UN snub: Britain is turning its back on human rights, experts say

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron © Peter Nicholls
Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to opt out of a United Nations (UN) General Assembly debate has prompted fresh allegations that the majority Conservative government has turned its back on global justice and human rights.

Among those who are expected to outline their worldviews at the event are Russian president Vladimir Putin, US president Barak Obama and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

The UN's schedule for the debate, which kicks off next Monday, shows Britain occupying the 76th slot. Richard Gowan, a New York-based fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says this scheduling reflects the Cameron government’s view of the UN – and vice versa.

“Ten or 15 years ago, certainly in the Blair era, there was a feeling that that the UN was really central to what Britain was trying to do in the world,” he told the Telegraph.

“Now there’s a definite sense that the British don’t quite lead at the UN in the same way but are good workhorses when it comes to drafting resolutions.”

Although an official representative has not been confirmed, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond is expected to attend on Cameron’s behalf. Britain has not had such a junior representative at the talks since 2007, when then-Labour prime minister Gordon Brown sent his foreign secretary David Miliband.

Although Cameron is expected to attend the UN General Assembly for a panel discussion on post-2015 development goals, he will depart before Britain takes part in the general debate.

Critics say Britain’s role of spearheading progressive global initiatives is now carried out by countries like France. They warn Cameron’s absence from the general assembly debate is the latest indication that Britain is retreating from the global human rights stage.

Fran Burwell, director of the Transatlantic Relations Program at the Atlantic Council, said Britain was notably absent from global efforts to tackle two of Europe’s biggest crises: the Ukraine conflict and Greece’s financial crisis.

“If it were just about the UN the people would think it was a clash in his diary,” she told the Telegraph.

“Because it takes place in this environment, it looks like another time when a country that was a leading force at the Iran talks will not be there when everyone focuses on it.”

Tory plans to sever ties with the European Court of Human Rights, repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights have provoked sharp criticism over the past year.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove is keen to push ahead with the reforms – measures experts warn could spark a constitutional crisis and blight Britain’s reputation on human rights worldwide.

Although the Tories were keen to push ahead with the legal changes during their last term in government, the move was blocked by the party’s ex-coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

Fresh from May’s general election victory, however, Conservative Party sources confirmed the human rights reforms are imminent.

Human rights campaigners warn the reforms would signal a death knell for democracy in the UK, and would erode fundamental human rights in the process.