United Kingdom 2022
Legislation was passed or tabled that seriously undermined human rights, including replacing the UK’s primary human rights protection instrument and attacks on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression and to asylum. Further proposals were launched that would provide impunity for grave human rights violations. Effective access to sexual and reproductive support remained inconsistent across the UK.
In June the government launched a bill to repeal the Human Rights Act, the country’s primary legal protection for human rights, and replace it with a “bill of rights”. This bill of rights was widely criticized as being deeply regressive from a human rights standpoint, including for attacking positive obligations to protect rights; being flawed in its drafting; and being likely to lead to breaches of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
Failure to tackle climate crisis
In September, the government updated its NDC under the Paris Agreement. In its 2020 NDC, the UK committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030 and only made a net-zero target for 2050. The 2022 update did not revise these figures. The Scottish government set a net-zero target for 2045 and a higher 2030 emissions reduction target of 75%.
The British mining giant Anglo-American was subject to an ongoing class action lawsuit in the South Gauteng High Court, South Africa. The case was brought by a large number of Zambian children and women who reported suffering injury from lead exposure as a result of the company’s century-long mining operations in the District of Kabwe. Residents have some of the highest lead levels in the world and health studies in Kabwe have recorded alarmingly high levels of lead in the blood of children aged five and under (see Zambia entry).
Workers’ rights to speak out and bargain collectively through a trade union of their choice were not always respected. In September, a settlement was reached with a trade union organizer who had lodged a claim for unfair dismissal with an independent employment tribunal. He had been dismissed in 2021 after trying to improve the working conditions of cleaners at Meta’s London offices.1
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
In April, parliament passed legislation attempting to avoid the UK’s international obligations stemming from the UN Refugee Convention, including refusing to recognize fully the Convention’s definition of refugee and the prohibitions on the penalization of asylum seekers for irregular entry, discrimination and refoulement, and its demand that states share responsibility for hosting refugees.
The government also adopted a policy to expel people seeking asylum from the UK to Rwanda under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rwandan government. Legal action halted the expulsions. The policy remained under challenge in the higher courts at the end of the year.
The government’s commitment to resettle Afghan refugees remained effectively unfulfilled. Over many months, visa schemes for Ukrainian refugees were undermined by delays and inadequate arrangements. By mid-December, however, more than 152,000 Ukraine Scheme visa-holders had finally arrived in the UK.
Government hostility persisted towards people crossing the Channel by boat to seek asylum. Backlogs in the asylum system grew further. People remained in wholly inadequate accommodation. Harmful consequences included an outbreak of diphtheria from October onwards and more than 200 unaccompanied children going missing.
Wider immigration policy continued to exacerbate the homelessness, destitution and exploitation facing migrants, particularly people without regular status. Expulsion powers were used as an additional punishment for criminal offending, including against people who had lived all or most of their lives in the UK.
Freedom of assembly
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 increased police and ministerial powers to restrict further the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including new policing powers to implement restrictions on the grounds of noise and nuisance, which risk being disproportionate.
The Public Order Bill was pending approval at the end of the year. This criminalizes a wide range of peaceful protest activities, expands police stop-and-search powers and removes the rights to peaceful assembly for individuals subjected to specific protest banning orders.
Excessive use of force
Official guidance on the appropriate thresholds and circumstances for Taser use by police remained weak. In August, two police officers used a Taser, baton and incapacitant spray against a 93-year-old disabled man with dementia at a care home; he later died. The officers were handed gross misconduct notices and were under investigation for manslaughter at the end of the year.
In June, police used a Taser against a Black man believed to be experiencing a mental health crisis on Chelsea Bridge, London, resulting in him falling into the River Thames; he died two days later. Home Office statistics showed that Black people were eight times more likely than white people to have a Taser drawn or discharged against them.
Violence against women and girls
The UK finally ratified the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), which entered into force on 1 November. The government maintained a reservation against Article 59 of the Convention, which sets out state obligations to provide protection to migrant women.
