Do unionists and nationalists have different conceptions of what are human rights?

As so often before, we are at a crucial time for the safeguarding of human rights in Northern Ireland. The talks for the re-establishment of the Assembly seem to have foundered on, amongst other issues, the degree to which the rights of Irish language speakers and of gay people who wish to marry need to be protected. There also continues to be something of a rift between local politicians as to what it means to say that a human rights approach should determine how the past must be dealt with in Northern Ireland.
Although human rights are meant to be for everyone – universal – is it indeed true that unionists and nationalists define human rights in different ways? Or do they just have different views as to how absolute those rights should be? Do they agree that killing someone is, and always has been, a violation of human rights? Do the politicians think that Brexit will make a material difference to the human rights currently protected by Council of Europe treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights? 

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If there are arguments for and against the various views, how can they best be reconciled? Would a Bill of Rights help or hinder that reconciliation? Is there a realistic chance that the Assembly, if it were up and running again, could agree on human rights and equality legislation to supplement, or replace, the Human Rights Act, which the Conservative Party seems determined to repeal if it is still in power after the next general election?
This event will begin with a short presentation from an international expert on conflict resolution who has just published a book on the extent to which human rights have featured in the politics of Northern Ireland since 1921. He will be followed by equally short presentations from local politicians and activists with clear views on when and how human rights should be protected. There will then be 45 minutes or so for a Q&A and discussion with members of the audience.  

Date:Monday, December 11, 2017
Time: 15:00

Location: Moot Court Room, School of Law QUB
27 – 30 University Square Belfast, 


Posted on December 5, 2017 .