Archive for the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ Category


Conor Gearty discusses this question in the European Human Rights Law Review

Readers of this site will be familiar with Mr Gearty as we reviewed his book On Fantasy Island a few years ago.  In this article*, Mr Gearty discusses the current state of human rights.

Anyone looking at the current state may conclude that little has improved since the end of the war.  The atrocities committed during the war, most notably the holocaust, although millions also died in Soviet Russia during the Stalin era, led to the formation of the UN and ultimately the signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  There was a strong hope at the time of ‘never again’.

Currently, we have terrible events in Myanmar with the killing and driving out of Rohingyas.  Syria has seen massive destruction and civil war and the use of chemical weapons.  The Uighur people in China are being persecuted for their faith and about one million are being forcibly ‘re-educated’.  We have seen genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda.  The treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis is disgraceful.  All these and many more are carried on with little sign of realistic intervention by the UN.  It is as though the Declaration was never agreed all those years ago.

Reasons

Conor Gearty discusses some of the reasons for this decline in human rights around the world.  His first argument is that the responsibility was placed on governments.  It was no doubt assumed at the time that governments could be relied on to be the police so to speak.  Experience has shown that it is governments which are the problem and who are all too keen to deny the human rights of their citizens.  Several of the Gulf states are prime examples of denial of basic liberties and the rule of law.  Abuses and the use of torture are routine.

The problem with the reliance on states is the UN principle of non-interference in the affairs of states.  So acting through them, but being inhibited from interfering with them, means the UN is largely neutered when it wants to take action.  He also makes the point that non-state actors are not controlled by human rights considerations.  He instances the World Bank and IMF which both impose conditions on state’s finances which in turn can leave them to handle the human rights consequences.

We can add to this the rise in corporate power.  There are many corporate actors now which are bigger than many of the states they operate in.  The large resource companies and banks are able to act with impunity in many countries.  They can extract wealth corruptly with ease and deny the host country the proceeds.  The UK is a major centre for this corruption and Transparency International has published a number of reports giving the details.  Recently, there has been a series of revelations concerning Isabel dos Santos alleged looting of Angola.  She was helped in this activity – which involved complex entities and transactions in several countries – by one of the UK’s big four accountancy firms PwC.  It is difficult for countries stricken by this plunder of wealth to improve the well being and human rights of its citizens while vast sums are stolen from them.  But human rights only appear in the background and the corporate and City firms are not a direct part of the UN Declaration.

Austerity is something which has hit the poorest the hardest.  Gearty argues that this has led some to argue that human rights are no longer ‘fit for purpose’.  Many of these factors are economic in nature and seem outside the remit of human rights laws – at least directly.

9/11

Another factor which has acted against the interests of human rights he argues and left many organisations ‘stuck of the wrong’ side were the attacks on the Twin Towers and elsewhere in America by al Qaeda.  America launched its ‘war on terror’ and a whole series of human rights infringements followed.  The development of black sites and Guantanamo Bay enabled the US to hold large numbers of people incommunicado and without due process and to institute regimes of torture [warning: the pictures are distressing].  This left many human rights organisations seemingly defending the rights of terrorists.  Terrorism has never been defined he argues.  Guantanamo Bay is still a blight on the politics of the USA: out of the 780 held there and subjected to harsh treatment over several years, 731 were released without trial (source: Human Rights Watch).

Additionally, in the UK, we have seen a concerted press campaign to argue that human rights are being used to defend criminals, terrorists and ‘citizens of nowhere’ as he terms them.  They are not for ordinary people but for the ‘unworthy’ is the message increasingly portrayed.

This has enabled the current Conservative government to argue for the Human Rights Act to be abolished although a number of years have passed since David Cameron first promised to do so.  It has never been clear what it is that the Conservatives want repealed or removed from the HRA, a question we asked the Salisbury MP Mr John Glen but without a clear answer.  This year (2020) we may get to find out.

There is clear evidence that commercial and trading considerations outweigh human rights.  This is another example of states – who should be the guardians – are in fact cheerleaders for arms firms.  We have highlighted on this site the UK’s role in selling arms to the Saudi government to carry out its hideous destruction of Yemen.  The government also supports the annual DSEI arms fair and goes to great pains to exclude human rights representatives from attending.  There is little doubt that to ensure the success of post Brexit Britain, little regard will be given to human rights in the rush to secure trade agreements around the world.  In our last post, we highlighted a Salisbury firm which is alleged to sell spyware equipment to enable regimes with poor human rights records to penetrate the phones, emails and computers of those it does not like.

