Baroness Anelay – 2016 Speech on Human Rights

Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Anelay, the Minister of State for the Commonwealth, on 8 December 2016.


Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests, colleagues. Welcome to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is a pleasure to see so many of you here tonight.

The theme of this year’s UN Human Rights Day is ‘stand up for someone’s human rights’. It is more relevant this year than ever, because all around the world people’s human rights are under threat every single day. Whether it is through a squeeze on civil society space, a stifling of public debate or free speech, or a ban on freedom of assembly: it all means the same thing: our human rights are at risk. A short while ago, Hannah who helps me with all my human rights work, asked me what human rights mean to me. Human rights are the right to be yourself without fear of prosecution or persecution, because that runs a theme across everything that makes human beings who they are and who they can be.

Importance of civil society

That is why the role of civil society is so important to ensure that human rights can be both promoted, and where they do exist, preserved. It is also why this year’s theme is so relevant to our work here in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with our focus on civil society and democracy. I share the Foreign Secretary’s belief that human rights, vital in themselves, are also good for the security, prosperity and development of countries around the world. If the Foreign Secretary were here today – as he would very much like to have been – he would tell you how much he personally values civil society as the mechanism through which all citizens can exercise their freedoms and make their voices heard.

Today I would like to talk to you about the work that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is doing to support civil society, and our commitment to promote and defend human rights around the world.

Work of FCO

Many of you are regular visitors to this building and may have attended some of our recent events – such as our ground breaking conference in October on freedom of religion or belief as a bulwark against extremism, or last month’s Week of Women events. Some of you were with us just this week for the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery; or at Australia House for the event we co-hosted an event on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. Those are just a few examples of the human rights work we do here in London.

Overseas, our Embassies and High Commissions are also working on human rights every day. Whether it is supporting organisations that defend human rights, lobbying host governments or debating rules in international fora, our diplomats put human rights at the heart of everything they do. They promote and defend human rights not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is integral to our national interest and our international reputation.

Their efforts are making a real and positive impact – for example, in helping to create the Human Rights Council’s first ever mechanism to combat violence and discrimination against LGBT communities – that was crucial work they did. When that mandate was challenged at the UN General Assembly, our diplomats helped rally support around the world, to ensure that challenge was defeated, as it should be.

Our work with the UN is crucial, and the UK has been a member of the Human Rights Council for 8 of the last 10 years. I was delighted that earlier this autumn we were re-elected last month to serve a further 3-year term.

Traditional diplomacy like this is still highly effective but we are also moving with the times and adapting how we promote human rights and democracy. Today, that means harnessing traditional and social media channels to get our messages across. They are enabling us to reach some of the most hostile and least democratic corners of our world. An example of this media diplomacy is our support via social media to the UN’s “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence”, which concludes on Human Rights Day. Naturally, we all know that we need more than 16 days to achieve our goals. Our commitment to promote human rights is for the long term.

Civil society space

I mentioned earlier that one of our current priorities is to counter the “shrinking of civil society space” we are seeing happening around the world. It is a problem that has been on the rise for some time: our last 2 annual Human Rights Reports both noted the alarming rise of anti-NGO legislation and other practices that stifle basic human rights, such as public debate and freedom of assembly. The evidence is clear that shrinking civil society space harms a country’s stability, economic prospects and wider social development.

One example of where we are seeing this is Egypt. I am concerned that the new law on non-governmental organisations passed by the Egyptian Parliament on 29 November will be used to prevent Egyptians from contributing to their country’s future, and will create obstacles for international support for Egypt. At a time of economic hardship, Egypt needs civil society more than ever before, and I hope Egypt accepts the UK’s friendly offer of support.

