Young People and Their Rights: the CRC in Manchester

By Guest Blogger: Mariam Waseem

I was lucky enough to be a peer facilitator at BIHR’s ‘Human Rights Here and Now’ event in Manchester this August. The event was extremely informative and focused on educating young people about the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); what it entails, why we have one, who is involved in its creation/implementation and how we young people can get our voices heard.

First, we went through the history of human rights and learned about past events that led up to the creation of the CRC. We then looked at what the CRC is, who it effects and how the CRC is protected. It was particularly interesting to learn some schools have signed up to follow the CRC.

Next, groups discussed human rights in general. We did this by categorising the stages of youth into baby, toddler, child and teenager. For each phase of life young people brainstormed and discussed what rights are required at different times in your life. We found the rights of a baby were much more basic than the rights of a teenager but still crucial and fundamental, and those that applied at a young age stayed with them throughout the life of a child, for example the right to a family or clean water. We then looked at the rights in the CRC in more depth and the young people got a good idea of what the CRC actually entails.

The next activity focused on the key players involved in the implementation and scrutiny of the CRC. The facilitators played the role of different key players in the process, such as charities or the government, to raise awareness of the CRC examination process within the UK. Once we had a much better understanding of the CRC, groups examined the rights and prepared a presentation on a theme they believed needed tackling, such as education, participation or non-discrimination. They then presented these to a mock committee. This was my favourite part of the event; it was fantastic seeing so many inspiring ideas presented by passionate young people.

Lastly, we discussed youth participation locally, regionally and nationally and were informed about what currently exists (e.g. the BYC and UK Youth Parliament). We also discussed what people thought were the barriers to getting involved and what else may be needed to encourage young people to be active citizens. This touched on the influence young people should/could have on key decision makers.

I think it’s important for organisations like the BIHR to host events like this, as educating young people on their rights enables them to be able to go about their daily life more prepared and equipped. I know a lot of useful information now and I hope to pass on what I have learnt and encourage other young people to research the CRC and gain a better understanding of what is out there to protect them.

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Human Rights Training: It wasn’t dull or boring!

This guest post has been written by Sam Bond, Advocacy Manager, Age UK Brighton & Hove.

 

 

In March staff at Age UK Brighton & Hove (AUKBH), including frontline workers and managers, received a day of human rights training kindly delivered by Sophie Howes at BIHR. The training covered the origins and principles of human rights laws, human rights law in the UK, the types of rights we have and the rights which are particularly relevant to older people. In the afternoon the Advocacy team discussed some case studies and ways of raising human rights issues. So why did we need this training?

 

At AUKBH we work with people age 50 plus, but the majority of our clients are over 80. We support older people to maximise wellbeing, maintain independence and exercise choice. We provide a number of services; including Advocacy, Crisis Service, Horizons social re-enablement service, Information & Advice and Nail-cutting; where workers visit people in their own homes. We frequently come into contact with clients who are receiving health or social care services.

 

Older people are more likely than other age groups to need health and social care services. More people over 75 experience emergency hospital admissions than any other group. Yet older people often don’t know they have rights that they can use to challenge poor and undignified treatment by service providers. The Human Rights Act can be used to protect our clients in situations such as being in hospital or receiving a care service, and to ensure they have equitable access to services.

 

The human rights training will help AUKBH workers to identify situations where there are potential human rights issues for their clients. Workers can refer these clients to AUKBH Advocacy Service. An independent advocate can support clients to make sure their views and wishes are heard and help them secure their rights. They can support people to challenge a decision or make a complaint. The training will help us to influence the treatment and care of the older people we come into contact with. It will help us to raise awareness of the relevance of human rights to people who are more vulnerable.

 

I had promised colleagues at Age UK Brighton & Hove that the training wouldn’t be dull or boring and I was certainly vindicated in that! The lively discussion in the afternoon really helped bring the subject matter to life. Since the training some of our advocates have already had occasion to use human rights language when advocating for clients.

 

Sam Bond, Advocacy Manager, Age UK Brighton & Hove.

