Thank you for that introduction and a warm welcome to you all.
It is wonderful to see so many organisations and familiar faces, each renowned for their expertise and dedication in promoting and protecting human rights around the world.
As Minister for Human Rights at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I am delighted to open this event, launching this year’s bidding round for our human rights and democracy fund.
Key human rights challenges of 2015
In many ways, every year is a challenging year for human rights, and 2015 was no exception.
Examples range from the instability and deteriorating human rights situations in Burundi and Mali; to Daesh’s atrocities in Libya, Syria and Iraq; and now this year, the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia since the 1980s.
These challenges not only destroy or harm the lives of individuals, families and communities – they hamper national and international efforts to build a safe and prosperous world.
Our challenge – and it is our collective challenge, across government, international organisations, civil society, the private sector, faith groups and individual citizens – is to provide a meaningful response to this complex and shifting range of issues.
A response that helps to build a global narrative that human rights are essential for stable, secure and prosperous societies - societies where aspirations are met and extremism cannot take root – societies in which everyone is free to contribute, regardless of their race, belief, gender or whom they love.
That collective response – in support of this global narrative – is precisely how our human rights projects have proved their worth over the years and over last year too.
Human rights and democracy projects in 2015
Before the human rights department introduce the new strategy and outline this year’s bidding process, let me tell you about what this fund means to me and the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Since 2011, our human rights programme has funded over 300 projects, in more than sixty countries worldwide, to a value in excess of £20 million.
This financial year alone, FCO has spent over £5.5 million, supporting more than 75 human rights projects, in over 40 countries worldwide - from Afghanistan to Zambia, from Bahrain to Sri Lanka. Many of you I can see here today have been directly involved.
It would be impossible for me to list them all, but let me mention a few different types of project we are running this year:
In the Kurdish region of Iraq, to build religious tolerance, “Hardwired” are running inter-faith workshops for leaders in society, helping them to bridge social barriers and reduce conflict. During my visit there last year, I had the opportunity to hear first-hand from families displaced by the violence and brutality meted out to them by Da’esh.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, I had the privilege to meet some of the dedicated staff from “TRIAL” and Medica Zenica. For two decades, they have continued to fight for justice for survivors of the horrific acts of sexual violence that took place during the Balkans conflict, which was so long ago and yet still deeply effects that society today. Their work has secured two landmark Court decisions - the first of which awarded compensation to the survivors of sexual violence, setting an important precedent for future cases. The second decision recognised, for the first time, a male survivor – which means he will now receive much-needed support from the state.
In the Philippines, “Conciliation Resources”, working with local partners, engaged with over 2,000 women from diverse and remote communities across the Islands of Mindanao. Meaningful political participation by women in the new political settlement for Muslim Mindanao is indeed a perfect example of the vital role of women in building sustainable peace and security.
In Sudan, we are working with a local civil society organisation to equip citizen journalists across the country with the media skills they need to advocate for social change on issues such as poor public services, corruption and living conditions for Internally Displaced Persons. Recently, an article by one beneficiary exposed the poor state of schools in East Sudan, which led to action by local authorities.
In China, where more people are executed than in any other country in the world, we have been working over a number of years through projects to provide expertise and training on alternative approaches to sentencing for capital offences. In this period, there has been a significant reduction in the number of death penalty cases. Last September, the National People’s Congress passed revisions to the Criminal Law, reducing the number of capital offences.
Each of these innovative projects has shown that, despite the scale of the challenges, together we can make a difference.
With the window for new project proposals in 2016 opening today, we are keen to receive more bids for projects like these.
Rationale for the FCO’s shift to three themes
What works in one place may not work in another: understanding context and culture is crucial.
To be truly effective we need to be agile and flexible in our approach, but within a framework to ensure our impact is strategic.
That is why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has reconfigured our human rights work around three themes, enabling our network to focus its effort where it can have most impact.
To repeat a key phrase from the Foreign Secretary’s article on Human Rights Day last month – the three themes enhance the “every day work” of British Embassies and High Commissions around the world as they promote and protect human rights.
British diplomats – all British diplomats - are tasked with finding the most effective way to promote human rights in the local circumstances in which they are immersed.
An important feature of this Government’s human rights strategy is to marry the insights, access and influence of our diplomats abroad with the world-leading human rights expertise of the people I see before me in this room today.
Our three new human rights themes are intended to enable us to do just that. They allow us to capture the full breadth of concerns and variety of expertise in British civil society. In other words, to invoke the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals, I want us to “leave no one behind”. At the same time, they encourage us to focus our joint efforts on the root causes of human rights violations and abuses, giving a greater emphasis to the importance of institution-building, good governance and the rule of law, to achieve systemic change.
Our themes are coherent, they are mutually reinforcing, and they are designed to play to our strengths as a nation - our soft power and our national brand - targeting our engagement in a way, and in the places, where we will make the greatest difference.
Our first theme is “democratic values and the rule of law”.
It is designed to allow our diplomatic network – and your organisations - more flexibility to respond to the complex range of human rights challenges.
Under this banner, we can work together to help countries build well-functioning institutions with strong lines of accountability; reform their criminal justice systems; and defend the civil and political rights of all of their citizens.
Where governments appear less willing to do this, we can work together with civil society to apply pressure on them, for the benefit of all. For example, in mineral exploitation, support for human rights also supports prosperity by improving the business environment – and providing greater peace of mind to British consumers here.
Our second theme is, “strengthening the rules-based international order”. This means making the most of our influential position in the world’s international architecture. We have a proud tradition of exerting our influence, including most recently through our membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Some projects under this theme will be delivered by our missions to the UN, Council of Europe and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. They will seek to harness the multiplier effect of their host institutions - and seize the opportunity represented by a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 16 that focuses on human rights.
Our third theme, “human rights for a stable world” challenges us to ensure that human rights are central to the global effort to prevent and resolve the scourges of conflict, terrorism and extremism.
Under this banner, we will continue our tireless and painstaking efforts to rid the world of the death penalty and torture. We will continue our vital work on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict; on promoting women’s full participation in peace and post-conflict processes; and on protecting Freedom of Religion or Belief.
It is these three themes that provide the context for our human rights and democracy projects for the new financial year. We will aim to dedicate approximately 65% of our funding this year to those 46 countries which featured in last year’s Annual Human Rights and Democracy Report, since these are countries where we have particular human rights concerns, or where there is good potential to make progress on human rights. Future editions of our Annual Report will help us target our effort in the FCO’s Human Rights Priority Countries.
Announcement: increased funding and re-branding
To provide you with even more support – and to underscore the Government’s commitment to human rights - today, I am delighted to announce two key changes to our human rights fund. First, to mark our three new themes, we are re-naming this programme the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy. Second, to back our strategy, and ensure we translate words into action, the Government will provide a very significant uplift to the budget - to its highest level ever, details of which will be announced very soon.
The Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy encourages us all to “think big”, and to make strategic interventions. So we are not only increasing the budget, but we are also increasing the funding limit for individual projects from £200,000 to £400,000.
I hope this gives you a strong sense of our priorities as you prepare your bids - and I encourage you to read the new strategy for the Fund and speak to my officials about how we can work together through this fund.
This Fund can be transformational and I do believe in the power of practical example. We cannot run a project in every town and village where human rights are under threat. However, we can deliver projects that show, incontrovertibly, that human rights offer common sense solutions to many of the world’s worst crises – and can even help to prevent them.
With the FCO’s global network behind us, we can make these particular success stories into a compelling narrative about how security, prosperity and human rights fit together.
We can take that message back to the international community: here is the evidence we will say! Human rights work.