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.

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Human Rights Beneath The Headlines – A view from BIHR’s volunteer Charlotte

Human Rights Benath the Headlines

Human Rights Benath the Headlines

On Thursday the 30 January Leigh Day Law, in London, kindly hosted the British Institute of Human Right’s (BIHR) event Human Rights Beneath the Headlines. With so much swirling about in the UK’s media on human rights BIHR decided to respond to the people who want to know more, who read the headlines and wonder if there is more to the story. The audience were invited to send in questions beforehand or to just throw out their must ask issue on media stories during the Q and A style event.

Helen Wildbore, Human Rights Officer at BIHR, was in the chair and joined by Adam Wagner, Barrister and founder and editor of the UK Human Rights Blog, Benjamin Burrows solicitor at Leigh Day and his colleague Elisabeth Andresen, who have worked on a range of cases including prisoner’s rights, the Dale farm eviction and health abuse issues, plus BIHR’s Deputy Director Sanchita Hosali. The panel shared their expertise to look behind some of the cases most often featured in the headlines, as well as shining a light on those human rights cases that rarely make it into the media. The headlines came from a variety of UK newspapers, broadsheets and tabloids, which ran stories on human rights issues.

Read all about it!

To start we looked at headlines relating to prisoner’s voting rights asking questions such as, ‘Why should judges in Europe be able to force us to give prisoners the vote?’ The panellists looked at the legal issues behind the prisoner voting cases and what the ECHR said in its judgement – that the blanket ban on prisoner voting was unlawful rather than all prisoners should be given the vote. The negative headlines on the issue also highlighted the continued confusion between the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights when it comes to human rights law – some questioned whether this was deliberate or not.

Event panellists

Event panellists

Other headlines posed the question – ‘It seems like the Human Rights Act is really only about helping people who should be punished not given more rights?’ As panellist Adam flagged these aren’t cases about damages, they are about justice, often for people who have been at the sharp end of Government decisions. As Sanchita noted, one of the functions of human rights is to help ensure justice and the rule of law in democracies, to protect us all including those who the majority or those in power might deem unpopular. This was echoed by Elizabeth who spoke about cases on Mid-Staffordshire and other major healthcare failings where the Human Rights Act provides families with a vital way of holding the authorities to account. Again, what human rights helps them with is to get an apology for the infringement of their rights or the abuse of their loved ones. In many cases if damages are rewarded they are often small and only in grievous cases.

Immigration and deportation was another hot topic, with so many headlines leading to questions like ‘Is it true that human right’s stops us deporting people like criminals and from having control over immigration? We need to be able to set the rules.’ The panel spoke about how the figures on these issues are fairly complicated and often not as clear cut as presented. The law allows deportation if a person has been sentenced to more than twelve months. In the experience of the panellists successful human rights cases preventing deportation tended to be the exception rather than the norm and often involved issues like the rights of the children of those involved, including British children. Also, stories on this issues can mix up immigration and migration with deportation based on criminal conviction.

Similar issues about facts and figures were flagged when we looked at the UK’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights. As figures that had been released on the day of the event revealed the ECHR grants very cases against the UK and in general the UK Government does fairly well at the ECHR. The ECHR’s annual statistics showed that 98.85% of the 1,652 UK cases brought to the court in 2013 were declared inadmissible or struck out. Of the remaining cases it found the UK had breached human rights in 9 cases and had not in 10.

The final set of headlines focused on the issue of ‘stories about leaving the European Convention/ Court of Human Rights and maybe having a British Bill of Rights, how would this be different?’ Sanchita spoke about how in these debates in the UK what is often ignored is that the Human Rights Act is important not for its own sake but because it is the promise of international human rights made our law. All the panellist were cautious about debates on a new British Bill of Rights. In principle sounds like a great idea, but is the political climate of negativity about human rights the context for a new law? Some questioned how different a new law to make human rights sound more appealing would be.