Sam Bond is a BIHR Local Human Rights Champion. This involves helping to raise awareness about human rights and their relevance to local people.

In wake of Commission’s report BIHR calls for political leadership on human rights here at home

Today, the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights has published the report of its 21-month investigation into “the creation of a UK Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law, and protects and extend our liberties.”

Before today’s report the British Institute of Human Rights analysed the published responses to Commission consultations, which suggested that the majority of the public responses supported keeping the Human Rights Act, and very few were in favour of a new Bill of Rights. These findings were confirmed in today’s report (see page 118 of Commission’s report, Volume II). Yet the extent to which this is reflected in today’s report is questionable.

BIHR’s work with frontline organisations in the public and voluntary sectors reveals how the Human Rights Act is a vital safety net, helping to protect us all from the risk of abuse, neglect and injustice and empowering communities to hold decision-makers to account. Debate on human rights in the UK has been dominated by a handful of contentious decisions and myths and misrepresentations about the Human Rights Act, sometimes from our own political leaders. Lost in the furore is the real human rights story; the voices of the many people and groups who have benefited from the HRA in everyday ways, evidence which BIHR gathers.

Stephen Bowen, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights, commenting on the release of the report said:

“The rather complex, often confusing and divided report that has been published today is a sad indictment of the way we discuss human rights. The Commission asked for the public’s views about whether we need a Bill of Rights, and the message from the majority was clear: the Human Rights Act is our Bill of Rights, and should remain part of our law. Rather than debating a new Bill of Rights we should be seeking to live up to our international reputation as a champion of human rights abroad by recognising the important role the European Convention on Human Rights, and our Human Rights Act, plays here at home.”

 

“The reality, which is so rarely discussed in these debates, is that human rights abuses do occur here at home. No government is above the law, and the Human Rights Act is a vital safety net which protects us all, especially in moments of vulnerability. It is important that we have a law which protects people from indifference, abuse and misuse of power and this is exactly what the Human Rights Act has been doing for the last 12 years. Giving legal backing to values of dignity, respect and fairness, the Human Rights Act has delivered important positive changes for people in everyday life. We need these vital protections to remain part of our law.”

 

“It appears that the main argument for a new Bill of Rights from the majority of the Commission is to increase public ownership of human rights laws in the UK. Leaving aside the rather superficial nature of a cosmetic re-brand, improved understanding of the law will not happen if attacks on the Human Rights Act continue from certain political and media quarters. Now is the time to put the human stories back into our debates about the future of human rights laws – this is the type of “re-branding” that is needed. Publication of the final report from the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights should mark the opportunity to start having a sensible debate about how the Human Rights Act works in practice and what it means for people in their everyday lives here at home.”

Human Rights: shining a light on violence against women

The 25th November marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the start of 16 Days of Activism on gender violence which leads up to global Human Rights Day on 10 December. The link between the two days is important; reminding us that violence against women and girls is an abuse of human rights.

What do we mean by VAWG?

In 1993 the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defined violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

VAWG as a human rights issue

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains one of the most widespread human rights violations worldwide. The international system recognises that VAWG threatens the fundamental rights of women and girls including the rights to life, not to be treated in cruel, inhuman or degrading ways, to liberty and security of person, equal protection under the law, to equality in the family and to physical and mental health.

“Violence against women continues to persist as one of the most heinous, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world. It is a threat to all women, and an obstacle to all our efforts for development, peace, and gender equality in all societies. Violence against women is always a violation of human rights; it is always a crime; and it is always unacceptable. Let us take this issue with the deadly seriousness that it deserves.” Ban Ki moon, United Nations Secretary General, who launched the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign in 2008.

