Tag: European Convention on Human Rights

Tory racism is embedded in policy and clearly evident in Tory social media groups

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A Conservative councillor has been suspended by the Conservative Party after a Facebook group he moderates was found to contain several Islamophobic and racist comments.

Martyn York, a Conservative councillor in Wellingborough, was a moderator for “Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group”, which included  members whose comments called for the bombing of mosques around the UK. Dorinda Bailey, a former Conservative council candidate, has also been accused of supporting Islamophobia with her comments following a post in the group calling for mosques to be bombed.

Furthermore, the group, which has 4,800 members, can only be joined after receiving approval from moderators, and its guidelines explicitly call on members not to post hate speech. 

Comments in the group, however, seriously violate these rules, with several referring to Muslims as “ragheads” and calling immigrants “cockroaches”.

In one comment, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is called a “conniving little muzrat”, and Muslim Labour MP Naz Shah is also targeted with abuse and told to “p*** off to [her] own country”.

Someone posted in the group that any mosques “found to preach hate” should be shut down, another group member responded: “Bomb the f****** lot.” 

Bailey responded, without a trace of irony: “I agree, but any chance you could edit your comment please. No swearing policy.”

There were also comments in the group telling an African solider to “p*** off back to Africa” and for Labour MP Fiona Onasanya to be “put on a banana boat back home”.

After the offensive posts were brought to his attention, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis confirmed York’s suspension and said Bailey was no longer a member of the party.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, said this was further evidence of a “significant problem”.

“A Facebook group led by Conservative politicians containing unashamed bigotry has made it completely apparent that there is a significant problem with racism and Islamophobia within the party of government,” a spokesperson for the MCB said.

“Polls revealing that half of all Conservative voters in 2017 believe Islam to be a threat to the British way of life have shown how widespread this sentiment is. We reiterate our call for the government to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia and lead by example by committing to tackle bigotry everywhere, not just where it’s politically convenient.”

There government were happy enough to ensure an inquiry into the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, and ‘inappropriate’ posts on social media took place. However, the conclusions of the Home Office Committee contradicted the claims being made on the right and among the neoliberal centrists, about the Labour party.

Nonetheless, the claims have continued, indicating a degree of underpinning political expedience and media misdirection.commons-select-committee-antisemitism

That is not to say there is no antisemitism at all among Labour party members, and where allegations arise, those MUST be addressed. However, it does indicate that political and media claims that the party is ‘institutionally antisemitic’ are completely unfounded. 

It is also absolutely reasonable to point this out. 

Unlawful and discriminatory Conservative policy

Meanwhile the Conservatives have continued to embed their prejudices and racism in  discriminatory policies. For example, in 2014 Theresa May was the Home Secretary who introduced the disgraceful Hostile Environment legislation that ultimately led to the Windrush scandal.  On March 1st 2019 a central mechanism of that legislation was ruled unlawful by the High Court because of the way it has unleashed a wave of racism, and because it was found to violate the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Judge Martin Spencer found the policy caused landlords to discriminate against both black and ethnic minority British people and foreign UK residents.

He also ruled that rolling out the scheme in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland without further evaluation would be “irrational” and breach equality laws.

“The evidence, when taken together, strongly showed not only that landlords are discriminating against potential tenants on grounds of nationality and ethnicity but also that they are doing so because of the scheme,” Mr Justice Spencer told the court on Friday.

He added “It is my view that the scheme introduced by the government does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate, but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not.”

The changes that came into force in 2016 required private landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, or face unlimited fines or even prison for renting to undocumented migrants, coercing landlords into becoming agents of the state, effectively.

Judge Martin Spencer said: “The government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the scheme.”

He also said he had found that Right to Rent had “little or no effect” on controlling immigration and that the Home Office had “not come close” to justifying it.

The legal challenge was launched by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which called Right to Rent a “key plank of Theresa May’s hostile environment” policy.

Chai Patel, JCWI legal policy director, said: “Now that the High Court has confirmed that Ms May’s policy actively causes discrimination, parliament must act immediately to scrap it.

“But we all know that this sort of discrimination, caused by making private individuals into border guards, affects almost every aspect of public life – it has crept into our banks, hospitals, and schools. Today’s judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the Hostile Environment must be dismantled.” 

John Stewart, policy manager for the RLA, called the ruling a “damning critique of a flagship government policy”. 

He added : “We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.” 

Rather than accept the High Court’s findings, a Home Office spokesperson has said that an independent mystery shopping exercise found “no evidence of systemic discrimination”.

“We are disappointed with the judgement and we have been granted permission to appeal, which reflects the important points of law that were considered in the case. In the meantime, we are giving careful consideration to the judge’s comments,” he added.

I have written at length about the prejudiced, discriminatory and unlawful policies that the Conservatives have directed at ill and disabled people over the last few years. I also submitted evidence to the United Nations on this matter. However, the UN’s findings of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled peoples’ human rights, and the examples of structural violence inflicted on our politically marginalised community currently fails to get the media attention that mere allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party attracts.

People are suffering harm and psychological distress, and increasingly, some are dying, as a direct consequence of oppressive, cruel, illegal and dangerously authoritarian Conservative policies, while shamefully, much of the media prefers to look the other way.

That is, where the state directs them to ‘look’. 

If you’ve ever wondered how some societies have permitted conscious cruelty to flourish, to the point where entire groups are targeted with oppressive and discriminatory policies resulting in distress, harm and death, I have to tell you that it’s pretty much like this.

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The Tory British Bill of Rights: ‘be the short change you want to see’

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The politics of regression

The UK has passed a lot of posts over the last five years. We are now a post-European, post-welfare, post-consensus, post-progressive, post-rational, post-democratic, post-first world, post-liberal, post-inclusive, post-diverse, post-equality, post-freedom, post-rights, post-protest, post-truth society. We managed all of this by travelling backwards as a society, not forwards.

