The UN Review of Human Rights in the UK
As a charity working with communities across Scotland, we care about human rights and always want to learn more.
This blog talks about the UN’s review of Human Rights in the UK. It breaks down recommendations from 115 countries for how the UK can better protect human rights.
Once every 5 years the UN (United Nations) reviews how well human rights are protected in each country. This helps the international community hold governments to account. No country has a perfect record, but many people around the world are working to promote and defend human rights. It can be helpful to hear scrutiny and expand our imagination with different ideas.
Recently the UK took part in a human rights Review, where the UN looked at evidence about the real-life experiences of people in the UK. It looks at things like civil rights, access to food, health care, inequality, and people’s experiences with criminal justice.
Recommendations from other countries
Now the Review is done, there’s an ‘interactive dialogue’ – a conversation between the UN and the UK about next steps. It invited human rights experts in 115 different countries to share their recommendations for changes they think are important to improve human rights and dignity for people here.
It led to 302 recommendations for the UK. You can read the full recommendations on HRCS’s website.
This blog gives a summary of some key recommendations.
So, what are the global views on our Human Rights protections and experiences?
Several of the recommendations are about reducing economic inequality. Overall, they suggest we need to strengthen the economic rights of different groups in society.
Romania suggested an emergency poverty strategy to deal with the impact of rising costs on child poverty targets. Some countries highlight we need better access to affordable, accessible social housing – with adequate housing for all. Brazil suggested steps to improve food security, in particular for young and Disabled people. Viet Nam recommended more resources for poverty reduction and social welfare.
Slovenia made the point that for older women’s equality, it’s important to ‘apply a combined gender and age perspective in tax and benefits policy’.
A connected point is women’s representation in decision making – including women from every background. Inclusive leadership is important for making decisions that work for everyone.
Eight countries mention the climate, with Costa Rica suggesting a moratorium or ban on exploring new oil and gas sites.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands suggested we amp up efforts to address harm caused by fracking, pollution and climate change. Several countries highlight how climate (in)action affects everyone’s human right to enjoy a clean, healthy, sustainable environment. Another suggestion is enshrining the human right to a healthy environment into our UK domestic law.
Rural issues came up too. A few countries mentioned how we need to improve access to health care, services, education and work in rural areas. The need for accessible rural support (United Republic of Tanzania), and combatting all kinds of discrimination, particularly against women (Vanuatu) were raised.
Timor-Leste suggested we ensure equal participation of rural women in policy making, disaster mitigation and climate change. This connects with our experience working with people in rural communities, where women’s leadership is key for building community wealth, wellbeing and transitioning to Net Zero.
Canada references the new legislation on public order ( ), and says the UK should keep its ‘robust tradition of citizens’ right to peacefully protest’.
Liechtenstein recommends bringing laws about communication surveillance ‘in line with international human rights standards’ and ensure surveillance can only happen if it’s necessary and proportionate. India recommends continuing to strengthen Human Rights Institutions in the UK.
Refugees’ safety and rights
There was strong concern around upcoming UK policies (including the ‘Rwanda scheme’) likely to prevent refugees from accessing their human rights and having safety and dignity. It was questioned whether the policies breach the 1951 Refugee Convention and international law. Several countries discuss the need to reunify families – which is important for children’s rights too.
Recommendations included ending indefinite detention of people, and reducing detention. In the UK many migrant individuals and families are detained for an indefinite amount of time, with serious impacts on rights and wellbeing. Several countries highlight the need to not discriminate against refugees arriving in the country in different ways.
There were also points around human trafficking. Jordan recommended better access to information and legal aid for victims. Liechtenstein suggests improving the training of law enforcement, prison and first responders who work in these contexts. Other countries say training needs to include human rights, trauma, and safety for children. Libya suggests training police on minimum rules for how prisoners are treated (Mandela Rules).
Access to healthcare and support
Several countries made recommendations on access to health care. Finland and other countries highlighted ensuring women in Northern Ireland are able to access safe abortion services. Countries including Eswatani mentioned strengthening laws that improve access to healthcare for women and girls, and people in marginalised groups.
Six countries recommended we adopt legislation banning conversion therapy practices for all LGBTQI+ people. Several countries suggest reforming the Gender Recognition Act, with Australia saying it should be based on international human rights standards. Iceland also recommended combatting media disinformation targeted against the LGBTQI+ community.
