Human Rights – Not just for Human Rights Day


At Simpson Millar LLP we are all ultimately human rights lawyers yet this is not how we normally introduce ourselves. Why? Because most of our clients do not perceive their issue to be a ‘human rights issue’. They see it as a disability issue, an education issue, a social care issue, a mental health issue, a carers issue... The list goes on. In practice these are all human rights issues and as lawyers we rely on the current human rights legislation on a daily basis to challenge the abuse and disregard of these rights by public bodies and those in power.

human rights affect everything we do

Human Rights Day – Human Rights 365

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention 'of the peoples of the world' the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

On Human Rights Day we celebrated the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values. The day was also used to shine a light on all those corners of the world where human rights are being abused and to reflect upon the journey ahead.

The slogan for Human Rights Day 2014 was 'Human Rights 365' - a reminder that every day should be a human rights day. We must continue to shine a light in every corner, however small, 365 days a year. Human Rights Day may have come and gone but we must not stop reflecting on what human rights look like in action for all of us.

Human Rights – There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’

Human rights news and discussion often focuses on human rights violations abroad and on issues like terrorism and surveillance. It suits politicians to play into the idea of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ and to pick and choose which rights apply to who and when and where. But, if you think that the Human Rights debate doesn’t directly impact on you, think again. The debate concerns us all. If we do not collectively stand up for our rights and ensure that they are equally enforced for each of us, all of the time, wherever we are, then there is a real risk that you will find that your human rights, or those of someone you know and love, cannot be relied upon when most needed.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, famously recognised that human rights begin:

'in small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends….Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.'

So what does today, say about human rights in the UK?

'The True Measure of Any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members' – Ghandi

Children's Rights

For the purposes of this post we’ve decided to look at the way we treat and protect our children, as a yardstick for how well we are doing in the UK at making human rights a reality. In our next post we will look at how we treat people with disabilities.

Over this year, the UK government’s track record on children’s rights will be scrutinised in detail by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) celebrated its 25th Anniversary year in 2014.

We didn’t have to search very far to get some startling statistics - like the fact that there are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today, which is around 27% of children, or more than one in four.

The State of Children’s Rights in England 2014 report by Children’s Rights Alliance England (CRAE) looks at whether enough is being done to fulfil the human rights of children in England and to implement the UNCRC. The report (which is based on official statistics, published research and additional material gathered through Freedom of Information requests) makes for a depressing read as it highlights a whole range of issues that are affecting children across England in every aspect of their lives and removing instead of protecting their rights. These include - cuts to play, youth, early intervention and family support services; abuse of civil liberties including use of physical restraint, strip searching, Taser guns, police custody/detention and institutionalised care.

Children’s rights in the UK has been the focus of a number of powerful blogs and commentaries:-

  • The NSPCC have highlighted the harrowing experiences faced by children who, having experienced abuse in the past, are re-traumatised by the court proceedings that are still ill adapted to meet their needs, despite a number of moves in the right direction
  • Barnardo's focused on the impact poverty and inequality are having on children’s education and long term life chances. Children who are living in poverty are twice as likely to leave primary school without the minimum level of expected literacy and numeracy skills, and of these children only 7% go on to achieve the basic minimum level of success expected at GCSE
  • Save the Children described the impact of rising child poverty – including for those children living in working families - on children’s everyday lives
  • NCB discussed shocking child mortality rates in this country, the need to make sure new-born babies and their families get the support they need, and the inadequate access to mental health services for children
  • The Children's Society highlighted the impact cuts to legal aid and new immigration rules are having on the particularly vulnerable children they work with, who are in the immigration system. Changes to legal aid mean children who could have fled domestic abuse, or are at risk of homelessness, will be unable to challenge decisions leaving them without proper care. Plans to charge for NHS treatment could leave around 120,000 undocumented migrant children without access to healthcare
  • Shauneen Lambe from Just for Kids Law reflected with dismay on the fact that, at 10, her son has reached the age of criminal responsibility in England with “every childish mistake”- forgetting your penknife is in your pocket, tripping someone up in the playground, carving your name in the desk - potentially leading to criminalisation
  • Steve Broach, a leading barrister on disabled children’s human rights, highlighted the plight of disabled children in residential institutions far from home, the experiences of families with disabled children living in poverty, and the failure of the Government to come up with a comprehensive strategy to ensure the inclusion of disabled children in society

These are all important human rights issues – children have a human right to be kept safe and be well cared for, to a safe warm home and enough to eat, to an equal chance to be healthy and achieve their potential and to be protected from harm when in difficult situations.

It is clear from a quick skim through the numerous statistics and commentaries that human rights are not a reality for many children in the UK - from abuse and exploitation, the impact of poverty, inequalities in health and educational chances and outcomes, to experiences in the criminal justice and immigration systems.

And so, if you think that Human Rights do not apply to you, your children, your neighbour, your friends or you family, think again. They belong to all of us, everywhere, everyday.

We need to be bolder and braver in standing up for our human rights, utilising the legislation we have and recognising that human rights issues concern us all, 365 days a year. By standing up for your rights, challenging those who seek to deny them and championing equal rights for all, we can help make rights a reality for all the other days this year.

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