The clocks stopped when the Conservatives took office in 2010. Now we are losing a decade a day.

This week, the government have confirmed they still plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a so-called British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between the European Court of Human Rights and British law. Any judgement from Europe would be treated as “advisory” only, rather than legally binding, and would need to be “approved” by parliament. Such a Bill would definitely short change UK citizens in terms of balancing responsibilities, obligations and rights. It would profoundly disempower citizens because it will shift the balance of democracy, placing power almost entirely in the hands of the state.

The citizen rights protected by Labour’s flagship Human Rights Act are quite basic. They include the right to life, liberty and the right to a fair trial; protection from torture and ill-treatment; freedom of speech, thought, religion, conscience and assembly; the right to free elections; the right to fair access to the country’s education system; the right NOT to be given the death penalty; the right to marry and an overarching right not to be discriminated against.

Over their time in office, the Tories have systematically contravened the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children. It’s clear that we have a government that regards the rights of most of the population as a mere bureaucratic inconvenience, to be simply brushed aside. In October 2014, I was one of the very first independent writers to report the United Nations’ inquiry into the government’s gross breaches of the rights of disabled people. Writers and researchers like me and organised groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) have been submitting evidence regarding the dehumanising impacts of the Conservative welfare “reforms” to the UN since 2012.

Theresa May has previously expressed strong support for controversial constitutional change. She stated in 2014, that she would like to see the UK withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, echoing David Cameron.

In a speech earlier this year, she said: “This is Great Britain, the country of Magna Carta, parliamentary democracy and the fairest courts in the world.

And we can protect human rights ourselves in a way that doesn’t jeopardise national security or bind the hands of parliament.

A true British bill of rights, decided by parliament and amended by parliament, would protect not only the rights set out in the convention, but could include traditional British rights not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) such as the right to trial by jury.”

However, May’s comment about the need for a Bill of rights that doesn’t “bind the hands of parliament” is worrying, since human rights were designed originally to protect citizens from despotic states and authoritarian governments like this one.

Her comment that the ECHR does not provide for the right to trial by jury is also misleading. Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights is a provision  which protects the right to a fair trial and access to justice. In criminal law cases and cases to determine civil rights, it protects the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within reasonable time, the presumption of innocence, and other basic rights for those charged in a criminal case (such as adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence, access to legal representation, the right to examine witnesses against them or have them examined, the right to the free assistance of an interpreter).

The Effective Criminal Defence in Europe report identified that the UK already needs to address issues regarding inadequate disclosure to suspects during investigation stage and that a more effective judicial oversight of bail and arrest are needed. Cuts to legal aid are also problematic in terms of ensuring the right of equal access to justice. Chris Grayling has already tried to take legal aid from the poorest citizens, in a move that is so clearly contrary to the very principle of equality under the law. He turned legal aid into an instrument of discrimination. He has also tried to dismantle another vital legal protection  – judicial review – which has been used to stop him abusing political power on several occasions. I don’t think this is a government that has indicated so far that it has the needs and wellbeing of citizens as a main priority.

Liz Truss, the justice secretary, dismissed reports that that the Government was abandoning the policy, which was included in the Conservative manifesto in 2015, to avoid a conflict with the Scottish Government 

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning: “We are committed to that. That is a manifesto commitment. 

I’m looking very closely at the details but we have a manifesto commitment to deliver that.”

However, last year, Amnesty UK commissioned a poll that indicated the British public are not particularly willing to see any change to existing Human Rights legislation, with only one in 10 people in the UK (11%) believing that scrapping the Human Rights Act should be a government priority.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International (UK) director, said:

“The British people clearly want the Government to get on with their proper business of the day-to-day running of the country, and abandon these destructive plans.

“It’s quite right that it shouldn’t be up to governments to pick and choose which rights we are entitled to and select who they deem worthy of them. It took ordinary people a very long time to claim these rights and we mustn’t let politicians take them away with the stroke of a pen.

“It’s great to have it confirmed that British people think that rights and protections must apply to everyone equally in order to work at all.”

David Cameron pledged to explore ways to leave the ECHR in the wake of the departure of his most senior legal advisor, Dominic Grieve. 

Ken Clarke said: “It is unthinkable for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights,” he was also a departing cabinet minister. Cameron is believed to have wanted rid of the Attorney General Grieve because he was supportive of Britain’s continued ECHR membership.

Labour dubbed the cabinet reshuffle “the massacre of the moderates”, pointing to the departure of pro-Europe and “one nation” Tories such as David Willetts, Nick Hurd and Oliver Heald.

It’s long been the case that the Tories and the right wing press have deliberately blurred the boundaries between the European Union and the European Council of Human Rights, which are of course completely different organisations. This was a misdirection ploy.

However it is the case that the member states of the EU agreed that no state would be admitted to membership of the EU unless it accepted the fundamental principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and agreed to declare itself bound by it. I also think that conservatives, who regard both institutions as “interfering”, do see the Union and the Council as the same in terms of both being international frameworks requiring the British government to have a degree of democratic accountability at an international level.

In his parting interview, Clarke, who has held office in every Conservative government since 1972 and is also the party’s most prominent Europhile, said the debate was “absurd”.

“I personally think it’s unthinkable we should leave the European Convention on Human Rights; it was drafted by British lawyers after the Second World War in order to protect the values for which we fought the War for.” He’s right, of course.

The years immediately after the second world war marked a turning point in the history of human rights, as the world reeled in horror at the rise of fascism and the Nazi concentration camps, there came an important realisation that although fundamental rights should be respected as a matter of course, without formal protection, human rights concepts are of little use and consolation to those facing persecution.

So in response to the atrocities committed during the war, the international community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. In 1948 the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the most important agreements in world history.