VAWG in UK

VAWG is not restricted by country borders, cultures, ages or social status. The UK is not exempt from this devastating abuse of human rights, the consequences of which exact a heavy toll on its victims and survivors, their families and society as a whole. For example, research suggests that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence during their lifetime and between 6 – 10% of women experience domestic violence in any given year, with domestic violence accounting for 16% of homelessness acceptances. At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. Nearly three quarters of children on the ‘at risk’ register live in households where domestic violence occurs. There have been no convictions for female genital mutilation (FGM) since it was outlawed in 1985 in the UK, yet it is estimated that 23,000 girls in England and Wales under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM. Approximately 85% of forced marriage cases dealt with by the Government Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) involve women and girls; the FMU deals with around 300 cases per annum. Research also suggests that each year 55,117 women aged 16-59 are raped, and 1 in 3 victims are subject to repeat victimisation. (All figures sourced from AVA Project)

Using human rights to take action

Under international law such as the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women the UK has concrete and clear obligations to address VAWG.  These obligations create important tools for lobbying and campaigning work. They are a measure which can be used to hold the UK to account.

The UK’s women’s sector is increasingly active is using the international framework to address VAWG issues. The UK is about to be scrutinised by the international committee that monitors compliance with CEDAW. There has been much work in the sector to capitalise on the opportunity to use this international human rights mechanism to raise violence against women issues, including the shadow reporting and lobbying work undertaken by the UK CEDAW working group.

Sadly the obligations in CEDAW and similar international agreements aren’t part of UK law, which means individual women cannot rely on them when seeking protection inside and outside the courts. However, we do have the Human Rights Act and this contains a range of domestically enforceable rights which are relevant to VAWG. Our rights under the HRA include the right not to be treated in an inhuman and degrading way; the right to respect for private and family life (including the right to physical and psychological integrity); the right to life; the right to be free from slavery and forced labour and the right to non-discrimination.

The HRA says that public authorities like social services, the police, and health professionals should not take action which violates our rights. Importantly, it also places specific positive obligations on public bodies to take proactive steps to prevent and address rights violations. For example, the Courts have said there are duties to investigate credible allegations of a breach the right to life, the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment, and the prohibition on slavery and forced labour. Decisions not to prosecute perpetrators of crime can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment where such decisions impact on a person’s sense of vulnerability. Similarly failure to conduct a proper investigation may amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.

At BIHR we have seen both public officials and advocacy groups use the HRA to help secure access to services for survivors of violence, without having to go to court. For example, when a woman and her children were denied housing, a social worker argued that the local authority had overriding positive obligations to protect the family’s rights to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, and successfully secured safe accommodation. In another example a women’s group used the HRA to help a woman challenge a decision to remove her children because she was in temporary accommodation after escaping an abusive father. The local authority subsequently found the family stable accommodation.

Speaking up for our rights

Examples like these show how using the HRA in advocacy can secure important and sometimes life changing outcomes. These real life, but so often untold, stories remind us why the Human Rights Act is important for all of us, how it is a vital safety net that can protect us at moments of vulnerability.

As the 16 days of activism kicks off, let’s use the opportunity to remind ourselves and those in power that violence against women is a human rights issue and just as we speak out against abuse we will also speak up for the Human Rights Act and the laws that protect us. Now is the time to Act.

To keep your Human Rights, Act.

A rundown of the LSE Debate: Should the Human Rights Act be replaced with a new Bill of Rights?

Last night saw LSE host an event on one of the big domestic human rights questions – the Human Rights Act versus a new Bill of Rights. With a panel featuring Professor Conor Gearty, Professor Francesca Klug and Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, it was always going to be an interesting one.

From left to right: Professor Paul Kelly (Chair), Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, Professor Francesca Klug, Professor Conor Gearty

Dr Duschinsky, a Senior Consultant on Constitutional Affairs at the Policy Exchange and former member of the UK Commission on a Bill of Rights, kicked things off. He began by observing that much of the debate around human rights involves different groups of people shouting at each other, which isn’t very helpful for anyone. He went on to say that any discussion surrounding whether a Bill of Rights should replace the Human Rights Act is pointless without first thinking about what such a Bill would contain and how it would work.The main thrust of

Dr Duschinsky’s argument was what he sees as the incompatibility between Britain’s parliamentary democracy where parliament is supreme and having judicial oversight of the decisions made by parliament.

“When an international court is given jurisdiction over national affairs is democracy undermined?” Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky.

