Following UNA-UK's submission to a human rights inquiry by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), the Committee has released a report that reinforces UNA-UK's message that the Government's apparent deprioritisation of human rights could threaten the UK's influence on the world stage.
The FAC report scrutinises the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) administration and funding of its human rights work overseas. It welcomes some of the positive developments in the UK, such as the doubling of the FCO's funding for its dedicated human rights programme, the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, to £10.6 million.
However, the report states that there is a widespread perception that the FCO has deprioritised human rights in favour of "the prosperity agenda", despite the public rejection of this by Minister of State Baroness Anelay in February. The FAC concluded that this perception could have a damaging influence on the UK's international standing:
"Perceptions and symbols matter, particularly in the context of the UK's soft power and international influence. We recommend that the FCO is more mindful of the perceptions it creates at a Ministerial level, especially when other interests are engaged such as prosperity and security, as is the case with China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia."
The report further stressed the importance of "perception" by claiming that the FCO's altered approach to human rights - which are now embedded across the FCO's network rather separated into narrower thematic issue - "would be welcomed if it did not coincide with a perceived lack of Ministerial priority".
This emphasis on public perception reinforces the language used by UNA-UK in its submission to the inquiry, which informed the final report. In the submission, UNA-UK argued that:
"the UK's reputation on human rights - of which its past record, current performance and current policies are an integral part - contribute to the UK's soft power and international influence... any perceived failure to live up to these standards, or to 'downgrade' them, is likely to hamper the UK's ability to further its interests in fora such as the UN and may also... harm the furtherance of these standards more broadly."
Given that the UK has played an integral role in setting the human rights standards that exist in international law today, UNA-UK calls on the UK Government to continue to exercise leadership in upholding these standards both at home and overseas.