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John Jenkins

Ambassador, Baghdad
Posted 18 March 2010 by John Jenkins | Comments
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued its annual Human Rights report on 17 March. This is a special day for Britain, when we share with the public the results of our cooperative work on Human Rights issues that is an important part of our relationships with countries across the world.

The section of the report on Iraq shows real progress in some areas over the last year, like improving security and the rule of law, the consolidation of democracy, most recently in the recent elections (I will say more on those when the final results are announced) and the maturing of a relatively free media.

But there are also big challenges to push forward in all these areas. And there are also some black spots, such as the treatment of detainees. And a fundamental issue for Iraq and many other societies in the region, to ensure that women's rights are protected and promoted. Behind this lies an important truth: no society's full strength can be built on the basis of less than half its population (ie men).

Britain will continue to be active on Human Rights in Iraq. Since 2003 our work has been boosted by Ann Clwyd, MP, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Human Rights In Iraq. Last year Ann chaired working groups made up of Iraqi officials, human rights activists and British MPs focused on women's rights, rule of law and civil society. Our Embassy in Baghdad and our diplomatic missions in Erbil and Basra regularly raise human rights issues with the Iraqi authorities, including reaffirming our opposition to the death penalty, avoiding a violent resolution of the issue of the Mujahideen al-Khalq (MeK) presence in Camp Ashraf and ensuring respect for minority rights.

I spend a lot of my time working on issues related to Human Rights, both in terms of sustaining a democratic political process in Iraq, but also strengthening the institutions of the Rule of Law. I have a colleague working specifically on human rights issues, but also a UK police team building the forensic capabilities of the Iraqi police and consultants funded by our Department for International Development (DfID) working on building Iraq's political and economic institutions. Co-located with us is also an EU Rule of Law mission, including a strong British component, which implements programmes to train Iraqi judges, policemen and others. We will be working with Iraq next year on ensuring the setting up of a Independent Human Rights Commission and promoting greater use of forensic evidence. We will also work on areas such as the implementation of legislation that will encourage the development and protection a strong NGO sector as well as help Iraq work towards a just, fair and ILO-compliant trade union law and promoting greater freedom of the media.

Sometimes in political debate in the region, Human Rights is criticised as a Western agenda being imposed on the Middle East. I believe that is completely wrong. If you look at how the ideas and institutions developed to promote and protect Human Rights, you see two major trends:

i) an understanding that all human beings deserve respect as human beings. That idea is as strong in Islam as Christianity and other religions;

ii) to ensure justice for ordinary people, they need to be protected from abuse by the powerful and the rich. The vast majority of Iraqis have at some stage in their lives suffered in this way and as part of a better future for Iraq, they deserve to have their rights protected effectively by their law and their institutions.

Britain has contributed to the development of these ideas and institutions over many centuries. We are proud of that. But we are also committed to helping others achieve what we take for granted. Life and liberty under law. As far as I can see, there is no more important cause for me and my colleagues to work for in Iraq in coming years. 

John Jenkins
18 March 2010
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