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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 4:34 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Minister of State (Europe) 4:34 pm, 13th October 2008

A week into the job, I am on a learning and listening exercise, but we are committed to enabling the Human Rights Council to work well. We are one of its 47 members, and we are active in all other areas of the UN that deal with human rights. We welcome the appointment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and we actively support such work, but we have to look at how this works in practice. The UN and the EU are different organisations, and I and other Ministers will continue to look at them to see how best we can make sure that the various structures work as well as they possibly can.

We often need to remember that human rights work involves more than the few very badly performing states; it is as important to focus on the countries that are in transition and committed to the rule of law, but which need assistance to get there. Building democracy is a slow, painstaking process, but we have had some successes. In Bangladesh, for example, the Department for International Development contributed to a project to create a state-of-the-art register for 80 million people, complete with photos and fingerprints. We did that in just 15 months, so I say well done to all those involved. The result is that in August, there were peaceful and successful local elections with a turnout of some 80 per cent; importantly, that included a high turnout of women and minorities within the community.

The frameworks, conventions and declarations on human rights therefore form the backbone of the international system. It is the responsibility of our generation to ensure that they are more than pieces of paper, and that they are genuine commitments backed up with action—a point reflected in the interventions today. We also need to ensure that the UN General Assembly is more than a talking shop. When the UN works it is a powerful instrument for good, as the recent success on the arms trade shows—how many lives will be saved because of this piece of paper?—but these successes must become more frequent and more assured. We want to reform the international system to ensure that the words are matched with actions.

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