Trade can be used as a foreign policy tool – including as leverage on human rights issues. But there are two foundational principles of international trade law which dictate how this can and cannot be done.
The first, ‘national treatment’, requires that once a good or service has entered a country’s market, it should be treated equally to those produced locally. This means, for example, that once an item of clothing manufactured in Sri Lanka enters the Belgian market, the government generally cannot impose additional restrictions on the product which differ from those applied to clothing manufactured in Belgium; and there are restrictions on giving domestic companies advantages through, for example, subsidies (‘state aid’).
The second, known as ‘Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN)’, restricts countries from granting special access to only select other countries. It does this by requiring that if a country wants to grant special trade preferences to another country, it must do so for all. This means that the UK, for example, cannot unilaterally offer special exceptions to imports from India or the US without also offering them universally.
Continue reading “How trade can be leveraged as a foreign policy tool to press for human rights improvements” →
Earlier this month, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) voted to elect 14 new members to the Human Rights Council (HRC) to serve from 2023 to 2025. Among those elected were Sudan and Vietnam. The former was selected in a clean slate election, meaning that the number of candidates equaled the number of seats available, while the latter defeated Afghanistan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).
The election of both of these states is deeply disappointing.
Sudan is currently led by a military leader who seized power illegally from the civilian-led transitional government in an October 2021 coup, and where the past year has been characterized by the killing and brutalising of peaceful protesters, and attempts to reverse the limited human rights gains made under the transitional government, including in relation to the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).
The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has led the northern part of Vietnam since 1954, and took control of the rest of the country in 1975, following the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. During that time, the VCP has repeatedly violated human rights, including FoRB and land rights, whilst routinely targeting those who request or advocate for such rights with harassment, arbitrary detention, imprisonment, physical violence and even torture.
Continue reading “Disappointments at the UN, but we must not let the challenges obscure the good that it can achieve” →
India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, was recently asked how he saw the country’s role in defending free societies globally – a diplomatic way of confronting India on its failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
His answer was, if not reassuring to human rights proponents, certainly honest: “Countries evolve a combination of values, interests […] and all of us would like to find the right balance”.
This has always been the tension at the heart of foreign policy. And the European Union (EU) is no exception. Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty (which forms the constitutional basis for the bloc) reads: “In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests”.
In our interactions with the EU, human rights organisations repeatedly appeal to the Union’s stated values. Whilst, in general, the EU is a benevolent global actor on human rights, there are instances where an appeal to values alone is not sufficient to galvanise action.
Continue reading “Human rights advocacy in a world of interests: why the EU fell short at India’s Raisina Dialogue” →
Today is Human Rights Day. It marks the 73rd anniversary of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone document which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being.
Article 18 of the UDHR declares “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
It conveys the principle that everyone should be free to believe whatever they choose to believe; however, in many countries around the world, individuals have not only been denied this freedom, but their physical freedom also on account of their religion or belief.
Continue reading “Human Rights Day: Standing up and speaking out until everyone is free to believe” →
“The fact is that we simply can’t afford to be religiously illiterate in today’s world. To be religiously illiterate in today’s world is simply to fail to understand how and why others act as they do.” – These are the words of Bishop Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro, speaking at the deferred 175th anniversary celebration of The National Club earlier this month.
Bishop Mounstephen has been a friend of mine, and of CSW, for a number of years now, so it will come as little surprise that we fully support his assertion. As the bishop outlined so eloquently in his speech, freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), cannot be seen as a “side-bar” or “special interest” issue. In fact, it is a fundamental human right, the abuse of which so often leads to wider human rights violations as it intersects with issues such as poverty, race and gender.
Continue reading “On freedom of religion or belief, the UK government needs to turn its rhetoric to reality” →
Fortunately, the UK government appears to agree. Last year, upon the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for FoRB, Boris Johnson said: “The UK is absolutely committed to protecting the inalienable right to freedom of religion and belief, at home and around the world.”