Third sector at the heart of human rights work

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The Scottish Parliament is examining how it considers and protects human rights in Scotland

5th October 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Third sector groups are set to play a key role in helping the Scottish Parliament to protect human rights.

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee at Holyrood is examining how human rights are considered and protected within the parliament, and is due to publish a report later this year after an inquiry was held.

And the committee’s new convenor, Ruth Maguire MSP, has said that working with voluntary organisations is vital in helping the legislative body to make contact with those who feel their rights are under threat.

“In terms of the committee, I see us as being there to draw-in the expertise that’s out there,” she told TFN. “The third sector is embedded in our communities and can bring that expertise and links to communities to our committee work and our scrutiny of legislation, which is invaluable.

“I think the work that third sector organisations do with vulnerable groups and communities that have in the past seen their rights impinged on is crucial.”

When the parliament was founded, it was written into the Scotland Act 1998 that all laws made must be compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. Human rights issues have always been considered by parliamentary committees, but in 2016 they were added to the remit of a single committee. The Equal Opportunities Committee became the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, with a particular responsibility for looking at human rights issues.

As part of its role in examining how the parliament considers human rights an inquiry took place to examine if MSPs could do more to build a strong human rights culture in Scotland, if more can be done to ensure that rights are considered when legislation is developed, and can parliament do more to ensure that international human laws, for example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and other international human rights obligations, are being followed in Scotland.

With Brexit creating uncertainty throughout society, Maguire recognises that communities in Scotland may be more concerned about their rights being lost or impinged than in the recent past.,

She said: “I think recent times have brought human rights into sharp focus. There are a lot of things going on globally, as well as nationally that bring the importance of human rights to the fore. It’s on everyone’s minds. We have an opportunity to raise the profile of human rights and ensure that rights-based approaches are taken.”

The committee is also examining the Age of Criminal Responsibility in Scotland and is also likely to examine the Equal Protection Bill, which will ban smacking in Scotland.

Elected as an MSP two years ago, Maguire previously worked closely with the sector in her time on North Ayrshire Council, and said she is keen to champion human rights in her new role.

She said: “I have always been interested in equalities, fairness and justice. The human rights aspect is quite new to me, it’s quite specific and can feel like a specialised area. I was a local councillor before I was an MSP and also chaired the Violence Against Women Partnership in North Ayrshire. I was also the local authority’s youth champion.

“Since coming to parliament, wherever there’s been an opportunity to contribute in the chamber on an equalities issue I’ve seized it and been happy to speak on it.”