Putting the confusion to bed

The event certainly helped to clarify some of the facts behind the headlines. It also gave the opportunity flag up the kinds of cases where the Human Rights Act helps people in everyday life get justice. It was revealing how there are news stories where human rights are of central importance but are never mentioned. Perhaps the media and political debates would be very different if these stories also mentioned how human rights laws help people, such as enabling those subjected to inhuman and degrading circumstances in hospitals and care homes to seek accountability and better treatment. Until then events like BIHR’s Human Rights Beneath the Headlines are very much needed!

NOTE: BIHR would like to thank to everyone who came along, to our panellists and especially Leigh Day for hosting the event.

Human rights Day in Tunbridge Wells

By Guest Blogger: Edward Collins, BIHR Human Rights Champion.

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A little over a month ago, Human Rights Day was celebrated across the globe. I would like to take a (slightly belated) opportunity to briefly tell you about my own Human Rights Day, which I spent working as part of BIHR’s network of local human rights ‘Champions.’ My task was to hold an event in my local community to mark the day. This is what I got up to.

I live just outside of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, and work for a café in the centre of town. The café is a friendly venue with great community links, so I decided to host my event there one evening. I was aware that ‘human rights’ have sometimes suffered a poor public image and I wanted to instigate some debate which might help to change this.

TWHRD 1I organised live music, guest speakers and audience debates, all of which centered around the question, ‘what are human rights doing in Tunbridge Wells?” I put up posters and Tweeted as much as I could to promote the event, and soon we had lots of people coming into the café asking questions and expressing interest.

On the night, we had between 20 and 25 people come from around Tunbridge Wells. It would have been great to have had more, but it was quality not quantity! The number filled the café well and a nice atmosphere was created with an acoustic set from local singer/songwriter James Phippen.

The evening began with the audience dividing into groups of four or five people and we started by trying to define ‘human rights.’ After this, everyone had a go at rating the importance of human right protections in the local community on a scale from one to ten.

The initial scores were fair and people mostly agreed that rights are important, however, there was a tendency to see this importance as simply theoretical. The practical use of Human Rights protections was perhaps seen as less significant in our community because of a lack of awareness of its occurrence. Additionally, negative press coverage may make people feel uneasy about this matter.

Next, we heard talks from representatives from the Citizens Advice Bureau, Age UK and a local homelessness shelter the Tunbridge Wells Churches Winter Shelter.  Each organisation talked about the work they do in Tunbridge Wells and raised awareness about the groups of people they help in our community. The talks were centred around the theme of human rights and it was made clear that numerous groups within our community regularly need help to gain access to basic rights. The representative from the CAB made it particularly clear that, in some circumstances, appealing to the Human Rights Act is the only way to achieve this.

I also talked a little about the practical uses human rights protections. I mentioned their ability to act as a safety netTWHRD 2 but also as general guidelines to help improve standards of care. To back these points up, I gave plenty of practical examples that I had learnt about through the BIHR.

After this, we went back to our debating groups and it was great to see a change in perception about practical human rights protection. People were keen to stress that although Tunbridge Wells is often seen as a ‘well off’ area, there are in fact a considerable number of people living in relative poverty, an issue exasperated by the area’s comparatively high living costs.  The audience was agreed on the importance of not ignoring those who do not have access to various rights we often take for granted.

Thus, we came to the conclusion that the importance of practical human rights protection lies in safeguarding the voice of the more vulnerable members of our community.  As such, to miss the significance of practical human rights protections is to turn a blind eye to these people.

Throughout the evening, there was a lot of interesting and meaningful debate. One particularly lively discussion occurred between the representative from the CAB who specialises in housing needs and a member of the audience who used to be in charge of a local housing organisation. People were also keen to talk about the social responsibility of rights holders towards other rights holders, especially in situations where individual rights come into conflict.

One final positive outcome of the evening was that a local student approached me, wondering whether I might be able to repeat the event at his school. So, with a bit of luck, I will start getting the preparations for that going soon and so continue my human rights ‘championing’ into 2014.

