We cannot have a foreign policy without a conscience


President Lukashenko of Belarus has enjoyed twenty-two years in power, achieved through a specific method of counting of votes, and has often been referred to as the last dictator in Europe.

Following his annual state-of-the-union address 2015, President Lukashenko has said that Jews in Belarus should be taken “under control”. All this occurred in the presence of foreign ambassadors, including the Ambassador of Britain, but excluding the US ambassador, because the Belarusian dictator expelled the US ambassador from the country many years ago.

The reaction of the Conservative government on this Belarusian leader’s statement was not long in coming. At the beginning of 2016 the Foreign & Commonwealth Office called for the lifting of EU sanctions against the Belarusian dictator, with “full compliance” of the 2010 Conservative statement on the basic values of foreign policy:

We cannot have a foreign policy without a conscience. Human rights are not the only issue that informs the making of foreign policy, but they are indivisible from it, not least because the consequences of foreign policy failure are human.

In such a situation, much depends on the personal position of every British politician and every member of society.

I myself as far as possible try  to contribute to the strengthening of Civil Society in Belarus. Over the past five years the Belarusian opposition media had published several of my articles relating to violations of Human rights.  Besides, in 2012 the Organization for Security & Co-operation in Europe and the European Parliament considered my petition regarding Human rights in Belarus.  Moreover, I recently registered on the UK parliamentary website e-petition “Stop the violations of the British nationals’ human rights abroad”.

I asked my Labour MP to request the FCO about the violations of the British nationals’ human rights in Belarus and what the UK Government is doing to urge the Belarusian authorities to improve the level of human rights. Unfortunately,  my Labour MP refused to do the parliamentary inquiry.

On the same request I turned to the Conservative MP, Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties. Then I received an official response that the Minister has redirected my letter to the FCO. Unfortunately, I have not received a reply from the FCO and I have the impression that my letter was not forwarded anywhere.

It was only after my letter to a Liberal Democrat MP that the case moved forward. Mr Tom Brake MP immediately made his request to the FCO regarding the violations of the British nationals’ human rights in Belarus. Then the British ambassador to Belarus put the issue of human rights violations to the Belarusian authorities.

It seems that the Conservative slogan “We cannot have a foreign policy without a conscience” is more suitable for the Liberal Democrats.

* Alex Minin is not a member of any political party, although he shares the liberal values of Freedom of Speech and Human Rights in any country of the world.

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  • Eddie Sammon 1st Jun '16 - 12:07am

    Interesting article and good points on Belarus and democracy (or lack of).

    Overall, I like Cameron’s foreign policy, except when it comes to Asia when I think it is an absolute joke. In Asia we certainly do have a foreign policy without a conscious and the foreign office even admitted that they don’t want to take a position on the South China Sea dispute. What kind of policy is that? Is that what we expect from Britain and Europe? The United States are not taking the same approach and then we complain when others don’t support us on the Falkland Islands.

    I know I’ve gone into other subjects, but the point about an ethical but practical foreign policy is important.

  • Jenny barnes 1st Jun '16 - 1:57pm

    Why can’t we have a foreign policy without a conscience? Last time this was tried, as I recall, Robin Cook and Clare Short resigned because it wasn’t.
    Maybe we should have an ethical fp, but we haven’t noticably had one yet. Realpolitik seems more like it.

  • Simon Banks 1st Jun '16 - 5:27pm


    Robin Cook had a go at it and was moved to Leader of the House. His personal affairs may have had something to do with that, but I suspect also that Blair found him inconvenient. Robin Cook resigned over the second Gulf War. Clare Short agonised, decided not to resign and then eventually did, saying assurances she’d been given hadn’t been honoured.

    Eddie has it absolutely right that our foreign policy should be conscience-driven AND practical. The UK is rather fond of making noises about places it has no influence in; and a politician in office who wants to achieve something has to make compromises and abandon desirable thing A in order to get desirable thing B. We might, for example, have to make compromises on Belarus and Ukraine to achieve our aims in Syria. But of course in dealing with people like Putin or even Erdogan, we need to be hard-headed and not give a lot in return for a little which may not be delivered anyway.

  • There was a BBC debate (the one with the Welsh presenter and 2 on each side of her) which asked whether we could openly criticise China’s human rights record considering how big their economy is and how big it’s predicted to grow (of course the answer was, if we can’t criticise now then what can they get away with when they are the biggest in the world?) so while this government, and no doubt others, will pretend to champion human rights in foreign policy it’s likely that finance will win out. The only way to stop that is for a block, or a union?, of countries to refuse to negotiate while there are such breaches of human rights and to be prosperous despite this.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Jun '16 - 9:44pm

    Simon Banks, I agree in general when it comes to compromises with Russia and a hard-headed foreign policy. It’s a controversial topic, so I’m saying no more for now (I’ve already spoken about this anyway), but I just thought I’d highlight my agreement with you there!

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