The UK’s equalities watchdog is facing calls for it to lose its status as an internationally recognised human rights body amid claims of politicisation and taking a “determinedly anti-trans stance”.
A coalition of 19 LGBT+ organisations led by Stonewall and supported by the Good Law Project says the Equality and Human Rights Commission has taken a “recent and significant” shift on trans rights that has prompted them to make a submission to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions calling for the body to lose its “A-rating”.
The chief executive of the commission, Marcial Boo, said Stonewall and others were “aiming at the wrong target” and urged them to “work with us to identify discrimination against LGBT people so we can take action together to stop it”.
The call follows two interventions by the commission at the end of January, in which it recommended that the UK government’s proposed ban on conversion practices not extend to trans people, and it wrote to the Scottish government asking it to pause plans to simplify the legal requirements for gender recognition, reversing its previous position.
At the time this was met with fury by some Scottish campaigners who railed against “UK government appointees telling us in Scotland how to legislate in devolved areas”. The commission insisted impartiality was “a core value” and that all decisions “are made independently of any government”.
The 19-page submission outlines what the Stonewall-led coalition claims is evidence of “the numerous ways the EHRC now finds itself falling short of international standards”.
This includes a “complete absence” of financial autonomy from the UK government and “excessive” governmental interference, including “politically motivated” appointments to the chair and board, “many of whom have repeatedly and publicly demonstrated their opposition to the expansion of human rights, and whose appointments have drawn widespread criticism from NGOs”.
A spokesperson from the commission said it took all decisions “impartially, based on evidence and the law, both in the UK and internationally”, that its independence was “guaranteed in statute”, and that all appointments were made through “a fair, open and transparent recruitment process”.
“Our statutory mandate and role as a national human rights institution is to protect and promote equality and human rights for everyone – and that includes trans people. Where rights may conflict, our role is to advise on striking an appropriate balance. We uphold fairness for all, and our work is rigorous and impartial.”
Calling on the UK government to “revive” an independent EHRC, Nancy Kelley, the CEO of Stonewall, said: “The politicisation of the UK’s human rights body has placed trans people in the firing line, but this attempt to create a hierarchy of human rights in the UK is a very real threat to everyone, particularly those of us protected by the Equality Act”.
The submission comes amid growing concerns about the role and independence of the EHRC. Last year its former head David Isaac suggested the watchdog was being undermined by political pressure to support the UK government’s shift in equalities priorities away from gender and race.