Scottish human rights “report card” submitted to United Nations: highlights threats to Human Rights Act, calls for action to tackle rights concerns across Scotland
Human rights protections are at risk from the UK Government’s proposals to replace the Human Right Act, according to a new evidence report submitted to the United Nations (UN) by the Scottish Human Rights Commission.
In its “report card” to the UN’s latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights in the UK, the Commission reiterates its strong opposition to UK Government plans to reduce existing human rights protections by creating a new Bill of Rights. It notes that the UK Government is disregarding its own Independent Human Rights Act Review as well as opposition from the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government, civil society groups, and Westminster’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.
The comprehensive report was submitted to the UN in advance of its Human Rights Council Review of the UK, set to take place in November.
The report highlights widespread support in Scotland for stronger human rights laws and recommends the Scottish Government proceed with legislation to incorporate a wider range of human rights treaties into domestic law.
The report also examines how rights are being protected in practice across Scotland and draws attention to concerns in multiple areas. These include:
A range of concerns persist in relation to mental health care and outcomes in Scotland, particularly a continued failure to meet targets for children and young people. The report spotlights the higher prevalence of mental health issues amongst women, children, young people and those living in deprived areas including the much higher suicide rate in those areas, and says a human rights based approach must be taken to investigating and tackling healthcare inequalities.
The report points out that the Scottish Government is still not on track to meet Scotland’s child poverty targets. Additionally, food and fuel poverty persist and Scottish research highlights a household is made homeless every 19 minutes, many being families with children, contravening the right to an adequate standard of living. The Commission recommends the Scottish Government strengthen efforts to reduce all aspects of poverty.
The report highlights that many concerns raised by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture after it visited Scottish prisons have not been fully addressed, for example, on overcrowding. There are also significant concerns about other detention conditions, including the use of restraints, strip searching of adults and young people, and the increased use of remand, especially for young people. The Commission recommends the Scottish Government take urgent action to meet human rights standards.
Other concerns set out in the report include health inequalities, rights affected by social care, and environmental rights, as well as hate crime, human trafficking and access to justice.
Dr Anna Black is a GP and a Commissioner at the Scottish Human Rights Commission. She comments:
“As Scotland’s accredited National Human Rights Institution, the Commission reports regularly to the UN on both progress and ongoing challenges with human rights in Scotland. Our latest comprehensive review heard from a wide range of people living and working in communities across Scotland. Their evidence, and our own research, makes clear that Scotland still has some way to go before we can confidently claim that human rights are a reality in everyone’s lives.
“Our recommendations to the Scottish Government would help to close this implementation gap in a number of key areas and we urge the Scottish Government to act on the issues we have highlighted.
“We remain extremely concerned about the risks to legal protection for people’s rights in Scotland if the UK Government moves ahead with its proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a watered-down Bill of Rights. We have now highlighted this to the UN, as the Human Rights Council prepares for its November review of the UK’s human rights performance.”
The Commission will now share its findings and recommendations with representatives of UN member states in advance of a meeting in Geneva in September, which will then inform the UN Human Rights Council’s final review in November.
1. The Commission’s report (“Submission to the UN Human Rights Council NHRI Report on the United Kingdom’s 4th Cycle Universal Periodic Review”) draws on extensive evidence from a range of sources, including a series of civil society workshops held during November to December 2021 to gather evidence of some of the key human rights priorities in Scotland. The workshops were co-hosted by SHRC and the civil society organisation the Human Rights Consortium Scotland which has around 140 member organisations. The Consortium has also submitted a combined Civil Society Engagement report based on this evidence.
2. For more information on evidence and sources, please see the full UPR submission on the Commission’s website.