RightsNI is delighted to welcome this guest post by Karen McLaughlin, Legal Policy Officer, NICEM
This Friday, 20th September, NICEM will hold its 15th Annual Human Rights and Equality Conference in the Holiday Inn, Ormeau Avenue, Belfast.
2013 has seen many events marking the 15th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and NICEM’s conference will seek to explore some of those issues from the race perspective. The link between issues of sectarianism and racism in Northern Ireland has been well documented in the past, most notably by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Race Discrimination in its last examination of the UK in 2011. In addition, the publication of the recent Executive strategy, Together: Building a United Community, the initiation of the Haas talks and the heightened tensions on the ground provide a fascinating backdrop to discuss the topic ‘Flags, Emblems and Parades: Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights Protection?’
The 15th anniversary of the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law, falls this year as well. The threats posed to the 1998 Act by the Coalition Government have been widespread in the last number of months, which was also heightened by discussions around a Bill of Rights for Great Britain and where that might leave the Bill of Rights process in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, this year the European Union finalised steps towards accession to the ECHR. Inspired by these developments, the first session of the conference will take stock of developments the European level.
This year has also witnessed a rollback in human rights and equality measures more generally by the Coalition Government, which will undoubtedly have implications for Northern Ireland. Most notably, the Coalition Government has sought to impede access to justice by curtailing legal aid as well as the scope for judicial review, which will have a profound impact on public interest law litigation and the pursuit of human rights. On the other hand, with the Coalition Government having already carried out a review the public sector equality duty and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland about to transform into the Equality and Good Relations Commission, it is timely to consider the implications of these developments.