Shortly afterwards another newly formed international body, the Council of Europe, set about giving effect to the UDHR in a European context. The resulting European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 and ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951. At the time there were only ten members of the Council of Europe. Now 47 member countries subscribe to the European Convention, and in 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed by the Labour Party in order to “give further effect” to the European Convention in British law.

Previously, along with the Liberal Democrats, Grieve was able to thwart attempts to reform the ECHR, and opposed pulling out altogether. The plan to reform it is being led by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling but Grieve has pledged to continue to fight for Britain’s membership from the backbenchers. Though Clegg had agreed to a British Bill of Rights, he was strongly opposed to withdrawing from the ECHR.

Grieve understood that ECHR is about the fundamental rights of the citizen and ought to be cherished in the same way as the Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus are. But as we know, this is not a typical view amongst Conservatives, who frequently cite the same examples of “foreign criminals” being allowed to stay in the country as evidence it is “not working”.

The prime minister’s spokesman said that the sacking of Grieve had not led to a change in government’s policy. However he pledged action if the Conservatives are elected next year without the Liberal Democrats: “If you are asking me about party manifestos, the prime minister has previously said that he wants to look at all the ways that we can ensure we are able to deport those who have committed criminal offences.”

Grieve said he would defend human rights legislation from the back benches to “contribute to rationality and discourse”.

“If we send out a sign that human rights don’t matter, that is likely to be picked up in other countries which are also signatory states such as Russia.”

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The marked loss of transparency and democratic accountability

In the original Conservative proposals to scrap our existing human rights framework, and replace it with their own, one sentence from the misleadingly titled document  –Protecting Human Rights in the UK, (found on page 6 ) – is particularly chilling: “There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged.”

Basically this means that human rights will no longer be absolute or universally applied – they will be subject to stipulations and caveats. And discrimination. The government will establish a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, allowing UK courts to strike out what are deemed trivial cases.

The Tories’ motivation for changing our human rights is to allow reinterpretations to work around the new legislation when they deem it necessary. The internationally agreed rights that the Tories have always seen as being open to interpretation will become much more parochial and open to subjective challenge.

Many people have said that the Conservatives won’t escape accountability if they repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with something less comprehensive, because we are still signatories to a number of broader international treaties on human rights. 

However, last year I wrote about how the government has quietly edited the ministerial code, which was updated on October 15  without any announcement at all. The code sets out the standard of conduct expected of ministers. The latest version of the code is missing a key element regarding complicity with international law. 

The previous code, issued in 2010, said there was an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.

The new version of the code has been edited to say only that there is an“overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life”.

Conservative party policy document had revealed that the ministerial code will be rewritten in the context of the UK withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. In order to help achieve these aims the document says:

“We will amend the ministerial code to remove any ambiguity in the current rules about the duty of ministers to follow the will of Parliament in the UK.”

Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch, an organisation which works to hold the government to account, said:

“This amendment to the ministerial code is deeply concerning. It shows a marked shift in the attitude and commitment of the UK government towards its international legal obligations.”

Any precedent that allows a government room for manoeuvre around basic and fundamental human rights is incredibly dangerous. Especially such an authoritarian government.

Implications for democracy

Democracy is one of the universal core values and principles of the United Nations. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. These values are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies.

The Rule of Law and Democracy Unit stands as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) focal point for democracy activities. The Unit works to develop concepts and operational strategies to enhance democracy and provide guidance and support to democratic institutions through technical cooperation activities and partnership with the relevant parts of the UN, notably the UN Democracy Fund, the Department of Political Affairs and the newly established UN Working Group on Democracy. Legal and expert advice are provided as required to OHCHR field operations on relevant issues such as respect for participatory rights in the context of free and fair elections, draft legislation on national referenda and training activities.

The strong link between democracy and human rights is captured in article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” 

The link is further developed in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies. The rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and subsequent human rights instruments covering group rights (e.g. indigenous peoples, minorities, people with disabilities) are equally essential for democracy as they ensure inclusivity for all groups, including equality and equity in respect of access to civil and political rights.

More recently, in March 2012, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution titled “Human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” which reaffirmed that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms were interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

The Council called upon States to make continuous efforts to strengthen the rule of law and promote democracy through a wide range of measures. It also requested the OHCHR, in consultation with states, national human rights institutions, civil society, relevant inter-governmental bodies and international organizations, to draft a study on challenges, lessons learned and best practices in securing democracy and the rule of law from a human rights perspective.

Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values of the European Union, too. Embedded in its founding treaty, they were reinforced when the EU adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2000, and strengthened still further when the Charter became legally binding with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

A legally binding human rights framework must be applied universally, and implemented without the “interpretation” and interference from individual governments. Furthermore, the State must fund the means of contract enforcement and free and fair trial legal costs, for those who cannot afford it. If the State fails to fulfil this contingent function, then citizens simply cease to be free.

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I wrote another in-depth analysis of the implications of a British Bill of Rights earlier this year, which includes some of the constitutional implications – The British Bill Of Frights: We Need To Ask What Could Possibly Go Right?

 

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Court rules that Tory benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against disabled people

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A high court judge has ruled that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare policy unlawfully discriminates against disabled people by failing to exempt their carers from the benefit cap. The ruling is the second this year to criticise the cap. In March, the supreme court found that the cap left people claiming benefits unable to house, feed or clothe their family and was therefore in breach of the UK’s obligations regarding international human rights.

Mr Justice Collins said the government’s decision to apply the cap to full-time carers for adult relatives had created serious financial hardship for them, forcing many to give up caring for loved ones, and had also placed extra costs on the NHS and care services.

The ruling comes after two carers brought the case against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) following serious concerns that the benefit cap would unfairly harm those who care for their disabled children and relatives. The carers were caring for more than 35 hours a week, the judge said that they were effectively in work, even though they were in receipt of benefits, and therefore should be exempt from the cap.

