UK’s Hague: Scrutiny of human rights abuses won’t be sacrificed in race for new trading allies

By David Stringer, AP
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

UK won’t sideline human rights in hunt for trade

LONDON — British Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted Wednesday the U.K. will defend human rights across the globe, even as it seeks to woo new trading partners in the developing world.

In excerpts of a planned speech released in advance, Hague said efforts to spur Britain’s economic recovery by bolstering ties to India, China and others won’t lead to a more timid stance from diplomats.

“We will raise our concerns about human rights wherever and whenever they arise, including with countries with whom we are seeking closer ties,” Hague planned to say, according to the text.

Prime Minister David Cameron recently visited Delhi and Turkey to pitch for new trade and has also identified Saudi Arabia and China as key future allies.

Cameron and Hague have made trade a key priority for the new government’s foreign service, and appointed a former business department official as the ministry’s chief diplomat.

“Some may be concerned that this clear focus on security and prosperity means that we will attach less importance as a government to human rights, to poverty reduction and to the upholding of international law,” Hague’s text said. “Far from giving less importance to these things, we see them as essential.”

Hague plans to set up an independent advisory group on human rights and to publish guidelines issued to staff on handling allegations of torture.

His speech, at Lincoln’s Inn — a training center for lawyers since the 15th century — comes as Britain scrutinizes its own human rights record with an inquiry into allegations officials colluded in the torture of detainees held overseas.

Separate inquiries are also being conducted into the handling of foreign prisoners by British soldiers, and into the decision to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Where problems have arisen that have affected the U.K.’s moral standing we will deal with them patiently and clearly. We will act on the lessons learnt, and tackle the difficult issues we currently face head on,” Hague planned to say.

However, the Foreign Office has confirmed that it will no longer publish a lengthy — and glossy — annual report detailing Britain’s concerns over human rights abuses in other countries.

Instead, the ministry will issue a statement to Parliament and list details of abuses on a government Website.

“The scope and quality of the reporting will not change, and indeed we want to make more of that information available to the public,” Hague planned to say.

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