UK Foreign Office ministers have given a "clear perception" that the human rights work of their department has been deprioritised, according to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
In a report published today, the Committee finds that the words and actions of ministers have generated a perception that their work on human rights has become less important, despite funding for the FCO's dedicated human rights programme, the Magna Carta Fund, having been doubled to £10.6m.
It calls on the FCO to do a better job of selling its human rights work by evaluating it more effectively and presenting it in a more user-friendly fashion.
Regarding the FCO's stated three-way focus for its human rights work, on democratic values and the rule of law; strengthening the rules-based international system; and human rights for a stable world, the committee is concerned about the lack of specific commitments and the difficulties this presents for implementation and accountability.
Committee chairman Crispin Blunt MP, commented: "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.
"We recommend that the FCO is more mindful of the perceptions it creates at ministerial level, especially when other interests are engaged such as prosperity and security – as is the case with China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
"Perceptions, and the symbols that reinforce them, matter, particularly in the context of the UK's soft power and international influence."
As respects the priority themes he added: "The actual effect of this change of approach could be to lose the focus of specific human right priorities. It will be important for specific issues, such as the prevention of torture or women's rights, not to be overlooked by FCO missions and for strategies to be developed and progress measured.
"In the absence of measurable targets for the Department’s human rights and democracy work, it is extremely difficult to hold the Foreign Office to account for its spending and to assess whether projects deliver value for money."