Scotland ‘lags behind many countries on human rights’

Dr Katie Boyle says Scotland could take the initiative in protecting human rights in a devolved system.
Dr Katie Boyle says Scotland could take the initiative in protecting human rights in a devolved system.
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Scotland lags behind many countries in human rights laws concerning basic needs such as health, housing and employment, a report reveals.

Research released today by the Scottish Human Rights Commission highlights an “accountability gap” in Scotland and the UK.

The report, by Dr Katie Boyle, associate professor of law at the University of Stirling, comes in the week the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, visits Scotland and the UK to explore links between poverty and human rights.

Her report details how countries from Germany and Sweden to South Africa, Argentina and Colombia have stronger laws and accountability processes for economic, social and cultural rights than Scotland.

About 65 countries, 12 of them in Europe, explicitly enshrine these rights in their constitutions. Others, such as Finland, also build in parliamentary scrutiny.

Boyle said improving Scotland’s human rights record was dependent on political will and leadership.

“Scotland can take the lead and demonstrate best practice in meeting international human rights obligations in devolved areas.

“Comparative research demonstrates that it is possible to incorporate international human rights standards,” she said.

“This is called a multi-institutional approach where responsibility for protecting rights is shared by the judiciary, executive and parliament.

“It is not so much about whether we can improve rights protections but how best to do so, if the political will is there, within our unique devolved framework.”

Judith Robertson, chair of the Commission, said people’s rights were also being “violated” by complex bureaucratic structures – such as the much-criticised Universal Credit process – putting people further into poverty and causing extreme stress.

The report, Models of Incorporation and Justiciability for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, highlights that people in Scotland have limited recourse to human rights laws when it comes to realising their economic, social and cultural rights.

Robertson, pictured, warned Brexit could pose problems in areas such as employment rights.

“Scotland can and should reflect what’s happening in many other countries around the world.

“Taking action to better protect people’s rights by incorporating these international standards into domestic law is all the more important given the context of Brexit and the risks to rights that this presents.”

The Scottish Government’s advisory group on human rights leadership is due to report later this year on the protection of economic, social and environmental rights.

Equalities minister Christina McKelvie said: “Our vision is for a Scotland where every member of society can live with human dignity and is at the heart of our policies in areas as diverse as justice and education, health and housing. Dignity, respect and human rights – civil and political rights as well as the full range of internationally recognised economic, social and cultural human rights – are fundamental to everything we do and are the foundations of Scotland’s new social security system.

“This report is a welcome contribution to a much bigger debate about how we work together as a nation in order to make rights real for every member of society.

“We have already committed to incorporating the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and look forward to the First Minister’s advisory group on human rights leadership making further recommendations in December for us to consider.”