Advice to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Dear Secretary of State
In response to your request to provide advice of the kind referred to in Paragraph 4, in the Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity section, of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and under Section 69(7) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, you will find enclosed the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s final report. The advice represents the extensive work undertaken by Commissioners and staff as well as the contributions from the working groups and advisors, the community, voluntary and statutory sectors, and the hundreds of people who engaged in the consultation process. I am particularly grateful to each of them. While there is agreement on having a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, this process has shown that there remains a diversity of opinion on the contents of such a Bill. An agreed methodology was adopted as part of the process and the Commission has taken great care to ensure that this advice conforms fully to its mandate.
If a Bill of Rights is to underpin peace in Northern Ireland, it needs to be embedded in attitudes and mindsets. It should not only influence the thinking and action of those in positions of power, but instil in each person a confidence in asserting and securing their own rights, as well as defending those of others. A democratic society must respect the human rights of all, if it is to be worthy of that name, and should provide assurances that people are to be treated fairly. By affording protections and safeguarding against abuses, a Bill of Rights should move us forward from our contentious past as well as being a point of reference for future generations. No one should feel defensive by the enactment of these rights. A Bill of Rights must be applicable to everyone and should, in this sense, belong to all of us.
On this, the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is fitting to recall the words of its opening statement, that “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. These values apply globally and locally and are the principles upon which the advice on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is founded.
On behalf of the Commission, I present this report to you on International Human Rights Day and look forward to receiving a timely response.
Professor Monica McWilliams
10 December 2008