Tag: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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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UN to question the Conservatives about the two-child restriction on tax credits

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The government’s decision to limit child tax credits to two children only per family, unless a further child is the result of rape, has been referred to a United Nations human rights panel. 

The government has made an exception to the tax credit limit for children conceived through rape – though what policies will be put in place to process this exemption have yet to be specified.

A formal complaint by the Scottish National Party MP Alison Thewliss to the UN will be examined by its official committee on the rights of the child, before hearings on the impact of the Conservative’s welfare “reforms” next week. A UK government delegation will have to explain how the “reforms” conform to the UN obligations on child poverty. 

The UN has asked the UK government to provide evidence on whether ministers had carried out an impact assessment into how the welfare cuts including the implementation of the benefits cap “and other benefits cuts” would affect children.

In a letter to Alison Thewliss, the UN said it had also asked for information on “the measures being taken to mitigate negative impact of this reform on the enjoyment of the rights of children, particularly those in vulnerable situations”.

The UN committee is expected to deliver its final recommendations to the UK government in early June.

Alison Thewliss.
                                                                   Alison Thewliss.

Thewliss, who held a meeting with the welfare reform minister Lord Freud earlier this week, described the rape clause as “medieval”. She said it “stigmatises mother and child, and risks discriminating against those who may for religious or traditional reasons have larger families.”

Eugenics by stealth

Last year I wrote about the government plans to restrict child tax credit payments to two children in families, with the stated intention of directing behavioural change, so that poor families wouldn’t have more children that they “can afford.” This assumes, of course that family situations remain static, and that people don’t experience downward mobility because of job market insecurity, accident or ill health. The Conservatives had announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families at that time. Whilst this might not go quite as far as imposing limits on the birth of children for poor people, it does effectively amount to a two-child policy.

A two-child policy is defined as a government-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children. 

The restriction in support for children of larger families significantly impacts on the autonomy of families, and their freedom to make decisions about their family life. Benefit rules purposefully aimed at reducing family size rarely come without repercussions.

It’s worth remembering that David Cameron ruled out cuts to tax credits before the election when asked during interviews. Tax credit rates weren’t actually cut in the recent Budget – although they were frozen and so will likely lose some of their value over the next four years because of inflation.

Some elements were scrapped, and of course some entitlements were restricted. But either way a pre-election promise not to cut child tax credits sits very uneasily with what was announced in the budget.

Iain Duncan Smith said last year that limiting child benefit to the first two children in a family is “well worth considering” and “could save a significant amount of money.” The idea was being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could alienate parents. Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

“I think it’s well worth looking at,” he said. “It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”

Firstly, this is a clear indication of the Tories’ underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socioeconomic policies.

Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without.

Moreover, a policy aimed at restricting support available for families where parents are either unemployed or in low paid work is effectively a class-contingent policy.

The tax child credit policy of restricting support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming benefits year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive deficits.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study that debunked  the notion of a “culture of worklessness” in 2012.  I’ve argued with others more recently that there are methodological weaknesses underlying the Conservative’s regressive positivist/behaviourist theories, especially a failure to scientifically test the permanence or otherwise of an underclass status, and a failure to distinguish between the impact of “personal inadequacy” and socioeconomic misfortune.

Limiting financial support to two children may also have consequences regarding the number of abortions. Abortion should never be an outcome of reductive state policy. By limiting choices available to people already in situations of limited choice – either an increase of poverty for existing children or an abortion, then women may feel they have no choice but to opt for the latter. That is not a free choice, because the state is inflicting a punishment by withdrawing support for those choosing to have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members.

Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two-child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.

If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits?  It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born. Or because of the circumstances of their birth.

And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to.

Restriction on welfare support for children will directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority to continue having babies as they wish, whilst aiming to curtail the poor by disincentivisingbreeding” of the “underclass.” It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, and it openly discriminates against the children of large families.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory, reads:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2.  Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 26

1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.

There are other relevant Convention Articles here, which the Conservative’s two-child policy also potentially compromises or violates.

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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.

