Human rights are there for all of us – and we all need to stand up for them

Equally Ours’s Clare Moody on our recent parliamentary event.

Human rights belong to all of us – they’re the basic rights and freedoms that we all rely on every day. This shouldn’t be a contentious statement in twenty first century Britain but the current Government and a number of Conservative backbenchers are constantly pushing the idea that having rights is somehow dangerous. That’s why Equally Ours held an event in Parliament about why human rights matter to all of us.

Of course, they don’t talk about rights as something people rely on across all our communities. The narrative that’s constantly pushed is that human rights legislation is solely being used by ‘others’ and that those ‘others’ having rights is somehow dangerous for the rest of us.

Equally Ours, alongside other organisations, is determined to change this narrative.  We went to Parliament, the place where the British law that enshrines our rights, the Human Rights Act (HRA), was created so we could give people’s stories a platform. 

This is so important right now because the Government has introduced the Bill of Rights Bill (aka the Rights Removal Bill), which will repeal the HRA if it becomes law. There are also repeated reports that the Government will withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the underpinning of so much of the HRA and the last resort when Governments or other public bodies fail in their basic task of protecting people.

Our members, Age UK, The Children’s Society, Disability Rights UK, End Violence Against Women coalition, MIND and the Runnymede Trust, all spoke vividly about their everyday experience of the difference having legally enforceable human rights makes.

For older people, the biggest impact is not about taking a legal case but the fact that human rights law makes public bodies, including care homes, safeguard their dignity and safety. At the opposite end of the age range, 45% of human rights claimants are children – a statistic from the Government’s own impact assessment. The HRA is critical to protecting vulnerable children in care and to bringing public agencies together proactively to prevent exploitation and grooming. 

The pandemic gave us an appalling insight into how disabled people’s human rights can be quickly relegated to being optional, in particular through the implementation of non-consensual Do Not Resuscitate Orders. If the HRA was taken away disabled people would have even fewer legal safeguards, with severe limitations to their protection from discrimination and greater risk of their rights being ‘traded off’ without any thought given to the consequences.

All too often Government ministers have tried to imply that the use of human rights laws by ‘others’ is a danger to women. This is an age-old trope and it is also a travesty – women depend on human rights laws to keep them safe. A case brought by two women attacked by the black cab rapist used human rights legislation to make police treat survivors of violent attacks with respect, resource investigations and pursue perpetrators. You might think this would happen as a matter of course, but it needed a human rights case to make it happen. 

Shockingly, it also took human rights legislation to stop the Home Office charging members of the Windrush generation for the right to stay in their own country. And it also protects those who are most vulnerable, people who have been forced to flee from their own countries.

Although the speakers had different examples of how human rights protect people, they all spoke about the same threats in the Government’s proposals:

  • public bodies no longer having to develop their policies and practices to protect people’s rights, enshrined in the HRA
  • the introduction of the idea that people’s rights are conditional, that you should ‘deserve’ your rights by allowing past behaviour to be taken into account
  • putting barriers in place to taking a case when things have gone wrong – a ‘permission’ stage, determining whether a breach has caused enough damage,

We can’t count the number of times that our human rights laws have stopped things going wrong but the examples above bring to life the reality that they are regularly used to hold public bodies to account when things do go wrong.  We can’t afford to lose them.

We were very grateful to Ellie Reeves MP for hosting this event. Her comments made clear that the current Government’s rhetoric isn’t the only political view. She pointed out that the peace agreement in Northern Ireland is founded on the ECHR and that it is integral to our union of nations. The evidence through Government consultations and parliamentary committee reports all concluded that the HRA is working well, that it is proportional and it is necessary.

This event was part of our ongoing determination to stand up for our rights. The Government’s attempts to demonise the fact we have rights means there is a platform to talk publicly about rights that have all too often been taken for granted. 

It is up to all of us to change the narrative. Follow us and these organisations on social media, share these stories and many others with your friends and family.  Above all write to your MP to tell them how important these rights are to you.

Human rights protect us all – we need to celebrate them and we need to protect them.

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