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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2006, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Hague stresses human rights duty
William Hague
Mr Hague has tried to make Tory foreign policy sounds more compassionate
Championing human rights and tackling states which abuse them must be central to UK foreign policy, shadow foreign secretary William Hague is saying.

The Tory frontbencher says the international community must put more pressure on "brutal regimes".

There is a "moral obligation" to speak out against torture, rape and murder, says Mr Hague, but human rights are also in Britain's national interests.

His comments come as the Tory human rights commission begins work.

The commission, chaired by Conservative MP Gary Streeter, is hearing from Burmese dissident Charm Tong about human rights problems there.

She wants the UK to increase pressure by banning investments in Burma, taking the country back to the UN Security Councils and giving refugees and pro-democracy groups more support.

Torture message

The Tory commission is holding a series of hearings about different countries and themes before producing an annual report about abuses.

Mr Hague has made a series of moves to make Conservative foreign policy appear more compassionate, including putting a greater emphasis on fighting poverty.

He says human rights abuses cannot be tolerated in the 21st Century.

"Yet, across the world, unjust imprisonment, detention without trial and torture continue to be seen," he says.

"In countries as varied as North Korea, Turkmenistan, Eritrea, the Sudan and Belarus, serious human rights abuses are occurring."

Political pressure

Mr Hague says he recently saw the results of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, where pro-government Arab militias are accused of war crimes against the region's black African population.

"Human rights do not apply solely to the Western world, nor do they reflect standards from which particular cultures or religions can choose to opt out," says Mr Hague.

"They exist to protect people everywhere against political, legal, and social abuses.

"Our foreign policy must be pro-active in supporting democracy and those who bravely champion freedom in their own countries.

"It must put economic and political pressure on brutal regimes, and it must seek to hold them to account."

Mr Hague says abuses and violence in Zimbabwe, the plight of Burma's ethnic minority communities and repression in Belarus cannot be ignored.

And he is outlining why speaking up against human rights abuses is in British interests.

"It has become increasingly clear in recent years that dictators do not make good partners - politically, commercially or strategically," he says.

"They sow instability, reek of corruption, and threaten their own people."

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