Human Rights in Scots Law: Building Bridges Between Civil Society, Government and the Academy

In this post, Veronica Luhtanen and Sofie Quist, recent graduates from the LLM Human Rights programme and research assistants at the University of Edinburgh School of Law, introduce the Incorporating Human Rights in Scotland project led by Dr Kasey McCall-Smith in collaboration with Amnesty International Scotland, Together, and Human Rights Consortium Scotland. Here they reflect on a recent workshop that brought together representatives from civil society, the Scottish Government and academia to discuss incorporation of international human rights standards into Scots law.

The Scottish Initiative on Human Rights Leadership

In the past years Scotland has expressed a growing ambition in developing an advanced human rights framework, evidenced both by growing political will and tangible efforts being made in legislation and policy. One step in the process is envisaged to be the incorporation of human rights derived from UN human rights treaties into the domestic legal system, in order to guarantee their enforceability in Scottish courts and beyond.

The First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership report published in December 2018 sets out a process to incorporate international human rights standards in the form of a Scottish Bill of Rights. It aims to prepare for further devolution and guarantee non-regression of human rights after Brexit, as well as ensuring Scotland remains a leader in human rights protection in the UK. A National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership was announced in June 2019 and has since begun taking steps to bring new legislation forward. At the same time, as a result of over a decade of work by the children’s sector, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is already in the process of being incorporated into Scots law in a separate, yet related effort.

The Incorporation Project

Civil society organisations play a key role in the incorporation process in both influencing decision makers at the public consultation stage during the legislative process, as well as in their overall advocacy work and communication with right-holders.

The Incorporating Human Rights in Scotland project was created in response to a need to assist civil society in fully understanding the importance and concept of legal incorporation, and how to utilise this in their advocacy work. Developed in conjunction with Human Rights Consortium Scotland, Amnesty International Scotland and Together, the project firstly aimed to identify gaps in civil society’s knowledge of the legal process of incorporation. To aid in this task, an initial scoping exercise was held at the University of Edinburgh.

Impressions from our first scoping workshop with civil society

On the 19th of November we met with representatives from civil society, government and academia to scope out knowledge gaps around legal incorporation of international human rights treaties and discuss how our research can be relevant to different civil society organisations.

Those participating in the workshop were particularly motivated to learn more about incorporation of international human rights law, and to gain knowledge that could help them take part in shaping a new Scottish bill of rights. Most were already confident using the language of human rights in their advocacy work across different sectors but were interested in learning what further legal tools are available at the international level and how to make them relevant for people’s everyday lives.

We started the session with three presentations. Kasey McCall-Smith delivered a succinct introduction to the different models of incorporation, distinguishing between direct, indirect and piecemeal incorporation while demystifying terminology that sometimes appear both complex and ambiguous. In our presentations, we aimed to place these models in context through incorporation case studies.

The first case study presented by Sofie demonstrated the judicial avenues and regulatory tools for remedying human rights violations achieved by the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights. Veronica presented a second case study detailing South Africa’s experience with partially incorporating the UN Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Finally, Juliet Harris, director Together Scotland (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) shared her lessons from the campaign to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) into Scots law. Children’s advocacy groups in Scotland have the benefit of being organised more collectively than other areas of rights. They have been pushing for incorporation of the UNCRC for over 10 years and therefore have a great deal of insight to offer in terms of engaging with government and parliamentarians.

Following the presentations, we heard from participants about how they use human rights in their advocacy work and discussed their thoughts on legal incorporation. Universally, the participants were looking for tools to use human rights in their advocacy. Our ongoing research will have a two-fold purpose. First, we will develop guidance and training tools about how to advocate for incorporation of human rights using the variable methods of incorporation and related terminology. Second, we will demonstrate how incorporating human rights can create tools for effective human rights advocacy more generally.

We will be delivering the outcomes of our research in the form of case studies of incorporation from around the world, jargon busting guides and training tools clarifying of the legal concepts and processes relevant to incorporation – and the sometimes-blurry lines between them.

