Heading North- The Human Rights Tour Lands on Shetland

By Guest Blogger:  Deirdre Flanigan, Communications and Outreach Co-ordinator, Scottish Human Rights Commission


On 3 October the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) teamed up with the Highland Equality Forum (HIEF) and the DSC_0184Highland LGBT Equality Forum for the Human Rights Tour event in Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote about human rights being meaningful in small places was prescient. Shetland is an island at the very tip of Scotland and has a population of just 22,400. The public and voluntary sectors, as well as a vibrant grouping of civil society groups, are active in promoting a human rights culture on Shetland, and the BIHR Tour event was very well attended.

I had flown in the day before from Edinburgh to see what unique challenges Shetland faced in human rights protection and promotion in the context of Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights. I was hoping that the tour event would give me a greater sense of how human rights apply in peoples’ everyday lives on the islands.

DSC_0170This unique event offered training on LGBT issues and human rights. The morning session, delivered by HIEF and Highland LGBT Forum, included a presentation from Police Scotland. I particularly enjoyed a task which required participants to organise a timeline of key legal moments in fulfilling the basic human rights of LGBT people. This was a timely reminder that we are very much in the early stages of achieving universal human rights for everyone.

It was encouraging to hear from Police Scotland about their approach to investigating and prosecuting hate crimes in the Highlands and Islands. There clearly was a joined up approach being taken by the police, the rest of the public sector and activists and campaigners to promote equality and human rights.

The afternoon session included training delivered by BIHR and was a very accessible run through of the rights contained in the Human Rights Act (HRA). The group appreciated that care had been taken to present a Scottish perspective and included information on how the HRA applies with regard to the Scotland Act.

We were split into groups and given case studies of real life scenarios and asked to identify which rights were engaged. This activity was a very empowering experience as it demonstrated that identifying issues related to human rights required not years of legal training, but rather the application of common sense and a sense of respect for human dignity.

Later we hooked up by satellite to another BIHR tour event taking place simultaneously in York. Stephen Bowen, Director of BIHR, was there and was ready to answer our questions. There was a fascinating discussion about the media’s perception of human rights and the current political threat to the HRA. He was also told, in no uncertain terms, that he must get on a flight soon and visit the Northern Isles! An offer of Shetland hospitality that he should definitely take up given that the community there is extremely motivated to embrace human rights in their everyday lives and their work.

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