English PEN signs open letter to Prime Minister

Last week, 72 MPs voted to scrap the Human Rights Act. In response, 72 civil society organisations including English PEN have today written an open letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, accusing the human rights debate of “lacking political leadership”.

The letter was written and co-ordinated by the British Institute of Human Rights, as part of a series of co-ordinated actions for Human Rights Day.  The full text is below.

To the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon David Cameron MP and the Deputy Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP

Global Human Rights Day provides an opportunity to reflect on how we can secure progress on human rights, not only internationally but here at home. On this day we seek your assurances that the legal protection of universal human rights in the UK is safe.

The last twelve months have witnessed some developments for human rights in the UK. The UK has completed its second United Nations Universal Periodic Review process, has signed if not yet ratified the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, and we welcome recent commitments to ensuring equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. Nevertheless the general direction of travel on human rights issues remains a concern. We often see people unable to access justice and fair process and the continued neglect and abuse of some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our communities.

What has not changed over the past year is the increasingly worrying tone of our domestic debates about human rights and the Human Rights Act. In the UK, what should be a healthy debate about how best to secure the human rights of each and every one of us has, for far too long, lacked political leadership. This places our reputation for international human rights leadership at risk. It also jeopardises the progress we have made at home in ensuring that our human rights obligations lead to real change for people in their everyday lives.

We know from the people we work with that human rights, and the Human Rights Act, play a powerful role in supporting us all through times of difficulty and protecting us from abuse and injustice when the system fails; helping to create a respectful and fair society. This essential role of human rights is all too often obscured; yet it is these unheard stories that demonstrate how essential human rights are to us all.

From the Magna Carta to the Human Rights Act the UK has a long and proud history of recognising the need for legal limits on the exercise of State power. The protection of human rights by the law is fundamental to our modern and diverse democracy. The UK seeks to champion human rights abroad; now is the time to show leadership here at home, to re-connect the debate to the country’s traditional values of fair play and our belief in basic human dignity and justice for everyone.

In the coming weeks you will no doubt be considering the report of the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights. As you do so we seek your assurances that the protection of universal human rights is safe in the UK. For us this means securing and advancing our Human Rights Act. We look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely

  1. Stephen Bowen, Director, British Institute of Human Rights
  2. Gary Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Action on Elder Abuse
  3. Robert Taylor OBE, Chief Executive, Age Cymru
  4. Duane Farrell, Director of Policy, Age NI
  5. Brian Sloan, Interim Chief Executive, Age Scotland
  6. Caroline Abrahams, Director of External Affairs, Age UK
  7. Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK
  8. Geof Armstrong, Director, Arcadea
  9. Maurice Wren , Director, Asylum Aid
  10. Dann Kenningham, National Coordinator, ATD Fourth World
  11. Davina James-Hanman, Director, AVA (Against Violence and Abuse)
  12. Abdul Khan, Chief Executive, BECON
  13. Nik Barstow, Director of Engagement & Involvement, BHA
  14. Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association
  15. Ann Chivers, Chief Executive, British Institute of Learning Disabilities
  16. Brian Gormally, Director, CAJ (Committee on the Administration of Justice)
  17. Peter Newell, Coordinator, Children are unbeatable! Alliance and Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children
  18. Paola Uccellari, Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England
  19. Paula Hardy, Prif Weithredwraig / Chief Executive, Cymorth i Ferched Cymru / Welsh Women’s Aid
  20. Monica Wilson, Chief Executive, Disability Action NI
  21. Liz Sayce OBE, Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK
  22. Catherine Casserley, Chair, Discrimination Law Association
  23. Beryl Randall, Director, Employability Forum
  24. Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN
  25. Amanda Arissl, Chief Executive, Equality and Diversity Forum
  26. Katie Pratt, Chief Executive, Equality South West
  27. Holly Dustin, Director, EVAW (End Violence against Women Campaign)
  28. Keith Best, Chief Executive, Freedom from Torture
  29. Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, Galop
  30. Christl Hughes, Secretary, Gender Identity Research & Education Society (GIRES)
  31. Samantha Smethers, Executive Director, Grandparents Plus
  32. Benjamin Ward, Deputy Director, Human Rights Watch
  33. Tracey Lazard, Chief Executive, Inclusion London
  34. Helen Shaw and Deborah Coles, Co-Directors, INQUEST
  35. Yvonne MacNamara, Chief Executive, Irish Traveller Movement in Britain
  36. Shauneen Lambe, Executive Director, Just for Kids Law
  37. Ratna Lachman, Director, JUST West Yorkshire
  38. Julie Bishop, Director, Law Centre Network
  39. Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, President, Law Society of England and Wales
  40. Paul Martin OBE, Chief Executive, Lesbian and Gay Foundation
  41. Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty
  42. Eithne Rynne, Chief Executive, London Voluntary Services Council
  43. Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
  44. Deborah Jack, Chief Executive, NAT (National AIDS Trust)
  45. Annette Lawson, Chair, National Alliance of Women’s Organisations
  46. Des Kelly OBE, Executive Director, National Care Forum
  47. Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive, NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations)
  48. Patrick Yu, Executive Director, Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities
  49. Kath Parson, Chief Executive, Older People’s Advocacy Alliance (UK)
  50. Karen Chandler, Campaigns Co-ordinator, Pembrokeshire People First
  51. Vaughan Jones, Chief Executive, Praxis Community Projects
  52. Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust
  53. Sarah Crowther, Director, REAP (Refugees in Effective and Active Partnerships)
  54. Shan Nicholas, Interim Chief Executive, Refugee Council
  55. Simon Abel, Director, Rene Cassin
  56. Elizabeth Henry, Chief Executive, ROTA (Race on the Agenda)
  57. Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust
  58. Billy Watson, Chief Executive, SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health)
  59. Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive, Scope
  60. Durrah Mahmood, Trustee, Songololo Feet
  61. Dr Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, The Equal Rights Trust
  62. Robert Sutherland, Convenor, Scottish Legal Action Group
  63. Alison Marshall, Director of Public Affairs, UNICEF UK
  64. Phil Mulligan, Executive Director, United Nations Association – UK
  65. Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy
  66. Joyce Kallevik, National Director, Wish
  67. Rachel Halford, Director, Women in Prison
  68. Nicki Norman, Deputy Chief Executive, Women’s Aid
  69. Annie Campbell, Director, Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland
  70. Vivienne Hays, Chief Executive, Women’s Resource Centre
  71. Tom Doyle, Director, Yorkshire MESMAC
  72. Unison

CC: All MPs and Peers

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