Legal incorporation in focus at the annual Rights of the Child UK (ROCK) conference

We heard more about the processes taking place to campaign for incorporation on the UNCRC across the UK’s devolved nations at the annual ROCK conference on 3 December. Speakers from government, academia and civil society presented their plans, research and experience.

The conference also looked further afield. Gudridur Bolladottir, senior legal advisor to the Icelandic ombudsman for children, gave an insightful and uplifting account of how the remarkable decision of the members of Iceland’s parliament to ‘go for it’ and incorporate the UNCRC by consensus, has ‘forced the hand’ of the government. Her experience from the ombudsman office is that once human rights are incorporated into national law, they provide a powerful tool for independent bodies, civil society and parliament to hold government accountable. Incorporation provides an ability to say: ‘this is the law and you have to follow it’.

Several interesting points about legal incorporation were raised across the presentations and discussions, such as how legal incorporation can induce cultural change and how a human rights culture in turn is crucial to ensure that legal incorporation leads to effective implementation of human rights. We were also prompted to think about the role of independent oversight bodies and support for human rights defenders in legislation that incorporates human rights treaties.

What’s next?

Over the next months we will consolidate our research and finalise training materials that will be made available to at international experiences of legal incorporation of human rights treaties into national law in order to identify best practice models to be used by Scottish civil society groups.

The material will be delivered as online training material and through training workshops, the first of which will take place in the last week of February 2020. In the meantime, stay updated on our project website where you will find the scoping workshop presentations, a video from the workshop and more.

 

The Chilean Crisis

This blog, by Valentina Rioseco Vallejos, concerns the current Chilean crisis. It aims to provide the context under which the crisis is occurring, while making reference to human rights violations committed by Chilean State actors. It also discusses the latest developments in the crisis.

Valentina is a first year PhD student at Edinburgh Law School. She is a Chilean licensed lawyer and holds an LLM in Human Rights from the University of Edinburgh.

 

The context

The Chilean crisis began three weeks ago, with students jumping metro turnstiles in Santiago in protest against a price rise of the metro. The government responded to the protests with violent repression which, in turn, led to riots. Rapidly, the protests where reproduced in other cities and they continue to occur today. Protesters argue that the problem is not only the metro fare, but the structural inequalities that do not allow people to afford their basic living costs. Scholars and politicians argue that protests are based on the need for a new constitution and this idea is now gaining force.

Chile is still ruled by the Political Constitution adopted during the dictatorship of General Pinochet, which creates the rules for maintaining a neoliberal economic system. The Constitution was highly influenced by the Chicago Boys, a group of Chilean economists who studied with Milton Friedman. The Chilean constitution does not guarantee effective access to fundamental rights, such as the right to education, the right to health and decent pensions. It also restrains the will of the majority. For example, it demands a legislative supermajority to approve organic laws. Furthermore, workers live with a very low minimum wage (£217.00 per month), which is not enough to cover basic needs.

On 19 October, the Chilean president Sebastián Piñera gave a public speech regarding the social protests. He began his speech declaring “we are at war against a very dangerous enemy”. The rest of his speech continued in the same line, framing protests as acts of delinquency and solely focussing on the riots. He barely mentioned that the majority of the protests were peaceful throughout the country and he did not refer directly to the substantive claims raised by protesters. Consequently, he declared a State of Emergency in several cities of the country, which lasted until 27 October. The Chilean State of Emergency allows the President to delegate security tasks to the military. It also allows for the restriction to freedom of movement within the country. According to the declarations of the President, the State of Emergency would allow protecting both, the security and the property of the Chilean citizens, against criminals and rioters. Protesters responded with massive peaceful demonstrations bearing signs with the phrase “we are not at war”. The protests are also characterised by “Cacerolazos”, which means people beating their pots with wooden spoons.

