Meeting with UK Joint Committee

The HRCS was invited to meet with the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, in Edinburgh on 14th January.  Justice Scotland and the Muslim Council of Scotland were also in attendance for the session and we seized the opportunity to discuss issues with a UK perspective:

  1. A strategic response from Parliament to the Concluding Observations (COs) published by the United Nations eg on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights published in 2015 and the forthcoming COs from the Committee on Economic and Social Rights expected in Summer 2016.  Also the need for a strategic review and response to the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UK’s performance.
  2. Monitoring and evaluating progress on the UK Government’s policy on ‘Business and Human Rights’.
  3. Threatened abolition of the Human Rights Act and the need for a focus on the enforcement of existing rights.
  4. The Trade Union Bill, its consequences and its impact.
  5. Blacklisting and the delivery of recommendations from the Parliament’s report of March 2015, as well as role of public procurement in using companies that do not blacklist workers.

We were pleased to have such a positive dialogue with the Committee. http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/human-rights-committee/

Threatened Consultation Delayed Again

The Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, has today announced that the government’s consultation on changing our human rights laws has been delayed until 2016.

After the general election in May 2015, the government announced that it would “scrap” our Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights”. Whilst the Ministry of Justice – the department responsible for any reform of human rights laws – had initially stated that a consultation on the plans would be launched in September and then autumn 2015, the Secretary of State for Justice has today announced that the consultation paper will now be published in “the new year”.

The delay is as a result of a request from the Prime Minister to include in the consultation paper additional questions on the constitutional role of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK. The status of the UK Supreme Court has caused some controversy in Scotland in the past eg over the Cadder case when it ruled that depriving a detained person from seeing/speaking to a solicitor when s/he was deprived of liberty was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  The Court’s judgement was logical given that the European Court of Human Rights had already ruled on the matter in the case of Salduz v Turkey (2008) http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-89893

The First Minister has declared that the SNP would oppose abolition of the HRA at the UK Parliament and that the Scottish Government opposes abolition of the HRA.  It is inconceivable that the Scottish Parliament will give legislative consent for abolishing the HRA in respect of devolved powers – powers which will of course increase after the Scotland Bill is passed – as it has repeatedly voted to support both the HRA and ECHR eg in November 2014.

Conflicting stories about the consultation have been consistent: in October 2015 it was reported that the Government was planning to fast-track the creation of a British Bill of Rights, so it could to get the contested legislation passed by the summer of 2016; MPs were reported as thinking that Michael Gove, would delay the Bill until later in this Parliament, because it warranted only 12 words in the Queen’s Speech in May 2015.

As purdah for the Scottish Parliament elections is due to begin on 23rd March 2016, it will be interesting to see if the consultation takes place around this time making it an issue in the Holyrood election campaign and thwarting any activity by civil servants on the matter.

Public Information Campaign Launched

The Scottish Government has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of human rights for everyone.  Fly the Flag for Human Rights #FlyTheFlag  is designed to help people better understand how human rights are relevant, used on a day to day basis and how they help build a fairer and more progressive society.

The HRCS has published information on the practical benefits of human rights and how they fit in with everyday life in Scotland.  See our Article 10 project materials at https://hrcscotland.wordpress.com/resources/article-10-project/

The public information campaign coincides with the launch of new research carried out by You Gov that has shown that one in five Scots believe that human rights are for minority groups only. The online survey of 1026 interviews,  of people aged 18+, show that  44% say they have no bearing on their everyday life, 67 % agree they are a positive thing, and that they’d take action (68 per cent) if they felt their rights had been violated.

This survey is disappointing but reinforces previous findings.

We all have a role to share what we know about human rights and encourage people to think positively about how human rights can be respected, protected and fulfilled to make Scotland fairer.

