Labour Manifesto 2015: a human rights scorecard

If we had to give the manifesto a human rights grade, it would be a distinctly average C+


After years of policy reviews and piece-meal announcements, Labour’s manifesto offers the first definitive and comprehensive look at what a Labour government would do if elected. Beneath the handful of headline grabbing policies there lies a series of policies that could shape Britain’s human rights landscape for years to come.

The manifesto offers a mixed bag of proposals and pledges on human rights. At its best, it promises a staunch defence of our human rights framework, pledges to put human rights at the centre of our foreign policy, and makes detailed proposals on tackling violence against women and girls.

At its worst, it makes no substantive effort to comment on protecting civil liberties and privacy in the wake of the Snowden revelations, promises even more surveillance powers for the security services, and shies away from any controversial international human rights issues like rendition or drones.

If we at the Labour Campaign for Human Rights had to give the manifesto a human rights grade, it would be a distinctly average C+. For the full scorecard, read on.

Defending the Human Rights Act and ECHR

The debate over the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is the most important human rights battle of the election, with the Tories, UKIP, and right-wing sections of the media pouring scorn on the Human Rights Act and ECHR.

The Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has consistently championed the Human Rights Act and the ECHR. The manifesto contains a strong commitment to retaining our human rights laws, noting that they have enabled “some of our most vulnerable citizens, including disabled people and victims of crime [to have] a powerful means of redress”.

With all the contempt for these laws in the media and a sceptical public, Labour must be praised without reservation for its unambiguous message on this crucial issue.

Score: 5/5 – A strong and clear commitment to protecting our human rights framework

Security and civil liberties

While making a vague commitment to strengthen privacy safeguards and oversight concerning interception of personal communications data, the manifesto actually appears to promise even more surveillance powers for the security services.

In fact, the manifesto fails to even acknowledge the Snowden revelations, let alone express a commitment to protecting innocent people from communications intercept. In a country where our security services and police have reportedly stolen millions of personal webcam images, spied on Amnesty International and Unicef, monitored and subverted trade unions, Labour politicians, student unions, and victims of crime, the secret development of capabilities to spy on every person in the UK should have warranted some substantive comment.

Score: 1/5 – There is some vague talk about privacy safeguards and oversight, but it actually pledges to strengthen rather than reign in the UK’s excessive surveillance powers

Human rights on the world stage

The manifesto includes a dedicated paragraph on international human rights issues, which leads with a pledge that “universal human rights will be at the heart of our foreign policy across the world”. The section picks out some particularly important issues, notably gender equality, LGBT rights, and freedom of religion. However, the choice of these issues seems a little arbitrary when others, including torture, freedom of expression, and privacy receive no mention.

What’s missing also is a sense of how to champion human rights in a world that increasingly isn’t listening. Most countries these days will hardly tolerate Western lectures on human rights following the war on terror and the changing global balance of power. Labour needs to develop a convincing idea of how we can do human rights advocacy in today’s world.

Score: 3/5 – An unambiguous message that human rights will be at the heart of Labour’s foreign policy, but some key issues are missed out and it doesn’t grapple with the new challenges of championing human rights on the global stage

Addressing the tough issues

In the international human rights section, the manifesto shies away from tackling human rights issues where the UK may itself be at fault. Championing human rights isn’t just about tackling popular issues. It’s also about tackling issues like Guantanamo Bay, rendition, the use of drones, human rights and trade policy, and the war on drugs – issues where our own record is less than rosy or where there might be some contention.

Domestically, though, the manifesto is more bold. Most impressive is its commitment to ending the practice of indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

2/5 – The manifesto shies away from many of the most contentious human rights issues internationally, but saves itself from a zero rating in this section by addressing unfair detention practices in the immigration and asylum system.

Tackling violence against women and girls

One area where the manifesto really shines is its commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, dedicating a whole section to this important issue. It commits to publishing a Violence Against Women and Girls Bill and banning the use of excessively mild punishment for domestic violence, among other measures.

Score: 5/5 – Strong leadership on tackling violence against women and girls with several important measures announced

16/25 – C+

Andrew Noakes is director of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter

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