Threats to our rights


List of acts and bills which, individually and collectively, impinge on our rights

There is mounting concern that the tide of legislation currently in the process of enactment, will shift power away from the people and give greater powers to the police and the government itself.

Enacted legislation:

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Act 2022

Elections Act 2022

Nationality and Borders Act 2022

Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022

Serious Threats from current bills

Bill of Rights

National Security Bill

Online Safety Bill

Public Order Bill

Lesser Threatscollectively Important

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Brexit Freedoms Bill

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Modern Slavery Bill

Draft Victims Bill

Data Reform Bill

Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill

Conversion Therapy Bill

Draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill

Energy Bill

Private Renters Bill

Social Housing Regulation Bill

Schools Bill

Possible Threat – under consideration

Locking On

The above is just a list. Below we provide a little more explanation and a brief summary of what they are about.

Some do not attack Human Rights directly. Rather they undermine our access to our human rights or circumvent them altogether so although we may have in law a ‘right’ we cannot, or will not be able, in some circumstances enforce them or rely on them for protection.

What is important is their collective impact. They each chip away here and there at our rights, and some expressly bypass Human Rights legislation (whether the HRA of Bill of Rights). Secondly, they demonstrate the little importance the current governments attach to our liberties, freedoms and our right to express our opinions. Thirdly, the very clear trend they represent to ever greater centralised government control. If they are all enacted and become law then the government will have increased their control significantly. The National Security Bill and the Public Order Bill combined could result in a Police State.

Summaries of what some of the bills and acts contain:

Serious Threats
Bill of RightsA government power grab.  It is a much weakened version of the 1998 Human Rights Act.
National Security BillMinisters and UK officials cannot be charged for crimes they order or encourage overseas – ordering assassinations or the commission of war crimes. It puts the government above challenge, undermines our right to hold government accountable, giving us less say, and government becomes more authoritarian and closer to becoming a dictatorship.
Online Safety BillIntended to protect the right of free speech and expression, prevent the circulation of misinformation, threats and unsavoury content, particularly in social media, but it will not apply to the government and those in public office. Gives more control to the government.
Could be used to stop criticism of the government.
Public Order BillAn extension of the Police and Crime Bill. It has been described as authoritarian and repressive. It gives the police wide discretion and greater powers, introduces control orders and enables stop and search without reason.
Lesser Threats
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) BillNot compatible with Human Rights. Bypasses police, courts, protections and enables substantial government interference in the process of law and the right of defence/protection.
Brexit Freedoms BillGetting rid of and remaining EU protections.
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) BillPrevents Universities and Student Unions blocking [no-platforming] speakers thus enabling ‘objectionable opinions’ to be validated. Especially Far-Right, anti LGBT and racism views.
Modern Slavery Bill
Draft Victims BillIt doesn’t protect personal data, from excess police intrusion or provide sufficient support for marginalised groups.
Data Reform BillScraps GDPR ‘red tape’ and lowers barriers to restrict access to personal data.
Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions BillComplex. BDS is an Israeli/Palestine issue. The wider context is about using BDS to control ‘overseas’ issues. The bill gives greater central control to government.
Conversion Therapy Bill
Draft Mental Health Act Reform BillWe have a right to good mental health, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Questionable protections under the Bill of Rights.
Energy BillUndermines the right to affordable energy, safe energy good for the environment, climate, not to be cut-off, not to be forced to have repayment meters.
Private Renters BillConflicts with HRs and gives government Renters Ombudsman opportunity to ignore HRs (peaceful possession/occupation). Complex overlapping with property law. Could be good for renters but shifts final say away from HRs to the government decisions. Renters will not be able to use HRs to challenge Ombudsman decisions.
Social Housing Regulation BillGives central government greater control, the discretion to side step HRs
Schools BillGives Government great control over education to FE level. Has the potential to remove teachers/schools not following an agreed narrative. To close schools without notice or appeal.
Possible Threat
Locking OnMaking Locking-on a specific criminal offence.

Mike Hodgson

Police and Crime bill


This bill is being debated in the House of Lords on Monday 17 January 2022. Several members of the local Amnesty group are writing to members in the Lords with a Wiltshire connection to ask them to vote against this pernicious bill. The Lords in question – as far as we can discover – are Lord Eatwell, Baroness Bonham-Carter, Lord Marland and Baroness Bybrook (the former leader of Wiltshire Council, Jane Scott).

Details can be found at http://www.writetothem.com/about-lords. Previously, members have written to our local MPs which has little or no effect since they usually follow the party whip.

The Police, Crime and Sentencing bill represents a concerted attack on our ability to protest. It gives the police more powers – and vague powers – to inhibit protests and demonstrations. The last few weeks has seen the government itself in the dock for a whole series of illegal parties held at 10, Downing Street. Yesterday, the prime minister had to apologise to the Queen for a party held on the eve of Prince Philips’ funeral. Yet these same ministers want to inhibit the right to protest.

