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UK must uphold human rights at home to promote them globally, Bishop Butler tells Lords

15 December 2023

UN Photo/Mark Garten

The UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres (centre right in first row), and Dennis Francis, President of the 78th session of the General Assembly, with recipients of UN Prizes in the field of Human Rights for 2023, last week

The UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres (centre right in first row), and Dennis Francis, President of the 78th session of the General Assembly, w...

THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, used a debate in the House of Lords this week to mark 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to call into question the Government’s plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda.

The adoption of the declaration by the United Nations General Assembly, in December 1948, represented “a global commitment to put human beings above conflict, above the politics of division and above economic gain, granting each individual dignity without discrimination”, Bishop Butler said on Monday.

The principles of human rights were based on the conviction that every human being was unique, made in the image of God and loved by God, he said. But “if we are to promote human rights globally, it is essential that we uphold them in our own nation.”

He expressed his concerns about the violation of human rights in Rwanda, a country that he had visited 20 times since 1997, he said. “It has a deeply painful history of suffering, yet I have observed at first hand how, as a nation, it has rebuilt itself in the past 30 years, bringing those who violated the human rights of others in the past to justice.

“However, given reports from Human Rights Watch, as well as the United States Government, on the violation of human rights within Rwanda in recent years, questions are now being raised that our Government can simply rule that the country is indeed safe for refugees and asylum-seekers to be sent to.”

Yet the Home Secretary was unable to state whether the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was compatible with the UK’s human-rights obligations. “In producing such a Bill, we are disregarding the humanity of asylum-seekers as fellow human beings — fellow human beings who are equal in dignity and possess the same freedoms as ourselves,” Bishop Butler said.

“Human rights always imply human responsibility for one another. If we each want these rights, then we also each must defend them for others.”

Lord Harries of Pentregarth, a former Bishop of Oxford, also spoke in the debate. He named Iran, China, and Russia as examples of countries where human rights were regularly violated. Less well known was the case of West Papua, occupied by Indonesia for 30 or 40 years. “The world needs to know what is happening there,” he said.

“We celebrate this Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which needs to be reaffirmed in every generation, and lament the fact that there are still so many countries in the world that are in gross violation of it.”

Read more on the Safety of Rwanda Bill in this week’s Comment here

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