Open letter to the Foreign Secretary on global human rights

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The Rt. Hon. Dominic Rennie Raab MP
First Secretary of State
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Dear Foreign Secretary

Please accept my best wishes.

With the merger of the FCO and DfID in mind and the incorporation of development policy into your brief, I was encouraged by your statement in Parliament on July 7th 2020 which included the words:

‘As we forge a dynamic new vision for a truly global Britain, this Government are absolutely committed to the United Kingdom becoming an even stronger force for good in the world … on human rights, where we will defend media freedoms and protect freedom of religious belief; and, with the measures we are enacting and announcing today, hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses.’

I wish to raise with you two examples where the UK has up to now supported EU efforts to impose sanctions and take other measures to apply pressure on ‘the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses’ as you put it; Cambodia and Turkey.

As you will be aware the world’s longest-serving Prime Minister is Hun Sen of Cambodia, former member of the government of the genocidal Pol Pot regime. An international post-civil-war peace treaty in 1991, the ‘Paris Peace Accords’, set out a path to democracy, human rights and key freedoms, with UK support.

However, step-by-step Hun Sen consolidated power and eroded democracy and human rights provided for in the Accords, a process which accelerated after Hun Sen developed a close commercial relationship with Xi Jinping and his ministers in China. That is the same Xi Jinping that you condemned in an Oct 6th 2020 statement as committing ‘serious and egregious’ human right violations. The erosion of democracy and human rights in Cambodia was carefully documented by the United Nations Special Rapporteur.

The main opposition party in Cambodia is the CNRP, a sister party of the UK Liberal Democrats. In the 2017 commune elections the CNRP, despite alleged attempts at government rigging, achieved just under half the popular vote. Three months later, membership of the CNRP was made illegal, and it’s leader put under house arrest and tried for treason. A media crackdown ensued. Last month, 121 CNRP opposition figures were also tried for treason and now face 30 year jail terms.

As a consequence, as as you know, the EU took steps to sanction the regime, including partial withdrawal of ‘Everything but Arms’ trade privileges in July 2020, coordinating other ‘Western’ pressures upon the regime. Both ALDE and Liberal International have been pivotal in ensuring such pressures are applied,

However, a few days ago the UK announced that it would grant trade privileges to Cambodia, post-Brexit-transition, under its GSP system, and without human rights conditions;  fully undercutting EU and Western efforts to apply pressure to improve democracy and human rights.

On 29th December 2020 the UK ‘announced’ a post-Brexit trade deal with Turkey.

The EU is in the process of applying pressure to the Turkish government over a number of issues, including its treatment of Greece over oil exploration rights in the Mediterranean, arbitrary arrests, journalist detentions, and military adventurism in Azerbaijan, Libya, Syria, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.

Whilst the Treaty is not yet published, UK government statements indicate there will be NO such pressure applied by the UK on such matters, undermining collective EU and Western efforts.

What assurances can you provide that the laudable aims you set out in Parliament on July 7th 2020 are not just words, to be ignored in the UK’s apparently desperate attempts to ‘notch up’ trade deals around the world ?

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance.

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