Most of the time, people in Britain can take for granted that their human rights will be respected - that they will be protected and treated with dignity. That's something to be proud of. But too often, people's rights are still not protected. From the sexual exploitation of girls in Oxford and the killing of Daniel Pelka in Birmingham to the mistreatment of patients at hospitals in Mid Staffordshire and racism in stop and search in Dorset, the list goes on. As we celebrate Human Rights Day this 10 December, it is important to reflect on the protections which have helped to shine a light on these and other abuses, and remember why charities like ours care about our human rights laws. They give people an important means of redress, help to make sure future breaches don't happen and contribute to a culture where dignity, equality and freedom are respected.
Patients and their families at Mid Staffordshire used human rights protections to challenge the way they were treated. It was these challenges that led to the Francis review of the way the NHS works and the type of health service we all want. When the US wanted to extradite Gary McKinnon it was stopped by the Home Secretary, because his health condition meant that the risk to his life was so great that it threatened his human rights. When young brothers ("A" and "S") were catastrophically let down by the care system, the Human Rights Act gave them the means to challenge the system. When Charlotte was forced to take antibiotics while in labour, with doctors threatening to involve social services and child protection if she refused, she used human rights arguments to compel the doctors to apologise and triggered a wider debate about how doctors balance women's rights while in labour. When an older couple were being threatened with being put in separate care homes a long way apart by social services, their human rights protections ensured they could stay together.
Human rights, and the laws that protect them, are a safety net that helps us all when we need it most. As charities working together through Equally Ours, a new initiative to raise awareness of human rights, we're here to help more people understand and use their human rights, so that we can live our lives with dignity, respect and freedom.
At the launch of Equally Ours last month, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive at Mind, the mental health charity, said: "A human rights thread runs through Mind's work. They are central to our mission to achieve better mental health for all and are regularly used by people with mental health problems and their advocates to protect people from abuse and discrimination, to offset the coercive powers of the mental health system and to ensure people are treated fairly, positively and with respect."
As politicians debate changes to our human rights laws, we are clear: what matters is that everyone's rights are respected in practice, every day. The Human Rights Act has already made big differences to the lives of many of us. The debate should focus on strengthening the way the safety net works in practice - making sure public bodies understand their duties and deliver services in a way which ensures dignity and respect for all of us.
There is still work to do, both to raise awareness of the benefits of strong human rights protections and to make sure they apply effectively, to everyone. The Equally Ours partners are proud to be working together to raise awareness of the everyday benefits of human rights for people from all walks of life, in every part of the country.