For more information see the Scottish Government Human Rights Campaign Toolkit The campaign will run from 18th November until International Human Rights Day on 10th December. For more information go to www.onescotland.org

The UN asks questions of Scotland and the UK

The Westminster Government faces a serious of awkward human rights questions following action by the United Nations. The UN has directed the Government to address a ‘list of issues’ ranging from welfare cuts and reliance on food banks to blacklisting, inequality and the erosion of trade union rights.

Members of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland gave evidence at the UN earlier this month and those concerns will now be the subject of formal dialogue between Geneva and London.

These developments coincide with the UN celebrating its 70th anniversary on 24th October 2015 and promoting minimum, human rights standards that people across the world should enjoy.   The ‘list of issues’ which the UK needs to answer includes how the UK will enshrine all the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.UN 70

HRCS spokes person, Carole Ewart said:

“The UK has agreed with the UN that we would enjoy a minimum set of economic, social and cultural rights. As so many people know from everyday life, there is a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality so we highlighted the increase in poverty resulting from the government’s austerity measures and welfare reform, the demonistaion of human rights by politicians and the UK undermining international human rights standards by abolishing The Human Rights Act 1998. Our government has promised the UN that it will progressively realise economic and social rights to the maximum extent of available resources but has failed to do so and the poorest are suffering.”

Peter Hunter, UNISON Regional Manager and HRCS member said:

The Trade Union Bill is a direct attack on trade unions and the services we provide to members. Scottish industrial relations are particularly harmonious and CoSLA and the Scottish Government are standing shoulder to shoulder with us against this union-bashing law. Trade unions are key human rights defenders and there is widespread criticism of the Bill on Human Rights grounds so the UN intervention couldn’t come at a better time”

The delegation to the UN in Geneva on 14th October included UNISON Scotland, Unite the union, Close the Gap, Engender and Nourish Scotland.  The HRCS would like to thank UNISON for the grant which enabled it to deliver a written submission to the UN and attend the session in Geneva.

The UN list of issues can be found at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fGBR%2fQ%2f6&Lang=en

Details of the UN 70th Anniversary can be found at  http://www.un.org/un70/en

First Minister Delivers Human Rights Lecture

THIRD ANNUAL JIMMY REID MEMORIAL LECTURE

“WORKER’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS”

SPEAKER

Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP

First Minister of Scotland

Chairperson: Grahame Smith, General Secretary, STUC

Tuesday 24 November at 6.30pm

Bute Hall, University of Glasgow, doors open from 5.30pm. Free entry by ticket only.

In honour of worker’s leader, Jimmy Reid, Nicola Sturgeon will address the issue of why worker’s rights are human rights and how this can be used in defence against the Tory Governments attacks on workers economic, political and social rights in Scotland. The First Minister will be welcomed by Professor Anton Muscatelli Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Glasgow University and, following the speech, there will be a question and answer session. Professor Gregor Gall, Director of the Foundation, will make a short contribution on its work programme to conclude the event. The Foundation has just published a policy paper on this issue, available on its website.

Jimmy Reid was installed as elected Rector of the University in the Bute Hall in 1972 where he made his famous “The rat race is for rats” speech. His archives are maintained by the University and some will be on display prior to the Lecture. The Foundation is grateful to the University for their assistance in organising the Lecture.

VISIT the WEBSITE at www.reidfoundation.org for more information.  All the tickets for this free event have now been allocated.

Enjoying Economic and Social Rights?

The HRCS has submitted evidence to the UN on the delivery of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Scotland.  Our submission follows on from a successful member meeting hosted by the STUC on 10th August.  We were confined to 20 pages and that proved a challenge as we covered issues of equality, the Trade Union Bill, ‘contract’ labour and the UK Government’s attempts to abolish the Human Rights Act.  ICESCR Report Final

Thanks to members and supporters for their efforts and to UNISON for its financial support which made this work possible.

The next stage is a pre-sessional working group meeting at the UN, to agree a ‘list of issues’ on the UK and we have been collaborating with colleagues in London and Northern Ireland about what impact we can make on the deliberations.  We will keep you posted!

