René Cassin virtual roundtable, 20 May 2020
with Rebecca Hilsenrath, CEO, Equality and Human Rights Commission
chaired by Daniel Silverstone (Chair of René Cassin Board of Trustees)
An invitation-only roundtable discussion to consider the current challenges and opportunities for human rights safeguards in the UK
Key framing questions
- To what extent (if at all) could/should we participate in the Government’s proposed Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission (CDRC) without fundamentally weakening human rights protections and access to justice in the UK?
- How do we build consensus in response to COVID-19, especially with focus on socio-economic rights?
- What are the opportunities to change the narrative on human rights?
Wide range of COVID-19 related human rights issues
Key human rights issues that have emerged from restriction and guidelines imposed by government in response to COVID-19:
- Right to health; right to life – disproportionate impacts of virus and government’s response
- Elderly and care-homes
- Shortages of PPE and testing
- Risk by returning to work (travel; BAME)
- Right to privacy
- Storage of data
- Equality issues
- Right to education – access to education from low socio-economic background
- Right to adequate standard of living – e.g. for disabled people
- Civil and political rights – right to assembly; right to practice religion; right to family life
- Socio-economic divide will become more entrenched
- Measures enacted in crisis can become ‘hard-baked’. Human rights were designed to deal with crises – decisions informed by human rights are better decisions
- Dialogue with government is vital
- Enforcement powers
- Ensure debate on key issues
- Collect and provide evidence
- An independent advisory role on CDRC
- Dialogue with devolution actors
- Explore ways of responding to / dealing with COVID-19 crisis in a way that would help deal with CDRC (e.g. climate justice)
- Opportunity to change narrative on Human Rights Act that was very much coloured by 9/11 (because of proximity in timing)
- In context of current pandemic, looking at human rights as different context of risk to life (not from terrorists but from a disease) but equally a threat
- Important how checks and balances incorporate human rights
- To gain / build on public opinion, need to show places where human rights have been helpful
- Increase focus on social care – people weren’t aware of the level of neglect
Where go we go from here?
With COVID-19 we are experiencing an unprecedented ‘all society crisis’ not seen since 1930s-1940s.
From this emerges the need and more importantly the opportunity for a new narrative on human rights on what unites us, especially around socio-economic rights and how we given expression to those in policy decisions so that government views human rights as a helpful framework.
In the immediate and longer term, these are some of the opportunities and challenged that were identified:
- Careful understanding and learning of how the current human rights architecture (set in 1945 onwards) is responding to the unique ‘stress tests’ of COVID-19 (in terms of accountability, litigation, public buy-in)
- Should ‘right to life’ be extended to ‘right to livelihood’?
- Has the ‘right to live’ morphed into ‘right to life years’?
- How to we ensure that government views human rights as a positive aid in devising new policies e.g. re-designing social care?
- Socio-economic rights should be seen as purely a matter for the courts
- There is an opportunity to re-set the narrative by focusing on cross-over where socio-economic rights intersect in public sphere with traditional civil liberties e.g. policing and homelessness