The UK government could soon make the list of countries that abuse rather than protect human rights with its “outright assault” on the rights of its own citizens and aggressive roll-back of protections such as on the right to assemble and protest, according to the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“The shrinking civic space is not relegated to countries far away,” said Tirana Hassan, the acting executive director of HRW. “When you come to the UK, you look at the very worrying trend we are seeing. A slew of legislation was passed last year where fundamental human rights are being challenged. The protest law is something we are deeply concerned about.”
Hassan said HRW had identified a “worrying trend” by the UK government of proposing laws that violate human rights and significantly weaken protections. “When you talk about civic space and about people’s right to participate in a democratic society, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to protest are key pillars of that. We’ve seen an outright assault from this government on that.”
The UK government had a “very short window” to reverse some of its decisions, she said, before it joins “the countries listed as human rights abusers rather than human rights protectors”.
Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director at HRW, said 2022 “saw the most significant assault on human rights protections in the UK in decades”.
In its section on the UK, HRW’s 2023 global report, a detailed assessment of the human rights landscape across the world, raises “grave concerns” over laws either proposed or already in force.
They are the public order bill, which would restrict the right to protest and increase penalties; the Elections Act, requiring voter identification; the law limiting people’s rights to judicially review social security and immigration decisions; and the Nationality and Borders Act, which criminalises asylum seekers taking irregular routes, increases powers to strip people of citizenship and allows offshore processing of asylum claims,This last act, and the UK government’s subsequent policy of transferring asylum seekers to Rwanda, has been widely criticised, including by the UNand civil society groups. Concerns have also been raised over the proposed repeal and replacement of the Human Rights Act Hassan also urged the UK and other countries to put further pressure on the Egyptian government to release the British pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, whose case was “highlighted but all too quickly forgotten” during the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt last year.