Human rights defenders

In this context of shrinking space for civil society, the work of human rights defenders has never been more important than it is now. In their efforts to stand up for the human rights of others, they exemplify the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day as well as the wider principles and values of democracy and the rule of law. They deserve our support and protection and they are going to be the focus of our social media activity on Human Rights Day this year. You’ll be able to see some of our clips being played in the background tonight.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office works with human rights defenders around the world, sharing information with them and learning from them. We hugely value their courage and dedication. They are a crucial dimension of the projects that we support. This year we are funding 129 human rights projects in over 60 countries through our Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, and that fund is reaching some of the harder to reach communities, who are benefiting from that. But we know we can learn how to do more. Since 2014 the Fund has supported 9 NGO-led projects focused specifically on the work of human rights defenders.

Colombia, which I visited earlier this year, remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders. We are running a project to open up dialogue between human rights defenders, local and national government, and the international community. It aims to foster a common understanding of the many challenges they face, and of the potential solutions.

We are also investing in the next generation of human rights defenders, through awarding 60 Chevening scholarships for postgraduate studies in human rights. Our scholars are selected for their academic talent and their future leadership potential, and we are confident they will be a force for good when they return home. As I travel the world for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it is always a joy to be able to meet our Chevening scholars and see the work they are achieving. They tell me how the opportunity offered to them is making a difference on issues of human rights in their country.


An active civil society is the hallmark of a mature society; a healthy society: one that is open to challenge and able to protect the rights of its citizens. Governments should open the space for civil society, not close it down. They should commend human rights defenders – not condemn them.

That is our message from across the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that we will continue to promote, at home and abroad. This Human Rights Day, let’s all stand up for human rights.

Thank you for working with us.

Baroness Anelay – 2016 Speech on OPCAT Anniversary


Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Anelay at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on 29 June 2016.

Thank you, Malcolm, for that introduction.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture, or OPCAT as it is commonly known.

First, I would like to assure you that our multilateral work – particularly through the UN – is more important than ever for the future of the UK in the world. Following the EU Referendum vote last week, we remain absolutely determined to strengthen the UK’s voice in the international system, including on the important human rights priority of torture prevention.

As I travel in regions of the world where human rights are under very much threat, I often hear from leaders grappling with a problem of widespread torture within their security services, prisons and detention facilities. I hear a range of explanations and possible approaches to the problem:

“There is no torture here – we’ve made it illegal”

“If there is any torture, we’ll catch those responsible”

“We are facing terrible threats – terrorism, child abduction”

Whilst I sympathise with all those views, it is clear that whatever we are doing together to end torture is not yet working well enough. For 30 years now, the UN Convention against Torture has outlawed any use or tolerance of that practice, without exception, without possibility of derogation. Almost all countries in the world would say that they comply with this ban. So how is it that Amnesty International last year received reports of torture from 141 countries – three quarters of the United Nations’ membership? If we are all so clear that torture is abhorrent – a denial of the humanity of all involved – how does it come to take place almost everywhere?

The answer to this conundrum can be found, I believe, in the words of Lord Acton, a reforming 19th Century member of the House of the Lords, who famously said that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It is sadly the case that whenever one man – and it invariably is a man – has power over another: the power of arbitrary detention, the power of enforced helplessness, the power to act with impunity – there will always be a tendency, a base temptation to exploit that power.

Torture thrives on secrecy and deniability; on lack of oversight. It thrives when prisoners are held alone, incommunicado, denied visits or representation. It thrives when convictions can be based on a forced confession alone, without investigation of the injuries the accused has acquired in custody.

This is where the OPCAT comes in. It is a truly modern, 21st century instrument, which goes beyond a simple declaration that torture is wrong. The OPCAT recognises that all detention systems can become places where torture happens: either by means of the festering development of a policy of abuse; or because individuals exploit their unchecked power of control over a helpless inmate. To eliminate that tendency requires oversight, vigilance and monitoring. A prison officer will not torture an inmate who is about to meet a prison visitor. An interrogator will not give way to excess if his actions are being monitored and overseen. A legal system where due process is respected will not tolerate duress.

