UN official blasts Tory plans to scrap Human Rights Act

A United Nations flag flies at half mast in front of the UN headquarters in honor of the late Nelson Mandela in New York © Lucas Jackson
Tory plans to scrap the Human Rights Act would be disastrous for victims of abuses and ruin the UK’s otherwise commendable record, according to the UN’s most senior human rights official.

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the threat by David Cameron’s Conservative government to replace the act with a British Bill of Rights would leave many people unable to remedy the abuses they suffer.

If Britain – a key member of the human rights council, a founding member of the UN and a privileged, permanent member of the Security Council – is considering a move that will potentially weaken a vital regional institution upholding fundamental human rights guarantees, this would be profoundly regrettable,” the prince said in a speech at London’s Guildhall on Friday.

The results, he argued, could prove “damaging for victims and human rights protection; and contrary to this country’s commendable history of global and regional engagement.

Such a move may also hand a free pass to states with worse records than the UK to do as they wish, Al Hussein warned.

States where civil society is currently threatened may gleefully follow suit. Surely this is a legacy no British government would wish to inspire.

Details of how an alternative bill would work are not yet clear, but Justice Secretary Michael Gove is due to announce the new measures during the autumn. The government will press ahead with their plan if renegotiation with European bodies including the European Court of Human Rights cannot be reached.

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The Tory minister with responsibility for human rights, Dominic Raab, fired back, telling The Guardian newspaper that “a [British] bill of rights will strengthen, not weaken, human rights.

He said: “Our reforms will protect our fundamental freedoms, prevent abuse of the system and restore proper democratic accountability, so the application of human rights commands greater public confidence.

It is irresponsible for any UN official to be criticizing our plans without knowing what they are,” Raab added.