This report provides a UK perspective on the global human rights situation during 2014, and examples of what the government is doing to promote human rights and democratic values overseas. It reviews the situation in specific countries and against the thematic priorities around which our work is organised.
One of the most striking trends of 2014 was the pressure put by governments on civil society organisations in many parts of the world, damaging human rights and the economic interests of those same countries.
Chapter I focuses on the protection of civil society space and those who defend it.
It sets out how the UK has worked through the UN and features case studies on Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Burma. It describes what the UK is doing to support human rights defenders, including through the EU, particularly in Afghanistan. 2014 was an important year for our Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), marking two years since its launch.
Chapter II sets out achievements in this area, including the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and increasing support for the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, and our plans to address the myriad challenges that remain.
Chapter III focuses on the FCO’s programme and project work on human rights, with case studies on each of our priority areas, and the steps we have taken to mainstream human rights across the FCO network. It also includes material on the Department for International Development’s work on economic and social rights.
Chapters IV, V, VI and VII cover issues related to our six thematic priorities: freedom of expression on the internet, abolition of the death penalty, torture prevention, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, and business and human rights.
Chapter IV focuses on freedom of expression and democracy.
Acknowledging that democracy takes many forms, and evolves over time, the UK’s own experience strengthens our conviction that democracy offers the best system for protecting human rights, guaranteeing the rule of law, supporting economic development and preventing conflict.
This chapter sets out the UK’s approach to democracy strengthening, including work carried out by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. It features case studies on democratic developments and challenges during 2014, such as the Fijian and Tunisian elections, and the military coup in Thailand.
Freedom of expression is an essential element of any functioning democracy, and this section also features our work in this area, through fora like the Freedom Online Coalition, in which the UK plays a leading role. It includes case studies on countries where media freedoms were under threat in 2014, such as China, Ethiopia and Honduras.
Chapter V sets out our work on abolition of the death penalty and on torture prevention, and our efforts to support the international justice system. Our ambition remains a world free of capital punishment and torture, where there can be no impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It is also strongly in our interest, and those of our international partners, that the citizens of all countries can fulfil their potential, free from discrimination on any grounds. Chapter VI describes our efforts to promote equality internationally, including by focusing on: freedom of religion or belief, with case studies on the Middle East, South East Asia, and ISIL; anti-Muslim hatred, antisemitism and post-Holocaust issues (particularly the UK’s chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance).
This chapter also illustrates the priority we attach to women’s rights, and children’s rights, with case studies on India, and on the Girl Summit (hosted by the Prime Minister in June 2014), which changed the terms of global debate on child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation;
LGB&T rights, where the UK promoted inclusive societies in all parts of the world and condemned restrictions and violence against LGB&T people (including by action in international fora); and disability and indigenous rights.
Chapter VII explores the human rights dimension of the UK’s security agenda: counter-terrorism; reducing conflict and building stability overseas; women, peace and security, and the protection of civilians. It features case studies on Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Ebola.
Chapter VIII focuses on business and human rights, setting out our progress on implementation of the UK National Action Plan, and our efforts to promote responsible business practice internationally.
Protecting the human rights of British nationals overseas is a top priority. Chapter IX describes the actions taken by our officials to support those who are detained, facing the death penalty, forced into marriage, at risk of female genital mutilation, or involved in child abduction cases.
As a nation with global interests, the UK has both the motive and the means to shape the international community’s response to human rights priorities. Chapter X details how we worked through the international system in 2014, with a particular focus on the UN Human Rights Council, where we resumed our seat as a voting member, and have had a positive impact on issues from Sri Lanka to freedom of religion or belief. This chapter also looks at how we work through the European institutions and the Commonwealth, and includes a case study on the international response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and separatist-occupied areas of Ukraine.
The UK government expects Overseas Territories which choose to remain British (for example, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar etc.) to abide by the same basic standards of human rights as the UK. Chapter XI sets out how we continued to pursue our programme to extend core UN human rights conventions to the territories where possible, and to implement child safeguarding initiatives.
The final section of this report contains an assessment of the human rights situation in 27 countries where the UK has wide-ranging concerns. Online, we continue to report on developments in these countries on a quarterly basis. Our concerns, and the manner in which we raise them, is rooted in a desire to understand the local context, and to help these governments extend to all their citizens the full benefit of human rights we enjoy ourselves.