Peers hope charter will build ‘culture of respect’ for human rights


newslatestTwo disabled peers have helped to launch a new charter that its authors hope will help to build a “culture of respect” for human rights across the country.

Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell sponsored the parliamentary launch of the Human Rights Charter, alongside their fellow crossbench peer, Baroness [Nuala] O’Loan.

The charter, which has just three simple clauses, was launched by The British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR).

It aims to “raise awareness of the important role human rights laws have to play in our everyday lives”, ensuring that the government “plays fair and they help us to live well in communities where each person’s dignity is equally respected”.

The first clause of the charter states that everyone should know about their human rights; the second that human rights should be mainstreamed into the laws and policies drawn up by public services; and thirdly, that “strong leadership and active communities” are needed to ensure recognition of the role of human rights in providing a basic safety net.

Lord Low told the charter’s launch in the House of Lords it was important to recognise that human rights “operate in everyday life and that they inform the services that people enjoy”.

He said: “It is about things that affect everyday life, like the right to be treated with dignity and respect in social care settings, free from neglect and abuse.”

He said that human rights legislation “cannot guarantee that no abuse will take place, but [it]should concentrate the minds of people who might be tempted to commit these outrages.

“Certainly they give remedies to people who suffer this kind of abuse and indignity.”

Lord Low is currently fighting to prevent the government overturning a key piece of protection – introduced by him through an amendment to the care bill – that gives disabled and older people in private sector and charity-run residential homes protection under the Human Rights Act.

Baroness Campbell said it was a “timely” day to hold the launch, as it was taking place on the day of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

She drew parallels between the struggles of black South Africans against apartheid and disabled people’s fight for inclusion.

She said: “Being included is something that I have fought for all of my life. Segregation chills me to the bones, as it does to Mandela’s freedom fighters.

“To be excluded from society because it is felt that you do not belong, that you are a second-class citizen – it is one of the most dehumanising acts that any government can do to a person or group.”

Baroness Campbell said that it was Vic Finkelstein – one of the pioneers of the disabled people’s movement in the UK, who himself was imprisoned for anti-apartheid activities in South Africa – who showed her that disability was a human rights issue.

She said Finkelstein showed “that disabled people are not the problem, that it was the attitudes and the barriers in society that prevented us from participating as equal human beings”.

And she said that from the day she heard Finkelstein explain his theory “the course of my life changed and I became a human rights activist”.

Sadiq Khan, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, told campaigners at the launch event that they would “have to get your hands dirty” if they wanted to save the Human Rights Act from a Conservative party that wanted to abolish it.

He said: “We have got to explain to the British public that these are universal human rights that all human beings are entitled to.”

Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “The battle we need to win – the battle of understanding – is for the ordinary person to understand that human rights are for them… as much as for the exceptional and unusual minority.”

He said his party had “locked the government in” to stay signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act until 2015.

But he warned: “There is a risk that the next parliament could be one in which there is a majority of those who do not want to keep the convention… we could be then in some very perilous waters indeed.”

Stephen Bowen, director of BIHR, said that his organisation had seen “great enthusiasm” and “a great appetite” for human rights as it toured the country delivering training.

He said the charter tries to “tap into” this enthusiasm, and he called for help to “repopulate the human rights landscape with many, many more voices who are willing to speak up on behalf of universal human rights.”

10 December 2013