Carers are able to claim about £60 a week if they care for relatives. These claims, however, were to be included in the £500 a week  benefit cap, which was introduced by the government in the belief that so-called “workless” families need to experience financial loss, a decrease in basic security and a severe decline in their standard of living in order to “incentivise” them to try harder to get a job.

On Thursday, the High Court ruled that the government had breached article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Family carers who receive Carer’s Allowance should be exempt from the benefit cap. The High Court ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions had indirectly discriminated disabled people by failing to exempt unpaid carers for disabled family members from the cap.

Collins said: “To describe a household where care was being provided for at least 35 hours a week as ‘workless’ was somewhat offensive. To care for a seriously disabled person is difficult and burdensome and could properly be regarded as work.” 

Campaigners have welcomed the decision, highlighting the damaging effects the cap would have had on carers looking after  adult disabled relatives.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “We are pleased that the court has found the impact on disabled people of losing a family carer had not been properly considered.

“The effect could be profound and the loss of a trusted carer devastating.

“The substantial reduction of income could jeopardise the ability of those affected to continue to care for severely disabled relatives. The court noted that the Secretary of State did not provide any information to Parliament about the effect on disabled people if their family carer were unable to continue.

“The court also held that, rather than saving public money, it would cost considerably more for the care to be provided by local authorities or the NHS.”

Laywers acting for the secretary of state had argued that unpaid carers should be treated as unemployed people who should have to make the same choices as anyone else about whether to work or cut their living costs. But Collins said those providing full-time care could not be in full-time work unless they gave up or cut back significantly on their caring responsibilities.

Unpaid carers made “a huge contribution to society” and “saved the taxpayer the equivalent of £119bn a year,” he said. Were carers forced to give up their role, taxpayer-funded services would have to spend huge amounts providing the care instead.

The judge added that the government should exempt carers because “the cost to public funds if the cap is to be maintained is likely to outweigh to a significant extent the cost of granting the exemption.”

He said: “Nowhere in the impact assessments or in what was put before Parliament was the effect on the disabled of loss of family carers raised. It in my view should have been, since it ought to have been apparent that the impact of a possible loss of a trusted family carer could be profound.

“Reconsideration will I hope be given to whether the present regulatory regime is appropriate, having regard to the hardship it can and does produce.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the court agrees that the benefit cap pursues a legitimate and lawful aim.

The court didn’t actually agree that.

“The Government values the important role of carers in society – and 98% are unaffected by the cap. We are considering the judgment and will respond in due course.”

On Thursday, the following “urgent” bulletin was released from the Department for Work and Pensions:

Judicial Review in the case of R v Secretary of State of the inclusion of Carer’s Allowance in the benefit cap.

1. Today the judgment has been handed down in a judicial review in the case of R v Secretary of State of the inclusion of Carer’s Allowance in the benefit cap.

2. We are pleased that the Court agrees that the benefit cap pursues a legitimate and lawful aim.

3. However the Court has asked us to look again at the indirect impact on those disabled people whose carer is subject to the cap on household benefit payments.

4. We will consider this judgment and set-out our position in due course. We are continuing to apply the benefit cap as now, and there is no change to applying the cap to carers.

 
The bulletin also provides some questions with answers to enable staff to respond to any enquiries they may receive. You can read those here.

The standard responses to many of the anticipated questions are:

 “We are considering the judgment and will set-out our position in due course.”

“The benefit cap continues to apply.”

 Steve Bell cartoon


Amnesty International UK poll shows little support for abolition of Human Rights Act

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In response to the atrocities committed during World War two, the International Community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. In 1948 the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the most important agreements in world history.

Shortly afterwards another newly formed international body, the Council of Europe, set about giving effect to the UDHR in a European context. The resulting European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 and ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951. At the time there were only ten members of the Council of Europe.

Now 47 member countries subscribe to the European Convention, and in 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed by the Labour Party in order to “give further effect” to the European Convention in British law. It consolidates international laws and includes provision for the British public have their cases heard British courts instead of having to travel to Strasbourg.

We reported that the Government intend to controversially scrap the Human Rights Act by next summer, and replace it with a British “Bill of Rights.”

A  12-week public consultation on the Conservative Bill of Rights will start in November or December this year. It will be worded to clarify that the UK will not pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), as some critics have feared, it will even mirror much of the ECHR language in an effort to “calm opposition.”

However, Amnesty International (UK) have commissioned a poll, and it seems that the British public are not particularly willing to see any change to existing Human Rights legislation, with only one in 10 people in the UK (11%) believing that scrapping the Human Rights Act should be a government priority.

The poll results were released over the weekend, and also showed that almost half (46%) of people in the UK would not want to remove any of the rights currently included in the Human Rights Act from a new bill of rights. This said, a minority (16%) also felt that the death penalty should not be outlawed in a new bill.

The new ComRes survey found that more than three-quarters (78%) of people in the UK think that rights, laws and protections must apply to everyone equally in order to be effective, while 67% agree that governments should not be able to choose which rights they enforce.

Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty UK, said the survey indicates that the Government should abandon its “ill-advised” plans to repeal the Human Rights Act because there is “simply no appetite” for it.

She said: “The British people clearly want the Government to get on with their proper business of the day-to-day running of the country, and abandon these destructive plans.

“It’s quite right that it shouldn’t be up to governments to pick and choose which rights we are entitled to and select who they deem worthy of them. It took ordinary people a very long time to claim these rights and we mustn’t let politicians take them away with the stroke of a pen.

“It’s great to have it confirmed that British people think that rights and protections must apply to everyone equally in order to work at all.

“That includes people whose beliefs and actions we might profoundly disagree with, and it’s all the more important we stick to our enduring principles in challenging times.

“This is no time for the British government to set about dismantling and undermining human rights protections.”

We reported have that the government is currently facing investigations regarding serious allegations of contraventions of the human rights of disabled people and other protected social groups. The UK is also in breach of the rights of women and children.

