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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Human Rights - will the UK and Belarus stand together?

A former Senior Judge of the European Court of Human Rights has warned that attacks on the Human Rights Act, by members of the government, is tarnishing our international reputation.

One of my recurrent themes here has been the need to protect our Human Rights in the face of relentless attacks by politicians, particularly the present government, who seem to be determined to abolish the Human Rights Act 1998 or even withdraw the UK from the European Convention on human rights altogether.

It is likely that some proposals to remove these rights will be in the next Conservative Party manifesto.

I think a brief history lesson might be useful here. In the late 1940s the world was still recovering from the most terrifying world war ever known. In 1948 the new United Nations set up a Human Rights Commission chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt – widow of the late President Franklin Roosevelt. She was the driving force behind the establishment of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which she described as ‘an international Magna Carta for all mankind.’

Winston Churchill was pressing for a European Charter which was eventually signed in Rome in 1950. The UK was the first nation to ratify the Convention in 1951. The European court on Human rights was established in 1959. Anyone who alleged breach of their rights had to go via this court in Strasbourg until the Human Rights Act 1998 gave UK courts jurisdiction to hear cases directly. The Act did not create any new rights. It just gave our courts the right to hear cases.

The UK has been at the heart of human rights in Europe and across the world. The attacks by politicians and some in the media need to be seen against this backcloth. What message are we sending to the world by threatening to withdraw from a convention that we put in place? 

Withdrawal would place alongside Belarus as the only nation in Europe which was not in the ECHR.

The European Convention has protected the lives of many. According to Sir Nicolas Bratza the court, last year, dealt with 88,000 cases.

We often like to talk the talk about Human Rights, especially when attacking other countries. Sir Nicolas is right. How can we expect to speak with any credibility when we threaten to remove these very rights from those in our own country.

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