Irresponsible arms transfers
Arms exports continued to be allowed, following a December 2021 change to the UK’s export licensing criteria, in cases where the government believed the wider benefits of the transfer outweighed the risks of the equipment contributing to further conflict and instability.
A legal challenge continued throughout the year over the lawfulness of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia in relation to UK-sold arms being used to commit violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
A series of scandals about institutional racism and misogyny in the Metropolitan Police occurred throughout the year, some of which contributed to the forced resignation in February of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. In March reports emerged of an incident in 2020 when a 15-year-old Black girl was strip searched by two police officers while at school. Subsequent investigations revealed that, over a two-year period, 650 children had been strip searched by the Metropolitan Police, 58% of them Black.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was passed in April and further entrenched racist policing. It included an expansion of stop-and-search powers and the targeting of the Roma and Traveller communities via new measures to curb unauthorized encampments and trespass.
In February, it was reported that instances of antisemitic hate speech and attacks had reached a record high. The Community Security Trust, which monitors antisemitism in the UK, recorded a 34% increase in such incidents from one year to the next.
British nationality law was amended to enable some people long excluded by discrimination in that law to acquire British nationality. This included many descendants of inhabitants of the Chagos Islands whose exile from their homeland had also deprived them of British nationality. Their exile continued.
In December, the Scottish Parliament passed liberalizing reforms to the gender recognition certification process.
Arbitrary deprivation of nationality
The government continued to use powers to strip British citizens of their citizenship, particularly people who had left the UK to join ISIS. This included people who left during their childhood and, UK media reported, with the encouragement of agents working for the Canadian security services. Challenges in the higher courts continued, including against the government’s refusal to repatriate British citizens from Syria.
The Nationality and Borders Act 2022, passed on 28 April, included powers permitting the government to strip an individual of citizenship without informing them.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
Despite a commitment from the Northern Irish government in November 2021, an independent public inquiry was not established into “mother and baby homes”, “Magdalene laundries” and “work houses”, which operated between 1922 and 1990. Many women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage at that time were sent to these institutions and suffered arbitrary detention, forced labour, ill-treatment and the forced adoption of their babies.
Sexual and reproductive rights
Despite the decriminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland, there was an ongoing failure to deliver fully commissioned and funded abortion services. In October, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland announced that he would commission the services directly from health trusts, given the failure of the Northern Ireland minister for health to do so. Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK without telemedicine provision.
There was still no provision for late-term abortions in Scotland, resulting in women having to travel to England.
In March, the independent inquiry into maternity practices at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust was published. The inquiry found that, over the course of 20 years, 201 babies and nine mothers who died in or following childbirth could or would have survived if the trust had provided better care. A police investigation was launched.
In May, the government introduced the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. The bill included an end to all criminal, civil and coronial judicial activity for all conflict-related incidents, amounting to a de facto amnesty for human rights violations during the conflict, which took place from 1966 to 1998.
Freedom of expression
Threats of violence by armed groups continued against named journalists in Northern Ireland, particularly those investigating illegal paramilitary and criminal activity. In June, a reporter for the Sunday World newspaper was warned by police that “criminal elements” had been monitoring their movements with a view to “some form of violent attack” in which firearms could be used.
Legal academic Professor Colin Harvey, who participated in debates on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland, was the target of a years-long campaign designed to intimidate him and undermine his academic standing.2
Inhumane detention conditions
In April, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland raised serious concerns about inconsistent and inadequate access to mental health support for Scotland’s prison population, including the use of segregation for prisoners with mental disorders and delayed hospital transfers for acutely unwell prisoners to specialist hospital care.
Right to housing
Hundreds of thousands of people in England remained homeless, many because of bureaucratic, policy and legal barriers in the country’s housing and homelessness prevention systems. These included measures associated with immigration control, qualifying criteria for the status of “priority need”, and determinations of intentionality where a person was regarded as having made themselves homeless.3
The state of housing for both social housing and private tenants was in many instances dangerously poor. In November a coroner found that the death of an infant in 2020 was caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his family home. No new legislation to address this was passed during the year.