Belfast Telegraph

Letter proposes NI Bill of Rights in bid to 'protect all'

Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Leading charities, lobby groups and trade unions have called for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

A letter in today's Belfast Telegraph, signed by 26 groups across the country, marks International Human Rights Day.

It's 70 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) at the United Nations on December 10, 1948

But organisations including Action on Elder Abuse, Disability Action and Unison say the protection of human rights of all in Northern Ireland is far from secure.

In the letter, they state that "the tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering".

"Twenty years on from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the vindication and protection of the human rights of all is far from secure.

"Many of the rights contained within the UDHR continue to go unprotected and our system of governance has a clear human rights deficit.

"We have failed to deliver on this core promise of the Agreement.

"It is time to secure our rights - it is time for the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland."

Full text of letter

TODAY, International Human Rights Day, marks 70 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) at the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

The preamble of the UDHR begins by stating that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

The UDHR was written in the shadow that was cast by the anguish of the Second World War. The drafters laid down this global statement to codify and protect the dignity and equality of every person, to build towards a future where such atrocities would not — and could not — occur again.

It was an extraordinary act of hope and belief that we, as people, as societies and as nations can be better.

We live in a time of great flux. What our future will look like after Brexit remains unclear and we face this future without a functioning Executive and Assembly and in the global context of the rise of ideologies that threaten the safety and security of minorities within our communities.

In this context, it is worth reflecting upon Article 1 of the Declaration: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The ideals and the principles enshrined in the Declaration are no less worthy of our protection 70 years on. Progress has been made to realise these rights (only last month, we celebrated 20 years of the Human Rights Act). But, as we face into this uncertain future together, much more could also be done.

Our own pivotal peace treaty, itself an expression of hope at the end of a period of dark conflict, like the UDHR provided a sense of the centrality that rights should play in our future society:

“The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died, or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.”

Twenty years on from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the vindication and protection of the human rights of all is far from secure. Many of the rights contained within the UDHR continue to go unprotected and our system of governance has a clear human rights deficit.

We have failed to deliver on this core promise of the Agreement. It is time to secure our rights — it is time for the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

 

Human Rights Consortium

Action on Elder Abuse Northern Ireland

Transgender NI

Children’s Law Centre

Early Years – the organisation for young children

Focus: The Identity Trust

The Gender Identity Panel

Irish Council for Civil Liberties

Amnesty International

Disability Action

NUS-USI

Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action

North-West Community Network

Women's Information Northern Ireland

Unite the Union

Committee on the Administration of Justice

Law Centre (NI)

Community Foundation for Northern Ireland

Rights Empowerment Action and Lobbying Network

Women And Brexit Collective

Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network

Northwest Forum of People with Disabilities

Public Interest Litigation Support Project

UNISON

The Equality Coalition

Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC)

Northern Ireland Council for Racial Equality

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