The Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke at the launch of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s Annual Report at on Monday 10th December 2007, in the Jubilee Room, House of Commons:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege and a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak today, on International Human Rights Day, at the launch of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s second Annual Report. I am delighted to see such a range of people gathered in this room – including Parliamentary colleagues, NGOs and members of the diplomatic community.

As we mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on this day in 1948, and indeed move into preparations for the 60th anniversary of the Declaration, it is absolutely appropriate that the Commission should be launching its annual report.

May I congratulate the Commission on another year of hard work, gathering evidence, championing cases and formulating policy proposals. I welcome this report and the detailed recommendations which have been put forward, and which we will consider very carefully as we shape our ideas for a future Conservative Government.

Human rights are, as the Declaration enshrines, universal. People in all parts of the world, irrespective of race, religion, culture or gender, are entitled to the basic freedoms which we in this country enjoy – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of movement, and freedom from torture, slavery and fear

Yet as the Commission’s report highlights, in too many parts of the world basic human rights are denied and brutally suppressed.

We have seen this, for example, in the dramatic scenes played out on our television screens in Burma in September. The military regime in Burma is guilty of virtually every possible human rights violation – arbitrary arrests, the imprisonment of political activists, torture, rape as a weapon of war, forced labour, forced relocation, the destruction of over 3,000 villages in eastern Burma, religious persecution, the use of human minesweepers and the forcible conscription of child soldiers. The Conservative Party stands firmly in solidarity with the people of Burma, and we will continue to do all we can to ensure that the international community uses every possible tool to open the way for a transition to democracy and respect for human rights. Last year, I had the privilege of sharing a platform with Charm Tong from the Shan Women’s Action Network following the Commission’s first hearing on Burma. Zoya Phan from the Burma Campaign UK has spoken at our Party Conference twice, and recently at our Women’s Conference. Last month in the House of Commons we had the first full-length debate on Burma on the floor of the House in a very long time. I am delighted that the Commission has chosen to make Burma a priority.

But we see the suppression of human rights in many other countries too.

In North Korea, for example. This summer, David Cameron met two former North Korean prisoners and heard firsthand their horrific accounts of torture and executions in the North Korean gulags.

We think of Sudan, Eritrea and Zimbabwe, of Cuba, and on the doorstep of Europe we think of Belarus.

And it is not only brutal regimes we should be thinking of. Grave human rights abuses are committed by non-State actors, including terrorists, guerrilla organisations and religious extremists. India, the world’s largest democracy and a country with which we have a long and deep friendship, has the challenge of caste-based discrimination. The plight of the Dalits, a subject the Commission investigated earlier this year, is dire and deserves our attention.

In last year’s Annual Report, the Commission put forward an excellent summary of some of the key countries in the world where human rights violations are widespread and severe. This year, the Commission has developed a more thematic approach, which will help inform our thinking as we consider how best to put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. The Commission has also set out some very specific policy proposals for how to make the structures and mechanisms of the Foreign Office more effective in promoting human rights and democracy; how to improve the performance of the UN Human Rights Council; the role of business and the place of sanctions; and what more we can do in Government to support the work of institutions such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. This is a serious and welcome programme for action, and one which we will study very closely to see how we can implement our pledge to make human rights a vital component of our foreign policy.

In the coming year, I am delighted to learn that the Commission will look at women’s rights, and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, a theme I focused on at the Conservative Women’s Conference last month. I am also pleased that the Commission will be holding a hearing later this week to gather expert advice from former diplomats and others on how its proposals for improving the mechanisms within the Foreign Office for human rights promotion can be developed.

I have pledged several times that the next Conservative Government will put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. As I have said before, I believe we must conduct our foreign policy in a way that does not deviate from our values; central to which is a deeply-held belief in the primacy and inviolability of individual human rights. And on this International Human Rights Day, I hope that we can all work for the day when human rights are regarded by everyone as truly universal.

Download Conservative Party Human Rights Commission Second Annual Report (PDF)