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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 12, 2023


Universal Declaration of Human Rights (75th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business this evening is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-10961, in the name of Kaukab Stewart, on the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

I invite members wishing to participate to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 10 December 2023 is annual Human Rights Day, and marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights being proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948; recognises what it sees as the vital role of human rights frameworks in expanding, promoting, and defending human rights across the globe; understands that the Declaration has been translated into over 500 different languages, and has paved the way for more than 70 human rights treaties to date; notes the belief that politicians of all parties must work together to ensure that human rights are championed and have a maximum effect in practice; recognises Amnesty International's campaign “Human Rights: Now Available in Human”, which, it understands, aims to engage as many people as possible in the legislative process for Scotland's proposed new Human Rights Bill; further recognises the work of civil society organisations, including the Human Rights Consortium Scotland, JustRight Scotland and Making Rights Real, in helping to protect and advance human rights in Scotland; notes that 2023 also marks 25 years since the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders; affirms its support for human rights defenders working on the front line of what it sees as rights abuses and injustice, and notes the belief that their voices should be integral to law and policy development in Scotland and across the world.


Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as a member of Amnesty International.

Presiding Officer,

“Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”

Those are the words of Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr’s widow. She wrote them a year after his assassination, which was 21 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed.

I am very grateful to my colleagues who signed my motion marking the 75th anniversary of the declaration and for the opportunity to secure the debate. Coretta Scott King’s words stand as a timeless reminder that rights do not exist forever of their own accord. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated following a tireless campaign and fight for civil rights for black people in the United States through the 1960s. Treaties, agreements, declarations and even laws can be agreed and signed, but it is what we do in practice that determines the rights of people around us.

The United Nations General Assembly agreed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948, ]out of the ashes of the second world war, which claimed the lives of more than 60 million people. The declaration contains 30 articles, each setting out rights and freedoms that ought to be respected and enjoyed by every person on this planet. Members in the chamber who are looking to contribute to the debate this evening may wish to delve into some of those articles in more detail, but I would like to start with article 1, which states:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

I do not doubt that, were a declaration on universal rights to be published for the first time today, it would perhaps use slightly more inclusive language, such is the evolving nature of our lexicon, but the meaning and intention behind the words endure. Consider the simple prospect that each human is the value of each of those around them—that is, that no person can or should expect better or lesser treatment. What an aspiration and an idea to tirelessly strive for. However, we know that we are not there—we are not even nearly there. Be under no illusion about that.

We are here today to celebrate the milestone of the 75th anniversary of the declaration, which is a groundbreaking international agreement that has done so much to inform and encourage laws and movements around the world in furthering human rights. The declaration has informed serious major treaties that have protected the rights of individuals across the globe. That includes the European convention on human rights, which was adopted in 1950 and is recognised in 47 nations as the baseline for human rights across Europe. The International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights, which was adopted in 1966, has been enshrined in law and is used to protect the rights of detainees and freedom of expression in the United Kingdom. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was also adopted in 1966. Although that was not formally incorporated into legislation in the UK, it has informed court decisions on welfare, housing and labour rights.

In addition, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted in 1979, ensures that women have the same legal rights as men in terms of nationality, marriage, education, employment and welfare. Finally, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted in 1989, and signed and ratified by most countries round the world, protects the rights and welfare of children.

However, celebration should not be confused with complacency; on human rights, we should be anything but complacent. Last week, the Parliament unanimously passed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, in its amended form, which recognises and enshrines the convention’s principles in Scots law. I am proud, as many other members are, to have been part of that moment in history.

With this age of the 24-hour news cycle and of immediate social media updates of events going on round the world, we have all witnessed human rights abuses on a scale that we have never seen before, whether it be the horror of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the on-going terror being unleashed in Gaza and Israel. We all hear examples of states acting with flagrant disregard for human rights, and it is a stark betrayal of their fundamental duties to safeguard and protect the dignity and freedom of all its citizens.

Eleanor Roosevelt, a key driver in developing the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works.”

We look to human rights abuses and failings abroad, but we know that there is so much to do at home to improve the lives of our own citizens, particularly those who belong to minority groups. It would be remiss of me not to mention last week’s Court of Session ruling on the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was passed in this place—and voted for by MSPs from every single party represented in the chamber—but which has been struck down by the UK Government. It is our responsibility to improve the rights of all individuals.

