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On 17 November Helen Flynn, Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns at Just Fair, gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s All Party Group on Ethnic Minority Communities. Helen discussed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) review process (more on that in our explainer), why it has particular relevance for minority ethnic communities, and some options to better fulfil economic, social and cultural rights in Northern Ireland.

Why get involved?

Helen highlighted the benefits of devolved administrations becoming involved in the review process, including having a panel of 18 independent experts providing their time and expertise to advise how we could better realise rights across the UK. It’s also a time when the UK Government, National Human Rights Institutions, and civil society organisations come together to think about certain rights, with the shared goal of ensuring people in the UK are able to lead lives of dignity.

The particular relevance for minority ethnic communities

The particular impacts felt by minority ethnic communities in relation to economic, social and cultural rights including in the areas of work, education, social security, accommodation and health was also covered. She highlighted the ways the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit have exacerbated these inequalities (for more on Brexit and rights, check out our briefing).

Suggestions for progress

In terms of the better realisation of rights, she highlighted the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s calls for a National Mechanism for Implementation, Reporting and Follow-up to ensure a joined up approach to treaty body monitoring.

Helen also highlighted the ongoing work of the Ad Hoc Committee for a Bill of Rights, and the different models of enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights that have been presented in evidence to them, notably the Human Rights Consortium’sModels of Enforceability’ paper. She  emphasised strong public support in Northern Ireland for these rights, evidenced by the recent polling by the Consortium, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University showing a significant majority consider it important for a NI Bill of Rights to include the following: the right to education (88%); the right to an adequate standard of mental and physical health (88%); the right to adequate accommodation (84%); the right to an adequate standard of living (84%); the right to food (86%); the right to work (83%); and the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (87%).

Finally, Helen highlighted some of the key features of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, which will help to make sure that protecting children’s rights in Scotland is a key consideration in the formulation of law and policy there.

Final thoughts

The ICESCR review process presents a great opportunity to consider how we are realising the rights of individuals and communities in our society – notably ethnic minority communities – and the work we still need to do.