Aprendamos a criticar sin condenar, literalmente hablando

1Este artículo fue publicado en El Huffington Post

La hemeroteca estos días nos ha dejado tres historias distintas pero que tienen algo en común.

Como pidieron políticos y varias administraciones, la semana pasada la Fiscalía abrió diligencias que obligaron a inmovilizar el autobús con el que Hazte Oír lanzaba mensajes tránsfobos por las calles de varias ciudades españolas. Al parecer, existía un riesgo de “alteración de la paz pública (y) de creación de un sentimiento de inseguridad o temor” entre personas transexuales, especialmente menores.

En Las Palmas de Gran Canaria un drag queen se vistió de virgen y de jesucristo para ganar un concurso durante el carnaval. El show fue puesto en conocimiento de la Fiscalía por si pudiera constituir un “delito contra los sentimientos religiosos”. El sujeto en cuestión aseguró públicamente que él no quería ofender a nadie. Resulta que la intención de ofender es precisamente uno de los elementos indispensables de este curioso tipo delictivo, así que nunca sabremos si estas explicaciones son genuinas o son por si las moscas.

EITB ha emitido un programa humorístico (¡!) en el que la farándula euskaldun se deshace en estereotipos sobre “los españoles”, que son unos chonis, machistas, corruptos, ignorantes, fachas y muy-muy paletos. No sé cuál es el escándalo, la verdad, porque los vascos ya lo sabíamos: lo absorbimos acríticamente primero de los payasos de la tele, luego en la ikastola, y más tarde en la herriko taberna. Todo el mundo sabe que la facilitad de influir sobre un vasco es tan sólo comparable con la de corromper a un español. En cualquier caso, Ciudadanos y UPN ya han anunciado que van a llevar el tema a los tribunales porque el programa “incita al odio”. Han recordado que quien ríe el último, ríe mejor, y supuestamente el último en reír tiene que ser un juez.

¿Qué tienen en común estas tres historias? Continue reading

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International human rights bodies have said it loud and clear: We need clear targets to reduce child poverty

This article was published first by Huffington Post

The UK needs clear targets to reduce and eventually put an end to child poverty.

This is the purpose of a Private Members’ Bill sponsored by Dan Jarvis MP. The Bill places the duty on the government to set targets to limit both absolute and relative child poverty, to lay out a clear strategy, and to report to Parliament on progress made to meet the targets. The Bill intends to restore the benchmarks of the Child Poverty Act 2010, which were removed by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

According to the Department of Work and Pensions, the proportion of children in absolute low income (before housing costs) was 17% in 2014/15, substantially more than the 5% target of the Bill being discussed in Parliament. Furthermore, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted a 3-point rise in absolute child poverty between 2016 and 2020 as a result of planned tax and benefit reforms. Continue reading

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Una pregunta desde el Reino Unido: ¿Por qué España no es nativista como las demás?

Este artículo fue publicado primero en El Huffington Post

El populismo xenófobo lleva años acechándonos. Ya se ha adueñado de Estados Unidos y de Hungría, apretó a Austria, y ahora amenaza en Francia, Holanda y Alemania. España por ahora parece vacunada contra este mal, y muchos se preguntan por qué.

Suelen darse varios argumentos para explicar por qué en España no triunfa (todavía) el populismo xenófobo: el recuerdo de la dictadura franquista, la falta de liderazgo y las desavenencias internas dentro de la extrema derecha, su integración en un sector del Partido Popular, la pluralidad de sentimientos de pertenencia nacional en distintos puntos del Estado, la canalización del descontento popular a través de Podemos y de otras plataformas, etc.

Todos estos argumentos, y seguramente algunos otros más (¿el papel de los medios de comunicación?), parecen relevantes. Posiblemente sea cierto que la situación concreta de España se explique a la luz de varios factores, pero sería bueno afinar el análisis intentando concretar el peso relativo de cada uno de ellos. El manido Spain is different no es suficiente. Continue reading

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Equality matters to human rights. We need a socio-economic duty.