The OPCAT’s focus on prevention is, of course, what potential future victims of torture worldwide would wish for. For Leopoldo Garcia, a victim of torture in Chile in the 1970s, there can never be complete remedy, as his suffering will never end. Mr Garcia recently told the organisation Redress – which I’m glad to say is represented here today – that:

“I’m alive, but it feels like a living death. Every time I comb my hair or shave, I see my scar and the fact that I have no teeth, and I think of Pinochet. My head hurts. I need a hearing aid to hear properly. I have trouble walking because they almost fractured my spine.”

We should work to prevent torture to ensure the next generation does not suffer what Mr Garcia has been through.

I am looking forward to hearing later from John Wadham on how the UK is working to implement the OPCAT in this country. I would like to make an open offer to friends here from the diplomatic corps. If you are interested by what you hear about the UK’s National Preventative Mechanism and would see value in a visit to your country or any type of information exchange, my officials in the Human Rights and Democracy Department, who are well represented in this room, would be very happy to set that up.

I am also keen to hear from Suzanne Jabour about her work promoting implementation and ratification of the OPCAT. On the basis of the UK’s positive experience of OPCAT, I call on all states that have not yet ratified or established a National Preventative Mechanism to do so.

To stimulate that process I have just approved a number of torture prevention projects to be funded by the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy. That fund is spending around one and a half million pounds this year on initiatives to improve human rights within criminal justice systems globally. As part of that effort, an ambitious set of projects, which will be delivered in more than 20 countries, will work specifically to prevent torture and to promote the OPCAT. I am pleased that implementers of these projects are here today and that the total value of torture prevention work will be £725,000 this year, with more to follow next year. This is part of our commitment to the global rules based system, within which torture is neither tacitly condoned nor ignored, but is identified, rooted out and prevented.

Thank you all for coming to the Foreign and Commonwealth office today for this very important event. I look forward to hearing from John and Suzanne, and then to answering your questions. I can reassure you today of the UK’s commitment to being a strong voice in the UN, and to promoting ratification of OPCAT around the world.

Baroness Anelay – 2016 Speech at Seminar about Freedom of Religion and Economic Prosperity


Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Anelay on 2 March 2016.

Good morning everybody. May I begin by thanking Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the APPG on the Baha’i Faith for organising this event; and Jim Shannon MP, Chair of the APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief for his kind words of welcome.

This morning I would like to set out the British Government’s policy on human rights and, specifically, on freedom of religion or belief. Given the role of the APPG for the Baha’i Faith in organising this seminar, I would like to say a few words about the situation for the Baha’i in Iran; and because of its relevance to us all I will touch on Daesh. I hope that this will give you an idea of where the Government stands on these issues, and a sense of the kind of things we do around the world to protect and promote human rights.

I have said before, and I think it bears repeating, that freedom of religion or belief is not just an optional extra alongside the broad spectrum of human rights. It is a key human right in and of itself.

Support for human rights and freedom of religion or belief is at the heart of everything we do, not just in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but right across government. We maintain a constant dialogue on all aspects of human rights with our international partners. We do not shy away from raising concerns with them, both in public and in private.

This Government has pledged to “stand up for the freedom of people of all religions – and none – to practise their beliefs in peace and safety.” We are committed to defending this right, as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

With intolerance on the rise almost everywhere, from the Middle East to Europe to the United States, this commitment is needed more than ever. We are working hard to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief, through our bilateral and multilateral work, through project work and through increasing the religious literacy of British diplomats. We have refreshed and strengthened our approach since the last election. Our focus is on three themes.

Democratic values and the rule of law.

Strengthening the rules-based international system.

Human rights for a stable world.

Our support for the principle of freedom of religion or belief runs through them all.

Let me give you some examples.

Where Freedom of Religion or Belief is not fully respected, it follows that democratic values and the rule of law are not fully implemented. That is why we fund projects which bridge divides, promote tolerance and encourage dialogue.

