Rights on hold for another year in Northern Ireland

Rights on hold for another year in Northern Ireland

Pictured (left–right): UN special rapporteur Mary Lawlor, Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey, NIHRC chief commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick and NIHRC chief executive David Russell.

Progress on important human rights issues in Northern Ireland is at a virtual standstill amid the continued absence of devolved government, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) has said.

The watchdog yesterday published its annual human rights statement at an event in Stormont, which was hosted by Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey and featured a keynote address from the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor.

The annual statement assesses how the NI Executive, relevant public authorities and the UK government have taken action over the past 12 months to address human rights issues in Northern Ireland.

This year’s report shows profound areas of concern, many of which have been amplified by the cost-of-living crisis and a lack of significant action to address ongoing issues.

It also sets out the Commission’s work over the course of the year, including exercising its legal powers by bringing an own motion challenge against the UK government’s Illegal Migration Act 2023 and a judicial review of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023.

Alyson Kilpatrick, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, said: “This year, we have responded to an ever-increasing number and range of issues that have threatened fundamental rights. These include NHS waiting lists, cost of living, a range of children’s rights issues such as the right to be free from child sexual exploitation, and access to reproductive healthcare.

“There is no doubt that the stagnation created by the suspension of the NI Assembly and NI Executive is an exacerbating factor in the lack of progress.

“It has been a busy year for the Commission as we have exercised our legal powers, which is often a measure of last resort but it is essential if we are to protect the fundamental rights of all people in Northern Ireland.”

She added: “This year is also the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whilst we are in extremely difficult times for human rights, it is important to remember that they are also the solutions and the ultimate tools for preventing human rights abuses.

“It is absolutely critical that we use this moment to build a renewed consensus on the power of taking a human rights-based approach for the problems facing us today and those yet to come.”

Delivering the keynote adress, Ms Lawlor highlighted the successes achieved by human rights defenders in the 25 years since the UN Declaration on human rights defenders was adopted in 1998.

She spoke about how they have changed laws, secured the release of people from prison, provided humanitarian aid, and exposed corruption. However, she also highlighted grave risks faced by such people, including in Northern Ireland.

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