Russia closes human rights group


The Supreme Court in Moscow today (Tuesday, 28 December 2021) ordered the closure of the human rights group Memorial is a move which is seen as another step in the route to greater authoritarianism by President Putin in Russia. The group fell foul of the ‘foreign agent’ law, a law passed in 2016 to make life difficult for human rights groups to operate in the country. The prosecution accused the group of ‘creating a false image of USSR as a terrorist state’. Memorial sought to shed light on the horrors of the Stalin era when millions died in a vast network of gulags.

Amnesty International described the decision as ‘a grave insult to the victims of the Russian gulag’. With suppression of opposition parties – Navalny is imprisoned for example – and the intimidation or murder of journalists, Russia is living up to its sobriquet of a ‘gangster state’.

Threat to our rights


Government bills represent a threat to our rights to protest and to hold the government to account

We are becoming accustomed to authoritarian regimes restricting the rights of their citizens by a variety of means. These include restrictions on the right of assembly, weakening judicial control and either ignoring or neutering human rights laws. The UK government has introduced three bills which seek to do similar things and this post is to highlight the dangers for everyone in the country.

Our human rights are our personal freedoms. You can’t see or touch them, but they should always have your back. Think of them as your invisible armour. If you don’t find yourself thinking about your rights much, that’s a good sign that they’re there for you and doing what they should be: making you feel safe, accepted and free to enjoy your life with dignity and without fear. But what if someone quietly took your armour away, bit by bit, and you didn’t realise until it was too late? How would you protect yourself?  

That’s what’s happening right now, right under our noses – and the UK government doesn’t want you to know about it. As we speak, they are trying to introduce new laws and make changes to existing ones that will result in less freedom for ordinary people, more power for people in authority, and even greater inequality in our society. These changes will also make it harder for you to stand up for yourself if your human rights are being abused. And on top of that, in many cases it will be society’s most vulnerable people who are the worst hit by the changes. Our freedoms are under attack from all angles: this is a raid on our rights.  

If you’re still not sure what all this means in practice, you’re not alone. That’s exactly what people in power want, as a lack of public understanding makes it easier for them to sneak through changes that will negatively affect people’s lives without them realising (until it’s too late). We’re here to shout about the changes and make sure as many people as possible are aware of them, as we need your help to fight them.  

 
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill   

The right to protest is fundamental to a free and fair society.  In its current form, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for England and Wales, would be an enormous and unprecedented extension of policing powers which would put too much power in the hands of the state. It would give both police and Government ministers the powers to ban, limit or impose any condition on peaceful protests – on the grounds that they might be ‘noisy’ or cause ‘annoyance.’  
 
The Bill not only targets the organisers of any protest, but also anyone who takes part in them on the basis that they “ought to have been aware” of any restrictions, conditions or prohibitions placed on any given event, risking criminalising large numbers of people for activities that otherwise would be perfectly lawful.  

Our rights, enshrined in international and domestic law, can only be infringed in very limited circumstances considered to be both proportionate and necessary.  Measures in this Bill are neither. Police already have wide ranging powers to manage public order and prevent public assemblies from causing serious harm. This Bill sets out to crackdown on explicitly nonviolent dissent.  

This will likely disproportionately impact people who are in a minority and increase the racism and discrimination which is experienced by many.  The thresholds in the Bill that will be applied to any policing action are vague, undefined and open to such wide ranging and discretionary interpretation that they will give rise to even more inconsistent approaches to how protests and demonstrations will be managed in future.  

Communities who already face wide ranging racist and discriminatory over policing will likely be at even greater risk. Already, research by the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights shows that 85 % of Black people in the UK are not confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police.  

This is worsened by other parts of the Bill, including greater police powers to enhance stop & search and to collect and share information, all of which are likely to entrench institutional racism within the criminal justice system. These structural inequalities need to be dismantled not re-built.  
 
We are concerned by restrictions on the right to roam which would seriously affect Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who could see their entire way of life criminalised. These proposals risk further criminalising homelessness or protesters using nonviolent occupations, peace camps or sit-ins to challenge injustice.  

This Bill covers a huge number of things, many of which have been heavily criticised by different sectors and requires a serious rethink. In many ways, it is so problematic that it would better be that it was dropped. Any welcome provisions in it could be delivered through different legislation. If the Bill proceeds, we are calling, alongside over 250 civil society organisations and 700 legal academics and counting, for the removal of Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill that relate to protest and the right to roam. We are similarly calling for the removal of measures relating to enhanced stop and search powers and data gathering and sharing requirements, which if enacted would likely increase structural racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system. At an absolute minimum, the relevant parts of the Bill (Part 2 Chapter 1, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 10 Chapter 1) must be substantially amended. 
 