A leak has revealed that Michael Gove will unveil British bill of rights to replace the Human Rights Act before Christmas. The justice minister is reportedly also seeking a “crackdown” on the so-called “human rights industry,” introducing measures intended to reduce the compensation individuals can win from public bodies following human rights claims.

Human rights groups have called the Government’s desire to scrap the  Human Rights Act “destructive”. The Ministry of Justice has of course claimed the details leaked over the weekend, were “speculation”.

The leaked draft proposals, which will be put out for a three-month consultation within weeks, indicate that the UK will remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, domestic courts would not be “automatically bound” to follow European Court rulings and ministers are also considering ways of guaranteeing the UK parliament’s sovereignty explicitly in law.

Harriet Harman, who is now the chair of parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, has written to Michael Gove, asking whether he could confirm that the government had officially ruled out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and if it would “abide by the final judgment of the ECHR in any case to which they are parties”.

I can quite understand her need for some clarity on this issue, as Cameron has previously pledged to leave the ECHR. The Sunday Times have released details of a leak revealing plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. Again.

Harman said: “In the first six months, government proposals have gone from a bill in the Queen’s speech to ‘proposals’ to ‘a consultation’. The timescale has moved from the first 100 days to this autumn and thenin a few months’ time‘.

“There is no more clarity about the government’s plans than there was back in May: we have no indication as to whether the government intends to publish a white paper, draft clauses or indeed a draft bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. It’s essential that such a vital issue is widely scrutinised and debated – and not just by politicians and lawyers. Twelve weeks is not enough.”

Lord Falconer, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, responding to the reports in the Sunday Times of the Tories’ plans, said:

“These are ill-thought out, illiterate and dangerous plans. The Human Rights Act has helped some of the most vulnerable people in our society. To talk about a “victims’ culture” is shocking and clear evidence that the Tories are intent on reducing people’s fundamental rights.

“They say they don’t want to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights but their plans clearly show that they have misunderstood the relationship between our courts and the European Court and their approach could result in such tensions that we would have to withdraw. 

“For the Government to dither over this issue and send a message that it’s ok to pick and choose the human rights you like does incredible damage both at home and to the UK’s standing in the world.

“Labour will stand firm in support of the Human Rights Act and oppose any watering down of people’s fundamental rights.”

Equal access to justice and protection of universal Human Rights is the bedrock of democracy, the alternative to this is that some people simply cease to be free.

The HRA is quite often portrayed by the Right as a party political measure. However, whilst the Human Rights Act is ultimately recognised as one of the greatest legacies of Labour in government, Cameron seems oblivious to the fact that Human Rights are not objects to be bartered away. They arose from struggles that were begun long ago by past generations who gave their lives for these rights to be enshrined in our laws.

Labour’s Human Rights Act ought to be a source of national pride. It is a civilised and a civilising law. It ensures that Britain remains a nation where key universal benchmarks of human decency and protections against state abuse are upheld by the courts. 

There is already a modern British bill of rights already. It is called the Human Rights Act.

Watchdog that scrutinises constitutional reform is quietly abolished and Tory proposals are likely to lead to constitutional crisis.

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The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which was originally established for the duration of the 2010 parliament, has been very quietly scrapped following a meeting of party whips.

Originally, the cross-party committee was established to scrutinise the plans of the Coalition government, such as the House of Lords Reform and the Alternative Vote – many of which never made it onto the statute books.

The parliamentary committee’s main role was to scrutinise proposed major constitutional changes. This undemocratic development is especially worrying given the likelihood of significant constitutional changes in the forthcoming parliament, with the referendum on  membership of the European Union set to be held within the next two years.

There are further plans for devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales, as well as to cities, and it is expected that these will be delivered at the same time as the government repeals the Human  Rights Act, and draws up a bill of rights to replace it.

Considerable doubt exists among experts that the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog responsible for ensuring the Convention is upheld, will accept the Tories’ proposals. In fact the plans are highly unlikely to be accepted. As a result, it is quite widely believed Britain will disengage from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and undermine Europe’s’ civil liberties framework in the process.

Cameron has previously pledged to withdraw from the ECHR, indicating plainly that he is indifferent to the fact that such a withdrawal would very likely spark a complex constitutional crisis in the UK.

If the Human Rights Act is repealed in its entirety, the repeal will apply to the whole of the UK. The Scotland Act gives powers to the Scottish Parliament, provided that they comply with the ECHR (among other things). This would not change with repeal of the Human Rights Act alone.

However, human rights are also partially devolved (the Scottish Parliament, for example, has set up a Scottish Human Rights Commission), and so any unilateral repeal of the Human Rights Act by Westminster would violate the Sewell Convention, which outlines that the Westminster government will: “not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.” Nicola Sturgeon has stated clearly that the Scottish National Party oppose the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

And similar principles apply through the memoranda of understandings with each of the devolved legislatures in the UK.

In Northern Ireland, human rights are even further devolved than in Scotland, and the Human Rights Act (HRA) is explicitly mentioned in the Good Friday Act in 1998. To repeal the HRA would violate an international treaty as the Agreement was also an accord between two sovereign states – the UK and the Irish Republic.

Repealing the HRA unilaterally would put the UK in violation of the Good Friday Agreement, and its international treaty obligations to Ireland.  This would certainly damage our international reputation, as well as having consequences for the reciprocity on which the Treaty depends.

It’s quite possible that it would also be understood within Northern Ireland as a violation of both letter and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement,  signalling that the UK government were no longer committed to the Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement was also subject to a referendum in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, both having to consent for the Agreement to be implemented.  The referendum enabled the Agreement to have widespread legitimacy, but importantly, because it took place in both parts of Ireland, it answered historic Republican claims to be using violence to secure the “right to self-determination” of the Irish people.

