THE UK GOVERNMENT is “bulldozing” human rights as part of a systematic dismantling of human rights protections, which is also threatening respect for human rights around the world, Amnesty International said as it published its annual review of global human rights.
Focusing on developments from 2022, Amnesty cited restrictive new laws limiting peaceful protests, a range of hostile measures on asylum, seeking to deny justice for conflict-related human rights violations, and repeated threats to scrap the Human Rights Act and withdraw from or impose limitations on the UK’s compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. All of these have been made worse by further legislation launched in 2023.
The UK’s assault on human rights comes against an international backdrop which has seen a “human rights catastrophe” in Ukraine – with Russian forces committing mass war crimes, extrajudicial executions, forcible transfers of civilians and unlawful killings – and a severe deterioration in human rights for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iran, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
The findings are part of the 412-page Amnesty International Report 2022/23: The state of the world’s human rights, the organisation’s authoritative annual survey of global human rights developments.
UK assault on core human rights included:
Asylum and migration: the Government seriously flouted its international obligations to provide protection to people fleeing persecution and conflict by unilaterally redefining what a refugee is in the Nationality and Borders Act and adopting its highly controversial Rwanda forced relocation scheme. Even more draconian measures, effectively ending the asylum system altogether, are currently going through Parliament in the latest immigration bill
Right to protest: the 2022 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act gave police extremely wide-ranging new powers which undermined freedom of expression – including the ability to ban ‘noisy protests’ – and further entrenched racism by criminalising travelling communities’ way of life and expanding police stop-and-search. These freedoms will be cut even further when the Public Order Bill, currently in its final parliamentary stages, is passed.
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill: if made law, this widely opposed bill would give the Government licence to let state forces and illegal armed groups get away with murder, torture and other serious crimes while denying victims’ right to truth, justice and accountability. It significantly interferes in the justice system, undermines the rule of law, and sets a dangerous precedent internationally, including by giving a green light to countries that also want to deny justice for grave human rights violations.
Human Rights Act: ministers repeatedly threatened to scrap the UK’s fundamental human rights protection law and replace it with a diluted ‘Bill of Rights’. The proposals, like the Troubles Bill, would lead to breaches of the ECHR and are also in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.
Homelessness: the report highlights that hundreds of thousands of people in England are currently categorised as homeless, many because of bureaucratic, policy and legal barriers in dysfunctional housing and homelessness-prevention systems.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said: “Bit by bit we’re seeing the bulldozing of human rights in the UK. Not only are fundamental rights slowly being stripped away in this country, but the UK is becoming a negative force for human rights on the world stage.
“Would-be authoritarians around the world will be looking on approvingly as ministers have decimated the right to peaceful protest, shredded asylum rights, threatened to scrap the Human Rights Act and sought to block justice for Troubles victims. Britain needs to end this all-out assault on human rights – it’s doing untold damage to the fabric of our country and it’s setting a terrible example to other countries around the world.”
Amnesty’s global report highlights how blatant double standards on human rights have dominated over the past year throughout the world. For example, the West’s robust response to Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine has contrasted sharply with a lack of meaningful action on grave violations by allied countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Double standards have also been on display in the West’s attitude towards refugees, with EU countries opening their doors to Ukrainian refugees while those fleeing war and repression in Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere have faced numerous barriers. For example, though the USA has admitted tens of thousands of Ukrainians it also expelled more than 25,000 Haitians between 2021 and 2022 and detained and subjected many to torture and other ill-treatment.
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “Countries applied human rights law on a case-by-case basis in a staggering show of blatant hypocrisy and double standards. Governments cannot criticise human rights violations one minute and in the next condone similar abuses in other countries just because their interests are at stake. It’s unconscionable and undermines the entire fabric of universal human rights.”
* Download Amnesty International Report 2022/23: The state of the world’s human rights here.
* Source: Amnesty International