SNAP is back!

The destiny of human rights is in the hands of all our citizens in all our communities.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Following the horrors of World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt and a host of representatives from around the world created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This seminal text laid the groundwork for a wealth of human rights treaties that followed its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1948. 

Some 45 years later, in 1993, the UN also introduced the concept of national human rights action plans, calling on all countries to write and use their own to improve human rights. There are now around 40 such plans across the globe, including here in Scotland. 

So when I heard the Commission’s theme for this year’s Human Rights Day – “What does a rights based Scotland look like?” – my first thought was: “It’s got a human rights action plan – SNAP!”

What is ‘SNAP’? 

SNAP is Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights. 

We are on a journey to advance human rights in Scotland, and SNAP is our roadmap. I’m delighted to say that SNAP is now getting back on track, after an intense period of research and development that began in late 2017, but was disrupted – as so many things have been – by the pandemic.

I’ve recently been appointed as the "SNAP Secretariat Lead" responsible for setting up an independent Secretariat to guide and support Scotland’s next SNAP – known as "SNAP 2" Thanks to interim hosting by the Commission and Scottish Government funding, I’m on a short secondment from the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland. As a "loud and proud" human rights defender, I am thrilled to be involved in this important work.  

Scotland’s first SNAP ran from 2013 to 2017. During this time, over 40 organisations and individuals worked together on more than 50 human rights actions – from amplifying the voices of rights holders, to improving housing conditions in Leith. 

Then – as now – SNAP is the only action plan of its kind in any part of the UK. 

SNAP is a collaboration

Human rights belong to everyone, and SNAP is for everybody in Scotland.  

SNAP is a partnership between people with direct experience of human rights issues, Scottish civil society and the public sector. It’s been internationally praised for this collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach. 

However, even though no single person or group is solely accountable for SNAP, it does need to be guided and monitored. This is the role for a new, independent Leadership Panel that will initially be co-chaired by the Commission and Scottish Government. 

The SNAP Leadership Panel will have around 25 members, at least half of which will be people with direct human rights experiences (‘rights holders’). Other members will include representatives from civil society organisations and ‘duty bearers’ (those with responsibility for human rights). 

Together, working as equals and with support from the Secretariat, Leadership Panel members will develop and oversee SNAP. Once formed, the Panel’s priority tasks will be to finalise and launch SNAP and help secure longer-term resources.

I’m currently working with the co-Chairs to assemble the first SNAP Leadership Panel. Given the vital role it will play in SNAP’s success, it’s important that we get this right. Our aim is make sure the Panel is accessible, inclusive and rights based. More details about the SNAP Leadership Panel will be announced soon.   

The UN notes that one of the main goals of a plan like SNAP is to shift human rights activity from the “realm of idealism and rhetoric” into practice and routine. 

Strategic action to address real issues

The UN notes that one of the main goals of a plan like SNAP is to shift human rights activity from the “realm of idealism and rhetoric” into practice and routine. This is very pertinent for us in Scotland, where the welcome increase in rights-based language is not always matched by peoples’ everyday experiences. SNAP has responded to the UN’s recommendation and will be a comprehensive and structured approach to human rights planning, action and monitoring. 

SNAP is based on substantial national consultation and robust evidence about human rights issues in Scotland. It directly addresses these issues in a coordinated and cross-sectoral way. SNAP actions will cover a wide range of themes – from rights at work, to privacy; from the environment, to faith-based rights. 

Non-discrimination and equality – a fundamental human rights principle – runs through SNAP like a stick of rock.

Looking to the future

I’ve already mentioned two immediate priorities – convening the SNAP Leadership Panel, and launching the next SNAP. But what then? 

After SNAP is launched, the Leadership Panel will monitor the actions’ progress; identifying new ones when others are achieved. There are medium-term and long-term outcomes and indicators against which SNAP’s success can be measured. 

SNAP is a significant ongoing activity to help Scotland fulfil its international human rights obligations. Another is the proposal to incorporate international human rights treaties into Scots law. SNAP is firmly rooted in these same treaties, and provides a ready-made way to deliver and monitor a new human rights law in practice, so it makes a real difference in people’s lives. 

I started this blog by noting the adoption of the Universal Declaration after the Second World War. We now find ourselves emerging from the clutches of COVID-19, another global, life-changing event, from which it will take many years to recover. It’s never been more important that we put human rights at the heart of everything we do, not just what we say. SNAP is back to help make that happen.  

To find out more about SNAP, visit the website –