Minister for Human Rights Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon gave the following statement to mark the end of the Universal Periodic Review:
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process involving a peer review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states. It is an important tool of the Human Rights Council (HRC), aimed at sharing best practice. The UK strongly supports the UPR. We have spoken at every session and about every country since the process began. This session saw reviews of 14 countries, namely, Belize, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Congo, Jordan, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Senegal.
Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking
The UK Government remains deeply committed to tackling the evils of forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking. We applaud the efforts of Member States, such as Mauritius and Nigeria, which have not only endorsed the Call to Action but are moving beyond high level political commitments to effect real change on the ground and reach the most vulnerable in their societies.
There is, however, a long road ahead of us if we are to fulfil SDG 8.7, and it is only by all of us continuing to work together - government, business and civil society - that we will do so by 2030, only 12 years away. To that end, the UK Government is increasing its global aid spend on combatting these crimes to £200m, an increase by a third. However, we are not complacent when it comes to strengthening our own national response. Modern slavery is the fastest growing type of serious and organised crime. We are in the process of reviewing our Modern Slavery Act 2015, to ensure that it remains responsive to our nation’s needs, and are actively considering how we can use the Government’s purchasing power - individually and in partnership with others - as a lever to prevent forced labour in both the public and private sectors
UN Treaty Body elections
Since the 27th session of the UPR, we have made the recommendation to ‘adopt an open, merit-based selection process when selecting national candidates for UN Treaty Body elections’ to a considerable number of states. These expert bodies are a central part of the UN human rights system, charged with monitoring the implementation of human rights conventions in states which have signed up to them. The UK will continue to advocate strengthening the quality, independence and diversity in Treaty Body membership.
On Saudi Arabia, I am disappointed that positive developments in respecting women’s rights have been overshadowed by the closing down of political space, arrests of human rights activists and the continued use of the death penalty. The UK has made clear our horror at the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We urge Saudi Arabia to ensure that those found responsible are held to account and to take action to ensure that an act like this cannot happen again. We remain concerned that cases which are tried at the Special Criminal Court do not fall within internationally accepted definitions of terrorism, with political activists and people who speak out being deemed terrorists. The recent announcement which prevents diplomats from attending trials is worrying. We call on Saudi Arabia to overturn this decision, which is not in line with the Vienna Convention. I welcome Saudi Arabia’s laws to protect migrant workers, but the authorities need to enforce this by prosecuting employers who confiscate employees’ passports.
Turning to China, I am very concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the re-education camps and the widespread surveillance and restrictions targeted at ethnic minorities, particularly the Uyghurs. The UK and many of our international partners have made clear during China’s UPR that this is a priority issue. We recommended that China should implement CERD recommendations in Xinjiang and allow the UN to monitor implementation. China’s UPR also saw a significant focus from the international community on Hong Kong. We urged China to respect the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Central African Republic
On Central African Republic (CAR), I welcome the inaugural session of the Special Criminal Court on 22 October 2018. This represents a key milestone in CAR’s efforts to develop a national capacity for investigation and prosecution in the fight against impunity. However, I remain deeply concerned at the deteriorating human rights situation. In particular, reports of sexual exploitation of children, including through trafficking, prostitution, and early and forced marriages. It also concerns me that the death penalty continues to be prescribed for several crimes under the Criminal Code.
I welcome the new Malaysian Government’s commitment to improving human rights and repealing legislation previously used for political purpose. We urge the new government to honour commitments made by Prime Minister Mahathir to ratify core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights. The future of Malaysia rests in fostering an inclusive society that protects the rights of all its citizens, of all religions, including minority communities.
I also welcome efforts by the Government of Congo to reduce high maternal and child mortality rates; to improve the treatment of malnutrition; and to reduce malaria. However, I remain deeply concerned that, since 2015, the human rights situation in Congo has worsened. Very complex challenges remain, including addressing ongoing reports of torture in places of detention and sexual violence against women and children. With regret, I note that commitments to abolish the death penalty have not yet been fulfilled and encourage ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
I urge all countries under review during this session to give full and serious consideration to the UK recommendations. I encourage them not only to accept them but to implement all the recommendations in a timely and comprehensive manner. I look forward to the formal UPR adoption at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.