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Human Rights Watch Issues Damning Verdict for UK

World Report 2023 Says UK Policies Raise 'Grave Human Rights Concerns'

Volunteers sort food into food parcels at the Rumney Forum community charity on November 8, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales. © 2022 Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

(London) – The United Kingdom government repeatedly sought to damage and undermine human rights protections in 2022, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2023. 
“In 2022, we saw the most significant assault on human rights protections in the UK in decades,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK director at Human Rights Watch. “From your right to protest to your ability to hold institutions to account, fundamental and hard-won rights are being systematically dismantled.” 
In the 712-page World Report 2023, its 33rd edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in close to 100 countries. In her introductory essay, acting Executive Director Tirana Hassan says that in a world in which power has shifted, it is no longer possible to rely on a small group of mostly Global North governments to defend human rights. The world’s mobilization around Russia’s war in Ukraine reminds us of the extraordinary potential when governments realize their human rights obligations on a global scale. The responsibility is on individual countries, big and small, to apply a human rights framework to their policies, and then work together to protect and promote human rights. 
Human Rights Watch highlighted several laws introduced in 2022 that had the effect of significantly weakening human rights protections. The UK government introduced laws that stripped rights of asylum seekers and other vulnerable people, encouraged voter disenfranchisement, limited judicial oversight of government actions, and placed new restrictions on the right to peaceful protest. 
The government also proposed the repeal and replacement of the Human Rights Act, which gives life to the European Convention on Human Rights in the United Kingdom, with a so-called Bill of Rights. Human Rights Watch said the bill, if adopted, would fundamentally undermine human rights protections in the UK. 
As these rights were being stripped away, the United Kingdom was hit hard by a cost-of-living crisis, with inflation reaching 11.1 percent by the end of October and official data showing that low-income households disproportionately felt the impact of rising energy and food prices. 
The government’s refusal to reverse a social security cut made in 2021, and a November 2022 announcement that social security support would not increase to meet inflation until April 2023 breach the rights to social security and to an adequate standard of living, Human Rights Watch said. Frontline welfare, anti-poverty, and food aid organizations criticized the government’s position. 
On the world stage, the UK’s record was decidedly mixed, Human Rights Watch said. Commendably, the government took on a leading role in multilateral forums to address abuses in Myanmar, China, Hong Kong, Russia, and Sri Lanka, as well as referring the Ukraine situation to the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor. However, in a number of situations, the UK failed to speak up or act against abuses, including those committed by Israel or that had been committed, including by the UK, during the colonial period. 
In April, the government passed the Nationality and Borders Act, which stripped away fundamental commitments to protect people fleeing persecution. The act criminalizes many of those who attempt to enter the UK irregularly to seek protection, empowers UK officials to engage in dangerous pushbacks at sea, and allows the government to expel asylum seekers from the UK to alleged “safe third countries.” 
The government then brokered a deal with Rwanda to expel asylum seekers arriving by boat or other irregular routes to Rwanda, despite the country’s appalling human rights record and opposition to the deal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other UN experts. The deal has been challenged in court, with the UNHCR intervening in the case, and the government has not yet been able to expel anyone to Rwanda. 
In June, when the UK’s then prime minister visited Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit, he failed to raise any human rights concerns. The UK government also continued to fund countries engaged in egregious human rights violations, including Bahrain; obstructed a proposal at the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics; undermined a Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel; and voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution on racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia. 
These policies undermine the UK’s ability to effectively advocate for a rules-based international order, Human Rights Watch said. 
“Despite heralding itself as playing a ‘leading role in defending democracy and freedom across the world,’ the UK Government has taken a sledgehammer to fundamental international commitments,” Ahmed said. “In one breath the British government is denouncing Russia for violating international law and in the next it’s actively flouting and undermining its own international commitments.” 

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