The government of the United Kingdom ‘repeatedly sought to damage and undermine human rights protections’ in 2022, according to a report by international rights group Human Rights Watch.
Their World Report 2023 highlighted ‘a slew of legislation’ both proposed and enacted in 2022 that significantly weakens rights protections in domestic law. Tirana Hassan, the acting executive director of Human Rights Watch, expressed particular concern about the Public Order Bill, which would restrict right to protest, and the Elections Act, which may introduce voter ID.
The report criticises the Rwanda asylum policy, agreed in April with the African nation at a cost of £140m, to remove asylum seekers to the country while their claims are processed. HRW say, if enacted, this would put asylum seekers lives at risk on account of Rwanda’s grave human rights record. The policy was temporarily halted by the European Court of Human Rights, and remains subject to a domestic legal challenge.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, brought into force in April under Priti Patel’s Home Office tenure, also comes under fire. The law criminalises asylum seekers who arrive by irregular routes, despite the well-documented lack of legal routes for migrants from a plethora of unsafe countries. The legislation also expands the power of the state to remove dual nationals’ citizenship without warning.
The report also criticises that the UK continues to lack a time limit on immigration detention. Although most detainees are held for less than 28 days, current legislation means they can be held indefinitely, and in rare cases asylum seekers are held for over 6 months in the prison-like conditions of short-term holding centres.
Concerns have also been raised about the Human Rights Act, the fate of which remains unknown following last year’s political upheaval.
Policing comes under particularly harsh scrutiny in the report, which says the government failed to take meaningful steps to address institutional racism in police forces in 2022. It references the independent oversight mechanism for England and Wales which published recommendations in April for police to address the discriminatory use of stop and search powers. In 2022 Black people remained seven times more likely to be targeted for a search than white people.
UK director of Human Rights Watch, Yasmine Ahmed said: ‘In 2022, we saw the most significant assault on human rights protections in the UK in decades… From your right to protest to your ability to hold institutions to account, fundamental and hard-won rights are being systematically dismantled.’
The report highlighted some human rights successes with regards to foreign policy, however the report highlights that despite heralding itself as defending democracy and freedom globally, it has ‘taken a sledgehammer to fundamental international commitments’.