Disappointingly the Bill has passed through the Commons, but this is not the end. In autumn the Lords will now have the opportunity to amend the Bill, before it returns to the Commons. 

This Bill affects England and Wales directly, but people from Scotland and Northern Ireland will travel to London to protest.  As Amnesty activists we are concerned about restrictions to freedom of expression and rights to assembly wherever they happen in Bogota, Bangalore, Belfast or Bristol. 

The Salisbury group will be writing to our MP, Mr John Glen, to express our concerns about this and other proposed pieces of legislation.

Protecting our human rights


Report of a Zoom meeting

This is a report of a Zoom meeting on 28 April 2021, organised by Young Legal Aid Lawyers on the subject of protecting our human rights. Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) is a group of lawyers who are committed to practising in those areas of law, both criminal and civil, that have traditionally been publicly funded. YLAL members include students, paralegals, trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and qualified junior lawyers based throughout England and Wales. We believe that the provision of good quality publicly funded legal help is essential to protecting the interests of the vulnerable in society and upholding the rule of law.

We are grateful to group member Mike for preparing this post.

The panel of speakers were:  

Ciara Bartlem, Barrister (Chair); Michael Mansfield QC (HR Specialist); Audrey Mogan, Barrister; Katy Watts, Solicitor, Liberty; Chai Patel, Policy Director, JCWI; Shami Chakrabarti, Barrister, House of Lords.  

Two questions posed were: a) is government becoming increasingly authoritarian, and b) what can be done to curb the progression towards authoritarianism? 

The panel all agreed that government is becoming more authoritarian. Michael Mansfield QC said that activist lawyers are now Home Office targets with the Home Secretary tending toward aggressive oppression. He referred to May’s total dislike of the ECHR as well as other examples.  

The main concerns are the three Acts that we have already identified: CHIS, Police Crime Bill and Overseas Trade. The UK HR Act is not under immediate threat though it is under review but the panel agreed that the three acts do undermine our HR and the trajectory is increasing.  

While the Police Crime Bill does not directly make protesting illegal, it provides the police with huge powers to determine when a protest is causing a ‘disturbance of the peace of others’; it gives ‘guilty’ protestors a criminal record and excessive sentencing powers to the courts. ‘Disturbing the peace of others’ is not specified and could be about noise, inconveniencing shoppers to holding up traffic.  

Shami Chakrabarti was particularly scathing about CHIS and how it can be used in conjunction with the Police Bill. She warned of agent provocateurs being used to create/encourage violent protests thereby giving the police powers to act, and the courts powers to sentence ‘undesirable’ protestors.  

They all agreed that these, and the general trend, is a back door threat to our freedoms and towards an increasingly authoritarian government.  

There was also a lengthy discussion about the ending, or curtailing, of Judicial Reviews. Judicial Review is the ability for courts (lawyers) to challenge the legality of a government action (or a government agency such as the police). Either in the three Acts or elsewhere the government wants to end (restrict) the process of Judicial Review, thereby rendering government unaccountable to the law. There has been an continuing debate as to whether judges, enabled in part by the Human Rights Act, have expanded their reach into what some consider to be inherently political areas of decision making.  Judicial Review is subject to a review at present.

Sadly, what can be done was far more directed towards lawyers and actions in the court than activists. They talked about the increasing importance of using Legal Observers at protests.  

Though an interesting and simple suggestion was: get ready to use your mobile phone, learn how to video quickly. The George Floyd case in America was blown open by video. We are unlikely to see a lot of such incidents in Salisbury, but the inference is to stop abuse in the streets before it gets to the courts.  

The panel also recommended two videos:  

The Brink: [trailer] Steven Bannon in the US and his involvement in UK, particularly, Brexit politics. 

The 13th: [trailer] after the emancipation of slaves the 13th amendment was used to criminalise black people.  

The Salisbury group is concerned – along with many others – about the government’s stated desire to abolish the Human Rights Act. Curtailment of liberties, including the right to protest and Judicial Review, is part a drip, drip of actions the government is engaged in.

Airbnb and Israeli settlements


Airbnb continues to list properties illegal settlements

Last year Airbnb shamefully reversed its decision to remove listings in Israeli settlements from their online platform, exposing the hollowness of their claims to be a company that values human rights.  They continue to promote these listings, despite knowing that these settlements are illegal under international law, and a war crime.

Settlements are at the root of a wide range of human rights violations against Palestinian communities. Airbnb are acting in direct contradiction with international law and their own corporate standards.

Earlier this year, the United Nations released a report on companies with specific links to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank which included Airbnb.  Naming the businesses which profit in the context of this illegal situation sends a clear message that Israel’s settlement enterprise must never be normalized.

