As a human rights student at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies it is probably not surprising that I view human rights as hard won freedoms which must be protected. However, closer to home, in Britain, it is increasingly apparent to me that human rights, can be a concept which is at best, misunderstood and at worst, vilified. Take a recent quote from the ‘Mail Online’ as an example:
‘Britain is set to pull out of the discredited European Convention on Human Rights that has allowed dangerous criminals and hate preachers to remain in the UK…a triumph for The Mail on Sunday’s campaign against the ludicrous abuses of justice carried out in the name of human rights.’
Not that I’m saying everyone in the UK reads ‘the Daily Mail’ or agrees with this perspective. Far from it. However, I think it’s naive to imagine that the UK government does not take these attitudes on board. Take, as two current examples, firstly, the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights (which investigated the creation of new legislation to replace the Human Rights Act) and secondly, the lack of reference to human rights in the proposed new Citizenship curriculum. The Human Rights Act was intended to encourage a culture of human rights in the UK. Sadly, I think, we’ve still got a long way to go.
But let’s not give up on developing this human rights culture yet. The British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) ‘believe[s] that human rights have a real role to play in building a stronger, fairer, more socially-just society’. A large part of the work they do is with voluntary sector organisations, those working to support individuals and groups whose voice is often not heard and who often experience poverty, disadvantage, discrimination and injustice. The BIHR offers training and a range of resources to enable these organisations to understand what human rights are, how they can be applied to everyday interactions with public services, such as social services, educating, policing and most importantly, how they can make a difference!
In order to explore this further, I am putting together a radio programme which features the British Institute of Human Rights alongside representatives from two Brighton-based voluntary sector organisations: Age UK Brighton and Hove and Assert. Age UK Brighton and Hove helps people aged 50 and over through advocacy, services and by running activities. Assert supports adults in Brighton with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism through advocacy and raising awareness of the condition. The programme will explore their understanding of human rights, the barriers to using human rights in their work, the possible benefits it could bring and strategies for improving public understanding of human rights.
I hope the radio programme will demonstrate how organisations, like Assert and Age UK, are perfectly place to change public perceptions of human rights by empowering their service users to understand, respect and be enabled to use human rights. Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, explained:
‘Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.’
The radio programme will be broadcast on local Brighton radio at the end of April/ beginning of May. Sign up to Spit it Out’s email notifications or follow us on Twitter to be notified of the exact date.
For more information about any of the organisations to be featured in the programme, please click on the following links:
British Institute of Human Rights www.bihr.org
Age UK Brighton and Hove http://www.ageuk.org.uk/brightonandhove/
Assert Brighton http://www.assertbh.org.uk/