Human rights violations

During the State of Emergency both, the military and the police committed grave violations to human rights and riots where not properly controlled. These violations included the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and the right to liberty and security. As the State of Emergency is now finished, military personnel are no longer in the streets. However, the police continue to commit human rights violations and use disproportionate force against protesters. By 30 October 2019, 22 deaths had occurred in the context of the social protests. Five of these deaths were committed by state agents. The Chilean National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) has filed complaints in respect of these deaths. One of the deaths was caused by gunshots of military personnel in Curicó, a city where no State of Emergency was declared. There are also victims being run over by state vehicles, killed by rubber bullet wounds and by beatings. By 4 November, the INDH had filed 181 complaints against state agents, of which 152 allege torture, maltreatment and sexual abuse. The INDH also reported 4364 detentions with 479 of these detainees are identified as children and adolescents. In addition, it stated that 1659 people have been injured, of which 160 suffered eye wounds caused by gas pepper bombs and shootings. Journalists and photographers have also been beaten, shot and detained. On 29 October, a human rights observer from the INDH was shot by the police six times in his leg. In other contexts, human rights treaty bodies have already reproached the violent and repressive responses by the Chilean police in contravention of Chile’s international human rights obligations (CRC, para. 36 and CAT, para.22). The human rights violations committed during these events demonstrate that the protocols of the Chilean police and military personal have not improved.

International and regional organisations, together with non-governmental organisations are watching the Chilean crisis. The High Commissioner of Human Rights (HCHR) declared, “there are disturbing allegations of excessive use of force by security and armed forces” and expressed alarmed at reports stating that “some detainees have been denied access to lawyers, which is their right, and that others have been mistreated while in detention”. A team of the HCHR is currently being deployed to the country. They are examining the human rights allegations, meeting with various actors and gathering information on measures taken by the Government to address the situation. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the excessive use of force applied by police and military forces and rejected all forms of violence in the context of the ongoing situation in Chile. In addition, it declared to have received complaints regarding detentions where state agents acted with a disproportionate use of force, harassed children, sexual abused protestors, and subjected still more to torture or other ill-treatment. Thus, it called a public hearing concerning the human rights situation in Chile. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also condemned the excessive use of force. The latter announced a research mission to document grave human rights violations.

Latest developments

As of time of writing, the political situation seems to have moderately improved. However, the numbers of human rights violation victims reported by the INDH continue to increase every day. President Piñera changed his cabinet and affirmed that would implement some new social measures. However, he is currently governing as a leader of the right, thus the economic and political structure that maintains inequalities remains the same.

The political debate is now focussed on whether the Constitution should be modified and if so, how. Chileans are currently organising citizens assemblies (cabildos ciudadanos) in which they are discussing how to change the Constitution and the pension system. The government has not yet delivered any proposal concerning these demands.

Chilean civil society has, for years, anticipated this type of social and political confrontation. Inequalities and abuse are too evident across Chile. It is encouraging that the country finally woke up and demanded change. As Chileans watching from Scotland, however, we remain deeply concerned about the wellbeing of our fellow citizens, our families and our friends.

 

This Blogspot is the result of conversations and information shared between Chilean citizens living both in Edinburgh and in Chile. To all of them, thank you.

Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum

Dr Dimitrios Kagiaros (Edinburgh Law School) reports on a recent workshop, ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’, held at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, Spain with support from the Global Justice Academy.

Organised by Professors Mike Adler (University of Edinburgh), Sara Stendahl (University of Gothenburg) and Jeff King (UCL), the purpose of the workshop was to bring together international experts from a variety of research backgrounds to discuss the theme of ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’. The overarching issue that was examined related to the difficulties in determining how poor and vulnerable people can achieve basic minimum standards of nutrition, health care, housing, income, employment and education.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines, including legal theory, human rights law, constitutional and administrative law and social policy, the invited academic speakers were asked to submit research papers illustrating recent developments and new challenges in this field. The workshop followed a particularly innovative approach in generating discussion. Commentators were assigned to each paper and were responsible for presenting its content while also acting as discussants, providing feedback and identifying points for further discussion. This facilitated in-depth consideration of each paper and multiple opportunities for exchange of ideas across disciplines.

The conference theme generated debate on two controversial issues. Firstly, the workshop addressed different approaches and obstacles to defining a social minimum. This included discussion on the concept of poverty, the legal position of social assistance recipients, the concepts of social rights and social responsibilities, and the relationship between resources and the concept of a ‘minimally decent life’.
Secondly, the workshop aimed to bring further clarity to the thorny issue of how such a minimum can be achieved. More specifically, participants critically assessed the contribution of national policies, international conventions, targets and development goals, bills of rights or other forms of constitutional protection to securing this social minimum. Special emphasis was placed on the role of courts. Participants presented judicial approaches to securing a social minimum from India, South Africa, Brazil, and at the international level, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

Dr Kagiaros’ paper focused on the role of the European Court of Human Rights in this debate. The paper relied on recent admissibility decisions where applicants unsuccessfully challenged austerity measures adopted to give effect to conditionality agreements in states in the midst of a debt crisis. While ultimately the applications failed at the admissibility stage, the Court in obiter statements alluded to the possibility that a wholly insufficient amount of pensions and other benefits would, in principle, violate the Convention. The paper explored these statements in detail to decipher whether in fact the Court would be willing to set a social minimum standard of protection. The paper argued, that although a duty not to target specific individuals with harsh austerity measures while leaving others unaffected has been read into the ECHR, it is unlikely that with this statement on insufficiency of benefits the Court intends to create a social minimum.

Overall, this was a particularly enriching experience for all involved and hopefully more similar opportunities will arise to discuss these issues in even greater depth.

More about the author:

Dr. Dimitrios Kagiaros is a Teaching Fellow in Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law. He has taught on constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law courses at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Hull. His research interests include whistle-blower protection, the impact of European sovereign debt crisis on human rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to freedom of expression.

 

 

The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh, and is an intern at UN House Scotland. As a member of a delegation from Scottish civil society, she recently attended negotiations in New York on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted 7 July 2017, at the United Nations.

The United Nations has aimed to ban nuclear weapons since it was established in 1945.[1] In fact, the very first UN General Assembly resolution established a Commission to set in motion measures towards nuclear disarmament.[2] Until recently, the most important instrument to this end was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).[3] Recent years have seen growing discontent with the discriminatory nature of the NPT, which distinguishes between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. Additionally, the NPT faces criticism with regard to the stagnation of nuclear disarmament. Although the treaty includes an obligation to work towards nuclear disarmament, Article 6 has not, as of late, provided sufficient incentive for nuclear weapon states to act.

With an aim to finally move forwards, in October 2016 the UN disarmament and international security committee saw 123 nations voting in favour of meeting to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination. These negotiations have taken place throughout spring and summer 2017 and have culminated in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on the 7th July this year.

The treaty prohibits member states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, and disallows them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to participate in such activities. Furthermore, it has become forbidden to allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on member states’ territory. Of equal importance are the positive obligations in the treaty to provide adequate victim assistance and to take measures towards the remediation of environments contaminated as a result of the use or testing of nuclear weapons. Although not explicitly mentioned, there is a growing understanding that financing constitutes ‘assistance’ with prohibited acts.

The text and preamble of the ban treaty reflect the efforts of civil society by emphasising the humanitarian and environmental impact of any nuclear detonation, be it accidental or intentional. The humanitarian initiative proved successful in shifting the debate out of the security argument stalemate states had become entrenched in. At the negotiations, civil society had the opportunity to share the experiences of victims of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, and to highlight the devastating impact of any detonation and the lack of adequate emergency-response capacity.

By placing human welfare and safety at the centre of the treaty, it is hoped that the ban treaty will have a ripple effect similar to that of the Conventions prohibiting Biological and Chemical weapons. Therefore, even though none of the nuclear weapons states have expressed any interest in joining the negotiations or the treaty, it is hoped the legal norm combined with continued pressure from civil society will eventually convince governments to discontinue nuclear deterrence policies.

The ban treaty is of particular interest to Scotland because of the country’s unique position of having to facilitate nuclear weapons without having any say in the decisions involving them. This is because nuclear weapons are considered a matter of national security and as such fall outside the scope of Scotland’s devolved powers.

[1] https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/ (last visited 9 July 2017).

[2] General Assembly Resolution VIII, Establishment of a commission to deal with the problem raised by the discovery of atomic energy (24 January 1946), available from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/1(I) (last visited 9 July 2017).

[3] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (5 March 1970) 729 U.N.T.S. 161.

If you are interested in reading more about the negotiations on the ban treaty, including daily reports from the Scottish civil society delegation to New York, visit http://www.nuclearban.scot/ and http://www.icanw.org/

If you want to find out more about civil society engagement surrounding nuclear disarmament, please visit:

http://www.banthebomb.org/

http://www.nukewatch.org.uk/

http://www.article36.org/

If you’re interested in reading twitter updates, the handle to follow is #nuclearban

More about the author:

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh. She holds an LLM in Private Law from the University of Leiden and an LLB from the Utrecht Law College of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Dagmar’s research interests span public international law, specifically environmental law, climate change law and human rights. Her current research relates to the international constitutionalism in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Brexit, Northern Ireland and UK-Irish Relations

CB profileThis post by GJA Director, Professor Christine Bell, was first published on the Centre on Constitutional Change blog on 26 March 2016, co-published with European Futures.

Amid pronouncements about the UK as an island nation, scant media or political attention has been paid to its only land border with the EU – between Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, says Professor Christine Bell in this extended analysis, the impact of Brexit on the institutions built up as part of the Peace Process would be considerable.

The EU referendum and the possibility of ‘Brexit’ raise distinct questions for Northern Ireland as a devolved region within the UK as part of the peace process. In the referendum debate, more attention needs to be given in the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland, the one part of the UK which has a land border with another EU country.

Political Divisions and the EU Referendum Campaign

The first key question as regards the EU referendum’s impact in Northern Ireland relates to the distinctiveness of its political settlement: how will the Brexit campaign affect political relationships – ever fragile – within Northern Ireland?

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The Fast-Eroding Glue of Union: Devolution and the Human Rights Act

Director of the Global Justice Academy and Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Edinburgh, Christine Bell, first blogged on the difficulties that repeal of the Human Rights Act would pose for the UK’s devolved settlements in May 2015. This blog builds on those initial arguments, first appearing on The Centre on Constitutional Change Blog. It has since been picked up by the UK media.

The Conservative government’s proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and possible withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Council of Europe, would have far-reaching implications for the UK’s devolved administrations and relations with the Republic of Ireland. These run deep into the constitutional marrow of the nations involved; so deep that it is difficult to see how repeal of the Act could take place without their consent. The government’s difficulties in relation to, especially, Scotland and Northern Ireland are significant but different and worth reviewing separately.

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Human Rights Act Repeal and Devolution: Quick Points and Further Resources on Scotland and Northern Ireland

Can the UK’s Human Rights Act be repealed? What would the process need? Is it even possible? What are the legal implications?

Christine Bell, Professor of Constitutional Law at Edinburgh Law School, Assistant Principal Global Justice and Director of the Global Justice Academy, offers this review of the current debate on repealing the Human Rights Act, and points readers to other available resources.

In the past few days repeal of the Human Rights Act, and in particular its devolution implications have attracted a lot of attention.  Today, a new report is launched from a legal expert seminar in April 2015, on the legal implications of repeal of the human rights act (see below).  The report provides the full chapter and verse, but here are a few quick points on the devolution implications, with further more detailed and reasoned resources below.

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