This year, UNA London and Southeast Region (UNA LASER) has campaigned on:
- the political turmoil in Peru
- human rights in the Holy Land
- changes in UK aid harming the world’s most disadvantaged people
- climate change and COP28
We have urged our MPs and the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to accelerate efforts to mitigate crises and ensuring that the United Kingdom maintains a leadership role within the broader development and humanitarian space.
As we pass the midpoint of 2023, and with the imminent meeting of the UN General Assembly, the UN SDG summit and then COP28 to follow in November and December, we reflect on our campaigns, noting developments and new priorities; we must keep up pressure as appropriate.
- The Political Turmoil in Peru
We began the year creating awareness of a serious political crisis unfolding in Peru, a country that has been a strategic partner for the UK for several years. We urged the FCDO to work closely to help restore peace and justice as soon as possible and to ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and association are upheld.
- Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and association, visited Peru in May 2023 and urged the Government of Peru to uphold the human rights of all Peruvians by addressing historical root causes of the protests. A report on the Special Rapporteur’s visit to Peru will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2024.
- The Peruvian government has declared several States of Emergency in border regions in response to anti-government protests. Several countries have urged their citizens to avoid travelling to the southern part of Peru and to take extra precautions when visiting the capital, Lima. Tourism, an important source of income for the country, has been significantly affected.
- We should continue to urge our MPs to ensure that the United Kingdom does not ignore the serious situation in Peru. In particular, it should advocate strongly for the protection of freedom of expression at a time where this is under threat in Peru.
- Human Rights in the Holy Land
We focussed on the human rights and international law debate in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). We urged the Foreign Secretary to reverse its opposition and instead support the request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s continued refusal to end its occupation of the OPT. Additionally, we asked public bodies and companies not to invest in (or to divest from) firms named in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) list of companies contributing to the Israeli illegal occupation of remaining Palestinian land; this list has now been updated.
- In July, Khaled Khiari, Assistant UN Secretary General for the Middle East, told the Security Council that the surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence must be a ‘wake-up call’ for the global community to redouble its efforts towards achieving peace. He stressed the importance of the awaited International Court of Justice advisory opinion to guide all states on their legal obligations.
- The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill (which will prevent public bodies from being influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign states when taking certain economic decisions) has passed its second reading in the House of Commons. This Bill explicitly tries to prevent any publicly funded bodies from exercising boycotts or sanctions on Israel.
- Urgently write to our MPs, the Foreign Secretary, and public bodies such as Councils and universities to safeguard the rights of publicly funded bodies to express their political disapproval of the actions of companies or countries by using sanctions and boycotts.
- Write to our MPs to urge the government to support the request to the ICJ for an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s continued refusal to end its occupation of the OPT.
- Changes in UK Aid Harming the World’s Most Disadvantaged People
2023 began with another round of rumours concerning the already-shrinking UK overseas aid budget that was first slashed in 2021 from 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to just 0.5% of (a much reduced) GNI. Recent cuts have caused closures of vital programmes, such as those supporting water sanitation and hygiene (WASH), nutrition, girls’ education, and peacebuilding. We remarked in our campaign that the publication of the International Development Strategy in 2022 alongside the International Women and Girls Strategy seemed to offer a glimmer of hope that some aid cuts would be restored as a result of commitments set out in these documents by the UK government.
- At the end of July, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) published itsannual report and accounts for 2022 to 2023. Despite recent falls and rumoured larger cuts, the government has announced that UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) is set to rise from 2024. In the current financial year (23/24), the total FCDO ODA budget will rise marginally, and then rise by 12% in 24/25 to £8.3bn. These planned increases are a positive sign but will not reverse the impact of the previous five years of cuts. The budget also relies on the Home Office reducing its use of ODA for domestic costs, such as the cost of asylum seekers in their first year in the country.
- According to the International Development Committee report from March, the UK’s annual spending per asylum seeker increased from £6,700 in 2019 to £21,700 in 2021 (around three times the OECD average). This is taken from the ODA budget, drastically reducing the funds available for the most vulnerable people in the world’s poorest countries. It is essential that this UK expenditure is brought under control to free more money to help the world’s neediest people.
- We should continue to urge Andrew Mitchell MP at the FCDO to monitor more closely the expenditure on asylum seekers. As part of building a Global Britain, as was promised in the Conservatives election manifesto in 2019, the UK should continue to uphold the United Nations message of ‘leaving no one behind’, such as women and girls who are often disproportionally affected by aid cuts.
- In addition, we should continue to pressure the UK government to halt UK aid being absorbed by increasing domestic costs and private investments and instead re-prioritise the spending to address the root causes of poverty and inequality in lower-income countries and responds to humanitarian crises around the world.
- Climate Change and COP28
Our most recent campaign focused on the countdown to COP28, which is now about three months away. So far, summer 2023 has been devastating for climate action: record high temperatures; abnormal wildfires; and some record levels of rainfall. These natural events have, once again, reminded us that climate change is real. There is now increasing pressure on world leaders to act effectively when they meet in Dubai in November. We urged the UK government to: maintain its commitment to the Paris Agreement; protect global food systems, which have been disrupted by climate change; and phase out fossil fuels.
- According to a briefing note leaked to newspapers in July, the UK government is drawing up plans to drop the UK’s flagship £11.6bn climate and nature funding pledge, with the prime minister accused of betraying populations most vulnerable to global heating.
- Additionally, the UK government announced in July 2023 that it will cut at least £85 million of funding from its international climate programs, at a time when the world recorded its hottest month on record.
- In a further blow to maintaining its climate action commitments, Rishi Sunak has announced that more oil and gas wells are to be drilled in the North Sea, a move that has angered environmental campaigners, who say that the government should refuse new licenses. Ministers say permission to drill will be granted as part of a ”careful” transition away from fossil fuels, safeguarding jobs, and the economy.
- We must continue to put pressure on the UK government to honour their commitment to the Paris Agreement and the dangers that climate change poses to people, not just in the UK but all over the world.
- We must urge Graham Stuart, the Minister of State for Net Zero and representing the UK at COP28, to demonstrate climate leadership by championing the achievements that UK businesses and individuals have made towards advancing to net zero. In addition, we should remind him that the UK is projected to exceed its Carbon Budgets; significant work is needed to follow through on their commitments and create truly cohesive and integrated approaches to combating and preparing for climate change.