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Scottish groups call for inquiry into human rights implications of COVID-19 measures

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Scottish groups call for inquiry into human rights implications of COVID-19 measures

Three Scottish human rights bodies are calling for an inquiry into the “substantial human rights implications” of coronavirus and the disproportionate impact of responses on women, children, those with disabilities and from ethnic minorities.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland have written to Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee convener Rush Maguire to urge the committee to undertake the inquiry.

The groups said women and young people were disproportionately more likely to be key workers at this time, and subsequently “most exposed to increased risk” of contracting the virus.

Women, children, older and disabled people would be “most impacted by mitigation measures taken by the Scottish Government and others”, the groups said.

They warned that “individuals from particular ethnic minorities are being hospitalised at higher rates” and said children experiencing poverty and those with disabilities or other additional needs had been “cut off from the support normally provided by schools”.

The groups want the inquiry to identify those individuals who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the measures related to tackling it; identify how the government and public bodies can minimise the negative effects of equality and human rights; and to scrutinise measures taken by the government for their impact on human rights.

Equality and Human Rights Commission head of Scotland John Wilkes said the virus and protections in place would “impact people differently”.

“We believe that it will be important to consider carefully the specific effects they may have on certain groups who are already disadvantaged so they are not left further behind,” he said.

“For many people the restrictions to everyday life will be hugely disruptive, but ultimately manageable. For others, the implications could be profound.

“We believe it is possible and crucial to protect rights while saving lives. The Scottish Parliament has a critical role in evaluating the use of powers in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act by the Scottish Government and other public bodies.

“We look forward to seeing an inquiry being initiated by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee and stand ready to assist them in their work.”

Scotland Human Rights Commission chair Judith Robertson said while the measures to mitigate the virus’ impact may be necessary at this moment in time, “many have substantial human rights implications and must therefore be subject to regular review”.

Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland Bruce Adamson said: “Human rights don’t go away in a time of crisis, and it’s during the hardest times it’s most important that they are respected, protected and fulfilled.

“We know that those charged with delivering public services are having to make difficult decisions, but we’re already seeing the impacts of the crisis on vulnerable children and young people,” he said.

“From children impacted by poverty now confined to inadequate housing and struggling to get enough to eat, to care experienced children threatened with homelessness, to children with Additional Support Needs being denied statutory support and the routine that comes with regular attendance at school.

“The Scottish Parliament has a key role in scrutinising the exercise of executive power, as well as the significant changes to practice that are affecting children and young people across Scotland.”

The letter to Maguire was sent on the same day that parliament announced it would set up a short-life committee to scrutinise the Scottish Government’s response to the virus outbreak.

The groups said the inquiry they were proposing “would be expected to complement that work”. 

“We welcome the plans to create an ad hoc COVID-19 committee. An inquiry by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee would provide additional scrutiny and support the parliament as a whole to play its role as a human rights guarantor,” Adamson said.

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