30 August 2016
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has welcomed a recent report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Whilst welcoming some positive steps such as the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme across the UK, the Committee’s report outlines a number of concerns relating to race discrimination in Northern Ireland.
NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:
“The report recognised the recent sharp increase in racist hate crimes in the UK following the EU referendum and the need to tackle racist hate crime. The Committee has also called on the UK Government, to improve its human rights record in relation to Traveller accommodation in Northern Ireland. It has highlighted the disparity in equality protection between N.I and the rest of the UK, calling for a Single Equality Bill to address this problem. We raised these concerns directly with the Committee in July and welcome that they have been incorporated into the UN report. We now need action to be taken by the N.I Executive to tackle these important issues and improve the quality of life and experiences of people from minority ethnic backgrounds in Northern Ireland.”
The UN Committee welcomed positive aspects across the UK including the:
1. Racial Equality Strategy 2015 – 2025 in Northern Ireland, in December 2015;
2. Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme across the United Kingdom and the Refugee Asylum Seeker Delivery Plan in Wales, in March 2016;
However the Committee listed a number of concerns specific to Northern Ireland, recommending that the State Party (UK Government & N.I Executive) to:
1. Investigate all reported acts of racist hate crimes, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the offence, and provide effective remedies to victims;
2. Develop a comprehensive strategy, in consultation with members of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, to ensure a systematic and coherent approach in addressing the challenges that they continue to face in the fields of health, education, housing and employment, and ensure its effective implementation by adopting specific action plans and effective oversight and monitoring mechanisms to track progress, with adequate human and financial resources;
3. The UN Committee reiterated its concern that the Equality Act 2010 does not apply to Northern Ireland, where comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation has yet to be adopted. The Committee recommends that the State party (UK Government & N.I Executive) ensure that the authorities of Northern Ireland act without further delay to adopt comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial discrimination.
Please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987).
Notes to editors
1. The Committee’s report on its examination of the UK is available here.
2. Access the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s full report to the Committee here.
3. The Commission’s July 2016 submission was presented before the Committee in Geneva in August regarding the UK’s 21st to 23rd Periodic Reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
4. Since the UK referendum on membership of the EU, there has been a spike in reported hate crimes in England. Concerns have been raised that this will follow in Northern Ireland and there have been some reported instances such as the spraying of swastika on a foreign national’s home. The First and Deputy First Minister issued a press statement to reassure the migrant community in NI that they are welcome and valued.
5. In its own report to the UN Committee, the N.I Human Rights Commission advised that the Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive to:
1. Take steps to ensure that the housing rights of Travellers are fully compliant with the Convention. The Commission is concerned that the Unauthorised Encampments (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 remains in force, despite previous concerns expressed by the Committee on the discriminatory effect of the legislation. The adequacy of accommodation is also a key concern, with evidence of lack of basis amenities reported. Concerns were raised in 2014 by NICEM noting that a lack of plumbing and washing facilities was common, concerns were also raised around no electricity and inadequate or non-existent refuge management.
6. The N.I Human Rights Commission also advised that the UN Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive to:
a. Bill of Rights: Consider whether the UK Government has taken measures to progress the Bill of Rights for NI. The Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland has not progressed by the UK government since the Commission provided its advice in 2008 as there remains a lack of political consensus.
b. Proposed Repeal of Human Rights Act: The Commission has also raised its concerns with the Committee about proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention of Human Rights into domestic law. Specific to Northern Ireland, the ECHR forms part of the peace settlement under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998. The Commission has advised that any replacement must ensure effective protection across all the jurisdictions of the UK.
c. In response, the UN Committee in its report outlined that it is concerned that the proposal to replace the Human Rights Act of 1998 with a new British Bill of Rights may lead to decreased levels of human rights protection in the State party (UK Government & N.I Executive), which would negatively affect the situation of individuals protected under article 1 of the Convention. It also reiterates its concern that no progress has been made to adopt a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland, as agreed under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 1998 (arts. 2 and 6).
d. The UN Committee recommends that the State party (UK Government & N.I Executive) undertake meaningful and broad public consultation on its proposal to revise its human rights legislation and ensure that any changes to the current human rights framework strengthens the protection of human rights, and in particular the rights of individuals protected under article 1 of the Convention. It also recommends that the State party expedite the process of adopting the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, and ensure that it is in line with the provisions of the Convention and other international human rights standards.
7. The Commission is one of the three ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institutions in the UK. As a National Human Rights Institution the NIHRC engages with and reports to the United Nations’ and Council of Europe’s treaty monitoring processes.
8. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).
30 Aug 2016