts, and representatives from industry, civil society and academia, who came together to discuss geopolitics, security cooperation, regional architecture, the climate crisis and economic development.

Looking ahead
Children displaced in a changing climate: preparing for a future already underway

Millions of children are already being driven from their homes by weather-related events, exacerbated by climate change. Yet to date, children displaced by weather-related events have been statistically invisible.

The lack of data hampers efforts to identify children most at risk to help them recover, thrive, and build resilience against future climate-related challenges.

New insights can assist to identify children at risk of weather-related displacement, map the areas most affected and target efforts and resources to the most vulnerable.

Taking into account a range of expert views and building on the findings of UNICEF’s Children Displaced in a Changing Climate report, this conference will bring together key players to explore some of the challenging questions raised.

Upcoming events

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