Conclusions

The basic issue is that with governments the custodian of human rights, the protection of basic rights would always be on shaky ground if governments are themselves not committed to upholding them.  Nowhere is this more relevant than with the plight of refugees: it being governments which place them in a perilous position in the first place and then other governments which close their borders and fail to help them.

Politicians are more concerned with securing and holding on to power that on maintaining the rights of its citizens.  The right wing press and some politicians have portrayed these rights as somehow the preserve of criminals, terrorists and the like who use them to escape justice.  So abolishing the act cannot come soon enough for them.

Another crucial factor is the increasing pressure of external factors which impinge on people’s rights.  These are the drivers and it is rights which suffer at the end.  Responses to these pressures have led several leaders to act in denial of human rights.

New threats, such as inequality, climate change, and the replacement of manual work by AI and machines, mean those who fear that the old social contract is no longer in their interests are making their voices heard.  They say, “these are our jobs”, “this is our land”, “our community has certain shared values”, and “people like us are the only real citizens”.  These sentiments, echoing around the presidency of Donald Trump or during Brexit, are in direct opposition to human rights.

States don’t much like rights – they’re an annoyance or an embarrassment.  The survival, and flourishing, of human rights requires people, the citizenry, the populace, to say that these rights are important and to demand that their governments observe them.  And by that same logic, the people can sink them, too. In the end it is us, we – however we define that problematic term – who will make the difference between the failure or success of human rights, whatever the external and internal threats we face.  The Conversation, October 23 2018

If we accept that a reliance on governments to be the custodian of our rights, then their future is unlikely to be positive.  As pressures build, whether from economic, climate or AI, then the rights of its citizens will be the first to go.  These arguments point to viewing human rights in a more nuanced way.  Rights are now influenced by a range of factors beyond straightforward considerations of what the state and judiciary do.  The City of London for example, plays a key role internationally in helping move vast quantities of wealth out of the reach of governments thus making improving the living standards of its citizens harder if not impossible for them to achieve.

The central problem seems that by placing the protection of human rights entirely in a legal setting, it risks becoming bound up in a too narrow frame of reference.  There needs to be a shift in thinking away from the state and the law and towards more ethical considerations.  We need to move towards a society structured around the well-being of individuals not one where people have to fit in with the demands of the state.  Since the state only has partial power in any particular country, citizens are at the mercy of non-state organisations, international companies, the climate, and ever changing technology.  Recent events in China, show that even with the enormous power of the communist party, it became the victim of a virus.  The sum of these forces frequently (nearly always in fact) act against the rights and well-being and rights of its citizens.

 

*Is the Human Rights Era Drawing to a Close?  European Human Rights Law Review, Issue 5, 2017

 

 

 

 


UN speech by the Commissioner for Human Rights well worth a read

It is perhaps a sign of the times that Theresa May, the UK prime minister, should find herself quoted in the opening paragraph of a speech by the UN Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.  Not in a flattering way but quoting her remarks that human rights should be overturned if the ‘got in the way’ of the fight against terrorism.  These remarks were made during the election campaign which did not go the way intended by Mrs May.  They followed a terrorist attack in London.

Whatever the background, Al Hussein thinks the remarks were ‘highly regrettable’ and are a gift to the many authoritarian

Al Hussein, UN. Pic: Times of Israel

governments around the world.  It seems that any idea that the UK is some kind of a beacon for civilised behaviour in an increasingly troubled world has all but gone.  The desire to promote arms now matters more than the victims of their use for example in Yemen.  Despite the appalling behaviour of the Chinese government, most recently with the death of Liu Xiaobo, our response is the minimum necessary: we are more interested in trade than decent behaviour.

It is disappointing to see the prime minister of the UK being mentioned in this way because whatever her faults, there is no comparison between the behaviour of her government and that say, of Russia, where journalists and opposition politicians are gunned down and which has been described as a mafia state.  The activities of governments in the Gulf also leave a great deal to be desired.  There are many other countries in the world where autocratic regimes mistreat their citizens, use torture routinely, violently put down peaceful protests and deny freedom of expression.