While talk around Whitehall grows over abandoning the UK’s obligation with regard to human rights under in\ternational law, I am pleased to see that the Scottish Government remains committed to introducing the human rights bill to Parliament. Although it is limited to the confines of that which is devolved to this place, the bill will help incorporate a further four UN treaties into Scots law.

I am not sure whether I have a bit of leeway on time to outline them, Presiding Officer.

I can give you a bit more time, Ms Stewart.

Kaukab Stewart

Thank you.

The four treaties are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. As convener of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, I look forward to being part of the bill scrutiny process. Scotland now has an opportunity to show leadership in furthering human rights at home and abroad, and I ask the minister, in summing up, to update members on the Scottish Government’s work to do just that.

Earlier today, members in the chamber debated the report that my committee published on “The Human Rights of Asylum Seekers in Scotland”. The report makes it clear that there are measures that we can take, notably the Scottish Government’s commitment to free bus travel, to make better the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society and around the world.

I look forward to contributions from colleagues to the debate, and I urge everyone to join me afterwards in the Burns room for an event that I am sponsoring with Amnesty International on the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a day for celebration, but also for serious consideration of what we must do better. [Applause.]

I remind those who are in the public gallery that they are not to participate. That includes not applauding, difficult as that might be at times.


Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Human rights—what a vast subject. With just four minutes in which to speak, where do I even begin? I begin with a simple acknowledgement: as UK citizens, every single one of us here is blessed. Whether by virtue of the lottery of birth or of acquired British citizenship, many will give little thought to our immense good fortune.

Seventy-five years ago this week, the UK was one of 48 countries to sign the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the aftermath of the second world war, it was a groundbreaking global pledge, with 30 articles setting out fundamental and far-reaching human rights that were to be universally respected and protected, and which were to apply to everyone, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinions and national or social origin.

In the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s most recent annual “Human Rights and Democracy Report”, published in 2022, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon wrote the following:

“for far too many people, the hatred, depravity and atrocities of the Second World War have not been consigned to history. Too many repressive governments have chosen to disregard their international commitments, and rule through discrimination, persecution and violence.”

How very true that is. Around the world, we see the brutal and bloody suppression of freedoms that we take for granted. In Syria, war criminal al-Assad murders hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens. In Afghanistan, the rights of women and girls are destroyed by the Taliban. In Myanmar, a military junta conducts extrajudicial killings, torture and sexual violence. In Qatar, people will be arrested for being gay, while a world cup that was built by slave labour buys legitimacy. In Iran, women and girls fight for freedom against a regime that thinks nothing of killing them. In Russia, war criminal Putin orders the massacre of Ukrainian civilians and the abduction of Ukrainian children. In China, the Chinese Communist Party commits genocide against the Uyghurs and other minority groups.

In all those places and many more, those who are brave enough to speak out risk being murdered by the state. They are imprisoned or killed, and most of their stories and their names will never be known. In such tyrannical places, it is often women’s suffering that is the greatest: they are deprived of a voice and of education, at risk of sexual violence and exploitation and denied the most basic of freedoms.

Here in the UK, however, our rights are rock solid. All those rights—to education, to housing, to healthcare, to vote, to protest and to justice—are underpinned by our vibrant democracy, diverse free media and independent judiciary. Our country, the United Kingdom, is a glowing beacon and a global champion of human rights.

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

This is a genuine question. Every day in my constituency, I see families going hungry or having to attend food banks. There are children who are hungry and young people who are suffering in this country, mainly because of austerity. Does the member understand that the right to food is a human right in this country, too?

Russell Findlay

The member can check all 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and see for herself how all-encompassing they are, but she also needs to learn a bit of perspective with regard to the positives that the United Kingdom brings to the world.

We can use our influence to work with other enlightened nations to defeat the darkness of oppression. We believe that others should expect the rights and freedoms that we have, but that is in our interests, too, because in today’s global village, such injustice fuels and spreads instability and insecurity.

I end with an observation and a note of caution. We need to be careful—we need some perspective. Shrill and overblown criticism of the integrity of our country is music to the ears of tyrants. It risks distracting from the evil deeds of those around the world who despise our values and the good that we represent.


Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Kaukab Stewart for securing the debate to enable us, as a Parliament, to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is 75 years since the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet to this day, human rights abuses are being committed around the world. In Palestine, Israeli authorities carry out inhumane acts against Palestinians, seemingly with impunity. According to Human Rights Watch, those acts include sweeping movement restrictions such as the siege of Gaza, the erection of a separation barrier on Palestinian land and hundreds of checkpoints across the West Bank, as well as land confiscation, forcible transfer, denial of residency rights and suspension of civil rights.

However, that is not news. The reality is that Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza have been denied basic rights for decades. Now, as the eyes of the world are once more on what was Mandatory Palestine under British administration, we must take every opportunity to hold the UK Government to account for its role in the occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine from then to this day. That means supporting an immediate ceasefire, stopping the arms trade with Israel and ending the illegal occupation, the siege and the settlements.

Since Israel began its latest offensive on Gaza, 18,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than 7,000 of them children. That has led to the UN secretary general describing Gaza as

“becoming a graveyard for children.”

Each life is mourned by that person’s family, each life is a loss to the world and each life is entitled to the human rights that we should be celebrating today.

However, too many lives are being swept into statistics. The organisation We Are Not Numbers was set up to pair aspiring Palestinian writers with mentors around the world. It was co-founded by Professor Alareer, a Palestinian academic and poet who was killed last week in an Israeli air strike on Gaza. I would like to take some time to share one of his poems with the chamber. This is “If I Must Die”, by Refaat Alareer:

“If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze—
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself—
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love
If I must die
let it bring hope
let it be a tale”.

Palestinians are not numbers—no human being is a number. Palestinians are not nameless or faceless—none of us is. Their humanity is our humanity and Israel’s assault on their human rights is an assault on all of our rights.

So, when we see a people massacred, we must name it genocide; when we see a people displaced and forced from their land, we must name it ethnic cleansing; and when we see a people dominated and oppressed, we must name it apartheid. That is because if we allow a people to be stripped of their rights, to be described as “unhuman” and to be treated inhumanely, we concede our own humanity, and it is because human rights can be described as such only if they apply to all of us—every single one of us—equally.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I thank my friend and colleague Kaukab Stewart for bringing this debate to the Parliament and congratulate her on her long-standing commitment to upholding human rights for all. I am delighted to take part in the debate.

On 10 December 1948, the general assembly of the United Nations announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out 30 rights and freedoms that belong to all of us. As we observe the world that we live in today, with war, poverty, famine and injustice, it is plain that, for far too many people, those rights are not being upheld. However, seven decades on, those rights continue to form the basis for all international human rights law and are a vital code that we should follow in a civilised society, because without that, people have no protection and no access to justice, and more misery and cruelty will ensue.

The 75th anniversary of the declaration is an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to reaffirm its commitment to furthering human rights protections for everyone in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s aim is to create a legal framework for us to embed international human rights within domestic law and drive transformative and positive change for people, empowering them to claim their rights. Last week, we passed landmark legislation to incorporate the rights of the child under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in everything that we do. In my book, that was a great day to be in Scotland’s Parliament, exercising our duty as elected members to bring forward that vital legislation, which has long been fought for by campaigners and third sector organisations, to benefit all children and young people in Scotland.

People in Scotland face challenges to their human rights every day, whether those relate to gender-based violence, disability, race or religion. We must promote equality and eliminate bigotry and discrimination, because they are an attack on all of us. Every day, we as MSPs try to help constituents to gain access to their basic rights in social care, to safe and secure housing, or to essential healthcare.

The human rights bill that is proposed for introduction by June next year will be a momentous occasion for our nation. We should, of course, learn from the problems that have been encountered with the induction of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. We should possibly establish an implementation programme that is similar to that which has accompanied the passage of that bill, and minimise any reliance on UK acts.

We have amazing organisations that have been at the forefront of protecting human rights for decades. One such organisation is Amnesty International. It reminds us that we need only look to the very recent UK Supreme Court judgment on the UK Government’s Rwanda deal, which drew attention to that country’s terrible human rights record, to see that human rights defenders face dangerous challenges. Speeches in our earlier debate powerfully highlighted the abuse that asylum seekers face.

