Liam and Cian have already summarised the election manifestos of the main(land) political parties (Lab., Lib. and Tory) in the forthcoming UK General Election. A number of NGOs and civil society organisations have already published their own manifestos as well as instructive responses to the party pledges. Here are some of the most interesting from a human rights perspective:
- Amnesty International (UK) has produced a series of election briefings on Women’s Rights, Security and Human Rights, the Human Rights Framework, Poverty and Human Rights and the Asylum System. All are available here.
- The Law Society’s Manifesto is here.
- The Manifesto for Justice (AdviceUK, the Bar Council, the Institute of Legal Executives, JUSTICE, the Law Centres Federation, the Legal Action Group, the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group and Liberty) is here
The British Labour Party yesterday published its manifesto for Election 2010. There are a number of key commitments in relation to human rights which should be highlighted (and may put them at odds with the Conservative Party).
- Demanding rights and responsibilities for all. While the Manifesto does not outline in any detail key human rights, responsibilities of all are outlined as: the obligation to work when you can; not to abuse your neighbour or neighbourhood; for newcomers to show respect for Britain and to pay a fair share of taxes;
- Committment to maintaining the new Equality Act 2010;
- Continue to support the Human Rights Act 1998, as a means of “bringing rights home“;
- Human rights as a key component to foreign policy;
- Reorientating of foreign aid issues, as key human rights issues. The Manifesto states: ” Access to health, education, food, water and sanitation are basic human rights”;
- Building a modern welfare state, where there is an obligation to work where people are in position to do so, and assisting those out of employment into employment. The Labour Pary also committs to seeking to end child poverty by 2020 (see also Child Poverty Act 2010), through increasing opportunities for parents to work.
- Commitments to older people, through improving quality of life, allowing older people who want to, to work, ensuring adequate pension provision.
- Providing greater level of choice to individuals health rights, while also expecting greater responsibilities of those using the National Health Service.
- Strengthening the immigration system so that it is firm, but fair;
- Committed to a free vote in Parliament on whether the franchise should be extended to those 16 years and older;
- Introduce an Alternative Vote system (to replace the current first past the post); Read more…
Following on from Cian’s earlier blog on the response of the DUP to the NIO’s Consultation Paper on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, it is worth noting that 24 March saw the Westminster Northern Ireland Affairs Committee release ‘A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland: An Interim Statement‘.
Given the political make-up of that Committee, many of those in favour of a NIBOR regarded the NIAC’s decision to carry out such an inquiry as an effort on the part of political actors unhappy with the NIHRC’s advice to have ‘another bite at the cherry’. Arguably, the limited and poor quality consultation document produced by the NIO in response to the NIHRC’s advice rendered this unnecessary. (For a discussion of some of the criticisms made of the NIO document, see here)
Whatever its reasons, the Committee itself does not make an explicit recommendation either in favour or against a NIBOR. Rather it states: Read more…
Following on from the US State Department Human Rights Report which was discussed here, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office released its Annual Report on Human Rights. This Report, unlike the US version, is thematic and covers a number of areas such as the rule of law, supporting democracy, human rights in conflict, counter-terrorism, and the promotion of human rights. It does however single certain countries out as being ‘of concern’ including Iran, Cuba, Syria, Burma, China, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan among others. The UK began publishing this Report in 1997.
In the foreword the Foreign Secretary David Miliband states that
When we talk about human rights we talk about a body of law, but we also talk about the inherent sense that we are entitled to certain freedoms and protections. It is this sense of inalienable right to self expression and equality that defined the landscape of 2009.
The BNP voted on 14 Feburary 2010 to amend the 11th ‘edition’ of their constitution to permit ‘non-white’ members of the public to join the party. However, all prospective members would be required to adhere to the BNP manifesto. The new edition of the constitution has not been made publicly available but was sent to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for consideration. Today’s court judgment arises from an action brought by the EHRC on foot of its analysis of the new document. The BNP webpage for the 11th edition contains the following proviso:
This Constitution, the 11th edition, ceased to operate on 14th February 2010, when an Extraordinary General Meeting of the BNP, following on from an in principle decision taken by the Voting Members at last autumn’s Annual Conference, voted by an overwhelming majority to adopt a new version 12.1. The new Constitution, while building on the now defunct one, is massively expanded and far fit for purpose. It will be published shortly after the court hearing with the Equalities Commission on March 9th.
The EHRC action was taken on the basis of section 1B of the Race Relations Act 1976 (as amended). The judgment comes as the Government has announced that there will be no ban on members of the BNP serving as teachers in schools.
