World is watching UK General Election, say human rights organisations

This General Election is a “fork in the road” with the world watching to see if the UK abandons the international human rights order, campaigners have said.

A number of civil liberty organisations have come together to call for greater scrutiny of human rights policy in the campaign period ahead of the July 4 vote.

The result and subsequent approach of the new government will be a “critical moment” for the UK and how it is seen on the global stage, according to Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch.

The organisation joined Liberty, Amnesty International, Freedom from Torture and Inclusion London to press for more focus on which direction the next political administration might take when it comes to rights.

Labour has stated its commitment to international legal conventions, with its manifesto saying: “Britain will unequivocally remain a member of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The Conservative manifesto stopped short of saying the UK could leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), despite calls from some on the right of the party, including former home secretary Suella Braverman.

But it has stated that “if we are forced to choose between our security and the jurisdiction of a foreign court” – including the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the convention, “we will always choose our security”.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom from Torture, said: “I think it really illustrates how diminished our politics has come to be that this is even in contention.”

The organisations have long criticised the Illegal Migration Act 2023, a law intended to stop people who arrive in the UK illegally from being able to stay here and which the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has previously said effectively amounts to an “asylum ban”.

They have also called for the Rwanda scheme to be scrapped with Ms Ahmed recalling how an international diplomat recently asked her: “Do you think I’m ever going to listen to a UK diplomat or Foreign Office official about us as a country taking in refugees when you have a deal with Rwanda to expel asylum seekers before they’ve even had a right to claim (asylum)?”

She said instances like that show how the election is “a critical moment internationally for the UK Government to recommit to the international rules-based order, an order that it was a foundational player in establishing”.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said the “world is watching this election” because it is seen as “a turning point of whether the UK believes in consistency and support for international frameworks and for the international human rights order or whether a path, which the world feels we have taken a first step down, to abandon that order and abandon an order that we helped build actually becomes the road that this country runs down”.

He added: “This election is seen around the world as that fork in the road.”

Sam Grant, advocacy director at Liberty, said recent years have seen “some of our most valued rights and protections shrink across the board”.

He said: “New laws have reduced workers’ rights, migrants’ rights, the right to vote and our right to protest, and these will continue to impact all of us long after the General Election.”

The comments came as World Refugee Day on Thursday was marked by a coalition of charities and human rights organisations, co-ordinated by Together With Refugees, gathering outside Parliament for what it described as a kickabout outside the Houses of Parliament to call for a “fair shot” for people seeking asylum in the UK.

Succession actor Brian Cox, who is supporting the campaign, said: “The chaos and cruelty of the current asylum system cannot be allowed to continue. The next government has the chance to make a major reset on how the UK treats refugees.

“It must commit to a fair new plan for refugees and represent what we know people across the country really want.  I’m proud to join Team Fair Begins Here on World Refugee Day and take a stand for something better.”