The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a chance to pay homage to those who used their power during struggles for liberation and equality the world over. Their struggle was against colonialism and bigotry, and for equality; against patriarchy, and for gender justice; and for a world of greater dignity for all members of the human family.

Scotland has an opportunity to show leadership, and 2024 will be a year for politicians of all parties to take the next step in making human rights a reality in Scotland by supporting a new human rights bill. The legislation has the potential to be transformative for people in Scotland by obligating public bodies to uphold a much wider range of rights. Our overarching priority is to ensure that incorporation is led by, and results in, tangible improvements for individuals and communities—especially those who face the greatest barriers to the enjoyment of rights and those whose rights are most at risk.

Scotland is a compassionate and caring nation. Human rights have always been at the forefront of our society, and we now have the opportunity to build on that.


Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

I congratulate Kaukab Stewart on securing this important debate.

The past week has been a rollercoaster for human rights in Scotland, with the relief of the UNCRC reconsideration on Thursday followed by the bitter disappointment of Friday’s judgment. I reiterate my solidarity with trans people in Scotland and beyond, as we process that latest blow to their rights and wellbeing. I say to them: I and the Scottish Greens stand with you, and we will not give up.

Amidst all those emotions, this debate gives us the opportunity to take a breath and consider our work in its international and historical context. In many ways, the signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights represents the beginning of the modern human rights movement. However, during the 75 years, we have failed to achieve consistent protection of the declaration's rights—indeed, in many ways in the past few decades, the world has seen a falling away from its vision and its realisation.

The motion highlights the particular issue of human rights defenders, who—especially if they are indigenous women protecting their community environments—face more and more intimidation and violence, and even murder.

Those horrors illustrate one way in which the world has changed in 75 years. With the atrocities of fascism rightly uppermost in the drafters’ minds, the focus was on the protection of the individual from state violence, victimisation and neglect. That is still the essential core of human rights law, which is acutely needed as so many Governments—not least the UK’s—slither towards the authoritarian right. Along with that political shift—and, I would argue, closely connected with it—has come the enlargement, enrichment and empowerment of corporations. Many of the most egregious wrongs, including environmental harms, are now committed not by states—although they may be deeply complicit—but by non-state actors. That happens particularly in relation to fossil fuels and other forms of extractive exploitation.

One of the challenges that we now face, therefore, is how we can protect people, including children, from corporate harms, with progressive Governments as active allies. That is relevant to how our human rights legislation develops, including the right to a healthy environment and effective remedies for groups and communities as well as individuals. It also relates to the potential for an ecocide law and for specialist environmental courts.

The issue of Governments as allies in rights protection connects this debate with the debate earlier this afternoon about the human rights of people seeking asylum in Scotland, which I closed. How can a devolved Government such as ours challenge and mitigate rights violations by the signatory state? More broadly, how can we challenge the anti-rights narrative that is so virulently promoted by a state Government and its media mouthpieces?

Last week, at the University of Strathclyde’s celebration of the anniversary, Nicola Sturgeon pointed out that Eleanor Roosevelt would today undoubtedly be derided as “woke”. I do not think that she would mind, but it seems that less robust politicians do mind about that and are increasingly reluctant to use the language of human rights. Is there an alternative framing that would secure the same ends without confronting that hostility to the very concept of human rights? I do not think so. The ultimate purpose of human rights can be expressed as justice, freedom, human flourishing or dignity. It is the human rights framework that populates those abstractions with the specific requirements and responsibilities that are needed to achieve them.

In closing, I suggest that the anniversary can spur us to action in three areas. It can spur us to speak unashamedly the language of human rights, conscious that, in times of crisis, human rights matter more, not less; to move ahead with our work on legislation meticulously, courageously, urgently and co-operatively; and to remember that what we do here in Scotland, we do not only for ourselves but for those whose rights are breached and broken across the world—for the human rights defenders of forests and river basins and for the children of Gaza.


Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a trustee of a charity, Freedom Declared Foundation, which aims to promote freedom of religion or belief within the United Kingdom. I also refer members to my membership of my church.

I do not believe that we talk enough in this country about article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is about freedom of religion or belief. We are inclined to be a bit smug about that article. We think that issues of freedom of religion or belief are confined to other places, countries and continents: freedom of religion or belief is an issue for some other people, but it is not an issue that we have to deal with in Scotland or the wider UK.

