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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day. This is an opportunity to celebrate human rights, highlight a specific issue, and argue for the full enjoyment of all human rights by everyone everywhere.

This year, the spotlight is on the rights of all people to make their voices heard in public life and be included in political decision-making. These human rights — the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to peaceful assembly and association, and to take part in government (articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) underpin democracy across the world. Not just voting in elections but the right to protest. The Arab spring and the occupy movement are just two recent examples.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission is using the day to promote Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights. This is a first in the UK and will set out how to “fill the gaps” as well as build upon good practice in human rights protection in Scotland with public bodies, civil society and others already getting involved in discussing what it would contain.

This is also a good day to remind ourselves not to take our own human rights for granted. The UK government is working on a proposed Bill of Rights for the UK, as against the universal rights that were developed after the carnage of the Second World War. I have three specific concerns about this:

Attacks on the European Court of Justice in decisions such a prisoner voting. These attacks fail to understand that the ECHR is now integrated into our system of justice. Not forgetting the irony of attacks on judges from those who preach the rule of law to others.

Judges overturning the decisions of elected representatives. Most democratic states recognise that there have to be underpinning rights that protect people against arbitrary law making. Those advocating a Bill of Rights should also recognise that in jurisdictions that adopt this model, judges tend to be much more interventionist and powerful.

That we risk only giving legal rights to the 'worthy citizen' as against the principle of equal treatment. Deportation and immigration cases illustrate this point well.

I covered some of these issues at this time last year when Shami Chakribarti visited Scotland. She felt that Scots take a more positive view of human rights than the rest of the UK. I suspect this is based more on the absence of a ranting tabloid press than any greater understanding. However, I do believe that we can win the argument that Scots are human beings before we are citizens.