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We must all fight to keep the Human Rights Act

This opinion piece is over 8 years old

Carole Ewart, coordinator of Human Rights Consortium Scotland, believes it is our duty to protect UK human rights laws

Carole Ewart, coordinator, Human Rights Consortium Scotland
Carole Ewart, coordinator, Human Rights Consortium Scotland

Sometimes you only miss something when it goes. Just when you need it, it’s missing.

This could happen to our fundamental rights given the re-emergence of political initiatives to abolish the Human Rights Act of1998. If we are passive and depend on others to act, we are doomed because these others are not a huge group: only 22% of the population actually support human rights with 26% against and 41% conflicted.

How have we arrived at a situation where human rights are the problem rather than the solution to inhumanity, unfairness, illegality and arbitrary decision making?

Human rights are what we each own, equally. They reflect my values of fairness, equality, dignity and respect and I know they offer me security and protection when my government acts badly. Human rights provide a minimum set of standards that unite countries around the world where too many rights continue to be regarded as luxuries or privileges that can be withdrawn when times are tough. So what is there to oppose?

There is a problem because many people cannot relate to human rights domestically: they know what human rights look like in Burma, Syria and Egypt but cannot relate them to everyday situations in Scotland. A media focus on applying human rights to criminal justice cases but not to health, housing and social care stories means coverage is skewed. We need organisations to assert and talk about human rights more to spread the gains across society.

How have we arrived at a situation where human rights are the problem rather than the solution to inhumanity, unfairness, illegality and arbitrary decision making?

Sloppy journalism is another challenge as propaganda is confused with fact. Prisoner voting rights has become a toxic issue because the judgement is wrongly reported and facts are ignored. For example a Westminster select committee recommended in 2013 the government should introduce legislation to allow all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less to vote in all UK parliamentary, local and European elections. Ergo, it’s not just the European Court that says change is needed.

The new UK cabinet is minus key supporters of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This creates a chain reaction: abolition of the Human Rights Act, which gives ECHR domestic effect, is likely to be a manifesto commitment of the Conservatives going into the 2015 General Election. If elected and implemented, this would create a shift in the balance of power between people and government – we would be weaker without being able to assert our rights domestically. Globally, the UK will give comfort to those regimes that agree human rights are inconvenient and can be compromised.

Evidently we cannot be complacent and we need to be much more active about telling positive stories about how human rights have empowered the weak, protected the vulnerable and changed unfair decisions. Human rights need to be enhanced not diminished. We need to target the 41% in the middle ground by explaining that human rights are our rights – that means persuading your family, friends, neighbours as well as politicians to protect what we cherish.

Carole Ewart is a public policy and human rights consultant, and coordinator of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland. Follow her on Twitter @EwartHumanRight.

Attend the Human Rights Consortium Scotland's Advocates for Human Rights meeting on Monday 18 August 10.30-12.30 in the STUC, Woodlands Road, Glasgow.



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