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.

BIHR comes to Glasgow: With The Impending Referendum, Is Scotland More Politically Progressive Towards Human Rights?

By: Guest Blogger Nadia Maloney, Author of The Untold Story blog.

On an unusually bright and sunny morning, during a time of great political challenge, the BIHR Tour arrived in Glasgow, Scotland. This particular tour stop, organised in collaboration with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), was held at Glasgow’s modern and dynamic Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

After the initial brief and lively opening by SCVO, an introduction to the BIHR was then given. This included a short quirky video, which displayed a timeline of events in relation to the way in which human rights initially became apparent and have increasingly developed over the years. A general education of Human Rights law was then further developed with a lecture type presentation followed by a group activity in which the views of a wonderfully diverse group of people were introduced.

 Human Rights are another tool in the toolbox, not a stand-alone thing.” Iain, tour attendee. 

DSC_0158Working in groups tackling very realistic case studies proved to be an extremely effective approach to addressing many of the issues relating to human rights in the UK today. This activity highlighted the complexities and challenges faced today when trying to implement such rights.

The afternoon commenced with discussion of human rights in the political debates surrounding the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. An informative and rather insightful speech was given on Scotland’s National Action Plan (SNAP) by the Scottish Human Rights Commission. As Scotland is a devolved democratic country with responsibility for health, education, housing, and care, it has important obligations and powers to ensure human rights are protected. It was brought to the attention of all attendees that the referendum will have a critical impact on human rights in Scotland and that it is imperative that Scotland maintains a human rights approach to moving forward.

The understanding of human rights, and particularly the political debates surrounding human rights related issues, can be more progressive in Scotland. This can mean there is less need for initial conversations regarding how to overcome negative perceptions about human rights. This allows more time to focus on a conversation about how we can make sure human rights are a part of everything we do and to also have more of a discussion on how we realise our rights.” Sophie Howes – BIHR

The afternoon was aptly concluded with group discussions on different ways the attendees work with human rights, and how related issues can be tackled. We reached a general consensus that the most significant challenges to the implementation of human rights today are the media’s caricature and distortion of human rights and a general lack of a fundamental education of such rights.

I think that more awareness raising is needed to inform people and empower them to claim their rights!” – Janco, BIHR tour attendee

As a law student and a volunteer for Unity Immigration Centre, (among a few other ongoing human rights related DSC_0146projects) I had almost ignorantly assumed my knowledge of human rights was more than a general understanding. This preconception was swiftly eradicated as the day progressed. The diversity of the attendees, their visible concern and keen participation, proved the day to be very motivating and somewhat inspirational for me in relation to my volunteering projects. The enthusiasm of all the speakers brought to my attention the effectiveness of such events and how they help not only to educate and raise awareness, but also to bring people together and promote active advocacy for human rights. Such rights are essential and they are a fundamental necessity for life but are unfortunately viewed by many as a mere luxury. Events such as the BIHR Human Rights Tour have a significant impact on such challenges faced today and provide the tools needed for progression towards a brighter tomorrow for human rights.

‘That’s No Right!’ – The View From Glasgow

By Guest Blogger: Lynn Pilkington, Press and Policy Officer, Glasgow Central CAB, at the Glasgow event, run in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)

When I was younger I was the girl with the red face stamping her feet and protesting ‘but that’s not fair!’ On Tuesday, gathered together in a seminar room in GDU, although now masked by maturity and smart-dress, I learned those around me were of the same breed.

Social justice – a passion that unites us

Those in attendance came from a variety of backgrounds – students, politicians, charity-workers, lecturers, advocates. Different motives led us to be there – work, intellectual stimulation, to get in lecturers’ good books (!) but all of us human beings in search of a society based on civil liberties and respect.

