UK's reputation as human rights champion under threat

Published: 21 Sep 2017

The UK’s equality and human rights bodies are warning that the UK's reputation as a champion of human rights is now seriously under threat as the Government supports only 42% of the recommendations made to it by the UN.

The UK risks losing its status as a champion of human rights due to the negative tone from some politicians and the threat to people’s equality and human rights protections post-Brexit, the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission will warn today.

Delivering a statement on behalf of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Mr Isaac will speak out on this issue at the UN in Geneva as it conducts the latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UK’s record on human rights.

The UPR is a unique process which takes place every five years and sees a country’s human rights record scrutinised by all UN Member States.

This year, the UK received 227 recommendations but has only chosen to support 96, just 42% of the total and significantly less than the 73% global average.

In a statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, David Isaac said:

"Historically, the UK has been a champion of human rights. But that reputation is now under threat, due to the negative tone of debate from some politicians and many parts of the media around the Human Rights Act, and the potential risk to people’s equality and human rights protections when the UK leaves the European Union.

"The international human rights system provides greater protection for those rights, but the UK Government’s continued refusal to fully incorporate the UN treaties it has signed shows scant regard for its international commitments."

Of all the 131 recommendations which the UK Government refused to support, the most alarming included:

  • 13 separate recommendations around either retaining the Human Rights Act or ensuring that any new British Bill of Rights maintains the same level of protections
  • 5 recommendations on the need to put a time limit on how long someone can be held in immigration detention (the UK is the only European country without such a time limit)
  • 3 recommendations on the detention of children in immigration centres (the UK Government stated that its immigration legislation is in line with its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), but the CRC Committee last year disagreed and asked the UK Government to review the Immigration Act 2016)
  • 1 recommendation on eradicating child poverty and reviewing the impact of welfare reform on children from disadvantaged families (the UK Government explained that 'Due to methodological and modelling limitations, the UK Government does not publish such cumulative analysis for protected characteristics', though the Equality and Human Rights Commission has previously shown that such assessments are both feasible and practicable)
  • 2 recommendations on tackling hate speech in the media and tabloid newspapers
  • 1 recommendation suggesting children should be banned from joining the armed forces, in line with its obligations under the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

David Isaac concluded his statement by saying:

"We are disappointed by the lack of leadership on human rights across the UK Government, and would like to see greater engagement with the UPR process from now on. Governments across the UK should publish clear and actionable plans for implementing your recommendations."

Notes to editors

Find out more about the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

UPR facts:

  • when New Zealand was reviewed in 2014, it supported 78% of recommendations
  • when France was reviewed in 2013, it supported 82% of recommendations
  • when Saudi Arabia was reviewed in 2013, it supported 66% of recommendations
  • when Russia was reviewed in 2013, it supported 68% of recommendations
  • the last update the UK Government provided on its second cycle recommendations from 2012 saw 54% supported
  • various states have published plans for how they intend to implement the recommendations after a review – the UK Government has never done so
  • the UK Government signed international treaties but none of these are formally incorporated into domestic law, meaning they cannot be directly enforced by the courts

Read David Isaac's full statement to the UN Human Rights Council.

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102

07767 272 818 (out of hours)