Agree to disagree: the UK does not see eye to eye with the Committee

Published on 21 Mar 2024, 04:13 PM

The UK and Northern Ireland disagreed with the Committee on interpretations of international human rights instruments, like the 1951 Refugee Convention

Protest before the Royal Courts of Justice against the Nationality and Borders Act. Author: Tom Pilgrim PA

On March 12 and 13, the Human RIghts Committee reviewed the eighth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK was represented by a large delegation reflecting the State’s complex devolved governance structure with members from different regions including Northern Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland. The review was also enriched by wide participation of civil society organizations working across the UK and representatives from the four national human rights institutions in the UK.

The UK delegation expressed their appreciation for the dialogue but did not hesitate to state when they disagreed with some of the Committee’s interpretations of international law and concerns about UK domestic policy. The dialogue covered a variety of issues including access to abortion, treatment of detainees overseas, right to privacy, restrictions on public assemblies, and racial discrimination.

Treatment of Migrants and Asylum seekers

An issue that received a lot of attention during the dialogue was the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Specifically, the Committee expressed their concerns over the new partnership with Rwanda. The UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2022 to send certain asylum seekers in the UK to Rwanda, where the Rwandan government would decide their claims. If asylum is granted, the individuals will stay in Rwanda, not the UK. This arrangement was deemed unlawful in 2023 by the Supreme Court of the UK due to concerns that Rwanda is not a safe country.

The Committee raised concerns that Rwanda does not qualify as a safe country and that the transfer of UK asylum seekers to the east African country potentially violates art. 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention on non-refoulement. The Committee also highlighted that the Illegal Migration Act of 2023 deprives migrants who arrived illegally of basic rights and is in clear violation of the Refugee Convention. The hostile climate towards migrants in the UK was also noted as a topic of concern.

In response to the Committee’s questions, the delegation reaffirmed their belief that the Rwanda treaty and the Illegal Migration Act are not in violation with the UK’s international human rights obligations. They claimed these measures are necessary to address increased irregular migration to the UK, trafficking in persons operations, and uphold the principle of first safe country for asylum seekers.

Past Human Rights Abuses

The legacy of the human rights abuses committed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles (1960s-1998) was also discussed during the review. The Committee stated that the UK had not yet put in place an effective mechanism for transitional justice. The delegation shared that the UK Parliament passed legislation in 2023 to establish an independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery for rights violations committed during the Troubles. The Committee expressed concerns that the independence of the Commission is not guaranteed and the Commission lacks power of investigations. Committee members also noted the Council of Europe”s criticism of the Commission and the High Court of Belfast decision that the amnesty clause for perpetrators breaches human rights law.

In response, the members of the delegation representing Northern Ireland recognized the complexity of addressing the legacy of crimes, as different stakeholders have different ideas on how to deal with the past. They reaffirmed that the government’s point of view is that the Commision is the best way to bring new information to light for families and achieve reconciliation in society. They also shared the government’s plans to lodge an application with the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal to protect the Commission’s power to grant conditional immunity to perpetrators.

Surveillance and Right to Privacy

Concerns over the right to privacy in the UK were also discussed during the dialogue.  The Investigative Powers Amendment Bill was mentioned by the Committee over worries it will weaken privacy protection by allowing for the overly broad collection of personal data by the intelligence agency. The Committee also raised concerns about the increasing use of facial recognition technology by police and asked if the UK planned to introduce a legal and regulatory framework for biometric surveillance technologies.

The delegation stated that the amendment to the Investigative Powers (IP) Bill will improve the collection process for bulk personal data (BPD) by expanding the oversight role of the IP Commission and giving the IP Tribunal the power to investigate any complaints received. BPD collection is also subject to strict safeguards including a double lock process whereby a warrant must be signed by a secretary of state and a judge. On facial recognition technology, the delegation claimed that the technology is essential for the police to identify individuals but that it is used in a targeted method.


Watch again the dialogue with the Committee here (part one) and here (part two).

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Concluding observations on the UK’s eighth periodic report were released on March 28, 2024. The State party is requested to provide, by March 29, 2027, information on the following recommendations:

Accountability for past human rights violations

The Committee calls on the State party to repeal or reform the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 and to adopt proper mechanisms with guarantees of independence, transparency, and genuine investigation power that discharge the State party’s human rights obligations and deliver truth, justice and effective remedies, including reparations to victims of the Northern Ireland conflict. Furthermore, it should ensure the prompt establishment of a transitional justice mechanism to address abuses in institutions such as Magdalene laundries and Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland, ensuring perpetrators are prosecuted and punished with penalties proportionate to the gravity of the offence, and ensure that all victims obtain an effective remedy.

Counter-terrorism measures

Recalling the Committee’s previous recommendations, the State party should review its counter-terrorism legislation to ensure it is in compliance with the Covenant and the principles of legality, certainty, predictability and proportionality, in particular with regard to the definition of terrorism and the maximum period of pre-charge detention in terrorism cases. It should provide effective safeguards, including judicial oversight, for any limitations on human rights imposed for the purposes of national security and ensure that such limitations serve legitimate aims and are necessary and proportionate, in line with the Covenant. It should also ensure that persons suspected of or charged with terrorist acts or related crimes are provided, in law and in practice, with all legal safeguards, in accordance with the Covenant.

Treatment of aliens, including migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers

The Committee urges the State party to:

(a) Swiftly repeal the legislative provisions, including within the Illegal Migration Act 2023, that discriminate against migrants and that seek to limit access to rights for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in the State party on account of their “illegal entry or presence”, with a view to ensuring its legislation fully complies with the Covenant and relevant international standards;

(b) Provide access to status determination mechanisms for asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons to help ensure they have their claims processed expeditiously, and those granted protection are able to integrate effectively and are protected from discrimination, regardless of their national origin or status as refugees or stateless persons, in line with articles 2, 13 and 26 of the Covenant;

(c) Withdraw the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, or repeal the bill if passed, with a view to strictly upholding the principle of non-refoulement in both law and practice.


Here you can find all the recommendations given by the Committee in the Concluding Observations.

The follow-up report of the UK on the implementation of recommendations is due in 2027. The next list of issues will be adopted in 2030, and the next periodic report is due in 2031.

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