Why I love working at BIHR, a small charity with a big impact

Woody Faulkner, Administrative Assistant, British Institute of Human Rights blogs this Small Charity Week


I have been working as the Administrative Assistant for the British Institute of Human Rights for 11 months and 2 weeks, every day of which has been a journey. Prior to working at BIHR I have worked a variety of different workplaces, some large, some very large, most I did purely to collect a wage, and none I have enjoyed as much as working at BIHR.

We are a small team at BIHR, even by the standards of small charities, but I am constantly amazed by the field of impact and scope of issue that my colleagues are able to respond to. Often at short notice they produce well informed, legally sound but accessibly presented interpretation of the fast paced and complex world of UK human rights law, policy and practice. I have seen how, by providing sober and accurate resources, briefings and response pieces, BIHR have been able to help explain and promote human rights protections and duties to large numbers of people and organisations for whom human rights would have remained something relevant only to other countries. Much of this work would be impossible without the integral role played by our tireless and committed volunteers who donate their time to BIHR, helping us to research breaking cases and generally pitching in with the team to get stuff done.

Our small size is no hindrance to our large impact because of a large and diverse network and community of other small charities around the UK, from one person operations to regional outposts of national groups, tirelessly working to end inequality and injustice, to create a fairer society for all in the UK. I have experienced the breadth of expertise and wealth of passion and drive in this sector through my work organising BIHR’s Human Rights Tour (watch this space for information on the 2014 Human Rights Tour), through BIHR’s annual celebrations for Human Rights Day, and through the great support and engagement from small (and large) organisations signing up to show their commitment to human rights through the Human Rights Charter and the Human Rights Alliance.

Working at BIHR has shown me that being a small organisation, in tough economic times, need not be a roadblock to success if you are rich with commitment to the vision and purpose of your organisation. And that is why I love working at a small charity, and that is why I love working at BIHR.



Salisbury: Home to the Magna Carta and the Human Rights Tour!

Guest blogger: Tom Bisgood

After two hours on three trains I arrived in Salisbury to attend one of the BIHR Human Rights Tour Events – admittedly the London one might have been an easier journey, but the opportunity to go to a community-based event outside of the capital was one not to be missed.

The day started much as it meant to go on – with lots of debate and discussion among the participants. The first thing we tackled was a biggie – what we felt human rights were all about. For my group this provoked a wide range of views including ideas of fairness, equality, checks on state power and even wars and bombs.

Learning a bit about the history of human rights and the particulars of the European Convention on Human Right and the Human Rights Act set us up for the rest of day. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek history video tracing some of the roots of human rights was apt given that Salisbury lays claim to be home of the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta.

Arguably, one of the most important parts of the day was the case studies and the chance to look at how human rights might apply to a variety of real life situations. I have no doubt from the discussions in my group that this session was extremely useful to those working in social care and community groups – what we learned was so clearly applicable to their work. We explored the case of Alex who, due to his history of mental illness was deemed unsuitable to be a reliable witness in a case against a man who bit off part of his ear and so the prosecution against his attacker was dropped. I don’t want to give too much away in case you get to look at Alex’s case on the Human Rights Tour, but it brought to life how human rights are about the person and looking at how the actions or inactions of officials can make us vulnerable or put us at risk. I’ll leave it there and wish you luck with your group discussions if you “meet” Alex on the Tour!

For me the most eye opening part of the day was the “fact-checking” sessions, where we investigated the reality behind some of the things about human rights in the press, from politicians, on the bus (or two-hour train journey!). The BIHR team were definitely put to the test, with the group throwing out some pretty big issues from FGM to deportation.

