ROBIN COOK, the Foreign Secretary, will today launch a new Human Rights Project Fund, cutting back on military training programmes to pay for it.
The initiative puts flesh on the bones of Mr Cook's controversial commitment to an ethical foreign policy. It is the first time that dedicated funds have been set aside for human rights around the world by the Foreign Office.
The Foreign Office has carried out a large-scale review of human rights activities since Mr Cook arrived in office, and has been quietly rethinking its policies. The Conservatives were often criticised for putting business higher than ethics on their list of priorities. The new fund, pounds 5m for 1998/99, will supplement existing small-scale local human rights projects run from British embassies. Of the total, pounds 2.25m will be drawn from the existing budget for military training, sending out a clear signal of the Government's intention to change the ways of the past. Visits by ministers to countries such as Colombia, Indonesia and Brazil have already led to a reassessment of the way that embassies liaised with human rights groups. In Indonesia, Mr Cook also offered new legal and police training courses as part of an effort to curb human rights abuses in the country. But the new initiative goes a step further than this, creating a new (albeit small) fund that is aimed at improving the protection of human rights globally. The aid will be directed at both governments and non- governmental organisations, such as community groups and human rights associations. Where there is overseas government opposition to human rights programmes, the Government will still give money to NGOs. …