by Katharine Weatherhead
Published: 14 Apr 2022
On 27 April 2022, we will publish our latest report for the United Nations, looking at how human rights are being upheld in Britain. The report contributes to the Universal Periodic Review. This is when UN countries review each other’s progress on putting human rights into practice. Our report covers 11 different human rights topics and makes recommendations for the UK and Welsh governments to improve life for everyone in Britain.
We are a National Human Rights Institution and reports like these are a vital part of our role in monitoring human rights. However, when we think of monitoring human rights simply as participating in formal processes, sometimes the bigger picture can get a bit lost. Let’s look at how monitoring helps us to promote the necessity, the vitality and the fullness, of human rights.
Values should reflect behaviour (and vice versa)
Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world. These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence.
Generally we expect the values of people or organisations to be followed through in their behaviour. For example, we might expect staff in a shop that claims to value excellence in customer service to greet people politely. We would not expect them to greet people with hostility. In this way, values allow us to anticipate behaviours.
Behaviours can also signal what our values are. How we behave as part of an organisation gives people a sense of the culture of that organisation. For example, if managers regularly seek the views of their team members and actively listen to their input, this indicates that they value the participation of staff in decisions that affect them. Through our behaviour, we send a message about the values we hold.
Commitments should lead to positive action
Just as values need to be put into practice, commitments need to be implemented. By signing up to international human rights treaties, states have made commitments to uphold the values and standards they contain. Those commitments become legal obligations, binding states to respect, protect and fulfil everyone’s human rights. The subsequent actions governments choose to take can affect the news we read, the time we spend with loved ones, the education we can access and far more.
International human rights law provides a framework which, if placed at the centre of decision-making by governments and others, can ensure that everyone is treated fairly. Monitoring how that framework is implemented helps us to understand when something has gone wrong and supports us to seek redress. Whether we are looking at racial discrimination at work, violence against women and girls, or a failure to create accessible spaces, monitoring and redress are essential for accountability.
Accountability might sound a bit intimidating and formal. In everyday life, it is about being answerable to your family, colleagues or service users for how you conduct yourself. It’s about recognising the impact your behaviour can have on others and sticking to agreed standards. Monitoring human rights is a similar thing on a larger scale. Accountability helps to make sure commitments lead to positive action.
Human rights must be full.
An ‘empty’ commitment is of little use. It leads to empty rights, and human rights must be full. Full of the inherent dignity and equality of each person. Full of respect for freedom, justice and compassion. Full of hope for a better future.
Taking a human rights-based approach to everyday work celebrates and amplifies this fullness. A human rights-based approach supports compliance with human rights law while also seeking more considered and inclusive ways of doing things. It encourages critical thinking about how we can integrate human rights into our behaviours and really model the underlying values. Like the shop worker who treats all customers with respect, and the manager who seeks the participation of staff in decision-making.
Values become meaningful in our day-to-day lives when we act on them. We can all participate in keeping human rights full by consciously living their values.