The remarks were perhaps made more in sorrow reflecting the fact that it was the UK government after the war which was one of those who were active in promoting the role of international law and human rights.  Today, Al Hussein notes in his speech, for some politicians see human rights as an ‘irritating check on expediency.’  Some are indifferent to the effects of austerity on their own citizens.

A question he asks are ‘what rights does the prime minister mean?’ a question we asked of our Salisbury MP Mr Glen.  It is seldom if ever clear what it is they want to see done away with.  This might arise because they are responding to tabloid media pressure which maintains an unceasing campaign against the European Court, the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.  A recent example is from the Daily Mail claiming that the Act does help terrorists.  Other newspapers run similar stories presenting a drip, drip of negative material against the act.  Throw in a hatred of anything European and it is small wonder politicians follow the line.  As Al Hussein expresses it:

So why did Prime Minister May said this?  At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop! This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although some members of the government seek to reduce the influence of human rights in our society, not all do and the organisation Bright Blue, which describes itself as an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism, has recently published a report arguing that the Conservatives should make Britain the ‘home of human rights.’  Clearly some fundamental attitudes will have to change if that ambition is to be realised.  This report is also well worth a read.

Unless countries like Britain and the USA are willing to provide moral leadership then a further deterioration in human rights around the world is to be expected.

 

 


Independent judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture needed
No one should be subject to torture

Article 5: No one should be subject to torture. Image from the tapestry

Amnesty International believes that there is credible evidence that the UK has been involved in grave human rights violations perpetrated against people held overseas by other authorities since the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001.

The UN Convention Against Torture states that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture’.  It also states there should be a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there is reasonable ground to believe an act of torture has been committed.

The Human Rights Act 1998 also prohibits torture under any circumstances, and that obligation implicitly requires a prompt independent investigation of credible allegations – the more so when there appears to be a ‘systemic’ problem.   The existence of evidence requires the establishment of an independent, impartial and thorough judge-led inquiry, now.  Credible allegations implicate the UK in torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detentions and renditions.  Over the years, Amnesty International and others have documented cases of the UK’s involvement in these abuses, including:

  • UK personnel were present at interrogations of detainees held unlawfully overseas in circumstances in which the UK knew, or ought to have known, that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of being tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful and even that they participated in such interrogations  
  • UK personnel provided information (e.g. telegrams sent by UK intelligence personnel to intelligence services of other countries) that led the USA and other countries to apprehend and detain individuals when the UK knew or ought to have known that these people would then be at risk of torture and/or unlawful detention    
  • The UK was involved in the US-led programme of renditions and secret detentions through, for example, the use of UK territory (e.g. Diego Garcia) and/or airspace    
  • UK personnel forwarded questions to be put to individuals detained by other countries in circumstances in which the UK knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of being tortured and/or whose detention was unlawful 
  • The UK systematically received information extracted from people detained overseas in circumstances in which it knew or ought to have known that the detainees concerned had been or were at risk of torture and/or whose detention was unlawful.

Testimony
A number of individuals – including former Guantánamo Bay detainees – have spoken publicly about UK involvement in their mistreatment.  Shaker Aamer, who was released from Guantánamo in October 2015, after nearly 14 years without charge or trial, has said for example that a UK official was in the room when his head was beaten against a wall.

Binyam Mohamed

Binyam Mohamed

In 2008 the High Court confirmed that the UK, through its security service MI5, had facilitated the interrogation of Binyam Mohamed in the knowledge that his initial detention in Pakistan was unlawful. Then, during a two-year period, the UK continued to facilitate interviews conducted on behalf of the US authorities when it must have realised that Binyam Mohamed was being held unlawfully by a third country and knew or ought to have known that there was a real risk that he was being tortured.

Proper investigation needed

stop torture

Image: Amnesty Paris

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has now been given the task of investigating allegations of UK complicity in torture, but Amnesty International, along with many other anti-torture organisations including the UN, believes that the ISC is wholly unsuited to the task in hand.  The structural limitations of the ISC, particularly its lack of power and independence from government, means that any investigation the ISC conducts is unlikely to get to the truth, and cannot satisfy the UK’s human rights obligations. The ISC is not a traditional Parliamentary committee, even though it is made up of parliamentarians.  Ministers ultimately decide what evidence the Committee can see, with the Prime Minister controlling what it can publish and even who can be a member. Crucially, the government retains the right to withhold information considered to be “sensitive” or on grounds of national security from the ISC.  The definition of what constitutes sensitive information is extremely broad and notably includes information provided by a foreign intelligence agency which can object to further disclosure of that information.  Any Secretary of State can determine material is sensitive and in the interests of national security should not be disclosed to the ISC.