Referring to current debates on prisoner voting, he said the system is flawed because there seems to be no accepted way to overturn decisions by the European Court of Human Rights even in the most “extreme” circumstances. He said that whilst he supports the rule of law, he thought this may become the ‘rule of lawyers’, which would actually undermine democracy.

Dr Duschinsky said he was most interested in the relationship between an international court and nation states. He believes there should be a separation of powers but also checks and balances as a 47 nation court is completely unique and accountability problems have not been thought through. He highlighted the idea of an “override”, enabling parliaments to disregard the European Court’s rulings, as a last resort which would make an international system of human rights protection much more palatable.

Dr Duschinsky said he would have much more respect for the Human Rights Act if it was detached from Convention and if Parliament could ignore a “declaration of incompatibility”. He believes that Parliament cannot currently exercise the powers it has under the Human Rights Act.

Francesca Klug, Director of the Human Rights Futures Project at LSE, gave a passionate defence of the Human Rights Act. She explained that a new Bill of Rights is not likely to change our relationship with the European Court.

“If we were to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, the UK would still be subject to the European Court of Human Rights’ judgements unless we want to be the only country inside Europe that decides not to.” Francesca Klug

Professor Francesca Klug defends the Human Rights Act

She spoke about how the Human Rights Act is a higher law which is expressed in broad, ethical terms and the UK courts have the power to interpret these expansive values and provide appropriate remedies.

Countering claims that the Act restricts the actions of Government, she argued that it provides the very subsidiary that this Government says it wants; that is the ability of national courts to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights and less intervention by the European Court in national law. She said this would be reversed if the Act was repealed. She also flagged that in 2011 there were only 8 findings of unlawful action by the UK, which is lower than any other similar State.

Professor Klug unpicked some of the other main reasons offered for enacting a new Bill of Rights. First she disagreed that a new Bill of Rights would return power to Parliament. She said parliamentary sovereignty is a misnomer in our system, it really means government sovereignty, which is exactly why the Human Rights Act is needed – to prevent abuses by the State. A second argument for a new Bill of Rights is to free up UK courts from following the European Court However, she argued that the Human Rights Act does not currently restrict UK judges to case law of the European Court; there are a number of cases in which our courts have not followed judgments of the European Court. Finally, there is the argument that a new Bill of Rights offers tot chance to make the rights “British”. Prof Klug questioned what replacing the Act with something labelled British really means? Whilst the government hasn’t explained this, her inkling is that it means some groups would be excluded from protection under this new Bill of Rights. Such a move goes against the grain of Bills of Rights across the world.

Professor Klug concluded by saying that it seems all the reasons given for a Bill of Rights are actually reasons opposing human rights, resulting in a tug of war between the Government and proponents of the Human Rights Act.

Professor Conor Gearty, Professor of Law at LSE, then took to the floor and began by reminding us of the importance of human rights.

“One of the greatest things about human rights is that it has cemented the idea of the universal human” Professor Conor Gearty

Professor Conor Gearty addresses the audience

Addressing points made by both the previous speakers, Professor Gearty noted that removing the European Convention or Court or the Human Rights Act won’t stop “juristocracy” (activist judges), it will only invite it. He argued that the Human Rights Act does in fact preserve parliamentary sovereignty and flagged the examples of UK cases which show this.

Professor Gearty was critical of Government inconsistency on human rights in domestic and foreign policy. He said that whilst UK Government officials travel the world promoting human rights, they are simultaneously trying to strip them away at home. (This chimes a chord with what BIHR has been saying on a number of issues – check back in for future blog posts!)

“In politics if you don’t have a coherent, drilled down argument then it’s just noise.” Professor Conor Gearty

He concluded by saying he believes a new Bill of Rights would be a dangerous thing. It would be a spurious, empty document serving only to disguise the transfer of resources from the very poor to the very rich.

Professor Klug’s closing statement seems to be a good point to end the review of a thoroughly interesting debate:
“Left alone nation states carry out the most horrific violence towards their own citizens; NGOs and ordinary people had to lobby and fight so hard for countries to sign up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Michael and the Government are starting to unpick something that has only been in existence for sixty years. This is really easy to do but I think we would really regret it.”