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Nick Pyle

British High Commissioner to Botswana

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Botswana

20th March 2015 Gaborone, Botswana

Human Rights: Leaving no-one behind

Two weeks ago the British High Commission supported an event hosted by the Botswana Network for Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA). The event was essentially a discussion about whether Botswana’s legislative framework deals fairly with those who describe themselves as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex, the LGBTI community for short. It was a well attended event, with representatives from civil society, government, the churches and the media all present.

I will say more about that in a moment, but first let me set the context. The United Kingdom has made a strong global commitment to supporting human rights for all. We believe that we will all be safer and better off if we put human rights at the heart of our values.

Far too often people try to pick and choose the human rights they care about. And far too often unsound arguments are put forward to deny people their rights. In some countries people may argue “We are too poor to do anything about our citizen’s right to education”. Or in others we might hear that “Women should be treated differently in matters of inheritance and divorce because that’s how it has always been”.

But this is dangerous. If we start emphasising our differences, we breed hostility and intolerance. In December 1948, the world signed up to a Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations, precisely to avoid a repeat of the intolerance that led to the atrocities of the Second World War.

That is why human rights have to be universal. The whole point is that everyone, everywhere is entitled to enjoy certain basic rights. To advance human rights is to seek to build a society where no-one is left behind, and to make space in that society for difference. We are, after all, all different.

The United Kingdom does this in many ways. We spend 0.7% of our GDP on overseas aid. Despite the current economic climate, this commitment is being enshrined in UK law. Much of that money goes towards supporting universal access to education and healthcare. We also support free elections, gender equality, freedom of religion and freedom of expression, through programme and project work around the world.

I won’t give examples here – they are easy to look up in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual Human Rights Report released on 12 March – but you get the idea.

We advance these principles of human rights based on the UK’s own often painful experiences of change. Gender equality is a good example. A group of women’s rights activists, the so-called “suffragettes”, fought passionately and sometimes resorting to violence for the right to vote in the early 20th century. Later in the century activists fought for equal pay for women.

I am not suggesting that the tactics deployed by those involved in such movements were always right, but I think we can say that the UK enjoys a more meaningful, vibrant democracy as a result of women’s equal political participation. We can also say that those in civil society, those outside of government, played an important role in getting to that point.

On this issue, as with others, there is more work to be done. That is why each year on 8 March, we mark International Women’s Day. We take the occasion to celebrate progress. But we also commit to doing more to advance women’s rights and to address discriminatory laws and attitudes.

In that context let me return to the issue of the LGBTI debate in Botswana.

In Botswana, what I see is a country that in many respects is a good model for human rights, both at home and overseas. It is a country that has held free and fair elections like clockwork since Independence. It has made huge strides in providing services to its population in that same period. And it plays an active role in the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, pushing for a human rights approach to crises around the world.

But equally, here – as everywhere else – there is room to advance human rights further. And I believe the way in which the LGBTI community is viewed is one area where Batswana need to have a debate. Indeed, that is something that the Botswana government undertook to consider during a discussion at the Human Rights Council in 2013.

Let me be clear about two things. Firstly, talking about this is not a Western agenda. Here in Botswana it is being talked about by all sorts of people in all sorts of places. People from a wide range of different backgrounds were at BONELA’s recent event. As the trends in the recent Afrobarometer survey suggest, attitudes are changing and the debate is only likely to increase in intensity.

Secondly, this debate must be grounded in human rights principles. This is not about tradition, culture or religion. I have the utmost respect for all of those. Often they help to build strong societies. But when people put them up as excuses to avoid the debate, that tells us that they don’t fully understand, or don’t want to understand, the issue.

The debate has nothing to do with promoting one particular lifestyle over another. Nor is it about forcing anyone to change their beliefs. It is about choice and tolerance of difference. From a human rights point of view, it is simply about protecting the right of all members of society to live their lives free from discrimination and the fear of violence.

There are too many harrowing tales of people who have suffered physical violence or simply been excluded as a result of their sexual orientation, and indeed other personal characteristics or beliefs that society chooses to brand as “different”.

The United Kingdom’s support for human rights is about challenging that. Simply put, it is the belief that no-one should be left behind.

About Nick Pyle

Nicholas John Pyle OBE, MBE was accredited as British High Commissioner to the Republic of Botswana and UK Representative to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in February 2013. Nick…

Nicholas John Pyle OBE, MBE was accredited as British High
Commissioner to the Republic of Botswana and UK Representative to the
Southern African Development Community (SADC) in February 2013.
Nick Pyle joined the FCO in 1981 and until 1996 he held various
positions, including postings to Geneva, Kabul, Jeddah, Bridgetown and
Colombo where he focussed on political and consular work.
He has spent the last eight years working on Africa and was recently
the Deputy Head of Africa Department – Central and Southern. Nick Pyle’s
last overseas posting was in Nairobi where he spent five years, the
last of which was on secondment to the United Nations Political Office
for Somalia, working on a broad range of security, conflict, governance
and development issues in Somalia.
Nick was awarded the MBE in 1999 and the OBE in 2009. He is married to Ros Day and they have two sons and one daughter.

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