As we work towards strengthening our relations with some of the fastest growing economies in the world, we aim to do so hand-in-hand with the work that the UK Government does to promote internationally the importance of human rights and democracy.
I’m lucky enough to have in the team a true expert on Human Rights, Eleanor Fuller, who recently came from being our UK Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe – a body whose core mission is to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law across Europe.
Over to Eleanor for this week’s blog…
I was recently in Geneva for a closer look at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). In this process every country’s human rights record is examined once every three and a half years. The country presents a written report on its progress, including how it has taken forward the recommendations made at its last review. Other countries then comment on it, ask questions and make fresh recommendations.
This time it was the turn of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE fielded a strong delegation headed by Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. There was huge participation: 90 countries large and small from all continents spoke.
The tone was respectful. Due credit was given for progress made. Recommendations were specific and related to the international human rights framework: they referred to the implementation of international obligations the UAE has already taken on or called upon the UAE to become a party to further international instruments.
The UAE’s UPR was a reminder of how interconnected the world has become: the impact of a country’s human rights framework extends far beyond its own nationals. The UAE said in its report that its workforce included close to 4 million migrant workers with 200 nationalities represented.
Little surprise then that countries from South America to South East Asia raised the issue of labour laws and rights of migrant workers. While some countries have bilateral agreements with the UAE on migrant workers most do not. The UPR provided a platform for a broader dialogue.
Those who believe that multilateral discourse is all waffle and verbosity would have been surprised. In the UPR, the speaking time available is divided equally between the delegations wishing to speak. They were so numerous on this occasion that each was allocated precisely one minute and twenty three seconds’ speaking time – and had to get straight to the point!
Numerous issues were raised, but clear common themes emerged, on which the dialogue can continue in other settings between UPRs.
Every country is subject to the same process. The UK’s last UPR was in May 2012.