Yesterday the United States’ State Department released its Annual Report on Human Rights for 2009. The text of the Reports can be found here. At the launch of the Reports Secretary of State Clinton remarked that:
Human rights may be timeless, but our efforts to protect them must be grounded in the here and now. We find ourselves in a moment when an increasing number of governments are imposing new and crippling restrictions on the nongovernmental organizations working to protect rights and enhance accountability.
The Report on Ireland may be found here. It highlights several issues regarding the care of persons in Garda custody, domestic violence, discrimination against racial minorities, travellers and migrants as well as child trafficking as major human rights issues facing Ireland. Some of the observations should make uncomfortable reading for the Government, particularly following the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission Report into the death of Terence Wheelock discussed by Yvonne and Vicky. While it may be argued that one state passing judgement on all others is somewhat patronising these Reports are a useful tool which highlight some of the gravest human rights issues globally.
You can learn more about Fergus Ryan on our guest contributors page.
Waiting for family law reform is a bit like waiting for a bus. You linger forlornly for what seems likes an eternity, stoically weathering the elements. Then, just as you are about to give up, along comes a bus — and two more buses directly behind it.
In the past year, the Republic of Ireland has seen three major proposals for family law reform. The Civil Partnership Bill 2009, which is currently before the Dáil, promises a substantial new civil status for registered same-sex couples, with additional protective measures for cohabiting couples, same-sex and opposite-sex. The Law Reform Commission consultation paper, The Legal Aspects of Family Relationships, provisionally recommends some long overdue reforms to the law as it relates to guardianship, custody and access.
There is much to be welcomed also in the proposed constitutional amendment on children. For one, the proposed new Article 42 will apply to all children, and not just those born within marriage. The proposed amendment contains, in particular, a ground-breaking assertion that “[t]he State shall cherish all the children of the State equally.” This will banish, one hopes, the spectre of O’B v S,  IR 316, a Supreme Court decision that affirmed the constitutional validity of measures that discriminate against non-marital children. The Court concluded that the constitutional preference for marriage trumped the child’s right to equality. This constitutional amendment would arguably reverse that stance. Read more…
You can learn more about Ursula Kilkelly on our guest contributors page.
The report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the amendment to the Irish Constitution includes a proposal to include what is commonly known as the ‘best interests principle’ into the new Article 42 in two forms. The first form appears in Article 42.1.2° which recognizes the rights of all children and specifies that this includes the right ‘to have their welfare regarded as a primary consideration’. Although this provision refers to ‘welfare’ rather than ‘best interests’ and so could be said to be narrower (and arguably more paternalistic) in nature it otherwise mirrors the standard set out in Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Although the latter has been criticised for not requiring that the child’s interests are paramount, its strength is that it has wide application, potentially applying to all areas of state decision-making that affect children. Including this principle here, therefore, should require the state to ensure that regard is had to the child’s welfare in areas like budgetary decision-making, planning, immigration and criminal justice. Read more…
You can learn more about Jillian van Turnhout on our guest contributors page.
The vision of the Children’s Rights Alliance is that Ireland will be one of the best places in the world to be a child. On 16 February 2010, the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children moved us that bit closer towards securing this vision, when it published its Final Report. Crucially, the Report includes all-party agreement on a proposed wording for a constitutional amendment to strengthen children’s rights and this, in itself, is a significant step forward.
A major stumbling block to realising our vision has always been the Irish Constitution – the fundamental law of the country. Written in 1937, at a time when children were ‘seen and not heard’ and where, for example, it was the norm for teachers to physically chastise children and for children to be seen as mere possessions of adults, it has become very outdated. A litany of reports, court cases, and inquiries, have, over the years, also highlighted the need for constitutional change for children. Read more…
You can learn more about Conor O’Mahony on our guest contributors page.
As part of the proposed constitutional amendment on children, the proposed new Article 42.2 proposes to enumerate, for the first time, a number of the rights of children, including “the right of the child to an education”. The proposal to include an explicit right of the child to education is welcome – indeed, it was recommended by the Constitution Review Group in 1996 – but in all probability, it changes little. The existence of such a right, correlative to the duty of the State under the existing Article 42.4 to provide for free primary education, was clearly reognised in Crowley v Ireland  I.R. 102 and has never been questioned since. The new provision could potentially be interpreted as being broader, given that it refers to “an education” rather than merely to “primary education”. However, it is unlikely that the courts – and particularly the current Supreme Court – would interpret this as including a positive right to education at a level higher than primary, given that the corresponding duty of the State under the re-numbered Article 42.8 would still refer only to primary education. While the Oireachtas Committee Report states that the rights that are recognised in the proposed Article 42.2 are “designed to make a tangible difference to children’s rights”, there is no suggestion that there was any intention to take a step as significant as extending the right to free State education beyond primary level, and in the absence of such a clear intention, no court is likely to so interpret the provision. Read more…