Amnesty International said that there was a risk that a British Bill of Rights could be a ‘Trojan horse’ that results in reduced rights protection. The organisation was responding to the report issued by the Commission set up to determine whether a British Bill of Rights should be drafted to replace the Human Rights Act, in which the Commission's members could not agree on whether there was a strong case for a UK Bill of Rights.
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:
"We welcome the recognition of the Commission that there needs to be an open and well informed debate about human rights in the UK.
“Like Helena Kennedy and Phillipe Sands, we remain open to the idea of a Bill of Rights, but it must build on the protections of the Human Rights Act and we share their concern that the ground work has not yet been done to make that a possibility.
“The Commission referenced concerns about the lack of a sense of ownership around human rights in the UK – and therein lies the rub.
"A broader national debate that countered myths and misconceptions about the value of human rights would be welcome - as would a Bill that strengthened this protection and ensured greater ownership of human rights by the public.
"What a Bill of Rights must not become is a Trojan horse for reduced human rights protection or a trap door exit from the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The risk is that human rights become a tarnished concept for future generations and that a handful of unpopular Court decisions and uncorrected misrepresentations are allowed to traduce the very notion of rights protections.
“What sort of message are we sending to serial human rights abusers around the world when we malign human rights and our politicians talk about defying the rule of the court of human rights?
“Human rights are hard-won protections for everyone in society. It is crucial now that the coalition government facilitates a meaningful and genuine public debate on human rights and stops tolerating the smear campaign.”
Amnesty also said the publication of the report should mark the end of government delay on delivering a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, as proposed in the 1998 peace agreement.
John Dalhuisen commented:
"The excuse offered by the government that it could not take action on the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights while the UK Commission was still deliberating is now past its sell-by date.
"The government must now move urgently to fulfil its Good Friday Agreement commitments to deliver an agreed Northern Ireland Bill of Rights by establishing a clear process with Northern Ireland political parties."