I’m in St David’s, Pembrokeshire and I am struck by the number of international visitors here this summer. It’s always been a magnet for people from across the world because of the magnificent coastline, beaches and – the locals. Wales is a welcoming nation – a Nation of Sanctuary that is open to refugees and migrants (or I guess now an out-of-favour term - asylum seekers). Whilst the UK Brexiter government engulfs us in a hostile environment, Wales is trying to secure rights into Welsh laws and policies. Exactly what the EU has been about since its inception. Peace. Prosperity. Cooperation. Let me give you some details.
As part of the devolution settlement, Wales became a nation that would promote ‘equality for all’. This complements what the European Charter of Fundamental Rights tries to achieve, meaning it is not tied to citizenship. Why is this important, especially now? With austerity comes social unrest. Arguably, the level depends on poverty. When poverty is rife (as it is now) blame and finger-pointing becomes rampant. ‘Othering’ becomes the norm. Citizenship becomes a gatekeeper of that othering. To avoid it, WE need to see all those in Wales as part of the fabric of Wales. In other words, inclusion. Policies and laws that are inclusive of those seen as ‘Other’ become vitally important in order to remain a welcoming nation.
That principle has meant the Welsh Assembly (now Welsh Parliament or Senedd) has and continues to pass several human rights-based laws with teeth. For instance, The Welfare of Future of Generations Act 2015 which transposes the UN Sustainable Development Goals into local policies that are binding. So local authority and Welsh Government policies are impact assessed according to several goals, including the impact on future generations and the climate. Wales is an anti-racist nation, meaning public bodies must take positive steps to root out racism across Wales. Wales has adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPD, including the social model of disability), meaning ‘nothing about us without us’. The Welsh Government has also committed to enacting the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (UNCEDAW). That would tackle the rampant misogyny and violence in our society. The protection of minority languages is also a European initiative. Wales is a bilingual country with the language safeguarded and growing in strength.
All of these international conventions that promote rights for those who have traditionally been left behind, ignored or discriminated against, are also reflected in the EU policies and laws (e.g., the EU Charter) and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) that some Brexiters are thinking of trying to get rid of. That direction of travel is wrong and worrying.
Wales will try to hold on to its laws and policies on human rights by embedding them into the fabric of our society. There is work to be done to make this a reality as no place is free from violations of any of the rights mentioned here (or ones not mentioned in this short piece). The EU and the Council of Europe, alongside its older cousin the UN, have a place in our modern world. We must not forget the lessons of the past or what is happening across the Globe now or in Ukraine. War, conflict and human rights violations occur every day – laws and policies are a start to embedding a welcoming culture in place to stop them.
St David’s has always been a place of pilgrimage, reflection and renewal. St David (apparently) said ‘do the little things’ – the little things that matter a great deal in people’s lives. And by doing the little things, every day, big outcomes follow. Changes follow. The big things are the laws and policies that have been enacted. The little things are living those values and actions in everything we do. Let’s keep doing the little things and soon enough the bigger things will fall into place.
I’ll leave the reader to imagine what your bigger thing might be …
Jackie Jones (Chair of Wales for Europe)