Poor record
The ISC has a poor record in holding the intelligence services to account. In 2007, three years after the rendition of the Libyan families, the ISC produced a report which said that there was “no evidence that the UK Agencies were complicit in any “Extraordinary Rendition” operations.”

Historical context
In July 2010, the Prime Minister promised to establish an independent inquiry into allegations of UK involvement in torture and other human rights violations with respect to individuals detained abroad in the context of counter-terrorism operations.  At the time, David Cameron specifically ruled out the possibility of the ISC carrying out the investigation, recognising that an inquiry led by a judge who is “fully independent of Parliament, party and Government” was required “to get to the bottom of the case”.

In 2011 the Detainee Inquiry was established, led by the retired judge Sir Peter Gibson.  Amnesty International and a number of other organisations felt that the Detainee Inquiry fell short of the UK’s international human rights obligations and domestic obligations under the Human Rights Act to fully and independently investigate allegations of UK involvement in torture and other ill-treatment.  Of most concern was that the government retained final say on what material could be disclosed to the public and that the protocol did not provide for an independent mechanism to decide on disclosure of national security material.

In January 2012 the Detainee Inquiry was suspended, after Scotland Yard announced a criminal investigation into joint UK/Libyan operations which had resulted in the rendition of Libyan opposition figures. Those investigations are ongoing.

In December 2013 the Detainee Inquiry interim report was published.  It highlighted that the evidence it had received indicated that UK agents were aware of abuse of some detainees by other governments and that the UK government may have been involved in rendition.  It outlined 27 separate issues that should be subjected to further investigation. Amnesty and others expected this to be followed by a proper full judge led inquiry.

Dominic Grieve QC MP

Dominic Grieve QC MP

Instead, on 19 December 2013, it was announced that the ISC had been tasked with examining allegations of UK complicity in torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held overseas, which had previously been the subject of the Detainee Inquiry.  In September 2015 Dominic Grieve was appointed as the new Chair of the ISC.  There is as yet no news on its work in this area.


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The last set of pictures of the panels on the tapestry currently in the entrance to the Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral.  Each panel represents an article from the Universal Declaration of Human RightsVideo

Art 26

Article 26: Everyone has the right to an education, elementary schools should be free and compulsory.  Contributed from the Southampton City group.

 

 

 

 

Art 27Article 27: Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community.  Team effort this by Fay, Janet, Sharon, Sue and Gretel, members of the Romsey group.

 

 

 

 

Art 28Article 28Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set out here can be fully respected.  The third panel by our Regional Representative, Caroline Butler.

 

 

 

 

Art 29Article 29: Everyone has duties to the community.  This is the second panel in the tapestry contributed by a refugee group, this time GARAS, the Gloucester Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.  GARAS offers support to those seeking asylum in Gloucestershire; welcoming them when they arrive; advocating for them in their daily struggles; supporting them if they face being sent back, as well as helping them adjust to their long term future if they are recognised as refugees.

 

Art 30Article 30: No one has the right to act in such a way as to destroy the rights and freedoms set in in this declaration.  The fourth panel from the Southampton City group.

 

 

 

 

End

 

 


Nearly there: this is the fifth batch of detailed pictures of the tapestry now in the entrance to the Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral.  Previous blogs have shown the first twenty panels.  Any errors of if you want to add some detail, please get in touch and we shall be happy to oblige.

Art 21Article 21: Everyone has the right to take part in the government off their country.  Voting should be regular and secret, and all votes should have equal value.  Another panel from the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch group.

 

 

 

 

Art 22Article 22: Everyone as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.  This panel made by the West Wilts group.

 

 

 

 

Art 23Article 23: Everyone has the right to work and those doing the same work should get equal pay.  Everyone has the right to form and join a trade union.  A second panel from the West Wilts group.

 

 

 

 

Art 24Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure including reasonable working hours and paid holiday.  A third panel from the Frome group, this time by Fiona and Jeanne.

