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UN lays down challenge to UK over human rights

This opinion piece is over 7 years old
 

Carole Ewart of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland says more people need to become human rights advocates

Advocates for human rights will be inspired to get active following publication of the UN Human Rights Committee’s assessment of UK compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN has thrown down a challenge to the UK government - if you go ahead with abolishing the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), you should replace it with something stronger and broader.

If the UK government proceeds with its plans and has a consultation on a bill of rights, then civil society across the UK has a great opportunity to argue for the inclusion of economic and social rights as well as more robust civil and political rights and why not just embed environmental rights too. Abolishing the Human Rights Act could become a bigger nightmare than initially imagined by those focusing on the devolution hurdles.

So the big question remains – why bother abolishing the Human Rights Act when there is no real appetite for reform, huge constitutional hurdles to navigate, global experts urge caution and we live in a world order where we should be treasuring and promoting human rights rather than undermining their global significance? We can only hope that common sense and practical politics will prevail. But what are the chances of that!

UN lays down challenge to UK over human rights

We need more of you to become active human rights advocates so that our individual and collective voices are heard by politicians across the UK

Carole Ewart

The UN committee’s 12 page report cites evidence to justify making recommendations for action which apply to the UK as well as the Scottish Government as ICCPR rights cover reserved and devolved issues: bans on discrimination, cruel and inhuman treatment, forced labour, arbitrary arrest or detention; and rights including the right to an effective remedy if your rights are breached, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to hold opinions, respect for the rights of others, the right to peaceful protest, the right to freedom of association including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of your interests.

The committee is keen that the UK should have the right systems in place and wants to UK to follow other countries and allow people to make an individual complaint to the UN about an abuse of their ICCPR rights, after they have exhausted domestic remedies. The UK is not so keen on that idea.

To our UK government’s credit, the Human Rights Committee expressed its “appreciation for the opportunity to renew its constructive dialogue with the UK’s large delegation”. I think it is reasonable for the UK government to enter into a similarly respectful and positive dialogue with us across the UK who want the Human Rights Act to remain and for it to realise its potential. That potential is as yet unrealised as there is too little evidence that human rights are mainstreamed in the lives of the population.

Keep the Human Rights Act is the first "ask" of human rights advocates and the second "ask" is to give the Human Rights Act practical effect. We need more of you to become active human rights advocates so that our individual and collective voices are heard by politicians across the UK.

Carole Ewart is co-ordinator of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland.

 

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