William Hague MP launches The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission First Annual Report 2006

11 December 2006

The Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague launched the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s first Annual Report in the Jubilee Room, House of Commons, London on 11th December 2006, the day after International Human Rights Day.

In his speech at the event, Mr Hague said:“The publication of the Commission’s first Annual Report is a landmark in the work we hope to do to raise awareness of human rights abuses worldwide, and to provide a voice for persecuted and oppressed people. It is also a vital part of the Conservative Party’s preparation for government.

“Democracy, the rule of law, the freedom to speak one’s mind, to congregate, to worship, and to move freely – all these are non-existent in many countries today.

“It is a terrible indictment of the world today that in so many countries, people do not enjoy those freedoms.

“In place of these fundamental rights, many experience subjugation and violence in terrible forms – such as:

  • The killing and torture of civilians and the displacement of up to 25,000 villagers in Burma’s  Karen district in the course of 2006 alone;

  • The 200,000 political prisoners incarcerated in North Korea’s jails, who are the victims of a regime which is known to arbitrarily imprison up to three generations for the transgression of a single individual;

  • The victims of the Iranian regime, which as late as 2005 continued to execute children and juvenile offenders, and which retains floggings, stonings and amputations on its statute books.

  •  Or the thousands of victims of rape and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, where, as I visited refugee camps, I heard tales of suffering and saw scenes of poverty and degradation that I will never forget.

“Despite the cost to themselves many brave individuals are prepared to endure great hardship in pursuit of freedom for their people. I can think of two I have met this year:

“Alexander Milinkevich, the opposition leader in Belarus, who bravely contested the recent presidential elections, which were described by the OSCE as “severely flawed due to the arbitrary use of state power and restrictions on basic rights to vote”, despite the violence and intimidation meted out by the state;

“And Zoya Phan, a young Burmese human rights activist who spoke so powerfully at our Party Conference this year. She described how, when she was 14, her village was attacked by the Burmese Army and she was forced to flee. She asked why it had taken the UN Security Council 16 years to even discuss Burma.

“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.”

The report includes an assessment and ranking of the human rights record of 18 countries, and ranks Burma, North Korea, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Eritrea as the five worst violators. It calls for “consistency” in foreign policy, saying: “Human rights concerns should be at the heart of foreign policy, and should be applied consistently to all nations. That means raising concerns and putting pressure on regimes and governments, whether they are regarded as allies or not.”

The report criticises the Government for “relegating” human rights to a sub-set of “sustainable development” in its strategic priorities list. It recommends a future Conservative Government to make the promotion of human rights “a priority category in its own right”, and to review the role of embassies. “Ambassadors and other diplomats should be required to be proactive in supporting dissidents and documenting human rights violations. Currently it depends to a large extent on the individual Ambassador or diplomat. It should be a requirement of the job, and outstanding service should be rewarded and recognised. Embassies should become freedom houses. Ambassadors should provide dissidents with a platform, and – where appropriate – should be willing to join pro-democracy demonstrations.”

It calls for further reform of the United Nations. “The UN is the only club in the world in which a country can frequently violate the rules with little or no penalty,” the report concludes. “Action should be taken to ensure that countries which systematically violate human rights should not belong to the Human Rights Council. Countries which systematically violate human rights should face suspension from the UN itself.”

The Commission’s report also recommends that a future Conservative Government appoint a Minister of State and an Ambassador-at-Large at the Foreign Office solely devoted to International Human Rights. The current Minister of State has responsibility for both trade and human rights, which the report claims means he “faces potential conflicts of interest and cannot give undivided attention to human rights”. The Commission plans to conduct a “substantive consultation” with human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to develop these ideas, and to conduct a review of the arms trade.

The Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Gary Streeter MP, said: “This first annual report is an indication of how seriously we view the abuse of human rights around the world. It reviews countries where human rights violations are serious and widespread, and offers some policy proposals for action. We will continue to monitor human rights abuses around the world, gather information and develop ideas for a future Conservative Government.”

In his Foreword to the report, Mr Hague said: “Freedom and human dignity are at the very heart of Conservative values … It is absolutely essential, therefore, that we apply those values to all areas of policy, domestic and foreign … 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 … 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.”

Notes to editors:  

Please see attached a copy of the Conservative Human Rights Commission Annual Report.

The report includes chapters on the 18 countries which the Commission has monitored this year. It ranks the countries in three categories – freedom, the rule of law and human rights violations – using a scoring methodology adapted from Freedom House.

North Korea comes out as the worst violator of freedom and the rule of law, but Burma tops the list of violations and the overall list. The worst violators also include Chinese-occupied Tibet, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, Cuba and Belarus.

India is the only one of the 18 countries not included in the rankings, because as the world’s largest democracy it broadly respects freedom, the rule of law and human rights. However, the treatment of the Dalits or so-called “untouchables” and tribal groups, which number 250 million and are subjected to widespread discrimination and violence, is a concern and is detailed in a chapter in the report.

William Hague's Speech
Download Conservative Party Human Rights Commission First Annual Report (PDF)