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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Human Rights - two bad words?

It is no great surprise that the Human Rights Act has been a big topic of discussion as the Conservative Party Conference begins in Manchester. Home Secretary Teresa May has called for it to be scrapped because it interferes with what they want to do.

She was supported by her leader David Cameron who told BBCs Andrew Marr that if his party was in government alone he would abolish the HRA.

Those two words seem to mean very different things depending on the context.

So if we are talking about countries that we dislike Human Rights are a good thing. So when Libya was removed from the UN Human Rights Council William Hague said - "I strongly welcome the UN General Assembly's resolution to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council.” And continued - "Suspension from the Council puts yet more pressure on the Libyan regime to listen to the clear message of the international community; crimes will not go unpunished and will not be forgotten; there will be a day of reckoning and the reach of international justice is long."

Mr Hague has also called on the UN to take a tough line with Iran over Human Rights

So don’t mess with Human Rights – unless they get in the way of our own government.

The same two words become swear words when applied to domestic rights as far as the government and right wing press are concerned.

After the August riots the PM said that he had the HRA in his sights. The rhetoric continues. It is hard to believe that we are talking about the same thing here. But we are.

These are the basic rights developed after WW2 by Britain and the USA. Eleanor Roosevelt said that her work on the Universal Declaration was her greatest achievement. The European Convention on Human Rights has been with us since the 1950s and we have been signatories for over 60 years. The rights enshrined in these historical agreements are those that we all take for granted including – Right to life, rights not to be tortured or enslaved, freedom of expression and of assembly, and the right to family life. These were not rights imposed on us by Brussels! And they are the same rights whether we are exporting them to other nations or enjoying them at home.

The Human Rights Act 1998 did not create any new rights. It incorporated those rights into UK Law. So whereas a person had to go to the European Court in Strasbourg to enforce the rights they could now go to UK courts. This is why the Conservative and Daily Mail’s fixation with the HRA is perplexing. To abolish the Act would simply mean that powers would go back to Europe. Is this really what the Mail wants? Or maybe the intention is to take us out of the Convention altogether which in turn would mean our leaving the EU – something that Mr Cameron has repeatedly denied. And if the intention is to remove some or all of these rights, which of my rights does he have in his sights.

It seems the Act has become a scapegoat of desperation. We can’t think of anyone else to blame so let’s blame the HRA! If the government holds these rights in such contempt they should come out and say so and openly declare which ones they have in mind.

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