The rise and fall of human rights

Stephen Tunstall, Palestine & Israel Programme Manager for Embrace the Middle East blogs about why Labour should adopt a humans rights focused foreign policy

@SCTunstall

Tony Blair’s famous 1999 Chicago speech set out a foreign policy doctrine to guide Britain through the twenty first century. It makes for a fascinating read in hindsight. Predicting that the biggest decision Britain would have to make in the following twenty years would be its relationship with Europe, it’s as if Blair could foresee a Conservative Foreign Secretary resigning in July 2018 on precisely this issue. Blair finished by warning America not to look inwards or isolate itself from the rest of the world. As President Trump visits the UK, something Blair surely could not have imagined, one wonders what he would have made of that warning had he been listening in 1999.

The Chicago speech gave Britain’s foreign policy a firmly internationalist agenda: “mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish…. liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society… that is in our national interests,” Blair proclaimed.

The rhetoric of human rights was an organising principle of Britain’s foreign policy under Labour.  Labour came to power in the post-Cold War years when there was a genuine, albeit naïve, belief that an era of peace and human security would characterise the new international order. I would not attempt to assess how successful Labour actually was in advancing human rights around the world; it was a mixed bag to say the very least. However, human rights served as a frame through which the government considered Britain’s role in an international community.

Fast forward twenty years and Britain’s Prime Minister is quite clear that human rights are not a pillar of her foreign policy. On the surface, Theresa May’s government makes similar overtures about foreign policy – all the talk about Global Britain and desperate pleas for international cooperation to pull us out of a Brexit quagmire. But that’s where the comparison ends. May’s infamous statement that “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere” derided the idea of international solidarity and a common humanity. Her Conservative government prioritises the traditional concerns of nation states, or ‘valuing stability and respecting sovereignty’ in the words of her former advisor, Nick Timothy. Defending humans’ rights is no longer in Britain’s national interest if it risks infringing on states’ sovereignty/impunity (delete as appropriate).

I’ve seen this posture repeatedly manifested in the government’s response to recent events in Palestine and Israel. For the past five years I’ve been working with civil society groups there and witnessed the increasing confidence with which Israel violates the rights of Palestinians with complete impunity. Take Gaza; the illegal 11 year closure of Gaza has had disastrous humanitarian consequences and is an appalling violation of the rights of innocent Palestinians. The recent protests at the heavily fortified fence separating Gaza from Israel and the rest of Palestine culminated in the killing of over 100 unarmed Palestinians and the maiming of thousands more, including children, journalists, and medics.

There are potential policy options which would help protect human rights and secure accountability for violations, but the government has shamefully rejected all of them. It could be working with international partners to reform the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, a supposedly temporary arrangement which restricts the import of essential goods into Gaza. It could be freezing arms sales to Israel because Israel’s use of those arms for internal repression would be in violation of Britain’s own export licenses. Or it could have meant backing a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate claims of war crimes committed in Gaza.

Britain has done none of these things. In fact, it is actively working against efforts to uphold accountability for human rights violations. Just last month, the government confirmed that Britain would automatically vote against any resolution which specifically addressed Israel’s treatment of Palestinians at future sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. May’s government will vote against a resolution even if it is consistent with British policy, for example condemning the stalled demolition of the Khan al Ahmar Bedouin village to make way for illegal settlement expansion.

It is hard to imagine a British government more hostile to human rights protection that the current one. The new Foreign Secretary is not going to change that. While human rights was fashionable in the nineties, it is very much out of favour in the Brexit and Trump world we now inhabit.

So would a Labour government be any better? Jeremy Corbyn is, of course, well known as a staunch supporter of the Palestinians’ struggle against occupation. But Labour, along with the rest of the political and media establishment, is so wedded to the dogma of a two-state solution that its approach is overly state-centric, liable to approach this as a matter of diplomatic policy rather than a human rights emergency. Its most recent manifesto announced that a Labour government will immediately recognise a theoretical state of Palestine. Labour MPs proudly tout this policy, but recognition alone doesn’t address the daily rights violations that make Palestinian lives insufferable.

