Wha's like us?

To read the papers, or listen to many of our other decision-makers or opinion formers, you would be forgiven for thinking that human rights relate to other people’s problems, generally in a far off place. So here in Scotland, a country where we enjoy relatively high protection of human rights, there seems to be very little understanding of or support for them. We enjoy these rights, we rely on them but we seldom stop to appreciate them.

In an quick review of stories found on the website of a certain Scottish national newspaper, Amnesty International found 94 stories relating to international human rights issues. In 91 of these human rights appeared in a positive light, for example in a call for greater respect for human rights as the answer to a problem. Two further stories were neutral and only one presented human rights in a negative light.

In contrast, of the 34 stories featuring human rights in a domestic context, only 16 were positive with 5 neutral and 13 negative. Domestic stories that were critical of human rights mainly suggested it was overly bureaucratic or was a method for criminals and asylum seekers to avoid detention.

The 2006 Scottish Parliament bill which set up a Scottish Human Rights Commission became famous as the first where the general principles did not receive support from the scrutinising Committee. It finally passed against many dissenting voices who, quite simply could not see the point of it .

In London a range of organisations each present a different focus or expertise on human rights and Amnesty International , Liberty , Justice , Article 19 , Human Rights Watch and the British Institute of Human Rights at times jostle for media space or political attention. Of these only Amnesty International has a Scottish office engaging with the distinct structures and political culture in Scotland, and even then our primary focus is on the Scottish connection to international concerns.

The loss of the Scottish Human Rights Centre in 2005 left Scotland without a domestic human rights campaign/watchdog and the demise of its charitable wing, as Human Rights Scotland in 2007 means that while institutions offering training in equalities issues are plentiful, human rights training is a rarity in Scotland. Animal rights campaigns have more staff in Scotland than human rights campaigns.

It is only with the launch of the Scottish Human Rights Commission next month that we will get a statutory body to provide some of the education, the encouragement and the enforcement necessary to ensure not only that human rights compliance happens but that it is understood and welcomed.

That body will have its work cut out to reach all those who don’t understand, don’t care about or don’t like human rights. I wish them all the best.

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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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