Tag Archives: human rights

Human wrongs

When I think of Theresa May I think many things, but one thing that always springs to mind is that cat.

At the Tory Party Conference a while back, she said that a foreigner avoided deportation because he had a pet cat. “I’m not making it up,” she scoffed.

She was actually making it up. Or perhaps she was misinformed. Either way, she wasted no time trashing human rights as the one thing standing between the government and an effective immigration policy.

She keeps doing this. Despite missing the ridiculous immigration target year on year and failing on her own metric for her job, she is always able to refocus the collective mind on a tabloid bogeyman. Usually immigrants but also human rights mechanisms.

She did it again this week in her speech for the EU Remain campaign, unhelpfully bringing in the European Court of Human Rights, which she claimed “did nothing for our prosperity.”I mean, never mind that this is nothing to do with our membership of the EU and the fact that she has AGAIN chosen to either be disingenuous or is really, really misinformed (more on that later)…

Sure, Theresa. Human rights have done nothing for us. Except facilitate that very “prosperity” by ensuring that citizens are free to “go forth and prosper”, by and large. (there are people on the margins of course and prosperity isn’t felt by all). But is this one of the better places to live? Yes.

So Theresa is for staying in the EU but withdrawing from the ECHR, which legal blogger David Allen Green pointed out would also affect the Good Friday agreement. The ramifications of such an action are so huge as to make it an unworkable solution. She didn’t care, she got the headlines she wanted, as with the cat story. It’s all internal politics of course. She wants to be leader and needs to keep the anti-human rights right wingers on board.

It plays well in the galleries. But another story this week, Hillsborough, shows that human rights law is so important and relevant. As the TUC wrote in one of its analyses on Brexit, the international human rights regime raises the floor of rights. It isn’t the ceiling. It makes the State go further. It actually gives us more space, as citizens. Especially those who at one time or another have faced opprobrium: ethnic or sexual minorities. Hell, even majorities: women.

The point is: Hillsborough shows us that human rights still need to be defended. The families’ heartbreaking decades long struggle for justice was made possible because of the Human Rights Act, that Theresa and her friends are so desperate to repeal.

“The jury in the new Hillsborough inquest returned a verdict of “unlawful killing” in respect of the 96 people who died as result of the events on April 15 1989. The verdict was a triumph for the families of the dead who have campaigned for 27 years for justice. The scope of the new inquest, however, was only possible because of the Human Rights Act 1998, which gives the articles of the ECHR effect in domestic law.” – David Allen Green

If there is a time to show the public why human rights matter, it’s now.


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What has the ECHR ever done for us?

Following Theresa May’s illiterate/deeply disingenous intervention in the EU referendum debate, calling for Britain to stay in the EU but leave the European Court of Human Rights, it’s heartening to see this satirical video from Patrick Stewart.

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“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home…places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

It starts at home

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The Truth Needs New Shoes

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” – Mark Twain

Following yesterday’s rant about lies, damn lies and witches, I read three great articles that got me thinking about truth. And politics. (I know, I know…)

One Polly Toynbee on the Liberal Democrats and their difficulties in campaigning on their record in government while deriding the Tories (a bit like picking a few raisins out of an elephant turd – my assessment, not Polly’s). She makes the point that given public trust in them is so low, the Lib Dems could be daring – and tell the political truths that no one is willing to own up to. (see David Cameron cutting taxes on the way to abolishing the deficit, or Labour’s self-flagellating apology tour – grovelling about pretty much everything (immigration, a global financial crisis) but the stuff they should really apologise for (monstering asylum seekers, the War, etc.) She does concede that an unfettered Tory government would probably have done all sorts of things, like abolished the Human Rights Act and the BBC…but that “stopping the worst is their best claim, though what-ifs make thin gruel for campaigning.” My favourite line is: “Jeremiahs don’t get elected, says political folklore, but telling hard truths without necessarily having all the answers might be their route back to public respect.”

Two Joan Smith on the Tories’ anti-human rights agenda. It’s a great article looking at how human rights, like political correctness, has become the scourge of the right. And how ridiculous that is. Most alarming is her observations on the British Bill of Rights proposals:

“Don’t be taken in by the spin that they’re just replacing a messy piece of legislation with a sensible British Bill of Rights. Since Cameron’s speech in Birmingham, headlines have focused on proposals to turn the ECHR into an “advisory body” whose judgments are no longer binding on the UK. This would set a precedent for countries with terrible human rights records, including Russia, which has lost many more cases before the court than the UK. But that’s not the half of it. The Bill would apply only to British territory, according to a policy document published two days ago, so allegations of human rights abuses by British forces serving abroad could no longer be heard in a British court.”

Three A typical barn-stormer from Aditya Chakraborty: Cut benefits? Yes. Let’s start with our £85bn corporate handout. He fleshes out the issue of coporate welfare – a vague, little-reported, barely-understood but shocking issue. It also shows how language is so important. Who is scrounging now? To me, this article reminds me of US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s riposte to the “wealth creators” in the US: “You didn’t build that”.

“Politicians and pundits talk about welfare as if it’s solely cash given to people. Hardly ever discussed is corporate welfare: the grants and subsidies, the contracts and cut-price loans that government hands over to business. Yet some of our biggest companies and industries operate a business model that depends on them extracting money from the British taxpayer.”


