British foreign policy and human
rights: From low to high politics
British foreign policy on human rights has been driven primarily by three factors: Britain's own national development; its perceived national interests; and international discourse and action on human rights. Understanding Britain's national development helps to explain why there is no general consensus on human rights within Britain and how this has affected the main political parties. In general there are both differences and similarities between British human rights foreign policy and that of its main partners – certain continental Europeans and the United States. British governments have normally concentrated on the promotion and protection of civil and political rights plus occasionally a few economic and social rights (e.g. the right to education). 1 Arms sales and aid policy in the 1990s are discussed in the section on bilateral policy.
The chapter begins by looking at the historical development of Britain's interest in human rights both domestically and internationally before it joined the European Economic Community (EEC, now the European Union) in 1973 and became a founding member of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now OSCE) in 1975. It goes on to discuss the presentation of British foreign policy in this area in three Foreign Policy Documents of 1978, 1991, and 1996 following British ratification of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in