Labour needs to get human rights back on the foreign policy agenda. Human security must be elevated as a priority informing diplomacy, defence, and development. For too long Britain has shied away from seeking accountability for Israeli rights violations with the excuse that it won’t help the peace process. Well, there is no longer any peace process and a two state solution is not going to happen. Labour needs to realise this and switch to viewing the situation in Palestine and Israel through a human rights lens, with policies to enhance protection for vulnerable communities and international accountability for violations. Not only will this help protect Palestinian lives and livelihoods, it may help the pendulum swing back towards a political culture where human rights are once again a credible foreign policy priority.

Owen Smith MP – my commitment to tackling poverty at home and abroad

owen-smith-2Owen Smith MP, candidate in the 2016 Labour Leadership contest, blogs for LCID on his commitment to international development – @OwenSmith_MP

Anyone in any doubt about the right-wing agenda of this new Tory government should take a look at two of Theresa May’s lesser commented-on appointments over the summer – that of Priti Patel as International Development Secretary, and her Special Adviser Robert Oxley – formerly of the Brexit campaign and the ideological Taxpayer’s Alliance.

Both Patel and Oxley have spent years attacking the very department that they now lead, arguing for the aid budget to be redirected, cut or even scrapped – and even at one point suggesting that DFID should be abolished or reformed. Even more shockingly they appear to be willing to undermine the cross-party consensus on the 0.7% aid target to spend a small but guaranteed proportion of our income on supporting education, health and responding to disasters around the world. They must be stopped.

Establishing DFID, leading the way on both the quality and quantity of our development assistance, and while abandoning the type of policies that led to the Pergau dam scandal – was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government. An achievement that literally saved lives around the world, and showed the type of outward looking internationalism that Britain and Labour should represent.

It is clear that there is a moral case for international development assistance – and focusing this on those who need it the most. Who can say that we should turn by and walk on the other side when so many children remain unable to go to school, when millions face the threat of HIV/Aids, Malaria or TB, and when women and girls often bear the brunt – not least in conflict zones. And as we see the effects of climate change and disorganised war and conflict impacting on many more – we also have to prepare for the challenges of the future.

It’s why the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals was so important – recognising that tackling poverty and injustice requires concerted action in many areas, and in the richest countries domestic policies as well as their international action – not least when it comes to sustainability, climate change, taxation and corporate behaviour overseas. I want to see a Labour government that leads the way in delivering the goals domestically and internationally.

But as well as the moral case – international development is clearly in our national interest. Whether it is the tragedy of poverty and conflict driven thousands drowning in boats in the Mediterranean – or the threat of instability and poor governance in countries across Africa and the Middle East leading providing the space for extremism to grow – we ignore these challenges at our own peril. There is no zero-sum game between our Defence, Development and Diplomatic efforts around the world. We must ensure there is coherence and collaboration to ensure a safer, fairer and more just world for all.

But I believe there is something more fundamental at stake. Many understand the need for charity – but only Labour has historically recognised the need for justice – whether for garment workers in Bangladesh, women fleeing rape in the DRC or the refugees of Syria. We need to address the immediate impacts – but also the economic and political structures that drive injustice, poverty and conflict – for example through global tax transparency or fair trade. DFID and our aid budget have been at the heart of that fight for justice since 1997, and I will fight tooth and nail as Labour’s Leader to ensure the Tories don’t take an ideological axe to its work – and pledge to put tackling poverty at home and abroad at the heart of my programme as Labour’s next Prime Minister.

 

Owen Smith

Owen Smith MP signs LCID pledge for Leadership candidates

owen-smith-mpAs with previous leadership contests in 2010 and 2015, LCID will not be endorsing a leadership candidate in the current contest.

However we have asked candidates to sign the International pledge for 2016 Leadership candidates.

We are delighted that Owen Smith MP has signed the pledge and agreed to uphold the principles it contains.

We are awaiting a response from Jeremy Corbyn MP.

 

International pledge for 2016 Leadership candidates:

 

  1. I believe tackling poverty and inequality is what Labour governments are for. Any government I lead will take a ‘whole government’ approach to global justice, ensuring that our policies on tax, trade, climate change, home affairs, education, business regulation, defence, and security deliver for the world’s poorest people.

 

  1. I back British aid. I will ensure we spend 0.7% of GNI on aid and spend it well, focusing our aid exclusively and explicitly on tackling poverty and inequality, even in the hardest to reach places.

