Voting for human rights
This General Election matters for human rights around the world. It's true that no-one’s going to force any of us to vote one way or another, or lock us up for speaking out on behalf of our particular political favourite. But human rights issues affect us all, both here in Northern Ireland and overseas: whether it’s the government in Iran repressing peaceful protests, people facing execution in China or the US, or our own government abusing people’s rights in the context of its counter-terrorism policy.
Amnesty members locally campaign all year round to ensure that human rights are respected, lobbying governments around the world and raising awareness here in Northern Ireland.
And it’s not all about people in other countries. There are countless issues here at home which are about our rights but maybe aren’t headlined as such – like the scandal that so many women are still at risk of rape or other violence while those responsible are brought to justice in only a fraction of cases. As we have recently heard from Women's Aid in Newry, many victims of these crimes can’t get access to refuges where they could be safe. Politicians need to deliver a comprehensive strategy to deal with violence against women – and this must be made real with funding, training and support.
While we’re pretty safe from the threat of torture here, sadly there’s mounting evidence that UK security personnel overseas have been complicit in abuses like rendition, secret detention and torture of terrorism suspects. Some people may have difficulty with Amnesty campaigning for the rights of people who are accused of such a horrific crime as terrorism. But everyone has the right to a fair trial and fair treatment. Yes, punish those found guilty of terrorist offences with the full weight of the law – but only after a fair trial. The UK should never be tainted by association with torture and Amnesty is calling for a full Inquiry into this country’s role in all ‘War on Terror’ human rights violations.
There have been worrying developments over recent years here in the realm of counter-terrorism. We need to see an end to Control Orders and attempts to strike deportation deals with torturers, and instead adopt an approach to counter-terrorism that is rooted in respect for human rights. Age-old civil liberties must also be defended from attempts to undermine them: if changes are going to be made to the Human Rights Act, it should be to give us greater protection against human rights abuses, not less.
And of course in Northern Ireland, twelve years on from the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, people are still waiting for Westminster to deliver our Bill of Rights. In recent weeks over 30,000 people here responded to a government consultation, urging the government to deliver a strong and effective Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Amnesty International will be looking to the incoming government – and their counterparts in Dublin – to come good finally on the promises of 1998.
Of course, much of our work at Amnesty International is about human rights abuses in other countries, and we want to ask new MPs whether they’re willing to take up issues that extend outside our own borders. In developing countries hundreds of thousands of women are dying needlessly in childbirth – in fact one woman dies every minute in pregnancy or childbirth around the world. We want this country to take a leading role in eradicating poverty and pressing for governments to respect women’s right to maternal health care.
Whether it’s just round the corner or a thousand miles away, our rights and those of others worldwide are important. The incoming set of MPs need to know and respect this. Amnesty isn’t party political – we don’t support or oppose any particular candidate or party. But do think about the human rights issues that matter to you as you cast your vote today.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.