The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Inequality: Injustice in Action

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

16 October is Blog Action day. And this year’s theme is inequality. So here’s a blog about inequality.
Tackling inequality is an important part of UK foreign policy. Two of our six human rights priorities are specifically about inequality, including women’s rights and freedom of religion and belief.

For us, the promotion and protection of women’s rights is more than a moral obligation.  It is enshrined in international human rights law and it is vital to ensure stable and prosperous societies with women fully participating in political, economic and social life.   Former Foreign Secretary Hague said that “the greatest challenge of the 21st Century is women’s full political, economic and social participation”. The Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit, in which Margot Wallström participated, bringing her wealth of UN expertise, and the more recent Girl Summit are two examples of UK leadership.

We are committed to securing a dedicated goal on women and girls in the post-2015 development framework, on which our Prime Minister has helped lead UN efforts.  As part of this, we want to see the world agreeing to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.  Other vital areas for world leaders to agree on – good governance, peace, security and justice for all – are also fundamental to women’s safety and security.  We successfully introduced this language in Human Rights Council resolutions in June 2014.

At a country level, we support projects to increase women’s political participation around the world from the Middle East and North Africa to indigenous groups in Latin America.  We also challenge gender stereotypes of what a “traditional” women’s role is, and work with faith leaders to help ensure that the cultural application of religious doctrine does not hinder women’s development.

In my last job in London I oversaw the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Fund, which gives out millions of pounds each year to projects, usually led by NGOs, making a real difference in some of the more challenging places to operate around the world. Examples include: helping develop women lawyers in Nigeria, promoting justice, including for victims of sexual violence, in Bosnia, and supporting Mothers for Peace in Colombia.

Another key equality for us is promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief.  It is a fundamental freedom which underpins many other human rights and we believe that where freedom of religion or belief is under attack, often other basic rights are threatened too.

We work through the UN to ensure that states implement Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18. This resolution focuses the international community on combating religious intolerance, protecting the human rights of minorities and promoting pluralism in society. We endeavour to speak out in the wider context of the rule of law and freedom – making the point that when one faith community is under attack, the liberty of all is under attack. This is also an area where our Human Rights and Democracy Fund supports projects and NGOs, e g in Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines, trying to make a real difference, shining the spotlight on abuse, promoting reform, trying to make a reality overseas of the rights and freedoms we can take for granted here at home.

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The Importance of Remembrance

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

It was an honour to take part in a moving and memorable seminar at the Canadian Embassy yesterday, marking the end of Canada’s chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and the start today of the UK’s year as Chair.

IHRA is a group of over 30 countries, founded by the UK, Sweden and the US, dedicated to the goals of ensuring that the unique tragedy of the Holocaust if never forgotten.

We were honoured at yesterday’s event by the presence of Raoul Wallenberg’s sister Nina Lagergren and also by that of Judith Weiszmann, who as a fourteen year old Jewish girl in Budapest was personally saved by Wallenberg in August 1944.

For the UK it will be an honour and a privilege to chair the Alliance over the next twelve months. It was an honour for me yesterday to be able to set out our priorities for the coming year.

The Foreign Secretary also made a statement when he announced the Chairmanship.

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Human Rights and Democracy Report

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

This year it will be 65 years since the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Open any newspaper or news website today and you find depressingly many and varied examples of continuing breaches of those universal rights in countries around the world.

Advancing respect for universal human rights is a priority for UK, and EU, foreign policy. For that reason, every year the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes a Human Rights Report. The Report covers our global human rights priorities and countries of concern. On 15 April our Foreign Secretary William Hague launched the FCO Human Rights and Democracy Report 2012.

If you follow the Embassy on Twitter or Facebook or read my last blog you will know how the UK as G8 President is prioritising the issue of tackling rape and sexual violence in conflict. This year there is a new section on the Preventing of Sexual Violence Initiative in the Report.

At the launch event the Foreign Secretary was joined by two guest speakers; Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Human Rights Council special Rapporteur on Iran, who shared his insight into the work of the UN and Madeleine Rees from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and a member of the PSVI steering board spoke more widely about the violence against women, including sexual violence.

We want to know what you think too. On the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy homepage you can submit your comments on this important issue.

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The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Guest blog by Jenny Söderqvist, Political Attaché at the British Embassy in Sweden

This Sunday is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – a UN initiative to raise awareness about this complex and serious problem. The date – 25 of November – has not been chosen at random, but marks the brutal assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, in 1960. That was over 50 years ago. But sadly, still today, we see too much violence against women and girls. This is a global problem that takes many different shapes and is closely linked to wider security and development issues.

One worrying example is the widespread sexual violence in war. From Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape has been used as a terrifying weapon in conflict. To raise awareness Foreign Secretary William Hague launched his Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) with UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in May. This initiative aims to increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice by supporting international efforts and co-ordination, to prevent and respond to sexual violence and helping states build national capacity.