Training Key Agents

The HRCS is pleased to promote HELP, which is the Council of Europe’s European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals. It is aimed at training judges, lawyers and prosecutors from across Europe, creating topical courses using distance and blended learning on a variety of human rights issues (e.g. business and human rights, asylum and the ECHR, the fight against discrimination and xenophobia, data and privacy rights) from the member states. The HELP Secretariat liaises with ‘info’ and ‘focal’ points in the member states, appointed experts who liaise with HELP and the national training institutions such as bar associations and law societies. HELP also trains national trainers to tailor the courses to the national legal orders and to adapt new courses.

Everything you need to know about HELP is explained in the video link below and on the HELP website: http://helpcoe.org/ and to a new, short video explaining the programme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI0XnD9Xlic&feature=youtu.be

The HELP annual network conference this year (an event where best training practices are shared and ideas for future training and methodologies are discussed), had the theme ‘Inter-professional interactions in human rights training’.  There, legal professionals’ interactions with other professionals, e.g. psychologists, journalists, prison guards etc., were discussed. The outcome was that training will be developed by HELP to have an inter-professional aspect. This is explained further in the Conference report: http://helpcoe.org/sites/default/files/uploads-by-country/2015%20HELP%20Conference%20Report_FINAL.pdf

It is so important that judges, lawyers and prosecutors are well versed in human rights law in order for them to protect it effectively but also at how it is good for them to be sensitive to the work of other professions and to learn from their expertise e.g. for a psychologist/journalist to know the basics in asylum law but also for the lawyer to know best how to interview the claimant sensitively to their psychological needs and the journalist to cover the issue in an informed manner.

Scotland could benefit from this programme, as part of a Council of Europe member state, the UK.   The UK has very recently appointed a liaison, Simon O’Toole (sgot@sgotoole.com) from the English and Welsh Bar Association is a member of the HELP Consultative Board. He aims to liaise with the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland and is working on ways to bring together the six Bar Associations within the UK to work on human rights training with HELP.  The Scottish Government can assist the programme and encourage the Scottish bar associations and The Law Society to work with HELP and get some HELP courses running in Scotland. They could even suggest appointing a focal or info point in Scotland, given our different national legal order.

Human Rights Defenders

a Blog by Jo Ozga, Scottish Women’s Aid

In the voluntary sector we don’t tend to describe ourselves as human rights defenders when asked what kind of work we do. But a recent invitation, prompted by the HRCS, from the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders to attend a regional consultation in Florence made me consider my own role, and that of voluntary sector colleagues, in defending the rights of the people we work with and represent.   M Furst group photo

The Declaration of Human Rights Defenders is the first UN instrument that recognizes the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) as well as their need for better protection. Many HRDs working in different parts of the world risk torture, imprisonment and other forms of violence and intimidation in carrying out their work. The Declaration recognises that women human rights defenders are at particular risk – targeted both for their work and their gender.

The Declaration purposefully uses a broad definition of a human rights defender to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. It recognises that this work can address any human rights concerns which can be as varied as, for example, summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, female genital mutilation, discrimination, employment issues, forced evictions, access to health care, and toxic waste and its impact on the environment. HRDs can be active in supporting issues such as women and children’s rights, rights to food, adequate housing, access to healthcare and education – all issues many of us work with on a daily basis. The Declaration explains that we can all be human rights defenders if we choose to be – but that defenders have responsibilities as well as rights, for example in having a commitment to international human rights standards, a belief in equality and in non-discrimination.