Those in attendance spoke with a common passion for social justice, a passion which fuels me in my policy work with Citizens Advice. A passion which I felt as a law student and member of the Amnesty Society. A passion which wakes me everyday desperate to right all the wrongs in the world.

Breaking down barriers of ‘otherness’

But, as we discussed in our afternoon session with lecturers from the GCU and SCVO Masters in Citizenship and Human Rights, frustration with the status quo needs to then be followed with action. In the closing remarks we heard urges for all of us to work together and pool resources to make the changes actually happen.

Earlier our group had discussed the importance of breaking down the barriers of ‘otherness’ that currently infest our society. We were dismayed by the disconnect between having respect for your neighbour and the burdensome connotations often attached to human rights. We discussed the importance of creative arts projects, such as the musical Glasgow Girls, and the local project Albert Drive, that binds citizens and crumbles prejudices from within.

Scotland the Brave?

Scotland itself was a recurring topic of the day. Some started the day with the belief that our country is greatly hospitable to human rights . As the day went on, however, and attendees from across the globe gave their views, we were humbled into realising we still have a lot of work to do on our culture of human rights. Social justice may not be currently ‘pouring out the taps like water’ but we did recognise that the collective Scottish instinct of ‘That’s no right!’ (a new campaign our discussion group founded that day), a great starting point.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission spoke of their action plan to turn our good intentions into good practice and howScotland bunting we could use the upcoming opportunity of the referendum, no matter the outcome, (although audience members from the ‘Yes’ campaign might have advocated otherwise) to carve a forward-looking, mature and human-rights based approach in Scotland.

The future?

After Tuesday I feel that my simmering passion is ripe to bring about practical change to bring society closer to social justice. Is this the idealism of youth? Or, perhaps, an overdue realism that we can no longer go on underrating the value of human rights? Watch this space.

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!

Human Rights Tour Stop #6: I soon realised the day was really relevant to my day job at a housing association

Guest Blogger: Amy Lythgoe – Trustee Refugee Welcome Trust / Digital Marketing Manager: Bolton at Home

On one of those days where you’re wondering why you’re spending your day off at a Human Rights seminar, the availability of reasonable priced parking outside the door of the venue was the first hint that this would be a good day.

Realising human rights are about my work

At the initial refreshments, where that “first day of school” feeling can so easily creep back in, I was instantly made to feel at ease with the people who joined me at my table. It was refreshing to meet people from a range of backgrounds who were all really passionate about their jobs. Having initially signed up for the seminar with my work with refugees in mind I soon realised that the content was also really relevant to my ‘day job’ at a housing association.

Having worked with people whose fundamental human rights have so grossly abused, forcing them to seek asylum in the UK I had never really considered the day to day importance of the rights that we are all afforded.

 Lots of learning with lots of interaction

Despite describing myself as having a ‘reasonable’ knowledge of human rights prior to the sessions I quickly revised this DSC_0101appraisal. My knowledge was so restricted to one sector and the abuse of people’s human rights abroad I hadn’t really fully understood their reach in UK legislation and how we all go about our lives not appreciating them enough.

With such a complex and controversial subject the facilitators did a fantastic job of keeping the day on message and moved easily from broad politics to detailed case studies. Having a short attention span and an appetite for a bit of debate the discussion sessions were really interesting and I learnt a lot from the fantastic experience of the people in the room.

Along with some others in the group the biggest shock was that private companies rarely have legal obligations to protect the human rights of those they interact with. The contrast was most stark in the care home examples where those self -funding their place with a private healthcare provider had no basis on which to challenge human rights violations (this is something BIHR has been campaigning to change). Whereas those with state funded places at private homes would be able to challenge decision making if they felt it infringed their human rights.

Running a charity that allows UK refugees to exercise their legally protected ‘right to family life’ under Article 8 I thought I had this particular right under my belt so to speak. Discussions following the case studies revealed that this non-absolute right this is one which often has most relevance in people’s lives, especially as the ‘privacy’ it protects is not just about having a private space it’s also about having a say on what happens to your body. With the event partnered by and taking place within Liverpool Women’s Hospital (the largest of its kind in Europe), this was especially thought-provoking.

