Let the Conferences begin

So every year the Advocacy team at Amnesty UK go on a three week round the country 'tour' of the Party Political Conferences. You are jealous, I know, I can tell. Actually, for us political nerds it is a great moment in time to take the temperature of UK politics and the three main Parties, and there is no better Conference season than the one before a General Election.

Each year we engage with the Parties and their Members to create a debate around human rights. This year was no different. The theme for all three Conferences is how a future UK government can deliver a more consistent approach to human rights. For the record (and this will come as no surprise) no recent UK government has applied human rights standards consistently.

This year the ‘tour’ begins in Manchester with Labour. At our standing room only event, jointly hosted the by vibrant Labour Campaign for Human Rights, and chaired effortlessly by Richard Howitt MEP, Kate Allen, our Director outlined why consistency on human rights is so important. Three of the many issues she raised were:

  • The UK has championed the International Arms Trade Treaty but did not apply those same rules to decision making on arming Israel - The UK revoked no licenses during the recent conflict despite mounting evidence that the Israel Defense Forces launched apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza.
  • The UK has a strong torture prevention strategy led by the Foreign Office, but still hasn’t initiated  a proper judge led inquiry into allegations of the UK’s own complicity in overseas rendition and torture. (we don’t think the Intelligence and Security Committee are the appropriate body for this).
  • Protecting those rights enshrined in the Human Rights Act as undermining them weakens the UK's ability to press other countries to improve their records

To make the event even more interesting (well, we try) we asked each panel member to suggest a practical solution to the constant challenge of inconsistency.

  • We think the Minister with responsibility for human rights should work across government and attend Cabinet and the National Security Council.
  • Kerry McCarthy MP, Shadow Human rights Minister, thought that having a human rights adviser attend UK government visits overseas could help ensure human rights remain high on the agenda as well as trade
  • Richard Hermer QC, Matrix Chambers, urged Labour to learn lessons from past mistakes such as the Iraq war and a raft of draconian security measures.
  • Finally, Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Justice Secretary, assured the room that Labour would stand up for the Human Rights Act and suggested each Government department should have to report on their human rights impact each year.

The event brought lots of food for thought, interesting debate and great practical suggestions to get any future UK government 'walking-the-walk'. For those of you eager to know more the Law Gazette did a full report of the meeting.

More broadly, there have been a number of human rights issues on Labour's agenda at conference:

  • abuse of migrant workers in Qatar was discussed on the Conference floor and at two side events with UCATT, Unite and Amnesty.
  • Yvette Cooper committed to set up a new national refuge fund to help victims of domestic violence that will hopefully tackle the funding crisis for specialist women's service provision
  • Jim Murphy committed to put human rights at the heart of DfID  
  • Ed Miliband committed in his speech that LGBT rights would never be ignored and would appoint Michael Cashman to lead the government’s work in promoting gay rights across the globe.
  • Sadiq Khan promised to block attempts to abolish the Human Rights Act

We at Amnesty will be watching closely, and we’ll hold them to these commitments should they be occupying the seat of government on 8 May 2015.

And we will be doing it all over again next week (and the week after).


About Amnesty UK Blogs
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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