In a recent interview on BBC’s Radio 4’s Today, Home Secretary Suella Braverman stated her wish that the U.K. leave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), calling it “a politicized court,” “interventionist,” and “treading on the territory of national sovereignty.” This move would be the latest in a series of recent measures shredding the rights of modern slavery victims.
Freedom from slavery and forced labor goes “out the window”
Far from being “politicized” or “interventionist,” the judges of the ECHR are independent and do not represent the nationality of applicants or States. In fact, the ECHR fills a vital role as an objective court of appeals that helps protect victims of modern slavery. If survivor’s rights are not recognized in U.K. courts, they can go to the ECHR to ask to have their rights recognized.
Phillipa Roberts, Head of Policy and Research for Hope for Justice, told Byline Times:
“The ECHR is an integral part of the legal framework that protects victims. And that’s regardless, actually, of whether the person who is a victim is a foreign national or a British national.”
In addition, the ECHR does not just support irregular migrants, as much of the inflammatory rhetoric would have us believe, 25% of modern slavery cases that take place in the U.K. are those of British nationals. The ECHR helps all victims of modern slavery, regardless of where they come from.
Dialing up vulnerability and dialing down support
Human trafficking in the U.K. is well-documented to be on the rise. The data from the 2022 Annual Report for the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) noted 16,938 potential victims of modern slavery referred to the Home Office – a 33% increase compared to the preceding year, which stood at 12,706.
“The Government’s policies are actively increasing vulnerability to exploitation, hampering identification and access to support which in turn hampers efforts to investigate cases and bring perpetrators to justice.”
Contrary to building effective policies to catch and stop human traffickers, the government is doing the opposite and preparing fertile ground for those who want to exploit instead of protecting and supporting those who have been exploited. Even British courts ruled some of the new policies unlawful and as penalizing trafficking survivors, with the U.N. High Commission saying the Refugee Ban Bill goes against international law.
Last port of call for rights protection
If the UK removes itself from the ECHR, survivors will lose the unbiased rights framework that is a last port of call for rights recognition when domestic channels fail. As the U.K. government increasingly strips all protection from migrants and survivors of modern slavery, the ECHR becomes an imperative check on rights abuse. Removal means victims would have even less chance of accessing needed support like housing and income, and the chances of them being re-trafficked due to desperate conditions rise exponentially.
Freedom United calls on the government of the U.K. to recognize the value of staying in the ECHR and the cost of losing impartial human rights protection it provides. Pulling out of the ECHR, passing harmful legislation like the Refugee Ban Bill, and stripping migrants of their basic protections is not OK. Stand with Freedom United and raise your voice to stop harmful legislation that will only put trafficking victims in greater danger. Add your name to the campaign today!