More than 60 prominent charities, unions and campaign groups have signed a landmark letter of alarm to the UN about the state of human rights in the UK, as the organisation begins its periodic review into the country’s living standards.
The intervention, whose signatories include Liberty, Unison, JustFair and Mermaids, says there is a concern “that the universality of rights is being seriously eroded in the United Kingdom”.
On Wednesday, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) will begin to assess the UK’s human rights record, hearing evidence from multiple organisations in Geneva, Switzerland.
The letter, addressed ahead of the meeting, cautions that policies such as No Recourse to Public Funds, as well as new legislation, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, have damaged the country’s civil liberties, with the latter an “attack on the right to protest”.
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Just Fair, which will present a report to the UN council this week, will call for the organisation’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty to conduct a visit to the UK – something that previously resulted in a damning report of the country’s living standards when it took place in 2019.
The letter also raises alarm over the UK’s commitment to replace the Human Rights Act with new legislation, warning this would have damaging consequences on human rights.
“Over the past decade the UK government has sought to amend, weaken and now to replace the HRA with legislation (the Bill of Rights Bill) that would undermine rights protections in the UK,” it reads. “Such moves must be strongly resisted.”
Other signatories of the statement include Race Equality First, Disability Rights UK, TransActual UK and Refugee Action.
In 2021, the UK government provided a report to the UN claiming the UK “has strong human rights protections” and that “the UK is confident that it is fully compliant with its UN treaty obligations”.
But many organisations disagree with this assessment of the state of the UK, pointing to the erosion of rights for migrants, trans people and many other groups.
Just Fair, the group that coordinated the open letter, told openDemocracy that the state of rights in the UK has left people struggling to live.
“Our human rights in the UK are under near-constant attack,” said Jess McQuail, the organisation’s director. “As the country has lurched from austerity to Covid-19 to the cost-of-living crisis, it is not an exaggeration to say that many are struggling to survive.”
She added: “Charities and other organisations have run out of ways to paper over the cracks created by UK government policies We’re sending them a distress signal: we need help to change the current direction of travel. These are our rights, and we must stand up for them.”
Civil rights organisation Liberty, one of the signatories of the statement, called the UK government’s approach to human rights “shocking”.
Liberty’s policy and campaigns officer Charlie Whelton told openDemocracy: “We all want to live in a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. But this government keeps trying to change the rules so only they can win at the severe cost to us all.
“Extreme plans to get rid of our Human Rights Act, draconian attacks on our right to strike and protest, and desperate threats to leave the European Convention of Human Rights are shocking and unacceptable. Make no mistake, this is a power grab to keep us from being able to hold them to account.”
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