For me, one of the keys to success is education. We need to ensure that children appreciate – from the earliest age – that for a society to flourish, everyone must be valued equally. One of the projects we fund helps to develop lesson plans for primary school teachers in the Middle East to help them instil these values.

Mindful of democratic values and the rule of law, we also lobby governments when we have concerns about individual cases of discrimination or persecution. For example, in Sudan, we lobbied on behalf of Meriam Ibrahim, who was born a Muslim but charged with apostasy for marrying into the Christian faith.

Our diplomats in Geneva and in New York are strengthening the rules-based international system by working to ensure that resolutions focus on the full definition of Article 18, not just the issue of religious intolerance.

Elsewhere, we raise issues with individual countries bilaterally, or under the Universal Periodic Review process.

For example, in Burma, we have raised our deep concern at the rise of hate speech and religious intolerance with the Burmese authorities and will continue to do so, both publicly and in private.

We have supported a number of projects, including developing relationships between Burmese youth and different religious communities, and arranging exchanges between activists on religious freedom in Burma and Indonesia.

In Iraq, we are funding a project to prevent intolerance and violence toward religious communities by strengthening the ability of youth and civil society to advocate the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Finally, and perhaps of most relevance to the discussion today on the link with economic prosperity, we focus on human rights for a stable world.

We do this because we know that tolerance and inclusion are the building blocks of stability, not hatred and discrimination.

We do this because we know stability is the foundation for prosperity.

And we do this because we know that where people live together in harmony, and economies flourish, extremism struggles to take root.

I know that there are representatives of the Baha’i faith here today, and I would like to pay tribute to the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group in raising awareness of the suffering they have endured. This Government deplores all forms of persecution, including persecution on the basis of a person’s faith – no matter what that faith might be.

Turning to Daesh, there is no need – for this audience or any other in the civilised world – to detail the ways in which their intolerance is abhorrent.

What I will say is that we are determined to defeat this poisonous ideology. We welcomed the UN Secretary General’s Action Plan for Preventing Violent Extremism, with its focus on tackling the root causes. We will support its implementation, not only in the UN but also in individual states, as they develop their own action plans.

Our counter-extremism work has a conscious focus on human rights and on freedom of religion or belief. In many places we are working with faith leaders.

In Bangladesh, Mali and Nigeria we are helping communities resist the lure of extremist ideologies.

In Iraq we are tackling intolerance by inspiring key community leaders to become defenders of freedom of religion or belief.

In Goma, Eastern DRC I visited a UK-funded project supporting reconciliation and tolerance for sexual violence survivors. We are working with faith leaders to build community support groups, challenging the stigma many survivors face.

I hope that all this shows our absolute commitment to improving human rights and supporting and promoting freedom of religion or belief around the world.

I will turn now to the focus of today’s discussion, the link between religious freedom and prosperity.

I admire the pioneering work of my fellow speaker Dr Grim in this area. His work is needed, because sadly economic cost is often more persuasive than human cost, no matter the misery we see on our TV screens night after night.

Governments need hard economic proof, and to validate it they need proof from different sources.

So it makes absolute sense to get business engaged in this agenda, lobbying alongside governments and civil society.

I know that Professor Grim is keen to see improvements in the business climate to ensure that individuals from all backgrounds and faiths can realise their potential.

I am pleased to say that we in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office already support his aims through our international engagement. Through our work on business and human rights, we regularly encourage other governments to create an operating environment that is stable, secure and transparent.

To conclude, I hope I have shown just how seriously we take the issue of Freedom of Religion or Belief.

I very much value the efforts of parliamentarians, NGOs, think tanks and others, and the emerging work on the link between religious freedom and economic prosperity. I look forward to further collaborating on this with you.

I will finish with the words of the Prime Minister: “Now is not the time for silence. Now is not the time for inaction. We must stand together and fight for a world where no-one is persecuted because of what they believe.”