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(really) Small Politics

“This is electioneering on the backs of Europe’s most vulnerable. Under these plans human rights would be reserved for only those people the Government decides should get them. This is a blueprint for human rights you would expect from a country like Belarus.” – Tim Hancock, Amnesty UK.

“Puerile” “highly problematic, to put it mildly” “unworkable”

These are just a few of the adjectives experts and lawyers have used to denounce the Tory plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights unless they get certain exemptions. I can think of a few countries that would like to withdraw from various international conventions on human rights or to have special exemptions. Yeah… is that the company we want to keep? And while we are members of the UN Human Rights Council? While we presume to stomp around the world making speeches and dropping bombs in the supposed defence of human rights?

“Limiting the application of human rights law to ‘serious’ cases and making them subject to ‘civic responsibilities’ is really a way to restrict rights to people the Government likes. Rights will be rebalanced to fit with the ideological leanings of one section of the Tory party.” – Adam Wagner, human rights barrister.

Apart from the very real and chilling problems with the proposals, as explained by a number of legal experts (such as in this article by Democratic Audit), I find the short-termism of the Tories quite breathtaking. They just want to win the election, to hell with what they do when they get there. They don’t even seem to have a reason to get there other than they want to or feel that they’re owed a shot at the big time (I’d say the same is true of the other parties, apart from the Greens).

They’ll promise to withdraw from the EU, roll back the human rights regime, probably even bring back the death penalty if that’s what it takes. Some of them might then do that awkward thing where they campaign against their own proposal, but in reality what will probably happen is that given the chance they would just follow through – regardless of the consequences, regardless of the cost, to satisfy a demented but vocal section of Little England and its super-charged allies in the press. The contrast with the inspiring and fundamental debate that Scotland had just last month is breathtaking.

These policies are basically drawn up with Farage and the Sun in mind (and the crazy wing of the Tory party, which, quite frankly, is eating the rest of the party up anyway).  But we would all have to live with it. And there will be fewer avenues to address the lies of austerity and miscarriages of justice. I don’t want to have my rights and defined by a small section of the Tory Party, the Daily Mail and UKIP. Human rights are there precisely for those who are marginalised and vulnerable. The reason most of us never need to claim them is because we have them already, and we are fine. But the poisonous Tory rhetoric which saves its arrows for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised (and, yes, even criminals, whose human rights we preserve because they are human not because they “deserve” anything) is creating a crueller, smaller-minded country.

This is small politics that makes moral pygmies of us all.

Populism dressed up as “common sense” leaves us all naked.


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Points of Agreement

Apart from spending the day haunted by the smell of coconuts at random moments –  before realising it was my hair oil (actual thought I had during the day: “Am I being stalked by a coconut?”) – I found myself punching the air at various points as well, cheered by these three articles:

One Now I have to say this slowly because like the amazing Dan Hodges article a few weeks ago, I’m a little thrown, but anyway: Danny Finklestein wrote at once the most sensible and necessary article in the defence of human rights, and the Human Rights Act today. It’s in the Times so click here if have a subscription. That we need to have someone point out that human rights “are not a joke” and that it’s absolutely stark raving mad to want to pull up the drawbridge and pull away from common sense  shows what a sad state of affairs we’re in, and the fact that a “Conservative case” needs to be made, seeing as they are the ones squawking about doing it (while Labour looks on sweetly doing…well…nothing to protect one of their greatest legislative achievements) is rather unfortunate too, as this should really be beyond party politics. But at the same time, he hit all the right notes. Yay for human rights!

Two A wonderful interview with poet Benjamin Zephaniah on Britishness, including a rendition of one of his poems on the topic. All of this made my heart sing! (as so often with Zephaniah) Yes to mutable, broad Britishness!

“For me Britishness is being a part of these islands. I say that very carefully because I also respect Scottish people if they want to go separate. I’d be happy just to have England, and not have Britain actually. While we have this concept of Britishness, it’s being a part of these islands, and if you really want to be a part of these islands, I think by definition you have to accept multiculturalism. Not just diversity. Diversity can mean all kinds of things. Multiculturalism is what it says on the tin: Multi. Many cultures. Living together. As I alluded to before, the Celts, the Jutes, and all these people were different cultures. I come from Birmingham which was started by a tribe called the Beorma tribe, and they were seen as a very odd tribe, and they came and they settled they used to keep cows and bulls, and they had this place where they kept bulls, and that became The Bull Ring, and today it is a shopping centre.

That’s multiculturalism.

I don’t know if it’s still true now, but certainly a few years ago they were saying that the most popular food in Britain was an Indian curry. And some people thought it was a very British thing to have a curry. There are lots of other things which people think of as really British that came from somewhere. I mean what could be more British than living out in the countryside in a beautiful bungalow with a thatched roof? But where did the word ‘bungalow’ come from? Bengal, yeah. The English language also borrows from other cultures. So it’s being a part of that, that I think is Britishness. I actually think that in a very odd way, actually I don’t think it’s that odd at all, but when you hear racists saying “Britain is a white country”, I think that is anti-British. Because Britain has never been fixed. Britain is like its weather – you know it’s the weather but you don’t know where it is going from one time to another. We know we are British.”

Three A long, detailed, informative blog post by Mining in Malawi on oil prospecting on Lake Malawi, the main players and the risks as identified by UNESCO – and so much more. Finally, all the details in one place!

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The Migrant’s Manifesto

Dignity has no nationality – Musa Okwonga

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