UK human rights watchdog under review over allegations of ‘harming’ trans rights

Baroness Kishwer Falkner

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – the UK’s human rights watchdog – is under review, regarding claims it has an “actively harming” approach to trans rights. 

In April, chairwoman Baroness Falkner was criticised for backing plans to amend the 2010 Equality Act to define sex as “biological sex”, in a letter to equalities minister Kemi Badenoch.

The watchdog has also faced a backlash for a perceived lack of political independence from the Tory government, with LGBTQ+ charities accusing it of “actively harming” transgender people in the UK. 

Now, following a complaint by Stonewall and 30 other LGBTQ+ charities, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) has launched a special review of the institution. 

The charities argue that the EHRC is a “failed institution” and its work undermines “the status of independent human rights institutions and systems”.

In an article for the Telegraph, Falkner said she was “disappointed” by the investigation and claimed the charities had “targeted” the EHRC because its advice on the Equality Act.

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As a result of the investigation, she added, the EHRC was facing an “obstacle” to its accreditation as an A-status human rights organisation, with the outcome having the potential to result in the institution losing its seat at the UN Human Rights Council and other United Nations bodies. 

Falkner denied allegations that the EHRC is “in cahoots” with the UK government by “seeking to erode the rights of trans people”.

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In a statement published by the EHRC, Falkner added: “At the EHRC, we keep our eyes on our first public duty, which is to protect and promote equality and the everyone’s rights – not merely those that shout the loudest.”

However, the director of external affairs at Stonewall, Robbie de Santos, welcomed news of the investigation. 

He said following its periodic review in October 2022, the EHRC received several clear recommendations around its independence and effectiveness of its work in respect of LGBTQ+ people and co-operation with queer organisations.

The EHRC was “falling short” of the recommendations, prompting “Stonewall and 30 LGBTQ+ and human rights organisations to provide evidence of their concerns once again to GANHRI”, he claimed.

“We hope that this special review will give EHRC the scrutiny and recommendations it needs to play the part our communities deserve.”

In July, an investigation into Falkner reopened, following complaints that included accusations of discrimination, transphobia, bullying and harassment

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