Human rights are under threat: Why we must protect them  

By Cameron-Wong McDermott, Policy Officer 

This is a worrying time for human rights defenders in the UK. Rights protections that we have long relied on are in danger of being dismantled. It’s almost unthinkable that today, in the United Kingdom, human rights are under threat. How did it come to this? 

The UK Government made a commitment in its 2019 manifesto to ‘update’ the Human Rights Act 1998, which directly incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into law. They subsequently published the Bill of Rights Bill, which sought to replace the Human Rights Act. While the UK Government has paused progress of this Bill for now, there is a risk that new routes will be found to achieve the Bill’s objectives and thus undermine the protections in the Human Rights Act. 

The Human Rights Act and its provisions protect the rights of children. This vital piece of legislation – and the ECHR that it incorporates – has had a pivotal impact on the development of children’s rights in Scotland. The rights set out in the Human Rights Act are also entrenched in the devolution settlement. Our new report takes an in-depth look at our concerns around any changes. 

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of children’s rights is brought into sharp focus. Coronavirus has disproportionately affected children, particularly those whose rights were already most at risk. In the aftermath of the pandemic, we have been plunged into a cost-of-living crisis, which is further devastating children’s lives. We need a rights-based response.  

Having rights enshrined in law is a way to build a culture which provides help and support and prevents breaches of rights. It’s the best way to ensure that the protection children need is as robust as possible. And it means there is an effective remedy when things go wrong. The Scottish Parliament unanimously voted to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law last year, but continued delays mean children are still waiting. We know the Parliament stands ready and waiting to move ahead with incorporation and the Scottish Government must act urgently to enshrine children’s rights in law.  

In the meantime, we cannot risk stripping away the current protections that we do have in law. It is vital that the Scottish Parliament, in its role as a human rights guarantor, ensures that children’s rights in Scotland are protected, respected and fulfilled.  

Any attack on the Human Rights Act is an attack on children’s rights. Quite simply, it must be retained in its current form.  

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