Archive for the ‘“Human rights”’ Category

Happy Birthday Taner

On 6 June 2017, our friend and colleague Taner Kılıç, a human rights lawyer and the Chair of Amnesty Turkey, was arrested.  He has been in prison ever since.  Taner is currently on trial, charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organization”.  If found guilty he faces up to 15 years in jail.  He has done nothing wrong.  Taner is not a terrorist, Taner is a human rights defender and lawyer.  Taner was one of the first lawyers in Turkey to advocate for the rights of refugees and has spent his working life trying to better the situation of refugees who have fled to Turkey.

Members of the Salisbury group of Amnesty send birthday greetings to Taner.

Salisbury group, Taner

Members of the Salisbury group. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

If you would like to join the local group you would be very welcome.  Come along to one of our actions and make yourself known.  Details will be posted here and on Twitter and Facebook – salisburyai


Theresa May’s visit to China and human rights

The human rights situation in China is dire.  The list is long and includes excessive use of the death penalty.  The numbers are unknown because they are a state secret but are believed to be in the thousands.  China leads the world and may even execute more than the rest of the world put together.  Torture is common.  There is precious little freedom of speech and journalists reporting in China quickly find police arriving and stopping any interviews.  Under its current premier, repression has increased significantly.

The Great Firewall of China prevents contact with the outside world.  Lawyers and activists are monitored, harassed, arrested and detained.  Religions have a difficult time practising there.  Finally there is Tibet and the poor treatment of Tibetans.  China is a leading exporter of torture equipment including devices that one might have thought to be confined to the middle ages.  Altogether, China infringes nearly all international norms of good behaviour and it matters especially because they are one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

But they are a massive and growing economy and countries want to do business there.  None more so than the UK which hopes to increase trade following our departure from the European Union.  Hence the prime minister’s visit there this week.  As ever with these visits the question of human rights is brought up.  There is a kind of dance performed where the prime minister or her spokespeople claim the matter is brought up and the Chinese say nothing was said.  The Chinese are very sensitive on the subject and historical memories of the Opium wars and the resultant national humiliation are still keenly felt.

But China wants to be considered a modern country yet its dreadful reputation in the way it treats its citizens and minorities holds it back.

It’s not often we get an insight into what was actually said but after this visit, an editorial in the Global Times waxed lyrical over the visit and praised Mrs May for not mentioning human rights.  The prose is odd but the relevant passages are:


May will definitely not make any comment contrary to the goals of her China trip either.  For the prime minister, the losses outweigh the gains if she appeases the British media at the cost of the visit’s friendly atmosphere.

China’s robust development has instilled impetus for Europe to overcome its prejudices against Beijing.  David Cameron’s government gained Britain strategic initiative by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Some European media pressed May and Macron on human rights, but the two leaders sidestepped the topic on their China trips.  This shows that the Sino-European relationship has, to a large degree, extricated itself from the impact of radical public opinion.  Leader 2 February 2018

The central problem is that China is a one-party state where dissent is not permitted.  Hence the crackdowns, arrests and suppression of free speech.  As time goes by however, more and more Chinese will travel the world and despite the great wall, gain access to the internet (we note some hits from China on this little site!).  As the country develops, more and more Chinese will look for freedom and to criticize the politicians.  So the Chinese authorities will find it harder and harder – and more expensive – to maintain the status quo.  The denial of human rights therefore is not some kind of esoteric luxury or the west seeking to impose its moral order on them.  It is a crucial part of their development and ramping up repression and arrests is taking the country in quite the wrong direction.

Failure – if failure it was – by Mrs May to bring up the issue of human rights would not have been just another lecture from a western liberal (if that term can be applied to Mrs May) but a crucial issue for the Chinese themselves as they develop into the world’s largest nation.






