My speech on International Human Rights Day

My speech on human rights marking International Human Rights Day, at Methodist Central Hall

I would like to thank you all for coming here today.

A day which marks 68 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Here in the Methodist central hall which hosted the first UN General Assembly meeting 70 years ago.

It has also welcomed Dr Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and the leaders of the Suffragette movement among many others who are celebrated the world over for their commitment to human rights, fundamental freedoms and human liberation.

On this day in 1948, out of the wreckage and destruction of the Second World War the universal declaration recognised the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all humanity.

Labour in government enshrined those rights and freedoms into law in 1998 with the Human Rights Act.

That is a proud and historic achievement.

However in Britain, across Europe and beyond the advance of the far right, the abuse and concentration of power and wealth by elites the erosion of collective rights and the threats to minorities from scapegoating and war are challenging the principles that are the foundation of human rights.

It’s in that context that I stand with many who are deeply concerned and alarmed that these values are at risk of being compromised and undermined by the rhetoric and actions of the US President elect.

For many people in Britain the concept of rights and freedoms may seem abstract be taken for granted or sound like the special private language of some liberal elite.

That’s maybe not so surprising when powerful voices are prepared to talk our rights down. But in reality it’s nothing of the sort.

For the many, who want an open and tolerant society built on social justice such claims are nothing but a cynical attempt to whittle away freedoms secured for the people of this country and the world.

For a start, human rights aren’t just about the individual freedoms that we all depend on such as the freedom of speech or freedom from torture but also the collective rights that are at the heart of the Universal Declaration.

The right to education, the right to housing, trade union rights, the right to a job, the right to decent pay. All these are human rights but you might not know it from the way human rights are usually discussed and debated.

They are also about righting injustices in the lives of our people unearthing the truth about what happened at Hillsborough in 1989 would have simply been impossible without the Human Rights Act.

For Becky Shah, whose mother died in the disaster, that legislation proved crucial to securing the second inquest which finally recorded that the victims were unlawful killed.

For Anne Williams. A mother, a courageous woman, a Hillsborough activist who fought for the rights of her son, with other mothers, until justice was delivered.

Anne showed us that our rights only matter if we are prepared to fight like hell to defend them.

And these rights need to be defended from this government which has shown itself to be set on cutting them down to size.

This Government may be led by a woman but the rights of women are not leading this Government and women’s rights are human rights.

Without a mandate but with a motive, Theresa May is trying to dilute the rights and protections of people across this country.

To rid Britain of standards that protect the individual from overweening power that uphold the rights of minorities and give support to the vulnerable.

To cut to the bone the Equality and Human Rights Commission whose work has been vital in in combating pregnancy and maternity discrimination, highlighting the impact of changes to the welfare system on women and disabled people and making sure that companies comply with laws designed to expose the gender pay gap.

This Prime Minister is happy play to the gallery of her backbenches and media cheerleaders who think your rights, our rights, are a bureaucratic burden while serving as a distraction from the economic failure, the inequality and injustice that six years of Conservative government has delivered to our country and to women in particular.

In 2016, women are more likely to work for less pay, they are concentrated in low paid sectors and they are most affected by cuts to public services.

Of the cuts delivered through tax and benefit changes since 2010 86% have fallen on women. Maternity discrimination has almost doubled with 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers forced out of their jobs last year.

Women’s domestic violence services are in crisis. Since 2010, 17% of specialist refuges in England have closed. On an average day last year, Women’s Aid claim that 92 women and 75 children were turned away from refuges because there was not enough space.

So who can believe that human rights are some kind of minority concern?

One the most significant and charismatic figures behind the original human rights movement was Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman who played a key role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration and used the weight of her public office to advance equality, justice and rights in the US and beyond.

Behind her another brilliant woman, Dorothy Height, an African American described as the “godmother of the Civil Rights movement” who advised the First Lady and encouraged President Lyndon Johnson to appoint African American women to positions of Government.

These women understood that women’s rights, social rights and civil rights are indivisible.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that “human rights begin in small places close to home”.

Over half of my new Shadow Cabinet are women including in the traditional male preserves of the Shadow Foreign, Home and Defence secretaries. We will practice what we preach in our own political home, and beyond.

This is why I pledge Labour will work to ensure that the rights of all citizens are respected and all are protected from discrimination and prejudice.

We will take action to take on violence against women and girls, racism, and discrimination on the basis of faith, and secure real equality for LGBT and disabled people.

But we must also practise what we preach around the world.

This week, the Prime Minister chose to travel to the Gulf to hold talks on security and negotiate arms sales to the dictatorial regimes of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Both countries are known for their abysmal human rights records; shutting down newspapers and TV stations that criticize the Government, using torture in response to protests, imposing the death penalty or prison sentences on gay people and crushing the rights of women.

And in the case of Saudi Arabia committing what have all the hallmarks of crimes against humanity in its war in Yemen.

Saudi-led coalition bombing backed by the British government and UK military advisers has left thousands dead, 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and three million refugees uprooted from their homes.

