Three Years on and Human Rights are Alive and Well in Belfast!

Guest Blogger- Peter McReynolds

At its most basic level human rights are standards for the state to follow to ensure dignity is ensured for all, regardless of race, gender, creed and sexuality. Having obtained a Masters in human rights law in 2012, I have seen the complexities that exist within an overarching set of principles that try to influence and guide the 190+ states making up our world today.

It is within this setting that myself and a group of participants from a variety of backgrounds, had the pleasure of attending the BIHR Human Rights Tour on the 26th of September 2013. Belfast was the 8th leg of 17 and it was great to see us so high on the list with our eyes focused on the future and not the past! The event itself provided a fascinating opportunity to brush up on our knowledge and learn new skills that could be applied in our respective fields. Having attended events like this before, I was expecting a similar experience of presentations followed by general discussion. However, what made this event stand out, was the inclusion of real stories from ‘the field’ and an overall bringing together of the variety of experiences across the United Kingdom.

Togetherness is something that can be forgotten about in the U.K today, and in the so called ‘age of austerity’, it is something we should perhaps remember more often. This was apparent from the beginning of the event which brought together a variety of sectors to strengthen the audience.  There were representatives from the public sector, third sector, academics, local community groups and myself, representing The Green Party in Northern Ireland; a party committed to human rights and social justice. The beginning was dedicated to establishing a common ground for us to work within by understanding the key human rights laws at an international, regional and local level. As well as this, we learnt more about the instruments that offer redress to victims of human rights abuses. In the case of Northern Ireland, this was the Human Rights Act and the European Court of Human Rights. The latter being a Court that Northern Ireland knows well, given that so many cases from the region was brought there to set precedent.

A second significant conflict that was addressed at the event and challenged us as passionate individuals was the idea of law vs. practice.  We listened to two excellent presentations by the Equality Coalition, a body which strives to ensure equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland, and the Participation and Practice of Rights Project (PPR), a grass roots organisation from Belfast, working to protect the marginalised. Two separate bodies which operate on two different sides of the same coin. The PPR representative praised the work of the Equality Commission, but also reminded us that human rights aren’t just something which secures rights, but allows them to be fought for every day. Indeed, this was food for thought for myself, as human rights can be seen in an abstract manner within academia and it is all too easy to forget what it is we are trying to achieve.

The day was brought to a close with case studies and reflections upon the future for human rights in Northern Ireland. The case studies operated as a vital reminder of the abuses that can be allowed to occur in economic down turn. Moreover, they served as an important catalyst for the stressing of a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. This potential document, which has failed to materialise 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement, is more required than ever. It is something the audience felt inspired to listen to, and has inspired me to become more involved in raising the argument for all to hear, in my daily life!

In short, the day was a thought provoking success. The organisers prepared a day which was insightful, informative and engaging. Moreover, they succeeded in their aim to end the day with attendees leaving the event inspired by what we had seen and heard. I was one of them, someone who is aware that things are starting to get better from the top down, but being fought for from the bottom up. Whilst bringing rights to life in Belfast may be a slow process, three years after the BIHR Human Rights Tour first visited, it’s clear that the enthusiasm is alive and well in Belfast!

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