Thursday, 18 October 2012

UK and Human Rights abroad (continued)

Following up on yesterday's blog post on UK and Human Rights abroad, the Financial Times has published an editorial on the subject today, entitled 'Rights in Bahrain'.

The concluding paragraph shows how little things have changed since the 1970s, as Britain was also accused of double standards in its dealings with the Greek dictatorship.

According to the paper,

"The art of foreign relations for any open democracy is to balance defence of human rights with other national interests. Britain has been accused of getting the balance wrong in Bahrain, where repression is a daily presence.

The criticism, made in a parliamentary report, is valid – but only in part. When Bahrain’s government brutally cracked down on anti-regime demonstrators in 2011, leaving 35 dead, the UK was one of the first to protest publicly despite important trade and security links. It is also a behind-the-scenes player in efforts to promote dialogue between the ruling Sunni elite and Shia majority. The US, perhaps with one eye on its naval base in Bahrain, appears to be less involved than in the past, so Britain’s role has become key. Mediators are often more effective if criticism stays behind closed doors.

Nonetheless, parliamentarians are right to say that the UK needs to be more assertive. The softly-softly approach has not delivered results. The difficulty is that the Al Khalifa royal family is itself divided and hardliners have managed to stymie political reform. [...]

Britain, meanwhile, has to be more up front about the conflicts it faces in pursuing national interests. The criteria by which it judges the gravity of human rights failings in ally countries need to be more clearly explained. That is the only way to avoid being accused of double standards."

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

UK and Human Rights abroad

As you can see by reading this article that was published today on the BBC NEWS website,
The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has accused the UK government  of inconsistency in its dealings with other countries over human rights.

According to the BBC:

The committee accepted it was "inevitable" that there would be occasional conflicts between the UK's strategic, commercial or security-related interests and its human rights values and a "balance" had to be struck.

The report reads: "In our view, it would be in the government's interest for it to be more transparent in acknowledging that there will be contradictions in pursuing these interests while promoting human rights values.

The government's role should be publicly to set out and explain its judgements on how far to balance the two in particular cases, having taken into account the need to adapt policy according to local circumstances and developments."

You can find the full report (as well as FCO's response) here.

The 2011 report mentioned above focuses on the UK's (apparently inconsistent) dealings with Ukraine and Bahrain.

If you're interested in some historical context, the British government's 'inconsistency' in relation to the case of the Greek Colonels' regime is highlighted in my forthcoming book.

To give you an idea, this is from the conclusion of the first chapter (pp. 41-42):

"All in all, the British stance towards the dictatorship of the Colonels, during the first two years could be characterised as one of ambiguity.  

London hesitated in almost every decision it had to take, oscillating between the two poles of its policy: namely, (1) protecting its mainly commercial and strategic interests and its ‘special relationship’ with Washington, and (2) upholding human rights and promoting a return to democratic rule, basically through trying to influence the regime and sustaining some efforts of the opposition. The initial inertia of the Labour government soon changed to a pragmatic policy of establishing relations with the junta, without, however, appearing to be too close to Greece’s military dictators. The catalyst for this change were three events that took place in 1967; the Six Day War, the crisis in Cyprus, and the failed royal counter-coup. The first demonstrated Greece’s augmented significance as a NATO ally in a troubled region, the second proved to the British the value of keeping closer relations with the Greek leaders, and the third confirmed the consolidation of the regime. When 1968 came and Britain recognized the junta anew, it became clear that, despite some instances of criticism of the dictatorship -mainly for public consumption- London was willing to make use of ‘different tactics’ in order to safeguard its (chiefly commercial and strategic) interests vis-à-vis Greece. The impact of international events was once again decisive as the Prague Spring and increased Soviet naval activity in the Mediterranean were conducive to a reconsideration of British policy towards the Colonels and the adoption of a ‘business as usual’ approach, thus acting as a prelude to the new era of relations that was soon to follow."