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International Human Rights Day Debate: 08-12-22

“We cannot lecture the world on human rights when the UK is watering down its own rights.”

Saturday 10th December 2022 was the 74th International Human Rights Day. On Thursday 8th December, on the same day as BIHR’s Human Rights Day 2022 event, Independent MP Margaret Ferrier led a debate in Parliament.

Margaret Ferrier MP

Margaret opened the event by talking about the, often underestimated, impact of human rights on all our lives and how important it is that we continue to stand up for human rights for everyone.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, then emphasised the need to educate young people on the Human Rights Act. This was a key finding by the Independent Human Rights Act Review panel (IHRAR) set up by the UK Government in 2020, which strongly recommended a focus on civic, constitutional education. Far from suggesting scrapping the Human Rights Act (as the Government hopes to do with its Rights Removal Bill), the IHRAR panel found “a need to convey to the public that the rights in the HRA were their rights and not just the rights of those who were unpopular or vilified in the media”.

Jeremy warned that by walking away from human rights legislation, we leave “a terrible legacy for the next and future generations”.

Patrick Grady MP

Patrick Grady, Independent MP for Glasgow North, emphasised that fundamental human rights are just that – “fundamental and intrinsic to every single human being”. He went on to explain that “when they are denied to one person, we’re all diminished and we all have a responsibility to seek justice and restoration for all”.

This has been a key concern with the Rights Removal Bill and the UK Government’s plans to weaken human rights, such as the right to private and family life, for certain groups of people, ultimately weakening it for us all. Read our right to private and family life briefing here.

Bambos Charalambous MP

Bambos Charalambous, Labour MP for Enfield Southgate, shared this sentiment, elaborating on the ways the right to protest has been weakened by the current Government and supported Jeremy Corbyn in saying, “we cannot lecture the world on human rights when the UK is watering down its own rights.” Read our blog on The Human Rights Act and protest here.

Bambos Charalambous MP

Bambos also talked about the human rights of people seeking asylum and how respect for human rights “must be the fundamental starting point for any government”. Read our guest blog on Why Our Human Rights Act Matters to Migrants Organise here.

Anne Marie Trevalyan MP

Anne Marie Trevalyan, Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed and Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, then said the Government is “committed to being a force for good in the world with human rights”. She said their approach is anchored in the “enduring belief in freedom, openness and the rule of law”.

However, this is in stark contrast to the provisions in the Rights Removal Bill, which would, among other things, introduce an extra barrier to bringing court cases against the UK Government effectively weakening the rule of law. You can read our guest blog on Why Our Human Rights Act Matters to the Rule of Law by the Public Law Project here.

Anne Marie Trevalyan MP

She also recognised the UK Government has a duty to “promote and defend our values of equality, inclusion and respect both at home and abroad.” The Human Rights Act means that the duties placed on governmental bodies to pro-actively promote human rights are not just values but law and enforceable in UK courts. However, the Rights Removal Bill would destroy this duty, helping the Government to evade accountability.

Anne Marie also talked about the importance of the Government working with campaign groups and individuals to “advocate for human rights everywhere”. The failure to do this was at the heart of Pembrokeshire People First’s challenge to the Government when it did not release accessible versions of its public Human Rights Act Reform Consultation. It has also been an ongoing concern raised by BIHR, Sir Peter Gross (chair of the IHRAR panel) and everyone who has seen how the Government ignored responses to the consultation as well as the findings of IHRAR, which found no real case for change.

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