This article was first published in the blog of The Equality Trust

The UK is one of the most unequal societies in Europe. Even though decreasing unemployment and low inflation have reduced income inequality for now, unfair taxes, stagnant incomes and unaffordable housing risk enlarging the wealth gap.

It is not only about raw data. Inequality is widely perceived as a growing problem in society. According to the 2016 British Social Survey, more than 76% of the people believe there is a wide divide between social classes.

Abundant empirical research shows how bad inequality can be for general economic stability, criminality, individual self-esteem, mental health, sense of trust and civic participation.

Many of these issues are closely connected to human rights.

Equality is of paramount importance for individual freedom and meaningful choice in a free society, and growing inequality within a country suggests that its government is not doing everything in its power to guarantee an adequate standard of living for all.

Public authorities must safeguard not only formal equality but also substantive equality. They must protect equality in the law, but also adopt the necessary policies to address the underlying causes that fuel economic and social disparities.

In 2015, together with other countries the UK pledged to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome (Sustainable Development Goal No. 10). The UK has also ratified a number of treaties promising to abide by the principle of equality and non-discrimination, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

However, the UN body that monitors states’ compliance with this treaty concluded in its 2016 report that the Government has not done everything within its power regarding non-discrimination.

Specifically, the UN asked the Government to bring the Equality Act 2010 to life in full.

We need evidence-based policies to reduce inequality and support human rights, and we need such policies to be adopted at all levels of government. Section 1 of the Equality Act provides this by calling on public authorities to aim at the reduction of the inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage.

Section 1 should be part of the Prime Minister’s vision of a “shared society”. The Government failed to implement this socio-economic duty in 2010, but it is not too late. There is a perfect opportunity to announce the commencement of section 1 in the green paper on social justice, expected in February.

Both in principle and in practical terms, equality matters to human rights, and human rights matter to equality.

We in Just Fair are excited to work together with The Equality Trust and others advocating the implementation of section 1 of the Equality Act.

Koldo Casla is Policy, Research and Training Officer at Just Fair, which monitors and advocates economic and social rights in the UK. Koldo tweets as @koldo_casla, and you can follow Just Fair at @JustFairUK.

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After 50 years, it’s time to close the gap between different human rights

wpid-mind-the-gap-2014-06-23-08-03It was the moment the UN General Assembly changed the face of international human rights law. Fifty years ago, on December 16 1966, the assembly passed a single resolution containing two new treaties: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), covering rights to housing, social security and adequate standards of living, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), regarding rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression and physical integrity.

Together, these two treaties constitute the core of the international system that protects human rights. Both treaties entered into force a decade later in 1976, only a few weeks apart. And both of them have received approximately the same number of ratifications to this day: 168 for the ICCPR and 164 for the ICESCR. Like all other European countries, the UK is a party to both of them.

Degrees of separation

But there are significant differences between these two treaties. The intention of those who drafted them was to flesh out the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by making the protection of rights legally binding for states. But considering that the 1948 Universal Declaration contained civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights in a single text, by creating two separate documents it was clear that the drafters wanted to introduce differences between these rights.

While all this happened during the political context of the Cold War, this was not the main reason why different types of human rights were treated differently. Rather, the decision had to do with states’ general preference for a weaker duty to protect their citizens’ economic, social and cultural rights. Countries were willing to proclaim these rights as long as this proclamation did not entail strong accountability mechanisms.

The second difference between the two treaties refers to the clarity and burden of words. Article 2(1) of the ICCPR talks about states’ obligations “to respect and to ensure [civil and political rights] without distinction of any kind”. Yet the same article in the ICESCR uses much more cryptic language about how the compliance of states to the treaty on economic, social and cultural rights will be monitored. It states:

Each state party to the present covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights recognised in the present covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.

It’s difficult to assess compliance if rights are meant to be “achieved progressively”, or to decide the “appropriateness” of the “means” authorities are making use of. And can we blame governments if they promise “to take steps”, but not just yet?

There are also differences in the ways states who violate these two sets of rights are held to account. When the ICCPR was adopted, it brought with it an independent monitoring body known as the Human Rights Committee.

