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Hugo Shorter

British Ambassador to Lebanon

Part of UK in Lebanon

10th December 2015 Beirut, Lebanon

Human Rights and Berytus

Preamble C: “…respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights.”

Art. 7:  the right to “… be equal before the law”

Art. 8: “Individual liberty is guaranteed and protected by law.”

Art. 13: “The freedom to express one’s opinion orally or in writing, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association shall be guaranteed within the limits established by law.”

These are not the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but of the Lebanese Constitution, which also sets out clearly that “The Government shall embody these principles [of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] without exception.”

This year the UK celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which is considered one of the world’s first declarations of individual rights.  We reflected on the impact of Magna Carta in present times with lawyers and Judges at the Beirut Bar Association, and remembered Beirut’s role (The Roman Berytus -actual Beyrut) as ‘Mother of Laws’ in the Roman empire.

That was over a thousand years ago, but what about now? In November, Lebanon underwent its Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights at the Human Rights Council. This is a two-way dialogue which every member state participates in, including the UK. It is a recognition that respect for fundamental rights is a goal we all aspire to, and a path best followed with the support of our friends and allies. Both at the Human Rights Council and with the Beirut Bar Association, there was a recognition that Lebanon had made progress in some areas, such as the 2014 domestic violence law, the 2011 anti-trafficking law, and the draft law criminalizing torture; but that further concrete steps along that path were needed in order to advance the ideals so nobly set out in the Constitution.

Promoting these shared international, universal values is a key pillar of the UK’s foreign policy, because as the Foreign Secretary has said, “good governance, accountability and freedom of speech are the building blocks of successful societies; and successful societies [are] the building blocks of a secure and prosperous international community.” So as we mark International Human Rights Day today, I am proud to reflect on the partnerships we have here in Lebanon to promote and protect human rights.

As part of our work to prevent torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, we continued our support to implementation of  the Internal Security Forces’ UN-approved Code of Conduct and ran projects to improve conditions in prisons. We helped transform Ras Beirut police station into a model for community policing which can be replicated elsewhere.

We’ve supported women’s participation in politics through advice on manifesto drafting.  We have advocated for migrant domestic workers, and backed work to improve the agency-employer-employee relationship.

We continue to support the fundamental rights of Syrian refugees and less privileged Lebanese through our humanitarian and stabilisation programming. And we are helping to improve employment and livelihood opportunities and access to justice for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

To mark the International Day for Persons with Disabilities last week we highlighted our support to Step Together to publish the children’s book titled: ‘Stories from us and About us’, by students with learning difficulties.  We also teamed up with inspirational activists Fadi El Halabi and Edward Maalouf who have made Lebanon proud in their respective fields.

Of course, none of this work would happen without our Lebanese partners on the ground. Calls for an end to impunity  and respect for individual rights are most powerful when they come from local people, not from finger-wagging foreigners. That’s why today I want to recognise the ongoing efforts and dedication of Lebanese NGOs, civil society, individuals and communities working tirelessly to protect the rights granted them by the Constitution.

This year’s Human Rights Day theme, is ‘Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always’.  For many, Lebanon has been seen as a model of democracy in the region, as well as of coexistence – “Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message,” said the Pope when he visited last year. But with great reputation comes great responsibility. I know I share the hopes of many Lebanese when I say that Lebanon faces a number of challenges, but when human rights are respected, everyone wins.

About Hugo Shorter

Hugo Shorter was appointed Her Majesty's Ambassador to Lebanon in September 2015. He presented his credentials on 16 November 2016 following the election of Lebanese President General Michel Aoun. This…

Hugo Shorter was appointed Her Majesty's Ambassador to Lebanon in September 2015. He presented his credentials on 16 November 2016 following the election of Lebanese President General Michel Aoun.
This is his first Ambassadorial position coming straight from personally advising the Foreign Secretary on a wide range of Foreign Policy priorities as Head of External Affairs for Europe Directorate. In this role he has accompanied the Foreign Secretary on a monthly basis to the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU, helping negotiate EU foreign policy decisions in areas such as crisis management, sanctions and military operations. He has also co-ordinated the UK’s foreign policy work on G7/8, including during the UK G8 presidency in 2013 and the G8 Summit at Lough Erne. This work comes after an early-career focus on defence, security and trade policy, and successful postings as Minister Counsellor for Europe and Global Issues, Paris and Deputy Head of Mission, Brasilia.

Hugo Shorter, like many Lebanese, has a special connection to Brazil, having grown up there and attended school in Rio de Janeiro, before taking degrees at Oxford University and the École Nationale d’Administration.

He arrives in Lebanon with his wife Laura and three children.