For me one of the most interesting bits was unpicking “cat-gate”, where the Home Secretary and many papers talked about how human rights and owning a cat meant a person couldn’t be deported. This case was actually about a Home Office policy which said deportation (here because a man overstayed his student visa, not because he’d committed a crime) should go ahead unless the person is in a relationship of more than two years. The man had been in a relationship and there was evidence to show this, like owning a cat – something lots of people in relationships do! So yes a cat was involved, but in a really minor way, which had nothing to do with human rights. Yet it presented by the media and politicians in a way which undermines human rights, making them seem silly or even dangerous.  And that led us to the case of Abu Qatada. I was surprised to learn how human rights helped the UK deport him to Jordan. Practically the whole world has agreed to the legal ban on torture (of course practice might be different), and this means Governments can’t just send someone to be tortured in another country and turn their face away. What they could do was get proper assurances that torture wouldn’t happen, and by convincing Jordan to agree to the international legal ban on torture – by using human rights – the deportation could go ahead. But none of that seems to have been explained by politicians or the media.

All in all the Human Rights Tour was an incredibly thought-provoking day. It was a great space for a real mix of people to firstly meet up and secondly to learn about and debate human rights, in a far more balanced way than is often seen in the media. At the end of the day I feel I’ve learnt a substantial amount about human rights and really got to develop my knowledge further. So now you’ve finished reading this, what are you waiting for? Book your free place at the Human Rights Tour now!


Human Rights Tour Launches in Brighton

By: Guest Blogger Nathalie Martin

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to spend the day in Brighton attending the launch event of the BIHR Human Rights Tour 2013.

At the beginning of the day I knew almost nothing about human rights in the UK. How do I know this for sure? Because the day started off with us filling out a form to gauge our knowledge and, after being reluctantly honest with my answers, I was left feeling embarrassed about how little I knew and hoping no one around me could read what I’d written over my shoulder!

Brighton TourHowever, after discreetly folding my answers and returning them to the information pack I’d been given, I decided not to worry about it. After all I’d come along to learn more about this subject so in a way this was the ideal starting point. I only hoped that I wouldn’t be the only person in the room not to be working in a relevant field with everything going way above my head.

But I needn’t have worried because although a lot of people did have direct experiences of many of the issues we were learning about, this turned out not to be as intimidating as I had feared and instead proved to be one of the best things about the day. Having such a varied and informed group of people enabled some really interesting debates to take place as well as creating the unique opportunity to listen to first hand experiences.

Throughout the course of the day we learnt about the history of human rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, which allows breaches of human rights listed to be taken through UK courts. We also learnt about the difference between absolute rights and non-absolute rights. We also heard from some representatives from the charity Mind Brighton and Hove who showed us just how important it is to respect the rights protected by the  Human Rights Act, by sharing with us some upsetting examples of when these had been breached.

For me the highlight of the day was learning and understanding how the Human Rights Act can be applied to various situations. Initially, when I heard we were to look at case studies and identify which articles of the Act had been breached I thought there was no way I wouldn’t be out of my depth. I was expecting to be faced with an exhaustive list packed with legal jargon and expressions I would have to pretend to understand but instead, in front of me, was a document I found surprisingly clear.  What’s more, as my group attempted to match case studies with human rights, I realised that somehow I could do it. It really isn’t that difficult to understand what it contains and how it applies in real life situations. And if I can understand it, with no legal background whatsoever, and feel confident in applying it, then anyone can.

I think it’s incredibly important for people to know their rights so that they are in a position to identify when these are being violated and also to have the confidence and knowledge to challenge and prevent such situations when required. Something that particularly struck me during the day is that a large proportion of people who are vulnerable to human rights violations by public authorities, are those very individuals in our society who are either unable to speak up for their rights or are prevented from doing so. It is therefore important that people are not only empowered so that they can stand up for their own rights but also that we collectively support human rights.  This inspired my piece of human rights bunting, on which I wrote “speak out for your rights and the rights of others”.Nathalie's Bunting

Because of this I am pleased to be able to say I’ve signed the Human Rights Charter, demonstrating my support for the Human Rights Act and commitment to building a culture of respect for human rights.

The Human Rights Tour has just started and I would strongly recommend going along to a day if you want to learn more about human rights in the UK.  I can guarantee an enjoyable day where you will have the opportunity to meet fascinating people, learn things you didn’t know before and take part in some very lively and rewarding discussions. You can find out more information about the Tour here or you can book your free place at one of the events here.