The GDA was established on a foundation of understanding Human Rights and has campaigned for more than 12 years in Guernsey to raise awareness and understanding of Rights locally.
Understanding Human Rights
Human rights are a set of internationally agreed rights and freedoms that belong to every person from birth until death. These rights are based on principles of equality, non-discrimination, fairness, self-determination, independence and respect for the dignity and rights of others.
These rights and freedoms cannot be altered or taken away from anyone. On the other hand, whether a person’s rights are fully recognised, protected and respected often depends on the policies and legislation introduced by governments.
Rights can be divided into two categories: (1) Human Rights, and (2) Social, Political and Economic Rights.
- Human Rights include such principles as:
- the right to life;
- the right not to be tortured or subject to degrading treatment
- the right to liberty (which means, amongst other things, that governments have a duty to ensure that their law treat and protect everyone equally, and that people must not be punished in law without a fair trial);
- the right to a private life with minimal interference from rulers and governments;
- the right to freedom of thought, expression, conscience and religion; and
- the right to marry and have a family
In general, human rights have immediate effect from birth and must always be respected by governments.
Guernsey’s Human Rights Law, which gives effect to the European Convention on Human Rights, was introduced in 2000.
- Social, Political and Economic Rights include, amongst others, such principles as:
- the right to employment and to earn a living;
- the right to education and training;
- the right to social security, welfare and healthcare; and
- the right to have a say in government, g. the right to vote.
Social economic and political rights are not recognised and protected in the same way as human rights and the full realisation of these rights may be achieved step by step at a rate that depends on the resources available to a government or nation.
Human Rights and Freedoms
After the world suffered the horrors of two World Wars, the United Nations Organisation (UN) was set up to help establish a new world order and increase communication and harmony amongst nations. One of the first things the UN did was to develop and agree the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. That declaration became the foundation of all the rights and freedoms we have today.
The authors of those rights understood that the atrocities of the wars had come about because governments were not respecting rights. Skewed ideology led to terrible discrimination and to genocide.
Non-discrimination and principles of equality of opportunity and treatment are at the very core of all our rights.
Rights are not something we “earn” or “deserve”, rights are ours because we are human.
Rights and freedoms are as important in Guernsey as anywhere else and our government has a duty to ensure that our rights are respected, protected, promoted and monitored.
Human rights are based on important principles of dignity, fairness, respect and equality. They protect us in our everyday life regardless of who we are, where we live and how we chose to live our lives..
In Europe, these rights have been split into: (1) civil rights and (2) social, economic and cultural rights.
Civil rights mostly deal with things that governments must not do to citizens or must not stop citizens from doing (freedoms)
Guernsey recognised the European Convention on Human Rights in 1953 and then introduced Guernsey’s Human Rights Law (mirroring and giving effect to the European Convention) in 2000.
Examples of civil rights include:
- the right to life
- the right to respect for private and family life
- freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- The right to marry
Examples of economic, social and cultural rights include:
- Labor rights
- Right to social security
- Right to family life
- Right to an adequate standard of living
- Right to health
- Right to free education
- Right to participation in cultural life
One major difference between civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights is that civil rights have immediate effect while economic, social and cultural rights may be progressively realised. The speed of that realisation will depend on the resources of the member nation.
For the first time ever, human rights laws allow citizens to challenge the actions of their government and, ultimately for such complaints to be heard by an independent regional court. For citizens of Guernsey that court is the European Court of Human Rights.
The situation is different with economic, cultural and social rights. Because these rights may be realised progressively, it is generally not possible to challenge noncompliance through the court system. Instead, the UN operates a monitoring system where member nations undertake to provide periodic reports on progress.
How are Human Rights relevant to Guernsey?
Human rights apply to everyone everywhere.
Many islanders might live their whole lives without thinking about or even without understanding the relevance of rights in Guernsey.
The very fact that some people believe that rights are only relevant to people in third world countries or that criminals and “bad people” shouldn’t have rights, demonstrates some fundamental misunderstanding and appreciation of human rights.
Rights have relevance to every aspect of life, everywhere. Rights shape the way we are all able to live our lives.
All the systems and policies which govern our laws, and the essential services we all need to achieve an adequate standard of living, are affected by human rights.
Our education system, our employment laws, laws governing the supply of goods and services, laws governing how the justice system works and our policies governing health services, are all affected by human rights.
When Guernsey enacted its Human Rights Law in 2000, it meant that all other Guernsey Law had to be interpreted in line with our Human Rights Law.
Because many of our systems already comply with human rights, or because the way they are setup may be OK for the majority of islanders, many islanders will be able to live their lives without either consciously exercising their rights or challenging abuses or infringements of their rights.
But democracy is not just about providing for the majority. True democratic societies have a basis in respect for human rights. Those rights include the right to non-discrimination and equality of opportunity. For example, public services, such as transport, should be usable by all, not just available to all. Buses, for instance, which are unable to be used by persons with disabilities can be seen as undemocratic because their design does not comply with human right principles.
The fact is that Guernsey does not yet respect all rights and there are some important protections, particularly involving protection against discrimination, that islanders do not have.
Most islanders are probably not even aware that we have human rights legislation, nor do we yet have a proper system which advises islanders about their rights or helps them to exercise those rights.
As well as campaigning for the rights of persons with disabilities and for rights in general, the Guernsey Disability Alliance has campaigned strongly for the States to set up an independent Equality and Rights Organisation (ERO). An ERO would help ensure more islanders knew their rights and, importantly, would be there to help protect and monitor the rights of all islanders.