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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

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me; I am happy to write to him shortly on those two rather detailed points. It is important that we discuss these issues and that any constituents' concerns can be followed up.

I would like to pay tribute to the work of our other partners, such as the Commonwealth, which promotes human rights standards across its membership, and non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Those organisations demonstrate that work to promote democracy and to protect human rights goes on at two levels; it addresses the need to change a Government's policy, and the need to protect individuals. Our bilateral action on human rights is a combination of those two approaches. The internal legal framework is the foundation of all our bilateral work on human rights. We feel that we have a legitimate right to encourage countries to sign up to these texts and a legitimate right to be concerned when they fail to meet their international obligations. Although the rights themselves are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, there are many different routes towards honouring the commitments.

Some lessons stand out. Conflict situations put pressure on human rights. That is equally true for countries trying to protect their citizens from terrorism as for countries in the grip of a civil war, but there is no one hard and fast rule to address every human rights issue relating to conflict and counter-terrorism. For example, the conflict in Sudan—the site of whole-scale atrocities, gender-based violence, child soldiers and displacement—is different in nature from the lethal violence employed in the Palestinian dispute or from the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. What those issues have in common is that we are engaged on them all, trying to figure out the best route to achieve our aims. In the US, we have had serious discussions with the Administration on all aspects of counter-terrorism and human rights issues, including rendition, Guantanamo Bay and the handling of detainees. The US is well aware of our views on water-boarding, for example, and has actively engaged in a dialogue with us on the issues. That frank approach helped secure the release in 2004 and 2005 of all nine of the British nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay as well as four individuals who had formerly resided lawfully in the UK. Continued close co-operation with the US is critical to our ability to counter the threat posed to the UK by global terrorism. Dialogue on the importance of human rights to our counter-terrorism efforts is a critical part of that.

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