Speech by the British High Commissioner to Tanznaia on World Human Rights Day

British High Commissioner attends World Human Rights Day event hosted by the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Dar es Salaam and helps launch a new Civil and Political Rights Tracker.

H.E Sarah Cooke

I am delighted to be here with you today to mark World Human Rights Day.

The UN designates 10 December as Human Rights Day to commemorate the date the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. The Declaration marked a milestone in the history of human rights, laying out for the first time, universal rights for all. Today, 68 years later, the Declaration remains as relevant as ever.

This year- 2016- the international theme for World Human Rights Day is “Stand up for someone’s rights today!”

It is a global call for action, encouraging individuals to do something to defend the rights of others. To take a stand. To make a difference.

The African theme this year is “Respect for Women’s Rights”.

This is something close to my own heart. I am very proud to be the THIRD consecutive female British High Commissioner to represent the UK in Tanzania. There are now around 50 female British Ambassadors and High Commissioners around the world, with 14 of us based in Africa.

World Human Rights Day also marks the last day of the UN’s annual 16 days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence that runs from 25th November- 10th December each year. Many of you here today will have been involved in this great initiative.

Violence against women and girls remains one of the most systematic, widespread human rights violations worldwide. Globally, 1 in 3 women is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. In Tanzania, also, a third of women reported experiencing physical violence according to the Government of Tanzania’s Demographic and Health Survey of 2010.

Violence affects women and girls everywhere, in my country and overseas. It includes domestic violence, sexual violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Child Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM), acid attacks, so-called ‘honour’ violence and other forms of violence.

In the UK we have a multi sector approach towards FGM and many of these other issues. We work in schools, through our health services and the police, particularly around prevention.

Over a third of Tanzanian girls are married before they reach 18, and pregnant girls are frequently expelled from school. Female Genital Mutilation rates have gone down but around 15% of girls and women reported to have undergone FGM by 2010 and there are still huge regional variations with regions like Manyara, Dodoma, Mara and Arusha reporting prevalence rates above 50%.

The government of Tanzania has shown impressive commitment to tackling FGM and end child marriage, for example through campaigns launched last year to target those parts of the country where girls and women are most at risk. And we are very much looking forward to the launch of its National Plan of Action to End Violence against Women and Children later this month.

Tackling violence against women and girls is essential to defending human rights and poverty reduction.

Girls who experience violence are less likely to complete their education, are at increased risk of maternal mortality and contracting HIV, and their ability to earn a living is put at risk.

Ending violence against women and girls is a top priority for the UK. We have increased our funding towards this by more than 60% in recent years. This includes DFID’s £35 million programme to tackle FGM worldwide; and £36 million programme to end Child, Early and Forced Marriage. We are also supporting women’s rights projects through the Foreign Office’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy across some 28 countries with a total spend of over £3.6 million between 2016 and 2018.

In Tanzania, human rights issues cut across many of the programmes supported by the UK, such as promoting equal access to high quality education through our nationwide programmes. Our support for the TASAF social protection programme ensures that the extreme poor and marginalised are lifted out of poverty and break the intergeneration cycle of poverty. We also spend around £1.5m a year on dedicated human rights programming including support for the use of community paralegals to advise women who have been victims of domestic violence, and a civil and political rights tracking project known as UHAKIKI, which I will talk more about shortly.

But it is not just women’s rights that we care about.

The UK also strongly supports the role of civil society and the importance of protecting the space for civil society to operate.

That’s because, open and transparent societies, which promote the free exchange of ideas and innovation and experimentation are prosperous societies.

Civil society, the media, and political parties (including Opposition) can also be real allies in rooting out corruption and demanding accountability of resources. We have seen numerous examples of this in Tanzania and elsewhere in the world. They should not be seen as enemies, but partners and resources to be harnessed.

Likewise, with media freedoms and freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is both a fundamental right in itself and an essential element of a full range of human rights. It is only through freedom of expression that innovation can thrive and ideas develop. Again, these are essential for economic and social development.

To this end, I am delighted the UK, through the Department for International Development and its partners Sweden and Norway, is supporting the work of LHRC, and in particular the UHAKIKI project that is tracking civil and political rights in Tanzania.

And I am particularly pleased that you have chosen World Human Rights Day to launch the new UHAKIKI Civil and Political Rights Perception Index.

The Index uses an innovative way to collect perceptions of local people on civil and political rights through specially trained local monitors who collect local data and make informed assessments on the civil and political rights situation in their regions. By surveying this group of experts annually, the Index can then track human rights trends in different areas of Tanzania.

This bottom-up approach draws on established and tested tools for perceptions indexes, adapting and re-defining them for the unique Tanzanian context.

It helps plug the widely acknowledged problem of lack of readily available primary data on civil and political rights in Tanzania. And is able to reflect positive developments as well as declining ones.

Tools such as this human rights perception index are important contributors to civil society’s efforts to advocate for human rights causes. They can also help Government better understand the challenges faced by citizens, so that they can tailor policies and practices to respond more effectively to human rights challenges.

I wish you all a very fruitful discussion today. And thank you for inviting me to join you. Asanteni sana.

Published 10 December 2016