By Sonia Elks
LONDON, May 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Britain appointed its first international ambassador for human rights on Monday to support its work in the United Nations and promote its campaigns around the world.
Rita French will be based in Geneva and will focus on issues including modern slavery, media freedom, and rights of religious expression, the government said.
"Ambassador French's new role will be central to our work in defending human rights across the globe," said Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a statement.
"Standing up for human rights is not only the right thing — it helps to create a stable, more prosperous world," he said.
French, an economist, first worked for the government advising on tax. She served as a senior aide to Hunt during his time as culture minister, overseeing the organisation of the 2012 Olympics.
Delighted to be appointed as the new UK International Ambassador for Human Rights by the Foreign Secretary @Jeremy_Hunt. I will use my role to speak up for human rights on the international stage and provide a voice for those who are not being represented. https://t.co/2QJzTNmMKY— Rita French (@RitaUNHR) May 20, 2019
Human rights groups welcomed the announcement but urged Britain to scrutinise its own record.
"The appointment of Ambassador French is an encouraging one, especially if it helps make the UK's human rights work more principled, consistent, and robust," said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK.
She said French would face "an immediate test" in how Britain responded to current human rights violations in countries including China and Saudi Arabia.
French will support the UK's permanent representative in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, and will act as the deputy permanent representative to the UN.
She will also work with individual countries to help them meet their human rights commitments.
1/2: Great discussion with @HebaJournalist from @newhumanitarian on the excellent work undertaken by them, reporting on crisis and humanitarian situations. pic.twitter.com/DbsFNeH8Bj— Rita French (@RitaUNHR) May 21, 2019
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)