This had three responsibilities: examining states’ abidance by the treaty approximately every five years; dealing with interstate complaints (although to date this has never been used); and receiving complaints from individuals who consider themselves to be victims of a violation of any of the political and civil rights contained in the ICCPR. A complaint can lead to detailed recommendations on the specific case which countries are expected to implement. To date, 115 countries have let their citizens complain to the UN like this, but the UK is not one of them.

But when it came to economic, social and cultural rights, the ICESCR did not contain anything similar, and this was only partly corrected in 1985 when the UN created a body to periodically assess the general level of enjoyment of these rights in those countries which have ratified the treaty.

All this means that there are three degrees of separation between the two sets of rights: different treaties that states could pick and choose from, different legal wording, and different accountability mechanisms.

An unfortunate hierarchy

Something similar happened in the European context. In 1950, the European Convention on Human Rights was set up with a relatively resourceful European Court of Human Rights devoted essentially to civil and political rights. Then, in 1961, the European Social Charter was established (and then revised in 1996). This is monitored by the much weaker European Committee of Social Rights.

The impact of this hierarchy in which civil and political rights are given more weight than economic, social and cultural rights is visible at the domestic level, too. In the UK, for example, the very important Human Rights Act 1998 gives judges the means to apply the European Convention on Human Rights, but not the European Social Charter or the ICESCR, although the UK has ratified both treaties.

Not to pick and choose from.
StepanPopov/shutterstock.com

Half a century since the adoption of the two landmark human rights treaties, it is time to close the gap between human rights.

Independent human rights bodies, scholars and a growing number of practitioners have worked to define the meaning of economic, social and cultural rights and the contours of states’ obligations to uphold them.

Since 2013, individuals in 22 countries, ranging from Argentina to France and Mongolia, can also complain directly to the UN if their economic, social and cultural rights have been violated. This only applies to countries that have ratified the 2008 Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. Unfortunately, the UK is not one of them.

Yet, even in the UK, a minority of the judges in the Supreme Court has accepted that given their nature, some human rights treaties (although not the ICESCR for now) should be “directly enforceable in UK domestic law”, even without an act of parliament.

Half a century ago, human rights were internationalised with some degrees of separation. Luckily, we now have some tools that we lacked at that time – but we need to tell the government to make use of them.

The Conversation

Koldo Casla, PhD candidate: human rights, international politics and law, King’s College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Britons’ fear of migration is not only anti-factual; it is also comparatively disproportionate

This article was published first in Left Foot Forward

cqk5itvwcauiysnI recently attended an event organised by the Foreign Policy Centre in partnership with the European Commission’s representation in the UK. The title could hardly be more topical: “Examining the EU’s democratic legitimacy”.

It really was about Brexit, like nearly every political debate in the UK for months if not years.

Hilary Benn delivered an eloquent keynote speech about the need of parliamentary oversight of the divorce process. After him, other articulate voices from both Chambers expressed their thoughts about the value of democracy, the history of Britain in Europe and the meaning of national and parliamentary sovereignty. Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP had at least one voice in the panel; so did UKIP with its only MP (to Nigel Farage’s eternal sorrow), Douglas Carswell.

Judging by the interventions during the Q&A, had the referendum been held only in that room, Britain would have never chosen to leave; in fact, Conservatives would probably be a marginal force.

“How did we get to this point?” An incredulous audience asked with different words and tones.

“It’s immigration, stupid!”. The recurrent hypothesis was unsurprisingly put forward by Mr Carswell. It went unchallenged. It sinks in. It stays. And it stains. Continue reading

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The UK government cannot reconcile austerity measures with human rights

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Authors: Jamie Burton, Alice Donald and Koldo Casla
This article was published in Open Global Rights (Open Democracy)
A UN Committee of independent experts recently issued a harshly worded report on the extent to which public authorities have been complying with international law on socio-economic rights. The Committee monitors states compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has voluntarily ratified along with 163 other countries. Adherence to the Covenant is a matter of rule of law. However, after months of engagement with government officials and evidence gathering from civil society groups (including Just Fair), the Committee’s report could hardly have been more damning.

Continue reading

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