Network Rail, the owner of most of Scotland, England and Wales’ rail services, have recently pulled their display of an Amnesty International poster campaign which aims to increase nationwide public awareness of the ways in which the Human Rights Act has helped causes such as the Northern Ireland peace progress and families affected by the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. The railway body cited the adverts’ being ‘too political’ as the reason for the last-minute decision.
Railway stations in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and London’s Victoria and Waterloo were all set to carry the adverts; Transport for London has already displayed one in Westminster underground station, and the adverts have been widespread in print and online. The director of Amnesty International’s UK operations, Kate Allen, said the organisation was “… very disappointed by Network Rail’s decision to pull these adverts at the eleventh hour. We simply don’t accept that basic human rights are ever a political issue.” Network Rail – a non-departmental public body which operates at arm’s length from government ministers – does not appear to have elaborated any further on the justification for this decision.
The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force on October 2000, and has been instrumental in securing justice for many human rights cases in the UK. Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son was killed at Hillsborough, called the decision “small-minded”, and said “Human rights aren’t political; they cover everyone right across society. I don’t think many people know about the Human Rights Act and how important Article 2, which protects the right to life, is.” An Amnesty YouGov poll confirms this, finding that 70% people were unaware of the role the Human Rights Act played in the returning of an “unlawful killing” verdict in the Hillsborough inquest earlier this year – under the Act, juries can be called to assess the wider circumstances surrounding a death, something that had not been legislated for before it came into law. Amnesty’s poll also found that 74% of people did not know that the Act played a vital part in Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement, crucial in ending the country’s “troubles”.
Allen added, “Successive governments managed to let down the Hillsborough families, and their story demonstrates precisely why we need enduring human rights protections which aren’t redrafted by the government of the day, on a political whim. It’s vital to safeguard basic rights in these politically volatile times as constant protections relied on by ordinary people.” You can find more information on the Human Rights Act and the fight to save it at Amnesty International’s www.savetheact.uk
[Ciaran McQueen – @_delareine]