International Human Rights Day – some food for thought

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“I call on States to honour their obligation to protect human rights every day of the year. I call on people to hold their governments to account.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

This year’s slogan, Human Rights 365encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values.

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The Coalition’s legal aid reforms  undermine the fundamental principle of legal equality and breach Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights: the right to a fair trial. They reflect a truly authoritarian agenda of legislative tyranny: the reforms effectively remove legal access for many, crucially that access ultimately safeguards individual liberty against intrusion by the State, and protects us from despotic abuses of authority.

The UK Coalition is currently under investigation by the UN for serious violations of the rights of disabled people.

Children’s Commissioner warns that UK is now in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

UK Government in breach of the human rights convention on gender discrimination.

Welfare reforms break UN convention

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Statement for 2014 of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”: in perhaps the most resonant and beautiful words of any international agreement, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises, to all, the economic, social, political, cultural and civil rights that underpin a life free from want and fear.

These human rights are not country-specific. They are not a reward for good behaviour, or particular to a certain era or social group. They are the inalienable entitlements of all people, at all times and everywhere, 365 days a year.

They are the rights of people of every colour, from every race and ethnic group; whether or not they have disabilities; citizens or migrants; no matter their sex, their class, their caste, their creed, their age or sexual orientation.

The commitments made to the people of the world through the Universal Declaration are in themselves a mighty achievement – discrediting the tyranny, discrimination and contempt for human beings that have so painfully marked human history. And since the Declaration was adopted, countless people have gained greater freedom.

Violations have been prevented. Independence and autonomy have been attained.Many people – though not all – have been able to secure freedom from torture, unjustified imprisonment, summary execution, enforced disappearance, persecution and unjust discrimination, as well as fair access to education, economic opportunities, rich cultural traditions and adequate resources and health-care.

They have obtained justice for wrongs, and national and international protection for their rights, through the strong architecture of the international human rights legal system.

The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It tells us that human rights are essential and indivisible – 365 days a year. Every day is Human Rights day: a day on which we work to ensure that all people can gain equality, dignity and freedom.

The UN Human Rights Office stands with the millions of people around the world whose voices are denied.

And I look forward to you joining us, whether you do so via social media or in person. Together, we must demand what should be guaranteed: our human rights, universal, indivisible, inalienable, for everyone, 365 days a year.

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David Cameron has pledged to leave the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) if he is elected next year, and he will repeal Labour’s Human Rights Act, which consolidates the Universal Declaration of Rights.

Human rights are the bedrock of democracy, when that UN charter was written, in the aftermath of the second world war, as an international response to atrocities inflicted by some States, such as the Holocaust, it set out the basic rights for citizens that all governments  should respect and uphold

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 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.

Labour’s Human Rights Act ought to be a source of pride. It is a civilised and a civilising law. It means that we can hold our government to account in UK courts, rather than needing to go to Strasbourg. It ensures that Britain remains a nation where key universal benchmarks of human decency and protections against State abuse are upheld by the courts.

Membership of the ECHR ought to be a source of pride, too. As well as providing a legal framework for basic decency and civilisation for member States, it also provides a crucial mechanism of international scrutiny that ensures governments are accountable for their actions towards citizens.

The Coalition has, in just four years, contravened the human rights of disabled people, poor people, women and children.

We need to ask two important questions: What kind of government would treat the most vulnerable citizens – protected groups – with such little respect, dignity, care and esteem?

And what kind of government would not wish to uphold basic standards of decency and civilised safeguards – the basic rights and protections of citizens from the actions of the State, within a legal framework of international standards for political accountability?

564882_438358886199493_1982719183_nThe protection of freedom under the Human Rights Act: some illustrations

 

Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

 

Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom”

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The Tories are not “paying down the debt” as claimed. They are raising more money for the rich.

Labour’s social and economic policy was a success, and this is substantiated by the LSE’s definitive survey of the Blair-Brown years:

There is clear evidence that public spending worked, contrary to popular belief.” Nor did Labour overspend. It inherited “a large deficit and high public sector debt”, with spending “at a historic low” – 14th out of 15 in the EU.