Article 18 says:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Unusually in a debate such as this one in the Scottish Parliament, I want to speak about another member of the Parliament who, earlier this year, tested the waters of freedom of religion or belief in Scotland. I have always admired Kate Forbes, because she is willing to speak publicly about her Christian faith. When she ran for the leadership of the Scottish National Party earlier this year, she spoke truthfully about her beliefs and values. In what followed, we all witnessed the fragility beneath the consensus that we would all like to think exists in this country around freedom of religion or belief.

It is not often that a Tory would reference a nationalist in a socialist publication, but the Christmas issue of the New Statesman contains an article based on an interview with Kate Forbes that was conducted by the writer Jason Cowley. He refers to the first few hours and days of Kate Forbes’s leadership campaign. I will quote the article—it is worthy of being quoted, I believe. It says:

“the immediate focus of attention was on her religious and personal beliefs. She answered questions about equal marriage (she would have voted against), pre-marital sex (she was opposed), trans rights (“a trans woman is a biological male who identifies as a woman”) and the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill (she would not seek to challenge the decision by the Sunak government to block it) as directly and honestly as she could.

What followed was a public shaming. Forbes was denounced and abused on social media. Senior SNP politicians, notably those closest to Sturgeon such as John Swinney, a former party leader and the then deputy first minister, said that Forbes’ views disqualified her from leading a modern political party. “Love is love,” tweeted Stephen Flynn, the leader of the SNP at Westminster.”

I am struggling to understand the relevance to the motion of what the member is saying. I am sorry, but it is, frankly, bizarre.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Relevance is a matter for the chair. I do not think that anything that Mr Kerr has said is not in keeping with the broader concept of human rights, as he explained at the outset.

I invite Stephen Kerr to continue but to begin the process of concluding.

Stephen Kerr

I am grateful for the ruling, Presiding Officer. Actually, what is bizarre is that the member cannot understand the implication of article 18 in relation to the experience—I would say ordeal—that Kate Forbes was put through by the party to which the member belongs.

I will continue the quote:

“A Times columnist mocked her as a candidate ‘for the 19th century’. The ultra-liberal­Scottish Greens, who had entered a power-sharing arrangement with the Sturgeon government after signing the Bute House Agreement in August 2021, said they would withdraw support for the SNP if Forbes became first minister.”

The reason why I read that is that, although we pride ourselves on legal safeguards for freedom of religion or belief, there is a complacency about what that right entails. It is not just about allowing people to demonstrate, practise and observe their religion in private and in public. It is about a degree of tolerance that we should have for one another on the basis of our religious beliefs and our private and public opinions. In this instance, that was found wanting. Therefore, there is no room for complacency in respect of freedom of religion or belief, not just in the broader world but in this chamber and this country.


The Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees (Emma Roddick)

I congratulate Kaukab Stewart on securing this important debate, and I thank ‘members who have contributed. I thank also Scotland’s national human rights institution—the Scottish Human Rights Commission—the Human Rights Consortium Scotland, JustRight Scotland and Making Rights Real for their work in helping to protect and advance human rights in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is committed to working with the whole of Scottish society to deliver a shared vision for a Scotland where everyone can live a life of human dignity. We know that human rights are best secured if Governments, civil society, organisations, local communities and others work collaboratively to secure them. I make particular mention, as the motion does, of Amnesty International’s campaign “Human rights: now available in human”, which aims to engage as many people as possible in the legislative process for Scotland’s proposed new human rights bill. I look forward to Kaukab Stewart’s reception later. Perhaps that will be an opportunity for those in the gallery to make some noise as well, and I look forward to seeing them there.

It is important to mark the 75th anniversary of the adoption by the UN of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The anniversary is marked every year on 10 December, but this year is a particularly significant milestone. As always, it is an opportunity to reflect not just on how far we have come but on how far we have left to go. Human rights impact everything that we do and discuss in this place. We have just had a debate on asylum seekers in Scotland. The Scottish Government is clear that everyone living in Scotland has human rights that must be respected, protected and fulfilled. That includes European Union and other non-UK nationals, refugees and asylum seekers.

