Stonewall has provided evidence to a UN body about the watchdog.
The UK’s human rights watchdog is under Special Review and faces the loss of its seat on a United Nations council after LGBTQ+ charities raised concerns.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been facing questions from equalities groups over its lack of political independence from the Tory Government.
The EHRC was created to promote and enforce equality and non-discrimination laws in England, Wales and Scotland (on UK-wide law) in 2007 following the passing of the Equality Act 2006.
As a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), the EHRC is accredited by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), a UN body.
GANHRI’s Special Committee on Accreditation conducts Periodic and Special Reviews of NHRIs to ensure their compliance with the Paris Principles, which sets out how NHRIs need to operate to fulfil their important mandate – with an emphasis on political independence, a pluralistic approach, and cooperation with civil society groups.
As such, civil society groups are invited to provide evidence submissions to Periodic and Special Reviews, and are able to raise concerns outside of these processes.
Following concerns from LGBTQ+ and human rights groups across Great Britain about the EHRC’s approach, Stonewall has submitted evidence on a number of occasions in the last two years to GANHRI regarding the EHRC’s compliance with the Paris Principles.
Stonewall was one of 30 charities who wrote to GANHRI earlier this year to raise further concerns.
Last October, GANHRI, issued a lengthy, and pointed, list of improvements they wanted to see from the EHRC following their periodic review.
These recommendations came amid a backdrop of concerns that the composition of the EHRC’s board is politically motivated, and multiple complaints from civil society organisations that the EHRC was failing to represent, or even consider, the interests of vulnerable groups such as LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and migrants and asylum seekers.
Robbie de Santos, Director of Communications and External Affairs (he/him) at Stonewall, said: “Britain’s LGBTQ+ civil society and human rights organisations have expressed their concern about the political independence of the EHRC and its approach to trans people’s rights for some time. While we now await the full report from the Special Committee on Accreditation at the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, we welcome the Special Review and we will continue to support it with evidence.
“At its periodic review in October 2022, the EHRC received a number of clear recommendations regarding the independence and effectiveness of its work in respect of the rights of LGBTI people, and their cooperation with LGBTI organisations. Within months of receiving these recommendations, they were already demonstrating that they were falling short, which then prompted Stonewall and 30 LGBTQ+ and human rights organisations to provide evidence of their concerns once again to GANHRI.
“All countries need effective, independent National Human Rights Institutions to promote and protect human rights. With anti-trans hate crime and prejudice rising, and Britain sliding down the international rankings on LGBTQ+ rights, LGBTQ+ people in Great Britain need a more robust and independent human rights watchdog. We hope that this Special Review will give the EHRC the scrutiny and recommendations it needs to play the part our communities deserve.”
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chairwoman of the EHRC, said: “We take seriously our duty to protect and promote equality and human rights for everyone. That includes considering, carefully and impartially and on the basis of evidence, how the rights of one person, or group, might be affected by the rights of another.
“We are disappointed that we will have to defend our accreditation status in this way and remain very confident that we will be able to respond robustly to any questions the SCA may have.
“We have already written to the Committee to highlight inaccuracies in the submissions made against us, and to strongly reject claims that we are not compliant with the Paris Principles.
“We take great pride in our independence from government and continue to demonstrate our impartiality through our willingness to robustly challenge them.
“At the EHRC, we keep our eyes on our first public duty, which is to protect and promote equality and the everyone’s rights – not merely those that shout the loudest.”