UK highlights human rights priority countries

Some countries have seen significant deterioration in human rights issues in 2021

The UK government has highlighted Afghanistan, China and Central African Republic (CAR) as regions where human rights have deteriorated over the past year.

In a ministerial statement on human rights priority countries, it analysed 31 countries where it is particularly concerned about human rights issues and where it considers the UK can make a real difference.

The 31 countries are: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

However, it highlighted Afghanistan, China and CAR as ‘areas of deterioration’.

Afghanistan has seen gains in territory by the Taliban which has meant a deterioration in respect for women’s rights and media freedom as well as attacks on human rights defenders, government employees and minorities.

The ministerial statement continued: “Women and girls [have] continued to suffer violence, discrimination and less access than men and boys to health services, education and jobs. Death threats and intimidation against media workers [have] forced many journalists to flee or self-censor.”

It added the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported 5,183 civilian casualties between January and June, a 47% increase compared with the first half of 2020. This included 1,682 children.

In China, the report said there is “credible research and evidence regarding widespread, systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang continued to emerge between January and June 2021”. In March, the UK, European Union, Canada and US sanctioned four individuals and one entity in relation to human rights violations in Xinjiang.

The statement also highlighted reported continue to emerge of severe religious and cultural restrictions in Tibet and Tibetan areas, as well as restrictions on civil society and religious groups across China, while in Hong Kong, rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Joint Declaration came under further pressure. 

Looking at CAR, the statement said the human rights situation deteriorated “sharply” in the first half of 2021 following elections in late 2020, which caused “great instability across the country” including displacement and a food crisis.

It also highlighted Eritrea, Myanmar and Sri Lanka as areas of deterioration for human rights issues.

The report did note some progress; in Bahrain, a “proactive approach” had been taken to mitigate the implications of Covid-19, such as free healthcare and a visa amnesty for those losing their jobs; Sudan’s civilian-led government was said to be continuing to deliver on its commitment to improve human rights as part of the country’s transition to democracy and has agreed two human rights treaties; Uzbekistan human rights reforms have continued albeit at a slower pace than 2020 due to some “backsliding” on media freedom progress.

The UK government ministerial statement said it will continue to work with the countries on human rights improvements: “Focusing on particular countries allows us to exert influence over the long term, and thus to achieve maximum impact, encouraging governments to meet their international human rights obligations. However, as always our human rights work goes beyond these 31 countries. We prioritise issues of concern, but also seek to reflect positive developments where there has been progress.”

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Natalie Kenway

Natalie is global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist for 16 years. She won Editor of the Year at the Aviva Investors Sustainability Media Awards 2021, and was Winner...