It is an inspiring call to action – let’s work together to make it a reality.

Baroness Anelay – 2016 Speech on Women’s Rights in Afghanistan


Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Anelay, the Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, in the House of Lords on 25 February 2016.

Thank you Brita for that kind introduction. Thank you also to Women for Women International, for making this event possible, and for their excellent work to promote women’s rights around the world.

It is a pleasure to see so many of you here today. We are all people who care passionately about the rights of women in Afghanistan. People who hope, as I do, that the situation for women there will continue to improve.

I would like to take this opportunity to talk to you today about what has already been achieved for women’s rights in Afghanistan, and what work I believe there is still to be done.

Human rights are an integral part of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Indeed, as the Foreign Secretary has said, human rights are the day to day work of every British diplomat. The promotion and protection of women’s rights is at the forefront of that work.

These are rights enshrined in international law. They are vital to ensure stable and prosperous societies. I personally believe in the full participation of women in all aspects of society.

Afghanistan’s future depends on it: the country cannot expect to fulfil its potential if half the population is excluded.

Of course the country has seen significant progress on human rights, particularly women’s rights – but the gains it has made are fragile and significant challenges remain.

These are challenges presented by a fragile security situation, in a country where the Government is fighting to ensure the safety of its entire people. These are also challenges that arise out of a society where traditional tribal values are valued above formal legal structures.

Across Afghanistan, women continue to suffer disproportionately. Women and women’s groups are more likely to be victims of the insurgency and victims of sexual violence. Women have fewer economic and social opportunities and their access to the justice system is limited, in some cases non-existent.

The appalling murder last year of Farkhunda Malikzada falsely accused of burning the Koran, highlights the personal risks faced by Afghan women who dare to speak out.

Of course progress has been made over the last 15 years. The UK Government has helped more than 2.8 million girls enter formal education. The first women officers are being trained in the security forces. There are now more women in the Afghan Parliament than ever before, and more and more women are taking part in elections.

The country is beginning to recognise the important role women can play in its stability, as well as its economic development.

For many families, it is now a matter of pure economic necessity for women to have a job. With more women in employment there has been a growing recognition of the value of education, and of the valuable role women can play in public life.

As many of you know, 2015 was a year of significant change in Afghanistan. The National Unity Government set out its agenda for its ‘Transformation Decade’. The country saw a significant reduction in the international military presence.

It was also a year that saw the National Unity Government make substantial commitments in the Afghan National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security.

In October, senior officials introduced the Self Reliance for Mutual Accountability Framework. It is through this framework that the government of Afghanistan have committed to improve women’s access to justice, to increase their participation in government, and to prepare and implement laws on anti-harassment and the elimination of violence.

The difficult part for the government now is ensuring that those commitments can be delivered, and that the progress made over the last fifteen years is not lost.

Despite the low baseline for women’s welfare and livelihoods in Afghanistan, conditions have improved for hundreds of thousands. These gains have been hard won and must be consolidated and built upon.

While the government of Afghanistan is working to make a difference to the lives of Afghan women, crucial work is also being undertaken by the international community to improve their access to rights.

Commitments at international conferences are an important first step, but words must be translated into action to create lasting change. Again, making it happen is what matters.

Real progress can only be made where there is collaboration between the international community and an active and influential civil society that can support brave human rights defenders.

As Hillary Clinton said, women’s rights are human rights. We need to change social attitudes across the spectrum of society if we are to be successful in our aim to of delivering a better future for the women of Afghanistan. Much of the successful work being done now in Afghanistan is only succeeding by influencing men. Not just in Kabul’s political classes, but at the local level too, in provinces and districts throughout the country.

2016 will be another significant year in defining the future for women in Afghanistan. Both the follow up to the Oslo Symposium on Women’s Rights and Empowerment in Afghanistan, hosted in Kabul, and the development conference hosted in Brussels in October, will be important milestones. We know the will is there.

