FOREIGN Secretary Philip Hammond was accused yesterday of “soft pedalling” over the death penalty and undermining his own department’s work by deprioritising human rights.
A report by the foreign affairs select committee found that funding for the Foreign Office’s (FCO) dedicated human rights programme has been doubled to £10.6 million.
But the committee, chaired by Tory MP Crispin Blunt, said Mr Hammond and other Tory ministers have “generated a perception that their work on human rights has become less important.”
Mr Blunt said: “The actions and words of ministers in the Foreign Office have undermined the excellent human rights work carried out by the department. This needs to be remedied.”
Changes made by the government to the Foreign Office’s human rights strategy were also criticised by the committee, as they could lead to it “losing the focus of specific human right priorities.”
Legal charity Reprieve spokeswoman Maya Foa said: “MPs are right to raise these concerns. In recent months we have seen a steady downgrading of the government’s commitment to human rights.”
Mr Blunt’s committee vowed to monitor the Foreign Office’s work on the cases of 11 named political prisoners and to benchmark its progress on human rights.
They include Andy Tsege, an Ethiopian democracy activist currently imprisoned in Addis Ababa, and Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa, who was arrested three years ago in Egypt for taking part in a demonstration.
The government was also criticised by Amnesty International yesterday for putting profits before people by failing to take action against the rising number of executions being carried out by international allies.
Amnesty director Kate Allen said: “Like the foreign affairs committee , we’re worried that the government has started soft pedalling over foreign countries’ use of the death penalty, preferring to prioritise trade with countries like China, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.”
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn added: “Tory ministers need to realise that Britain’s standing in the world is diminished if we fail to speak out against the death penalty and abuses of the rule of law.
“David Cameron should be using Britain’s influence to stand up to repressive regimes, rather than letting human rights slip down his government’s list of priorities.”