 

 

 

 

Art 25Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing.  People should be helped if they cannot earn a living.  A third panel from the Bristol group.

 

 

 


This is the fourth batch of pictures of the tapestry which is in the entrance lobby to the Chapter House in Salisbury Cathedral.

Art 16Article 16: Men and women have the right to marry and found a family.  No on should be forced to marry.  This panel by Carol Corke on behalf of the Isle of Wight group.

 

 

 

 

Art 17Article 17: Everyone has the right to own property.  This panel is also by the Isle of Wight group, this time made by Sue Logan.

 

 

 

 

Art 18Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  And this panel is from our very own Salisbury group made by Fiona Donovan.

 

 

 

 

Art 19Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  This includes sharing ideas with people from other countries.  Another panel from the Mid Gloucester group, this time by June Styles.

 

 

 

 

Art 20Article 20: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.  This panel was made not by an Amnesty group but by the Harbour Project in Swindon.

The Harbour Project welcomes and supports refugees and asylum seekers in Swindon.  To those who’ve risked their lives, families and homes fleeing war and persecution, they provide friendship and hope for a future.   They have been working tirelessly since the Kosovo crisis in 2000.  Today, they are aiding people from across the world.


This is the third set of detailed pictures from the tapestry currently on display at Salisbury Cathedral at the entrance to the Chapter House where a copy of Magna Carta is displayed.  It illustrates the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  A picture of the whole thing is on an earlier blog with a short video.

 

Art 11Article 11: Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.  This panel prepared by Rona Keene of the Bristol group.

 

 

 

 

Art 12Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor attacks upon their honour and reputation.  Another panel by Cari a member of the Frome group.

 

 

 

 

Art 13Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement.  Prepared by the Farringdon group.

 

 

 

 

 

Art 14Article 14: Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.  People lose this right if they do not respect what is written here.  Another panel from the Southampton City group.

 

 

 

 

Art 15Article 15: Everyone has the right to a nationality.  Another panel from the Bristol group this time prepared by Sarah Heath.

 

 

 

 

Any errors or if you want to add a name please let us know .

 


This is the second batch of detailed pictures from the tapestry.  See a previous blog showing the full thing in all its glory and also a short video clip.

Art 6Article 6 Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.  This panel contributed by the Southampton group.

 

 

 

 

Art 7Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.  Made by Caroline Butler on behalf of the Cheltenham and Gloucester group.

 

 

 

 

Art 8Article 8Everyone has the right to legal help when rights granted by a country to its citizens are not respected.  Rachel Berry made this on behalf of the mid-Gloucester group.  She also did No: 5.

 

 

 

 

Art 9Article 9No one should be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.  Made by Cari and Judy, members of the Frome group.

 

 

 

 

Art 10Article 10Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.  Made by Caroline Butler, the Regional Representative, for the groups in the south.

 

 

 

 

As before, if there are errors or anyone wants to add something, please get in touch or send a comment through this site.

 


In a previous blog we showed the now complete tapestry which is on display, with kind permission of the Cathedral Authorities, outside the Chapter House where one of the extant copies of Magna Carta is displayed.  The tapestry illustrates the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified in December 1948 in Paris.  In this, and subsequent blogs, we will be showing detailed pictures of the panels with appropriate attribution to their creators.  We will be showing them in batches of five.  Overall credit must go to Caroline Butler, the South Region Representative (AI), whose idea this was and who worked hard to bring this tapestry to its successful conclusion.

Most reading this will not be in the Salisbury area and thus may not be able to see it, but it has generated a lot of interest from visitors to the Magna Carta.  We hope in due course that it will go on to be displayed elsewhere in the south region.

Article 1This is Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  Prepared by Liz James-Froud on behalf of the Bath Group.

 

 

 

 

Artilcle 2Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, belief, race or origin.  Prepared by Liza Lishman a member of the Swindon and Marlborough group.

 

 

 

 

Article 3 3Article 3: Everybody has the right to life, liberty and security of person.  This panel prepared by someone from the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch group.

 

 

 

 

Art 4Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.  Dot Atkins of the Isle of Wight group.

 

 

 

 

 

Art 5Article 5: No one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  This panel prepared by Rachel Berry or the Mid Gloucester group.

 

 

 

 

If there are any corrections or additions, please get in touch.  The next set of panels will be posted up soon.