Shrinking the space for human rights: A look back on 2020

2021 January 5: Written by: Frances Webber

A raft of new laws, Home Office measures and government proposals attempt to restrict the legal accountability of state actors, including ministers, while removing legal protections from those who need them most. In this IRR News long read, Frances Webber examines the various threats to human rights over the last year.

In the year since Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won the election with an impregnable majority, the man described by the media as a ‘libertarian by instinct’ has, under cover of the pandemic, pushed through the most authoritarian, draconian emergency powers seen in peacetime.[1] Meanwhile, his home secretary has overseen an immigration policy which threatens to breach the Refugee Convention as well as international obligations on rights to dignity and health and the rights and welfare of children, drawing the wrath of several senior officials, who have resigned, and the condemnation of official monitors and the courts. The government’s legislative programme has included Bills which break international law – not only the EU Withdrawal Bill but one which authorises informants and spies to commit any crime with complete impunity, and another which time-bars prosecution for murder and torture by British forces abroad.

At the same time as creating impunity for law-breaking by informants and soldiers, the government is seeking to develop its own impunity. The possibility of leaving the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and replacing the Convention (ECHR) by a British Bill of Rights is being mooted again, and moves are afoot to limit courts’ powers to hold ministers to account, through restrictions on judicial review and curtailing the powers of the Supreme Court. Critical reports from parliamentary committees, government-appointed inquiries and reviews, and even court judgments, have been ignored. And even investigative journalists have been blocked by a secretive Cabinet Office unit.

Read the full report here: