affiliated to the International Association of Constitutional Law
In the age of Brexit when divisions of different kinds (cultural, ethnic, religious, geographical and class, etc.) come into sharp focus, even if the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights can be maintained (with the recent House of Lords amendment to retain the Charter), significant concerns can be raised as to a potential reduction of fundamental rights protection and its likely negative effects on societal integration within the UK and devolved territories. It is therefore crucial for the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations to adopt a more proactive move than merely enacting a bill of rights, offering judicial remedies or advancing top-down and fragmented policies. To take practical-oriented steps to ensure existing human rights are not threatened but rather implemented effectively, and to increase the level of societal integration, the UK needs to put in place an effective National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) designed and implemented in line with the modern concept of planning.
The idea of adopting a NHRAP dates back to the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and then was included in other human rights conventions. In 1993, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action likewise urged each state to develop a national action plan for implementing human rights. Since then many countries such as Australia, China, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Iraq, Spain, South Korea, South Africa and Sweden have developed one or more NHRAPs, though most plans are based on the traditional concept of planning which is theory-neutral, state-centric and top-down. As the results of my cross-case analysis of NHRAPs of 53 countries indicate, traditional planning which is still predominant in international human rights law has caused significant problems in different phases of planning such as ideological orientation, non-correspondence, supporting the status quo, lack of transparency and lack of accountability mechanism. Moreover, traditional planning as a mirror image of central planning of the former Soviet Union where a life plan was imposed upon people from the top down sometimes discourages political elites to adopt a NHRAP and intensify the lack of political will to use planning for implementing human rights.
All this requires a strategic shift towards the modern concept of human rights planning which is participatory, multi-layered and top-down bottom-up, and can serve at least seven purposes for the post-Brexit UK:
The process of adopting a human rights action plan depends largely on the specific circumstances of each society. In the context of the United Kingdom’s overall structure, human rights action planning can come in different forms. Apart from a national human rights action plan for the whole UK, each devolved government can advance a context-specific human rights action plan. The United Kingdom has not adopted any comprehensive national human rights action plan as recommended in the Vienna Declaration for the whole UK. Yet, the devolved government of Scotland developed the only human rights action plan (SNAP) in the country. The Scottish model was based on the establishment of a Drafting Group involving a wide range of organisations and individuals from different parts of society including, but not limited to, Amnesty International UK and Scottish government while the Scottish Human Rights commission took the main organizational responsibility. This has been a very positive step forward though the same as many other plans it needs to be improved in its next update by getting closer to the modern concept of planning and including clear monitoring and accountability mechanisms, more specific timetable, lead bodies and performance indicators.
The Scottish model seems to be applicable in the case of Northern Ireland and Wales. More importantly, in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland in the age of Brexit, what is just as important as a Bill of Rights is adopting an effective human rights action plan. Although enacting a Bill of Rights or human rights Act, as arose from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, can be and indeed is vital to ensure there is no reduction of rights as a result of Brexit, an Act, in any form, can at best play a part. By its nature, it is not well suited to ensuring the proactive and progressive implementation of rights in particular economic, social and cultural rights but rather it is on the whole episodic and reactive, if not expensive as well. For a Bill to be implemented effectively, it has to be accompanied by realistic and periodic human rights action plans which can not only provide strategic directions to secure the Good Friday Agreement but also improve active social consensus, trust and cooperation among heterogeneous groups promoting social integration in an inclusive environment of tolerance and paving the way for human rights-based development.
Azadeh Chalabi is a lecturer in Law at School of Law and Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University.
(Suggested citation: A. Chalabi, ‘Added Values of National Human Rights Action Planning for the UK in the Age of Brexit’, U.K. Const. L. Blog (30th Apr. 2018) (available at https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/))