by Democrat reporter
EIGHT KEY human-rights organisations in Britain and Ireland have issued a joint appeal for human rights to be placed at the centre of political discussions aimed at restoring devolution and putting the Good Friday agreement back on track.
Amnesty International, British Irish Rights Watch, Committee on the Administration of Justice, Human Rights Watch, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Liberty and the Scottish Human Rights Centre, made their appeal at the end of January.
The organisations see the current talks as an ideal opportunity for progressing the human-rights and equality agendas, and for securing lasting peace.
“Our eight organisations have consistently argued that human rights abuses have fed and fuelled the conflict in Northern Ireland,” states their joint appeal. The statement also acknowledges that the conflict, and the serious human-rights abuses associated with it, have had a negative impact on civil liberties in Britain and Ireland.
“Peace cannot be permanently secured without addressing the long-term protection of everyone’s human rights. Despite the advances in recent years, obstacles have been placed in the way of change and much remains to be done to effect real change on the ground,” it continues.
The groups want governments, the political parties and “wider civic society” to commit themselves to concrete human-rights targets against which progress can be measured. The eight have set out a programme of action, including:
- political commitment to developing, legislating and enforcing a strong and inclusive Bill of Rights for the north;
- the setting up of mechanism for dealing with the legacy of past human-rights abuses;
- the repeal of emergency legislation;
- guarantees to ensure that devolution of policing and criminal justice responsibilities comply with human-rights norms;
- compliance with recommendations by human-rights-treaty bodies;
- the placing of human rights and equality considerations at the centre of all policy making;
- independent reviews into the work of statutory bodies;
- renewed efforts to resource local community and participatory initiatives aimed at addressing deep social divisions— including sectarianism, other forms of discrimination and ongoing high levels of violence;
- increased efforts to tackle social and economic inequalities and long-term unemployment, and
- greater priority for human-rights concerns around language, cultural diversity, participation of women in public life, unemployment differentials, the needs of victims, ex-prisoners and young people, and the promotion of reconciliation and tolerance.
While the groups’ programme focuses specifically on the north, it expresses the hope that human-rights advances there will have a wider impact throughout Britain and Ireland. The demand for a Bill of Rights for the north has been around since the days of the civil rights movement. In 1971, one was formally drafted by the prominent Connolly Association figure, and the then editor of the Irish Democrat, C Desmond Greaves.
A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was introduced by sympathetic parliamentarians -— Labour MP Arthur Latham and Lord Fenner Brockway -— in both houses of the Westminster parliament on 12 May 1971.
Although it was defeated by the Tory government of the day, 135 MPs voted to progress the proposed legislation.
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