Minister for Human Rights Universal Periodic Review statement

Foreign Affairs

May 21
09:32 2018

Minister for Human Rights, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon said:

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process involving a peer review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states.

It is an important tool of the Human Rights Council (HRC) aimed at sharing best practice and the UK strongly supports the UPR process. We have spoken at every session and about every country since it began. This session saw reviews of 14 countries, namely Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso,Cabo Verde, Germany, Uzbekistan, Tuvalu, Colombia, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, The Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon and Cuba.

The UK Government welcomes the constructive engagement by UN Member States on the issues of forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking, which were raised by the UK and others during this session. It is imperative that we continue to work together to advance this agenda domestically and internationally.

I note the reluctance of some countries to acknowledge the existence of the problem in their countries and / or the sensitivities associated with some of the terminology used. No one should be comfortable with the knowledge that slavery, in all of its forms, continues to exist in the 21st century. However, we must remember that this is a global problem which requires a global effort. The time to take action is now and I would encourage countries to engage in dialogue, with each other, with civil society and experts such as the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, to help consign this evil trade in humans to history. The UK remains committed to the advancement of SDG 8.7 through all multilateral fora and continues to call on countries to endorse the Call to Action.

Since the 27th session of the UPR, we have made the recommendation to adopt an open, merit-based selection process when selecting national candidates for UN Treaty Body elections to a considerable number of states. These expert bodies are a central part of the UN human rights system, charged with monitoring the implementation of human rights conventions in states which have signed up to them. The UK will continue to advocate strengthening quality, independence and diversity in Treaty Body membership.

I warmly welcome Bangladeshs response to the Rohingya crisis and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinas answer to the Prime Ministers Call to Action on Modern Slavery.

However, Bangladesh remains a Human Rights Priority Country for the UK. Allegations of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances are deeply concerning. Pressure continues on freedom of expression and assembly, including in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, as well as broader societal pressures on freedom of religion or belief and signs of groups gaining influence who promote religious intolerance. These issues, along with forced labour and human trafficking, are areas I call on the government, working with civil society, to address.

While I welcome the progress the Government of Cuba has made in tackling human trafficking in recent years, we urge the Government to guarantee freedom of expression and association in Cuba, and end the use of arbitrary detentions. Acceptance of independent journalism and civil society could lead to strong, citizen-led, contributions to the development of Cubas social and economic model. We have also expressed concern at reports that human rights defenders were prevented from travelling to Geneva for the UPR.

Turning to Russia, I remain deeply troubled by the deteriorating human rights situation restrictive legislation continues to constrain the rights to freedom of expression and religion, and the rights of LGBT individuals.

Impunity for attacks on journalists and human rights activists remains a particular concern. We urge the Russian Government to ensure space for civil society and opposition politicians to operate without fear of reprisals.

The UK and our international partners will also continue to call on the Russian Government to urgently investigate the persecution of human rights activists and LGBT individuals in Chechnya. We call on Russia to respect the international commitments it has signed up to, and cease all actions to destabilise its neighbourhood including in the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula.

I welcome some positive developments in Azerbaijans human rights situation, including the unrestricted access granted to monitors in this years presidential election, and the continued success of the Azerbaijan Service Assessment Network in promoting citizens rights and fighting corruption.

However, I am concerned by deterioration in a number of areas, including freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and judicial independence. Of particular concern is the increase in suspension and disbarment of lawyers expressing critical views or taking on sensitive cases.

I welcome the Colombian Governments engagement with the UPR process and further welcome their response to accept all the UKs recommendations. Colombias historic Peace Agreement with the FARC represents an opportunity to improve stability in the country, but the UK remains concerned about the situation for human rights. The UK raised concerns about violence and threats against human rights defenders and levels of impunity in cases of conflict related sexual violence.

On Uzbekistan, I am pleased to see the positive steps taken since its last review, which have the potential to significantly improve the human rights situation.

I note, in particular, the measures to improve labour rights, the strengthening of legislation against torture, the release of political prisoners and renewed engagement with international human rights organisations. The visits in the past year by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief are very welcome.

The UK remains concerned, however, about restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association and we look forward to seeing the impact of the new legislation reducing the registration and reporting burdens on non-government organisations.

We urge the government to ensure that people can freely practise their beliefs. We appreciate the commitment to ending all forms of forced labour and encourage the government to continue working with the ILO towards this goal.

I welcome Turkmenistans engagement with international organisations, including the ILO, on adopting international labour standards.

We encourage Turkmenistan to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) to enable independent inspection of prisons and detention centres. Turkmenistan needs to ensure impartial justice for Turkmen citizens and an end to restrictions on rights to freedom of expression and belief, and on freedom of information, including the limits imposed on Internet access and the blocking of access to social networking sites.

I urge all countries under review this session to give full and serious consideration to the UK recommendations and encourage them to not only accept them but to fully implement all the recommendations in a timely manner. I look forward to the formal adoption of these UPRs at the 39th session of the UN Human R

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