UK ‘backsliding’ on human rights, including clean air

A European human rights watchdog has issued a scathing report suggesting Britain is at risk of losing ground on liberties, including environmental rights. 

Following a five-day visit to the UK, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, has highlighted concerns over how British legal reforms are impacting citizens. 

Issues include the proposed replacement of the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights, children’s rights in the context of the pandemic, and the cost of living crisis. There are also significant fear relating to the environment and clean air. 

Mijatović’s summary points to the glaring need for more action to tackle air pollution, and specifically its impact on young people living in the most deprived communities. The right to a clean, safe and healthy environment was identified as an urgent issue by the Parliamentary Council of Europe in September 2021, including protections for climate migrants and refugees, numbers of who are expected to grow in the coming years. 

Currently, there is no individual section of the Human Rights Act that covers this issue, although campaign groups have long lobbied for this. In May, a proposed Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill – or ‘Ella’s Law‘ – was introduced to the UK House of Lords after being voted top of the ballot for private members’ bills.

The United Nation’s human rights body’s Special Rapporteur has already stated countries across the world have a legal obligation to make clean air a right of citizens. However, this is currently largely lacking.  

‘The failure to respect, protect and fulfil the right to breathe clean air is inflicting a terrible toll on people all across the world,’ said UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur, David Boyd. ‘The solutions − laws, standards, policies, programmes, investments and technologies − are known. Implementing these solutions will of course entail large investments, but the benefits of fulfilling the right to breathe clean air for all of humanity are incalculable.’

Image credit: PublicDomainPictures



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