The UK has failed to meet many human rights recommendations made by the United Nations and should do more to prevent prison overcrowding, tackle hate crimes and restrict stop and search powers, a coalition of 175 civil society organisations claims.
Their report, coordinated by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and submitted to the UN in Geneva on Thursday, also accuses the government of damaging international standards by threatening to scrap the Human Rights Act.
Repeal of the act would be a “denigration of international human rights law”, the submission asserts. “The UK’s retrogressive debates are already negatively influencing other countries. There is increasing concern that the UK’s political rhetoric will, if not checked, threaten the coherence and credibility of the post-second world war human rights settlement.”
As part of the universal periodic review process before the UN’s human rights council, all 193 member countries are subjected regularly to an assessment of their human rights records and asked to improve where violations are identified.
The UK is due to appear before the council in Geneva early next year. As part of the preliminary procedure, NGOs in each examined country can submit critiques of domestic problems.
The report sent to Geneva by the 175 UK organisations – including Age UK, the TUC, Unicef UK, Rights Watch and Stonewall – acknowledges that the UK has a “generally good level of rights protection” but cautions that a high proportion of the 132 recommendations from the last UN hearings in 2012 have not been implemented.
Among the failures, the report highlights the fact that race is the most commonly recorded motivation (82%) for hate crimes in England and Wales and that the Brexit vote coincided with a surge in such offences. It links reports on the government’s policy of creating a “hostile environment” for irregular migrants with discrimination against those from minority communities.
The report expresses concerns that the prison system is “no longer fit for purpose” due to over-crowding, assaults and the high number of suicides and deaths of inmates.
On stop and search powers, the report says that although they are being used less, members of minority communities are still disproportionately affected. The powers granted to anti-terrorism officers to stop and question travellers under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 “remain too broad”.
Stephen Bowen, the chief executive of BIHR, said: “The UK government needs to listen, not just to the United Nations but to the voices of the huge range of organisations closer to home that have shared their serious concern. They are troubled the government is taking the UK towards further isolationism and disregarding the United Nations, worsening the situation with welfare and legal aid cuts, and wanting to scrap the Human Rights Act, weakening its accountability for our rights at home as well as internationally.”
The report is being launched by David Isaac, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Harriet Harman QC MP, chair of the parliament’s joint committee on human rights.
Isaac is due to say: “Any proposed changes to human rights law must not weaken the protections we all enjoy, jeopardise our remarkable record of upholding human rights nor move the country backwards.
“If we are to stand up to human rights abuses abroad, our own record inevitably comes under scrutiny. Our credibility and influence as a global player depends on the UK having an exemplary human rights record – both in terms of the legal framework and our adherence to the highest standards of human rights in practice.”
He will call on the government to bring in a five-point plan:
• To establish independent guardians for all unaccompanied children entering the UK.
• To introduce a statutory duty to report trafficked and refugee children who go missing from care.
• To stop immigration detention of children.
• To provide protection for children seeking refugee status.
• To ensure that those whose age is unknown are treated as children until their age can be determined.
A government spokesperson said: “The UK is a confident, strong and dependable partner internationally – true to the universal values shared by the United Nations.
“As a nation we continue to fully comply to our international human rights obligations and we continue to take action to tackle any abuse of these rights. This includes working together with the UN to adapt a global response to mass migration and reducing the threat from international terrorism, stamping out modern slavery, championing the rights of women and girls and abhorring sexual violence in conflict.”
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