UK Government reveals new plans for human rights sanctions regime to get tough on abusers
Other proposals from Boris Johnson’s team include compulsory Foreign Office religious literacy training and leading on human rights at the UN
The UK Government has revealed it is set to sanction high-profile individuals with a track record of human rights abuses around the world. The news comes as a resurgent ISIS and negligent leaders in West Africa have left Commonwealth countries such as Nigeria dangerously exposed to terrorism and exploitation.
During a recent debate in the House of Commons, a representative of Boris Johnson issued a number of key revelations about the future direction of the Foreign Office and Department for International Development with regard to human rights abuses.
Following similar developments in the US and the EU, the Government is working to publish the UK’s first autonomous global human rights sanctions regime, which will aim to deter officials from committing serious human rights violations and hold those that do accountable.
The Government has also committed to providing religious literacy training for relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials posted around the world. In addition, it reaffirmed its work to table a UN Security Council resolution on the persecution of Christians and other believers in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Speaking at Westminster Hall, Nigel Adams, the Minister of State for Asia and International Development, said:
“Work is under way to ensure that British diplomats and officials in relevant roles receive enhanced religious literacy training, to help them understand the role that religion plays in many people’s lives and in the decisions they make.
“We are also working to establish the UK’s first autonomous global human rights sanctions regime, which will aim to deter individuals from committing serious human rights violations or abuses and to hold those who do accountable.”
Noting the particular urgency of addressing the troubling incidents emerging in West Africa, where over 1300 Christians have been slaughtered in the last year, he added:
“Our commitment has also led us to agree to work towards tabling a UN Security Council resolution on the persecution of Christians and people of other faiths or beliefs in the middle east and north Africa region.
“For more than a decade, Islamic insurgents including Boko Haram—Islamic State in West Africa—have caused immense suffering to the Muslim and Christian populations. We have made clear to authorities at the highest levels in Nigeria the importance of protecting civilians and we regularly raise our concerns about the increasing violence.”
Connecting the security issue with trade in the region, he concluded:
“The UK will also be a global champion for free trade, which is a force for good that underpins stable, open and prosperous global economies.”
Jim Shannon MP, who led the debate, made core demands of the Government, including sending peacekeeping forces to Nigeria, renewing its offer to assist in the search and rescue of Leah Sharibu and other ISIS captives, focusing more or most of its international development aid on Nigeria to assist the victims and protect the vulnerable, and providing security advice and warnings to British investors in the region.
During the debate, the DUP MP, who is also the party’s Human Rights spokesman insisted:
“There are indications that there are more attacks on Christians than on anyone else. That does not lessen what is happening, but it indicates to me that there are many attacks on Christians across the whole of Nigeria.
“To mention just a few of those attacks, there were five major attacks against Nigerian Christians in Kaduna state between January and November 2019, resulting in an estimated 500 deaths. There were at least another five attacks in Bassa and Riyom local government areas, as well as many attacks in Taraba state. Boko Haram remains in power around the Chad border region, including parts of Borno state.
“Some 1,000 Christians have been slaughtered in north-eastern Nigeria since January 2019, in addition to the over 6,000 deaths since 2015. I will talk about some of those attacks to illustrate how horrific they are.
“Veronica, 35, from Dogon Noma recounted some of the awful attacks inflicted on her family. Her home was attacked by Fulani militia, and only she and three others survived; 13 of her friends and family were killed. Naomi, 54, from Karamai lost limbs in a brutal attack on her home, in which her elderly and fragile father was shot in his bed. In Ta’aziya’s village, almost 50 people were killed and only two homes were not burnt down.”
Reacting to the events in Parliament, Ayo Adedoyin, Chief Executive of humanitarian organisation PSJ UK, which influenced and provided evidence for the debate, said:
“Itis fantastic news that the UK is starting to ramp up the pressure on human rights abusers, in Nigeria and abroad.
“Too many Christians have been killed in the most gruesome ways imaginable for the UK to turn a blind eye. We are now working to influence who gets on that list, and what it will take for them to be removed.
“The sanctions will prove highly effective for high-worth individuals who abuse human rights to change their ways.”
Following escalating violence against Christians in Nigeria, and growing attention from Boris Johnson, PSJ UK has also launched a viral social media campaign to focus on stopping the bloodshed.
The campaign website, recently unveiled, features the motto ‘Break the silence. Stop the slaughter.’ and a hashtag #SilentSlaughter.
Nigeria ranks twelfth on Open Doors World Watch List 2020 of the countries in which Christians are most persecuted. By comparison, Syria ranks eleventh and Saudi Arabia ranks thirteenth, with Iraq fifteenth and Egypt sixteenth. Nigeria is currently just one rank below ‘extreme’.
The difficult situation for persecuted Christians is compounded by the hostile media context. Reporters Without Borders ranks Nigeria 120 out of 180 countries for press freedom, noting a ‘climate of permanent violence’. It places just above Afghanistan.
A resulting lack of transparency makes it harder to expose endemic corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 ranked Nigeria at 146th in the world – two places lower than 2018 – scoring an abysmal 26 points out of a possible 100, level with Iran.
NOTES TO EDITORS
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About PSJ UK
International Organisation for Peace & Social Justice (PSJ UK) is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote peace building, social justice and sustainable development in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
PSJ engages and organises a global network of partners to act as a voice for marginalised communities and to create a model for active community advocacy for minority groups.