Six human rights take homes from the Queen’s Speech
So, what is this Queen’s Speech and why does it matter? Well for some it is the highlight of the political calendar…for the pomp and ceremony alone it is worth a look. The Queen (usually) gets all dressed up in her finery, jokes are cracked in the Commons...and they even hold an MP hostage
More importantly the Speech (not actually written by Queeny herself I’m afraid) outlines every draft law - 'Bill' - the government wants to pass in the next Parliamentary term. So once again, we watched keenly for what this annual pageant meant for human rights.
Here’s what we know so far.
1. Brexit promises for EU citizens must be delivered
Will we finally have some certainty? EU citizens urgently need guarantees over their future residence and rights. Well it seems like we may have a step in the right direction. The Government’s EU Repeal Bill stated it would ‘maximise legal certainty for individuals’. Sounds good, but we need to see action. We will continue to press the government to urgently deal with this issue.
2. The Trade Bill must not compromise on human rights
In an uncertain world, we can be quite sure high up the government’s priorities is securing trade deals for a post Brexit UK. The government have described how their Trade Bill will drive positive global change through trade.
We look forward to hearing how human rights will form a key element of these upcoming trade negotiations. The rule of law and human rights are non-negotiable when new countries join the EU, so we urge the UK to ensure that they are non-negotiable with countries we seek to trade with after we leave.
3. A welcome Domestic Violence Bill, but we want more
The Speech included the announcement of a new Bill to counter domestic violence. This is welcome news, but to be effective the Bill must include funding commitments for life-saving services, as well as guarantees that all women at risk of gender-based violence in this country are able to properly access them. Especially the most marginalised: migrants, refugees and the survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.
Alongside a new shiny Bill we’d also continue to urge the government to take this opportunity to ratify the Istanbul Convention, on preventing violence against women, without delay. Surely one would complement the other?
4. Counter terrorism and extremism measures must be monitered
We’ve seen announcement of another review of counter-terrorism strategy. Human rights play a positive role in keeping us strong and safe, and any review should look at whether existing powers are compliant with those values.
The government should also consider appointing someone to provide independent oversight of the review, as it did in 2011 when Lord Macdonald QC was tasked with that role. We’ll be closely monitoring the review and assessing any new powers which emerge.
The announcement of a Commission to counter extremism is also something we will be watching closely. To date, the government has struggled to provide a coherent definition of non-violent ‘extremism’ or ‘British values’ which is neither so broad as to catch a vast range of thoughts and beliefs, nor so narrow that it discriminates against particular groups in society. Targeting non-criminal, non-violent expression which falls short of incitement could take us on to a dangerous road.
5. The Sanctions Bill provides an opportunity
Since we are leaving the EU, the government needs to work out what to do about sanctions. This Bill could provide a real opportunity for the UK to beef up its work in this area.
If the UK wanted to show real leadership is should consider how this Bill can make it easier to act against rogue companies implicated in breaking arms embargoes. However, given the important role of the EU sanctions regime, in numerous countries from Myanmar to Syria, stepping up where the UN cannot act, it is key the UK continues to work with EU partners.
6. There's going to be another Immigration Bill
We can expect, yet another, Immigration Bill to come. The devil will be in the detail in this one. We hope the government considers how our immigration system can be improved as we leave the EU; making it less complex, more predictable and less arbitrary.
It is also an opportunity for the government to show greater leadership on refugee issues. A great start would be to expand family reunion to child refugees. This would make a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of children who have had to flee the horrors of persecution and conflict and are permanently separated from their families.
These are the headlines but no means an exhaustive list of the opportunities and challenges for human rights. Whatever is in the Speech, with a new Parliament comes new hope and we should start by asking our MPs to raise their voices for human rights. First on our list for them: calling for the release of two British-Iranian dual nationals, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi currently imprisoned in Iran.
It is worth remembering too that not only the Government get to decide what our laws are. Our MPs do too.
On 29 June, a ballot of MPs will be drawn. Those selected will have the opportunity to introduce a Private Members Bill to Parliament.
This could be a great opportunity to help families who have been torn apart when fleeing war and persecution to be reunited by introducing a Refugee Family Reunion Bill.
Why not persuade your MP to make their mark on our statute books?
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.