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UK ‘abandoning’ human rights, says Amnesty

Human rights organisation Amnesty says the UK 'has been moving in the wrong direction on human rights' for years.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a Covid-19 Press Conference on Easter Monday. Picture by Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street.

The UK has been “moving in the wrong direction on human rights” for years, according to a new global report from leading human rights organisation Amnesty International, which strongly criticised the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the forthcoming policing bill.

Authorities “violated the right to health and right to life” of elderly people in care homes in the early months of the pandemic, wrote the authors, who also raised concerns over the impact of policies on women, immigrants, and Black and Asian communities across 2020.

 “Having made mistake after lethal mistake during the pandemic, the Government is now shamefully trying to strip away our right to lawfully challenge its decisions no matter how poor they are,” said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK.

“For years, the UK has been moving in the wrong direction on human rights – but things are now getting worse at an accelerating rate.“

The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has been met with angry opposition across the country in recent weeks for its proposed limits to legal protest, and throughout the pandemic the government has faced criticism for a lack of accountability for one of the highest death rates in the world.

Inadequate regular testing and protective equipment in care homes, as well as discharging people who had or may have had Covid-19 back into the homes, was followed by widespread condemnation and hundreds of deaths in the first months of the pandemic. 

And a higher rate of death among health workers from Black and Asian communities led more than 70 organisations to call for an immediate inquiry in July, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeatedly said it was “not the right time”.

A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have prioritised protecting the most vulnerable in our society, including care homes, by providing billions of pounds of additional funding, free PPE, infection control guidance, increased staff testing and providing priority vaccines.”

Black and Asian people were “disproportionately impacted” by the pandemic, Amnesty said, both in terms of infections and fines for breaching protective restrictions. 

The police were further criticised for “racial disproportionality specifically against Black people” as figures published in 2020 showed Black people were seven times more likely to be tasered by police than white people in 2018/19. Police use of “excessive force” in the black lives matter protests in London was also a cause for concern, they wrote.

“On the right to protest, on the Human Rights Act, on accountability for coronavirus deaths, on asylum, on arms sales or on trade with despots – we’re speeding toward the cliff edge,” Allen added.

“We need to stop this headlong rush into abandoning our human rights.”

The 400-page report, which details the human rights record of every country in the world, praised the UK government’s efforts to protect tenants and those experiencing homelessness throughout the pandemic, but highlighted repeated failures to protect vulnerable women.

“The government lacked a fully coordinated plan to tackle the foreseeable risk of domestic violence during the pandemic,” they wrote, and the Domestic Violence Bill “did not meet the government’s stated intention of bringing domestic legislation in line with the Istanbul Convention” on preventing and combating violence against women.

The government spokesperson added: “We have also taken action to ensure everyone has access to vital financial and social support, as well as accessible communications and guidance.

“As we have previously said, there will be an appropriate time in the future to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of this global pandemic.”