A Righteous Gathering

Human Rights took centre stage last week at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) annual Gathering conference with a number of panel discussions taking a closer look at the positive potential of human rights based approaches to, well, everything from laws to attitudes.

The Gathering is the largest meeting of third-sector organisations in Scotland and talks addressed pressing issues from welfare cuts to land reform. Of particular interest to us was a presentation on Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights.

Scottish Human Rights Commissioner Professor Alan Miller is charged with producing Scotland’s first National Action Plan for Human Rights, which he sees as a “roadmap” to progressively achieving internationally recognised human rights standards in Scotland. The Scottish Human Rights Commission published a report last year called Getting it Right? which assessed the current situation in Scotland. One conclusion was devolution has enabled us to do some things really well – ECHR-compliant legislation, human rights-centred legal frameworks and
policies are two examples – but the bottom line was that we must do better, especially at grass roots level.

Panellist Tressa Burke, Chief Executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance spoke of the stigma suffered by people with disabilities in poverty because they do not have the support that would enable them to contribute fully to their communities. She emphasised that human rights is not just about what happens in other countries.

Judith Robertson, Head of Oxfam Scotland, told us of Oxfam’s domestic programmes and stressed that plans for local implementation of human rights laws are key. Local and national government as well as communities must do more to engage and listen to the most vulnerable among us. Everyone needs to understand poverty is a denial of human rights. For example; people should not be afraid of claiming benefits because of a fear of being humiliated by DWP staff.

Finally, SCVO’s Chief Executive Martin Sime recognised that while the third sector does effectively enable people to access their rights, “we do not talk about it in the context of human rights.”  This needs to be addressed, as negative media coverage of human rights issues is linked to the general public’s disassociation of human rights with their own daily lives. A National Action Plan on human rights is an opportunity to “reconfigure the debate and reconnect rights to everyday life.”

Professor Miller and his team are still gathering data for the National Action Plan for Human Rights and want your input on how best to safeguard human rights in our society. Make your voice heard here. Consultation is open until 29 March.

If you would like further ideas, join the online discussion on Wednesday
6 March from 11.00am-1.30pm

All panellists agreed that the National Action Plan for Human Rights is not going to solve problems overnight but it is an important tool that we can use to hold government and ourselves to account.

I leave you with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that sums it up nicely:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places; close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works.” 

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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.
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