Promoting Justice /
Protecting Rights

Protecting Human Rights and the Peace Settlement

This area of work was an unplanned addition to our priorities in 2016. Although we regarded the threatened repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a “British” Bill of Rights of unknown content as a threat both to human rights in general and the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in particular, last year we did not foresee the existential threat of the campaign for Brexit and the Leave vote. One of our fundamental priorities has been to make a reality of the unfulfilled human rights promises and commitments in the Agreement, pushing ever harder for a genuine rights-based society. The campaign and vote for Brexit, together with the increased chances of the repeal of the Human Rights Act, has forced us to defend what we have: a partially completed, partially successful peace process faced with the threats of constitutional uncertainty, if not chaos, and emboldened xenophobia.

Our opinion before and after the vote made clear that there were potential threats to human rights visible during the referendum campaign, which is why we unusually and specifically urged a Remain vote. CAJ would not normally take a position on constitutional arrangements, since different structures can offer equivalent human rights protections. In respect of the European Union itself, we noted back in February that its record on human rights was mixed. However, the context of the actual debate was that a Brexit victory would be led by the xenophobic Right and would lead to a “carnival of reaction.” In the concrete reality of the UK in 2016 a vote to leave, in what primarily transpired to be a plebiscite on migration, was a vote to reduce human rights protections.

While this is not the place to rehearse all the detailed implications of Brexit, it is important to lay out our basic policy positions. After the referendum result we said that:

Those voices leading the Leave campaign majored not on democratic or socio-economic deficits in the EU project but rather on nationalist sentiment, xenophobia and thinly veiled racism. This result will embolden them and place them in the ascendency.

So the first consequence of the vote has been the normalisation of anti-immigrant discourse, a huge boost for racist groups and an increase in racist attacks. From the perspective of human rights, this is perhaps the most dangerous scenario. Racism is a fundamental enemy of human rights. Human rights are universal, applying to everyone by virtue of their simple humanity – racism is the complete negation of that philosophy. Furthermore, it is insidious – once allowed into the political conversation it becomes the ready and available put-down of any attempt to express human solidarity.

The second area of concern is a retreat from the EU protections of workers’ rights, data protection, environmental and anti-discrimination legislation. Exiting the EU would remove a backstop for rights protection, making it easier for current or future governments to erode protections for workers’ rights and equality.

Thirdly, the withdrawal of EU peace and structural funds and the likely increase in austerity policies will affect many people. The expected ending of peace and structural funds will decimate the voluntary and community sector and remove support from many projects, such as ex-prisoner groups, which are vital for the peace process. Together, these economic pressures will pose a real threat to the social and economic rights of the most disadvantaged.

Fourth is the threat of a “hard” border on the island of Ireland and the threat to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. A “hard” border would threaten the free movement across the island implicit in the Agreement and, even if the Common Travel Area is protected, could become the site of racial profiling as passports are demanded from those who look “different.” The issue of equality of Irish of British citizenship, so central to the Agreement, will be put at threat.

Lastly, as we have noted the referendum result may pose an indirect threat to the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. There is a huge range of threats that this prospect makes to human rights protections on everything from the Agreement itself, through policing to dealing with the past.

In this context, we have been doing everything we can to explore the consequences of the Brexit vote and to prepare to fight for human rights protections and the Agreement that brought an end to our conflict as this dangerous process unfolds.

Latest press releases and publications

17
Jul

S466 Submission to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) Consultation on the Draft Equality Action Plan 2017-18

s466-CAJ-submission-to-PPS-Equality-Action-Plan-2017 CAJ welcomes the opportunity to comment on the draft Equality Action Plan 2017-2018, which is being consulted upon by the PPS alongside a draft revised Equality Scheme and disability action plan between April and July 2017. The Equality Coalition, which CAJ co-convenes with UNISON, has made a collective submission to the consultation on the revised...
30
Jun

S465 to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in response to the Concluding Observations on the 7th Periodic Report of the UK under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Follow-up Procedure: “accountability for conflict-related violations in Northern Ireland” (CCPR/C/GBR/CO/7, paragraph 8) The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is an independent human rights NGO with cross-community membership in Northern Ireland and beyond. It was established in 1981 and campaigns on a broad range of human rights issues. CAJ seeks to secure the highest...
24
May

S464 Request to Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) for a ‘Paragraph 11’ Investigation into the Department of Communities

Request to Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) for a ‘Paragraph 11’ Investigation into the Department of Communities (DfC) into multiple failures to comply with Equality Scheme in relation to the Community Halls Pilot Programme (S464) This is a request to the Equality Commission to use its paragraph 11 powers under Schedule 9 of the...
24
May

S463 Submission to ECRI on draft revised General Policy Recommendation No. 2

Submission to the Council of Europe European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on draft revised General Policy Recommendation (GPR) No. 2 on Specialised bodies to combat racism and intolerance at national level (S463). The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is an independent human rights NGO with cross community membership in Northern Ireland...
24
Apr

S462 The Irish language, Ulster Scots, the Military Covenant and the definition of a victim of the conflict

CAJ Discussion Note, April 2017 There have been a number of recent media reports citing various proposals that have reportedly been subject to the current political negotiations. These include a reported proposal for extending the St Andrews Agreement mandated Irish Language Act to also cover Ulster Scots; and proposals for the implementation of the UK...
15
Mar

S461 How many of the current negotiation issues could be dealt with by the NI Bill of Rights?

CAJ Discussion Note March 2017 Next year will mark 20 years since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (GFA) mandated an ECHR+1 Bill of Rights to reflect the ‘particular circumstances of Northern Ireland’ and 10 years since the Human Rights Commission delivered is final GFA-mandated advice as to its content. The NI Bill of Rights remains one...
24
Jan

CAJ Press Statement on Brexit Process Judicial Review

In response to the Supreme Court Ruling on the Brexit process (Agnew and others) in which CAJ was a party – Gemma McKeown, CAJ solicitor stated: “We welcome that the Supreme Court has ruled that the post-referendum process must be taken forward through an Act of Parliament, as we had argued,  and in particular the...
01
Oct

S458 Written Evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on its inquiry into the ‘Future of the land border with the Republic of Ireland’

S458-CAJ-Written-Evidence-to-NIAC-inquiry-on-the-CTA-October-2016 CAJ welcomes the opportunity to provide Written Evidence to the Committee on its October 2016 inquiry into the ‘Future of the land border with the Republic of Ireland’. Before and after the 23 June 2016 EU referendum CAJ has been involved in a body of work in relation to the rights-based implications of the...
01
Mar

S452 Written Evidence Submitted to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Brexit and Human Rights in Northern Ireland

Executive Summary The purpose of this contribution is to discuss the effect on human rights protection, in general but in particular in Northern Ireland, if the United Kingdom (UK) votes to leave the European Union (EU). The positive case for the EU in this respect rests on two main pillars: the Charter of Fundamental Rights...

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