These events will provide opportunities for the international community to send strong messages of support for women’s rights and empowerment in Afghanistan. They will allow for an in-depth exchange of ideas on key women’s rights reforms.

Most significantly of all, they will provide a platform for the government of Afghanistan to demonstrate their achievements and to explain the challenges they face, but also to be held to account by the international community on the commitments they have made so far. A key part of any post-conflict stabilisation is addressing the needs of those who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. Not doing so holds back community reconciliation and social and economic development. Tragically, Afghanistan and its people will undoubtedly continue to face challenges from active insurgent groups in 2016. As an international community, we must continue to work together to put a stop to sexual violence in conflict afflicted regions.

Where it does occur, perpetrators must be held to account. Survivors must receive support from local communities, civil society and governments, so that they have the tools they need to rebuild their lives.

We hope that 2016 will be a year in which major steps are taken forward on Afghan women’s rights. A year when traditional attitudes are robustly challenged, women are economically and socially empowered, and justice is delivered for all Afghan women.

Our own experience teaches us that women’s rights take hold when they were forged from within, not imposed from outside. This is why I believe that change in Afghanistan must be internally led, and that all Afghan people have a role to play in helping women to realise their full potential.

The UK Government remains committed to helping the government of Afghanistan realise its constitutional and international human rights obligations.

We will continue to support and work with them, together with local and international NGOs, civil society organisations and international partners.

We aspire to give every woman, in every country, every right that we enjoy ourselves under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Afghanistan is no exception and we look forward to working with you to realise that goal.

Baroness Anelay – 2015 Speech in Geneva


Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Anelay, the Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, in Geneva on 10 December 2015.

Thank you, Mr Chair.

I would like to begin by paying tribute to the courage and dedication of all those in the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement.

The British Government is extremely grateful for the extraordinary contribution they make – under the most difficult of circumstances – in alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable, particularly in armed conflict.

Their vital work complements that of states, as we work to build and maintain peace around the world.

We in the United Kingdom are clear that International Humanitarian Law remains the most effective framework for regulating armed conflicts.

That is even more the case as the nature of war changes, as we see new tactics emerge, and new groups take part.

Tragically, the laws of war are being increasingly ignored – by state and non-state groups alike. Therefore, the need for an effective system to minimise the damage of war is greater today than it has ever been.

Mr Chair, my message today is that we already have that effective system. What we need is – not new laws – but better implementation of, and better compliance with, the existing framework.

If everyone complied, International Humanitarian Law would prevent harm to civilians, just as it was designed to do.

That is the immediate challenge.

However, it is also remarkable that unlike other bodies of law, there are no dedicated fora where states can discuss International Humanitarian Law. Where they can meet and take stock of its developments and challenges.

While the Human Rights Council has a wealth of expertise to discuss matters of Human Rights Law, it sometimes lacks expertise on International Humanitarian Law. This has led to confusion and conflation of the two – undermining their integrity and implementation.

That is why the United Kingdom has actively participated in the four-year consultation process to establish a new meeting of states, dedicated to International Humanitarian Law.

The UK strongly believes that this new forum should become the primary focus for all future discussions of International Humanitarian Law amongst States. This is essential to ensure these two important areas of international law remain valid and relevant.


To conclude, we remain convinced that International Humanitarian Law [IHL] remains the most effective way to protect innocent civilians from the devastating impact of armed conflict.

Whilst during the course of the negotiations at this Conference over resolution 2 on IHL compliance there were divergent views about how best to address the problem of non-compliance with International Humanitarian Law, we were reassured that every delegation agreed that compliance with International Humanitarian Law is a matter of the utmost importance.

We hope that, despite the divergent views expressed during this Conference, States can continue discussions on this important matter to ensure a new meeting of states can be established along acceptable lines. The UK remains fully committed to International Humanitarian Law, to ensure it is enforced and its principles are protected.