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Incorporation of International Human Rights

February 4th 2019

There’s increasing interest in ‘incorporation’ of human rights through Welsh legislation. But what does this mean, and how would people benefit? Simon Hoffman, Associate Professor at Swansea University explains, in the first of three articles.



Today we kick of the first of three articles and in-depth briefings on incorporation of human rights in Wales. This first article and the accompanying briefing covers what incorporation means, why it matters and why it’s needed in Wales.


The UK is party to seven international UN human rights treaties which protect our freedoms and establish expectations that government social policy will ensure no-one is left without access to services such as housing, health and social care, and education. UN bodies have called on the UK to incorporate its international human rights obligations by making them part of UK law. This would ensure that human rights are more accessible to the people who need them, and would make government more accountable for compliance. The briefing to accompany this article explains incorporation in more detail. For now, I only need to note that successive UK governments have refused to incorporate UN human rights treaties into UK law.

Shortfall in human rights protection

The significance of this shortfall in human rights protection was highlighted during a visit to the UK by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (November 2018). The Rapporteur raised concerns about the harsh impact of austerity and welfare reform to blight the lives of individuals, households and communities, leaving many destitute, or without the care, support or even medicines they need to live a decent life. These are all breaches of the UK’s human rights obligations, yet without incorporation there is no mechanism to hold the UK government to account for its policies which have led to this crisis.

A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales, Is Wales Fairer (November 2018), highlights poverty and homelessness, as well as health and education inequality and destitution amongst asylum seekers and refugees as key challenges for policy in Wales. The Bevan Foundation in its 2019 Outlook for Wales predicts that the position of the least well off is likely to get worse, especially for young people and those living in poverty. These are human rights issues. Accordingly, policy responses should have a direct focus on how to protect human rights in Wales.

Opportunity for Wales

In contrast to the UK Government, which is increasingly hostile to human rights, the Welsh Government is open to human rights as an underpinning for policy. In these difficult times for human rights in the UK it is vital that the Welsh Government acts with urgency to fill the protection gap left by the UK Government’s policies. Incorporation of international human rights treaties in Welsh law would be significant step toward this objective. It would bring rights home to Wales and embed them in the framework of public policy decision-making, focusing attention on the need to ensure that everyone in Wales receives a basic level of services to enable them to live a life of dignity.

Throughout February the Bevan Foundation will publish three articles, each accompanied by a more in-depth briefing, the first of which can be found here. The second article and briefing will discuss how incorporation enhances accountability and enforcement of human rights. The final article and briefing will focus on how incorporation of human rights might fit with the Welsh equality and well-being agendas.

Dr Simon Hoffman is Associate Professor at Swansea University. Simon will be delivering a workshop on human rights on 14th May which you can book here


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