Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

The Tories Don’t Understand Human Rights

08/10/2014, 10:33:42 AM

by Sam Fowles

Forced to abandon NHS bashing for the sake of the election, David Cameron needed to feed the right some red meat. He chose the European Convention on Human Rights, promising to repeal the Human Rights Act, which allows English judges to incorporate the dicta of the Strasbourg court into their rulings, and allow Parliament to ignore the European Court of Human Rights.  This is more than simply wrong; it shows a fundamental failure to understand of the role human rights play in international law and politics.

The international law of human rights is based on the premise that there is something fundamentally valuable about each individual human. In this light Cameron’s idea of a “British Bill of Rights” seems absurd. People are not inherently valuable because they are British or French or Afghan. We are valuable because we are human. For this reason that the ECHR applies to British troops fighting abroad. To suggest that people should lose value in our eyes because they are non-European is an attitude redolent of the 13th Century not the 21st.

The ECHR is itself based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It doesn’t invent “European Rights”. It allows citizens of European states direct access to universal rights. It’s worth noting that the UK would remain bound by a plethora of international human rights conventions even if it were to secede from the ECHR (as the Conservatives threaten). The government’s legal obligations wouldn’t fundamentally change; they would just get more complex.

In practice human rights law protects the vulnerable from the powerful. This is why a bill of rights decided purely by the parliamentary majority is so dangerous. Human rights act as a check on the majority. Courts should make decisions (such as giving prisoners the vote) with which most of us disagree. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be a check on the majority.

This is important because, in a democracy, the majority should be able to change. If the power of a majority is not checked then there is nothing to stop that majority taking steps to make itself permanent. Cameron is asking us to trust to powerful to set limits to their own power. For a man who supposedly venerates the Magna Carter he sounds suspiciously like Prince John.


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Would we really welcome the end of the data state?

13/06/2013, 09:46:22 AM

by Dan McCurry

Ever wondered how mobile phone companies know where you are, in order to route the phone calls through to you? The phone in your pocket is keeping a constant “chatter” with the network informing them of your location. That’s how the police can track you down if you ever become a fugitive. They can tell where you are within a 10ft radius. And if you run, every 30 seconds your phone will inform them, and inform them, and inform them. You were never told this when you bought your phone. No one ever told you your privacy was being compromised on such a scale.

We live in a world where we are recorded by video dozens of times a day, simply while shopping for groceries. At the checkout, our bonus cards record the frequency and breadth of our purchases, and even the times of day of our habits and movements.

Our websites download “cookies” to our computer hard drives which record and survey our surfing, in order to guide us toward the products they’d like to us to buy.

The credit card companies constantly trade information with the credit reference agencies who have a record of every time you’ve paid your phone bill (late or on time), every application to take out a loan (successful or not), and every move of address and consequent new post code. They use this information to judge you, your character, whether you can be trusted with the money they lent you.

Don’t you feel uncomfortable? Don’t you just feel slightly nervous about it all? The sheer size and scale of all the information being collected about you, your habits, what you own and where you shop and whether you can be trusted anymore.

How about if I told you we could end it all with one sweep of a politician’s pen? You could get rid of the lot. Would you vote for it? Would you vote to end all the surveillance and data gathering that swims around you every second of the day?

What if I told you that by pressing a single button you would be able to wipe all the information kept on you and you’d able to start your life afresh knowing that not one single sinister agency would have one single sinister fact about you, would you press that button?

Now, imagine I can make this happen. I have just such a device and I’m putting it in front of you now. All you have to do is press the button. Why don’t you do it? The button is in front of you. Press it and let’s see how it can feel to be free.


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Human rights; legal wrongs

09/02/2012, 07:30:36 AM

by Peter Watt

I am an internationalist, like the best of them. However two separate, but related, issues have today made me very angry. First, the release from prison of the terrorist Abu Qatada. And second, the on-going slaughter in Syria. Both are examples of the way that perpetrators of evil can all too often be protected by the perverse operation of systems of international law. And both show the dilemma of the apparent impotence and weakness of democratic countries.

To put it into perspective; if I were to go into town this weekend, have a skinful, get into a fight and assault someone, then rightly I would, hopefully, be arrested and prosecuted. If the assault was serious enough, or if I had previous, then my behaviour would justify the prison sentence that I would surely receive. Benefit fraud, robbery, tax evasion, illicit drugs – all would likely see a custodial sentence.

But it seems that you can be a convicted terrorist and the legal system can be used to prevent your imprisonment. Abu Qatada sympathised with Osama Bin Laden, praised the 9/11 bombers, was convicted of plotting murder in Jordan and is apparently a member of al-Qaeda’s “Fatwa Committee”.  And yet an on-going legal battle has seen him released, imprisoned and re-released from prison. (more…)

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Alone in Sirte

24/10/2011, 12:35:01 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Human rights, by definition, are held by all humans. In spite of Lockerbie, Yvonne Fletcher’s murder and his tyrannical 42-year misrule of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was human. He, therefore, deserved a fair trial in a Libyan court or in The Hague. That he would certainly have been found guilty before such a court does not detract from the belittlement, both of those denied and those who deny, inherent in denying fundamental human rights.

Justice can never come from the mob; only vengeance. No matter how understandable the desire for vengeance, it is not justice. It is wonderful that Libya now has a chance for freedom, so long prevented by Gaddafi. The West should respond with a carrots and sticks offer of support as transformative as that offered to Eastern Europe by the EU after the fall of communism. But it would be a more fitting and solid foundation for this epoch had it begun with an act of justice, not with what seemed more like the fall of Mussolini than the Nuremburg trials.

No one is quibbling in Libya now, I know. Still, to have the despotic brought to heal by institutions of justice seems, in the longer run, likely to be a more cathartic basis for the oppressed to recover than to visit violence with violence. This catharsis is rooted in showing that order now comes from the rule of law, not from crude strength or even a golden gun. History teaches us that violence tends only to beget more violence. (more…)

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Labour should champion good “producer” journalism

16/10/2011, 09:17:23 AM

by Carl Packman

At the start of last week many people were tuning in to watch the Lords debate the health and social bill. But at the same time, the House of Lords communications committee hosted a hearing attended by Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, the Guardian editor Alan Rushbridger and investigative journalist Nick Davies.

Up for discussion was what Roy Greenslade, writing for the Evening Standard, noted as the three things that haunt journalism: budget constraints, press freedom and regulation and libel laws. On the first of those, Alan Rushbridger mentioned that 70% of what is seen in the Guardian can be found free online, while in ten to 15 years’ time many towns will be without a local newspaper. For the most part, the panel were at pains not to do down the work of unpaid bloggers and citizen journalists. But, as they were keen to address, investigative reportage often costs money and takes time that volunteers often don’t have.

On the second thing to haunt journalism today – press freedom – Ian Hislop complained that Article 8 of the human rights act, respect for private and family life, has too much swing against Article 10, the freedom of expression. Nick Davies fantasised about throwing defamation law “in the river” and starting again “with a blank slate with statute law”. Balancing the right to privacy with free speech is one issue, but the other is how this fares in the eyes of the law. (more…)

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