At the consultation session I was lucky to meet an incredibly interesting and committed group of people from all over Europe as well as Israel, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the USA. They work in different capacities as human rights defenders, on a wide range of issues such as the rights of migrants, refugees and LGBTI people and defending the rights of people working on environmental issues or challenging corporate accountability. Jo of SWA

While we experienced different difficulties in our work we shared a number of issues in common that challenge the work of HRDs in western countries. For example, in the extent to which counter terrorism laws can restrict or criminalise the work of human rights defenders, restrictions on peaceful protest and assembly, increasing constraints on funding for charities and NGOs involved in work seen as ‘political’, in moves to restrict the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and the ways in which human rights defenders can be stigmatised and defamed. In the UK we can see this reflected in the proposed scrapping of the Human Rights Act, disinformation about human rights in sections of the media, the introduction of the ‘Lobbying Act’ and the vilification of women who speak out on women’s rights. All of this underlines the importance of the work human rights defenders to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This session was the seventh and final consultation that Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders was holding, he will report on his findings to the UNHRC in September. A new website for HRDs will also be launched in September/October this year which will include practical tools and information.

Promote Human Rights and Defend the HRA – Meeting

Come along to the Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) meeting and workshop on Monday 10th August 2015 from 10:00 to 13:00 at the STUC, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow G3 6NG

Details

Human rights advocates are keen to learn how to protect and promote human rights domestically, after the UK Government announced that it will abolish the Human Rights Act (HRA) and introduce a Bill of Rights instead. This HRCS meeting, hosted by the STUC, will focus on respecting and extending existing human rights in the UK and will offer evidence that attempts to curb or restrict our rights raises big problems under international law.

There will also be a practical workshop on delivering UN recommendations to the UK, on a range of human rights:

  • On the UN recommendations, of July 2015, on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) across the UK.
  • On how far the UK has complied with UN recommendations of 2009 on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).  Civil society can make a submission to the UN by 28th August 2015 and the HRCS is gathering information to include in a report and we want to hear your suggestions.

The Scottish Government will be in attendance for part of the meeting, so we know what plans they have to roll out the UN’s recommendations on ICCPR and how we can ensure maximum impact.

It is free to register for this event – go to Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/workshop-on-iccpr-and-icescr-tickets-17952805324

To access the UN’s report on UK compliance with the ICCPR go to the HRCS website https://hrcscotland.wordpress.com/category/news/

To access the UK Government’s 6th Periodic Report on ICESCR, of June 2014 go to http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fGBR%2f6&Lang=en

For more information on monitoring UN treaties in the UK go to the EHRC website http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/our-work/human-rights/international-framework/monitoring-and-promoting-un-treaties

Follow and support the HRCS @HRConsortiumSco

hrcscotland@gmail.com

www.hrcscotland.co.uk

UN speaks out on HRA abolition!

The UN Human Rights Committee has published ‘Concluding Observations on the UK’ following the recent hearing in Geneva on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  The full document can be found at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2fC%2fGBR%2fCO%2f7&Lang=en

The first principal matter of concern is abolition of the Human Rights Act 1998:

“… Finally, the Committee is also concerned about a reported plan to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a new Bill of Rights for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that such a development will weaken the degree of protection afforded to the rights enshrined in the Covenant, within the domestic legal order  (art 2)  

The Committee then states that the UK should:

“(a)           Engage in consultation with stakeholders at all levels to identify ways to give greater effect to the Covenant in all jurisdictions that fall under its authority or control or with regard to which it has formally undertaken to implement the Covenant.

(b)           Ensure that the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland incorporates all the rights enshrined in the Covenant and expedite the process of its adoption;

(c)           Ensure that any legislation passed in lieu of the Human Rights Act 1998, were such legislation to be passed, would be aimed at strengthening the status of international human rights, including the provisions of the Covenant, in the domestic legal order and provide effective protection of those rights across all jurisdictions.”

The HRCS will be contacting members and supporters shortly about a meeting to discuss the Concluding Observations in more detail, and plan ahead for their implementation in Scotland. The same meeting will also be an opportunity to plan ahead for the HRCS submission on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which should be submitted for 28th August 2015.  We look forward to working with members on these projects.