Many human rights organisations worried by the Brexit* Bill’s threat to human rights

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Liberty are among those who are expressing concerns that the EU (Withdrawal) bill will weaken our human rights protections because it seeks to remove the Charter of Fundamental Rights from our law.  The Charter is important because it protects fundamental issues important to us such as dignity, data, worker’s rights, children and more.  By excluding this, our rights will be weakened.  In their annual report, Human Rights Watch say:

More than six months after the government formally triggered the start of Brexit, significant concerns remained about the status of rights and protection for all UK residents derived from EU law after the UK leaves the EU. A draft law to move EU law into domestic law after Brexit raised serious concerns about granting broad powers to the executive to amend laws undermining rights without parliamentary scrutiny, and excluding rights currently protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (HRW, 2018)

Amnesty has raised similar concerns:

While the Bill claims to be copying and pasting EU derived law into domestic law, it leaves one, crucial element behind on the cutting room floor – the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.  The Charter plays an important role in our domestic rights protection architecture.  Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights (which has nothing to do with the EU), the Charter only applies when EU law is in issue – like questions about data retention, or pension rights – but it provides stronger protection than the ECHR in those areas (judges can use it to ‘strike down’ primary legislation, like they did when the Brexit Minister David Davis MP used it himself in a privacy case recently!) It is a clear statement of fundamental rights which we all enjoy.  If this is simply a cut and paste job as the government says, then why is the only thing they are leaving behind our rights protection?

The current government has had a long and at times tortuous relationship with human rights.  It is surprising to compare a Conservative government after the war, led by Winston Churchill, who was instrumental in pushing for improved rights and which led to the current architecture of law on the subject, with the current government who wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and remove the Charter as well.

The reasons are complex and sometimes hard to fathom.  It is connected in part with a dislike of all things European.  Europe is the cause of so many of our problems it is claimed and once Brexit is accomplished, we shall be free.  According to Mrs. May, it prevents us deporting dangerous criminals which it doesn’t.  We are unable to deport some people because of various treaties which prevent us sending people to a country where they are likely to be tortured.  It overrides parliament they claim and so we need to do this to regain our sovereignty.  It does not.  But the myths, endlessly repeated by politicians and some parts of the media are widely believed.

We should be extremely concerned.  The bill also contains what are known as ‘Henry VIII powers’ which enable ministers to by-pass parliament.  Without the Charter in place, which underpins human rights law, the government risks getting clogged up in a series of legal cases.  Fundamental protections can easily be removed almost on a whim.

* Amnesty has no position on Brexit itself

If you live in the Salisbury area and want to become involved in human rights activities, you would be most welcome.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter – salisburyai – and come along to an event and make yourself known.  Or contact us via Facebook.  It is free to join the local group.

Removal of the Charter of Fundamental rights delayed – for now

News this week that the government has delayed removing the European Charter of Fundamental Rights from the Brexit bill is to be welcomed.  Theresa May as Home Secretary and Chris Grayling when he was Justice Secretary both pledged to do this and a commitment has been a feature of the Conservative manifesto for some time.  There is a strong desire to curb the role of European law in this country and ‘bringing back our sovereignty’ was a familiar claim in the Referendum debate.

The Charter has played an important role in improving equality, privacy and children’s rights.  Opposition to it is based on an exaggerated view of the degree of interference by the European court into the law of this country when in fact it has been slight.

We have argued for some time now that the government is going to have its hands full dealing with Brexit and will not want to be involved in protracted commons time trying to wrestle through this aspect of the bill.  The Lords are likely to reject it anyway.

Paradise Papers the latest to shine a light on the multi-billion pound avoidance industry

The publication of the Paradise Papers which have revealed yet more insights and names of those engaged in the murky world of massive tax avoidance, has so far stayed clear of discussing the human rights angle to this activity.  A letter in today’s Guardian newspaper, written jointly by Helena Kennedy and Hans Corel, draws attention to this particular aspect.  The huge outflow of resources from the developing world means governments are starved of the resources to tackle poverty, improve their health and education systems and to upgrade infrastructure generally.  A staggering $859bn was lost in 2010 and the cumulative loss between 2001 and 2010 amounted to $5.86trn *.  It often comes a surprise to people when it is pointed out for example that Africa, taken as a whole, is a net creditor to the rest of the world.  This is a combination of corruption, resource extraction and tax avoidance.  So while aid is paid into the country, more money flows out because of tax avoidance and criminal activity.

The Paradise Papers follows on from other leaks including the Panama Papers, Lux leaks and others which exposes the scale of the perfectly legal tax avoidance industry and names some of those involved.  These have included the Queen’s Duchy of Lancaster estate, Prince Charles and a slew of celebrities, media and sports people.  Several said they did not know this was being done in their name.

