The Scottish Parliament talks Human Rights

Earlier this month, MSP Roseanna Cunningham (SNP) sponsored a human rights debate requesting an 'elevated' discussion on promoting and protecting human rights in Scotland, Europe and the wider world.

I am pleased to report that the general discourse among MSPs is encouraging with cross-party consensus on a number of key issues.

Everyone seemed to agree that human rights are essential and that we have historical support in Scotland and an excellent rights-based institutional framework, but we must do more.

SNP Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson, spoke about strides made in the area of climate justice, and women’s rights around the world. But he stressed again, we need to do more.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser denounced an ostensible lack of human rights dialogue between the First Minister and Scottish trade partners – the notorious human rights offenders China and Qatar. Though SNP Minister for External Affairs and International Development Humza Yousaf responded by affirming human rights discussions were being initiated by ministers visiting those countries, we hope demands for better human rights standards overseas are more persistent in future.

Domestically, MSPs highlighted human rights issues surrounding austerity measures: Poverty, care of the elderly and vulnerable, the right to work, the controversial Bedroom Tax, and the supreme importance of human rights measures being relevant to the people of Scotland’s everyday lives. A big thank you to Independent John Finnie for drawing attention to the human rights violations regularly faced by Scottish Gypsy Travellers, a campaign issue we are working on here in the Amnesty Scotland office.

An important contribution to the discussion came from Conservative MSP Annabelle Goldie who pointed out the need to establish a more favourable image of human rights among the public. It is a serious concern that many view the Human Rights Act as a “charter for criminals.” But before reform perhaps, individuals, organisations like Amnesty and BIHR, responsible journalists, politicians and other public figures should support each other in tackling the media’s obvious bias in erroneously portraying luxury lifestyles of the tried and convicted.

With the Commonwealth Games set to be held in Glasgow next year, it was good to see Labour MSP Jenny Marra’s amendment targeting human trafficking receiving unanimous support. Labour MSP David Stewart also underscored the importance of an “outward-looking, internationalist” approach to rights coupled with implementation at a national level. A point for improvement in this area was emphasised by SNP Minister Jim Eadie who spoke of the inconsistency between the UK’s international humanitarian efforts and the destitution of asylum seekers in this country.

Naturally, there was a bit of to and fro about how much of a disconnection with Westminster is required to maximise respect for human rights in Scotland and abroad. Whether or not to incorporate human rights into a written constitution was a question discussed by Labour’s Iain Grey, the Green’s Patrick Harvie and SNP minister Roderick Campbell.

Essentially, this was a debate on the best way to deliver on human rights, rather than a dispute over their necessity; and we’re glad to see ministers are dedicated to furthering protection of human rights regardless of the outcome of next year’s independence referendum.

As a number of MSPs expressed in the debate, we look forward to Scotland’s first National Action Plan for Human Rights, which will serve as a roadmap for significant improvement in many of the areas mentioned in the debate. MSPs reappointed Professor Alan Miller as chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission who are charged with producing the Plan. There was even a favourable mention of Amnesty from Humza Yousaf. All in all, a good result, I feel.

Read the debate transcript in full on the Scottish Parliament's website

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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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