Labour’s spending increased, and money was invested in public services and social programs, and until the crash was still “unexceptional”, either by historic UK standards or international ones.

Until 2007 “national debt levels were lower than when Labour took office”. After years of neglect during the previous Conservative administration, Labour inherited a mess: public services in very poor state, shabby and squalid public buildings and unforgivably neglected human lives that formed a social deficit much more costly than any Treasury debt.

Labour Ministers set about addressing the causes and devastating effects of poverty and social marginalisation. Both poverty and inequality had risen to levels unprecedented in post-war history. This process accelerated during the 1980s.

Unlike every other post-war decade, in which the benefits of economic growth had been shared across social groups, the economic gains of the 1980s disproportionately benefited the rich at the expense of the poor (Hills, 2004). Social inequality on such a gross level was not only the result of Thatcher’s policies, she celebrated it. She declared that inequality is essential to fostering “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”.

The mess that Thatcher left is verified by several longitudinal studies. Dr. Alex Scott-Samuel and colleagues from the Universities of Durham, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, sourced data from over 70 existing research papers, which concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy

includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

The article also cites evidence including the substantial increase in income inequality under Thatcher – the richest 0.01% of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and the rise in UK poverty rates from 6.7% in 1975 to 12% in 1985.

It concludes that:

Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain” by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, such as unions. This ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

Blair established the social exclusion unit inside No 10. “Social exclusion” signified not just poverty, but its myriad causes and symptoms, with 18 task forces examining education, babies’ development, debt, addiction, mental health, housing and much more. Policies followed and so did improvements.

John Prescott’s department published an annual Opportunities for All report that monitored these social targets: 48 out of 59 indicators improved. So when Cameron and his band of brigands sneer that “all Labour did was give tax credits to lift families just over the poverty line” – “poverty plus a pound” – they lie through their teeth.

Contrary to Tory claims, benefits were not Labour’s main instrument of social change: the benefit budget fell as a proportion of spending, outstripped by increases in health, education and other social services.

Labour policies enshrined principles of equality and inclusion. The Tories deplore such principles, yet that doesn’t stop them claiming that their socially regressive policies are somehow “fair”. Things got better with a Labour administration, money was mostly well spent. That’s not the case now. It’s all being intentionally and spitefully undone. We are moving backwards on just about every positive social measure Labour put in place: the coalition’s “more for less” is exposed as pretence. They are simply raising more money for the rich.

And all because of their driving ideology. George Osborne’s “plan A” isn’t about economics: it amounts to little more than a rehashed Thatcherite ideological agenda of deregulation and labour market “flexibility”, as modelled by the Beecroft report – the assault on the rights of employees, and Labour’s historic equality legislation. The Tory demand for a “nightwatchman state” is both ill-conceived and completely irrelevant to Britain’s economic circumstances.

The Coalition have borrowed more in 4 years than labour did in 13 and have NOTHING to show for it except a handful of wealthier millionaires. And the return of absolute poverty.

We know that austerity was intentionally imposed by the Coalition, using a feigned panic over the budget deficit to front an opportunistic vulture capitalist approach to stripping our public assets. With the Coalition in power for 4 years, the deficit has apparently receded in importance.

We can hope that Labour can return to its  pro-social role of advocating government spending for the provision of public services. Conservatives have always played on dogma and popular prejudice by constantly equating government with bureaucracy. But that’s just the superficial excuse for their obsession with removing every trace of supportive provision and our public services.

It’s more accurate to say that Conservatives equate socially responsible, democratic, caring governments with “bureaucracy”. Conservatives aren’t ever interested in championing independent and merit-based public service. But most criticisms of government bureaucracy are based on myth, not reality.

The agencies that the Tories attack and destroy actually play a valuable and indispensable role in making our society a better place to live. They are the very hallmarks of what makes us civilised, they are how we support the vulnerable, ensure equal opportunities, uphold human rights.

The whole point of having human rights is that they apply to EVERYONE – something the Tories never understand – if rights are  not universally applied, then they are worthless. In fact they are hostile to the very notion that we each have equal worth, as we know.

