This week, as part of March for Human Rights, the British Institute of Human Rights is putting human rights on the map with a tour of pop-up events from Aberdeen to Brighton, Cardigan to Northampton. Here, Sanchita Hosali, the Deputy Director of BIHR, reflects on why this campaign is needed now.
All too often we hear negative commentary purporting to speak for the public and what they think about human rights. March for Human Rights 2017 is about telling a different, often unheard story. This month-long campaign provides a positive opportunity for all those who are #AlrightWithHumanRights to stand together across social media. In addition, rather than assuming what people think about human rights, this week sees the start of BIHR touring towns and cities holding free pop-up events to learn more about the Human Rights Acts and to delve beneath the headlines.
From a cursory glance at much of the mainstream media and political rhetoric it is fair to say that the Human Rights Act often attracts ire, claims which supposedly speak for "the public". As with so many laws designed to redress power imbalances, inherent privilege and discrimination, the Human Rights Act is an easy target, especially for those who have less immediate need of it or who feel it curtails their powers.
However, when we engage with people, and uncover some of the stories behind the headlines, the reality behind the rhetoric, we see a real shift in attitudes. Many of those we meet are ambivalent, confused or sometimes fearful of the Human Rights Act. That is why having the human rights conversation is so important. At BIHR we want to provide people with the information and space to make up their own minds when it comes to human rights. We know that these spaces are sorely lacking. The national curriculum is virtually silent on the Human Rights Act, and it is absent in many professional qualifications (including of those who will have a legal duty to respect and protect human rights once in the working world).
We find that a very different, far more positive story emerges once we give people the facts about the Human Rights Act, when we look at how it works and when we unpick the "controversies" that dominate the headlines and soundbites. What we see is how the Human Rights Act is not simply about the courts, or a law that has a narrow focus, such as (possibly) preventing (some) deportations. People share with us how the Human Rights Act is an important tool to help make difficult decisions, an ethos which should underpin all of our public services.
Firefighters share with us how the Human Rights Act helps them make difficult decisions about protecting the lives of the public and staff. How those supporting people living with dementia are able to ensure loved ones have the space to share important moments in life. How Gemma, a young woman with learning disabilities, challenged her placement in an older people's care home and was supported to living in the community. How midwives are ensuring women to have more positive birth experiences. And so much more.
This March, as we put human rights on the map, we will be confronting the questions, queries and concerns people across the UK have about the Human Rights Act. We fully expect to tackle some challenging issues, but experience has taught us that providing people with authoritative, accessible and relevant information has the power to take people on a positive human rights journey. Ultimately our human rights laws are about each one of us is treated with equal dignity and respect, and that's why we're dedicating March to human rights.
The British Institute of Human Rights empowers people to know what human rights are (and what they are not), to use them in practice to achieve positive change and to make sure those in power respect and progress our human rights laws and systems. You can join the March for Human Rights digital action using #AlrightWithHumanRights across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and tag the British Institute of Human Rights (@BIHRhumanrights).