Human rights must not be ignored!

Just as the UK Government is stirring up public anger against human rights, writes Anna Grear, its fast-track development of shale gas and oil shows that we need these legal protections more than ever. A new report shows how the ‘dash to frack’ is endangering our most cherished rights – to health, water, security and life.

“Human rights exist to protect ordinary people from state action threatening certain core human interests – and fracking makes us all vulnerable”

There can be no doubting the widespread public concern about the health and environmental implications of fracking.

Recent times have also seen widespread public resistance to the forthcoming change in the law of trespass to allow fracking under homes without the owner’s consent.

Has any of this public outcry deterred the current UK government’s determination to open the way for fracking operations throughout the United Kingdom? Not remotely.

Sometimes, issues come together in a particularly telling way. At a time when the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) stand impugned by the Tories and misrepresented in public fora, a small group of legal scholars and others is striking a blow in the story of human rights as important protections for ordinary people against a Government apparently remote from their concerns.

Human rights are key to the UK’s fracking debate

Responding to the widely publicised human health, environmental and climate change risks of fracking operations, a report released today argues that human rights considerations are fundamental to adequate decision-making about fracking: ‘A human rights assessment of hydraulic fracturing and other unconventional gas development in the United Kingdom

The report, released in London today by the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, concludes that the UK Government has a duty to fully investigate the human rights implications of fracking before authorising any exploratory or extractive fracking operations.

The report concludes that a moratorium on fracking operations should be imposed until a full, industry-independent, publicly funded human rights impact assessment has been completed and made available to the public.

The human rights identified by the report as being under threat from fracking operations include the rights to life and to security of person, to water and to health, to respect for home and private life and to public participation in decision making processes for environmental matters, as well as the rights of future generations.

The report argues that the current UK Government has expressed a strong commitment to a pro-fracking stance but that, to date, “there has been virtually no consideration at the policy level of the human rights dimensions of fracking.”

Exactly why is the UK Government so determined to frack at all costs?

One of the report’s authors, Damien Short, Director of the Human Rights Consortium at the University of London, has said that “the disappointing failure of the government so far to produce a full, industry-independent and evidence based analysis of the human rights implications of fracking represents a serious misstep.”

Tom Kerns, another author, and Director of the Environment and Human Rights Advisory adds that his hope is “that this report will move the UK Government to meet its moral obligations to ordinary people-as well as its legally binding human rights obligations.”

At a time when the Tory party has publicly committed itself to dismantling the UK’s commitment to the ECHR standards so fundamental to the protection of a wide range of interests, and has committed itself equally strongly to the pursuit of fracking, this report throws a new light on both issues simultaneously.

The report raises a very important question: when the economic case for fracking is in serious doubt, when the best climate science argues that fossil fuels should stay in the ground, when the effects of chemical spills into water courses and other human rights impacts are potentially so catastrophic (and in some cases irreversible), precisely why are the UK government in such a rush to dash ahead?

It is not as if there are no alternatives on offer. Renewables increasingly offer relatively safe, clean and increasingly market-friendly alternatives.

What rationale (or relationships) really explain the present, myopic focus on short-term profit and short-term energy ‘fixes’ offering little, promising much, and quite evidently deeply unpopular with ordinary members of the public?

At times like this, human rights are needed more than ever

The report – significantly – places the HRA and the ECHR at the centre of its analysis, along with core English common law sources.

It covers a range of risks and provides a fully referenced compilation of medical and journalistic findings documenting the risks and harms of fracking, all arranged in a way to make it readily accessible to public officials, researchers, journalists and the public at large.

Now is simply not the time to ignore human rights standards, whatever a pro-fracking Prime Minister believes about them. Now is precisely the time to factor them in. Human rights exist to protect ordinary people from state action threatening certain core human interests – and fracking makes us all vulnerable.

It is indeed time for ‘a full, industry-independent, publicly funded Human Rights Impact Assessment’ to be undertaking and placed firmly in the public domain to foster full and robust public discussion.

In a political climate increasingly immune to the legitimate concerns of the public, it might just be that a human rights assessment based on the HRA and the ECHR is – at this moment – the greatest potential champion of the rights of ordinary people.

Is that ironic – or just revealing?

Download the full report here: