Project – Mapping the UK’s responsibilities for human rights in UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies

Thanks to a grant from the Legal Education Foundation the Island Rights Initiative has been able to map the UK’s constitutional relationships with its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories from a human rights perspective.

This report identifies the key legal and constitutional responsibilities the UK has for its CDOTs in terms of international human rights obligations.  It identifies lines of responsibility, gaps and issues in the protection of international human rights through the legal framework applied to CDOTs that need to be addressed by policy makers.  Given the scale and complexity of constitutional relationships between the UK and its CDOTs, the report doesn’t give comprehensive detail of the situation but highlights three main areas that raise general questions about the UK’s relationship with CDOTs and effective human rights protection:

  • The application of international human rights instruments in CDOTs
  • The powers of UK Parliament and the Crown in relation to human rights in CDOTs
  • The applicable standards of human rights in CDOTs.

The UK is responsible for the international human rights obligations of its CDOTs but the way in which it fulfils that responsibility is unclear and variable.  This can result in different standards of human rights applying in the CDOTs with unclear pathways to remedy the situation. The limitations on their ability to engage with the wider world and make foreign policy decisions on their own terms either to access additional funding and resources or to make their own international agreements exacerbates this problem. The UK’s arrangements with its CDOTs and its responsibility for international relations affect their access to justice, healthcare, and education.  But their size and status mean they are often overlooked in policy decisions and their populations suffer as a result.

Without clear avenues for legal challenge, the populations and governments of the CDOTs may be unable to defend their own interests and protect their rights where UK interests conflict with theirs.  This could arise in circumstances where Westminster decides to legislate for the CDOTs or in circumstances, such as Brexit, where UK decisions on the international stage have direct impacts on the CDOTs while they do not have a voice in those decisions.

The UK Government has made political commitments to ensure the same standards of human rights apply in CDOTs as do in the UK, but it is not clear how those commitments would be put into practice.  There is a need for support to ensure adequate protection for human rights and equal standards of enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights in CDOTs.  This should include both technical support and financial support as the effective enjoyment of rights, particularly in sensitive areas such as healthcare, is dependent not only on adequate legal frameworks but on available resources.

This report is a first step to identifying key areas where the UK’s overall approach to international human rights in CDOTs needs attention.

The final report highlighting key issues around human rights accountability and the UK’s relationship with CDOTs is now available to read here:


CDOT Factsheets