Anti-racism / Fundamental rights

The right to live in freedom and safe from personal harm

Posted on 20 Nov 2020

Tackling racism means we need to champion bold policy proposals, rather than narrow technical tweaks.

Last week the Joint Committee on Human Rights published its report on Black people, racism and human rights. The report’s findings include:

  • More than three quarters of black people in the UK do not believe their human rights are equally protected compared to white people.
  • More than 60% of black people in the UK do not believe their health is as equally protected by the NHS compared to white people.
  • Black people have been disproportionately severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 85% of black people are not confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police.
  • 25% of black voters in Great Britain are not registered to vote compared to a 17% average across the population.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been unable to adequately provide leadership and gain trust in tackling racial inequality in the protection and promotion of human rights.

Soon afterwards, police monitoring group Netpol published ‘Britain Is Not Innocent’, concluding that the policing of the Black Lives Matter  protests this summer was symptomatic of institutional racism. This was followed by the Government’s appointment of David Goodhart – a supporter of the hostile environment – as a Commissioner of the aforementioned EHRC.

I know that professionalised human rights organisations have a way to go when it comes to building solidarity with the anti-racist movement. I’ve been navigating this sector for the best part of a decade, alongside grassroots campaigning.

In some instances, legalistic and unimaginative interpretations of human rights mean that organisations prioritise minor tweaks at the edges of fundamentally unjust policies as the only palatable policy position. A narrow and uncritical understanding of success means groups sometimes limit themselves to changes that are achievable within media or electoral cycles, which are all too often at odds with the tempo and long-term vision of grassroots work.

Legalistic and unimaginative interpretations of human rights can mean that organisations prioritise minor tweaks at the edges of fundamentally unjust policies

In wider media and political discourse, as well as within NGOs, where race and racism do appear – and that isn’t a given – they’re all too often individualised and interpersonal, and untethered from structures of power like class, policing, criminal punishment, and the immigration system, all of which have a huge impact on black people’s rights. This is part of how we’ve ended up with a slew of photo ops, and comparatively few policy changes by major political parties thus far – although Sir Ed Davey is to be commended for tabling a Bill to end suspicionless stop and search, as is the Green Party for calling for reiterating calls for migrants’ rights.

In the wake of this summer’s protests, we at Liberty set out that we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and with everyone united in the struggle against racism and the fight for justice.

I think that there are three invitations that the movement – and this JCHR report – raise to established human rights institutions’ advocacy.

First, will we commit staff time and organisational resources to prioritising the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement in our work?

Second, will we act in solidarity with the wider anti-racist movement, rather than purely in our own organisational interests?

Third, will we consider and champion bold policy proposals, rather than narrow technical tweaks?

At Liberty, the answer to those questions is yes. In addition to the internal institutional work that we mentioned in our last statement, we’ve been working since June to oppose Serious Violence Reduction Orders, which only serve to expand police stop and search powers;  our investigative journalists have continued to expose concerning police use of pandemic emergency powers; and we’ve been championing a human rights approach to the pandemic – and especially alternatives to criminalisation, both of which have disproportionately affected black people. Next year, one of our priority campaigns will invite policy-makers to imagine community safety beyond policing…watch this space.

The first right listed in Liberty’s constitution is the right to live in freedom and safe from personal harm – precisely what the Black Lives Matter movement has been saying should be realised for black people. I look forward to supporting that call in 2021, and beyond.

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