The letter draws attention to a report prepared by the International Bar Association in 2013.  This 262 page report examines exhaustively the nature of this activity and came before some of the recent revelations.  The key question for us is the link between this activity and human rights and the report discusses this in detail since it is not entirely direct.  In the report is says:

Most stakeholders tended to agree that there is an important distinction between labelling tax abuses as ‘legal violations of human rights’ versus stating that tax abuses have ‘negative impacts on human rights’.  Depending on the scope and scale of the tax abuses, they might have a significant impact on human rights.  As one tax authority expressed it: ‘What do we need to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights?  Resources including taxes.  Therefore, tax abuses are clearly a human rights issue when massive amounts are lost from State revenues.’ p96

To the extent that tax abuses have an impact on poverty and that poverty has an impact on human rights, as outlined above, it is possible to make a connection between tax abuses and human rights.  Most simply put, tax abuses deprive governments of the resources required to respect, promote and fulfil human rights. More dramatic examples of human rights impacts can be imagined when you juxtapose the billions of dollars that are said to be flowing out of developing countries with the comparatively small amounts that are required to lift individuals, families and communities out of the most extreme forms of poverty. p103

In a summary on p148  they say:

Human rights have not often been part of the global debate about tax matters. However, a human rights analysis can strengthen our understanding of poverty and development, as well as reinforce our determination to confront tax abuses.  In the recently adopted UN Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights describes how extreme poverty is connected as a cause or consequence of violations of numerous human rights, including all the key human rights principles − ranging from the right to life, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, the right to social security and principles of non-discrimination, participation, transparency and accountability.

Simply put, tax abuses deprive governments of the resources required to provide the programmes that give effect to economic, social and cultural rights, and to create and strengthen the institutions that uphold civil and political rights.  Actions of states that encourage or facilitate tax abuses, or that deliberately frustrate the efforts of other states to counter tax abuses, could constitute a violation of their international human rights obligations, particularly with respect to economic, social and cultural rights.  p148  Our italics

It is important to recognise therefore that this is not a victimless activity.

The City of London is a key player in the avoidance industry and is surrounded by a worldwide network of islands which have secrecy in one form or another as part of their appeal to international corporations, rich individuals, criminals and despotic governments.  These include the Isle of Man, Jersey, British Virgin Islands, and several more.

The report also devotes space to non-state actors and in particular the international corporations such as Apple, Amazon, Starbucks and several others.  These are able to move funds between one jurisdiction and another employing various legal techniques such as ‘The Swiss Role’ ‘Going Dutch’ and Thinning on Top’.  Apple featured most strongly in the latest revelations.

For those who would like to read the report in full it can be accessed from this link.  Full report

*586 000 000 000 000 US dollars










































Ice and Fire perform the Asylum Monologues in Salisbury

Asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees get a poor press in the United Kingdom especially at the tabloid end of the market.  They are

Daily Express front page: 2014

described in biblical terms as ‘flooding’ into the country, of consuming a large part of the benefits budget, taking jobs and houses from British people and driving down wages.  Immigrants and asylum seekers are labelled ‘illegal’ and a picture is constantly painted of crisis levels of immigration doing harm to the country.  A Daily Express front page is illustrated but many such pages and headlines could be here instead.  It cannot be denied that there are problems arising from immigration but the lack of balance in the reporting is to be regretted.

The benefits brought to the nation rarely get a mention.  Indeed, it was revealed by Sir Vince Cable recently that Theresa May, as Home Secretary, suppressed nine reports showing such benefits.  On balance the economy of the country is in credit as far as the effect of immigrants are concerned.

Ice and Fire

Asylum seekers (who are never illegal asylum seekers) are part of those seeking to settle here.  On Monday 18 September 2017, Ice and Fire performed Asylum Monologues at Sarum College in the Close.  Ice and Fire are a group of actors who tour the country and read testimonies from people who have experienced traumatic events in their home countries who have made it to this country and are seeking asylum.  The testimonies change over time as new events unfold.

Ice and Fire. L to r: Liz; Chris & Emily. Pic: Salisbury Anesty

The first testimony was of a woman who left Uganda.  She had campaigned for women’s rights.  To do so risked being called a ‘rebel’.  Then 20 soldiers arrived in the village one day and took her to an army prison.  There she was severely mistreated, tortured and raped in front of her husband.  After 4 months she – along with four others – managed to escape three of whom were shot.  Recaptured, she was taken to a ‘safe’ house which was quite the opposite for its inmates.  Finally, she managed to escape to England possibly with the aid of her husband (she did not know).  She never saw him again.

