Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that everyone has. They are what allows us to walk down the street, speak to our friends and go to work. In fact, almost everything we do in our daily lives is because we have our human rights.
The rights themselves are based on core principles like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and autonomy. When they are properly put in place in society they allow us to live a dignified human life.
Here, we’re lucky that Scottish and UK law means that human rights should be part and parcel of the way government and services behave and do their job. Acting as a cornerstone of a healthy democracy, human rights make sure that the government plays fair by giving people a voice. They’re a safety net for everyone.
So what are my human rights?
Human rights cover things that we probably all take for granted. They allow us to live, marry and have families. They also include civil and political rights. They let you have an opinion and voice it, they let you vote, celebrate your beliefs and get a fair hearing should you ever need one. And they cover economic, social and cultural rights which covers things that are much more day to day. They are there to make sure you have an adequate standard of living, don’t go hungry, ensure you have access to water and sanitation and have access to healthcare.
All of this is built on an original document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.
And how are they protected?
Here in Scotland, your human rights are protected in a number of different ways. Some rights are protected by the Human Rights Act, which incorporates most of the European Convention of Human Rights into our legal system. The Convention is also embedded into the Scotland Act, which makes sure that the people in charge act according to those rights in any action they take. In Scotland, we also have access to other human rights because the UK has signed up to various international human rights treaties. The way it works is that most civil and political rights are protected under the Human Rights Act, whilst Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are covered by international treaties. It’s worth noting that while Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can’t be claimed through the courts, the Government has a responsibility to make sure you still enjoy these rights as far as they possibly can.
And what’s been achieved in recent years due to human rights legislation?
People who have benefited directly from the Human Rights Act include:
- Victims of domestic abuse, who have been able to get better protection;
- Victims of rape, who have been able to ensure that the police properly investigate offences;
- Disabled people affected by welfare reform;
- LGBTI people who have claimed their rights to overcome discrimination;
- An elderly couple who, after 65 years of marriage, were going to be forced to live apart due to their differing care needs.
Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have led to progressive developments in areas, such as:
- Ending interrogation techniques that amount to inhuman or degrading treatment
- Preventing removal to a country where a person faces a real risk of torture
- Criminalising forced labour and slavery
- Abolishing corporal punishment in schools
- Improving the rights of victims and witnesses in court
- Balancing the impact of surveillance on the right to privacy
- Equalising heterosexual and homosexual age of consent, and allowing homosexual service in the armed forces