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UK unable to champion human rights globally when 'unravelling' them at home

Amnesty International has warned that the UK will be unable to credibly act as a champion for human rights on the global stage if it pushes ahead with controversial measures on refugees and the policing of protests, as well as plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.

The warning comes as Amnesty published its annual 416-page survey on the state of the world’s human rights. The report, widely seen as an authoritative account of global human rights developments, sees the UK singled out for strong criticism, with a raft of Government legislation listed as a cause for serious concern.

Amnesty’s report identifies the Government’s intention to repeal the landmark Human Rights Act as a particularly worrying development, saying its removal would seriously curtail people’s ability to challenge the Government, the police and other authorities.

On refugee and immigration issues, Amnesty’s report strongly criticises the Government’s flagship Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through Parliament. The bill contains measures that would deprive many refugees of the right to seek or be granted asylum in the UK, contrary to international law. The bill also affects British citizens by making existing powers to strip them of their citizenship exercisable without their being informed.

The measures on refugees - which Amnesty has described as “draconian” - are currently being pushed through Parliament despite significant opposition from the House of Lords and campaign groups. Critics have pointed out - and the Government apparently accepted - that Ukrainian refugees could be among those criminalised if the plans become law.

On the policing of protests, Amnesty’s report describes the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill a serious danger to the right to freedom of assembly and association. The bill would drastically limit people’s rights, including increasing police powers to ban protests that are deemed too “noisy” or “disruptive”.

The UK’s curtailing of the right to protest comes at a time when high-profile anti-war protests and mass arrests in Russia have thrown a spotlight on threats to peaceful protest around the world. UK ministers have criticised the Russian authorities for their heavy crackdown on protesters but are nevertheless pressing ahead with the policing bill despite sustained and wide-ranging opposition.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said:

“The UK can’t credibly champion human rights internationally if it’s busily undermining and unravelling them at home.

“The Human Rights Act is the central pillar of rights and protections in the UK and it’s vital for the big justice fights we are currently facing. It’s the means by which we can challenge police behavior, contest poorer health outcomes for ethnic minority groups, and ensure a proper Covid Inquiry.  Scrapping the Human Rights Act is an act of human rights vandalism that must be countered at all costs.

The public’s recent outpouring of support for people fleeing Ukraine adds further emphasis to the need for the Government to completely reset its deliberately hostile treatment of people seeking sanctuary in this country.

“As we’ve seen with the anti-war protests on the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities, the right to peacefully protest is absolutely precious - yet the draconian policing bill is about to severely limit protest in our own country.

“This past year has been a wake-up call to people who value peace, liberty and rights all over the world. The UK has set a very worrying reverse course on rights and protections just when it should be standing up for human rights, not dismantling them.”

Pushing the poor deeper into poverty

The report criticises the Government’s decision to cut its emergency welfare response to Covid of £20 a week extra under Universal Credit. It has been estimated that this will push 500,000 more people into poverty as the cost-of-living soars.   

Northern Ireland legacy plans which would deny justice to victims

The organisation warned that the Government’s plans to introduce a de facto amnesty for human rights violations committed during the Northern Ireland conflict, including a statute bar on Troubles related prosecutions would permanently deny justice to victims and their families in a flagrant breach of domestic and international human rights obligations.

Global overview

Amnesty’s report concluded that over the past year global post-pandemic promises to ‘build back better’ had been betrayed. World leaders had instead colluded with global corporations to hoard power and profit, resulting in deepening global inequality and hampering recovery from the impacts of the pandemic amongst the most vulnerable. The report takes aim at both big pharma’s pursuit of profit and selfish national policy which favoured vaccine hoarding, including in the UK.

Despite enough production to fully vaccinate the world in 2021, by year’s end less than 4% of those living in low-income countries had been fully vaccinated. 

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said:

“In many countries around the world, already marginalised people paid the highest cost for the deliberate policy choices of a privileged few.

“The right to health and to life were violated on a massive scale, millions were left struggling to make ends meet, many were made homeless, children were left out of education, poverty rose.

“The global failure to build a global response to the pandemic also sowed the seeds of greater conflict and greater injustice.”

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