UN SPOTLIGHT ON NORTHERN IRELAND AT UK HUMAN RIGHTS REVIEW
June 17, 2016
The UK government was reviewed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva on the 15 and 16 June 2016 for their compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which the UK is a voluntary signatory.
While representatives from the UK government as well as the Scottish and Welsh devolved Assemblies were present to answer questions from the Committee, there was no representation from the devolved administration in Northern Ireland.
This absence was noted by many of the Committee members, with Ms. Heisoo Shin asking why there was no information on issues from Northern Ireland- and noting that she was sure Northern Ireland is a part of the UK. Mr. Nicolaas Jan Schrijver, Committee Member and the Committee Rapporteur for the United Kingdom, in his round-up of the session also noted his disappointment at the lack of representation from Northern Ireland.
The lack of representation did not stop the Committee exploring rights issues within Northern Ireland, because, as the Committee clarified, it is the UK government as State party to the treaty that has ultimate responsibility for fulfilling these obligations and so should address issues relating to Northern Ireland in the absence of a representative from there.
The session began and ended with Committee members noting that there was provision for greater protection of rights in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland), but that this remains unfulfilled. Mr Schrijver in particular expressed his hope that the provision for the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland would be fulfilled.
The Committee asked specific questions relating to Northern Ireland including: protection of the family; decriminalization of abortion; the promotion of the Irish language; and the housing crisis in Northern Ireland- particularly in relation to Catholic families in North Belfast and Travellers and Romas. The issue of abortion was the only one which received a reply, with the Northern Ireland Executive sending an overnight response to be read out which stated that it was not yet clear what future policy would be.
Human Rights Consortium spokesperson Helen Flynn stated,
“While the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive at this review was disappointing, it was not surprising. Our devolved government also failed to send any representatives to the previous review of the UK by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2009.
“Failing to attend such a review does not reflect well on our government, especially given that this is a United Nations Committee, reviewing a Covenant which the UK government voluntarily added its signature and ratification to.
“NGOs and Human Rights Commissions from across the UK sent representatives to this review, as did governments from the other 3 nations in the UK, in this context it is even more difficult to understand the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive.
“We were glad however that this did not deter the Committee from examining failings to uphold social, economic and cultural rights in Northern Ireland, and in particular the Bill of Rights for Northern which of course the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement specifically placed the responsibility for fulfilling with the Westminster government.”
The Concluding Observations of the Committee will be released on 27 June.
NOTES TO EDITORS
• The Human Rights Consortium is Northern Ireland based NGO with almost 160 member groups drawn from all communities and backgrounds across Northern Ireland.
• The purpose of the Consortium is to work towards a human rights based society with a strong and inclusive Bill of Rights at its core.
• The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) was adopted and opened for signature at the UN in 1966 and entered into force in 1976. ICESCR was ratified by the UK government in 1976.
• The Covenant protects rights such as the right to health, the right to an adequate standard of living, the rights to social security and the rights to work among others.
• The UK performance under the Covenant is reviewed every five years by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Further information on the Committee and its work can be accessed athttp://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CESCR/Pages/CESCRIndex.aspx
• The Consortium can be contacted on 02890 313780 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
• NGOs present at the review live-tweeted proceedings using #CESCR
• The Human Rights Consortium submission to the review can be accessed here
• The official UN summary of the review is available at: http://www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/(httpNewsByYear_en)/37280E0D570C74ECC1257FD4004C9A7B?OpenDocument