This week in Bahrain we have seen the Prime Minister sacrifice human rights on the altar of the arms trade.

While Britain’s chief diplomat Boris Johnson blurts out the reality of the Saudi role in fueling Middle Eastern proxy wars before heading back to the Gulf once again to apologise.

When the Foreign Secretary gets home will he at last be brave enough to back Labour’s call to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, weapons that are being used to bombard civilian areas and carry out gross violations of human rights in Yemen while a genuinely independent UN inquiry is held?

The war in Syria has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than half of Syria’s population are now refugees.

And it is women and girls who make up the majority of refugees from Syria.

In this horrific war women and girls are particularly severely affected by the conflict, at most risk from physical and sexual violence by armed groups, killed and maimed in huge numbers by the bombardment of civilian areas.

But it is women in conflict, war and resistance to injustice as history has so often shown who are also the agents of resolution and change.

Over many years I have had the privilege of standing in awe alongside some of these women; survivors of the Rwandan genocide, of mass rape and violence in Goma in eastern Congo, to the comfort women of Korea.

Sabrina Jean, is one of the many women I have known who fought back.

The daughter of a Chagossian, a mother living in Crawley, a campaigner fighting for the right of return Chagos islanders who were expelled from Diego Garcia in the 1960s to make way for a US military base.

Despite this Government’s decision to deny their right to return to their homes – a basic human right – and a dark stain on British foreign policy.

The spirit, and their campaign for justice lives on.

Our party has a strong record of advancing women’s rights and freedoms, one that we can be proud of.

The history of the Labour movement and the left has its share of chauvinism. But it has no place in our party. Labour will not tolerate misogyny whether directed against our members, parliamentarians, activists or our opponents.

Almost every major piece of legislation that has improved the lives of working women has been introduced by a Labour Government.

Under my leadership Labour will not stop there we will put women’s rights and freedoms – human rights – at the heart of our programme for government

In Britain, under this Conservative administration a historic international treaty which sets legally binding standards to prevent and tackle domestic abuse remains nothing but a piece of paper.

I pledge that a Labour government will ratify the Istanbul Convention and put it into effect.

Giving all survivors of domestic abuse the right to access the specialist services they need to rebuild their lives and live in safety.

And to give teeth to equality legislation and equal treatment at work. Labour in government will change the law to make equal pay subject to external audit or payroll inspection. That will work for women whether in the professions or on the shop floor. We cannot carry on accepting the yawning gap between men and women’s pay.

And a Labour Government will not only repeal the Trade Union Bill which undermines union rights that are also human rights and hamstrings unions from defending women’s rights at work.

We will ensure there is a legal right to time off for equalities reps in the workplace who play a crucial role in making equality legislation stick.

Today’s Tories know they need at least to talk about equality but in practice six years of their race-to-the-bottom austerity policies have only deepened and entrenched inequality for women.

A Labour government will do the opposite. We will measure every piece of legislation and every policy by the yardstick of its impact on women before it is brought before parliament and put into practice.

If it works against women it will fail that impact test. We will use the women’s impact test to drive forward women’s rights and freedoms across our country.

Women will not only be at the heart of my government, women’s rights and interests will be front and centre stage of everything we do.

Ours will be a government for women that fights inequality and misogyny in every part of society. Women’s rights – human rights – will be at the cutting edge of Labour’s fight for a fairer and more equal Britain.

We are already committed to introducing a real living wage of at least £10 an hour by 2020 that will do most to boost the incomes of women who make up over 60% of those earning less than the living wage.

And our commitment to maintain the triple lock on raising pensions just as the government is abandoning it will disproportionately benefit women who make up two thirds of Britain’s worst off pensioners.

But the world’s women aren’t first and foremost victims of poverty or violence they are change makers.

Without the participation of women at their heart the most pressing global problems simply won’t be solved.

Women’s concerns cannot be pushed to the margins, segregated from strategic issues of war, peace and the economy.

Women are the strategy, they are the solution. So women will be the cornerstone of our approach to foreign policy.

We will prioritise the empowerment of women over war.

We will crack down on global tax dodging which starves countries of resources and holds back women over selling arms.

In many years campaigning as a local MP alongside defenders of rights and social justice I have seen that the rights agenda of which the rights of women are a core part is central to the fundamental change we need.

Gender injustice is a world-wide abuse of human rights on a colossal scale. It is millennial in duration and global in reach. We owe it to all our mothers, sisters and especially our daughters to do much more with greater urgency.

The women of Yemen and Congo tell us they carry the burden of war but will be central to the resolution.

The women of the civil rights movement show us how to stand up for the rights of women no matter their race or religion.

The women of Hillsborough tell the story far more powerfully than I can; how the Human Rights Act helped win historic battles against miscarriages of justice.

And the women of my party and those who are here today will continue to drive the impatient feminism of all us who want to see real change.

To defend and advance our rights, protections and freedoms – human rights in all their forms – that so many have fought for and belong to us all.

Thank you.