Written by Amina Hussain, Human Rights Officer
We at the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) have recently submitted a damning report to the United Nations (UN), as part of the UK’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for our Human Rights Check UK project. In collaboration with a number of other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), we have told the UN that the UK Government needs to do more to protect human rights in the UK. As part of this process, we held a Call for Evidence for CSOs and were overwhelmed by the engagement, with nearly 200 organisations, having something to say about the human rights record in the UK.
One of the biggest concerns for CSOs was the realisation of children’s rights. Not only were there repeated concerns that steps had not been taken to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), but the disparity in access to rights across the devolved nations. Our report notes positive legislative and policy developments in Wales and Scotland, noting the various duties on Ministers to give effect to the rights in the CRC. However, concern was raised that this has not been rolled out across the UK, and of course the need to ensure that legal developments in Scotland lead to improved human rights protections for children.
Another key are that raised concern, roundly condemned as ‘internationally unacceptable’ is the UK Government’s failure to increase the age of criminal responsibility. Currently children in England and Wales can be deemed criminally liable at the age of 10 years old, and children in Scotland can be arrested at 8 years old, but prosecuted at 12 years old, falling short of repeated recommendations from the UN to increase this.
Although Scotland has taken strident steps in many ways to better realise children’s rights, there has been limited movement on the corporal punishment of children. It has been disappointing to hear from the Scottish Government that despite concerns of children being exposed to degrading treatment, the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ will remain in force (see page 17 of our report). Equally, whilst the Scottish Police Authority announced in 2015 that stop and search of children under 12 years old would cease, our evidence sessions repeatedly raised this as an ongoing practice (see page 25 of our report).
Also of concern is the hypocrisy of the UK sitting on an international pedestal calling for the end of child soldiers across the globe whilst recruiting 16 year olds into our own armed forces, the only European country that ordinarily does so. Evidence included in our report highlights that this also results in unequal educational participation and worker protections compared to children who do not join the army (see page 17 of our report).
But also worth mentioning is the ongoing commitment of the UK Government to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. Although the specifics are still unknown, one thing seems clear, the direction of travel is one that is regressive and negative, taking us further away from our international human rights standards. Not only is the negative narrative about human rights often misleading, it also represents a denigration of international human rights law. There are legitimate questions about the level of protection that will be offered to certain groups of individuals and how we will all be able to hold public officials to account for rights breaches. In the absence of the UNCRC being incorporated into our own national law, the Human Rights Act has been crucial in securing justice for children – here are just a few examples of how.
The UK Government will submit their own report in February 2017, highlighting their own thoughts on the human rights record from the past four years. Whilst it is of course welcome news that the Scottish Parliament strongly opposes any repeal of the Human Rights Act, we, Civil Society, have a crucial role to play in standing together to make the UK Government realise that human rights are universal, and can’t be ignored.
If you’d like to find out more about our Human Rights Check UK project, check out our minisite here.
You can also read the report that we, with the support of 75 other organisations submitted to the UN, here.
You can also find out what we’re up to by following us on Twitter @BIHRHumanRights
BIHR provide people with authoritative and accessible information about human rights. Visit their website here.
Together are signed up to the UPR report submitted by the British Institute of Human Rights as well as having submitted a joint GB response to the UPR along with the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) and the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group. Read Together’s joint GB response here.