Human Rights

Human Rights

A letter we have had published in the Bury Free Press and the East Anglian Daily Press:

As Quakers, we are called upon to “seek to understand the causes of injustice…”; “to work to bring about a just and compassionate society” and to be “alert to practices here and throughout the world which discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs.”

We are therefore concerned that although the government appear to have temporarily rowed back on replacing the Human Rights Act with a ‘British Bill of Rights’, the Queen’s Speech still expresses an ‘intent to legislate’.

The Human Rights Act protects us all. It underpins every public body in this country – including hospitals, police and schools. We may be unaware of the protection it gives us, perhaps believing some of the high profile falsehoods which have been published about it. We are unlikely to engage with its realities until our own rights are infringed and we, or someone close to us, may need its protection. The elderly couple, who would have been housed in separate care homes; the mother who left her abusive husband, and would have had her children taken away from her; the young girl with learning disabilities who needed help to get to school; the victims of trafficking: these are people who have been thankful for the way they have been able to get justice in the UK through the Human Rights Act, usually without even needing to go to court. Without it, they would have faced a long, difficult and costly process to challenge the infringement of their human rights at the European court in Strasbourg.

Human rights are exactly that – rights for all humans, not just for those who meet with the approval of a particular government. And because the Act is supra-national, it protects us from governments who might prefer interpretations which serve their own policies. It provides a democratic and humane bulwark against the self-interest of the UK executive in a way which a British Bill of Rights obviously would not.

The present government was returned to power by 25% of the electorate. It is probable that similar arithmetic will obtain in the future. It is a matter of concern that the human rights of 100% of us should adjudicated upon in this manner.