Human Rights must be top priority for the next Scottish Parliament

Written by: Mhairi Snowden, Director, Human Rights Consortium

Published: 09/04/2021

Human Rights image

We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

This was the clear message from All Our Rights In Law (this link will take you away from our website) community conversations around new human rights law in Scotland. Over 400 people took part in these conversations from all over the country, and from a wide range of backgrounds. Whether it is inadequate housing, or basic care needs not being met, or no access to fair work, or daily discrimination and racism, or simple access to food – participants said that things are not OK for too many people, and that this needs to change.

This was true before COVID-19, and has been made only all the more true during COVID-19.

That is why so many individuals and organisations across Scotland and across all issues and sectors, are saying that now is the time to incorporate our international human rights treaties directly into Scots law. As one All Our Rights In Law participant said:

“There is nothing that isn’t good about having human rights in law. They weren’t created to not be respected. They were created so people could have these rights and make the world a better place”.

The ALLIANCE manifesto states ‘we know that unless human rights form part of the law of the land, they cannot be fully realised.’

Already, to loud shouts of ‘hooray’ from children and young people, the Scottish Parliament passed a bill to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law. This is the biggest step that Scotland has taken to make rights real in children’s lives and it is a first within the UK. Incorporation of the UNCRC means that children’s rights will be deeply interwoven into how public bodies decide priorities and make budgets. It will change how they listen to children’s voices and how they consider the impact of decisions on different groups of children.  The UNCRC gives a framework to make sure that no child is forgotten.

At the same time, the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership has recommended that the UNCRC should be just the start.

We need a whole new human rights framework that also incorporates four other major treaties:

  • the International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
  • the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
  • the International Covenant for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); and,
  • the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The framework should place duties on public bodies to comply with these rights. There should be progressive realisation of everyday rights such as a right to adequate housing, to adequate food, and to the highest attainable level of physical and mental health. The framework must include reporting and monitoring requirements on government, and must enable affordable, accessible, timely and effective routes to remedy when things go wrong.

The Scottish Government accepted all of these Taskforce recommendations, a move strongly welcomed across Scottish civil society and beyond.

For example, People First Scotland said:

‘We very much welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to secure a Human Rights Framework for its citizens. We do not want to be left behind again.’

Even basic things like being able to decide where you live or who you live with, being able to be treated fairly in work or being able to choose what course you do at college – in all of these and more, many disabled people’s rights are often shockingly far from being realised. Disabled people’s organisations want to see direct incorporation of the UNCRPD into our law as a major step towards making disabled people’s rights real.

The Scottish Parliament, and all political parties in Scotland, have long been vocal supporters of stronger human rights law protections.  So as we look to the election and beyond, the new Government and Parliament must make human rights law reform top of their priority list to bring the change that so many want to see, and so many desperately need.

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