Human rights ‘at heart’ of Tory foreign policy

William Hague has promised to put human rights “at the heart” of Conservative foreign policy, warning the government has failed to take the issue seriously enough.

The shadow foreign secretary was speaking at the launch of the first report from the Tory human rights commission, set up last October, which lists the 18 worst offending countries in terms of basic freedoms, adherence to the rule of law and rights violations.

It demands “consistence” in tackling human rights abuses abroad, saying: “That means raising concerns and putting pressure on regimes and governments, whether they are regarded as allies or not.”

Saudia Arabia, a key economic ally of the UK, is listed in the 18 worst offenders, and the report says ministers must be prepared to confront abuses there head on. It also calls for a “thorough and comprehensive review” of the arms trade

The commission urges a similar approach to China which, while not included in the report, supports many of those with the worst human rights records, such as Burma, North Korea and Vietnam.

The Tory commission, led by Gary Streeter MP, says there should be a special Foreign Office minister for human rights to avoid any conflict of interests. Currently, responsibilities for rights are held by the minister for trade.

It also calls for a new duty for British ambassadors and diplomats posted abroad to support dissidents and document human rights abuses. Similarly, the government should provide morale and financial support for pro-democracy forces in certain countries.

“Today, I want to reiterate the pledge I have already made – to put respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms at the very heart of Conservative foreign policy,” Mr Hague said at the publication’s launch last night.

In the foreword to report, he said:” We have the privilege of living in freedom. But with that privilege comes the responsibility to use our liberty to speak up for those who are denied it.”

He added: “It is not only morally right that we should speak for the oppressed, it is also in our national interests to do so. Dictators do not make the best allies. Freedom and prosperity go together.”

The Tory human rights report calls for targeted economic sanctions to be used against states with bad human rights records more often, saying the UK must be prepared to take the lead if necessary.

In addition, it says the UN must be reformed to make it more effective in tackling abuses and in particular must uphold security council resolution 1674, which was passed earlier this year and imposes on the organisation a “duty to protect” civilians across the world.