Sanchita Hosali is deputy director at NCVO Member, the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR). She is a recognised expert in human rights and equalities law, policy and practice, with over 15 years of working both in the UK and internationally.
On Saturday, voluntary sector organisations across the UK came together to mark Human Rights Day and celebrate the difference that the Human Rights Act makes to all our lives.
On Human Rights Day, we published an open letter in The Times asking the Prime Minster to abandon plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. 165 organisations signed the letter in support of the Human Rights Act.
With first-hand knowledge of how the Human Rights Act helps so many people in their everyday lives, the letter was signed by voluntary sector organisations big and small, from Carers UK, Sue Ryder and Disability Rights UK to Voluntary Action Islington and Yorkshire MESMAC. Other signatories include Amnesty International UK, Liberty and Human Rights Watch as well as trade unions and law firms.
Human rights touch on issues at the heart of our work across the voluntary sector. Issues like health and social care, education, equality and anti-discrimination, policing, justice, the welfare system and housing, political participation, and much more.
What ‘human rights’ are we talking about?
The Human Rights Act makes the international promise of human rights real here at home. After World War Two, the international community came together to say there must be minimum standards for all people. Human rights are the basic freedoms and protections that every person has simply because they are human; they are not privileges to be earned or gifts that governments can give or take away at will.
Public authorities have legal duties to respect 16 basic human rights in their decisions and their actions, thanks to the Human Rights Act. This helps deliver better public services and empowers people – and voluntary sector organisations on their behalf – to make sure they are treated fairly.
Why does it matter?
The Human Rights Act provides a framework for negotiation and advocacy to restore the power balance between people and public authorities. Voluntary sector organisations are increasingly playing an important role in protecting human rights – both as providers of services, and as advocates and campaigners working with and for people.
For example, a mental health advocacy service supported Jenny, a voluntary patient in a hospital, to explain to hospital staff that she could leave the ward for some fresh air when she liked as a voluntary patient. Telling her she shouldn’t was unlawfully risking Jenny’s right to liberty. Or there is the charity that challenged a local council policy of waking homeless people up at night and then hot-washing the area, as inhuman and degrading. Then there are those organisations using the power of human rights to make important local changes, such as ensuring the local authority integrated human rights into the commissioning of a new a local body to monitoring health and care services.
Stand up for our human rights today
We know from the evidence to our recent United Nations report, that many across the voluntary sector are concerned at the current UK government’s proposals to ‘scrap’ the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Organisations are worried that a new Bill of Rights would offer weaker protections, particularly impacting on vulnerable members of society.
Together, we will continue to stand up for our human rights – and you can join us by:
- Speaking up and being heard on the importance of human rights
- Joining the Human Rights Alliance, coordinated by BIHR
- Integrating human rights into your policy and practice (contact BIHR for information about support)