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Human Rights Survey

Last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published their Human Rights Inquiry examining people’s perceptions to human rights in the UK.  Some findings are encouraging; some unsurprising while others give cause for concern. For instance, the survey finds that British people tend to value traditional civil and political rights like freedom of expression and inherent dignity of all people. Moreover, the majority of people questioned feel that human rights are meaningful for them in their everyday life.  Of course, there can be several reasons for this varying from ignorance of what human rights actually are, what they entail for each individual, to actually being aware of human rights as a legal remedy and finding them “meaningful”/ useful as a bargaining tool. For instance, the survey indicate that higher socio-economic groups find human rights more “meaningful” – perhaps because they tend to be better informed about legal and political developments. More worryingly, however, the survey finds that the majority of the respondents agree with the statement: “some people take unfair advantage of human rights” (80 per cent). Given recent developments in the UK, this is perhaps not surprising. Although such findings are perhaps all too easily dismissed as being down to overly ignorant and unreasonable campaigning against human rights by tabloid newspapers, it is clear that a problem exist in securing that the core message of human rights as an institution is communicated to the British public. When reading today’s news, one cannot perhaps help wondering if some people are all to eager to pursue “human rights” claims (probably based on a somewhat misguided assumption that whenever the “human rights card” is played, it provides a trump), when common reason seems to suggest that other avenues might be more suitable. In this light, it is clear that human rights advocates, NGOs, politicians, lawyers and teachers of human rights (for the sake of avoiding name-blaming I include myself in the latter category) have a responsibility to make sure that the right messages are put across to the wider community. On the other hand, it is perhaps even more clear that some politicians have entirely misunderstood the problem as well as what is needed to address it (for instance when Conservative leader David Cameron has said that the Torries might consider repealing the 1998 Human Rights Act). Likewise, it is not entirely clear whether the Labour government has thought things through when it is proposing a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities although this falls in line with its long-established commitments to constitutional reform in general. On the other hand, a debate on this issue is obviously much welcome.

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