In a comprehensive 740-page World Report for 2024, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sharply criticized the UK government’s performance over the past year, terming it a “disappointing” period for human rights. The report, unveiled on Friday, meticulously scrutinizes the Conservative government’s management of various issues, spanning migration, LGBTQ+ rights, foreign policy, and more.
Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director at HRW, did not mince words, stating, “The UK had another challenging year for human rights in 2023.” The report specifically highlighted the erosion of domestic human rights protections and a perceived abandonment of crucial international obligations.
One significant point of contention was the government’s 2023 legislation criminalizing protesters, known as the Public Order Bill, and its push for anti-boycott laws. HRW also scrutinized factions within the Conservative Party seeking to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, a move perceived as linked to the Rwanda bill.
The HRW report cast a critical eye on the recently enacted Illegal Migration Act, deeming it a “blatant breach” of the UK’s international obligations, particularly under the UN Refugee Convention.
In the realm of social justice, the report accused the Tories of neglecting institutional racism and the unresolved Windrush scandal, with affected individuals still awaiting compensation. It underscored the government’s failure to set social security payments at a level ensuring recipients can live with dignity amid a persistent cost of living crisis, citing rising food bank usage and homelessness.
The gender pay gap and outdated abortion laws in England and Wales were cited as ongoing issues in the context of women’s rights. HRW also noted a surge in anti-LGBT violence and criticized the government’s perceived undermining of protections for the rights of trans women, highlighting an over-representation of LGBT individuals among the unhoused population.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced particular condemnation for backtracking on key climate policies, with HRW urging more action to address racial disparities in climate change effects within the UK.
While the UK was commended for its stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, HRW criticized the government for what it perceived as a “turning a blind eye” to ongoing abuses in Rwanda. The report highlighted concerns about the plan to deport asylum seekers deemed to have arrived “illegally” and the failure to resettle vulnerable Afghans due to anti-immigrant policies.
The UK’s abstention from a UN Security Council resolution in October, calling for full humanitarian aid to Gaza and the release of Hamas hostages amid the Israel-Hamas war, also drew HRW’s criticism.
In a final damning assessment, HRW concluded that the UK’s “plummeting domestic human rights record” has undermined its global efforts to promote the rule of law and human rights. These revelations come at a critical time for the Conservative government, trailing behind Labour in polls, with less than a year before voters head to the ballot box. The report adds fuel to the ongoing political discourse and raises pertinent questions about the government’s commitment to upholding human rights.