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Sajid Javid: Building a bold human rights policy

Sajid_javid_3 Sajid lives in London with his wife Laura and their three young children.  He graduated in Economics & Politics from Exeter University in 1991.  He is a Managing Director of a major international bank, specialising in emerging markets.

The Conservative Party must be " in supporting democracy and those who bravely champion freedom in their own countries. It must put economic and political pressure on brutal regimes, and it must seek to hold them to account." - William Hague, address to the CPHRC, April 2006

In the 1980's the Conservative government delivered a much needed bold economic policy. In the 21C it is only too right that Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague has pledged to put human rights at the heart of Conservative foreign policy by establishing the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission (CPHRC), of which I am proud to be part of.

Whilst any nation's foreign policy should in the first instance serve its national interest, the CPHRC helps in making human rights a priority in our foreign policy by highlighting human rights concerns worldwide. Given the number of brutal regimes that still exist around the world, compassionate government is required abroad not just at home.

World events in recent years have shown only too well that British foreign policy should promote freedom, the rule of law and the dignity of the person even if that means having to forgo short term gains. We have to speak out boldly even if that means temporarily straining our relationships with friends. Hague was right to recently advise our US friends that detention without trial at Guantanamo Bay is plain wrong.

An incoming Conservative government that values the UK's membership of organisations such as the UN needs to spearhead the changes that are needed to reform these institutions in order to prevent them becoming marginalised. It is a sad and all too blatant fact that many of the UN's members fail to live up to the organisations values. Much of the UN's paralysis in being unable to deal with many human rights issues lies in the principle of sovereignty - as long a government has basic control over its own territory and does not infringe the rights of another nation it can do as it likes within its own borders. The dire consequences of this are then painfully borne by the people Dafur, Somalia, Burma and elsewhere. James Mawdsley and Benedict Rogers explored this issue in detail in their paper Newground. The establishment last week by the UN of the Human Rights Council is a small, tiny, step in the right direction.

No discussion on Human Rights can be had fully without touching on the issue of the arms trade and it is here that being bold will probably affect us most economically in the short run (see However, British voters do feel a sense of outrage that arms made in this country are being used to gun down innocent civilians throughout the world and our own soldiers. It's time we faced up to this fact and only sold arms to people who share the same basic values, and stopped inviting rogue nations to shop at our arms fairs. The short term economics have to be balanced against the longer term political objectives of making the world a safer place to live. Any armaments that are sold should have strict end-user accountability and include provisions that they will not be resold.

One of the areas that government can seek to influence in the long-run is the education of young people. Children in this country should be familiar with the lives of great spiritual heroes such as Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Schindler and Nelson Mandela. Abroad, education would take on the role of combating entrenched societal factors which leads to situations such as the maltreatment of the "untouchables" in India. Madrasas in Pakistan are often criticised for being a breeding ground for fundamentalism - however the absence of alternative schools ensure that these will remain open for business. The funding of alternative programmes of education should be looked at as part and parcel of relations in foreign policy with countries such as Pakistan. As Tony Blair himself recently said:

"The terrorism we are fighting in Britain, wasn't born in Britain, though on 7th July last year it was British born terrorists that committed murder. The roots are in schools and training camps and indoctrination thousands of miles away, as well as in the towns and cities of modern Britain" 

One of the current buzz words being used in business circles is "corporate social responsibility". Indeed many multinationals do adopt codes of conduct for human rights, labour and environmental protection for their subsidiaries in poorer countries. However, the basic fact remains that these principles are voluntary and many countries continue to operate in countries with regimes that have no regard for these principles. It is time to make it a legal requirement for British business to operate by internationally recognised standards.

There is no denying that many of these suggestions will require a shift change in our actions in the short term in order to reap the benefits in the long run. National interest and doing the "right thing" on the international stage are now pretty much indistinguishable. If we don't engage with the world's problems they'll end up on our doorstep - literally as migrants, or as terrorism or environmental problems. In some ways it may seem naive for example to want a ready supply of oil from Nigeria and still be able criticise its human rights record. But in the true tradition of William Wilberforce:

"let everyone regulate his conduct by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us".


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