Skip to main content Skip to footer

Reflections on our Rights In Recovery Leadership Programme

Earlier this year, I was part of the BIHR team working on our Rights in Recovery Leadership Programme with Scottish Recovery Consortium (SRC) delivering a human rights learning programme to people working in lived experience recovery organisations across Scotland.

Designing the Programme

Many of our participants came to the programme having not learnt about human rights before. The first thing that we discussed together as a group is that human rights are not an abstract notion, or a nice idea. Human rights are the law. By asking public bodies to uphold people’s human rights, we are not asking for favours but we’re asking them to do their legal duty. 

The programme focused on human rights law but it had to be relevant to the human rights situations that our participants encounter every day, which is why co-production of learning materials with SRC leads was so important.  In our planning meetings with SRC, they identified different situations that people in recovery often face. With this in mind, we selected different topics for the programme and explored the human rights implications of them in each session. For example, one session focused on the human rights implications of residential rehabilitation and homelessness. To give participants the practical tools to challenge duty bearers long after programme end, we provided 'cheat sheets' and a detailed coursebook. We used stories gathered from the recovery community in Scotland, so that our participants could see how human rights can be applied in real life. At BIHR, we are not experts in recovery, we are experts in the practical application of human rights law and that's why when creating the content, we listened to people who were and shaped the sessions based on their expertise and contributions. This resulted in a dynamic and interactive programme, and applying human rights became automatic to participants.

Knowledge is Power

This was an exciting project for BIHR as it involved us working with and learning from a community that we hadn’t worked with before. People in recovery told us that they are often forgotten about, or seen as undeserving of rights. This rhetoric is damaging, both to society and the individual concerned. As we were told in one of our first sessions, "people in active addiction don’t think they deserve rights, let alone have them".  We understood very early on that for this programme to have the impact we wanted it to have, we needed to ensure that our participants' confidence increased at the same time as their knowledge. At BIHR we want to empower people and community groups so that they know that they have rights. What was vital to this programme for us and SRC, was to ensure that our participants knew that human rights are universal. It is an essential characteristic of human rights- everyone is entitled to them, no matter who they are or what they may have done. 

This programme, and other capacity building programmes like it, are really important. The people who took part in this 10-part human rights learning programme told us that they’ve experienced situations before where they recognised that something wasn’t right but felt powerless to do anything about it. Together with SRC, our aim was to empower these individuals to know not only about their human rights but also the human rights of the people in recovery they work with, across Scotland. At BIHR we believe that knowledge is power- if you don’t know what your human rights are, how can you possibly challenge duty bearers when they fail to uphold your rights? We often hear from participants in our workshops, both staff and individuals, how they have previously recognised that something wasn’t right but didn’t have the language, knowledge or experience to challenge this. We hoped that this programme would provide our participants with this, plus the confidence to challenge any decisions that aren’t rights-respecting. We hoped they would be able to use this, not only for the people they work with but also for the people they may encounter in their everyday life. The recovery community is diverse and welcoming; we wanted this programme to be impactful to anyone who may be part of it. 

Throughout the programme, participants told us how they had started using human rights to challenge the injustice faced by the people they work with. The participants told us that if they’d been empowered with this knowledge whilst they were in active addiction, their lives may have been very different. As the participants learnt about their human rights, they become passionate about protecting them, especially when they heard about the UK Government’s Rights Removal Bill. These participants are now Rights in Recovery Leads, they are human rights change-makers. Not only are they using human rights in their everyday work, they are also taking positive action to protect our Human Rights Act, for example by joining our RITES Committee.

The Impact

The best part of this programme has been witnessing the change in our participants. From not really knowing about human rights, to being able to recognise what rights are relevant, whether any restrictions are lawful and how to challenge them is an important change, the impact of which we will see with time. Before we’d even finished the ten sessions, participants were telling us about how they were using their newfound knowledge. From not knowing the Human Rights Act existed to telling us how Article 3 (right to be free from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 8 (right to private, family life, home and correspondence) are intrinsically linked is a powerful difference. Confidence is an essential part of being able to enforce human rights and I really believe that our Rights in Recovery Leads now have the confidence to use human rights to help people in recovery across Scotland.

Hearing the Rights in Recovery Leads reflections on their progress during the last session was invaluable. This was when I really understood the journey we’d embarked upon. 

Human rights are about making small changes in small places. To someone whose rights are being breached, these changes are anything but small and can have a profound impact on their lives. That to me, is what human rights are all about. It’s about the lightbulb moment of “I know how to use this information”. Throughout this programme, I watched this happen countless times. I know that our Rights in Recovery Leads are going to use their newfound knowledge and confidence to change lives and that together with SRC, our programme has made a difference where it matters most, in those "small places, close to home". 

About the author


Human Rights Officer

Stay up-to-date

Get our newsletter

Get monthly updates on UK human rights law and our work, resources and events sent straight to your inbox.