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Richard Moore

FCO Political Director

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Turkey

10th December 2015 London, UK

Why the UK cares about human rights?

Today is international human rights day, and around the world people are reflecting and campaigning on hugely important freedoms.

JusticeI want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those who work for human rights, and who make great sacrifices and put themselves in danger for the sake of justice and liberty: people like Tahir Elçi. Tahir Elçi was a friend, and a great defender of human rights. I last saw him just a couple of months ago in Ankara. His loss is a real tragedy, and my thoughts are with his family and all those close to him.

The work of human rights defenders like Tahir Elçi clearly matters to their communities and their countries. But sometimes people ask why the UK cares about human rights overseas.

The answer is that we believe respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law helps countries to be stable and prosperous in the long-term.  The absence of fundamental rights can produce instability and insecurity that affects us all. And their presence brings all sorts of direct and indirect benefits.

Combating discrimination and violence against women, for example, does not just remove injustice. It helps unleash the potential and productivity of one half of our population.

An independent judiciary does not just produce fair trials. It also gives confidence to businesses and investors.

And freedom of expression and freedom of the press are not just vital for democratic politics. They are also preconditions for real innovation and creativity.

So when I received the report of the Press for Freedom initiative on Monday, I was concerned to read there were 31 journalists behind bars in Turkey, and rising numbers of investigations, arrests and journalists being held in pre-trial detention (including Can Dündar and Erdem Gül). The UK is a strong supporter of Turkey’s EU accession process, and respect for fundamental freedoms is a vital part of moving forward in that process.

That’s why we are keen to work with the Turkish authorities, together with Turkish civil society, to make advances on these issues. It’s why we are working with the Ministry of Interior on combatting discrimination. It’s why we are working with the Ministry of Justice on strengthening victims’ rights. And why we are supporting NGOs in their efforts to combat discrimination against LGBTI people, bring an end to domestic violence, and support human rights in general.

Of course, as I know from my own meetings with NGOs, it’s not always comfortable for governments having their activities put under the microscope. But as a representative of the British Government, I think it’s important that governments should be held to account. I am sure you will do so in your comments and tweets!

I also hope that the UK and Turkey can continue to work together to strengthen respect for human rights in both our countries, and around the world.