Rallying to save the UK's Human Rights Act

On International Human Rights Day, 10 December, dozens of British human rights organisations issued an open letter defending the country's human rights legislation - under attack from those who brand it a European imposition.
Stuart Weir
13 December 2011

At a crowded conference of human rights lawyers and activists held recently at the University of Essex to celebrate the memory of Professor Kevin Boyle, a remarkable advocate of human rights, I was struck by a great disparity between his energy and confidence and the mood of the gathering.

Kevin made the case for freedom of conscience and religion across the world; appeared before the European Court of Human Rights to defend Kurdish citizens in Turkey from state oppression; set up the Human Rights Centre at Essex University and Article 19 in the UK; contributed to the first years of Democratic Audit; and as adviser to Mary Robinson, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, set a strong and committed course of action and argument against the War on Terror.

Those of us who had worked with Kevin spoke warmly and with nostalgia of the experience. But I was surprised by an atmosphere of present foreboding. It seemed that everyone feared that the mood of the times was shifting against the very idea of human rights here in the UK – and that the future even of the Human Rights Act was in grave danger under a coalition government divided between relentless hostility towards the Act among the Tories and support for it from the Liberal Democrats. Edward Mortimer, the writer and journalist who became a high-level official at the United Nations, delivered an eloquent speech calling on all of us there to rally to the cause of human rights.

Leading civil society organisations in the UK have now done so. Some 43 organisations have issued a call to political party leaders to protect the Human Rights Act in an open letter to mark international Human Rights Day on 10 December, published in The Times. The organisations are of all sizes and cover a diverse range of issues and concerns. Among them are, for example, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mind, Unicef UK, Age UK, Mencap, Citizens Advice, Equality South West, the National AIDS Trust and the Down’s Syndrome Association, alongside the main human rights organisations in Britain.

Stephen Bowen, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights said: “Many voices are coming together to speak with one voice to defend the Human Rights Act. We hold a common belief in the common good of the Human Rights Act.”

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

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