It was also necessary to changing the Irish Constitution. So a unilateral move away from UK commitments carries serious bad faith and democratic legitimacy implications, potentially with deeply problematic historical consequences.

The Conservatives also have plans to reintroduce the redefining of parliamentary constituency boundaries in a way that will be advantageous to the Conservative party. It is estimated that the planned changes will help the Tories to win up to 20 extra seats at a future election.

It was during the last term that the proposals were originally put forward. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs were joined by those of smaller parties – including the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP,  the Greens and Respect – to defeat the proposals, giving them majority in voting down the Tory plans for boundary changes.

The Tories are also committed to implementing a form of “English vote for English” laws – a move which will further undermine ties within the UK. But this pre-election pledge placed an emphasis upon English voting rights to undermine the nationalist appeal of UKIP south of the Border, whilst spotlighting the constitution to bolster the Scottish National Party in Scotland, again using nationalism tactically  to disadvantage the Labour Party.

At a time when the government is planning potentially turbulent constitutional changes in the forthcoming parliament, the move to abolish the watchdog – The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee – will serve to insulate the Tories from democratic accountability and scrutiny.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee had instigated an inquiry in 2013 regarding increasingly inconsistent standards in the quality of legislation, which resulted in several key recommedations, one of which was the development of a Code of Legislative Standards, and another was the creation of a Legislative Standards Committee.

The government response was little more than an extravagant linguistic exercise in avoiding accountability, transparency and scrutiny. Having waded through the wordy Etonian etiquette of paragraph after paragraph in the formal responses to each recommendation, the meaning of each may be translated easily enough into just one word: no.

For example: “A bill when it is published is the collectively agreed view of the whole Government on how it wishes to proceed. The process by which it has arrived at that view is a matter for the Government, not for Parliament.”

“The Government does not believe that a Code of Legislative Standards is necessary or would be effective in ensuring quality legislation. It is the responsibility of government to bring forward legislation of a high standard and it has comprehensive and regularly updated guidance to meet this objective. … Ultimately, it is for Ministers to defend both the quality of the legislation they introduce and the supporting material provided to Parliament to aid scrutiny.”

It’s troubling that the House of Lords Constitution Committee raised concerns during the inquiry that there is currently no acceptable watertight definition of what constitutional legislation actually is. The current ad hoc process of identifying which bills to take on the Floor of the House of Commons in a Committee of the whole House lacks transparency: it is clear that differentiation is taking place in order to decide which bills are to be considered by a Committee of the whole House, but the decision-making process is “unclear.” The very worrying response:

“The Government does not accept that it would be helpful to seek to define “constitutional” legislation, nor that it should automatically be subject to a different standard of scrutiny. The tests suggested by Lord Norton and the list of characteristics suggested by Professor Sir John Baker are themselves subjective: whether something raises an important issue of principle, or represents a “substantial” alteration to the liberties of the subject [citizen], for example, are matters more for political rather than technical judgement.

Well no, such matters may be more for legal judgement, given the current framework of Human Rights and Equality legislation. The idea that the law is superior to the megrims of rulers is the cornerstone of English constitutional thought as it developed over the centuries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights both refer to the Rule of Law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, is the historic international recognition that all human beings have fundamental rights and freedoms, and it recognises that “… it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…”

And of course there are implications for our current understanding of the word “democracy.”

Oh. There you have it: the government does seem to regard the liberty of citizens to be enclosed within their own doctrinal boundaries. Those Tory boundaries are entirely defined by partisan dogma and value-judgements, ad hoc justifications, all of which distinctly lack any coherence and rational expertise. Or independence and protection from state intrusion and abuse.

This is a government that has taken legal aid from the poorest and most vulnerable, in a move that is contrary to the very principle of equality under the law.

The Tories have turned legal aid into an instrument of discrimination. They have tried to dismantle a vital legal protection available to the citizen – judicial review – which has been used to stop the Conservatives abusing their powers again more than once. The Tories have restricted legal aid for domestic abuse victims, welfare claimants seeking redress for wrongful state decisions, victims of medical negligence, for example.

Reflected in many Conservative proposals and actions is the clear intent on continuing to tear up British legal protections for citizens and massively bolstering the powers of the state.

The hypocrisy is evident in that this is a government which claims to pride itself on its dislike for the state. But in every meaningful way, the Tories are vastly increasing state powers and intrusive authoritarian reach.

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UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations

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We ought to be very concerned about the government’s declaration that they intend to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, (ECHR) and to repeal our own Human Rights Act, (HRA). One has to wonder what Cameron’s discomfort with the HRA is. The Act, after all, goes towards protecting the vulnerable from neglect of duty and abuse of power. The rights protected by the HRA are drawn from the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, which was a way of ensuring that we never again witness the full horrors of the second world war, and overwhelmingly, one of the greatest stains on the conscience of humanity – the Holocaust.

Human Rights establish a simple set of minimum standards of decency for humankind to hold onto for the future. The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was drafted as a lasting legacy of the struggle against fascism and totalitarianism, as well as the atrocities of world war 2.

What kind of government would want those basic protections for citizens overturned?

One that doesn’t value or wish to uphold the universal protection of its citizens. From the State.

Last month, a new report, Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era – Jane Young is the lead author – exposed the Coalition’s failure to meet its international human rights obligations under both the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The report – also published by the Just Fair Coalition, a consortium of 80 national charities including Amnesty International, Save the Children, and Oxfam, says the UK is in clear breach of its legal obligations. Support structures for many disabled people have disappeared or are under threat as local authorities cut social care budgets, whilst cuts to benefits will leave many disabled people without crucial help for daily living.

Jane Campbell, a cross-bench peer who is disabled herself, said: “It is both extremely worrying and deeply sad that the UK – for so long regarded as an international leader in protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights – now risks sleepwalking towards the status of a systematic violator of these same rights.”

