Right Here Right Now heads to Swansea

By BIHR Volunteer and Guest Blogger: Stacey De Souza

CRC Swansea

Last Thursday and Friday, BIHR made a guest appearance at the Wales Observatory on Human Rights of Children and Young People. The conference was titled “Rights Here: Right Now” and it was just that: two action-packed days of awareness-raising on children and young people’s rights in Wales. It was extremely well attended by academics and practitioners as well as children and young people who helped organise and facilitate the conference. Apart from the BIHR workshops, the workshop hosted by the Funky Dragon (the Welsh Children and Youth Assembly) was probably the one which I enjoyed most. Due to a withdrawal of  funding, on September 30th the Funky Dragon will cease to exist. Understandably, the sadness in their faces turned to tears by the end of their 45 minute presentation, leaving us all with a sense of remorse and gratitude for their achievements over the past 12 years.

On a brighter note, both BIHR workshops were a success. The sessions focused on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). On Thursday, the young people in attendance were put to the test in a series of CRC quiz lightning rounds. Each round was a little bit harder than the next. We kicked off with questions about the articles in the Convention and ended with questions on who the major players are in the protection of the CRC. The chocolate prizes that were up for grabs facilitated a fierce but friendly competition. It was a pleasant surprise to see how much these young people actually knew about their rights and the processes which surround the Convention. To top things off, we ended the day with a bit of bunting to celebrate the 25th birthday of the CRC and its poll position as the most popular human rights convention in the world!

The fun continued at Friday’s workshop with an even greater turn out. Graphic facilitator Ramon Carr joined us at a workshop titled “Map my Rights: A Forward Strategy for Wales”. Each team was tasked with producing a list of recommendations for the Welsh Government on how they can protect the rights of children and young people The teams were also asked to suggest ways that the Welsh government can eliminate obstacles and provide support to help engage young people’s with the CRC and the forthcoming examination (expected 2017). We put our drawing skills to the test with the aid of Ramon as we transferred our written thoughts into visual representations. In between the fits of laughter, there was meaningful and passionate discussion as those in attendance shared what rights they felt they lacked as young people.

The highlight for us all I think, was the presentation of the graphic facilitation from Friday’s workshop at the final plenary of the conference. Those who presented stood confidently before the entire conference as they voiced their shared opinions on what the Welsh Government needs to do next to safeguard children’s rights. It was a proud and powerful moment for everyone in the room.

Whilst young people have so much to say, they are often not given the space to express it. Conferences such as “Rights Here: Right Now” offer the perfect opportunity to bring the voices of young people and children to those with decision making powers. In my opinion, if there is to be progress in the protection and execution of the CRC, more events like this one must be hosted to ensure that this gap is filled.

Human Rights Here and Now: young Londoners tell us what they think

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By BIHR guest blogger Sosa

 

Summer holidays are in full swing and yet, on a cloudy day in August, BIHR were getting ready to host the London leg of the Human Rights Here and Now project. With funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), BIHR designed three young people’s events which focused on engaging young people with their rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The events provided a way to foster much needed conversation concerning young people and their rights by providing a crash course on how the Convention aims to protect young people’s rights. The day was also a great opportunity to inform them on how they could get their voices heard on the issues that matter to them.

At the Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch there was a room filled with eager young people who had come to the event from as far as Norfolk. The day was packed with talks and activities and was accompanied by a live artist depicting the day’s events on a large canvas. After a quick icebreaker the young people were shown the articles from the CRC and this was used as a starting point to launch discussion on the rights of young people.

The knowledge and energy that the young people took from the day was particularly evident in the presentations the young people made to a mock committee. Many of them, initially shaky and shy, really came into their own. For example, one young person used her experience of growing up on Traveller sites to inform her understanding of human rights. Constantly having to move because of the changing law and improper implementation, she described how many in her situation had little education or faced bullying and discrimination in schools. Another young person spoke about the lack of opportunities to participate in human rights mechanisms. How, despite events such as this, young people aren’t given a voice in human rights discussions. All of the groups spoke about a desire to improve opportunities to engage and set a goal of actual CHANGE.

We then delved into a bunting making session, with many teens (and BIHR staff and volunteers) rekindling their nurseryDSC_0625[1] years by playing with glitter glue and felt tip pens. Yet, in the midst of such fun an important plea was made: the young people need more. Although some were armed with information that was impressive to hear, sadly many of them weren’t.   Many were not clued up on what rights were afforded to them at all, and this event provided basic learning, not improvement of knowledge they already possessed. Many had issues they wanted to voice, almost all that would be helped by encouraging and facilitating their engagement with human rights discussions.