The media and politicians: it’s protecting human rights that matters

With politicians bandying round the idea of repealing the UK Human Rights Act it seems that now more than ever we all DSC_0109need to understand how significant these rights are to each and every one of us. It was encouraging to hear that there had been two youth sessions on this tour and perhaps it’s with the next generation we need to be challenging the negative perception of human rights pushed by the UK press.

The day was fantastic in terms of widening my understanding of human rights in the UK and has definitely encouraged me to read more about the subject and renewed an interest in legal process and precedent.

However I think what I came to realise most was that the 18 rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (and part of our law via the Human Rights Act) are unarguably what we should be doing – it’s how we go about protecting them that matters.

 

Wolverhampton Wondering: The Tour Heads to the Midlands

By: Guest Blogger Katie Simkins

From 9:30am, locals from Wolverhampton, Walsall and Birmingham arrive at the Workspace for the fifth event of BIHR’s Human Rights Tour. It aims to take a simple message to every corner of the UK: the Human Rights Act need not be the domain of lawyers. It is for local people in local situations. That’s why, today, members of the local council, the police, and voluntary organisations concerned with issues ranging from domestic violence to mental health, fill the room. For each leg of the Tour, BIHR teams up with a local organisation to make the workshop relevant to its immediate surroundings. The partner for today’s event is Unison West Midlands.DSC_0089

At the outset, we are invited to have honest and frank conversations about human rights and their relevance to our work and life. In the current climate of an ageing population, debilitating public sector cuts and high-profile scepticism of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), these debates are crucial. Politicians, the media and the general public react to human rights with praise, scorn and confusion. This room is no exception. On post-it notes, we write down what human  rights mean to us. Within minutes, the board is littered with ‘abstract’, ‘misunderstanding’, ‘controversial’ and ‘fundamental’.

We separate into different groups for the next task: case studies. Here, each group looks at different individuals who have been subject to neglect, maltreatment or injustice. We discover quickly that the application of human rights is complex. One group looks at the case of Stella, who is severely disabled, cannot dress herself and, as she cannot access the first floor of her house, cannot put her children to bed. This group mulls over how long the local council must fail to amend Stella’s care plan until it breaches one of the most fundamental provisions in the Human Rights Act: the right not to be tortured or suffer inhuman or degrading treatment. Another group asks whether the police, in its attempt to keep a protest under control, are within their rights to ask a journalist to stop filming. For me, this task is the most crucial of the day as it demonstrates that the Human Rights Act has brought justice to individuals in varied places and situations.

Most poignantly, many of us around the room make links between these case studies and situations we have come across in our work. To know that the Human Rights Act is another tool with which we can address inequality, unfairness and abuse is hugely comforting. A further comfort comes when we discuss the institutions that have a duty to carry out the Human Rights Act. We learn that since its implementation in 2000, all organisations carrying out a public function must incorporate human rights into their decisions. This applies just as much to private institutions that are commissioned to provide a public function, such as care homes, as it does to the police or social services.  Moreover, the Human Rights Act places a positive obligation on public authorities, to take steps to protect an individual from known abuse. For example, although domestic violence may take place within a private home, a public authority would have an obligation to take positive steps to try and protect someone from such abuse, once it becomes aware of the situation. In this light, human rights are there if we need them; they are a safety net for us all.

DSC_0083After a quick lunch in a small café in the back of a curtain shop (one of the most unusual lunch stops on the Tour I’m told!) these empowering thoughts are flattened somewhat by the afternoon sessions, in which we look at what the media and politicians are saying about human rights. After learning in this morning’s sessions that the Human Rights Act ensures that politicians cannot act without restraint or checks on their power, I am rather unsympathetic towards their frustration about it. We explore some of the negative and misleading headlines that the media has published about human rights. We learn that, although newspapers gave a huge amount of attention to the tragedies at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, the coverage failed to mention that the families who lost loved ones were granted justice due to their use of the Human Rights Act.

