23 March 2018

This week the BIHR team has spent a combined total of 33 hours on trains, travelling hundreds of miles. We have met people from all walks of life, advice workers in North Wales, local councillors in Norwich, students in York, mental health workers in Chester and children's advocates in Edinburgh.

My first BIHR Human Rights Tour was in 2012. The Tour was a new thing for BIHR back then, it was our second year and we were still amazed at the level of interest in learning about human rights in local communities. We approached our first Human Rights Tour with trepidation in 2011, tentatively booking town hall style venues and wondering if anyone would show up. In that first year over 1000 people booked; the message was clear, people want up to date accessible information about human rights law in the UK, where it comes from, how it works, and how we can use it to create change at a local level.

Delivering Human Rights Tour events is one of the best bits of my job, mainly because of the people I meet and the conversations I have; nothing beats face to face community engagement and discussion. In contrast to some of the work we do with public services and the voluntary sector, where the conversations focus on human rights in relation to their specific work, people can ask us anything about human rights at a Tour event; and believe me they do! This year we’ve had questions about assisted dying, Guantanamo Bay, Grenfell, and Aang San Suu Kyi amongst others. It keeps you on your toes as a facilitator, just when you think there are no more surprises someone throws you a curve-ball with a question about whether quarantining someone with an infectious disease is a lawful restriction on a person’s right to liberty (thanks York!).

The Tour is now 6 years old, and whilst it is still a challenge to secure sustainable funding, it is clear that the appetite for learning about human rights is still very much out there. The format has developed and we focus on different issues every year. As of last year we incorporated the Human Rights Tour into our annual March for Human Rights campaign – this year’s is the start of a 2018 programme of activities to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At a time when it can be easy to feel a bit gloomy about the future of our human rights laws, it’s been refreshing to have a celebratory tone to this year’s events. 70 years of universal human rights is something to be proud of, and whilst some politicians and parts of the media have expressed skepticism about human rights, what our Human Rights Tour shows is that there is lot of support for human rights out there in local communities the length and breadth of the UK.

The conversations have changed; this year has been dominated by Brexit and the human rights implications of the UK withdrawing from the EU. Back in 2012 I never imagined I would be having those discussions. As I write this on the train home from our last Tour event for this year in Edinburgh, I wonder what conversations we will be having at our Human Rights Tour events in 5 years time, and what the world will look like then.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is for sure, those of us who believe in our common humanity must speak up and celebrate the role of universal human rights in people’s everyday lives here at home. You can be part of the 2018 celebrations by signing and sharing our digital birthday card for the UDHR here, and BIHR will take your message of support to the UK parliament on the 10 December, Human Rights Day.