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Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s Annual Statement Event

09 Dec 2021

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will today [9th December] launch its 2021 Annual Statement.

The event will be held online from 12-1pm. It is hosted by Alex Maskey MLA, Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Chief Commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick said:

“This is my first annual statement as Chief Commissioner. I am proud of the work reflected in it but cannot take much of the credit for it. Credit must go to my predecessor Les Allamby, who led a dedicated team of Commissioners, and all the staff at the Commission. The statement is long, in places technical, reflecting the number and complexity of the issues, but it is always underpinned by the objective of ensuring practical and effective rights protection for all people in Northern Ireland.

The last 12 months continued to present challenges not least of which was the pandemic and its associated restrictions. Like everyone else, we were presented with issues which required an immediate response. We devoted time and resources to those issues, but we did not lose sight of our longer-term objectives. What the pandemic proved beyond doubt was that not all people enjoy the same level of protection. Unsurprisingly, those who were already vulnerable or marginalised suffered the most; many more have become vulnerable and marginalised as a result. It is not enough to recognise the disparity; something must be done about it. The Commission has redoubled its efforts to identify and reach those most in need. We will then focus on what we can do so that they can enjoy equally their fundamental human rights.

During this period, the Commission continued to deal with the impact of withdrawal from the European Union. Together with the Equality Commission NI, we monitored, advised, and reported on compliance with the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol. Our focus has been to ensure that the commitments are adhered to. We have been working relentlessly to explore the scope of protection and the practical impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

This report identifies 74 areas that require improvement. That is an increase on the previous 12 months. They include too broad a range of issues to summarise but include the many grave human rights consequences of poverty; a failure to protect vulnerable persons in care; a failure to commission reproductive health services; child sexual exploitation; and conflict related investigations.

The Commission has a number of concerns. By way of example, we are concerned at the absence of an anti-poverty strategy given the real deprivation faced by many. We are concerned that there needs to be a timely public inquiry into the handling of the Covid 19 pandemic. The Commission has recommended a public inquiry into the handling of COVID-19 within the UK and within NI in particular. We are concerned at the proposals for dealing with ‘legacy’ investigations and will consider carefully the outcome of the consultation process and anticipated draft legislation. We will do so within a framework of objective legal standards, which honour the rule of law. Those standards provide that truth, justice and the rule of law are, together, the very bases of our values. They are the foundation of democracy itself. We do not believe one must be sacrificed for the benefit of the other. The Commission is strongly of the view that if the law does not protect human rights, then the rule of law is stripped of its very principle. The Commission will expect the proposals to respect both the letter of the law and the wider rule of law.

The report records progress in some areas, which is welcomed, but that is far outweighed by the lack of progress overall. This comes at a time when the very notion of universal human rights is under challenge. The Commission is concerned at recent comments undermining human rights and calls to ‘scrap’ the Human Rights Act 1998. We believe that any diminution in the Act will result in further regression in the realisation of rights that will have a significant adverse impact on citizens. There is an opportunity to strengthen protection through a NI-specific Bill of Rights, but we believe that should be additional to, not a replacement for, the Human Rights Act. Our education and awareness-raising work will try to redress the negative rhetoric so we will welcome closer, more structured engagement with those most likely to be affected.

Our overall responsibilities are broad, but we will be judged by our impact on the ground. We intend to discharge those responsibilities robustly and, in the true spirit of human rights, focus on the inherent dignity of each human life.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1.The launch of the 2021 Annual Statement will take place online on Thursday 9th December from 12-1pm.

The launch will run as follows:

12.00 Welcome – NIHRC Chief Executive Dr David Russell

12.05 Introduction – NI Assembly Speaker, Alex Maskey MLA

12.10 Keynote Address – NIHRC Chief Commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick –

12.30 Q&A

2. The Annual Statement is a report assessing the state of human rights in Northern Ireland, which is published each year. Following the event, the 2021 Annual Statement will be accessible on our website at: www.nihrc.org

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