The British government is working hard to raise awareness of the problem and design and pursue adequate long-term responses, driven by both women and men. At the Embassy we discussed this issue with Swedish women’s groups, policy makers and non-governmental representatives, when the Permanent Secretary at the British Department for International Development, Mark Lowcock, visited Sweden in September. They all had lots of good ideas how to deal with the root causes of violence against women. This meeting really underlined to me that although in many cases the victims were women and girls, they were also the key to the solution.  As an (often vocal!) woman myself I know what powerful advocates of change women can be.  Women and girls hardly ever fight the world’s wars, but they often suffer the most. It’s time we all took a stand to change this.

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Human rights in Europe and beyond need to be protected

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

In a month’s time the governments of the 47 members of the Council of Europe will try to agree reforms that are meant to strengthen the protection of human rights of the 800 million people living in those 47 member states.

The Council of Europe and its key institutions and tools – the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights – have defended human rights and fundamental freedoms for over 60 years. They have helped to promote the rule of law in Europe, and transform the lives of many Europeans.  But the work is far from completed.

The UK was one of the original architects of the European Convention of Human Rights and is currently the Chair of the Council of Europe. We strongly believe in the role and values of the Council but do not think the institutions of the Council are strong enough to carry out their important responsibility.

The key challenge is the huge backlog of cases in the Court in Strasbourg. This now stands at over 150,000 with an average delay of 5 years. This means that significant, urgent cases – for example, those involving individuals subject to unfair trial or denied free speech – will continue to be delayed. The Court itself has started to reduce the backlog, but even with the proposed reforms, the Court would still have too many cases to process. The best way to fix this problem is to ensure that the Member States pull their weight.

So we propose that governments do more to implement the Convention themselves, at home, through introducing national human rights institutions, domestic legislation enshrining the Convention, and better human rights training for civil servants and judges. This would reduce pressure on the Court, as more cases would be dealt with at the national level.

One of reforms the UK is therefore proposing is the ability for the Court to say no to cases which have already been fairly decided by national courts in accordance with the Convention.

This would not reduce the right of individuals to apply to have their case heard in Strasbourg.  The Court would continue to decide these cases, and all Member States would continue to be held accountable.  This would give the Court a vital extra tool with which to focus its caseload on the most serious abuses.

We believe there is now momentum for reform. Sweden is an important and valued partner in this work.

The Court has already begun this work and our proposals build on the reform programme agreed by all 47 members in recent years. Transforming the Court to a modern and effective institution will not be an easy job but is necessary and urgent to ensure Europe continues to be active and effective in seeking to prevent human rights abuse.

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Happy Human Rights Day

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Have you read a piece of sharply-worded criticism directed at a politician in the paper lately? Did you worry that the journalist writing it was risking his/her life or freedom? If you live in Sweden, in the UK or in another democratic country I would guess that your answer to my first question is “Yes” and your answer to my second question is “No”.

Did you think that a specific article had gone too far? Or was your answer that it’s the role of the media to scrutinise society and those in power and speak up against any case of injustice or discrimination?  Where we live any paper on any day will contain vitriolic diatribe and thoughtful analysis.  Frankly, we get used to this and think of it as a right rather than a privilege.

10 December is International Human Rights Day.  This day commemorates the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The theme for this year’s Day is “human rights defenders who act to end discrimination”.  This includes journalists, but also organisations and individuals standing up for the right not to be discriminated against on grounds such as race, gender, sexual orientation and religion.

Sixty-two years later, the list of countries where standing up to these rights and other human rights still mean you risk your life or freedom is depressingly long. So while 10 December is a day to remind ourselves about the importance of these rights that we often take for granted, it is also a day to think about what we do help those people who are denied these rights. Happy Human Rights Day.

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Just listen up

Friday, November 19th, 2010

I spent this morning in the company of some extraordinary young people at the Royal Palace in Stockholm.  The occasion for this gathering was the inaugural meeting of the World Child and Youth Forum, a body established by King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia to provide inspiration and support to children’s organisations and to promote the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Aside from Ambassadors from many nations the gathering brought together organisations that work for children’s rights, schoolchildren and experts from Sweden and abroad under the watchful eye of the King and Queen, The Crown Princess and Prince Daniel and Princess Madeleine.

There are not many people who’d argue with the sense of working to protect child rights.  It is, to apply a metaphor, motherhood and apple pie.  But this was no ordinary event.  It was enlivened not by august adults and lofty promises but by the voices and testimonies of children.  The heart of the event was a panel discussion via videoconference with young people from around Sweden.  And they told us – in no uncertain terms – that they didn’t wanted to be treated like kids.  That we should stop talking to them like children.  The Queen told us that what mattered was dialogue between the generations.  And the kids agreed.  But for it to be a dialogue it needed us to listen.

It’s not for nothing that Sweden is a leader in the protection and promotion of human rights around the world.  This event today brought that home once again.  But I took a rather more personal lesson too.  I’m going home tonight to do less talking and more listening.

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