Government does not accept UN recommendations on abortion and LGBT discrimination in Northern Ireland

15 September, 2017

Participants during the 20th session of the Human Rights Council. 6 July 2012. Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré

The Government has published its response to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The UN’s report, published last month, highlighted the lack of sexual and reproductive rights and discrimination against same-sex couples in Northern Ireland as areas of concern and made recommendations that the UK Government changes current legislation to bring these two issues in line with human rights standards. Humanists UK raised the same issues in its submissions to the UN as part of the UPR, so is pleased to see the UN take the issues up; but is disappointed that the UK Government has chosen to merely note but did not accept these recommendations.

The UPR is a UN mechanism to monitor and report on the human rights performance of all UN member states. Approximately 42 states are reviewed each year with each state being reviewed at least once every five years. The current review is the third that the UN has carried out of the UK since the UPR was instituted in 2006.

The restriction on the sexual and reproductive rights in Northern Ireland, particularly the near-absolute prohibition on abortion, featured prominently among the human rights issues discussed in the report. Four countries made formal recommendations that the UK makes provision for abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of severe and fatal fetal abnormalities and brings abortion law in line with international human rights law.

These recommendations were not accepted by the UK Government, thereby making no commitment to address these concerns. In response the UK Government stated that proposals to allow legal access to abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality would be submitted to Ministers subject to a return of a devolved government in Northern Ireland.

The UN review also recommended an end to discrimination against same-sex couples in Northern Ireland by bringing the relevant law into line with other parts of the United Kingdom. The UK Government noted but did not accept this recommendation, stating that marriage law was devolved in Northern Ireland.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘The UK Government only accepted 42 percent of recommendations put forward, which is significantly lower than the 67 percent average of other western European countries. As the rest of the UK marks the 50th anniversary of both the decriminalisation of homosexuality and safe legal abortion, it is no longer acceptable for the Government to lay responsibility for resolution upon a Northern Ireland Assembly which is not currently sitting and which been unwilling to redress these issues for many years.’


For further comment or information contact Richy Thompson, Director of Public Affairs and Policy at or 020 7324 3072.

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