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Weekly Human Rights News: 08-03-24

This week’s human rights news includes our Easy Read guide to the European Convention on Human Rights and an update on the new Rwanda Bill.

We co-produced a new Easy Read guide to the European Convention on Human Rights

We're pleased to share our new Easy Read guide to the European Convention on Human Rights, co-produced with RITES Committee member Lucy. Lucy is a Citizen Champion in Community and Engagement at Pembrokeshire People First, a charity run by and for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism.

The guide answers to commonly asked questions such as:

  • Was the ECHR affected by Brexit?
  • If we have the Human Rights Act, why do we need the ECHR?
  • What happens if the UK leaves the ECHR?

We shared our second SENDIASS blog discussing the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment

Article 3 of the Human Rights Act protects individuals from any treatment by a public official/authority that is inhuman or degrading. In our latest SENDIASS blog, Human Rights Officer and former SENDIASS advisor Phoebe discusses where this right might be at risk for children with high care needs. The blog covers restraint and seclusion, residential settings and practical steps advocates can take.

News from Elsewhere

People seeking asylum are taking the Home Office to court over the use of a military site as accommodation

This week was a big week for the House of Lords regarding the Safety of Rwanda Bill, with the Bill scheduled on both Monday and Wednesday for hearings and around 48 amendments (changes) to be debated.

Monday 4th February saw the Lords make significant changes to the UK Government proposals. Overall, the Lords backed five changes to the Bill, which included ensuring it complies with the rule of law. Notably, the biggest change was stating that Parliament cannot declare Rwanda to be “safe” until the accompanying Treaty is ratified (formally agreed). This is because the Treaty includes additional safeguards, such as considering the special needs of survivors of modern slavery and trafficking and ensuring people are not sent back to countries where their life is threatened.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the European Court of Human Rights was created after World War II to “give a fallback where domestic law was not doing the right thing, by linking it to international law and ensuring there was a stop that said, “You can do this perfectly legitimately domestically but that doesn’t mean it’s always right“. He raised concerns that through this new Rwanda Bill, “the Government [are] challenging the right of international law to constrain our actions”.

On Wednesday 6th February, the Lords voted to exempt people who have worked with the UK armed forces or Government overseas from removal to Rwanda.

The Lords also voted on other matters including protecting victims of modern slavery and human trafficking from being removed to Rwanda without their consent. Peers also voted for government minsters to publish a timetable setting out when they plan to remove people to Rwanda.

The Government are still confident the Bill can gain Royal Assent in its original form. Find out about the process in our explainer on how laws get made.

Shamima Begum lost her appeal on her citizenship case

In 2015, when she was 15 years old, Shamima Begum was radicalised online by members of the terrorist group ISIS. She left her home in the UK to go to Syria, where she married an ISIS member. In 2019, she was found in a refugee camp in Northern Syria and said she wanted to return to the UK.

In February 2019, the Home Secretary (then Sajid Javid MP) made an order depriving Shamima Begum of her citizenship under Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 because he felt it was for “the public good”. This means Shamima is no longer a British citizen and does not have permission to be in the UK. She cannot re-enter the UK using a British passport.

In February 2023, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) found the Home Secretary had acted lawfully. Shamima was granted permission to appeal this finding and her case was heard by the Court of Appeal, who handed down their judgment in February 2024.

Shamima appealed on five grounds, with one being that the Home Secretary (and then the SIAC) had not properly considered the UK’s duties under the Article 4 right to be free from slavery or forced labour. Shamima argued that before deciding to take away her citizenship, the Home Secretary should have considered whether she was a potential victim of trafficking; whether the State had failed to protect her from trafficking; what duties the State owed Shamima as a potential victim of trafficking; and that the State would not be able to meet those duties if it took away her citizenship. It should then have decided if taking away Shamima’s citizenship was justified in light of those circumstances.

While the Court recognised the possibility that the State could have breached its duty to protect Shamima against trafficking when she was 15 and first went to Syria, it said this was not relevant to the later decision to take away her citizenship. It also said that while the State had to take reasonable steps to investigate trafficking cases, this didn’t extend to bringing someone back to the UK to help if they posed a threat to national security.

The Court also found that the Home Secretary had not failed to take into account the possibility that Shamima had been trafficked as he had the relevant information about her circumstances.

The Court of Appeal therefore dismissed Shamima’s appeal and so she still does not have British citizenship.

Read the full judgment

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