 

  1. I want DFID to be a development department, not just an aid administrator. I will ensure DFID is an innovative, independent department with a seat at the cabinet table and representation on all the relevant cabinet committees

 

  1. The Government I lead will pursue an ethical foreign policy and champion a progressive approach to humanitarian intervention in line with our international obligations, such as the UN’s Responsibility To Protect Civilians commitment.

 

International Development at #Lab10 Conference – Monday 27th

International Development will get its moment in the spotlight this morning when Shadow Secretary of State, Douglas Alexander MP addresses conference as part of the Britain in the World plenary session (Conference Hall from 9am).

Once the speeches are over lunchtime has a solidarity theme to it, with Parliamentary Friends of Colombia hosting Colombia: The Struggle for Justice at 1pm in Midland Hotel – Alexandra A and the New Statesman asking Gaza life support: Is aid a failure of politics? also at 1pm but at the Novotel Hotel – Chetham Room

At 4.15pm representatives of LCID will be attending the policy session in Manchester Central, Charter 1 to let the National Policy Forum know our ideas on what our development policy should be.

The evening slot sees the first event on climate change, with the Foreign Policy Centre pulling together an excellent panel, which includes Gordon Brown’s Special Adviser on Climate Change, Michael Jacobs to explore what happens After Copenhagen: How can we galvanise global action on climate change? (5.30pm at Palace Hotel, Palace 7).

How to do development in fragile states is a hot topic at the moment, so World Vision and Saferworld’s event, which includes former DFID minister Ivan Lewis MP on the panel, The Afghan, Somali…and me? The UK’s engagement in fragile countries (Manchester Central, The Usdaw Marquee – Room 2 at 5.30pm) should be interesting.

At the end of the day, don’t forget to join LCID members at 8pm in the bar of the Midland Hotel for a drink. Look out for the t-shirts and banner.

Disclaimer – We’re human, we make mistakes, the fringe guide makes mistakes, so we offer our apologies if we’ve omitted events or got our venues confused. Let us know by e-mailing tom@lcid.org.uk and we’ll try to fix it!

Congratulations to Ed Miliband

LCID congratulates Ed Miliband MP on becoming the new leader of the Labour Party.

We look forward to working with the former Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change to ensure global poverty stays high on the parties agenda in the coming years.

During the Leadership campaign we asked Ed about his views on global poverty. You can watch his answers here.

International Development at #Lab10 Conference – Sunday 26th

The fringe programme kicks off and the highlight for LCID is Fighting Poverty in the ‘No-Money era’: Could Robin Hood protect the poor and the Planet? Hosted by Oxfam and the TUC at 6pm in Manchester Central, Central 4.

LCID has been campaigning in support of a Robin Hood Tax for the last year, and we recently asked all the Leadership candidates if they supported the idea. We’ll be listening with interest to the debate and what the new leader has to say on the issue.

At the same time in Manchester Central (The Usdaw Marquee – Room 3), Amnesty International will be exploring Defending the defendersHuman rights have a place at the heart of UK foreign policy. The panel includes Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, a Burmese Human Rights Defender. A stark reminder that in many places around the world, the idea of a Party Conference to debate and discuss ideas wouldn’t be able to happen.

This evening sees the first of a number of fringe events throughout out the week focusing on Palestine. Palestine: For peace and justice: why the siege on Gaza must be ended, hosted by Unite together with Palestine Solidarity Campaign & Labour Friends of Palestine is at 5.30pm at the Radisson Hotel – Harty/Barbirolli.

Finally, a number of LCID friends will be heading along to the Save the Children reception, which starts at 9.00pm in the Derby Suite at the Midland Hotel.

Disclaimer – We’re human, we make mistakes, the fringe guide makes mistakes, so we offer our apologies if we’ve omitted events or got our venues confused. Let us know by e-mailing tom@lcid.org.uk and we’ll try to fix it!

Leadership candidates back the Robin Hood Tax

The Labour Campaign for International Development has supported the Robin Hood Tax campaign for a financial transactions tax from the start. We asked all five leadership candidates their opinion on the Robin Hood Tax when we interviewed them recently.

You can watch their answers below, and see all five interviews in full here. To keep up on the latest on from us here at LCID, join our email list by clicking on the icon blow. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

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