Religious intolerance no excuse to cut UK aid – NGOs

Liam Fox, former defense minister under Prime Minister David Cameron. Fox suggests to withheld budget support in countries that fail to show religious tolerance and equal rights. Photo by: Chatham House / CC BY

Last December, U.K. Secretary for International Development Justine Greening decided to freeze 21 million pounds ($33.6 million) of aid to Rwanda over allegations of involvement in the instability in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

And a year before, in July 2011, Greening’s predecessor Andrew Mitchell also withheld budget support to Malawi due to human rights concerns.

Now Liam Fox, former defense minister under Prime Minister David Cameron, is suggesting to pursue the same policy with countries that fail to show religious tolerance and equal rights  values, he says, that are “essential part” of British culture.

“We should make clear that religious tolerance and equal rights are an essential part of our culture which we insist in being replicated in the recipient nations and if they are not, then our aid policy should be re-evaluated,” Fox was quoted as saying at a Conservative Party meeting this week.

He named in particular Pakistan as an example of a top recipient of U.K. aid but where “religious tolerance is becoming less and less.” In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom described religious intolerance in Pakistan as the worst in the world.

“I see Christian minorities being persecuted and I wonder why we are not using the leverage of our aid to say we actually expect you to show greater religious tolerance to many of these groups,” noted Fox.

Not the solution

Many aid groups have been raising concerns of human rights abuses in several countries receiving large chunks of British aid.

Just two months ago, a U.S.-based think tank released a report detailing human rights abuses allegedly linked to DfID-funded projects in Ethiopia. But Fox’s comments were not well received by U.K NGOs, which, while agreeing such actions are unacceptable, are against cutting aid to nations where people need it.

An aid official working in Pakistan who spoke on condition of anonymity argued Fox’s proposition would only aggravate the situation for people already suffering from indiscrimination and intolerance.

“If you stop aid and don’t work on these issues, it will create more problems for the people,” the official argued, adding that the same issues also happen in rich nations part of the European Union. In that case, “we can’t say this country shouldn’t be part of the European Union because it discriminates on the basis of race, color and religion.”

A spokesperson from the U.K. Aid Network agreed and said that while the United Kingdom should of course champion human rights and equality, “past experience has taught us that using aid as a tool to impose our own values and economic conditionality is both inappropriate and ineffective.”

“Working with developing countries in partnership, respecting their culture and history as much as we respect our own, is much more likely to effect long-term change,” added the spokesperson. “That does not mean we simply accept human rights abuses … but that there are better ways of addressing this.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.