Tories value and develop social hierarchy. When Tories want to make “shrinking” government sound attractive and feasible, they claim they are cutting “bureaucracy” and not social “programs.” Most people recognise the public value of State programs – in the areas of education, health and the environment for example – and don’t want to see these reduced; but everyone hates bureaucracy.

Using the term “bureaucracy” in this way is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that attempts to obscure the real costs of cutting back on government programs. The lack of coherent reasoning underpinning the rhetoric is because this is simply Tory fundamentalism: it is not founded at all on rational, evidenced discourse.

I’ve said elsewhere that Edwardian levels of inequality led to the Great Depression. Austerity measures under Chancellor Hindenburg contributed to the rise of Nazism. The drop in household income in Japan between 1929 and 1931 led to a wave of assassinations of Government officials and bankers.

Social policies after World War 2 turned the tables and brought peace, with inequality steadily dropping in Britain until recently. But inequality is now returning to pre-war levels. The Tories are incapable of learning from historic lessons, because of their own ideological bondage.

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. Ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951, those human rights originally established in the Universal Declaration have been steadily eroded since the Coalition gained Office.

There’s a clear link between high levels of inequality and failure of Governments to recognise human rights, and to implement them in policies. Authoritarians view the rights of the individual, (including those considered to be human rights by the international community), as subject to the needs of the Government. Of course in democracies, Governments are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population.

Democracy is not only about elections. It is also about distributive and social justice. The quality of the democratic process, including transparent and accountable Government and equality before the law, is critical. Façade democracy occurs when liberalisation measures are kept under tight rein by elites who fail to generate political inclusion.

How remarkable that a government that argues against bureaucracy on the grounds that it’s a “threat to individual freedom” have no problems imposing the Gagging Act and the Legal Aid Act – policies purposefully designed to severely limit our freedoms. But then, the Tories were never known for their rationality and joined-up thinking. Or for integrity and telling the truth.

Related articles:

Thatcher’s secret plot to dismantle the welfare state and privatise the NHS revealed

The mess we inherited: some facts with which to fight the Tory Big Lies

The great debt lie and the structural deficit myth

Osborne’s real aim is not budget surplus, but attack on Welfare State & public sectors 539627_450600381676162_486601053_n (2) scroll2 It’s not a difficult task for a government to guarantee a safety-net that is always available for anyone who falls on hard times during an era of huge social and economic change. We all fund it, after all. And we all know that unemployment, injury or illness may happen to anyone through no fault of their own. It’s considered a duty of any first-world government to provide the means of basic survival for its citizens and to fund that with the money we contribute via taxes. In fact such an approach to social and economic welfare is internationally codified in human rights.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory, reads:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

The Tories prefer to spend the tax they take from you on Tory donors – private companies that don’t deliver a service but simply fleece profit; on undeserving millionaires’ tax breaks – the feckless, scrounging rich had at least £107,000 each per year extra already. Then there is the never ending list of Tory expense scandals – all at our expense. And tax evasion. Why are we paying for this?

Furthermore, why are we indifferent as a society to the fact that our government is causing harm to our fellow citizens? I can’t comprehend this, how can we have allowed this to happen, as a so-called civilised and once democratic society? It’s about a driving ideology that is socially detrimental, malevolent, and not economically necessary: the Tories do not think that people have a right to food, housing or medical care, that much is clear. But they continue to take the money we have paid since the 1940s for those things. And hand it out to the wealthy.

Despite these facts, the Govt and the right-wing media have the audacity to talk about welfare claimants, as if all our woes are their fault. They aren’t, the spiteful authoritarian Tories are the problem.

We can’t afford this government, economically, socially, morally or psychologically. Osborne’s austerity message was seriously undermined, and his lies in trying to blame the last government were demonstrated last November when the Office for National Statistics found that the coalition had borrowed £430.072 billion since it took over, whereas the last Labour government managed to borrow just £429.975 billion in 13 years. –  George Osborne Says Britain’s ‘Best Days Lie Ahead’, Ignoring These 6 Graphs 1234134_539964652739734_1075596050_n

Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant memes