Sadly, since 2012, there has been a series of attempts by the UK Government to replace or repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. The UK Government has now introduced its Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill and is openly seeking to remove human rights from some. At the risk of Russell Findlay accusing me of shrillness, I resent any suggestion that calling human rights breaches what they are is overblown. There is no overblowing that. I thought that we were all here in the chamber to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are worthless if they are not universal. We cannot decide that some humans are less human than others or less worthy of the same protections from the state that others enjoy. The Rwanda bill disapplies vital safeguards that are set out in the Human Rights Act 1998. It tries to sidestep obligations under the UN refugee convention and other international treaties, and it tries to prevent decisions from being challenged in UK courts.

Our ambitions in Scotland are very different. As a Government, we recommit Scotland to uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law, which sustains hope and human dignity for all people in Scotland. We welcome scrutiny on that. We want to do better, and we want people to have access to justice when their rights are not being realised.

The international day of human rights defenders is another important day in the calendar and is observed on 9 December. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the UN declaration on human rights defenders, a non-legally binding document that was the first UN instrument to define the role of defenders.

As always, the Scottish Government is keen to support human rights defenders, including through the Scottish human rights defender fellowship, which is funded by the Scottish Government and delivered by the University of Dundee. This year, we enter the sixth year, welcoming five fellows, including a new intake of three fellows specifically representing women from the global south. There is a close connection between defending human rights, protecting the environment and safeguarding vulnerable minority or indigenous communities. Women are often the most prominent campaigners and activists and can be at particular risk.

Members will be aware of the unanimous agreement last week to incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law, which will ensure that we are a country that respects, protects and fulfils children’s rights. The agreement will make us the first UK nation to incorporate the treaty.

Of course, members will also be aware of our intention to introduce a human rights bill, which will incorporate into Scots law, within the limits of devolved competence, a wide range of internationally recognised human rights in Scotland, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending Just Fair’s conference on human rights, where I talked about our vision of a human rights bill for Scotland, as well as wider policies on the realisation of rights that involve tackling poverty and ensuring that public services are well funded. I have to say that the reception for Scotland and what we are attempting to do was not just warm but enthusiastic. I had attendees jumping up and down with excitement that, somewhere, there is a Government talking about human rights the way that they talk about human rights. That just shows that Scotland is a modern, inclusive nation that respects, protects and fulfils internationally recognised human rights.

Our move could have ripple effects. I was recently asked how the Scottish Government could introduce these rights only for Scottish people. What about the rest of the UK? We would, as a country, love for human rights to be ensured and realised across the world, but we can legislate only for our own country. Unfortunately, the UK Government does not think that incorporation of those treaties into domestic law is necessary.

Our neighbours in the Welsh Government think differently. They have committed to incorporating more international human rights treaties into Welsh law. I hope that we can share our experience and support our friends in Wales to take the same or similar steps.

Stephen Kerr

The minister is making a political point. The reality is that the United Kingdom has been a long-time signatory to all those treaties and therefore they are, in effect, respected and upheld in the United Kingdom. Some of what is being done in the name of human rights, in terms of legislation, is not far removed from virtue signalling.

Emma Roddick

If we compare incorporating treaties into law with ratifying treaties but flat-out refusing to incorporate them into domestic law, we can see that one country is certainly virtue signalling—and it is not the country that is incorporating them into Scots law.

On that note, I thank Scotland’s civil society organisations, many of which are here today, and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland for its continued support and friendly challenge as we continue to develop the bill for introduction in the current parliamentary year. I know that we all want the same thing, and the challenge is how we get there and strike exactly the right balance: we want to go as far as we possibly can without stepping over the devolution line. We are clear that the bill is simply the next step in our journey. It is not the end, but it is an important step.

Kaukab Stewart and Rona Mackay were right to highlight that some groups are more at risk and furthest from having their rights realised. That is why the bill is to introduce specific protections for those who experience racism, disabled people and women. We received almost 400 responses to the consultation on the bill, which are being analysed, and we still plan to introduce the bill by the end of this parliamentary year. Work continues on engagement to inform the bill, and I look forward to hearing from Kaukab Stewart and others as it progresses.

That concludes the debate. I am sure that the reception this evening will be a noisy one, and I wish it well.

Meeting closed at 17:40.