UK Government should be scrutinised over human rights

The Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have today urged the United Nations to scrutinise the UK Government’s intention to replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights.

The Commissions’ are giving evidence with the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the UK’s human rights record as part of the Universal Periodic Review process, where the UK is examined every four years by the Human Rights Council.

Professor Alan Miller is in Geneva to deliver a statement on behalf of the three Commissions.

He said today that the Human Rights Act is an essential legal protection and that international organisations like the United Nations should scrutinise and challenge plans to scrap the Act.

Professor Miller said: “Both the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission are concerned that the current UK Bill of Rights process may undermine existing protections in the Human Rights Act 1998. We are therefore calling for the UK to retain the Human Rights Act, and to consider additional measures to incorporate other international human rights treaties. The Human Rights Council should closely examine the UK Government’s plans, and challenge what these would mean for people’s every day lives and their ability to realise their human rights.” 

Read the submission in Word format.

Professor Miller added: “The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission expresses grave concern with regard to the failure of the UK to respond to recommendations raised in UPR concerning Northern Ireland. It recalls that the UK’s international human rights obligations apply across its territory and with equal effect in areas that have devolved authority. The NIHRC recalls to the UK government that it is not too late to correct the gap in the response in time for their appearance before the Human Rights Council in Geneva”

The joint statement to the Human Rights Council also warns of growing concern over public spending cuts.

The submission reads: “We are concerned by the effect of the economic crisis and austerity measures adopted by the UK Government on [the] enjoyment of human rights in the UK. We are particularly concerned with their potential effect on women, children, ethnic minorities and disabled people. We recommend that the UK Government ensures it respects human rights in budgetary decisions and carefully monitors the impact of policy on disadvantaged groups through equality and human rights impact assessments.”

The joint submission also calls on the UK government to:

  • Develop a plan to implement the recommendations which come from the Universal Periodic Review. The UK government should timetable when actions would be taken, with civil society and the commissions holding the government to account on its delivery. 

  • Sign and ratify international human rights treaties and protocols guaranteeing the right to individual petition. For example, the UK has still not ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which children would be able to bring allegations of human rights violations directly to the responsible UN Committee.

  • Adopt the many specific recommendations made to it including improving legal safeguards for those in immigration detention, acting on the UK’s record of violence against women and children in society, conditions of detention, especially for children and people with disabilities, and tackling discrimination, especially against members of ethnic or religious minorities.

At an earlier meeting in May other UN member states made several recommendations to the UK government, including that it:

  • Develops a National Action Plan on Human Rights.

  • Remove reservations or interpretive declarations to international human rights treaties.

  • Incorporate international human rights standards, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, into domestic law.

  • Comply with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

  • Reconsider the continued legality of corporal punishment against children and raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

  • Guarantee economic, social and cultural rights and ensure that human rights are taken into account in the context of economic austerity, particularly the rights of vulnerable groups and in the context of welfare reform.

  • Take effective measures to combat all forms of violence against women and increase efforts to combat human trafficking.

  • Recognise the human rights to water and sanitation.