10th December 2015 London, UK
David Lidington blogs for Human Rights Day: Justice and the Rule of Law
Today we commemorate International Human Rights Day. It is an opportunity to mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and to reflect on the status of human rights in countries around the world. Through our global network of Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates, the UK Government is working to promote respect for the basic, inalienable rights of each and every person.
As the Minister for Europe, one of my central responsibilities is to promote and support the protection of human rights throughout Europe. One issue I care strongly about is access to justice for all. Through diplomacy and financial support across the region we are working hard to ensure that people’s rights to equality before the law and to a fair trial are protected and upheld.
We face significant challenges. One of the FCO’s top human rights priorities is to campaign against the death penalty. Three people were executed in Belarus last year. And, as the FCO’s 2014 Human Rights Report describes, executions can sometimes be carried out without next of kin being informed beforehand. No one should have to go through that. The UK, along with the EU, continues to call on the Government of Belarus to introduce a moratorium and end the use of capital punishment.
In Azerbaijan, I have followed closely and with concern the trials and sentencing of several prominent human rights defenders. This is a worrying trend which we must work to reverse. There is some cause for optimism, as demonstrated by the recent release of Arif and Leyla Yunus from prison. I hope that such welcome decisions become the norm rather than the exception.
The rule of law in Russia continues to be inconsistent and arbitrarily applied. According to prominent Russian NGO Memorial, there are currently 50 political prisoners being held in Russia. I am particularly concerned by the continued detention of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who was abducted in Ukraine in June 2014 and illegally transferred across the border into Russia. She has been in detention ever since. As I wrote in an open letter to Nadiya on the one-year anniversary of her detention, Russia is a signatory to the Minsk agreements that provide for the release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons. The British Government calls on Russia to meet its international commitments, deliver justice and end Nadiya’s illegal detention.
Governments have a right and a responsibility to protect their people from threats and crime. But how they go about this will determine their real success in providing security for their citizens. A state which respects the rights of its citizens and fosters an independent judiciary and equality before the law, will be safer, more orderly and more prosperous. For this reason, strengthening the rule of law and access to justice is – and will remain – central to our work around the world.