Eight countries (Australia, Canada, Uruguay, Iceland, New Zealand, Argentina, Netherlands, Malta) made recommendations around health access for LGBTQI people, including funding services better and de-pathologising them. Reducing hate crimes and stigma is a frequent recommendation around LGBTQI people, Disabled People, and people in other marginalised groups.
Countries recommended that the UK takes more steps to ensure people experiencing domestic violence can access support and safety. Croatia suggests improving data collection on gender-based violence, including disability disaggregated data.
Religious and racial equality
Combating racism and Islamophobia was a key theme in the recommendations. More than 35 countries highlighted the need to reduce racially motivated hate crimes and discrimination in the UK.
Many countries recommend we hasten removal of structural barriers to racial and ethnic minority communities’ equal and non-discriminatory enjoyment of human rights. South Africa suggests implementing the 20 actions in the ‘Agenda towards transformative change for racial justice and equality’ would support this work.
Barbados recommends doing more work to address racial disparities in people’s experiences with criminal justice, employment, mental health and education in particular.
Croata recommends improving our hate crime legislation with regard to combating racist and xenophobic speech and language. And Eswatini recommends laws to combat racial profiling and stigmatisation, and several other countries identify profiling as an issue.
China’s recommendation is a bit different. It’s to address the root causes of systematic racism, and the social legacy of colonialism.
Fair work and pay
The pay gap – the difference in average pay between men and women, and different groups – was a concern. Several countries recommended we do more to address it and include disability, race and ethnicity in the data reported by organisations about their pay gaps.
It was suggested the UK needs a better employment policy for people with disabilities, so we have decent work and equal pay (Jordan). And we could strengthen and fund labour market inspection, to ensure good, non-discriminatory workplace conditions (Botswana). Continuing working on prevention workplace sexual harassment was also recommended (Georgia).
Children’s rights are included across the themes – health, safety, equality – and there are some specific recommendations.
Several countries argue our age of criminal responsibility should be raised to the standard of 14. At the moment children can be held liable for a crime at 10 years old in England and Wales, and 12 in Scotland. India also suggests increasing the age of marriage to 18 across the UK.
Bulgaria raises the point of online safety for children and young people. It recommends a digital inclusion strategy, so the online world can benefit young people’s rights and wellbeing.
Estonia connects children’s rights with economic rights, saying the government should work to end child poverty.
Sweden and Finland say we should ban physical punishment of children in all settings.
The criminal justice system
There were points on needing better safety and justice for victims, people in detention, and members of the public. Better access to legal advice was raised as important for everyone.
Countries recommended finding better ways to address hate crimes and domestic violence. Ideas were creating hate crime ‘action plans’, and better training for police and judges.
Discrimination in policing was a concern. Sri Lanka recommended the UK addresses the issue of racial profiling. In particular, police profiling people in the street because of their race or religion. Brazil also highlighted police using force against minority groups, and the need for training. Non-discrimination is a core idea in human rights law – people should be able to live in peace and safety, and access services, without being discriminated against.
The conditions and safety in prisons was another point. Poor conditions harm peoples’ dignity and health. Racial disproportion in prisons was also raised. Costa Rica asks for concrete measures addressing the over-representation of children from racial minority backgrounds in the criminal justice system. Pakistan highlighted prison safety and conditions, noting serious impacts on mental health.
International human rights law
More than a dozen countries raise concern about the replacement of the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights. There’s more information about these plans on the British Institute of Human Rights’ website. Greece’s recommendation sums it up: ‘Ensure that any proposed changes to the Human Rights Act do not diminish access to justice’.
It’s also frequently recommended that the UK fully implements core Human Rights treaties. These include:
- International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
- International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure
- Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Samoa suggests harmonizing the treaties into our domestic UK law.
To learn more, you can read HRCS’s analysis of the recommendations. HRCS and other organisations are now calling on the UK government to reflect and take action.
What do you think of the ideas? Do they match up to your experiences living in Scotland? Are their other recommendations you’d add?
This blog is part of Outside the Box’s Connecting Equality project, which explores everyday human rights and supports diverse groups of older people to have a say in politics, policy and their communities.