The report examines whether human rights were considered by public authorities during COVID-19.
New research from Amnesty International UK and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland has found there is little evidence that the human rights of Scottish citizens were taken into consideration as major public service redesigns took place during the ‘first wave’ of COVID-19 in Scotland.
In light of the impact of COVID-19 on our human rights, the research sought to shine a light on public authority decision-making during the pandemic. Specifically, whether authorities were considering their human rights legal duties, and the extent to which human rights law or standards were considered in changes to services, policy and practice during the pandemic.
26 councils and health boards were surveyed. The research shows that progress made in mainstreaming a human rights based approach to decision-making across councils and health boards reduced significantly in 2020 compared to 2019, as the number of human rights impact assessments informing policy and practice declined. While impact assessments including human rights considerations were routinely used throughout 2019, this number dropped to 11 for the period March to September 2020.
The report makes several recommendations, including:
- Public bodies must carry out and publish equality and human rights impact assessments of all COVID-19 related policy;
- The Scottish Government and public authorities should develop and publish action plans for a human rights based approach to pandemic recovery and renewal, including participation of marginalised groups and those whose rights were particularly impacted by COVID-19;
- Public authorities should publish clear information setting out when emergency legislation powers were ‘switched on’ and an audit trail evidencing whether human rights principles guided decision making;
- The public inquiry into the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 response should take a human rights based approach and include scrutiny of pubic authorities;
- Public authorities should publish information and evidence around the steps taken to ensure compliance with their Human Rights Act duties.
Amnesty International Scotland has also written to John Swinney in his role as Cabinet Secretary for COVID-19 recovery to highlight their call for an immediate public inquiry into COVID-19 in Scotland.