The UK government seems to be the first to face such a high-level international inquiry, initiated by the United Nations Committee because of “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people. That ought to be a source of shame for the Coalition, especially considering that this country was once considered a beacon of human rights, we are (supposedly) a first-world liberal democracy, and a very wealthy nation, yet our government behave like tyrants towards the poorest and some of the most vulnerable citizens of the UK.  As disability specialist, campaigner and first-class human rights activist, Samuel Miller says: “Britain is [now] a retrograde society and a flagrant violator of human rights—especially the rights of the sick and disabled”. 

It’s because of the sterling work of people such as Mr Miller that the UN have been made aware of our dire situation, here in the UK. Many of us have contacted the UN and made submissions, detailing the detrimental impacts that punitive Tory policies such as the bedroom tax, other welfare “reforms” (cuts), including the increasing use of benefit sanctions, the Work Capability Assessment, Tory targets for reducing spending and local authority cuts, for example, are having on sick and disabled people.

This is a government who refuse to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of their “reforms” and also continue to dismiss any evidence provided that challenges their own glib and deceitful account as “anecdotal”. Yet we are expected to regard Tory soundbites such as the “culture of entitlement” and the “something for nothing culture”as some sort of empirical evidence that somehow justifies the cruel removal of people’s lifeline benefits and support.

There’s more than one issue here, though it’s plain that the government have no intention of addressing any of the terrible consequences of their draconian policies, and use denial and stigmatising others to deflect attention from their intents. I am reminded of Techniques of Neutralisation – a well known collection of tactics used to justify prejudiced views and discriminatory actions.

Another related and important issue is that people’s qualitative experiences should matter to any decent government, but the Coalition is far more concerned with its persistent attempts at INVALIDATING those experiences, (such attempts to invalidate and exclude the narrative of experiences of previously and presently marginalised people is a hallmark of the oppressive, supremacist condescension of historically powerful and privileged groups) –  denying their victims a voice and remedy. We know that this is not a democratic government that serves its citizens and reflects their needs.

Thanks to the sterling work of Dr Simon J Duffy, from the Centre for Welfare Reform, amongst others, we know that the austerity measures in the UK have disproportionately affected those people with disabilities and their carers. Dr Duffy’s work on the impact of the austerity cuts shows us that:

  • People in poverty are targeted 5 times more than most citizens
  • Disabled people are targeted 9 times more than most citizens
  • People needing social care are targeted 19 times more than most citizens

Yet, this government claims a cumulative impact assessment is “too difficult and costly”, I suggest that they use their considerable publicly donated, tax-collected wealth to fund the work of the Centre for Welfare Reform, who managed to undertake this work without hitting the obstacles the government claims it has. This said, perhaps the findings are the real obstacle that the government are concerned about. Because those findings are damning, and tell us that the welfare “reforms” are NOT “fair” as claimed, and are causing harm, distress, hardships and sometimes, death. The grossly punitive, draconian “reforms” need to be repealed.

The UN Committee has the power to launch an inquiry if it receives “reliable information” that violations have been committed, and as the Labour Government signed up to the protocol in 2009 – the UNCRPD and the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights – it is legally binding. Many of us have used the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to send communication and make submissions since 2012.

Austerity measures and welfare “reforms” such as the bedroom tax (which is in itself established by the UN as being a contravention of human rights law) mean the rights of disabled people to independent living, work, and adequate social security have been seriously undermined, causing significant hardship, and sometimes, leading to tragic consequences.

Such investigations are necessarily conducted “confidentially”, so the UNCRPD  has formally refused to confirm or deny that the UK is being investigated. However, a recording has emerged (one hour and twenty five minutes long, watch from one hour and four minutes) of a former CRPD member seemingly revealing that the inquiry has been launched.

Professor Gabor Gombos, who is the co-founder of Voice of Soul, Hungary’s first organisation for ex-users and survivors of Mental Health Institutions, and co-chair of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, can be heard informing the audience that CRPD has “started its first inquiry procedure against the United Kingdom”.

He informs the Sixth International Disability Law Summer School at the National University of Ireland in Galway, June, that inquiries are only used where there are suspicions of “grave” violations of human rights. He says: “Where the issue has been raised and the government did not really make effective actions to fix the situation – it is a very high threshold thing – the violations should really be grave and very systemic.”

Earlier this year, the level of UK benefits paid in pensions, jobseeker’s allowance and incapacity benefits was deemed “manifestly inadequate” because it falls below 40% of the median income of European states, by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The finding in an annual review of the UK’s adherence to the council’s European social charter is likely to provoke a fresh dispute between the government and European legal structures. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, dismissed it as “lunacy”. Not an open, accountable Minister, or government, then.

The Council of Europe, which has 47 member states, said the conclusions were legally binding in the same way that judgements relating to the European Convention on Human Rights had to be applied by member states.

Aoife Nolan, professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Nottingham and a trustee of Just Fair said government policies were compromising disabled people’s human rights.

“Not only do these policies cause significant hardship and anxiety, but they also amount to impermissible backward steps in relation to disabled people’s human rights, contrary to the UN human rights framework.”

The report was submitted to the United Nations, which, as I’ve previously outlined in earlier articles here, is in the process of reviewing UK compliance with its obligations to the rights of disabled people.

Last year, Amnesty International condemned the erosion of human rights of disabled people in UK, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the right to live independently and to be included in the community. The inquiry, which began in 2011, has received evidence from over 300 witnesses.

The inquiry highlighted just how little awareness, understanding and employment of the Convention there is by the Tory-led Government. Very few of the witnesses made specific reference to the Convention in their presented evidence, despite the inquiry being conducted by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, with the terms of reference clearly framing the inquiry as being about Article 19 of the UNCRPD.

“This finding is of international importance”, said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director, “Our experience is that some Governments are of the view that the CRPD is nothing more than a policy nicety, rather than a treaty which sets out legal obligations which governments must fulfil.”

