The HRCS second annual conference What next for human rights? benefitted from excellent speakers and enthusiastic debate from members and supporters. There was agreement that a co-ordinated campaign of opposition to attacks on the Human Rights Act (HRA) is needed, and for us not to be divereted by false hope of a better, broader and stronger Bill of Rights. Delegates also agreed that more efoort is needed to demonstrate the practical benefits of human rights in the design and delivery of public services in Scotland.
Cabinet Secretary for Human Rights Alex Neil, assured delegates that SNP MPs were not seeking a deal with the UK Government so their opposition to repeal of the HRA is steadfast. He announced plans to hold roundtable discussions with colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland to get a co-ordinated, pro-active response. Alex Neil also urged us to accept the situation we find ourselves in and turn it into an opportunity to talk up human rights.
Alan Miller, Chair of the SHRC, speculated the proposals could be for a Bill of Rights on reserved issues resulting in a two tier system of human rights protections in Scotland: a new narrower UK one for reserved issues and the current system for devolved matters.
Brian Gormally from the Committee on the Administration of Justice, in Northern Ireland, explained the complexities of trying to abolish the HRA given the Good Friday Agreement which is a secured by interntaional law and cannot be easily altered.
Ultimately discussions on what next came down to resources as civil society has traditionally been weak on dedicated, domestic human rights activism hence the closure of the Scottish Human Rights Centre in 2005 and the weak funding position of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland. Members were encouraged to think what they can do to help the HRA financially eg secure donations from the organisations which you belong to.
Perhaps the UK government senses that people, like some MPs, see this as no big deal as long as we are left with some human rights protection. We need to change practice in Scotland so that people enjoy the benefits that human rights can bring to our everyday lives. Achieving that must be the focus of our action as well as opposing abolition of the HRA, for all our sakes.
Conference presentations willbe posted online in the near future.