Now Airbnb has started the process of becoming a publicly listed company on the US stock exchange and hopes to raise billions of dollars to grow and expand its tourism operations around the world.

Amnesty International has extensively documented the ways in which digital tourism companies like Airbnb contribute to human rights violations against Palestinians and we continue to call for Airbnb and others to stop all activity in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Write for Rights – webinar


Fascinating Webinar held on Write for Rights

Amnesty members around the world write millions of letters each year and it can sometimes feel a little dispiriting.  They seldom get replies and the results (if any) are often difficult to discover.  It can seem a fruitless exercise.  True, every now and then, there is a success (which we have highlighted on this site where group members have been involved) but they are infrequent.

Some Amnesty members in front of Exeter Cathedral (pic: Salisbury Amnesty)

So the webinar held yesterday (2 December 2020) was particularly uplifting.  It featured three speakers: Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty, Geraldine Chacón from Venezuela and the Sena Atici, the Individuals at Risk Coordinator at AIUK.  Members of the South West group (pictured outside the cathedral in Exeter) will be familiar with Geraldine who came to speak to us in that city in March, just before lockdown.

Geraldine, a lawyer and human rights defender, was arrested in 2018 by the Venezuelan authorities as part of an exercise against all critics of the government.  She was held in appalling conditions for 4 months and although eventually released, she was not permitted to leave the country.  In common with a host of regimes nowadays, she was accused of being a ‘terrorist,’ a kind of go-to accusation for anyone a government doesn’t like.

She described how being arrested changed everything and how she felt isolated and forgotten.  ‘Nothing was in your control’ she said.  Thousands wrote letters which in fact, she never received.  In prison, she was completely isolated.  Her mother did however, and the government also received many thousands.  ‘When you’re an activist, you’re not that sure that you are making a difference.  Being on the other side, I saw how it had an impact and made a difference’ she added.

‘I know [the letters] make a difference – I am the living proof of that’

In her talk in Exeter, she said ‘[the police] want you to stop – without the support, I might have done.’

There were several questions from the public at the webinar presentation around effectiveness and risk.  Can these

Geraldine Chacón (left).  Picture: Salisbury Amnesty

letters increase the risk to the prisoner?  The answer was that the International Secretariat look carefully at this before someone is included in a Write for Rights campaign.  If it is felt that there is risk, they are not included.

This was a most successful webinar.  For all those who occasionally ask themselves ‘is it worth it?’ – is it worth the price of a stamp to a regime where it is unlikely to be read or to make a difference? the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’.  As Geraldine’s case demonstrates, not only for her, but for family members as well, these letters show support and that the world is watching.  For people who are arrested for no real reason and languish in prison, knowing that they are not forgotten is a powerful message.

The next webinar is in January 2021.


Further details of Venezuelan government’s treatment of human rights activists and others is detailed in a UN report on the country.  The Amnesty International report can be accessed here.

The Salisbury group is not meeting at present but we hope to be back to some kind of normal in 2021.

President-elect Joe Biden and human rights


President-elect Joe Biden has declared that human rights will be an important part of his agenda when he becomes president in January.  Following a period when President Trump rowed back on a lot of US commitments in this area, this is clearly welcome.  So how is this likely to look?

Trump pulled the US out of the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 and this year designated the International Criminal Court a “security threat.”  It is expected that a Biden administration will reverse these decisions as well as re-staffing the depleted Human Rights Department of the US Department of Justice and returning to various arms control agreements.  It is also clear that Biden will take a multilateral approach to international issues, unlike his predecessor.

The US-based organisation Human Rights Watch have urged the new administration to reverse course:

On November 9, countries at the UN Human Rights Council reviewed the human rights record of the United States and offered recommendations on guaranteeing the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, non-discrimination, voting rights, policing, and gender equality, among others.  The Biden administration should re-engage with the Human Rights Council, including by accepting Universal Periodic Review recommendations aligned with international human rights law, and realizing the human rights obligations identified by the council

They also urge the incoming regime also to repudiate the Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, which Trump set up to make a hierarchy of countries and abandon the universality of international human rights law.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK, has also urged the Biden administration to take a new approach to international law and has indicated 3 areas where the new administration needs to change its human rights policy internally – gun control, asylum seekers and police reform (AIUK, 9 November 2020).

In the run up to the election, Biden made a number of statements in defence of human rights, notably in the Middle East, which he may well struggle to carry out.  In the last week or two, Egypt and Turkey have both made a large number of arrests of dissidents (maybe hoping to do so before Trump leaves), and Saudi Arabia is sending feminist activists to a terrorism court.

As Kareem Fahim writes in the Washington Post (27 November 2020):

The moves in recent days, by a trio of authoritarian governments that are close allies or partners of the United States, have put human rights issues front and center weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, in a pre-emptive challenge to his pledge to vigorously defend such rights.

 

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