The FCO's administration and funding its human rights work overseas Contents

3Operation of the FCO’s new human rights priorities

13.In August 2015, the FCO announced that it would focus its human rights work on three themes:

a)Democratic values and the rule of law

b)Strengthening the rules-based international system

c)Human rights for a stable world

14.Previously, the FCO had adopted a more focused approach, with emphasis on the following areas (grouped as “6+2 thematic priorities” by the FCO):

a)Freedom of expression (including on the internet)

b)Abolition of the death penalty

c)Torture prevention

d)Freedom of religion or belief

e)Women’s rights; and

f)Business and human rights

g)Plus democratisation and preventing sexual violence in conflict

15.Rob Fenn, head of the Human Rights and Democracy Department at the FCO, explained the rationale for this shift:

We wanted to allow our Embassies and High Commissions to focus on the human rights issues where they can make the greatest difference. These three themes provide a framework for everything the FCO network currently does, while organising that work (prioritising) in locally appropriate ways.20

He added in oral evidence that the three themes seemed “to be a good way of squaring this circle, providing strategy and a sense of shape to our human rights work without ruling out any individual human right”.21

16.Whilst it is early to assess the impact of the FCO’s shift to three themes,22 opinion on this change was mixed. Some written submissions were positive about the potential for greater attention on some issues than was possible under the 6+2 approach.23 There were however concerns about the lack of specific commitments in the three themes and the difficulties that this generates for implementation and accountability.24

17.Reprieve commented that the FCO “ … has simultaneously widened the range of areas to which this funding will apply, and abandoned specific human rights priorities such as the fight to abolish capital punishment around the world”.25

18.The embedding of human rights across the FCO’s network would be welcomed if it did not coincide with a perceived lack of Ministerial priority. Plainly the actual effect of a change of approach could be to decrease focus on the specific human rights issues that were formerly included within the narrower thematic priorities. We recommend that Posts should be encouraged to develop specific human rights objectives in their business plans under the three themes, taking into account local assessment of the most relevant issues and needs. Given that human rights work has been mainstreamed across the FCO network, we seek reassurance from the FCO that the three human rights themes are incorporated in staff and team objectives and performance assessments, even for those whose focus is not specifically on human rights.

22 Q5 and UNICEF UK (HUM0022) para 3.1

23 Human Dignity Trust (HUM0004) para 2 and Stonewall (HUM0014) para 13

24 Amnesty International (HUM0025) para 28, Human Rights Watch (HUM0006) para 3.2, Reprieve (HUM0013) para 8, and Stonewall (HUM0014) para 14

25 Reprieve (HUM0013) para 5

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 30 March 2016