I learn that the UK’s furore about human rights is quite exceptional compared to the 46 other states that are signed up to the ECHR. Easily forgotten is the fact that the Act has only been incorporated into UK law for 13 years. Thus, the optimist in me hopes that all this debate is just part of its teething process. I for one look forward to a time when the Human Rights Act is ingrained into our society. I leave Wolverhampton knowing that it is now more than ever that we have to look out for injustices and negotiate with public services to ensure that human rights are respected and protected within our communities.

Heading North: The Human Rights Tour Goes to Blackpool

By: Guest blogger Nicola Jenkins

 

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Well, hello, I’m new to blog writing so if I get too formal, please forgive me! I’ve been told it’s like writing to a friend so I’m going to try to do just that. I have to confess I am a human rights geek; I enjoy using them in my projects and am a keen advocate of them.

I arrived at the tour event in Blackpool and was immediately impressed by the organisation of the event and the friendliness of the organisers; Helen and Sophie. They were extremely welcoming and as the afternoon went on incredibly knowledgeable, inspirational and passionate. I am not a beginner to human rights, but if I was, I think I would have left the event feeling very well informed and confident in promoting the Human Rights Act (1998) which is pretty good going in one day.

The afternoon started with a presentation from n-compass, an advocacy service who support and inform people on how to challenge decisions made by healthcare and council professionals using the Human Rights Act. They explained that professionals seem to have very little knowledge of the Act and there needs to be more knowledge and understanding of the Human Rights Act amongst professionals who work in public services, especially as many of these services have a duty to protect rights under the Human Rights Act. I hope human rights training is made compulsory for professionals in the near future as it would save a lot of time and worry for people!

There was then a discussion about legal aid and how there is very limited access to it anymore, this did not deter the group as it was established you could represent yourself in court and some solicitors do pro bono work (i.e. provide services free of charge).DSC_0073

The most valuable fact that I was reminded of today was that everyone in the UK is covered by the Human Rights Act; it is universal and very important to remember this. Everyone needs to feel how empowering knowledge of the Act can be; please educate yourselves. Don’t put up with being treated badly.

The afternoon then moved on to discussing how human rights are depicted in the media; I was very critical of them being reported in a negative way, for instance, when a criminal tries to use the Human Rights Act for their own gain. A delegate of the tour said that she was disgusted that the Act can be used by criminals, but the organiser said that the Act needs to be universal and apply to everyone as once certain groups are excluded, it is a slippery slope, for instance, who decides who deserves to be covered? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was introduced so nothing as horrific as the Holocaust would happen again; the Act needs to be universal to help prevent the misuse of power by our governments as we saw in Nazi Germany.

We also discussed how you rarely hear about the positive use of human rights, which led me on to thinking about why this is so. Why do the media want people to think of rights negatively?

We know rights are used positively on a daily basis. We need to publicise these stories so people feel confident using the law when they need to.

DSC_0077The next topic that was discussed was ‘Politics and the Future of Human Rights’. David Cameron and the Tories pledged at the last election to scrap the Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights. The coalition compromise was to investigate the case for a UK Bill of Rights using the European Convention of Human Rights, but making no mention of the Human Rights Act. However, nothing has been done as yet so the Act is still applicable. This made me question why they are thinking of replacing an excellent piece of UK law for no apparent reason.

I found the afternoon, in conclusion, to be very inspirational. I want to get back to human rights direct action work now after a long break due to illness. I am currently involved in a few campaigns, especially in the National Health Action Party to keep our NHS public and the Bedroom Tax and other consequences of the Welfare Reform. I will be using the information I learnt today to educate the campaign organisers and the people most affected by these political changes.

The Human Rights Act is there to protect us and I plan to be an advocate for it and use it.

Thank you to everyone today who ignited my passion again.