Universal Declaration of Human Rights Debate

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Baroness Helic

Main Page: Baroness Helic (Conservative - Life peer)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Baroness Helic Excerpts
Monday 11th December 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Anelay for securing this debate. It is my honour to follow her and the other speakers, who know much more about human rights and who are experts in this area. In particular, I thank my noble friend for all the work she has done on the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative and for speaking so generously about the survivors. They never express bitterness—just a desire for respect, dignity and some element of justice, which I hope we can help secure. I am also grateful to my noble friend for reminding us of the basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is down to each generation not only to uphold but to improve and push the boundaries in securing our common humanity. Yet we often fall short in defending even the basics. We see the universal declaration’s principles receiving lip service from those who transgress them, but also from those who believe themselves to be their defenders—sometimes our closest allies. Human rights should be more than mere rhetoric in speeches and interviews; they ought to form the very essence of our policies, both domestically and internationally. When we neglect these principles, we not only neglect those who are suffering, by failing to speak and act in support of them, but we also compromise our own standing, security and moral authority. Human rights protect us all; there is no point protecting only here but not over there.

Consider just one example: our rightful support for Ukraine. It is there that the ideals of a free and stable Europe are defended: the supremacy of sovereignty; the protection of borders; and the fundamental idea of human rights. However, we are often challenged that we apply one rule in Ukraine and another elsewhere. We rightly support and show solidarity to our Ukrainian friends and allies, but we have not shown remotely similar support for the people of Tigray or Sudan, or for Palestinian civilians. When we abandon Afghanistan and those who fought shoulder to shoulder with us, disregard atrocities in Darfur, or offer uncritical support to our friend and ally Israel, our commitment to human rights is questioned. Let us be candid with ourselves: do we champion human rights consistently or only when it aligns with our short-term interests?

In some cases, the accusation is that we do not care. In the face of atrocities or human rights violations, inaction is unacceptable. Back in August, the Minister of State for International Development noted the

“growing body of evidence of serious atrocities against civilians being committed in Sudan”.

Despite recognising this, four months on, collectively we have little to show by way of concrete action or concerted diplomacy to try and prevent further atrocities. Similarly, the contrast between our warm welcome to Ukrainians and our hostility towards refugees from other parts of the world has been striking.

It is sometimes suggested that worrying about our standing and the appearance of consistency is self-indulgent or naive, or both, or that those who believe and stand up for human rights have been captured by the wokerati. It is true that foreign policy is often about trade-offs and finding the least bad solution. But when we ignore our commitments, it gives other countries cover to do the same. Persuasion and alliance building are crucial aspects of foreign policy. It is certainly the case that the appearance of double standards has weakened our ability to make the case for supporting Ukraine to many countries.

There is a wider relevance as well. Many global challenges rely on trust if they are to be solved. Negotiations at COP, for example, rely on trust between countries that we will keep our word and that we will act in the interests of our own but also the wider good. The appearance of double standards undermines that trust and our ability to find solutions to some of the most pressing challenges we face.

Values upheld domestically ought to extend beyond our shores. Human rights must be an inseparable part of our Government’s policy, woven through every strand of our diplomacy, including support for international institutions and treaties, which very often have been drafted by British legal experts. This is a moral duty. It is also a route to a safer and more stable world, and it is in our national interest too.