Policy

Promoting human rights internationally

Issue

Many people around the world are denied their human rights every day.

The UK government supports human rights, democracy and good governance around the world to increase Britain’s security, to protect British citizens overseas, and to secure political freedom globally.

Actions

The Human Rights and Democracy Programme supports various projects, including those aimed at: preventing torture, abolishing the death penalty, increasing people’s freedom of expression, giving people freedom of religious belief, achieving gender equality and enabling them to take part in free elections.

Human Rights and Democracy: the 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report explains the Government’s work to create democratic societies and promote human rights.

Democracy and the rule of law

The government supports democracy and the rule of law in a range of different ways. These include funding non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to increase citizen participation in political debate, reforming the European Court of Human Rights and working with regional and inter-governmental organisations and through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Preventing torture

The government is working with other countries and organisations to prevent torture by funding projects to make criminal justice systems fairer and developing national organisations that can effectively monitor places of detention.

Abolishing the death penalty

The government is working with the EU and the UN to persuade other countries to abolish the death penalty. Our Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty 2010-2015 explains how the government persuades other governments to abolish the death penalty, funds projects to restrict the use of the death penalty and raises individual cases of British nationals sentenced to death overseas.

Supporting people’s freedom of expression

The government supports freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and will continue to press countries that restrict access to online media to uphold their international human rights commitments.

We believe that the right to freedom of expression applies, in principle, with equal force in cyberspace as elsewhere. We work with other countries to build a wider consensus about freedom of expression on the internet and to guard against the growing trend of political repression.

The UK joined the Freedom Online Coalition, a coalition of like-minded states that shares information on violations of freedom of expression and other human rights online, and cooperates in supporting and protecting human rights online.

Equality and non-discrimination

The UK works to support equality and non-discrimination for all people, including gender equality; upholding the rights of minority groups and lesbian, gay and transgender people; supporting the freedom of religion and belief.

Business and Human Rights

The government expects UK businesses to operate at all times in a way that is respectful of people’s human rights. The UK has launched a national action plan on business and human rights becoming the first country to set out guidance to companies on integrating human rights into their operations.

In it we make clear the Government’s duty to protect and promote human rights in the business context, outline our commitments to encourage good business practice by UK companies both domestically and internationally, and provide advice to UK companies to help them understand and manage human rights risk as part of their commercial activities.

The action plan is based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights endorsed in the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011.

Background

Who we’re working with

The UN Human Rights Council is the UN’s primary body for discussion and action on human rights issues. The UK was an active member from its inception in 2006 until June 2011. We will bid for re-election in 2013 and in the meantime will remain an active supporter of the Council.

We also seek complementary action on human rights in other parts of the UN, including through the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, where all UN members can vote.

Based in The Hague, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first ever permanent court with the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals accused of the most serious crimes of international concern: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Court was established by the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court. The ICC is an independent international organisation, and is not part of the United Nations system.

The Advisory Group of Human Rights, which consists of non-governmental experts, was created in 2010 by the FCO to give the Foreign Secretary the best possible information about human rights challenges; and for the Foreign Office to benefit from outside advice on the conduct of its policy. The group discusses a wide range of human rights issues including those relating to conflict, security and counter-terrorism, the events of the Arab Spring, freedom of religion or belief, and business and human rights.

The UK has signed up to international commitments on gender equality, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol, and the non-binding Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action for Women. The Government Equalities Office works with all UK government departments and the Devolved Administrations to ensure that we meet these commitments.

We work with UN Women to support gender equality, particularly through participating in the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

We work with the major EU institutions: the European Commission, the Council of the European Union (the Member States), the European Parliament to support equality and combat discrimination. We contribute to the development of common standards and regulations to protect UK interests and support best practices on equality.

We participate in a number of European Commission run groups on equality where we support UK policy and exchange best practice, including, EU Non-discrimination Governmental Expert Group, EU Commission’s Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for women and men and EU High-level Group on Gender Mainstreaming.

Within the Council of the European union, the Governments of the EU Member States negotiate on equality and non-discrimination matters at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council. Current negotiations include a draft Directive on Equal Treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

The Council of Europe seeks to develop common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights. Its work includes promoting gender equality and more recently lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) equality.

The Coalition Government is committed to strengthening its commitments with the Commonwealth. As a member of the Commonwealth, the UK supports the Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action (2005-2015). We work across the UK Government to implement our commitments in the Gender Plan of Action. We also liaise across government to co-ordinate, negotiate and present the UK’s position on gender equality, including the Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting (WAMM) and the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

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