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Stephen Crabb MP: A Conservative agenda for UN reform

Crabbstephen2_2 Stephen Crabb MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and member of the International Development Select Committee, outlines the principles behind the CPHRC's report on UN reform.

On Wednesday at Chatham House in front of an audience of diplomats, academics and human rights activists, the CPHRC launched Globalising Human Rights: A Conservative Agenda for UN reform. Click here to download a copy. 

In this latest submission to the Shadow Foreign Affairs team, we argue that one powerful way for the next Conservative Government to put human rights at the heart of foreign policy is for it to lead an international effort to secure real and lasting reform at the United Nations.

For too long the UN has symbolised weakness and division in the face of the world’s most oppressive regimes.  Britain, along with the world’s other leading democracies, has too often failed to make the case for reform of the mechanisms that exist at the UN for investigating and punishing human rights abuses.

The creation of the UN Human Rights Council in May 2006 was welcomed by NGOs like Amnesty as “a new beginning for human rights” and was supposed to offer new hope to the hundreds of millions of people suffering under brutal non-democratic regimes throughout the world. Its predecessor, the notorious UN Commission on Human Rights, was an affront to the ideals underpinning the Universal Declaration on Human Rights signed sixty years ago.

Far from being the leading international mechanism for promoting and defending human rights, the Commission had become a safe haven for some of the world’s worst human rights abusers who could create blocking majorities to prevent any investigation into their crimes.  In drawing a line under its sorry history, even Kofi Annan was forced to admit that the Commission had undermined the credibility of the UN itself.

But there are worrying signs that the new Council risks falling back into bad old ways and replicating some of the worst traits of the ineffectual Commission.  At a time when efforts to tackle human rights violations are in retreat in many parts of the world, Britain should be using its privileged position at the UN to make the case for further institutional reform to ensure that the Council does not become another cosy club for dictators.

Our report launched this week contains some practical recommendations about how the next Conservative Government might try to achieve this.  It also looks at the link between international development efforts and good human rights practice.  We argue that the Millennium Development Goals can only be achieved when individual liberties are protected.  Dictatorships help create poverty. Yet among some international development professionals at DfID there is a surprising tolerance of the human rights violations perpetrated by countries receiving British taxpayers’ money.  This cannot be allowed to continue.

Globalising Human Rights: A Conservative Agenda for UN reform
also looks at alternative multilateral structures to the UN.  Where the UN and its member states cannot or will not act, there should be alternative means of addressing serious international human rights abuse.  This will also serve to encourage the UN to go further in promoting basic human rights and freedoms. A future Conservative

Government should work with other countries to establish an independent group of politically and economically free nations.

The CPHRC recognises that there is a limit to what Britain alone can do to ensure that the UN improves its performance in the area of human rights.  This is why our report argues that the next Conservative Government should use its friendship and strategic alliance with the US to press for much more positive American engagement with the UN, especially with the UN Human Rights Council which it has chosen to keep at arm’s length.  A strong UN needs a strong America, and not just for funding purposes.  Conversely, the US may well find that increasingly it needs the UN to help it achieve some of its own objectives.

One immediate area for action by the new Conservative Foreign Affairs Team will be to halt the slide towards the ‘Europeanisation’ of British policy at the UN.  Increasingly Britain is losing its independent voice on many international issues and finds itself as party to an EU Common Position which often may represent a significant dilution of established British policy.  The EU Common Position on Burma has been a glaring example of this in recent years.  We must also resist moves to appoint an EU High Representative on the Security Council to replace Britain and France.

As Amnesty noted in its most recent annual report, progress on human rights is currently caught in a “downward spiral”.  Sixty years after the signing of the Universal Declaration, the international community is still failing to ensure even the most crude benchmarks for good human rights practice are being met.  As Joseph Loconte commented: "Never has the gulf been greater between the humanistic ideals of the international body and the shameful performance of its institutions".   

Our action in government to improve these institutions will be a key indicator of the Conservative commitment to make respect for human rights a core value of our foreign policy.

Related link: The Conservative case against the United Nations by Joseph Loconte


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