Retrospect on a quiet week…
FCO and religious freedom
Further to the reply by Lord Wallace of Saltaire on 24 July (HL Deb Vol 755 cols 1324–8) to the debate on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government how many officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are specifically focused on freedom of religion and for what percentage of their time; and what resources are specifically allocated for the promotion of Article 18 through United Kingdom diplomatic services. In Written Answers of 18 August 2013, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con) stated:
“Within the Human Rights and Democracy Department (HRDD), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has one full time Desk Officer wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), who works closely with the Team Leader in the Equalities and Non-Discrimination Team, who themselves spend approximately 50% of their time on FoRB. Additionally, the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues; one Human Rights Advisor spends 5% and one HRDD Communications Officer approximately 10%.
As FoRB is one of only six thematic human rights priorities for the FCO, a considerable number of other FCO officials in London and overseas are engaged directly on FoRB as part of their wider human rights work. Given that violations of FoRB can be closely associated with other threats to UK interests around the world, I cannot provide a precise figure for the total number of FCO officials working on FoRB, though the number is high and rising.
This year, seven FoRB projects around the world were approved and received total funding of £307,835”.
Treatment of cremation ashes
Following the publication of the report of the Infant Cremation Commission chaired by Lord Bonomy on infant cremation at Mortonhall, Edinburgh, reviewed here, the Scottish Government published its response in which it announced the establishment of a national investigation team to look into all the families’ allegations. The investigation team is to be headed by the former Lord Advocate, the Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini QC DBE, who also led the Mortonhall investigation. Prior to the publication of his report, Lord Bonomy noted emergence of further allegations regarding the joint cremation of babies and adults at Hazlehead Crematorium in Aberdeen. Last year, BBC Scotland revealed that no ashes had been offered to the families of infants cremated in Aberdeen over a five-year period, although the report indicated that an earlier council investigation had found no evidence of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, this week the BBC reported that a senior member of staff at an Aberdeen crematorium who was being investigated over its handling of babies’ ashes has lost his job. Continue reading