The report is particularly critical of the Minister for Disabled People (Maria Miller, at the time) who told the Committee that the CRPD was “soft law”. The Committee criticised this as “indicative of an approach to the treaty which regards the rights it protects as being of less normative force than those contained in other human rights instruments.” (See the full report.) The Committee’s view is that the CRPD is hard law, not soft law. 

Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “We are concerned to learn that the right of disabled people to independent living may be at risk through the cumulative impact of current reforms. Even though the UK ratified the UNCPRD in 2009 with cross-party support, the Government is unable to demonstrate that sufficient regard has been paid to the Convention in the development of policy with direct relevance to the lives of disabled people. The right to independent living in UK law may need to be strengthened further, and we call on the Government and other interested organisations to consider the need for a free-standing right to independent living in UK law.”

“The Government is meant to include disabled people in making sure people have their human rights upheld. We are concerned that a part of the Law on treating people equally and fairly (Equality Act section 149) does not say any more that disabled people should be involved. This is a step backwards.”

In other words, the Tory-led Coalition has quietly removed this part of the Equality Act.

The budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which was established by the Labour Party when they were drafting this flagship policy, is being reduced by over 60%, its staffing cut by 72%, and its powers restricted by the Coalition. Provisions that are being repealed by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill include the duty on public authorities to have due regard to the need to reduce socio-economic inequalities.

Savage Legal aid cuts from April 2013 have also contributed significantly to creating further barriers to ensuring Equal Rights law protect us, and the Tory-driven Legal Aid Bill also contravenes our right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is not a coincidental multiple policy timeline, but rather a very coordinated political attack on potential legal challenges at a time when Tory-led severe and devastating multiple welfare and provision cuts have affected disabled people so disproportionately. The changes, which came into effect in April, will hit “the same group of disabled people over and over again”. 

Our political freedoms and human rights must not be subservient to Tory notions of economic success. Democracy is not about the private accumulation of wealth. It is about the wise use of the collective wealth for the common good of the public – that must extend to include ALL of our citizens. And a decent, civilised, democratic society supports its vulnerable members and upholds universal human rights.

We need to ask why our Government refuses to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly a correlated consequence of this Government’s policies.

What kind of Government uses the media to scape-goat and stigmatise sick and disabled people, by lying and inventing statistics to “justify” the persecution of our most vulnerable citizens, and the withdrawal of their crucial lifelines and support?

One that does not value those lives, or regard them as having an equal worth with others.

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I’m adding this comment from Samuel Miller, as it highlights his ongoing, excellent, valuable and much appreciated work with the United Nations on our behalf, which is a most welcomed addition to our own ongoing submissions of evidence over the past couple of years:

A superlative piece, which I will bring to the attention of senior UN officials. Ahead of the September meeting of the Human Rights Council (see third paragraph of :-http://mydisabilitystudiesblackboard.blogspot.ca/2014/08/an-inopportune-time.html), I will shortly submit an inquiry request to the CRPD and Human Rights Council, petitioning them to open an investigation into Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime. (At the request of Jorge Araya, UNCRPD Secretary, I am completing a bibliography of media articles on this subject, with particular focus on inappropriate sanctions.)

You already know my views on this matter: http://twishort.com/1RVfc.

My bibliographic assignment for the UNCRPD Secretary might be an indication that the UN has already opened an investigation into Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime, but for the sake of certainty I’ll make that request myself.”

And further:  See my letter to High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, below. I included your superb article in my letter, Sue.

Subject: There is an urgent need for a UN investigation into the United Kingdom’s benefit-sanctioning regime

Samuel Miller 

Attachments3:58 PM 

High Commissioner Navi Pillay
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais Wilson
52 rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland.

Dear Ms. Pillay,

I am a 57-year-old Disability Studies specialist and disability activist from Montreal, Canada who has been communicating frequently and voluntarily, since January 2012, to senior United Nations officials, on the welfare crisis for the United Kingdom’s sick and disabled.

(See attached, and the following:

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rp0uui,
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rtnc63,
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rtvfk5 )
.

It is my understanding that a 22-page letter, pointing out that cuts to social security benefits introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and enforced by his Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of the Coalition government may constitute a breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations to the poor, will also be discussed at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in New York, in September. It is signed by Raquel Rolnik, the former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing; Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, the former UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty; and Olivier De Schutter, the former UN special rapporteur on the right to food.

Could you please add, as an addendum to that letter, my partial bibliography on Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime, which is attached below in PDF format. My views can be found on page two; I am extremely concerned about the British government’s soaring use of benefit sanctions, and the evidence from MPs and the Work & Pensions Committee, which provides oversight of the Department for Work and Pensions, is especially compelling and strongly suggests that the government is stitching-up benefit claimants and is involved in a cover-up of that fact. The refusal of the government to agree to the Work & Pensions Committee’s request for an independent inquiry into this matter only compounds suspicion.

In closing, I would be most appreciative if the Human Rights Council and the OHCHR would open an investigation into this matter. This article (https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/uk-becomes-the-first-country-to-face-a-un-inquiry-into-disability-rights-violations/) is very worthy of your—and their—attention, as well.

I wish to congratulate you on your tenure as High Commissioner, and wish you every success in your future endeavors.

Warm regards

Samuel Miller

 

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Pictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone 

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The last Labour government introduced a host of measures to strengthen the rights of our most vulnerable groups – in particular they protected the rights of disabled people. They formulated the Human Rights Act 1998. They passed the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, introduced the Equality Act 2010, formed the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and, in 2009, the Labour government signed the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The few successful cases we have seen brought against the Tories are down to these Labour laws. We mustn’t lose sight of that. And I’ve every faith that a Labour government will address the gross injustices extended by the draconian of this government, using the existing laws, and their currently proposed policy of prosecuting people for hate speech against the vulnerable.

 


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