She was in such a dreadful physical state on arrival she was taken to hospital and put on a drip.  She was pregnant but it was too late to have a termination.  Then began the process of seeking leave to remain with the Home Office.  This was an extremely lengthy process, and akin to a kind of ‘mental torture’ she said because it went on so long and you never knew how it would end.  At one point she was at risk of being deported back to Uganda and being tortured again.  After a long process of appeals she eventually won her indefinite leave to appeal.  Using DNA analysis she was reunited with her daughter she had not seen for eight years.

The second testimony was of a successful businessman from Syria who had seen his businesses looted and finally left the country and via Turkey and Greece made it to the UK.

Border Agency

But arguably the most chilling testimony was of someone called Louise who used to work for the UK Border Agency in Cardiff.  It was hard to believe that the things she described took place in this country and not somewhere in some despotic state.  On her first day her line manager said about children seeking asylum ‘if it was up to me I would take them out and shoot them.’  Conceivably, this could be an example of black humour albeit in poor taste, but it was said in all seriousness.

She was given combat training because some of the claimants are potentially dangerous.  She asked the trainer how many cases in three years have you granted asylum to and the reply was 3.  Just three.

The prevailing ethos of the Agency was not to let anyone in if at all possible.  The most chilling aspect to her story was the ‘Grant Monkey’.  This was not some kind of reward for good work but was placed on someone’s desk if they allowed a claim to succeed.  It was designed as a ‘mark of shame’.  Perhaps the one achievement resulting from her whistle-blowing was that this loathsome practice no longer exists.  One of the problems she said was people were recruited from university with no other experience of life and were put on the front line.  She said there was need for a Macpherson style Report into the Agency.  This was the 1999 report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence which shone light on race relations in the UK and coined the phrase ‘institutional racism’.

Juxtaposing testimonies of people who have experienced terrible and traumatic events in their lives including rape and torture and who may have lost all their worldly goods in the process of escaping, with the attitude of our Border Agency was decidedly shaming.  There is no denying that some people claiming asylum are far from deserving cases and may even people who have perpetrated terrible actions on others.  So there is need for rigorous scrutiny of claims.  This is different from treating all such people in the way they do.  Basic rights are not allowed during interviews of immigrants who may be vulnerable and traumatized.

This was an excellent performance and we hope to invite the group back again in the future.

If you live in the Salisbury area and you would like to join us you would be very welcome.  It is free to join.  The best thing is to come along to an event such as this and make yourself known.  Keep an eye on this site or on Twitter or Facebook if you prefer (salisburyai)



NCA admits not seeking Ministerial consent before supplying information to the Thai police

In 2014 there two British backpackers, Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, were murdered on a beach in Thailand and for days the press was full of the story.  It was reported at the time that the Thai police were extremely slow to react and allowed crucial evidence to be lost and for likely suspects to escape.  It was further alleged that the Thai authorities were reluctant to take the matter sufficiently seriously because of the possible damage to their tourist trade.

Three years later the case has again hit the headlines as it now appears that the National Crime Agency has been accused of supplying information to the Thai Police.  The significance is that two Burmese individuals, Zaw Lin and Wai Pho have been convicted of the murders and are likely to face execution by lethal injection.  The High Court in the UK found against the NCA for providing information which contributed to the likelihood of execution.  The UK government opposes capital punishment and there are strict rules governing the provision of information in these cases.  Ministerial authority is needed and in this case the NCA did not get this.

Doubts have been raised about the convictions as there is evidence of corruption, incompetence and the use of fabricated evidence used to secure a conviction.  The use of torture is also alleged.

A spokesman for Reprieve said:

It is bad enough that the National Crime Agency secretly handed over evidence to help secure death sentences in a country known for unfair trials and torture.  But they now admit they did this illegally, without any proper thought that their actions could contribute to a grave miscarriage of justice with two men now facing execution.  UK cooperation with foreign police and security forces should be open and transparent.  Government agencies shouldn’t have to be dragged through the courts for the public to know what is being done with their money.

