LONDON – LONDON (AP) — Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday that Britain will defend human rights across the globe, even as it seeks to woo trading partners with sometimes questionable records.
In a major policy speech, Hague said efforts to spur Britain's economic recovery by bolstering ties to India, China and others won't lead to a timid stance from diplomats in confronting abuses.
Prime Minister David Cameron recently visited New Delhi and Turkey to pitch for new trade. He has also identified the Gulf Arab states and China as important future allies.
Rights groups have raised concerns about the conduct of governments in those regions, citing torture and executions in China and restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey.
"We will raise our concerns about human rights wherever and whenever they arise, including with countries with whom we are seeking closer ties," Hague said, speaking at London's Lincoln's Inn — a legal center dating back to at least the 15th century.
Alongside the war in Afghanistan, Cameron and Hague have made trade a priority for the new government's foreign service, and appointed a former business department official as the ministry's chief diplomat.
"Some may be concerned that this clear focus on security and prosperity means that we will attach less importance as a government to human rights," Hague's said. "Far from giving less importance to these things, we see them as essential."
Rights advocates question the record of many new British allies and doubt the commitment of Western governments to challenge human rights abuses. In its latest annual report, Amnesty International highlighted alleged violence against religious minorities in India and claimed that unfair trials, torture and illegal detention were common in China.
Hague said Britain would press for reforms but must also accept that the threat of terrorism means the U.K. must often cooperate with countries with lower standards on law and order.
Amnesty International U.K. director Kate Allen said Hague "talks a good game on human rights, but we're only going to know through his actions whether we're set to have a foreign policy 'with a conscience'."
She said Britain's pursuit of new alliances must not lead to the U.K. "keeping quiet about human rights where it might damage trade or upset powerful allies."
Hague said Britain must also restore its own reputation. He announced plans to set up an independent advisory group to guide government policy on human rights.
Cameron has already authorized a judge-led inquiry into allegations that spies and other officials were complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects held by the U.S. and other countries. The inquiry is scheduled to begin once police have completed an investigation into allegations made against two unnamed officers from the MI5 and MI6 intelligence agencies.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed claims British authorities knew he was severely beaten, subjected to sleep deprivation and had his genitals sliced with a scalpel while he was held overseas. A British court has ruled that Mohamed was subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" by U.S. authorities.
"Our intention is to clear the stain from our reputation as a country," Hague said.
For the first time, the Foreign Office will publish the guidelines that are issued to staff on handling allegations of torture.
"Where problems have arisen that have affected the U.K.'s moral standing, we will deal with them patiently and clearly. We will act on the lessons learnt, and tackle the difficult issues we currently face head on," Hague said, in an apparent reference to Mohamed's case.