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White Paper on Commission for Equality and Human Rights: comment from Francesca Klug

Francesca Klug OBE, professorial research fellow at LSE's Centre for the Study of Human Rights and a member of a government task force set up to advise it on proposals for the new body, today welcomed, on its publication, the White Paper's proposals for a Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

Francesca said: 'Until now Britain has stuck out like a sore thumb as one of a small minority of countries world-wide without any national human rights body. Today marks the beginning of the end of this distinction.

The White Paper heralds the start of a new chapter in human rights observance in the UK. The 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA) allowed individuals who have suffered human rights abuses to seek redress through the domestic courts but it did not provide a statutory body to promote widespread understanding of, or compliance with, the principles established by these cases. The foundations had been laid, but the construction of a culture of respect for human rights is only now beginning.

CEHR will become the first statutory body in Britain with a clear duty to promote human rights. Equality is itself a fundamental human rights principle. CEHR will work with other standard-setting agencies and inspectorates to ensure that public service providers comply with equalities and human rights legislation and take an integrated approach towards adopting good equalities and human rights practices.'

The human rights powers proposed for CEHR in the White Paper include:

  • a duty to promote human rights to all bodies, including private, voluntary and charitable organisations, which provide public services
  • assistance to individuals seeking advice on legal services through an integrated help desk
  • an express power to intervene in human rights court cases to promote an understanding of human rights values and standards to the courts
  • an express power to carry out statutory enquiries into any broad human rights issue
  • public education on human rights standards and values
  • working with schools on human rights aspects of the citizenship curriculum
  • keeping the Human Rights Act under review and advising government and other policy makers on compliance with it

The new Commission will have the power to push respect for human rights up the agenda of public services in areas where it is most needed, and to use court actions in a targeted way to make real advances on key issues. Its 'general enquiry' powers should help to tackle systemic or under-publicised abuses - for example, of the elderly in care homes, or bullying and harassment of people with disabilities.

CEHR will also have a significant, direct impact on individuals who experience discrimination and human rights abuses in their daily lives. It will have a strong regional presence throughout the country. At a local level, it will support community groups, like RECs, and could fund local projects which apply human rights principles in their equal opportunities and 'good community relations' work.

Ends

For further information please contact Francesca Klug or Claire O'Brien at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights on 020 7955 6932, email: obrienc@lse.ac.uk|

12 May 2004

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