On Thursday, the United Kingdom will come before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva as part of its Universal Periodic Review, which gives UN member states the chance to comprehensively review and make recommendations on its human rights record. The UK’s last UPR was in May 2017.
This review could not be timelier. A new government has been appointed and all signs suggest that human rights protections will continue to suffer.
While the government has made some progress since 2017, it has failed to do so on several important issues and sought to renege on its international obligations as outlined in our submission to the UN and update ahead of the UK’s UPR. This trajectory has global implications, undermining international standards at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes the defense of such norms critical.
Rather than strengthening rights protections at home, the UK has proposed repealing and replacing the Human Rights Act and the new home secretary has previously called for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which are crucial to upholding the Good Friday Agreement.
The government has sought to dismantle the international refugee protection framework in the UK by passing the Nationality and Borders Act and concluding an agreement with Rwanda to expel asylum seekers there. In what would be a further breach of its international obligations, the home secretary has proposed a “blanket ban” on asylum claims from people arriving irregularly.
At a time when sexual and reproductive health and rights are under global threat, the UK deleted this terminology from a global statement on Freedom of Religion and Belief and Gender Equality. It has also appointed a new minister for women who previously pushed for reducing the timeframe for legal abortion and supported barriers to abortion access. While it finally ratified a crucial treaty to tackle violence against women and girls, it excludes many migrant women from key protections.
And despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with millions facing a devastating cost of living crisis, the UK government is contemplating fresh austerity measures which will exacerbate existing failures to ensure the rights to food, housing, and social security.
During the UK’s UPR, countries should address the government’s regression on human rights and press it to uphold its international commitments. Let’s hope the global spotlight compels the UK to change course and uphold rights at home and abroad.