Sources: The News; Reprieve; The Guardian; Press Association

If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in campaigning on human rights issues we would be glad to welcome.  It is free to join the local group.  Keep and eye on this site, on Twitter  or Facebook for events and come along and make yourself known.


The killing goes on

The news yesterday that the Metropolitan Police are looking into evidence of war crimes by the Saudis in the Yemen is encouraging.  It comes at a time when the prime minister, Theresa May is touring the middle East, including Saudi Arabia, in an effort to promote trade.  She is not alone as Liam Fox is in the Philippines with president Duterte and Mr Hammond is in India.   Mr Fox has received widespread condemnation having spoken of this country’s ‘shared values’ with a regime which has extra-judicially killed around 7,000 of its citizens as part of a war on drugs.

There has been a lot happening this week with the awful news of possible use of Sarin nerve agent in Syria allegedly by the Syrian government.

Starting with Yemen: the British government has authorised £3.2bn or arms sales to the Saudis a fair proportion of which have been used to bomb schools, hospitals and wedding ceremonies in Yemen.  The result has been a humanitarian disaster with nearly 10,000 killed and a million displaced.  RAF personnel are involved in the control room of the coalition although their direct involvement in the bombing is denied.  The Campaign Against the Arms Trade is currently pursuing a case against the government.

One would think that as we are selling arms to the Saudis to enable to continue the carnage in Yemen, that our politicians would be a circumspect in criticising others.  Yet both the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Theresa May were voluble in criticising Bashar Al-Assad for the terrible events in Syria seemingly oblivious to our own activities in Yemen.

Teresa May

The activities of the prime minister, the foreign secretary and the secretary for international trade have all been widely criticised by a wide range of commentators and organisations.  It is becoming increasingly clear that to promote the idea of a ‘Global Britain’ we are going to have to deal with a wide range of unsavoury regimes.  This means that any vestige of an ‘ethical foreign policy’ is long dead.  The emphasis is now on business with any country and few questions are asked about their human rights.

To take Saudi as an example.  In addition to its activities in Yemen, it is an autocratic regime, torture is routine, its treatment of minorities and women is deplorable and it executes people in public after highly dubious trials.  But to our government none of this matters and getting them to buy more arms and list their oil company, Aramco, on the London Stock Exchange are the real prizes.

These activities go to the heart of what we are as a nation.  The European Union, for all its faults and shortcomings, is a union of countries which believe in the rule of law, democracy and liberal values.  We want to leave this union and no sooner have we sent in the letter triggering our departure, than four of our senior politicians dash off to dubious regimes grubbing around for any deal they can get.  It is deeply shaming and added to which, they want to come out of the European Convention of Human Rights, the convention we were so instrumental in setting up.

It has quickly become clear that securing trade deals is now paramount, with no questions asked.  In defence of our turning a blind eye to the Saudi regime’s lack of human rights, the prime minister says the state is crucial in saving British lives by providing valuable intelligence information, an assertion impossible to prove and extremely convenient.  The abandonment of our British values is much lamented.  Paradoxically, one of the driving forces for leaving the EU was the desire to reassert British values.  The decision to leave seems to mean that we shall have to dump them quickly to enable us to trade with a range of disreputable regimes.

Economically it makes little sense as the amount of trade with these regimes is tiny in comparison to the EU.  From the moral point of view, it lowers our standing in the world and reduces our influence.  It sets a poor example to other countries wishing to promote their arms sales.

We would welcome anyone in the Salisbury area wishing to join us in our campaigns for better human rights.  The best thing is to come to one of our events and make yourself known.  Look on this site, on Twitter or Facebook for details of events.  We look forward to meeting you.

Letter in the Observer (19 February) from a group of lawyers stressing the importance of ECHR

Theresa May has repeatedly stated her feelings that Britain would be better served by leaving the European convention on human rights than it would leaving the European Union.  As we enter Brexit negotiations, there is now every possibility that both these scenarios could easily come to pass.  The ECHR has been the bedrock of peace in Europe since the Second World War and was instrumental in the remarkable growth of democracy in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  It is no coincidence that the one state that is not part of the convention, Belarus, is known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”.  The withdrawal of Britain from the EU and the ECHR in succession could embolden populist leaders in countries such as Hungary and Poland to abandon domestic and international commitments to human rights.

