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Insulating Universal Human Rights from the ‘Ethical Foreign Policy’ Threat

Blakeley, Ruth, Raphael, Sam (2014) Insulating Universal Human Rights from the ‘Ethical Foreign Policy’ Threat. In: European Consortium for Political Research Annual Conference, September 2014, Glasgow. (KAR id:42794)


At the heart of the notion of an ethical foreign policy is the assumption that foreign policy can help deliver liberty and security around the globe. Yet, as Conor Gearty has argued, in our contemporary ‘neo-democratic’ world, liberty and security are not the universal goods they are often considered to be. Rather they are selectively granted, and curtailed for those considered a threat to the status quo. Where liberty and security are curtailed, this is often in the name of the universal freedoms that neo-democracies claim to uphold. When the Blair government was elected in 1997, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced that British foreign policy must have an ethical dimension. There has been much debate on whether UK foreign policy under the Blair government can be argued to have been ‘ethical’. The focus of debate has tended to be the UK’s military interventions. Far less attention has been paid to the direct role played by UK authorities, through its intelligence services, in human rights violations under the New Labour and subsequent Coalition governments. This paper seeks to further the debate on the ethics of UK foreign policy since 1997. It does so by offering a detailed account of the UK’s involvement in the CIA’s rendition programme, and shows that the UK was far more involved in rendition and secret detention between 2001 and 2010 than was previously assumed. Threaded through the analysis is an account of the various measures taken by the New Labour subsequent Coalition governments to suppress the evidence of UK involvement. We conclude by offering some reflections on the role human rights organisations, litigators, and investigative journalists are increasingly playing in defending the universalism of rights, for publics that rarely appreciate what is really at stake.

Item Type: Conference or workshop item (Paper)
Projects: The Globalisation of Rendition and Secret Detention
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council (
Depositing User: Ruth Blakeley
Date Deposited: 01 Sep 2014 10:23 UTC
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2022 10:40 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Blakeley, Ruth.

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