Threats to human rights laws and institutions isn’t just political bluster

The start of this week was a busy (and worrying) one for anyone concerned with the protection of basic human rights in the UK. It began with a weekend prelude. It was reported that Theresa May, our Home Secretary, is considering making withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) a Conservative Party manifesto promise in the next General Election. Followed by Chris Grayling, our Justice Secretary and the Minister responsible for human rights, writing that he cannot conceive of a situation to put forward the reform he thinks necessary without scrapping the Human Rights Act and starting again.

The protections we helped build

If the promises of reported withdrawal from the ECHR and scrapping the Human Rights Act are true, then we have reached a profoundly disappointing moment in UK politics. UK withdrawal from the ECHR would risk unravelling an important and internationally-recognised system of rights protections, one which provides a vital safety net for us all. What Winston Churchill and his contemporaries understood when they created the ECHR system was the need to place limits on the exercise of power, to ensure basic levels of dignity and respect for all, to provide a rule book for Governments. This is what human rights are all about.

Human rights are relevant here at home

Parliament and political leaders of all colours understood this when they passed the Human Rights Act (HRA), a simple and particularly neat piece of drafting which accounts for the UK’s constitutional arrangements. Importantly, the HRA does many of the things its critics are seeking to remedy. For starters it ensures access to our rights is no longer limited to litigation in the European Court of Human Rights. Rather because of the HRA our cases can now be heard in our courts here at home. Perhaps more important, but little known, is duty the HRA places on public authorities not to act incompatibly with our rights (under section 6 HRA). What might at first glance appear as a somewhat technical obligation is in fact pretty simple. Human rights are about ensuring Governments treat us with equal dignity and respect, and the HRA means this is about the way we are treated by NHS professionals, social workers, the police, local authority officials, and all the various other “everyday” ways that we interact with the State.

Whilst endless column inches and political sound-bites have been dedicated, often inaccurately, to extreme cases, what is rarely heard is how human rights are helping people across the country to live dignified and respectful lives, enabling them to secure accountability when powerful officials overstep the line. How many times do human rights stories feature examples such as the mother who used the law to stop the authorities from removing her child simply because she lost her sight, or helping carers access respite, to stop older and disabled people having ‘do not resuscitate’ orders simply placed on their hospital files, or how the law helped end inhuman treatment of homeless people and ensure victims of crime are not denied justice by refusals to prosecute perpetrators of abuse.

It’s not about the law alone, our institutions matter too
As the week began we moved from rhetoric on the law to very real threats to institutional frameworks. In the House of Commons MPs were debating proposals which would effectively permit secret courts in certain cases. In many ways human rights simply add force to those ancient principles that have shaped our legal system for centuries. Principles of the rule of law, equality of arms and that it is not enough for justice to be done it must be seen to done. Yet amendments which would have secured important safeguards were defeated, and the Bill presents very worrying proposals.

At the same time the Lords were scrutinising the removal of an important purposive duty from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions. Institutions are important; the law alone cannot achieve the kind of society we want to live in, nor can we simply rely on individuals seeking redress for poor treatment in courts. We need institutional frameworks which help us to achieve prevention and not just cure. This is why we believe the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s general duty is important, it places people’s fundamental aspirations centre-stage, emphasising the basic desire of each of us to be treated with dignity, equality and respect. It focuses on the difference that the EHRC should be making to people’s lives, making it clear that the EHRC must go beyond tick-boxing and bare compliance and speak to people’s sense of shared values, the diversity of our experiences and the common desire to live in a dignified, fair and respectful society. That is why we supported an amendment by Baroness Jane Campbell and Baroness Ruth Lister and others to keep the duty rather than ditching it as the Government suggests. Thankfully, the peers agreed and overwhelming backed the amendment, safeguarding the EHRC’s general duty for now.

The Rule Book for Governments Applies to the UK too

So all in all a mixed bag and that was just the end of Monday! Whether or not the threats to take us away from the Convention or scrap the Human Rights Act are political bluster or a soon-to-be-reality, whether it is legally sound or a nonsense is not really the point. A modern democratic society such as ours must operate by the rules rather than seeking to change them when faced with a result we do not like. This is not only about the example we set on the international stage – one rule for us and another for you – it is about the kind of society we want to be here at home.  Whilst our human rights laws were born out of the devastation of the Second World War, in a very different, they were built to last and to endure. The fact is that human rights challenges remain here at home from inhuman treatment and deaths in our hospitals, to proposed secret justice in our courts, and that rule book for Governments remains as valid now as it did in Churchill’s time.