Human Rights Act Repeal and Bill of Rights
In June 2022, the government put forward draft legislation to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a Bill of Rights. This legislation, which many civil society organisations consider would significantly weaken rights protections in the UK and make it more difficult to enforce claims under the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic courts, was put forward without an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny by relevant parliamentary committees, despite their collective call on the government to do so. In addition to introducing wide-ranging changes that would affect the ability of marginalised groups to enforce their rights, the Ministry of Justice’s consultation process failed to ensure the full participation of many people with disabilities. Although the new cabinet under Prime Minister Liz Truss paused the legislation in September, concerns remain about its reintroduction in a modified form.
- Retain the Human Rights Act, as is, and do not replace it with a Bill of Rights that would weaken rights protections.
- Commit to remaining part of the Council of Europe and party to the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Ensure that any fundamental changes to how human rights can be enforced domestically are subject to thorough parliamentary and public consultation, with the full involvement of affected people.
Business and Human Rights
The UK’s national report outlines its commitment to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the progress made on producing a National Action Plan, and the setting up of the OECD National Contact Point. In May 2022, a legislative reform agenda outlined plans to reform the Modern Slavery Act 2015, replacing it with a new Modern Slavery Bill. The bill has yet to be published; however, the disclosed agenda again falls short of the systemic reforms needed to curb forced labour in the global supply chains of businesses operating in the UK. The proposal has numerous failings; it does not articulate an obligation on companies to map and publicly disclose their supply chains, fails to mention the need for companies to conduct due diligence on their purchasing practices, and does not commit to instituting import restrictions on forced labour where companies sourcing from particular suppliers do not drive time-bound remediation.
- Propose a bill that, at a minimum, requires companies operating in the UK to map and publicly disclose their supply chains; provide more evidence of how they conducted due diligence; and create a complaints mechanism that can trigger investigations, remediation and forced labour bans.
- Supplement these efforts by introducing new laws to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses and environmental harms, in line with the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ recommendations, in consultation with civil society, including the Corporate Justice Coalition.
Economic and Social Rights
Global inflationary pressures, particularly on the cost of fuel and food, is affecting the UK along with other countries. However, IMF analysis shows that the impact of inflation is more unequal than in most other European countries. It finds that in the UK, living costs for the poorest 20 percent of households are set to rise by about twice as much as those for the wealthiest. Domestic groups have raised serious concerns about the living standards of low-income households. The UK Government has failed to take meaningful action to address these issues to protect people’s rights to an adequate standard of living and related rights to food, housing and social security.
- Take urgent steps to put in place a comprehensive nationwide anti-poverty strategy that accounts for the effect of the ongoing inflationary pressures.
- Act immediately to ensure that social security support levels are adequate to guarantee people’s right to an adequate standard of living and related rights, keeping pace with inflation, and specifically factoring in the costs of basic needs such as food, housing and energy.
Funding Abusive Institutions in Bahrain
Through the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), the UK Government supports and funds Bahrain-led and owned reform and capacity building programs involved in egregious human rights violations. The GSF has supported Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior and its Ombudsman, Special Investigations Unit and security bodies implicated in the abuses of at least eight men currently on death row. Human Rights Watch has documented how these men were convicted and sentenced to death following manifestly unfair trials based primarily or solely on coerced confessions, with the trial and appeal courts having dismissed and failed to investigate credible allegations of torture during interrogations and denied the defendants' fair trial and due process rights.
- Immediately suspend funding, support, technical assistance and training to Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior, security services, criminal justice system, and judiciary until Bahrain halts all executions, undertakes independent and impartial investigations into allegations of torture and violations of the right to a fair trial, and fully complies with its international human rights obligations.
Refugee and Migrant Rights
In April 2022, the UK entered into an Asylum Partnership Arrangement with Rwanda to expel asylum seekers who arrive in the UK through irregular migration routes. These asylum seekers will be processed under Rwanda’s asylum system and, if recognised as refugees, granted refugee status there, with Rwanda handling rejected claims. This is a clear abrogation of the UK’s international responsibilities and obligations to asylum seekers and refugees. Rwanda cannot be considered a “safe third country” for asylum seekers. Human Rights Watch has regularly reported on serious human rights violations committed by the Rwandan military, police, national intelligence services, and judicial authorities. The scheme is currently facing legal challenges.
- Rescind the agreement with Rwanda, uphold the UK’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law, and reaffirm the UK’s commitment to global responsibility sharing.
Women’s Rights and Domestic Abuse
More than 10 years after signing, the UK ratified the Istanbul Convention on July 21, 2022. However, it did so with reservations to Articles 44 and 59. Article 44 relates to the prosecution of UK citizens and residents for crimes committed outside UK territory. Article 59 compels countries to enact measures to protect migrant victims of violence whose residency status is dependent on a spouse or partner who is or becomes abusive. The UK has stated that it will apply the Article 59 reservation while awaiting evaluation of the Support for Migrant Victims Scheme; a scheme widely criticised as “wholly inadequate”, with evidence already showing the need for greater protections for migrant women victims of violence. This reservation leaves such women dependant on their abusers without assured access to crucial support and a pathway to escape violence.
In July, the UK amended a multinational statement on Freedom of Religion and Belief and Gender Equality to remove commitments to upholding bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights. 22 countries had signed the original statement; only eight have signed on to the amended statement. Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands publicly opposed the changes and refused to sign the new statement. Only Malta, where abortion is criminalised, added its signature to the revised statement.
- Ensure all women are equally protected from violence by removing the Article 59 reservation and implementing the Istanbul Convention equally for all women and girls irrespective of migration status.
- Urgently reverse changes to the statement on Freedom of Religion and Belief and Gender Equality to commit to upholding sexual and reproductive rights and ensure access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to legal abortion, throughout the UK.