We face the threat of a human rights crisis with the UK trading away protections against torture for grubby trade deals with foreign tyrants.  We are calling for the EU to make Britain’s membership of the ECHR a legally binding requirement for any future free trade deal with the UK.  The rule of law and human rights are non-negotiable when new countries join the EU; they should be non-negotiable when countries leave and desire a free trade deal.

As parliament scrutinises the bill on withdrawing from the EU and further legislation on Brexit, MPs, peers and the EU itself must make sure that Britain’s membership of the ECHR is a requirement of any future trade deal with the EU.

Signed Sashy Nathan, Baroness Kennedy QC, Lord Lester QC, Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Alex Bailin QC, Alex Grigg, Ali Naseem Bajwa QC, Alistair Polson, Amos Waldman, Anya Lewis, Ben Cooper

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Celia Graves, David Jones, Dr Leslie Thomas QC, Grainne Mellon, Top of Form

Greg Ó Ceallaigh, Harriet Johnson, Helen Foot, James Wood, Jelia Sane, John Halford

Jules Carey, Keir Monteith, Louise Hooper, Malcolm Hawkes, Mark Stephens CBE, Navita Atreya, Nerida Harford-Bell, Paramjit Ahluwalia, Patrick O’Connor QC, Phil Haywood

Prof. Fergal Davis, Prof. Francesca Klug OBE, Professor Steve Peers, Ravi Naik, Sadat Sayeed, Sally Ireland, Sarah Forster, Sean Horstead, Sir Paul Jenkins KCB QC, Stephen Lue

We should add that our MP Mr John Glen, is in favour of this policy.

The prospects for human rights in 2017 look grim

Their are many reasons to be pessimistic about human rights in the year ahead.  The election of Theresa May and Donald Trump are both bad omens and the rise in importance of China and Russia is also a bad sign.  On almost every front, the post-war ideal of steady improvement in both democracy and human rights around the world now seems under assault.  In the UK, the majority of the media keep up a relentless attack on human rights painting them as a threat to justice and social order.  It is hard to believe that we are now debating the merits or otherwise of torture following President Trump’s remarks this week.  How have we come to this?

Post war

Graphic: Linkedin

Perhaps the most important factor, and one difficult to discern, is the recent decline in optimism which was visible following WWII.  That war and the terrible events which took place with the murder of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals, led the world to say ‘never again’ and led to the Universal  Convention on Human Rights.  This led in time to the European Convention on Human Rights a convention strongly driven by Winston Churchill.  There was a feeling in the years that followed, with such conventions and other subsequent treaties, that the world was on an improving path and the horrors of the Second World War would not be repeated.  Improvements included a steady reduction in the number of countries using the death penalty.  The cold war eventually came to an end.  On the other hand, the use of torture around the world is still widespread with 141 countries still practising it according to Amnesty and this is specifically banned by the Universal Convention.

It was not of course plain sailing and we now realise that Chairman Mao murdered many millions of Chinese and there have been other monsters such a Pol Pot.  Nevertheless, there was this feeling that things were steadily improving and the UN provided a forum for nations to settle disputes short of going to war.  There was an assumption of western values of fairness, justice, free speech and the rule of law were becoming the norm.

Following Syria it is clear that this is no longer the case.  Human rights in China are poor in the extreme.  Thousands are executed and torture is routine.  There is no free press and it is a one party state.  Things are also deteriorating in Russia under President Putin.  Russia’s ‘victory’ in Syria has changed the dynamic.


Last year, we celebrated the 800 years since the signing* of Magna Carta.  This was an attempt by the barons of the day to wrest some powers from the king.  It would be unwise to summarise British history in a paragraph, but an element of our history has been a steady attempt – sometimes peaceful, sometimes not – to secure rights for ordinary people against whoever was the elite or in power at the time.  It might be landowners or it might be factory owners for example.  They had the wealth and the power and were extremely reluctant to release any of it to the benefit of those at the bottom of the social order.  The lives of farm workers and those in factories was grim indeed and attempts to form unions was fiercely resisted.  The legal system did little to ameliorate the plight of the powerless in society.

The modern day Human Rights Act incorporated the ECHR into British law and meant that every citizen could defend his or her rights in the courts and that public organisations had to treat everyone with fairness, dignity and respect.

