A Human Rights Based Approach to improving “how government works”

Taking a Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) is about giving people a greater opportunity to participate in shaping the laws, policies and practices that impact on their human rights; increasing the ability of those with the responsibility for fulfilling rights to recognise and respect those rights; and making sure they can be held to account. It also means ensuring non-discrimination, equality and the prioritisation of the most marginalised. The First Minister has expressed a desire to lead “the most open and accessible government in Scotland’s history” with an aspiration for a “Scottish Approach to Government” that “involves people in the work of government” and encourages a more “collaborative government”. Delivering on this vision requires culture change within our public bodies, to recognise that ensuring the participation of the public is a duty that they bear, in line with their human rights commitments. In recent years the Scottish Government has made increasing commitments to respect, protect and fulfil its human rights obligations, but it could do more to match practice with its existing rhetoric, especially around participation and taking a HRBA. The acronym PANEL is commonly used in Scotland to define and explain the discrete elements of a HRBA: • Participation - People should be involved in decisions that affect their rights. • Accountability - There should be monitoring of how people’s rights are being affected, as well as remedies when things go wrong. • Non-discrimination and equality - All forms of discrimination must be prohibited, prevented and eliminated. People who face the biggest barriers to realising their rights should be prioritised. • Empowerment - Everyone should understand their rights and be fully supported to take part in developing policy and practices which affect their lives. • Law - Approaches should be grounded in the legal rights that are set out in domestic and international laws.

Why the contribution is important

Taking a HRBA to how government works supports making better and more sustainable decisions - because they are made when the people who will be affected by decisions are freely, meaningfully and actively engaged in decision making. In adopting better practices around participation then, the Scottish Government will deliver against the values of openness, transparency and accountability. Participation is critical to delivering a Scotland where human rights are realised. It is a foundational principle of a HRBA as well as goal in itself that considers individual autonomy and self-determination to be part of basic human dignity. Free, meaningful and active participation takes time and resource, and requires as wide a range as possible of insights and knowledge. The value that the genuine and meaningful participation of rights holders in different communities of interest can bring to the development of public policy and decision making process has gained recognition in recent years within public bodies, civil society and human rights communities, including in Scotland. Participation requires transparency: people need to know and understand what they are being consulted on. Without transparency, participation is meaningless and accountability is impossible. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the fundamental right of access to information. Transparency reinforces the voice of citizens by helping them to exert influence on decision making, either directly through elected representatives or through a political process. Generation of information which illustrates the intentions, activities and consequences for the public sector is also necessary, to support better accountability. The promotion of accountability for meeting obligations is continuous in a HRBA. Accountability means monitoring, review and oversight of what is actually going on. A policy framework that is human rights compliant requires accountability mechanisms that are both proactive - allowing participation at the point of design and reactive – allowing for aggrieved parties to raise their concerns regarding law and policy. Accountability also means judicial and non-judicial remedies (within and out-with the court system) and these are only useful if people know they can use them, and have effective access to them. In 2020 the OECD published a study drawing from the data of almost 300 case studies of citizen participative and other deliberative processes. The findings concluded that involving the participation of citizens in public decision making can deliver better policies and better policy outcomes; involve more inclusive processes which have greater integrity and legitimacy which act to counteract polarisation; and it helps to build and enhance trust between citizens and government. Adopting the OECD findings would strengthen Scotland’s claims that it is a world-leader in human rights implementation; would strengthen services; and would strengthen our economic investment over time.   Achieving Participation Successful engagement with people and achieving participation, requires, particularly to include marginalised people. People who face barriers to participation arising from socio-economic hardship, impairment, gendered-roles, and negative attitudes tend to be exhausted and unable to participate unless the duty bearer works as an ally. This means those with power, have to dismantle their privilege and be prepared to hear the voices of communities: they will be speaking loud enough. For example, rather than asking for written submissions, there could be space to include visual images including photographs; people should be available for face to face informal conversations; participating people and communities should be given the time to hear what will happen to the information and for each community the duty bearer may collate multiple forms of data so that each person is able to participate fully. It is the people who are participating that should be choosing the medium through which they communicate, not the duty bearer. Spending time with participants will help them build trust in duty bearers and the participation process and it should be remembered that marginalised people are likely to have learned to distrust large organisations. Working with trusted intermediaries, like community and third sector organisations working for and with people, facilitates participation, relationship- and trust-building. Planning for, and taking time to, feedback to groups or individuals and giving them multiple opportunities to participate is vital to ensure the process moves beyond tokenism. To improve participation, the Scottish Government must invest time and resources and develop mechanisms that celebrate diversity. Unfortunately, this consultation does not represent good practice when it comes to facilitating participation. Whilst welcoming the focus of this call for views, it is disappointing that this crucial consultation has been given such a short timescale for response. In addition, the consultation is available via an online tool, without accessible formats, which leaves many people – including disabled people and people with long term conditions – unable to respond. Many citizens who are the focus of the consultation itself, and whose views are crucial to the development of more participatory, open, transparent and accountable work by Scottish Government – for example those living with poverty and the digitally excluded – may not have access to the equipment or resources to join in. Human Right Based Approach to a Just Recovery from COVID-19 Budgets are already playing a central role in government responses to COVID-19 and the recovery. The pandemic makes it even more urgent that governments make sustained advances in public access to budget information, opportunities for public input on budgets, and effective oversight of budget implementation. Fiscal transparency (please also see our response on this idea) and open budget systems alone cannot solve the pandemic. But they can strengthen the trust between citizens and government and improve the delivery of public services, now and going forward. The context of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of enshrining human rights in domestic law to ensure they can be respected, protected and fulfilled at all times, even during an emergency. For instance, the Scottish Human Rights Commission has expressed deep concerns about the removal or reduction of social care plans during COVID-19, including potentially unlawful interferences and non-compliance with rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and CRPD. Moving forward, the Scottish Government has priority issues around the pandemic. Using a HRBA and significantly improving the participation process, transparency and so accountability will minimise the fiscal reforms required for optimal progress and delivery. The Social Renewal Advisory Board report “If not now, when?” included specific recommendations on equality and human rights budgeting as process and operational approaches to Scotland’s social and economic recovery. The Economic Recovery Implementation Plan of the Scottish Government has also committed to improving competence and capacity on equality and human rights analysis in economic policy making. The Scottish Exchequer’s project on fiscal transparency and data visualisation has highlighted the need and opportunity to create more accessible, better used and understood, and more transparent information across all fiscal information. It has also raised the possibility of a ‘Citizens’ Budget’, initially as a communications tool but with significant potential to be a participatory approach to national budgetary priorities. Finally, the Equality and Budgets Advisory Group has submitted a series of recommendations to the Scottish Government to form an action plan for improving the process, knowledge based, competence, and organisational culture to advance equality and human rights budgeting. These multiple levers are current opportunities to press ahead with informed, evidenced, and immediate actions to embed human rights budgeting and ensure transparency, openness, accountability, and participation in fiscal and economic policy making in Scotland.

by HumanRightsBudgetWorkingGroup on June 21, 2021 at 10:12AM

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