Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editorWed, 31 March 2021, 5:59 pm
The Foreign Office has halved its funding for human rights work and the promotion of democracy despite branding the UK as “a force for good in the world”, according to figures published by the department.
The statistics showed that in the financial year just ending, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office cut its overall human rights budget from £52.4m to £27.9m, with the bulk of the cuts coming through the FCDO’s international programme and the conflict, security and stability fund.
The FCDO document setting out the human rights spending plans said: “The Overseas Development Assistance [ODA] allocation for 2020 to 2021 for human rights, democracy, and the rules-based international system programme is £8,500,000.
“This reduced allocation is reflective of the decision taken by [FCDO] to pause programming at start of 2020 to 2021, in order to respond to Covid-19 including re-prioritising ODA budgets in summer 2020.”
Spending in the previous year on this portion of the budget had been just over £19.5m. Other cuts to the human rights promotion budget were made to the Open Government programme and to the human rights element of the conflict, security and stability fund. It is not known if further cuts to the programme will be made in the coming financial year from the base of £27.9m set for 2020-21.
Benedict Rogers, the chair of the Conservative human rights group, urged the government to rethink its cuts programme.
Polly Truscott, foreign affairs adviser to Amnesty International, said: “We are of course deeply worried about the reports of these cuts, which will certainly result in more human rights violations abroad, undermining some of the UK’s achievements to date.
“These reductions come at a time when rights holders need more international support than ever, with many leaders exploiting the global pandemic to launch fresh attacks on human rights and activists.
“This sorry announcement gives lie to the government’s ‘renewed commitment to the UK as a force for good in the world’.”
Truscott also questioned the basis on which the decisions had been made and whether any impact assessment had been made.
The FCDO document accompanying the spending cuts said: “Human rights are more than just principles enshrined in international law. They are the bedrock of successful and progressive societies.
“Countries where human rights are respected, including those with a strong record on gender equality, tend to be more prosperous, democratic, and stable. Corruption is less likely to take root, and extremism is less likely to find fertile ground. That is why safeguarding, promoting, and defending human rights is a key and integral part of our work.”
No press release accompanying the cut was made by the FCDO, which has been accused by aid agencies and human rights groups of being secretive about where the total £5bn worth of cuts to the previous overall £15bn aid programme are falling.
Even after the cuts, the UK has one of the largest aid budgets in the world, and spends more on aid in relation to gross national income than most G7 countries.
The FCDO has been approached for a comment.