But we would argue that the fundamental thing the act did was to spell out what those rights are and it represented a major shift from rights being grudgingly given to the people to them being theirs as of right.  As Gearty expresses it in his book On Fantasy Island;

The Human Rights Act has a enables a range of individuals to secure legal remedies that in pre-act days would never have been achieved, perhaps even contemplated.  […] it has been particularly valuable for those whose grip on society is fragile, whose hold on their lives is precarious, whose disadvantage has robbed them of means of adequate engagement with adversity. (Conor Gearty, OUP, 2016, p131)

[…] it is clear that the human rights act is a documents that is profoundly subversive of the partisan national interest .  To put it mildly some people – often quite powerful people – do not like this.  (op cit, p8)

It is this shift of power that is so deeply resented and ‘some people,’ which includes some politicians, have grown to dislike the loss of power and assumed patronage that they had become used to.  The virtual ending of legal aid in the UK was a symptom of this desire to remove the ability of ordinary people to achieve redress or argue for their rights.

Picture: Left Foot Forward

Others of the ‘some people’ include chunks of the media.  The HRA created a right of privacy and this represented a huge problem for the ‘kiss and tell’ end of the media world.  These stories depended on substantial infringements of privacy, by phone hacking, not to expose corruption, but to find intimate details of politicians, celebrities and people in the public eye.  Owners of newspapers – all of whom live overseas – were exempt from this scrutiny and intrusion of course.

The result of this assault on their business models is of great concern to them and this is most probably the main reason why they have produced relentless series of negative stories about Europe and the HRA.  Rupert Murdoch was famously quoted in the Evening Standard as saying:

I [Stephen Hilton] once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. ‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.

It must also be why there are few political champions for the Act or the ECHR.  Any politician speaking up for it risks at best being ignored or at worst, having his or her private life raked over for something with which to denigrate them.  There is instead an almost unseemly rush to join in the claims to ‘bring sovereignty back’ or to take control of our laws.


Graphic: Huffington Post

A real worry has to be Brexit.  The plan is to seek trade deals around the world sufficient to counter the effects of losing our access to the European market.  This is likely to be tough as we will no doubt soon learn from the USA.  To achieve these trade deals it is likely that our insistence on human rights will be weakened or even jettisoned altogether.  As we have noted in many previous blogs concerning Saudi and Yemen, our principal interest there has been in selling them weapons.  Despite considerable and irrefutable evidence of infringements of international humanitarian treaties, selling weapons is the primary aim of policy.

Until very recently, ministers have not needed to worry too much about the atrocities in Yemen.  Most attention was on Syria.  We did not even know British personnel were involved until it was blurted out by a Saudi prince.  In the last few months however, there have been two debates in the Commons and press interest is now at a slightly higher level.  The two debates revealed ministers more interested in promoting arms sales because of the economy and the jobs created, rather than in promoting human rights.

Public reaction

Perhaps the greatest worry of all however is the attitude of the public at large.  How concerned are they about human rights issues?  There seems little evidence that they are.  The Investigatory Powers Bill – referred to as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – passed easily through parliament with little public outcry.  Kate Allen, director of Amnesty said:

The UK is going in the wrong direction on rights, protections and fairness.  Public safety is paramount but not at the cost of civil liberties.  [Said in connection to the Snooper’s Charter]

It is hardly surprising when the major part of our media has carried out a sustained campaign against all things European leading, some might argue, to the decision to leave it.  It is truly ironic that for many years the Daily Mail has carried out a campaign against what it calls ‘Frankenstein Foods’.  The introduction of genetically modified foods has been seriously restricted by the European Union.  The trade deal with USA is likely to involve the import of GM foods of varying kinds as ministers will be unwilling or unable to resist the pressure if we want to continue to export to them.

The general tone of press coverage has been that we do not need the act.  It’s only of benefit to terrorists and assorted criminals who escape justice because of it (they argue).  The benefits of the act to ordinary people are rarely mentioned and often one can scour a story for any mention it where it was used.

Putting all these elements together, the sense that the steady progress of western values has come to an end, a hostile media keen to bad mouth human rights and to denigrate the Human Rights Act, the Conservative government’s prolonged threat to abolish it, the decision to leave the EU needing a concerted effort to secure trade deals at any cost, and many of the public who are not concerned about such matters, means that the prospect for human rights does not look promising.

* in fact the sealing

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook – @salisburyai