Universal Periodic Review 2022: Scottish Government Position Statement

This position statement sets out the action we've taken in devolved areas since 2017 to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of everyone in Scotland.

15. Human Rights Around the World

The Scottish Government expects all states to comply with international human rights law and to condemn human rights abuses wherever they occur. We also place great importance on Scotland being a good global citizen. This means playing our part in tackling global challenges including poverty, injustice, and inequality, and international engagement presents an opportunity for the Scottish Government to share our experiences across a range of policy areas. Through dialogue, we therefore seek to promote international human rights standards in a manner that has practical impact, to demonstrate leadership, to share practical experience of a human rights-based approach to policy-making, and to promote democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental human rights across the world.

A) Promoting Development Overseas

The Scottish Government’s International Development Fund[559] focuses on working in partnership to achieve real and tangible outcomes on the ground. It does not provide any direct funding to governments.

The Fund supported Oxfam’s Claiming Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights project in Rwanda between 2017 and 2022. The aim of this project was to address the gaps related to negative social attitudes and cultural norms that increase gender-based violence (“GBV”) and to improve the limited linkages between communities and service providers of sexual and reproductive health services. The project sought to empower women and girls to ensure they enjoy equal rights and live free from discrimination and violence. Over the course of the project, 438,500 community members engaged in community advocacy campaigns for ending violence against women and girls, there was a 34% decrease in sexual and gender-based violence (“SGBV”) incidence demonstrated through case studies and key informant interviews, and 94.4% of the targeted women and girls have an increased understanding of their rights to report and address SGBV related violations.

Until 2019, the Scottish Government also provided Police Scotland with up to £400,000 per year to support the specialist training carried out with police forces in Malawi and Zambia to tackle GBV and improve child protection. In 2018-2019, Police Scotland also provided specialist training to senior investigating officers in Malawi and Zambia who manage responses to GBV and child protection. During this time, a successful 6-month national media campaign was also delivered in Malawi. This activity was designed to reach rural communities with the key message that “Protecting Children is Everyone’s Responsibility”. Police Scotland officers jointly presented some TV and radio broadcasts with their Malawi colleagues, with strategically-placed billboards in Zomba, Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Police Scotland teams were not able to deploy to Malawi and Zambia during 2020 and 2021, meaning this project was paused. Police Scotland resumed their programme in Malawi by conducting a scoping visit in May 2022.

The Programme for Government 2020-2021[560] set out our intention to review our approach to international development to ensure we focus our work on areas where we can make the biggest contribution and difference in our partner countries. The overarching ethos emerging from this review in March 2021 is that the Scottish Government will speak out with clarity of purpose and compassion, in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law[561].

B) Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship Programme

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders defines human rights defenders as people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights[562]. This encompasses the full spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

In 2018, Scottish Ministers agreed to establish the Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship Programme in partnership with the University of Dundee, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders and other contributors[563]. The Fellowship enables human rights defenders in difficult conditions from other countries to spend several months in Scotland, where they can rest but also continue their work, develop their skills and extend their networks in a place of safety. Each Fellow is required to complete an independent research project, which is intended to have direct application to their human rights work upon their return home. The Fellows have access to the University of Dundee library and can attend lectures, workshops and seminars. They also receive training in security and self-care as well as in advocacy and research techniques to develop their skills and build capacity. By sharing the skills, experience, and contacts they gain during the Fellowship programme, Fellows can contribute to long-term change in their own communities.

An Advisory Board composed of representatives of the Scottish Government, Scottish universities, and civil society organisations makes practical arrangements, selects candidates, and ensures oversight of the Fellowship. The Scottish Government liaises closely with the University of Dundee, civil society, and other Scottish Government officials to arrange opportunities for engagement with the Fellows and their areas of interest.

We are now entering the fifth year of the Programme and have welcomed Fellows from countries including Zambia, Russia, Belarus and the Philippines. In October 2022, the First Minister met with the UNSR on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and the incoming Fellows from Kenya and Indonesia to discuss the vital role of Human Rights Defenders[564].

C) Feminist Approach to Foreign Policy

Scotland has a strong commitment to advancing feminist policies internationally. For example, we have already:

  • partnered with UN Women to launch the Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement on Gender Equality and Climate Change at COP26 (see Section 9(B));
  • embedded gender in the new approach to the Climate Justice Fund (see Section 9(B));
  • supported the Women’s Environment Development Organisation since 2017 to provide training for women from least-developed countries and small island developing states to engage in United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks such as COP26;
  • contributed to the international women, peace and security agenda since 2016 through the Women in Conflict 1325 Fellowship[565];
  • provided funding to Comic Relief to support programmes that empower women and girls in Zambia, Rwanda and Malawi[566];
  • undertaken a review of our International Development programme, with a commitment to establish a new equalities programme, including a Women and Girls’ Empowerment Fund[567];
  • showcased internationally our world-leading action to address period poverty through investing over £33 million since 2017 to fund access to free period products[568];
  • recognised the disproportionate impacts of international trade on women in our Vision for Trade[569].

However, there is more that we can do to ensure feminist principles are embedded in all elements of our international policy considerations. That is why in the Programme for Government 2021-2022[570] the Scottish Government committed to developing a feminist approach to foreign policy.

Over the last few months, we have been speaking to experts in this area, based in Scotland and abroad, to help us shape our approach. In the coming months, we will organise workshops with key stakeholders, such as community and third sector organisations, experts by experience, and academics amongst others – including stakeholders from the Global South. This stakeholder engagement will help us answer key questions about how best to develop and deliver a feminist approach to foreign policy. As part of this work, we will also review Scottish Government policies and programmes where they have an international dimension to ensure that they reflect a feminist approach, recognising the limitations of reserved policy areas.


Email: ceu@gov.scot

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