PILA Guest piece by Les Allamby
08 October 2015
The Chief Commissioner writes for PILA this month updating them on the work of the Commission.
The Commission continues its work across Northern Ireland promoting best practice and highlighting any gaps in human rights protections. Our aim is to show the practical value of human rights principles and standards. Here is a roundup of what we have been up to.
A new Human Rights and Business Forum is underway, led by businesses alongside trade unions and NGOs and facilitated by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. In recent years a spotlight has focused on the impact of business on the rights of workers, customers and local communities. Since the United Nations adopted the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) as a global framework for addressing the human rights impacts of corporations in 2011, the momentum to embed these at a national level has accelerated.
The first two meetings have heard presentations from businesses on measures to prevent labour exploitation and from companies that have used the Ethical Trading Initiative’s ‘Base Code’ as a method of recognising and managing their human rights impact. The Forum will help ensure Northern Ireland has a voice in the UK’s Second National Action Plan, which is due to be launched in Geneva next month. The Forum is also developing a local guide with case studies to show how human rights principles can be effectively put into best business practice. Northern Ireland businesses or NGOs are encouraged to join. The Forum will also be organising an event at the Human Rights Consortium’s Festival in early December.
The Commission has also been working in partnership with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to develop practical human rights training tools for civils servants. In the autumn we will launch an open portal, housed through our own website, which will provide access to all of our recently developed training materials and resources.
We continue to take strategic litigation in our endeavour to provide remedies for the most vulnerable. We are waiting on a judgment from our judicial review on the law on termination of pregnancy. We are seeking to change the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest. Our view is that the current law does not protect women and girl’s right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, their right to privacy or their right to freedom from discrimination. We expect judgement on this landmark case in the autumn.
Almost weekly we are before the Assembly Committees providing our assessment on the gaps within incoming legislation and consultations. From the Mental Capacity Bill to the Justice Bill we have provided our assessment of whether a Bill is compatible with human rights. As with all our work we base all our advices on the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards. On a number of occasions we have been able to persuade an Assembly Committee and subsequently the Northern Ireland Executive to make changes to legislation for example, with the recent introduction of Domestic Violence Protection Orders to the recent Justice Bill. We will shortly publish a technical analysis of the human rights obligations specifically engaged by the dealing with the past measures contained in the Stormont House Agreement.
On the international stage we continue to fulfil our role as an ‘A’ Status accredited National Human Rights Institution. We recently reported our concerns ahead of the upcoming examination by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Commission identified over 30 areas in Northern Ireland which require attention. We have advised that steps should be taken by the State Party to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 12 years of age in addition to calling for immediate and effective action to address the issue of paramilitary attacks against children.
Following our ground breaking human rights inquiry into Accident and Emergency care we are now working to follow up its recommendations. We are therefore delighted that the Belfast Health and Social Trust has agreed to a pilot project focussing on care in emergency departments following our Inquiry.
In June, for the first time, I made a joint presentation with Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. We outlined our concerns over the UK Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. The Commission has also worked behind the scenes to raise concerns that any legislative proposals should not undermine commitments contained within the Belfast, St Andrews and Stormont House Agreement. A UK consultation document is expected before Christmas.
On December 10 2015 the Commission will launch its annual statement on human rights at Stormont. The keynote speaker at the launch will be Jon Snow the journalist and Channel 4 news presenter who will talk on why the media doesn’t get human rights. For more detail on this event of any of the Commission’s work contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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