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To give up hope is to give up fighting for progress


Emma Hutton says that support for human rights is stronger than ever in Scotland

“Together, let’s rejuvenate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, demonstrate how it can meet the needs of our time and advance its promise of freedom, equality and justice for all.”

This was the call to action on this year’s International Human Rights Day on 10 December, marking 75 years since the Universal Declaration was first adopted.

Like many, I had mixed emotions about marking the occasion. At a time of genocide, war, rising populism, deepening economic inequity and worsening climate injustice, it felt hard to be a cheerleader for an international human rights treaty that remains unrealised for so many people.

But to give up hope is to give up fighting for progress.

For all of us in the third sector, working with determination to advance equality and justice, solidarity in these tough times is more important than ever. So it was a privilege to join allies from across civil society at the Scottish Parliament recently for a reception hosted by Kaukab Stewart MSP, convenor of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee.

The Joyous Choir from Maryhill treated us to some beautiful singing, reminding us to never give up.

And it was particularly uplifting to hear from two young people from East Lothian, who have been gathering evidence from their community about where human rights standards are not being met, and then challenging their local council to do better. And all while still at high school! They’ve been inspired and supported by the fantastic team at Making Rights Real, Scotland’s grassroots human rights organisation.

Alongside colleagues from the Human Rights Consortium Scotland, we shared our thirteen collective calls to action to make human rights justice a reality at the event. These include radical reform of the legal aid system and putting all international human rights into Scotland’s domestic law. Unless rights can be enforced in the courts, they risk being no more than aspirational statements of intent.

As part of this joint campaign, we’re also calling for action to ensure that everyone knows their rights and how to claim them. New research from the Scottish Human Rights Commission shows that almost eight in ten people don’t know where to go when they have a query about human rights. How can Scotland fulfil the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights if people can’t easily get advice and support about their rights in the first place?

The good news is that popular support for human rights is stronger than ever in Scotland. The same research shows that nearly half of people aged 16 and over in Scotland support human rights, compared to just 10% who oppose them. This has gone up since the last time polling was done in 2017.

It’s also encouraging to see that people who support human rights are more likely to think the Scottish Government should do more to improve them. 45% of supporters of human rights agreed the Scottish Government should do more to improve human rights, compared to just 7% of opponents of human rights. And while 62% of opponents of human rights said the government should give less consideration to rights, only one per cent of supporters of human rights agreed.

So it is deeply heartening to see that our collective efforts to raise awareness of human rights, to share experiences, to make rights more accessible, to help build understanding, are paying off. All of that is helping to build support for rights, and in turn, helping to create a collective push for stronger action by those in power, and greater accountability.

In the months and years to come, it is clear we will need to keep that effort up.

It’s easy for those in power to make rhetorical commitments to human rights. What matters is whether those warm words are matched by practical action.

I’m writing this column as we await publication of the Scottish Government’s Budget for 2024-25. In a challenging fiscal context, will that rhetoric be matched by an approach to allocating resources that puts people’s rights front and centre? Will fiscal choices about where to invest, how to raise revenue and where to make cuts, be based on whose rights are most at risk? And will we see tangible progress on fair funding to enable the third sector to deliver our essential services in a sustainable way, protecting and advancing people’s rights across the country?

Let’s hope so, for the sake of all our rights.

Emma Hutton is chief executive of JustRight Scotland, a human rights legal charity based in Glasgow.



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