Amnesty webinar: Bill of Rights


Amnesty webinar on the suspended Bill of Rights

21 September 2022

Amnesty ran a webinar on the Bill of Rights on 21st September having planned it when the bill was still a real option on the political calendar. Following the election of Liz Truss as the new prime minister, the bill was dropped. A spokesman said it was ‘unlikely to progress in its current form’.

The webinar was quick to point out that this is probably only a temporary suspension: a new bill was likely to see the light of day at some time in the future. The Conservative party has been hostile to the Human Rights Act for some time and abolishing it was a promise in its last manifesto. One of the problems with the bill one of the speakers noted, was it was rushed following the Rwanda decision by the European Court. It has been described as a ‘mess’ by several critics. One point which came through strongly was that the intention to do something in the way of a new bill if only to assuage the anti-European sentiment by a section of the Conservative party.

Another key element the webinar noted were attitudes to immigration and its related problem, deportation. This has posed severe problems for the government most particularly with people crossing the Channel in small boats the numbers of which have reached record levels. The government has felt itself vulnerable both from those coming in and its inability to deport those who make it to our shores. The desire for more draconian action, which brings us into conflict with the European Court, has been a key driver behind the proposed bill of rights.

Liz Truss has suggested that we may leave the Court which was described as ‘seismic’ in the webinar. The only two countries to leave the jurisdiction have been Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and Greece for its coup. For Britain to leave on the pretext of immigration problems was described as ‘extraordinary’.

A key figure is Dominic Raab MP who as Justice Secretary introduced the bill. Raab is the author of a book called The Assault on Liberty (Harper Collins, 2009) in which he sets out his objections to what is called the ‘rights culture’. A key passage gives an insight into his thinking:

On a daily basis, we read about the steady stream of human rights rulings undermining law enforcement, criminal justice and national security. Common sense turned on its head – warped the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and magnified by Labour’s feckless Human Rights Act – allows human rights to be wielded to protect and compensate serious criminals rather than their victims.

The Assault on Liberty, ibid

There is also the familiar canard of the police unable to rescue a child drowning in a pond because of a health and safety culture. The book provides a useful background to his thinking and possibly, other of his colleagues. The book goes on to argue that the human rights culture is fundamentally at odds with the British notion of liberty. The notion of liberty, which spawns ideas of deregulation, is an important backdrop to the proposed new legislation. The combination of a ‘rights culture’ and an alleged loss of liberty is one of the causes of our decline as a nation.

The government may be tempted to introduce a new immigration bill to get round the Rwanda problem. It is also subject to a constant demand to limit rights which are seen as economically damaging. Although the bill of rights is suspended, the danger is not over. Politicians such as Suella Braverman and Liz Truss are in important positions are firmly wedded to the notion of a reduction in our rights.

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.

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