Human Rights

Reclaiming human rights

Posted at July 26, 2011 | By : | Categories : Human Rights | 0 Comment

Learn about rights

In so much of the training and consultancy work on equalities and human rights which I undertake one set of phrases more than any others seem to be heard. Amongst others I get phrases like “We can’t do that because it will be against someone’s human rights”, “That’s against my human rights” and  “This is an issue of human rights.”

Way back in 1998 when we saw the creation of the Human Rights Act (HRA) which embedded in British legislation 16 articles from the European Convention of Human Rights – the declared aim of the then Government was to ‘bring human rights home’. It was about creating a growing awareness of human rights and a culture where people understood and respected the rights of others. It was about ensuring that those who had felt that their rights had been breached could have legal redress through courts at a more local level rather than at a European level as an initial course.

Those were the good intentions and some 13 years on we are some distance from seeing those aspirations and intentions embedded in reality. Instead what we have is a shocking misunderstanding and ignorance of what human rights are and how they impact upon behaviour, upon organisations and upon their legal duties. On the one hand we have individuals whose knee-jerk reaction is to use the language of rights without understanding its grammar, on the other we have organisations and individuals left speechless and fearful in the face of a perceived ‘threat’ from human rights legislation. Neither position is healthy.

This inadequacy is exemplified by the story reported in the Mail on Sunday. The delcared aim of that paper is to get rid of the legislation but its stories merely serve to illustrate how important it is we develop a human rights culture of understanding and respect.

Simon Richardson is a bird-lover in Hertfordshire who objected to Defra’s programme to eradicate parakeets. After he took pictures of environment department staff as they removed nests from a tree in his neighbour’s garden he had a visit from the local police. Two officers informed him that he could face prosecution. The two uniformed police officers claimed that this would be “under privacy laws” especially if he published the pictures.

Now this shows an astonishing ignorance of the law on the part of the officers- no doubt they were thinking about Article 8 and its defence of privacy – but it also shows the way in which the ignorance of law (especially about human rights) can be used to scare and intimidate and try to prevent legitimate action and behaviour.

A Hertfordshire police spokesman quoted by the Mail on Sunday apologised for the “confusion.”

This inadequacy is lamentable and highlights the need for a national programme of human rights awareness raising whether on the part of the police, the public, social care staff, managers in organisations and businesses. An informed community and workforce are much less likely to fall into the trap of inadequate confusion and we might reach the aim of ‘bringing rights home.’ And this is regardless of what the outcome of the Government’s Commission examining the HRA might be.

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