Our December blog post is written by our Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby.
Last week the Human Rights Commission launched its annual statement at Stormont. This coincided with International Human Rights Day and the week-long Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival, with events taking place across Belfast.
Harriet Harman set out the willingness of women across political parties in Westminster to express solidarity with women in Northern Ireland on issues of equality and human rights. She also covered the issue of gender equality at Stormont, highlighting the significant gaps that still exist for women in public and political life. The Commission itself remains concerned over the continued under-representation of women. Whilst we have seen an increase in the number of female elected representatives, a gender equality strategy remains outstanding. Such a strategy is needed to identify the barriers and promote access for women in other areas of public life, especially in relation to high positions in the civil service and in the judiciary, which show stark gaps.
The Commission’s annual statement evaluates developments across a broad range of human rights protections. Over the past year there is not a single area identified where the UK government, Northern Ireland Executive or a relevant public authority has provided an effective response to addressing specifically identified concerns.
The lack of progress reflects the absence of a working Northern Ireland Assembly. It illustrates why effective devolution is so important for human rights. Strategies to promote gender equality, improve the circumstances of people with disabilities, and to enhance the lives of LGBTI individuals - as well as to tackle poverty based on objective need - all remain on the drawing board.
One extremely alarming issue is the matter of children going missing from care. During the period April 2015 to March 2016, there were 2,679 missing person reports, in respect of 230 children, from Children’s homes filed with the Police Service NI. Of those missing children, 1,247 of those reports related to children who were identified as being at risk of child sexual exploitation. This is unacceptable and there can be no doubt that human rights abuses are taking place.
The Commission continues to monitor and support the work of the Police and Health and Social Care bodies, who we acknowledge are seeking to work to improve the situation. However, immediate and joined up action by all agencies with responsibility for the protection of our most vulnerable children is needed.
It is clear that the absence of devolution is hindering the effective protection of human rights in Northern Ireland. Whatever the outcome of the talks, Minsters - whether local or from Westminster - will be required to deal with a full in-tray of human rights issues as soon as they return.
19 Dec 2017