Good Friday Agreement: Solidarity with Northern Irish Civil Society Organisations
5 April 2023
We represent 40 organisations working across the UK, spanning the human rights and civil liberties, pan-equality, racial justice, faith, military justice, criminal justice, democracy, refugee and migrants’ rights, disability rights, voluntary, violence against women and girls, racial justice, LGBTQ+, environmental, and other sectors.
We stand in solidarity with our civil society partners across Northern Ireland on the anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and echo their demands for the UK Government to take forward its responsibility to deliver a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights, protect the Human Rights Act and guarantee full access to the European Convention on Human Rights. Continued failure to fulfil the promises made 25 years ago is a betrayal of the values of the Northern Ireland peace process.
Please see the attached letter signed by 50 Northern Irish groups, which we endorse and forward for your consideration (below).
Dear Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak MP), Leader of the Opposition (Sir Keir Starmer MP) and Taoiseach (Leo Varadkar TD),
We write to you as civil society organisations from across all communities, sectors and areas of Northern Ireland who believe that strong and inclusive human rights protections must be a core part of improving this society.
On the 25th anniversary of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, we call on you to help deliver the outstanding human rights commitments that our peace deal originally envisioned a quarter of a century ago.
The main undelivered commitment of that Agreement is a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. There continues to be overwhelming public and widespread political support for a new Bill of Rights, with 80%+ support in a public survey commissioned by the Assembly.
Yet the UK Government continues to block progress by insisting on complete party political consensus before a Bill of Rights can proceed. If such a veto had been allowed to apply to the Agreement itself, or for instance to the reform of policing, they would never have happened.
We now need to remove the veto on the Bill of Rights and move to delivery mode.
We are also deeply concerned at ongoing attempts to remove or undermine existing human rights standards that are fundamentally linked to the Agreement. Recent government proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act would have represented a substantial weakening of human rights across the United Kingdom by diminishing the level of protection we enjoy under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a cornerstone of the peace agreement.
The signatories to the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement committed themselves to ‘the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.’ The lack of progress on the Bill of Rights and the threat to diminish existing rights is a betrayal of those values and a failure to fulfil the promises made 25 years ago.
The UK Government must take forward its responsibility to deliver a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights, protect the Human Rights Act and guarantee full access to the European Convention on Human Rights.
We call on you and all of those in positions of power and leadership to commit to this goal and to a specific and timetabled plan to make it a reality.
It is time to Make Our Future Fair.
- Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty
- Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive, Amnesty International UK
- Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
- Sonya Sceats, CEO, Freedom from Torture
- Kamran Mallick, CEO, Disability Rights UK
- Sanchita Hosali, CEO, The British Institute of Human Rights
- Emma Norton, Director, Centre for Military Justice
- Sarah Vibert, Chief Executive, The National Council for Voluntary Organisations
- Mia Hasenson-Gross, Executive Director, René Cassin, the Jewish voice for human rights
- Lubia Begum-Rob, Director, Prisoners’ Advice Service
- Sam Smith, CEO, C-Change Scotland
- Naomi Smith, CEO, Best for Britain
- Mark Kieran, CEO, Open Britain
- Emma Hutton, CEO, JustRight Scotland
- Isobel Ingham-Barrow, CEO, Community Policy Forum
- Declan Owens, CEO, Ecojustice Ireland
- Clare Moody, co-CEO, Equally Ours
- Deborah Coles, Executive Director, INQUEST
- Julie Bishop, Director, Law Centres Network
- Sam Fowles, Director, Institute for Constitutional and Democratic Research
- Annie Campbell, Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees
- Joyce Kallevik, Director, WISH
- Jess McQuail, Director, Just Fair
- Tom Brake, Director, Unlock Democracy
- Chris Jones, Director, Statewatch
- Clare MacGillivray, Director, Making Rights Real (Scotland)
- Louise King, Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids Law
- Deniz Ugur, Deputy Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition
- Danielle Roberts, Senior Policy and Development Officer, Here NI
- Shoaib M Khan, Principal, SMK Law Solicitors
- Jacob Smith, UK Accountability Team Leader, Rights & Security International
- Liz Crosbie, Project Director, Reboot GB
- Boyd Sleator, Coordinator, Northern Ireland Humanists
- Rosalind Stevens, Project Manager, Civil Society Alliance
- Kyle Taylor, Founder, Fair Vote UK
- Declan Owens, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
- Maurice Mcleod, Policy Advocate, UNJUST
- Clare Lyons, Director of Campaigns, Policy and Advocacy, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Lee Jasper, Co-Founder, Operation Black Vote 40. Lee Jasper, Co-Founder, Blaksox
Cc: Northern Ireland party leaders and MPs