Heard the one about the illegal immigrant who couldn’t be deported because he had a cat? What about the serial killer who was allowed access to hardcore pornography by invoking the Human Rights Act? What about the burglar who was besieged in his victim’s home and successfully demanded KFC from the police officers outside?
No? None of them? In that case, you need to read more tabloid newspapers, my friend!
Sadly, whilst they all sound like the opening gambit to the kind of crass joke your uncle might tell you, each is an example of the kind of regular junk news churned out to undermine and lambast the concept of human rights. For the keen-eyed among you, you might remember the first claim was actually made by our new Prime Minister, Theresa May. Despite being Home Secretary at the time – a position which should have qualified her to know better – she seemed not to care that the story was a complete falsehood. Indeed, all of these stories, and most others of the same ilk, are not based in fact.
The common theme in these sort of stories – available on tap from such dubious sources as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express – is that human rights are a load of lefty nonsense; a reel of red tape to be used by overpaid lawyers to protect the undeserving. On top of this, it is always made abundantly clear that human rights are not for the kind of ordinary, hard-working Joe, who pays his taxes and reads the daily paper. Instead, human rights are for those poor unfortunate souls like the little babies you see on Children in Need and disabled people and folk like that…
Of course, human rights actually belong to everyone. Whilst it is sometimes the case that certain groups in society may rely on their human rights more regularly and value them more dearly, it is a common misconception that these rights are for ‘someone else’.
As is so often the case when a good thing disappears, you only really miss it when it’s gone. Human rights are no exception and it has taken decades of hard fought struggle and the building of impressive legal frameworks to lead us to a position where we can point to a set of core human rights that shape our society and allow ourselves the claim that we are, to some degree, civilised. If these rights were eroded or taken away, it is likely that you would soon notice the change.
Sadly, when it comes to the right to food, the right to shelter, or the right to freedom of expression, people seem not to automatically think a rights-based approach could deliver results.
If, for example, nursing homes were to disregard human rights law when caring for older people, there would be an outcry. However, you only have to rewind to 2008 for that to be the case. What about if same sex couples had their right to marriage removed? Inconceivable, one would hope, but it was only in 2014 when the law explicitly forbade it. This infographic from Rights Info provides plenty more examples that demonstrate the point that Human Rights remain a work in progress.
Whilst, in Western Europe, human rights law tends to be moving on an exponentially progressive trajectory, backsliding can become the norm – especially when people hold open contempt for human rights or simply don’t care about or understand them. Of course, following the EU Referendum, the UK Government may soon choose to backslide on human rights by removing us from the auspices of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), in favour of an, as yet undetermined, British Bill of Rights.
Oddly, when it comes to consumer protection, most people are quick to establish their rights and would happily wage war on a company who, for example, sold them an unsafe product or failed to honour a warranty. Sadly, when it comes to the right to food, the right to shelter, or the right to freedom of expression, people seem not to automatically think a rights-based approach could deliver results.
It is for this reason that SCVO and our members are urging everyone to back our #RightApproach campaign, to promote and encourage human rights-based approaches within the third sector and beyond, and to ensure that the spirit and letter of domestic and international human rights law is observed and championed in everyday life.