Know your human rights

British Institute of Human Rights launches “Know Your Human Rights” self-advocacy tool

This week the British Institute of Human Rights launched a new online tool aimed at helping mental health service users raise issues around human rights in their care. It seeks to address a gap between theory and practice: discussions on human rights principles and the day to day reality of life in the mental health system often feel like they pass each other like ships in the night. Any public authority or organisation which uses public funds to provide care has a legal duty to protect our human rights, but violations are so commonplace that if I chased up every one in my care I would spend my time doing little else.

Barring a few fixable technical bugs, I can see the new BIHR tool making doing this chasing a fair bit easier. The website contains a wealth of information and background resources on human rights, but the key part of the tool itself consists of two click-through flowcharts: one to help you figure out whether your human rights are being illegally restricted, and another to help you figure out what to do. You type in the problem you’re having, answer a few multiple-choice questions, and at the end you can save a PDF of the answers you’ve given. I can imagine saving and printing this, and using it to help express issues around, say, privacy in my care more clearly: having the BIHR logo on the paper I write my problems on might remind the care provider that such issues are not just about preferences or nice-to-haves, but about duties backed by the weight of the law.

There are of course things no self-advocacy tool will fix entirely: the most significant is the testimonial injustice, which gives our voices less weight than those of health and care staff, and which exists in a context where many staff assume that good intentions are sufficient justification to restrict our rights. In that context there’s always a risk of service users raising human rights concerns ending up labelled as troublemakers with ideas above our station. There’s also no escaping the emotional labour that goes into raising a concern about your care, and there are environments which are simply too toxic to do so safely alone.  As service users we can’t force services to comply with the law without taking them to court.

But given that independent advocacy services these days are few and far between, I am hopeful that the Know Your Human Rights tool might help us raise concerns where it is safe to do so. As part of the launch, we discussed ways to make it as widely used as possible; I can imagine it being useful to local user led groups as well as individuals, as sometimes it is easier for service users to advocate for each other than for ourselves. BIHR are also keen to hear feedback and looking at ways to develop this further. Feedback can be left via the Know Your Human Rights website, so do let them know if you use the tool or if there are things that would make it more useful to you.